THIS year marks the 75th anniversary of the wartime evacuation. Today we focus on one little girl who ended up living in the home of a war hero.
SHIPWRIGHT’S daughter Anne Hagedorn was eight years old when she packed her bags and left home – forced to flee Sunderland as an evacuee when war broke out.
One long and exciting train journey later, Anne arrived in Yorkshire – where she found herself billeted to the splendour of a gabled Tudor-style mansion house.
“Cowesby Hall was quite a change from our house in Southwick,” she said. “There were cooks to make meals, maids to clean and gardeners to tend the grounds.
“Of course, the servants weren’t there for us; they looked after the Gott family who owned the hall. But it was an amazing experience.”
Anne, the youngest of three girls born to Robert and Helen Keighley, grew up in Clockwell Street and was a pupil at High Southwick School when war was declared.
“My father was a shipwright by trade, but shipyard work was very hard to come by in the 1930s. He ended up working on the dustbins for the corporation,” she said.
“More ships were needed when war broke out and work became more plentiful. But dad sadly died in December 1939, so didn’t get the chance to go back to the yards.
“My sisters were told they either had to go into the forces or work in munitions. They chose the munitions factories, as they thought they could help mam more that way.”
Anne still recalls the sound of the air raid siren as it rang out for the first time on September 3, 1939 – just after the announcement that Britain was at war.
“There was an air raid warden post across the road from us at the time, housed in the old Gem cinema. Being little I was just excited, I felt no fear back then,” she recalls.
“But, as we lived practically on the banks of the Wear, very close to the shipyards and Queen Alexandra Bridge, a lot of people were very worried we would get bombed.”
Indeed, fears that Sunderland could become a major target for Hitler’s Luftwaffe prompted Sunderland Corporation to draw up plans to evacuate 10,000 youngsters.
Some were sent to America, others to County Durham or Northumberland. Anne and her pals from school, however, were destined for the safety of rural North Yorkshire.
“I was evacuated with about 23 classmates, as well as some teachers. We took the train from Sunderland Central Station and had no idea where were going,” she said.
“I think we ended up getting off at Thirsk, and were then taken to Cowesby Hall by coach. Some children didn’t stay two minutes, they went back home, but I loved it.”
The manor was owned by Beryl Gott at the time, but later passed to her nephew William – the man promoted over Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to lead the Eighth Army.
“We had a playroom which was originally a gun room,” said Anne. “There were wooden gun racks on the walls, though the guns were gone. We played, read and had fun in there.
“Although we had some teachers with us, we used to walk to nearby Kirby Knowle for school at first – until desks were provided in what was once, I think, the drawing room.
“After that, we stayed at the hall for lessons. The teachers looked after us, as did the mothers of two evacuees, and I played with the children of a Major who lived nearby.
“His children had a nursery full of toys – nothing like I was used to in Sunderland. I’d had dolls, of course, and toys, but nothing like they had.
“It was a magical place.”
Anne also enjoyed trips to Thirsk market during her time as an evacuee, as well as exploring the countryside and the occasional day trip – on the back of an open lorry.
But, in 1941, the hall was taken over by the Government and turned into a billet for servicemen. Anne was sent back to Sunderland – at the height of Hitler’s air raids.
“Southwick was badly bombed during the war,” said Anne. “I still remember when a laundry on The Green was bombed – all the clothes ending up hanging off trees.
“I found it funny at the time, rather than scary. I also remember how the bridge had bullet holes all along the sandstone, from the German planes firing as they flew past.”
Anne survived the war unscathed, despite being sent home early from Yorkshire, but she still retains a great fondness for Cowesby Hall and her time there as an evacuee. “We were very, very well looked after. It was an experience I wouldn’t have liked to missed! Sadly, the hall later burned down. I’d have liked to have gone back to see it.”
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Timeline of Cowesby Hall
•Cowesby Hall was erected in 1832 by Lord of the Manor George Lloyd from designs by architect Anthony Salvin.
•The house passed down through the Lloyd family until the early 20th century, when Thomas William Lloyd died in 1904.
•Cowesby Hall became the home of the Gott family. Beryl Katherine Gott left the house to her nephew, William “Strafer” Gott, in 1941.
•William was promoted to Colonel in 1941, later becoming an acting Lieutenant-General and leading the XIII Corps in the battles of Gazala and First Alamein.
•Winston Churchill promoted William to commander of the Eighth Army in 1942, but he was killed in a plane crash before taking up the post.
•Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was appointed in William’s place.
•The contents of Cowesby were sold in 1945, including an oriental cabinet for £32, a French writing table for £38 and a Georgian cabinet for £46.
•Cowesby was put up for auction in May 1946. It had four reception rooms, nine main bedrooms, five servant bedrooms and hot running water.
•The hall was purchased by M.J.W. Cameron, of the Lion Brewery of West Hartlepool. He intended to revamp it, but it was destroyed by fire in 1947.