Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Fruit jelly for tea

Last week in Wales, I made my usual visit to my friend Ella, now in her 101st year. After tea (which included jelly with fruit in it because she knows I love it), our reminiscences turned to the subject of evacuees, children who’d arrived in the area when evacuated out of London for safety during the Second World War.

What stories came out! Ella remembers so much I sometimes catch myself thinking there’s nothing she’s forgotten. Her mind is like a deep map of the area – and it’s a map that not only has historical depth. It includes what’s going on now.

Evacuees now:

Thinking back over tales Ella remembered, it occurs to me that the theme of evacuation is just as important today. Families of Rohingya Muslims flooding out of Myanmar, people fleeing for their lives from war in Syria, children and adults risking their lives in flimsy boats sailing from African shores to the hoped-for better life in Europe: in so many parts of the world, people are daily being displaced from their homes, sometimes to try and save their lives, sometimes because they choose to go when they feel they have no other choice.

Evacuees then:

With Ella, the theme of evacuation began when I happened to recall a family of elderly sisters in St David’s who’d told me how they’d taken on a little girl. I remember them describing the bus arriving in the Cross Square and the big group of local people watching as boys and girls trooped out of it. Like some other families in the area, they didn’t want to take on a boy. So the brother of the girl they took went to a farm on the outskirts of St David’s. The girl went to them. They became very fond of this child and she of them and, years later, she was still making an annual visit from London to see them. On one occasion, I met her.

In two of the instances Ella recalled, a boy evacuee had been sent to live on a farm. In both cases, the farmer and his wife had taken to the child and in each the boy had stayed on with them after the war. In each case too, when the farmer died, the evacuee had inherited everything the farmer had.

The need for welcome:

New relationships can be formed. People make new kinds of lives. It’s worth hanging on to such knowledge in all the sadness of the world’s current displacements. But it’s also important to recognise that a welcome has to be given. In this regard, I remember a cruel story which once came up at one of the Drill Hall workshops I used to run with Karen T. The person who told it had been evacuated as a child to somewhere in South Wales. When she asked her evacuee mother if she could have a bedtime story (something she’d always had at home in London), the woman responded through tight lips, ‘I’ll tell you a story. It’s the story of three wells. Well, well, well.’

And that was it!

PS: Talking of displacement, my photos this week are of two that were taken by Paul. The top one is of what we know as ‘the rock’ on the left-hand side of Whitesands beach as you look out to sea. Last week, much to our amazement, we wondered for a moment if it had disappeared completely. Buggy next to it, rucksack on top, it was providing a young couple with a baby with somewhere to leave their stuff.  The beach all round it was higher and smoother than I’ve ever seen it before with sand brought in by recent storms. How big ‘the rock’ is in total had become clear last year for the first time in all my experiences of visiting the beach when, thanks to another sand displacement, we then saw the whole of it from the top to the very bottom.

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