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As bombs rain down, come life and hope.

War brings schoolmaster's wife Evelyn deep sadness, but her children shine a light in her dark world

In part two of Evelyn Macro's Second World War diary, we follow the schoolmaster's wife as she struggles to run a house of Newcastle Royal Grammar School boys in Penrith, Cumbria, to her husband Bill enlisting in the RAF and the birth of her twins, Sylvia and Robin.

It is Sylvia Pinkerton, 63, from Riding Mill, Northumberland, who decided to share her mother's account of wartime life with The Journal.

Evelyn died in 1991 aged 86, and Bill in 2005 aged 93.


The year looking after the 38 boys in the house was the most miserable of our lives. Half the boys were grand, helpful kids. The other half veritable demons.

Every day we would find some terrible thing had happened if we went out. Furniture broken, rose archways pulled down etc.

One day we found a large hole had been made in the wall between two bedrooms, so that two friends could chat to each other after lights out. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. If one was a school master it was a reserved occupation; one could please oneself about joining the Army, air force or navy, or staying on to teach the children.

Suddenly my husband jumped up and said: "I am going to join the air force."

We had certainly done our stretch of looking after this horrible house, but even that seemed preferable to being parted.

Especially as the air force men were being shot out of the sky without mercy.

Only about two out of every 12 came back alive, and then often badly burned and maimed ( at that time it was the end of 1940.

From the moment Bill said he was going to join the air force, things took on a terrible aspect for me.

As well as looking after these 38 boys I was expecting our first baby in a month's time.

Now it was my time for looking into space. We had been married two years and things had been so happy and perfect until we had been put in charge of this horde of boys with this old witch of a matron.

There was never any time to breath. I was brushing, dusting and cleaning the house all day. Every night I spent my time darning socks, socks, socks for ever.

In the evening we had no meal. We were always madly hungry. I remember crying one night and saying if the matron insisted on starving us, I would go down in the middle of the night and get some food while she was asleep.

How our little baby turned out so perfect I shall never know. He was built on eight months of slavery and one month of peace.

One was always happy in his presence.

How I would have got through the lonely time when Bill went away, I do not know, without his soothing, dear presence.

My husband, in spite of my pleading, sent for his papers to join the RAF. When the call-up papers came I was already in the nursing home with my newborn baby only a week old.

When he showed me the papers I was distraught. "War! War! War!" I cried "What good does it do to anybody anyway?"

Once again I pleaded with my husband. "Why are you going?" I said. "You need not go. You are in a reserved occupation."

He looked at me sadly and said: "Every man who can should go. If the Germans win the war, it will be a sad day for our little son."

He looked at the baby sleeping peacefully then said: "You must be brave and look after him while I am away."


For a year I looked after our little Ray (of sunshine) alone. Some weekends we would brave the hundreds of German planes and go home to see my parents.

One day I received a letter from Bill saying his sight was not good enough to fly bombers, so he was transferred to the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE).

This would mean that he would remain in England! He would not be sent abroad and I should be able to go and see him.

The sun was shining brightly that morning, but it shone even more brightly for me, especially as Bill said: "Now I am staying in England, you will be able to come and stay here for a holiday and eventually we might be able to live somewhere near the establishment. In any case, come and bring the baby and we shall see what can be arranged."

Full of joy that we could be together again, even if only for a short while, I set off to see him. Four months later I again started making arrangements to go down again to see my dear Bill.

I packed our case, put little Ray (now nearly 18 months old) into his push chair and got the train from Penrith to Newcastle to say goodbye to my parents.

My husband at this time was stationed at Swanage on the south coast. It was a long way to travel alone with a baby, a push chair, and two gas masks.

I knew it would be a pretty desperate journey as trains for civilians were diverted onto peculiar lines, to let the forces have the main lines free, but I was determined to go.

My parents were very sad and upset and tried their best to persuade me not to. They said the bombs were raining down everywhere, and even the trains were being attacked by German aircraft. Just as I was ready to go, a letter came from Bill saying: "Do not come yet, the Germans have found the research station at Swanage and have started bombing it. We shall move secretly by night to an unknown destination.

"I shall let you know as soon as I know myself." Once again the terrible waiting and knowing nothing. And I was expecting another baby.

After a very long lapse of time, I got a letter to say they had moved to Great Malvern in Worcestershire. At last things were looking up. Bill said he had some very good digs and his charming landlady said she would put me up with the baby for three weeks. In fact, I stayed eight weeks, and it made me want to stay longer.


I thought I had better see the doctor in Great Malvern before attempting the long journey to Newcastle again. The baby seemed to be growing at a great rate.

The doctor examined me and said: "You must have an X-ray. I am pretty sure you are going to have twins. I can feel two little hearts beating."

I was thrilled at the thought of having two babies, but what worried me was that I had only one set of clothes for one baby and that I had booked up in the nursing home at Penrith.

The doctor said I must not travel on any account unless I wanted the babies to be born in the train.

Here were two very hard things to solve, first I had used all my clothing coupons buying the first layette and being in a strange town it was very hard to find a nursing home to take me.

Suddenly everything seemed too much for me. I sat on a seat in the park and started to cry, (which was an almost unknown thing for me to do). I was sitting with my head down when I heard a gentle voice say: "What is the matter dear?"

I was ready to talk to anybody I was so miserable. After telling this kind lady all my troubles, the greatest of all being that I had nobody to leave my first darling baby with. Then I could not find a nursing home in Malvern.

The lady was most kind and said: "I will look after your first baby and find you a place in a first class nursing home."

I said: "But I don't know you." She assured me that she was a doctor's wife. She said she had a daughter who loved babies and would help her with little Ray. She was so kind I felt I could trust her.

But three weeks before I was to go into the nursing home I had a letter from her saying she had been to Birmingham and had an X-ray and had been told that she had cancer so she would not be able to look after my little baby after all.

My husband said: "I must take him to Newcastle to your parents."

But when he asked for leave from TRE they said it was quite impossible.

He went to see everybody but got the same answer. What were we to do? At last they gave him half a day's leave to take my darling baby to Nottingham and my brother Hilton took him up to Newcastle to my parents.

It was November 1942 and the war was at its height. I was going to be very lonely without little Ray, but it was the best arrangement we could make.

The kind doctor's wife who had offered to look after Ray had at least booked me up in the best nursing home in Great Malvern, and it was there that our lovely babies were born, in what was known as Lady Diana Cooper's room, because she had had all her children born in that room.

It cost a tremendous amount of money, but we managed somehow, we were only too glad to get into a nursing home anywhere at that time."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 30, 2006
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