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Remembrance Stories – Margaret Furness – Keswick Evacuee

By 14th November, 2018 News Comments Off

As Remembrance Sunday is coming up, we’ve been asking our residents about their own memories of World War 2.

Margaret Furness was evacuated from the Central High School in Newcastle to Keswick in Cumbria.


Margaret Furness was 11 years old and a pupil at the Central High School for Girls in Newcastle upon Tyne when World War 2 broke out in 1939.

Towards the end of 1939 the school was warned by the Government that evacuation could occur any day, due to the risk of bombing. In early September, three hundred and nineteen Central High girls travelled to Keswick by train, and Margaret was eventually lodged with a single lady, who apparently wasn’t best pleased that she now had to look after an eleven-year-old girl.

“She never showed me any affection at all. I was so miserable and desperate to go home the first week that I was physically sick. She never gave me a cuddle or a kind word.”

Did you stay with her during the whole war?

“Yes. Apart from holidays, when we were sent home with our parents. Which is a bit strange, as the whole point was to remove us from any bombing risk and yet they sent us home after each term!”

Where did you have lessons?

“We took over Keswick School. The Keswick pupils had lessons in the afternoon, and then the Central Girls had them in the morning. I spent a lot of time outside, as she didn’t like me hanging around in the house. I wasn’t allowed to help with any housework or cooking, as she was so houseproud and said I would make a mess. I was expected to be out of the house the whole day, never mind the weather.”

Did you get used to being away from your family?

“Well, I settled down a bit. There was a War on. You had to just get on with it. What was the point of making a fuss? I missed my family terribly, but I coped. At first, my parents visited and stayed over the road at Fletcher’s Hotel. There was petrol rationing on of course though, so they couldn’t come very often. One of our teachers set up a Guides troupe, which I joined, and that really helped, as I really enjoyed the meetings and doing all the badges and things.”

Did the teachers organise activities to keep you busy?

Yes, they were excellent, and we had games of hockey, tennis, rounders and nature rambles in the summer. In the winter, we had knitting sessions in Crossthwaite Parish Room, and I was allowed to knit for the RAF as I was a good knitter. The RAF wool was lovely and soft to handle. The skating and sledging were great, and we revelled in it. I spent as much time as possible outside, and of course I was not allowed a key, but little did she know I could get in through the kitchen window if she was out!”

What happened after the War?

“I did a year in the Sixth Form, and then decided to become a Nurse. I went to Edinburgh for an 18-month nursing course, and after that I joined the Newcastle General Hospital” (We found out that Margaret won Gold Medallist for the year she was a trainee at the General Hospital). In 1955 I became a Theatre Sister and worked for a long time in Hexham Hospital”.

Did you ever go back to Keswick to see the lady you lived with?

“Once. I was working in Carlisle and I went back to Keswick to spend the day with her. Funnily enough, we had a good chat and a pleasant day. I think it was different, as I was grown up. I never saw her again after that though.

The best thing about Keswick was the road home. It was an unhappy time, cut off from my family, shut in by the hills, knowing we were resented. But I learned self-confidence and independence. No use grumbling – there was a war on – and we had to just get on with whatever it might be.”

Margaret’s account of her time as an evacuee has also been featured in “A Safe Haven – Evacuees in Keswick 1939 – 1945” by Brian Wilkinson which can be found on Amazon.

Evacuees walking down the Main Street in Keswick.