Gordon Setterfield
Thu Oct 01 2020 
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Memories of a evacuee in Edenbridge during World War II
 
A friend of mine recently visited Edenbridge and returned with a most interesting copy of "Edenbridge:
the past in pictures". We were both members of Westminster City School billeted in Edenbridge from September 1939, and we have many happy memories of our time there.


My foster-parents were Mr and Mrs Tom Fisher, living at 88 High Street, who cared for me as one of their own for 4 years. I was warmly welcomed into their family, and I only regret that until much later in life I did not appreciate just what they did for me, and the inconvenience I must have been. Their own three daughters were all mature adults, and the imposition of a cuckoo into their nest must have been something they certainly couldn't have anticipated.

Tom Fisher was the steward of the Working Men's Club (I think that was the name). The daughters were Mary (Mercer), whose husband's name was Ron, and they had a daughter Susan; Nancy, who worked at a kennels outside Edenbridge, and who later joined the Land Army; and Betty, who lived with her parents (and me!), and who was the usherette at the Negresco, owned at that time by Mrs Batt and her son. Betty was a lovely, vivacious girl, who held me in thrall, and who later in the war became a lathe operator in a factory in London, making munitions! So many people did such unlikely jobs during the war!

Next door, at No.86, was Mr Collinson, whose front room had been converted into his shoe repair shop.- he had lost one leg in WW1, and he was related to the Fishers. Mrs Fisher's sister (Mrs Baldwin), with her son Charles, lived just across the road in Church Street, in the house which has now been redeveloped.

I can only say how fortunate I was in living with such a close knit family.

I used to fish in the Tannery stream (!), kept rabbits in the back yard, and frequently hid under my bed after the air raid siren sounded. That damned siren, which was sited on the tannery roof, only about 30 yards from my bedroom at the back of the house. It was only after working in the telephone and public address industry that I came to realise that my deteriorating hearing was possibly attributable to that siren, which sometimes went six times during the night.

Mrs Collinson had an allotment, where she was self sufficient for vegetables, and her chickens were prolific layers, and rewarded by being quickly despatched when necessary.

I was always warm, well fed and felt loved, and will always regret that I did not keep in touch with my foster family after the war. In my meagre defence I can only plead that I was called up at the age of 18, immediately sent to the Far East for three years, married soon after my return, and then transferred to Nottingham, where I worked for 5 years. By that time the link was broken, although my mother kept in touch with Betty Fisher until Mum's death in 1975. I've tried to trace Betty, who was married to Lyn Pugh at the pub opposite No 88, but only got as far as finding that she had remarried and was living (in 1975) in Tunbridge Wells. Sadly, I heard that she had been extremely ill, and that both Mary and Nancy had both passed on. I visited Edenbridge in 2002, but was so depressed to see what had happened to my former home, and the neighbouring premises, that I told my friends who were driving me around, that I didn't feel like holding them up while I made further enquiries.

I could ramble on at length about mad bicycle races down Marlpit Hill, school classes held in the Crown Hotel, free entrance into the Negresco, where boxers including Len Harvey gave an exhibition event; schools dances etc, but remind myself that yours is a historical society, not a confessional. I also recall the soldiers of the PPCLI (many of whom were killed in the invasion), and the poilus on trains passing through the station on the way back from Dunkirk.

Incidentally, and unknown to me until following my friend's recent visit to Edenbridge, he took my place
in the Fisher household when I left school, for he was a year younger than I. And he now lives just 10 miles from me in Frankston. Another school friend, who went on to become my Best Man, (as I was his), also lives just 10 miles away, and he stayed with the Vatcher family. I seem to recall Mr Vatcher was a postman. I have just spoken to one of the two friends to check on that point, and he has asked me to add that he also stayed with the Prettiman family at Four Elms. Both schoolmates, Peter Symons and Jock Helm, have requested me to emphasise that we all feel a very warm affection for Edenbridge, and will always be grateful for the way in which the various families took us into their homes at a time which must have been very difficult for them in many other ways.

Gordon Setterfield