Portrait of a Parish - Page 24

Reminiscences of Norma Reeve - 1940's


Norma Reeve was born into a poor family in the East End of London, lived a fairy tale for the fifteen months of her evacuation. Norma, then 7, her brother Richard, 5 and her elder sister Doreen, 9, entered a world of wealth and privilege when they arrived at Monkton Court in Monkton Combe, as guests of the generous Shore-Baileys. Now a widow, she lives in Essex and has two children and two grandchildren.

"Dad was a labourer: we were poor but respectable and our cramped little home was full of love. When we were sent off to Somerset, labelled up like luggage with an orange and a bar of chocolate provided by the State, Mum, through the tears, made us promise we would not be separated. We arrived at a dusty Village Hall, but nobody it seemed, wanted to take three little Cockneys. The three of us were alone with Mrs. Shore-Bailey, the billeting officer, an imposing lady of 50ish in a grey WVS uniform. She looked at us, sitting bewildered on our suitcases and said "I'm going to take you". We were ushered into her car. We had never been in a car before. On arrival, we were shown into a huge bedroom with polished wood furniture and three beds made up with pink, blue and yellow counterpanes. In our own cramped little house we shared a bed. Here, a fluffy towel and flannel were laid out for each of us. We bathed in a deep bath full of warm water that flowed effortlessly from a tap. Running water! It was awe-inspiring. At home we kept our tin bath in the yard and filled it laboriously from kettles. Mrs. Shore-Bailey arrived to kiss us good-night. She instructed us to say our prayers - we had never prayed before - and remember our parents. The next morning we peeped through the curtain to see the endless, rolling green lawns of the front garden it seemed we had arrived in Paradise.

Each week Mrs. Shore-Bailey told us to pick swathes of flowers from her gardens. She had them packaged in cellophane, then despatched to my mother to help lift the drudgery of her day. In winter we tobogganed on a huge sledge, in summer we dressed as red Indians and picnicked in wig-wams. Mrs Shore-Bailey, who was a cub-mistress, knew how to entertain children and when the time came to leave we were sad, of course, but we accepted that fairy tales must end. We adored our parents and they, in turn, loved us. We had also grown to love our dear and wonderful hosts and Mrs. Shore-Bailey kept in touch, as she promised, coming to my wedding, too. She made a little speech and gave us a silver tea service which I still treasure".

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