Me, Evacuee (Historical Fiction Competition)

It is September 1st 1939 and World War Two has begun.
Jimmie is only ten years old and yet he is thrown into an unexpected situation which forces him to grow up much faster than he should. There is a call for children living in the cities to evacuate to the countryside and soon Jimmie finds himself all alone on a train to Devon and to an unknown world that is very unlike his own. However, when all seems on the upturn everything gets worse, as his father is sent to the battlefield, leaving his elder sister, his mother and her expected baby to abandon their home in Coventry and move to Cornwall. Jimmie finds it hard to keep track of his family's safety and under these hard circumstances he grabs onto the only links he has with home, while making friends with the unlikeliest of people.
Evacuation isn't as Jimmie expected. Will he make it through? Will his friends and family?


3. I Thought We Were Friends

I Thought We Were Friends


                Jimmie’s not very talkative, but he seems like a nice fellow. He thinks about things too much, that’s his problem. He told me a bit about him, how his family live over a bakery in Coventry, which his mother co-runs. His father works in a factory from dawn until dusk and Jimmie doesn’t see much of him. He also has an elder sister called Sara who has important exams at the end of the year, apparently, she wants to be a doctor and Jimmie says she can do it because she’s smart and his mother says he is too.

                I found out more about him like his hobbies and his education, which makes me wonder why he always gets into trouble, he seems more like a goody-two-shoes than a rebel, but I don’t really know him. I’m a bit of a rebel myself so I can’t really criticise him, but I would never commit to anything too drastic, I just like my fun.

                I think my mother is quite glad I’ve been sent away, to be honest; it means that she no longer has to worry about me and she is no longer responsible for my behaviour. I suppose the two of us have that in common.

                We talked for the last few hours of the journey and the sun was beginning to set. He said he was from Coventry, further south than Manchester, which was where I was from, also a major city. We were both headed for Devon, which was lucky and I was glad.

                As we pulled into the station, we picked up our things and walked down the train to the exit, the train staggering beneath us as we went. When it came to a halt, we stepped off the train and we were sent over to a group of other children lead by a woman. She was checking the children’s tags and the platform was all a jumble as people fought to find their group and leaders made sure nobody was left behind. Jimmie and I stayed together, making sure we didn’t lose each other in the crowds.

                When everybody was present, we made our way out of the station and into the town. We walked down the streets of Oakhampton to a nearby church to be billeted. I didn’t like the idea of people choosing me. What if I wasn’t picked? It was times like this when I wished I looked cute or handsome so as to get on people’s good side. It was the same feeling I got when I played sport at school, one never wanted to be picked last. Thankfully, at school I was one of the best at sport and so consequently was first to be picked. However, this wasn’t school and this wasn’t sport.

                When we got into the church, our group hurried in. We had split off from other groups after we had left the station, other groups waiting for one or two stops later. The lady who led us told us to behave ourselves and patiently wait in line, so we did. Well, the show offs didn’t, you would have thought that the whole idea of evacuation would have sobered them up a bit and caused them to be more respectful, but they were more unfair than before.

                I sighed and stood with Jimmie at the side who seemed to be shaking. I assumed he was worried about being picked, also. I gave him a slightly reassuring pat on the back, he didn’t stop trembling though. It wasn’t until I stood next to him that I realised how short and skinny he seemed. I couldn’t understand how at home in Coventry they thought him a mischief.

                Slowly people began to leak into the church to pick their children. I stood shoulder to shoulder with Jimmie, slightly away from the others in the hope that they might think us brothers and keep us together. When the people came in the ‘popular’ children began to behave themselves and often the poor host families didn’t realise what trouble they’d given themselves until after they had chosen and we’re out the door.

                People were clearly not too keen on picking two ‘brothers’ like me and Jimmie were posing, however pairs of girls were being chosen. I assume that they thought boys would be harder to handle than girls would, certainly more girls were disappearing out of the door. I continued to smile shyly at people in the hope of swaying them, I was relieved that Jimmie was small because he seemed so innocent and vulnerable which was sure to get him picked.

                The number of children huddled in the church was quickly declining and soon there was only about ten of us left, all boys. Many had been chosen and others had been taken out in small parties with someone knocking on nearby doors and asking those inside to take a child.

