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My husband was one of many children who were evacuated during the last war. He was born in 1939 and lived in North London and as with many other families, his father was serving with the Royal Navy and away from the family home. He was an only child and so at the age of three found himself one day with a gas mask and a suitcase and he and his mother at the nearby railway station on their way ‘up north’ for the duration of the war.
Can you imagine what this must have meant to a young child used to living in London, who had never been to the country before let alone to be going to stay in a small village? After a long journey they arrived in Rawtenstall in Lancashire, where they were allocated to a family who they were to spend the next three years with.
Over the years my husband has often told me about that time, of things that he could remember even though he was only three years old when they went to Rawtenstall. He could clearly remember the house where they had stayed, and that it had been right next door to a lovely park, where his Mother would take him so he could run around and play, something he couldn’t do in London.
He also said that in the park he could remember a big building he was told was a museum, and that just inside the door was a little stuffed elephant in the hallway. He liked to go and look at it and also the stuffed tiger with a snake wrapped around it that was in a big glass cage in one of the rooms. He often described the little town and the farm just across the road from where he was staying and the boy that he became friends with all those years ago.
We kept saying that one day we must make the journey up to Rawtenstall and visit some of the places that he could remember, but you know how it is there is always something else that seems more urgent and then the years go by and still we hadn’t made that trip down memory lane, until this year!
I finally said to Fred lets go for it we haven’t much to go on just the name of the town and your memories (his Mother had passed away so we were unable to ask for help with the families name or the address of the house where they had stayed).
We booked up a B&B and got the map out and set off; when we entered Rawtenstall Fred at first could not get his bearings, remember it was sixty years since he was last there ( perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that!) but we drove up and down and finally asked someone where the local park was. As we drove down the road to the park he began to remember and when we turned into the drive there in front of us was the museum, just as he had told me about many times in the past.
We were a little unlucky, as it happened to be the early closing day at the museum but we decided to go to explore the roads next to the park to see if we could find the house where he had stayed. We did find the road but the houses had long gone, so we found the local library and in the reference department two very helpful ladies helped us with the aid of an old map to locate the name of the road which was Oak Street, where the houses had once been. We also trawled through some old Electoral Registers hoping that something would help Fred to remember the name of the family he had stayed with. All he could recall was the lady’s name, he’d called her Aunt Tilly and the man was John, and there sure enough we eventually came upon the family, Mathilda Tillotson and John at number 6 Oak Street.
You can imagine how emotional Fred felt with finding this information, and the ladies in the library and me were happy for him that everything was beginning to fall into place; now we just needed to get into the Museum in the park, but that was to be the next morning.
After breakfast the next day we made our way to the park and into the museum, no little elephant greeted us as we entered the hallway and I could sense my husband’s disappointment however we spoke to the lady on reception, explaining about our visit, she listened then directed us down the hall way to the first door on the right - upon entering the room we came face to face with the little stuffed elephant that Fred had talked about. After all these years I must confess that I could hardly believe it and he was quite overcome to think that he had only been three years old and had carried the picture of that little elephant in his memory all these years and there it was, not only that upon making our way around the other displays in the museum we also came upon the stuffed tiger with the snake!
Fred was so pleased that we had made our trip down memory lane and had such luck in ‘laying the ghost of the little elephant’ to rest, the thought of which had haunted him all these years - we thought you’d like to share this story with us.