Journey by Train

This is my first ever attempt at writing historical fiction. It is only 1000 words but it took me a few days of researching and rewriting to get it to this point. I chose to do something set in Britain during the war because this is also history that I am not as knowledgeable about having been born and raised in New York.

Journey by Train

I stared out the window fighting the train’s rhythmic motions that were enticing me to sleep. I wasn’t as nervous as I was on my first journey by train. That was September 4, 1939. I was only eight then. We had a special sausage breakfast as a treat that morning. After breakfast mother took the little ones to Mrs Walker. Father had headed to the docks before we woke up.

As we left for school mother handed us a filled pillowcase each. “What’s this for?” asked my brother James who was five at the time.

“You’re going to visit the countryside today with the school.”  I heard forced excitement in her voice.

Margaret, who is only eleven months younger than I, skipped on ahead. James eagerly asked my mother questions about what things we would see in the countryside. I felt sick to my stomach.

At school my mother hugged the others tightly and sent them through the front gates. I noticed other mothers were crying and I asked my mother what was happening. She explained war was upon us and Liverpool might get bombed. She told me to be brave as I pleaded with her to let me stay. As she pushed me through the gates she ordered me to look after the younger ones and make sure we stayed together.

At the end of the last school year we were measured for gas masks and a policeman taught us to use them. Our masks were delivered to our homes in August. They seemed fun at first but after wearing it for a few minutes it stuck to your face and made you sweat. We were instructed to carry them with us at all times. I hated my mask and the box that it came in but fear made me carry it everywhere. I hated war.

In the school my teacher made me take my things out of the pillowcase, wrap them in paper and tie them with string. My mother had packed me a vest, two pairs of knickers, an extra pair of stockings, a few handkerchiefs, my Sunday dress and a slip. I was wearing my blue smocked dress, the red button-through cardigan my mother had knitted and my battered mac. Mother had packed me a cheese sandwich, an apple and some evaporated milk for my lunch in an old tin. My ration book and identity card were already in the box with my mask.

My teacher attached tags to my mac and my parcel of belongings. I was permitted to go gather my sister and my brother before making my way towards the bus which eventually let us out at Liverpool Lime Street Station. I held James and shouted at Margaret to stay close. The station was crowded with many other children from other schools. We were herded by our teachers to a crowded train.

James and Margaret didn’t realise we weren’t going home that day until we were on the train. I was angry at mother for having to be the one to comfort them when they found out. Stop by stop other children were ushered off the train by their teachers. James had fallen asleep and Margaret kept sniffling.

Just after lunchtime, the train stopped once again, our teachers rounded us up into a group. As we left the platform we walked to a school and were informed we were in Bangor, North Wales. There was a crowd of adults in the school yard and we paraded in front of them. The billeting officer Mr Evans, called us forward according to the number of children in each group starting with the single children first. I watched the crowd of adults get smaller and smaller.

As one of the last groups of three it became clear nobody wanted to take us. A dishevelled man called out that he would take James who clung to me in fear. I cried out that my mother said we had to stay together. One of the teachers pulled Margaret to one side and another pulled James off me. As I sat down and wept our fate suddenly became better than most evacuees during the war.

A woman stepped forward. “Wait, I will take the three.”

The billeting officer looked at her in surprise and then he nodded in consent. James ran into my arms and even Margaret looked grateful. We followed the woman out of the yard and walked in silence as she pointed out little places here or there she thought we might like to see.

When we arrived at the stone cottage at the end of a little lane we couldn’t believe our eyes. You could see the Menai Strait to the left and the house was surrounded by gardens. We were shown to our rooms. Margaret and I were to share but James had a smaller room all to himself. Considering back home five children shared one room it was a luxury. As we put our things away, the woman who said to call her Cerys, gave us time to rest.

About two hours later we were instructed to wash up. When we settled at the table we had yet another surprise. The billeting officer entered the room and sat at the table.

We made the most of our time away from Liverpool with kind Mr and Mrs Evans. We had our own teachers but we shared a nearby Welsh school so we only went for half a day. Cerys taught us Welsh and took us to the Welsh Chapel on Sundays. Mother was too busy with the younger children to ever visit and when we returned home it was hard to adjust to Liverpool life again after five years away.

The train pulled into Bangor station I was suddenly very excited. I was starting my training as a nurse in Anglesey Hospital, Cerys helped arrange it for me. I reached the platform and ran into the open arms of my second mother.

