Monday, 2 July 2007
Maxie Lea MBE ( This article can also be found in the BBC WW2 Archives)
The Cambridge and Bethnal Green Boys Club has featured in other stories on this (The BBC WW2 Archives) site.
As an East End Boy's Club whos heyday was the 1925 to 1939 period it might have been expected that it should number amongst its many ex-members people who have been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen for services to the club, the continuation of its traditions, and to Youth activities in general.
One such person is Max Lea MBE.
In 1940, as a young ten year old, Max and his late sister Sylvia was evacuated to Stoke Hammond.
This is the story of their experiences, written by his late sister Sylvia.
Max fully understands and is willing to abide by the rules and conditions of the site.
When Max and I were evacuated to Stoke Hammond in the war years, little did we know that in 1991 Max, now 61 years old, and me, nearly 59 years, would be trying to remember what happened. The one thing that we both agree on is that they are very happy memories and Mr and Mrs King and their famiy, with whom we were billeted, were all very good to us. We always told them how much we appreciated what they did for us.
I corresponded with Mrs King until she died. I now write to her daughter Phyllis who keeps me updated about the village.
One of the things that I remember is the cupboard in the kitchen with toys that belonged to Mrs King’s children. As William was in the navy and Bernard in the army, and Phyllis was grown up doing war work, we were allowed to play with these toys.
I went to chapel on Sundays (I am not sure whether Max went as often as me — I don’t think so!). We were in the Sunday school anniversary play. I was a nurse and Max read the sermon. He was paid six pence for this by Mr.Scott who was a member of the congregation.
Although we were Jewish my mother told Mrs King that she should bring us up as she did her own children as she was good enough to look after us. I went to chapel three times on Sundays.
When we arrived at Mrs King’s house I said to her you must be a nice lady because you have roses in your garden. To this day, roses are my favourite flower.
Mrs King took us to see the film ‘Old Mother Riley’. I am not sure whether the bus did not turn up or we missed it, but we had to walk to Bletchley for part of the way. I know at the time, as a small girl, it seemed a long way, but it was a lovely day.
Mr King was always working. He worked on the railway but Saturday was special as he finished at lunchtime and Mrs King always had his lunch ready.
Phyllis brought me a lovely straw hat with white satin ribbons on it. I was able to take this home to London with me. It had place of honour in my bedroom for many years.
I do not know who it was I used to play with but I remember the girls in the village were very friendly. I used to play with one of the girls in the long grass by the train track. We used to flatten the grass to make it into rooms for a house. This was something special for me, being brought up in London in the East End. We had no gardens only backyards. The only time we played on grass was in the public parks and sometimes, in the big parks, there would be a notice saying ‘keep off the grass’. I can remember the lovely smell of the grass by the railway line. I do not know if we should have been there. When I think about it now I would think that it was out of bounds.
At first, it was very strange to be sent away from home. This was the first time for Max and I to be separated from our parents. From what I can recall, we had tickets pinned to our coats with our names on. I was around 7 years old and Max was 10. We all had to meet at a school in Bethnal Green. My mother used to tell me that it was very difficult for her and my father to leave us but my parents thought that we would be safer in the country. When we parted, we all cried.
At that time, my parents had a small grocery shop at 265 Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London. The front of the house was a small grocery shop and the house was at the back. It consisted of two rooms on the ground floor, two rooms upstairs and a toilet in the yard. The reason I am telling you this is because when we arrived at Mr and Mrs King’s house, which was very new with a garden, it really was delightful.
The reason our parents decided to send us out of London was because bombs were falling day and night. Most nights we slept in air raid shelters or in the tube stations. We had no cars in those days. We would walk with bundles of bedding under our arms ready to stay the night in a shelter. We used to try them all. Someone would tell mum that St Paul’s station was good so we would go there for a few nights and then move to another shelter for a while. It was a very frightening time. I am pleased that I was a child then and not an adult. Dad would stay at the shop trying to make sure we had a home to come back to. Thank god we all survived. My late sister, Venie, was in the land army and my other brother, Sam, was in the merchant navy.
Things got very bad in London. Mum came to Stoke Hammond to be with us. She stayed a few doors away but I cannot remember the lady’s name. Mum used to sit by her bedroom window looking towards London. One night the sky was very red. It was 7 September 1940 when the Germans blitzed London. The next day she returned home to be with my father.
Max and I both remember the small school in the lane. Max also remembers the friendships with other families — the Gadsens, the Robinsons and the Whites, and going swimming in the canal with the other children.
Our parents came to see us when possible. They used to come on a Saturday. This used to upset Max. He would say to them ‘Why do you come on a Saturday?’ This was a day that Max helped on the farm with Keith Gadsen. Max loved the farm.
The day my parents came to collect us to take us home, Max went missing. He did not want to go home to London as he loved the country. The reason we went home was not because the war was over. We still had another four years until then. It was because Max was nearly thirteen years old and in the Jewish religion he had to have his Barmitzvah (which is like being confirmed). Although there was a war on, certain traditions were still being observed.
When he got to our home in London, Max went into the backyard which was concrete and started to break it up. When he was asked ‘what are you doing?’ he said that he wanted a garden.
It must have been very difficult times for our parents trying to know what to do for the best.
I am now married. Max is still single but drives me potty — not really!
Max lives in London but comes to stay with us three to four times a year. I speak to him at least once a week on the telephone. We are very close and he is a good brother to me.
My husband Ben and I have been married for nearly thirty five years. We have two married daughters and two grandchildren. I just pray that we have no more wars, just peace all around the world.
Max and I often talk about the time we were evacuated (we will never forget) and how lucky we were to go to a good family.
Sylvia Felgate (nee Levy) 1991
In 2002, I revisited Stoke Hammond and met many of the families’ children, who still live there. We chatted about those days and I was made very welcome. My sister Sylvia and the Kings’ daughter Phyllis remained in touch for over 50 years. Phyllis did not have any children of her own and was particularly fond of Sylvia and me whom she called her ‘little evacuees’. By strange coincidence, Sylvia and Phyllis both died on the same day — 2 December 2001 - within half an hour of each other.
Max Lea MBE
To see the original article in the BBC WW2 Archives, copy and paste the link below into GOOGLE or other search engine