MEMORIES OF AN EVACUEE TO DITTISHAM
HENRY ROBERT BUTT (known as 'Dinkie), born 1929
I was evacuated twice, the first time (1939/40) was from Barnes SW13 to Dorney Common near Windsor. My brother, John, (three years older) and I went to a house on the edge of the Common. Up to about a month ago I thought I was the only one in my family who was evacuated there but my brother told that he was also with me in the same house. Mum sent me a new pair of shoes but they went missing. I slept in an alcove in a room that was a bedroom for the husband who was married to the daughter of the household. The husband and wife did not get on too well and late at night or early in the morning he got all his stuff together (I was awake and thought he was going to work) but he was running away from his wife. Soon after I went back to Barnes SW13.
My second evacuation was to Dittisham. I had three brothers and 5 sisters; with Mum and Dad we were 10 in the same house. My Niece, Josie, (more like my little sister) and I were sent to Dittisham. I was taken to a cottage called 'Peacehaven' (now Red Rose Cottage) in Manor Street and Mr. & Mrs. Kerr lived there. Their son, Aubrey, was in the Airforce. Josie went to Mrs. Andrews who lived two doors up in Manor Street. I remember crying a lot. My brother John was taken to Buckfastleigh. He now lives in Sydney, Australia) One day I was walking along The Level on my way to school or the church when I saw a 'Dog Fight' in the air between a German 'plane and one of ours, so I laid on the road by the wall as I was taught to do.
I used to help on the ferry that was rowed across the river to Greenway, I expect I was more of a nuisance but it was great fun. When pushing the ferry boat out we would jump onto the bow. On one occasion when two of us jumped on each side of the bow we bumped into each other and we both fell into the river. I would help row the boats which gave me hard corns on the palms of my hands. One of them went septic and I was taken to hospital in Dartmouth were it was opened up to get the poison out. I had my birthday in hospital; I think it was my 11th. The ferry boats were run by the Hutchinson family (Sid and Bob and friend 'Smugger'). They took us fishing at Anchorstone, we caught lots and lots of fish and sold them around the village. We evacuees and village kids would sometimes walk along the foreshore and on to Binhay Copse to explore and play. There were Naval ships and Hospital ships moored in the river between Dittisham and Dartmouth and one time we walked to just past Anchorstone where there were lots of small ships stored on the shore (Torpedo Boats, Landing Craft, Flak Gun Boats, etc) and I found a large tin of peanut butter.
Along The Level was a meadow (before the houses were built) and in winter we would slide on the ice and snow, we would sit on anything we could, I went down on a baking tray. There were only two buses a day from Dartmouth to take us to school. They would not come down the steep hill because it would not be able to get back up again. We had a very pretty Bus Conductress called Milly. The Caretaker at Dartmouth Boys School was a good, friendly man; he gave me a black ebony African club.
Anchored just above the jetty were two Paddle Steamers, I think they were 'Kingwear Castle' and 'Dartmouth Castle'. They were laid up for the duration of the war and we would paddle up to our knees through the thick mud at low tide to explore and play on them.
Mrs. Kerr who I lived with worked at a local dairy farm so we had fresh milk and cream. In her back garden were the real big sweet plums and I used to pick some of them and put them in the top of my wellies to sneak them out.
I remember Sammy Coombs, he was badly deformed but he was a very good boatman and fisherman. He would go in his boat into the rocks and catch very large conger eels. I was told that Sir Walter Raleigh live in the little house on Greenway Quay?
Lots of men from the village worked in the shipyard downstream. They went there by rowing boats and they would go down in the mornings and come back in the afternoon. We would watch them in the distance getting closer to home. Also we would paddle through the deep mud upstream of the jetty to collect rag worms by pushing our open hands deep into the mud, pulling up big chunks of mud and grabbing the rag worms before they slid back; they were bait for the fishermen.
Transcribed by Helen M Woodman from notes written in 2009 by Henry Robert Butt
of Weir House, Wraysbury, Staines UK