Childhood Memories

Of Canvey Island

Top and bottom: 'Marguerite'. Left: me with my Gran. Right: me with my Mum and Gran.
Janet Dolling

I was born on Canvey in 1932 at my grandmother’s home called ‘Marguerite’ in Long Road opposite St Nicholas Church – the house is still there. Later my mother and father moved to Craven Avenue. Three years later my little brother Jim was born and then my little sister Ellen. When I was 4 and a half I started school, the infants school was in some old wooden green huts next to William Read School. I loved school but dreaded going to the toilet. There was a row of wooden sheds, no locks on the doors, inside a plank of wood with a hole in and underneath a bucket which was always full up and smelly.

Luckily about a year later a new junior school was built in Long Road. Mr Benson was the headmaster. I loved school and soon learned to read and write. But when I was seven the war started and out lives changed. My aunt lived and worked in Paris and in 1940 when the Germans entered Paris she managed to escape and leave her flat. She came to Canvey where we and my aunt and cousins lived. Auntie Nellie said we must all leave the coast because the Germans would be here in a few days. So my mother and aunt and 6 of us children (I was the oldest) left Canvey and moved to a cottage in Brackley, Northamptonshire. We all lived together. Our fathers were in reserved occupations and could not come with us. My uncle was a farmer and my father was a fireman at Shellhaven. We missed Canvey and our school and friends. My cousin Diana and I went to the local school. They didn’t like evacuees and kept a separate register. The headmaster was very strict and we sat in long rows at one long desk. Luckily I could already read and write. I was too afraid of the teachers and the head would cane boys and girls in front of the whole school. I liked drawing and we had to draw war posters like ‘Wings for Victory’ and ‘Dig for Victory’. I remember I sat beside a boy who had never seen the sea and never been out of Brackley.

After about 2 years we missed Canvey and the Battle of Britain was over and things had quietened down. We returned to Canvey and I went back to my lovely school. We played on my uncle’s farms in the hay and collected eggs. We would take sandwiches and tea to the men in the fields and ride back on the big cart horses pulling loaded wagons – Major, Kit and Star. We kept chickens and my dad grew vegetables but everything was rationed and we never saw a banana or an orange. We played in the fields and picked mushrooms near the gasometer near Thorney Bay. The whole family would go and pick blackberries on Benfleet Downs. After school my mother would make sandwiches and take us to the beach where we paddled, collected shells and crabs etc. We could ride our bikes everywhere, there were hardly any cars on the road. We loved the dykes which were everywhere, we walked on the ice in the winter and caught tadpoles and newts in the summer. We had an air raid shelter in the garden which we used as a Wendy house but in the winter it was full of water. Then we had a Morrison shelter indoors which we slept in if the siren went, Mum would let our dog come in with us.

When I was 11 I passed the scholarship and I went to Southend High School with 2 other girls from Canvey, Daisy and Pauline. We left Canvey at 7.30 am took the bus to Benfleet and then the train to Southend. If there was an air raid we had to go in tunnels underneath the hockey field. Our mothers must have worried about us going off to school when we were 11. I loved the school and all the new subjects but the school dinners were awful, no wonder I was a thin child.

Comments about this page

  • What a lovely story thank you

    By Brenda (14/03/2021)

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