                A woman with a young girl came in and immediately seemed attracted to Jimmie. As she came over I gripped him tightly and pointedly telling her we were going together. She seemed to get the gist and changed course towards another young boy.

                “I really thought we were going to get picked then, Tommy,” Jimmie whispered, close to tears.      “Don’t worry. We are going to get picked, Jimmie. I know it,” I replied, though I didn’t really believe myself.

                Jimmie turned to me, his pale faced and ill-looking. “But what if we don’t? What if nobody wants me? What if they pick you and not me and I get left on the streets to starve?” his voiced cracked.

                “Don’t be ridiculous, Jimmie. We are going to get picked and even if we don’t get picked, they won’t leave us on the streets to starve. Just be patient.” However, I too was losing my patience and my cool head.

                A few minutes later, an old couple came shuffling in and, slowly, made their way across the room. They looked so frail, or at least the woman did, I didn’t know how they would keep a child. The woman used a walking stick and the old man helped her along. I heard them say to the billeting officer that they wanted one girl. The man told them that unfortunately, all of the girls had gone and the woman seemed a little disheartened.

                “Well, a young man then. My frail bones could not cope with a young-un,” the man explained that they could have any of us standing there. I made the mistake of looking up, as the woman caught my eye and pulled her husband over. I was eleven but I looked older, whereas Jimmie was ten but looked younger. When the woman shuffled over I knew this was it.

                “Well, hello there, young man,” the woman said cheerfully to me. She seemed completely unaware of the fact that Jimmie was clutching at me so hard I thought he would yank my arm from its socket.

                “Good evening, Mrs,” I replied politely, my voice shaking a little.

                “Mrs Elsie,” she explained. “How would like to come home with us?” she asked me. ‘Not at all’ was what I wanted to say, for both their sake and Jimmie’s, but I didn’t. However, she didn’t wait from an answer and seemed to decide that I had agreed.

                “Well come along then. You can’t keep us waiting here all day; we’re slower than most you know.” I did know and that was partly the reason that I wanted them to walk away. She ushered me away and turned to make her way to the exit.

                I didn’t know whether to follow or not. I knew I should but my heart told me to remain where I was. She continued to walk on, unaware that I wasn’t following behind. My brain was frantically telling my feet to move but they wouldn’t obey. Mrs Elsie turned.

                “Well are you coming or what?” she called and continued on.

                I had to go and I knew it. I picked up my package off the floor and made to move away, but I physically couldn’t; Jimmie was like a dead weight on my arm.

                “Jimmie. Get off,” I whispered urgently to him, trying to pull my hand free, but he wouldn’t release it from his grasp.

                “What are you doing?” I whispered, attempting to free myself. “I have to go, Jimmie,” Jimmie still wouldn’t relinquish his grip. “For goodness sake Jimmie. Let go!” I growled at him, but immediately wished to take it back. The tears that had been welling up in his eyes burst out and began streaming down his cheeks. He cracked.

                “You said we were friends!” he cried, staring up at me.

                “We are friends, Jimmie,” I muttered. Mrs Elsie and her husband were nearly at the door. “But I have to go with them, they picked me.” I said impatiently.

                “Exactly. They picked you!” he sobbed, pulling my shirt harder. “I told you they wouldn’t choose me. Now I’m not going to get picked and I’m going to die on the streets,” he wailed.

                “For Pete’s sake, Jimmie, you’re not going to die. Don’t be such a baby!” I shouted at him.

                “How do you know that I won’t die? You’re going to go off with your nice host family and have nice food and a comfortable bed and warmth and you’ll forget all about me, the baby,” he cried

                “I won’t forget about you, don’t be so ridiculous. And I’m sorry I didn’t mean to call you a baby, it’s just I have to go with them. It’s not as if I want to, but I have to. I don’t want to cause trouble,” I explained. That seemed to hit a nerve and he loosened his grip.

                Jimmie’s face was shimmering with tears. “If you don’t want to go with them, don’t,” he muttered softly, not giving me eye contact. I looked up and saw Mrs Elsie’s husband watching me from by the exit.

                “I’m really sorry, Jimmie, but I must go now,” I said quietly and with my arm now free, I speeded towards the exit, leaving a sobbing Jimmie in my wake.

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