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A Bad Billeting - Leighton Buzzard 1941

During World War Two children and families from London and the south coast of England were evacuated to other parts of the country so they could escape from bombing or the threat of invasion. Bedfordshire played its part as a reception centre for such evacuees; or at least most of Bedfordshire did, unfortunately a woman in Albany Road did not see why she should play any part in this nationwide upheaval, as the following transcription from a Leighton Buzzard Urban District Council billeting officer's correspondence file [UDLLV10] makes clear.

On the 4th July [1941] I learned that Mrs. Edna May Brackwell and her girl Eileen 6½ years of age were requiring re-billeting from Mrs. Odell 82 South Street, as the house had been sold, and the furniture was being taken away, leaving the place empty on the 12/7/41.

Between the time of the 4th and 12th I endeavoured to find a suitable billet by voluntary methods, the course I take in all cases first. As I was unsuccessful I looked through my Survey Forms ... and came across this one, which had 6 rooms (without kitchen scullery and Bathroom) with only 3 people in the house, so I decided to call and investigate the place and if found satisfactory to introduce in a nice way the billeting of the mother and child in question. When I called upon Miss - she stated that she had no room for Evacuees, and I endeavoured to explain that we had all got a job to do in wartime, and although it was not my wish to have to resort to compulsory billeting, I felt that she had the room, and that the evacuees were of the type who would respect her home, and appreciate her hospitality. Miss - emphatically refused to have anyone in her house, and said that if I were to send anyone she would put them out in the garden, the maid upheld this remark of her mistresses by saying that they could not cook in her kitchen, and that I had no right to billet on her, when there was Mrs so and so could take evacuees and ought to have some.

The maid also said that she would not let any strangers come into her part of the house, thus preventing them having access to water.

I continued to explain that if they would take them in, I would call after the weekend and if they found them too much for them, I would then find them another billet; but still Miss - refused to have them; leaving me no alternative but to billet them by using the Compulsory Power granted to me by the Government, through the local council, and I then handed Miss - the Form B for billeting carrying the names of the mother and child.

As Miss - still kept saying that she would not have them, and that if they came she would send them away, I told her that I should bring them along myself, which I did, at 10.30 a. m. on Saturday July 12th 1941, still feeling that after I had introduced them she would change her attitude towards evacuees, and that the dogmatic manner shown me on my previous visit would have passed over, and that we should all be reasonably contented with these unforseen wartime difficulties, and that in the next couple of days, as in all my other cases, the billitor and billetees became good friends; so I left them and returned to my other duties. About 2 p. m. the same afternoon I was called up on the telephone and told that the Evacuees from Albany Road had been sent away, and had been looking for another billet; I told them to return to Albany Road at once, and that I would be up there to see them in 15 minutes.

I at once phoned to the Police Station and asked that there should be an Officer at that address to meet me, to hear any evidence that might be of valuable importance if required. The Officer met me as arranged and we went to the door together. The maid let us in, saying that Miss - was ill and had gone to bed, and that the Evacuees must go, as there was no bed, so I said that I would get a bed which I did, also blankets, and brought them back to the house; in the meantime the Officer fetched the evacuees' remaining goods along for her.

We arrived back at the same time, and this time we were met with various remarks about Evacuees and the Billeting Officer; I asked the maid to go upstairs and ask Miss - whether or not she would allow these evacuees to stay or not in her house, and as apparently Miss - was at the top of the stairs listening, she came rushing down shouting at the top of her voice "To hell with the Billeting Officer" "To hell with Evacuees" and as she got down into the room where we were, she picked up a box, which looked like a sewing machine, and threw it at me; I managed to escape the missile, which fell to the floor and started playing a tune and then stopped again, so apparently it was a musical box, and not a sewing machine as was first thought. Miss - then went into the front room shouting that she would have no evacuees in her house, at the same time a lady who had arrived from elsewhere outside called me a beast and said thet I had no right to put anyone into anyone's house who did not want to have them, and that I ought to be ashamed of myself. Miss - was still in the front room, and as I could see that it was politic not to force the mother and child into this house in my absence, I decided with the Officer to take them somewhere else, as I could see that the child was particularly frightened; and it was unwise to further in the matter here.

The Officer very kindly suggested that his mother who lives at 31 North Street might be able to put them up over the weekend; we went there after putting all the luggage in and on the back of the car, taking the Evacuees with us; we were able to arrange for them to stay there over the weekend. We unloaded the car and left the mother and child in the care of Mrs. Griffin and returned to the Police Station. It was then going on for 4 o'clock.

On Monday July the 14th I called a Special Meeting of the Billeting Committee at my Office, in connection with this matter, and put the case in detail before them also calling in the Chief Billeting Officer Mr. Tutt, for his advice in the matter. The members present were as follows:

The Chief Billeting Officer Mr. Tutt;
Committee Member Mr. W. Higgs
Councillor Mr. Poole
Councillor Mr. Digby
Councillor Mr. Plummer
Billeting Officer Mr. C. D. Fox.

It was decided to take further action against Miss - of Albany Road, and left in the Chief Billeting Officer's hands to deal with.


One reason I thought that Mrs. Brackwell and her child would be the right persons for this house was that as there were only women in the house, Miss - would not be worried by a husband every night, calling; nor at weekends, as her husband is in the R. A. F. stationed at Stanbridge Camp, and is billeted with another R. A. F. man at an address in Stanbridge Road for the time he may be in Leighton Buzzard and expects to be moved at any time now.

Mrs. Edna May Brackwell, Eileen age 6½ years evacuated from 69 Scholars Road, Balham, London SW12 on 30/1/41 on evacuation order.

After I left them at their billet on Saturday morning Miss - told them they were not wanted, and that they had better go on to the institute and stay there until the Billeting Officer came and took them somewhere else.

Mrs. Brackwell then took her child and went out to try and find a billet, she called at Mrs. Robinson's in South Street, who could not take them in.

She then went to Mrs. Impey and asked at Mrs. Lee in South Street, but they were full but Mrs. Impey took them in and gave them something to eat before they left. They trailed around from 11.30 to 1.45 trying to find a place to go to and then returned to Albany Road in the hopes that they would take pity on them and be agreeable for them to stay, but was met by the maid who let her and the child into the middle room, where they told her that they could not do with them and that they must go elsewhere.

The child Eileen is now in bed under Dr. Field, apparently suffering from the strain, and is likely to be there for some days, but Mrs. Griffin very kindly is doing all she can for them.