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William's nostalgic return to wartime home

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

Many years after he returned to his native Liverpool, William Poland went back to Alveley to see his wartime haunt and look up the lady who had looked after him so well, Mrs Winnie Gittins.

William Poland on a nostalgic return to Alveley in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when he met Mrs Winnie Gittins, who had looked after him during the early part of the war. This picture shows him with Mrs Gittins outside their wartime home in Low Lane.

“In the late 1960s, and having bought my first car, I decided to show my wife the place where I had been evacuated,” said Mr Poland, who wrote an account of his experiences.

“I was full of apprehension. I asked at the village post office whether Mrs Gittins was still around and found that she had returned to the village and was living just across the road.

“It took some time for her to understand who I was but, from then on, it was amazingly as if I had never left.”

His Shropshire connection had begun when the 11-year-old Bill Poland – he went as Bill then – found himself heading away from his Liverpool home, destination unknown.

The youngest of seven brothers, he was the only one to be evacuated because the others were of military age.

On the morning of Saturday, September 2, 1939, with a pillowcase full of clean clothes, a label tied to his jacket, and a gas mask draped around his neck, he was taken by his mother to one of Liverpool’s main railway stations.

He was in a carriage with about 15 other children and a welfare lady, and the four-hour trip to Bridgnorth was frequently broken as groups of evacuees were dropped off.

By the time they arrived in Bridgnorth, their numbers had dwindled to about 80.

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They were put into two coaches and driven to Alveley village hall.

“There, by mid-afternoon, we were paraded for the benefit of the locals who – government grant persuaded – were to decide our fate.”

By early evening there were just two of them left, himself and a boy named John.

“Our welfare ladies were beginning to look worried. Then the hall door was thrown open and a rough-looking, unsmiling man barged in.

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“In answer to a question from one of the ladies, he confirmed that he had come for ‘a couple of evacuees’ and, after weighing John and me up, told her he would ‘take ‘em.’ Dusk was setting in when we were finally bundled into a small car – it was my first car ride – and driven, by one of the ladies, some two miles to the end of a narrow and shadowed country lane.”

They arrived at a cottage, darkened by the blackout which was already being followed in some areas.

This was 76 Low Lane, the home of Mr Jenner Gittins and his wife Winifred.

Young Bill’s wartime adventure had begun.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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