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Memories from a Charney Evacuee, Barbara Snell (Great-niece of Laura Browning).

My name is Barbara Snell, née Billings, and I was evacuated to Charney Bassett with my mother Louie (Louisa Billings, Laura Browning’s niece) and sister Pat when WWll broke out. I was 7 years old and Pat was 2 years old. We stayed at No.14 Charney Bassett (now called Brook Cottage) with Auntie Laura Browning, who was sister to my maternal grandmother (Maud Weston, née Tutt) and ran the local sweet shop and Post Office.

1936. In “The Opening” of 14 Charney (Brook Cottage).
1936. In “The Opening” of 14 Charney (Brook Cottage). L-R Maud Weston, Louisa Billings, Laura Browning and Charlie Browning.

I went to the village school, which was very different to the large Victorian school I went to in Lewisham, London. We had a very heavy fall of snow in the winter, and I couldn’t believe my eyes to see the school teacher arriving from Lyford in her car that had chains on the wheels! I was told it was to stop the car sliding on the snow.

The river that ran outside No.14 was a delight to us, especially with all the ducks, but it wasn’t so good when Pat fell in one day—having been told not to go below the fence! Mum managed to get to her just before she got to the weir, thankfully none the worse for her ordeal.

14 Charney (Brook Cottage). 1938
14 Charney (Brook Cottage). 1938

My cousin Ron (Hill) was with us for a few months and with the help of a friend they made a raft for crossing the river. When it was finished, they needed someone to be a passenger. Children were excluded so Mum offered and put her Wellington boots on in case she got her feet wet. She got more than she bargained for, however, because halfway across the raft capsized and Mum ended up in the river! Needless to say, the raft was never seen again.

I have very fond memories of Charney – one was helping the farmer, Mr Belcher, I think his name was, bring his cows in for milking

1940. Barbara Billings (Laura Browning’s great-niece) aged 8, herding cows in meadows opposite 14 Charney (Brook Cottage)
1940. Barbara Billings (Laura Browning’s great-niece) aged 8, herding cows in meadows opposite 14 Charney (Brook Cottage)

Another was the fact that there was what the villagers called a “German spy”, who used to come to the White House by the green every so often with his secretary. I believe he was a film producer, and Mum used to get the house ready for him before he arrived.

After the bombing subsided, we went back to London and then went through the rocket raids, one of which fell slap-bang on my school. Fortunately, it happened at night so no one was hurt, but our house was badly damaged. Hitler was determined to get us one way or the other!

We have been back to Charney several times over the years, and in June 2016 my sister Pat and my daughter Caroline attended the Charney fete. I couldn’t make it then, but would love to come another time!

Barbara Snell (nee Billings).