River Chew - A Somerset Stream
"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." - Ernest Hemingway
Memoirs of Sid Elias
By Sid Elias, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, January 2008.

The first bridge over the River Chew at Chewton Mendip "I, aged twelve, along with twenty-odd other children from North London arrived late-ish on the evening of June 16th 1940 in the village of Chewton Mendip. We were ushered into the village hall where many of the good inhabitants of the village were waiting to welcome us and to choose from among us individual children to be billeted with them.

I was most fortunate in being chosen by Mrs Sydney Symes of Ivy Cottage, Bell Road. Bell Road runs high up along the southern flank of the infant Chew Valley with outstanding views across the valley towards Bristol to the North West, with Hinton Blewett and the Clutton mining area to the North and East.

Mr and Mrs Symes has a son called Maurice who lived in West Harptree. Maurice Symes was the leader of a group of musicians who called themselves The Live Wires. They played for dances in the village halls etc, in and around the Chew Valley during and after the war.

Ivy Cottage was situated very near to the head of Grigs Pit Wood, a long, steep-sided wooded ravine which ran down the side of the valley to emerge a little way above the hamlet of Litton. In late summer and autumn of 1940, Grigs Pit Wood was filled with soldiers who I believe had come from the beaches of Dunkirk and were being concealed in the wood in the expectation of a German invasion follow-up, which, fortunately for us, did not materialise.

"We witnessed and felt the heavy bombing raids on Bristol"
The summer of 1940 was a good one for plums and the little orchard attached to Ivy Cottage had a bumper crop. I was kept very busy and was very popular, running down into the wood with baskets of plums to sell to the soldiers hidden there.

There being no room in the village school, the Village Hall was taken over to house the evacuees' school. Learning materials were in short supply so we the boys spent the long hot summer afternoons on a level field high up on Chewton Down being tutored in the game of cricket by Mr Don Branch, the teacher who had come with us from London, while the girls did their thing in the company of our head mistress Miss Margery Blackler.

From our vantage point high up on Bell Road during the dark winter nights of 1940/41, we witnessed and felt the heavy bombing raids on Bristol. Ivy Cottage seemed to be directly under the flight path of the heavy German bombers. As they turned in from the Bristol Channel and on to their bombing run, we could hear the distinctive chug chug chug of their engines and a few minutes later see the flash and hear the crunch as the bombs rained down on the city.

The River Chew at Dumpers Lane, Chewton Mendip The cottage shook voilently with the heaviest salvos, whilst Mrs Symes, the parrot, the budgie, Sano the dog and I cowered in the pantry under the stairs.

One of the heaviest raids was an incediary raid some time during late December 1940 or January 1941. The bombers succeeded in hitting an oil tanker or terminal in Avonmouth and the whole countryside for miles around was lit up, as if in daylight. The bomb that fell nearest to us fell on the outskirts of Blagdon some three miles away. Fortunately, I believe no-one was seriously hurt.

The men of Chewton Mendip has taken the precaution of building an air raid shelter into the walled bank on the side of the road opposite the Waldegrave Arms. There was an inscription on the entrance which read, as near as I can remember: 'If by chance a bomb should fall, just make your way around this wall, For Mr Vickers and his men, invite you to their rustic den.'

The two years that I spent with Sydney Symes and his wife, Aunty Polly, rank amongst the happiest of my life. After school hours, during the last six months of my stay at Chewton Mendip, I worked for the village baker and postmaster, Mr St John.

"Those two years rank amongst the happiest of my life"
My time was spent in the bakery at Bathway helping the assistant baker, Mr Wiley, to grease the bread tins for the next days baking. It was also my job to stock up the coke bin beside the boiler which supplied the steam heat for the big bread oven.

Other names that come to mind: Bill and Ethel Symes (Brother to Sydney Symes) lived in the cottage down in Grigs Pit Wood. They fostered Joyce and Florence Keen, evacuees from Islington. Nellie Carpenter and her daughter Hazel lived out on the Cheddar to Bath road at Tar Hole, on the edge of Eaker Hill wood. They fostered John Newton.

I also remember Mr Wookey, prominent member of the Methodist Chapel at Bathway, with a beautiful booming bass voice; Farmer Carter, his wife and their sons Dennis and Cliff, employers of Sydney Symes; Mr Warrilow and her children Donald and Lavinia, refugess from Bristol, also living in Grigs Pit Wood; Percy Blackmoor, Nephew of farmer Cecil Cornelius; Farmer Crossman, next to Grigs Pit Wood with two beautiful Old English Sheep dogs, and the dogs' working Mother, Bob. Crossman's farm sported a brand new yellow and green John Deere tractor, which must have been one of the first to come into the country.

Other remembered names of fellow evacuees: Billy and Bobby Biggs, Harry Endeen, Gordon Kaye, Freddy Farrel, Paddy Snooks (billeted with the Speed family, farmers near to the dis-used Bell Inn on Bell Road), Kenny Knight, Franck Pettifer, Ronnie Keen (Brother to Joyce and Florence), Douglas Day and Joe Whitehair.

There were a number of children who did not find foster parents on the day of arrival and these were housed with the Waldegrave family in Chewton Mendip Priory until homes could be found for them in and around the village."

Sid Elias, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. January 2008.

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