The affectionate memories of an evacuee to Hatfield during the Second World War are recalled

This is the story of Bernard Atkinson who celebrated his 90th birthday on March 23 and who was an evacuee to Hatfield, Doncaster, during the Second World War.

By Nigel Booth
Tuesday, 09 April, 2019, 11:37
Bernard Atkinson at Ash Hill Academy in Hatfield

This wonderful gentleman has been by my side since the beginning of The Flightpath Of Friendship Reconciliation's creation – an association that keeps memories and traditions alive and also works for reconciliation between nations, including a reconciliation between the Luftwaffe and the RAF.

We have laughed and cried together on many occasions. Bernard has told me lots of stories and one ambition he wanted to achieve. With help from Hatfield Library and Hatfield St Lawrence Church – to tell his story.

Bernard Atkinson in the billiard room he used to play in

At the beginning of 1940 as heavy bombs were being dropped on Hull, a loving mother had to send 10 year-old Bernard to safety.

With his suitcase in hand, label on his coat and gas mask in a box he was another evacuee travelling alone to his new home of Hatfield near Doncaster.

For the next 18 months he worried about the safety of his mother and older sister, he wasn't to speak or see them again until his return.

As the only child in his new home he was well cared for but lonely and missed home. A small amount of pocket money to buy sweets from the shop nearby was a welcome treat as was being allowed to play on the billiard table.

Bernard Atkinson at the Liam Maughan Learning Resource Centre in Hatfield

Dark nights in his bedroom were frightening as often the sky was red as the bombardment continued miles away. Possibly his lifelong interest in aviation began as he watched the Handley Page Hampden bombers fly overhead on their dangerous missions

Bernard remembered great commotion from the garden rookery as many terrified birds took flight when this happened. The must attend Sunday Church services were not so bad for a lonely child, Bernard now says he had a lot to be thankful for.

Hatfield Modern School, which is now Ash Hill Academy Hatfield, was not too far to walk to, as he did not have a bicycle.

He very much enjoyed his lessons as new subjects were introduced that were unavailable at his old school in Hull.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Bernard Atkinson with friends celebrating his 90th birthday

He especially enjoyed metal work and carpentry. He has unpleasant memories of the old French teacher and remembers often getting into trouble, resulting in a visit to the headmaster and a sore backside! Games and sports days were very exciting.

80 years later as Bernard walked up the drive to his old home, he let out an emotional cry "look the rookery and the same trees" now home to pigeons.

Inside he found his old bedroom and was quite emotional as he looked through the window now peaceful after the memories of the past. The billiard table has gone but a happy re-enactment took place. We could not have been made more welcome by the owner with tea, cakes and biscuits. We are very grateful to the family.

We walked the same route to my friends old school and was greeted by site manager Jim Butterley. He kindly took a photograph for us and was in awe of Bernard's reason for the visit. Inside the Principle, Mr. John Higgins greeted our group and offered another warm welcome.

Mr. Morris, Head of History had gathered some year 9 students who listened carefully while Bernard read an account of his evacuee days. The students were then given the opportunity to ask questions, this brought attention to Bernard's talent with Morse Code and lifetime in Radio.

One student was given his name in Morse code, however the writing of dots and dashes proved somewhat difficult! An explanation was given about of the badges on Bernard's jacket and there was much interest about his service career with 617 squadron.

These young gentlemen were both patient and beyond polite. Our group gave credit to the school and the parents of amazing students. It warmed my heart to know our future is in safe and capable hands, especially when I was told some were interested in a military career.

Our time went so quickly but I will always remember this occasion with great happiness. Before leaving, Jim brought in some old framed photographs and made a presentation to Bernard.

Already totally overwhelmed he was emotionally grateful. Just outside the room we were shown a memorial and photograph of an ex pupil who sadly lost his life in Afghanistan eight years ago.

Bernard had previously explained our admiration for all our forces personnel. As a mark of respect and honour from an old soldier, he put on his beret and gave a salute. No better ending to a perfect day.