THOUSANDS of children from across the North East faced the heartbreak of separation from their families when World War Two broke out in 1939.
But the mass evacuation of youngsters living close to possible Luftwaffe targets brought no fears for Anne Robson, nee Beverley, of Roker, who was about to embark on one of the happiest times of her life.
“I went to school one day, at the age of nine, and there was a list on the blackboard of places we were going to be evacuated to, like the Lake District,” the former primary teacher recalls.
“When I went home and told my mother she said ‘no, I was going to America’. However, the ship before the one I was going on was sunk and a lot of the evacuees were drowned.
“I was told we would have to take the chance of staying here. I was so disappointed because I could see myself as a little American.”
Anne, who was then living in South Shields, found herself on a bus destined for Hepscott in Northumberland instead, to stay with her mother’s aunt Charlotte and her husband, optician Jonathan Woolley.
Within days of her arrival, the official announcement that Britain was at war was broadcast.
“My aunty and uncle didn’t have a radio, but the people next door, the Bowmans, did, so we went round there to hear the radio when war was declared,” said Anne.
“I remember my uncle made us stand up when God Save The King was played. It was, in a way, quite exciting.”
A lack of a radio was not the only hardship Anne had to endure. Her new home had no indoor toilet, hot water or heating – and she was also the only girl in the village.
These issues, however, proved a small price to pay for a very happy life.
“Coming from a class of over 40 children, where I absolutely hated the teacher, and going to Hepscott Primary, where there were 16 of us in total, I just loved it,” recalls Anne.
“Miss Paterson was the head of the school and the teacher. In fact she did everything, and I adored her. I loved Hepscott to bits. It was a proper Enid Blyton type of life.
“We did things like climbing trees, and there was a little stream, where I saw a kingfisher. We’d look at clouds and think of what they looked like, and we would sit under a table and tell ghost stories. I loved it.”
It was during her time at Hepscott that Anne was presented with an Empire Day certificate in 1940, awarded to the little girl for providing comfort and contentment to the forces.
But Anne, who recently unearthed the document in a box of papers belonging to her late mother, has no idea what service she actually offered to win the award.
“I think I must have knit a square once, but I pity whoever got mine because they would have to pull it out and start again,” said Anne, who now runs an animal rescue service with her husband, David.
“A farmer came to the school once to ask for help with his potatoes, but he didn’t ask again so I think that speaks volumes about how good we were.”
While Anne was enjoying her new life in the country, her home town of South Shields was being badly bombed. During weekend trips home to her family, she quickly came to appreciate rural living.
“One weekend we were walking along the coast when a plane came over. My mother said it must be one of ours, they were always theirs or ours, and then the machine gun bullets started coming down,” she said.
“I wanted to stay and pick up the bullets, but my mother grabbed me and there was a lady’s door open, so we went in.
“My mother said, ‘excuse me, can we come in? We are being machine gunned’, and the lady just said, ‘sit down and I’ll make us a cup of tea’.
“I remember being told if you hear a siren go to the shelter, and if you have some money and you see a queue, join it and see what it’s for.”
Anne moved from Hepscott Primary to Morpeth Grammar School at 11, where she quickly settled in and made new friends.
“It was part-time education, with mornings one week and afternoons the other. The military took the school over for a while so we had to share with the boys,” she said.
“The boys did a Shakespeare play every year and, in 1941 or 1942, it was the first time in their history they had girls for the female parts. It was Henry IV Part One and my instructions were to learn some Welsh.
“I found some books that had Welsh in them so I learned it, but I hadn’t a clue what it meant. I just hope there were no Welsh people in the audience.”
When the war finally ended, Anne’s mother tried to persuade education officials to let her daughter stay on in Morpeth, as she was studying a different curriculum from the schools in South Shields.
It was not to be. Anne still managed to keep up her Northumberland friendships, though, even going on holiday with some of her former classmates.
“I will always love Hepscott and love Morpeth. Hepscott was so free for me and it was such a big part of my life, and I still go to Morpeth from time to time. It is very special to me,” she said.
l Do you have wartime memories you would like to share? Write to: Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland, SR4 9ER.