Cliff Laurence

Recollections of evacuation.


On the 1st September 1939 Cliff was evacuated with Peckham Central School to Shoreham by Sea. When war was announced on 3rd September Cliff was at Shoreham airfield and heard Chamberlain’s announcement over the tannoy. He recalls that everybody began to panic and aeroplanes began to take off. Shortly afterwards the siren sounded.

A narrow escape

As the war progressed Cliff was sent to Woking, where he stayed during the Battle of Britain. Bombing was heavy. One day Cliff returned home to find that everybody had gone out and the doors were locked. Whilst he waited on the door step he heard the noise of an aircraft approaching and saw a German Heinkel 111 appear above the houses. As it was flying so low, Cliff could see the gunner, who swung round and fired at Cliff. He ducked down and felt the bullets go over his back and into next door’s garden. He had not previously realised how hot bullets were. Cliff recalls that although he was ‘gagging to tell [his] story no-one would believe me!’ Proof followed the following day when the lady next door detached her tin bath from where it had been hanging on the wall and found that it was full of bullet holes. Cliff was deflated when he heard that his mother had had a similar experience in Peckham and could ‘top’ his story!

'Character forming'

Whilst evacuated, Cliff attended local schools. In Trowbridge in Wiltshire, he went to a boarding school, where he had lessons in the mornings and evenings, and played lots of sport in the afternoons. Those who disliked sport were able to do gardening as an alternative. Cliff also spent time at a farm in Hampshire, which employed elderly farm hands and six Land Army Girls. There was also a penal battalion of American soldiers present who had committed minor crimes and were under armed guard – Cliff recalls that they were very kind to the children.  He enjoyed evacuation and found it ‘character forming’ – he stayed at nice billets and formed lifelong friendships. Cliff’s education was basic but good, and he did not miss home. He was able to visit places which he would not otherwise have had the opportunity to do. Life continued despite the war.

Returning to Peckham

Cliff returned to Peckham before the war ended and attended Woolwich Polytechnic before obtaining work. He recalls the VE Day celebrations – a big bonfire was lit in the street, which was so large it damaged the road surface, and everybody danced and celebrated. 

Cliff’s older brothers were in the forces. Sadly one was killed in action in Malta. Cliff’s oldest brother served in the Air Force in North Africa, where he was lost in a dinghy for five days after engine trouble forced a crash landing opposite German territories. Cliff’s brother and the only other survivor floated until they entered British territory and were admitted to a field hospital. Miraculously they survived by drinking rain water trapped in a tarpaulin and eating rations of chocolate. 

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 23/04/2012.