In this time of serial bad news, I thought it might be a good moment to express my thanks to the kind people of Hemel Hempstead on the last occasion that the town was under lockdown conditions. It was the onset of war, and the town took in, cared for, and taught a group of young parentless boys from other parts of Britain together with a few escapees from Europe. It may be a long time ago, but none of us in that group will ever forget the generous gift we received from this friendly town during dark and difficult days.
This is a very late thank-you message addressed to the friendly citizens of Hemel Hempstead. I have just come out of lock-down due to the present Pestilence and my age. The experience has made me recall the time I was sent to be cared for and educated in Hemel. I was then in a group of boys, all around eight years old, who, like me, were without a home or parents as a result of the onset of war. Indeed, we arrived in Hertfordshire to be (so to speak) locked-down in Gadebridge Park in September 1939, the month war was declared. Little did we know that we would be there for four long years, and how fortunate we were, living in this beautiful Park, to be in the care and tutelage of a group of the most kind and generous local people.
Some of them had fought in the Great War twenty years before, often still carrying its effects, and some were retired teachers who had volunteered to return to work “for the war effort”. We found kindness on all sides, and that included the clergy and congregation of old St Mary’s church on the other side of our Park. We were all welcomed there each Sunday; although I remember the Vicar saying that our singing sounded as though we were actually wearing the gas masks which, early in the war, we had to carry with us everywhere. We were never gassed, but were bombed for a period during “The Blitz”. Yet we found many other friendly faces in the town, and I, also in the lovely old village of Wheathampstead where I spent my half-term weekends.
With these memories of a grim but distant four years made happy by the good people of this town, I spent my recent pestilential Lock-Down writing a personal account of those times - “LOCK-DOWN in WAR: The Kindness and Generosity of a Town” (access from HALS Acc. 6262). This is of course no more than a long-delayed thank-you message, the acknowledgement of the debt that I and my generation owe to the friendly people of Hemel Hempstead who looked after us in dark and difficult times. I have just been searching for the present families of my Gadebridge teachers; eventually I found the grandchildren of three of them to whom I was able to speak. The fact that I still remember after a lapse of some 80 years, says it all.