AN EASY WAR?
In many ways I had an easy WWII. I was four years old when it started in September 1939, and 10 when it ended.
I lived mainly in Douglas, but also in St Marks, Alderley Edge and Somerset. It was easy for me in the sense that I was never bombed and none of my relatives were killed.
My father, Alec Davidson, was orphaned at the age of 16, one of four children in a family with little money. He left school at 16 and managed to qualify as a surveyor, then as an architect.
Although in a reserved occupation, he volunteered in early 1941 to serve in the Royal Engineers. He became responsible for all military buildings in Western Command in the northwest, based at Alderley Edge, with a uniformed staff of about 30.
1940-41: BAD YEARS FOR ME
These were also bad years for Britain, with Germany in the ascendency but as a child I was only dimly aware of how the War was going and never expected us to lose. They were bad for me because my father left for the army, and we had to sublet our home in Little Switzerland to move in with my Quayle grandparents at Brunswick Road, Douglas.
I caught whooping cough in the winters of both 1940 and 1941, became very badly behaved, was called ‘Lazy Bones’ by the teacher and was bottom of the class of 30. I sat at the back of the class and did not know what was going on. I missed my father, but, worst of all, I lost my beloved black Labrador retriever, Orry, because my grandparents also had a dog. Orry had to be rehomed with Dr and Mrs Freer at Ballakeigan by the Castletown bypass.
1942: ONE OF THE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE AT ST MARKS
My father decided that I needed to move to a new school for a fresh start in the countryside and to
avoid catching whooping cough again. His sister, Frances Davidson, was Headteacher at St Marks
Village School, and almost all the pupils walked there from surrounding farms. At age seven, I was a weekly boarder, living during the week with my aunt in the school house. I would get up early on Monday mornings, walk from Brunswick Road to the Quarterbridge with my suitcase, and catch the bus to St Marks, then return to Douglas on Friday evenings.
My aunt, who spoke English, French and Manx fluently, taught the older children. I was taught by
Miss Corrin, aunt of Deemster Corrin. To my knowledge she had no formal qualifications but was a
natural teacher. She completely turned me round and gave me that fresh start.
I loved living at St Marks, with wonderful views of South Barrule, and liked my fellow pupils. WWII
seemed far away. My aunt was helped in the house by 16-year-old Elsie. The only lavatory was non-flushable, at the end of the garden. I bathed every Wednesday in a tin bath, which Elsie filled with water boiled in the kettle.
When home at weekends, I enjoyed using the new swear words I’d picked up from fellow pupils at St
Marks. This shocked my mother and grandparents – staunch Methodists – but they decided to
follow a successful policy of ignoring my bad language.
1943-1944: BOARDING SCHOOL AT MACCLESFIELD
We all moved to Alderley Edge for a year, to join my father, and lived with a local family within
walking distance of his office. I moved to a boarding school, Beech Hall, again as a weekly boarder.
After a year at Alderley Edge, my mother decided to return to the Island with my brother, and I
became a termly boarder at Beech Hall.
I have four memories of the school. First, the popular Headteacher Mr Hunt. He and I had the
same birthday, 6th May. On one occasion, term started on 6 th May, so Mr Hunt said I could come
back a day late. Second, we all helped in the school garden. One of my friends, De Russell, drove a
garden fork right through his foot. He returned to school a few weeks later to a hero’s welcome.
Third, there was a very unpopular master with a heavy tread. We could hear him some distance off
and scattered to avoid him. In later years I heard he had gone off with the Headmaster’s nice wife...
I hope it was 'fake news'!
Finally, at half-term, many of us had to stay in school because our parents lived far away. One half-term my father funded a slap-up meal and visit to the cinema for the 20 or so boys stuck at school. I still have all the thank you letters they wrote to him. Few people write those today, alas.
SCHOOL HOLIDAYS AND THE WAR
During term time we did not think much about the War. We were hardly aware of the important
battles in Russia or the war in the Pacific against the Japanese, and I do not recall any bombing.
There were a lot of American soldiers at Macclesfield. We would often sit on a corner near the
school, and if a Jeep passed, would yell ‘Got any gum, chum?’ The Americans would almost always
throw us a few packets.
During school holidays on the Island I was never bored and always had plenty to do: playing with
neighbouring children in the gardens or the road – chasing, skipping, hiding; marbles; making up
model aircraft kits; walks to Tromode; and reading.
The BBC nine o’clock news was a feature of life and I remember being told, as I sat in my bath, that
Italy had surrendered. My mother occasionally played Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto on the
gramophone. She later told me this was when she was depressed. It cheered her up.
1944/45: SCHOOL AT BRISTOL
In 1944, my father moved me to T.E. Brown’s old school – Clifton College, Bristol. The prep school,
where I started, had been evacuated to Butcombe, a village in Somerset, and the senior school to
Bude in Cornwall. Bristol had been heavily bombed, much of the historical part destroyed, and the
centre was a place of desolation until it was rebuilt in the 1950s.
From age nine, I travelled to school on my own – something unlikely to happen today. I would get
the boat from Douglas, walk from Pier Head to Lime Street Station, take the five hour train journey
to Bristol Temple Meads, and then a taxi to school. There were only two passenger boats –Rushen
Castle and Snaefell. They both bobbed around like corks and most people were sick.
The school returned to Bristol in summer 1945, and we received a visit from Winston Churchill, with
a big cigar in his mouth. I thought it was fake because it emitted no smoke.
1946: HOME AGAIN
From 1944 onwards, my brother and I were itching to get home to Little Switzerland, and the great
moment arrived in 1946. I soon asked my father if I could have my dog, Orry, back from Castletown.
He explained this might not be a good idea because Orry had now spent five years in the countryside
and might not even remember us.
At my persistence however he reluctantly called up Dr Freer, who agreed to deliver Orry the next day. I thought Orry recognised us and there was great excitement.
When night came my father made up a bed for him in the kitchen, but left the back door open since
Orry was not used to being locked in.
The next morning I got up early and rushed into the kitchen to find… no Orry! We rang Dr Freer, and
yes, Orry had found his way back to Ballakeigan.
Sadly, I agreed that it was best to let him stay there.