——————————————————————————————-

For a similar but true story of one girl’s evacuation from Liverpool to Wales please visit:

Kindness of Strangers – by Melissa Ann Goodwin

Melissa is seeking more details about her mother’s story during this time period.

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About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a primary and middle school teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three and a wannabe author.
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16 Responses to Journey by Train

  1. Wow. I’m really impressed for your first historical fiction story. It is very powerful and moving. I could tell you did your research. I do not know British history well but the little details you included made me imagine that I was with the children during the war. I love it. I hope you try another historical fiction story in the future.

    • usaukwoods says:

      Thank you Haley. I have a new appreciation for historical fiction writers and all the research that must go into writing a novel. Absolutely amazing! I think I may be tempted to try to write historical fiction again sometime as it was fascinating reading all the history.

  2. Billie Jo, you are a lovely writer! I was throughly drawn in to your story and didn’t want it to end. I love writing historical too. And reading it. Am working on polishing my historical novel, Sword of Mordrey, which is set in England and Jerusalem during 1099 – 1101. You’re so right about the research being huge, but facinating.

    Journey by Train is very polished, well-written and tight. And I love how you tied the brief beginning to the brief end. I felt emotions for the mother and children as I read it, and curiosity as to what might happen next. Well done! I’m going to tweet this and subscribe.

    • usaukwoods says:

      Thank you for the lovely comments! It was the first time I attempted to write historical fiction. Normally I write fantasy. It was a challenge but I enjoyed it.

  3. Selena says:

    What a beautiful piece. Loved that it was from a child’s pov. Haley has some great challenges and you surely rose to the occasion!

    • usaukwoods says:

      Thank you Selena! I couldn’t imagine having had the security of my home taken from me at such a young age.

      • You captured the emotions of the children and mother beautifully. This very polished piece needs to be continued. Have you thought about writing a sequel?

      • usaukwoods says:

        Not so much a sequel as an expanded version of this. I do feel like there is more of this story that could be told. I want to know more about the Evans’ ( I feel as though they were unable to have children of their own so the evacuees became their only children in a way). I want to know how the other children adjusted to life back in Liverpool after the war. I always feel that way when I write shorter pieces though, I just want to add back story after back story and keep developing each character. I want to know more about what happened on a day to day basis.

  4. KenBroad says:

    Billie Jo,

    You absolutely nailed it! While its easy to write about the visible things that war brings, you searched out for the unseen things and brought them to light. My grade 4 teacher lived in London during the Blitz and use to tell us about hiding in the tube during raids.

    It must have been terrible for parents to have to choose keep their children, or try to keep them safe. And when the children got delivered to safety, it was often to less than ideal circumstances. They were blessed to have the Evan’s, and I also would like to hear more of this story please!

    Very beautiful!

    • usaukwoods says:

      Thank you Ken! I tried to uncover the day to day part of the war. People here sometimes say to me that American’s don’t understand the war in the same way as the British because it was not on our doorstep. In many ways they are right. It was the same war with the same overall world history but the local history is so very different.

  5. Pingback: Stories, Stories, Stories. «

  6. Billie Jo, On September 4, 1939, my mother was evacuated from the Lime Street Station in Liverpool to Beaumaris, Wales. She was 14 years old, and I think she was at the Liverpool Blue Coat boarding school. She was already pretty much alone in the world, having been sent by my grandmother to live with family in England, and then ending up being sent off to boarding school. Her time in Beaumaris as an evacuee was one of the happiest in her life. You have captured the feeling of the day and the journey so beautifully, and your facts are spot on. Wonderful.

    • Melissa,
      Thank you so much for telling me a little bit about your mother’s story. I am amazed how strong people were during this time period and how much they had to hope that a stranger would be kind and caring. Sounds like your mother was very lucky to be placed with a caring family.
      Best wishes,
      Billie Jo

  7. I am reading two books about this, and sadly, many children did not receive kindness by the families that took them. It’s rather shocking really, and I am just beginning to realize how much trauma was caused by this. My mother hadn’t been in a stable home to begin with, but some of these children went from being in a loving home to feeling like Cinderella with the wicked stepmother. My mother was really lucky – for once!

    • A lot of the Liverpool children were poor and had lice so they got their heads shaved and scrubbed with disinfectant when they reached their destination. It was really awful for some!

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