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Hemel Hampstead Evacuee Memories

In this piece Judith Taylor recalls being an evacuee in World War II Hemel Hampstead. Judith now lives in the United States and before retirement worked as a neurologist and in medical administration. In retirement she has pursued her love of garden history and has written and published on American garden history (see, for more details).

My recollection of my own experiences as an evacuee is quite fragmented. I do know that my mother, father and I rented rooms in a small house in Hemel Hempstead, belonging to a Mr. and Mrs. Farnes. The two women shared the kitchen, a very difficult feat.
Mrs. Farnes was a poor woman and very sensitive to the cost of everything. She could not stand it if we went up and down the stairs too often because it would wear out her carpet. I am pretty sure it was a council house in a fairly new development. Mr. Farnes is a compete blur.

The local council school was very alarming to me as a 5 or 6 year old child. Large boys (they were probably about 11 or 12) used to jostle me in the street on the way to school and pull my plaits. I sat next to a little Jewish girl from Czechoslovakia, Suzie. Maybe there were other refugees in that town and school but I do not know.

Suzie's family was quite poor and afterwards when we went back to London, the only job her father could get was as a janitor. I am sure he had been well educated in Prague but that was how things were in England at the time. Suzie ended up as a typist in a big office pool while I went on to South Hampstead High School and Somerville College,Oxford.

At one point my father's cousin, Charlie Bornstein, came down to live in Mrs. Farnes' house too. Charlie was a blind diamond merchant in Hatton Garden and quite successful too. He depended on one or two very loyal friends who told him the colour of the stones and he went from there.

My parents, Max and Fanny Mundlak, would talk Yiddish when they did not want me to understand what they were saying. As a result I made it my business to decipher whatever I could. I tried out my new accomplishment on Charlie but made some egregious errors. They were not amused.
My father had been born in Poland in 1899 but taken to England at the age of 3. My mother was born in London in 1908. They were not especially expert in Yiddish. My father wrote a fine novel about Jewish life in early 20th century London: "Journey into Morning". I am sure it was highly autobiographical. As he was too old for the armed forces in WWII, he joined the Home Guard but continued to work as an ophthalmic optician. My mother was an air raid warden.

When I was at SHHS, the school was hit by a bomb which fell on the Marie Curie Hospital across the road in Fitzjohn's Avenue. No one was injured but the school had to move. It went to Berkhamsted and shared the premises of the Berkhamsted Girls' School. We lived in their dormitories. Berkhamsted is not too far from Hemel Hempstead but I had no way of getting there. I was dazzled by the verbal sophistication of the senior girls at Berkhamsted.

SHHS had a large contingent of Jewish girls. Parents of a previous generation had made sure we had parallel prayers and separate scripture lessons so as not to be exposed to the Christian religion . Looking back this was an amazing example of tolerance. One woman took care of the Jewish scripture lessons for many years, Marjorie Moos. She lived to be 100 and was very much loved.

(c) Judith M. Taylor, M.D.

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