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East Lancs proved safe haven for so many wartime evacuees

EAST LANCASHIRE was invaded in the 1940s – by thousands of children escaping the horrors of the Second World War. The first few months of the conflict had been relatively quiet, but the Luftwaffe bombers began to wreak destruction on a massive scale.

Manchester was being pounded and Darwen and other smaller towns were welcoming youngsters into their homes. Later in the war, as London was being hit by flying bombs, thousands more children were packed off to avoid the carnage. And many again pitched up in East Lancs.

The Lancashire welcome for children plucked suddenly from their home lives and their little friends has been well documented. But what was it like for them?

Historian Tony Foster has been given a booklet written recently by one of those who arrived in Darwen in the summer of 1944 when rocket attacks on the capital were at their height.

David Day was eight years old and mesmerised by the steep streets and the surrounding hills and moorland which looked nothing like the carpet flatness of London.

Now in his 80s, David admits his memory is a little rusty, but he clearly remembers jumping off the train at Darwen station with scores of others to be met by a crowd of local folk anxious to do their bit, like they had been doing throughout the war.

He had left behind the thudding pulse of the “doodlebugs” as they were called and knew that once the noise stopped the rockets would be falling to earth.

“The sound of the explosion brought relief because we knew it had landed on someone else – poor devils,” he said. The later V2s were even faster and nastier.

David and his new friends, wearing their name tags, were taken to a school hall and fed and watered by volunteers before being inspected by local folk.

“A couple stopped by me,” he recalls. “They looked me over and, on some mutual signal, said ‘We’ll take this one’.

“I had been chosen by Josiah and Lillian Snape on the instructions of their daughter Marie who had told them to choose a little boy with ginger hair and freckles.”

David wrote: “I had been chosen by one of the best families that one could ever wish for – Uncle Siah and Auntie Lilly!”

Lucky indeed! The couple had a chip shop on Kay Street – pea and bacon broth a speciality – and spent nights in their nice cottage on Dandy Row.

Marie’s husband, ginger-haired Frank Horsfield, was in the Army. Lilly’s sister Sally Grundy, a widow, had a son called Brian and he and David became firm friends playing in the shale hills around Dandy Row and gathering wimberry on the moors.

The memoir is wonderfully evocative of a childhood spent among the moorland and mill chimneys. Occasionally, his Mum came up to spend a few days with him.

After ten months in the safety of the North, he was able to return home and join in the VE Day celebrations.

He visited Darwen with his family in 1947 to see the Snape family as so many evacuees did. I remember my Nan housing two London lasses for a year or more and I remember them coming to see her in the early 1950s.

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