From Elizabeth Lloyd, "The Story of a Community"




Imagine yourself one black January night in 1941 driving a small car packed to the roof with luggage and possessions across what appeared to be a wild desolate heath with the wind screaming and moaning like some terrible lost spirit rocking the car backwards and forwards and the rain lashing the windows. Helen Stocks and I were on our way to Hyde House in the middle of Egdon Heath, in Dorset.

Undaunted and indomitable, Miss Leila, driving yet again up and down England with her Secretary, had at last found a resting-place for the Community.
We reached what we presumed from instructions was the turning to Hyde House; "down a drive" they said, but this was not as we had imagined a "drive" should be. The car plunged and dived into vast craters, pot-holes, caverns; then up again the other side rocking and swaying over immense stones, prehistoric boulders; what light came from the sky was at intervals blocked out by huge hedges of rhododendrons: further on gigantic pines soughing and sighing in that terrible wind towered over the puny little vehicle.

We wondered what we were coming to; we had heard it was "somewhat isolated"; no one had prepared us for quite this though.

With a last sickening lurch and with every spring groaning, the car made a final plunge and stopped.

We got out and saw nothing; nothing at all, but having learned by this stage in the war never to go anywhere without a torch, one was found and we moved cautiously forward.

In the distance we saw at last the faint outline of a house: no lights showed of course, and no sound came from it.

We found a front door and went in to a longish hail with nothing in it but three small chairs: but we heard voices, and made for them through another door which opened on to a long ice-cold stone-floored passage: the voices were behind another door half way down the passage. We went into what was just discernible as a kitchen and in the dusky light we saw some very welcome familiar faces, although sight was not easy as the only light came from a candle tied by a piece of string to a drawer-handle of a cupboard; the significance of this was not lost upon us: no electricity was available, as yet. Although there was a great deal of water outside there was not, as it happened, any inside: it could only be obtained from a mediaeval pump in the back-yard.

"Well," said Miss Leila, stepping forward into the tiny area of light cast by the candle, "we are all delighted to see you both again; but you," she said looking at me, "and Kathleen Syer, when she comes, will leave immediately for the Rectory."

"The Rectory?" I said.

"Yes, the cottage you are both to go to is not suitable for living in yet and there is no room here; it is only five miles to Wareham, and", she added as an encouraging afterthought, "it will be better than strap-hanging in a London Tube Train every night."

As there had never been the smallest suggestion that Kathleen Syer or I should travel in a London Tube Train every night and morning, the statement seemed irrelevant.

Miss Syer arrived later having somehow got from Essex to Dorset. At Wareham station she received a message that she was to go straight to the Rectory but as "Hyde House" was the only real factual piece of information she had, she clung to it as a signpost in an unknown land and took the only taxi from the station up to Hyde with a trunk, three suit-cases and a Corgi dog called Taffy.

She had some tea in the kitchen by the wavering candle-light, while it was explained to her why she had to go back to Wareham to sleep at the Rectory. She was not enthusiastic.

Later we left for the Rectory with several suitcases and Taffy.

The Rector asked no questions of us, but told us a great deal about his mother: she lived in a beleaguered city in the North. The Rector's wife received us coolly; it was not altogether surprising, no one could really have wanted totally unknown "evacuees" and this is what we discovered we were.

We left at half past seven the following morning, there was no dawn and it was still raining.

We worked all day; the furniture had made its way from Kent in two enormous furniture vans; it was considered miraculous that they had ever arrived at all: the rest of the staff appeared.

The amenities of the house were discovered; there were not a great many.

"You must have the pioneering spirit", said Miss Leila. I was now to be in charge of the girls; there were twenty-five of them, expected in about a week's time. I put away clothes, stuck up labels, which immediately peeled off owing to the damp. I moved furniture about, made beds and read the words of a song called "Pioneers". I was not very taken with it.

We went to look at the cottage where we hoped in time to sleep. It was full of indescribable-looking furniture and the remains of a tramp's outfit in a cupboard under the stairs.

Kath Syer and I returned to the Rectory each night; the car lights failed one night but we drove on, not caring.

The following morning the front tyre was flat; with great difficulty I changed the wheel. We arrived at Hyde very late but we had an enormous breakfast of two eggs each as Kathleen Syer had charge of the hens.

At the end of the day Miss Leila said, "You must be so enthusiastic that you will want to work to the point of exhaustion."

At the end of the week all the children came. We saw each other by the light of pale flickering candles, there was no hot water and very few lavatories flushed.
A Miss H. arrived to look after my old group, the Junior Study; she was to be boarded out at a farm near Wareham. We took her down with us in the evening on our way to the Rectory. There was a thick fog - she appeared nervous, "It's all right" I said driving into a hedge - "I've driven for years."

We went down a little lane.

"Is this right for the Lacey's farm?" I shouted out of the window to a figure who loomed up in the mist.

"So sorry, I'm a complete stranger here." We drove on.

"Is this right for the Lacey's?" I shouted again to another figure. "No! back half a mile, turn right, then left and straight on."

"You get out", I said to Miss Syer, "I'll see if I can turn the car."

She stepped out into a bog.

"Don't wave your torch in the air!" I screamed, “it'll attract the Germans."

"I don't care if we're all bombed, I'm up to my knees in a bog! groaned Kathleen.

We got her out and knocked up the inmates of a cottage.

"Where is the Lacey's farm?" we said, stepping into fresh mire.

"Straight on" said a woman looking like Aunt Ada Doom out of "Cold Comfort farm."

We reached the Lacey's.

"Like a miracle", said Kathleen.

"Yes"," I said pushing Miss H. out of the car. She was swallowed up in the blackness and we wondered if we should ever see her again.

One night, Kathleen and I had supper at the Rectory. The Rector's wife asked us to come early, "because of the washing -up". We thought this sounded encouraging and we looked forward to it all day.

At seven o'clock we sat down in the Rectory dining room to one sardine each on a very large white plate, some bread and margarine and a jar of potted-paste and cold water.

The Rector told us a great deal more about his mother: neither he nor his wife seemed remotely interested in the Community. We learned they had children away at school.

Afterwards we sat over a small grate with one piece of coal in it which gave out one small flame; when that finally died away we went to bed.

It was difficult getting up in the mornings, the alarm clock failed, the second clock I had went off at two o'clock in the morning. I stopped its bell and thought the nights were so short it was hardly worth going to bed.

Kathleen was ill and remained in bed in a sick-room at Hyde House.

Darknesses came and went and it rained unceasingly. The car had another puncture. I walked the considerable distance to the farm to tell Miss H. We walked back to Wareham. I was unable to move the bolts on the wheel. An old man came up and said he would bring a blow-lamp.

"No thank you", I said, "not a blow-lamp near the tyres".

Another man appeared.

"Why, here be master”, said the aged man. The wheel was changed.

There was another morning when we waited for half-an-hour outside a garage to get petrol: they had none: we decided to get as far as possible with what was left in the tank: eventually we got out and parked the car along the main road until rescued by the army who were delighted to give us petrol.

Kathleen got better and we left the Rectory: she went to a Bank Manager's house in Wareham and I went to a retired Clergyman and his wife.

It still rained but we trained Miss H. to walk through the bog to her farm and Kathleen was given sandwiches every night in her new place and I had a cup of tea every morning in mine, and gradually the mornings got lighter and one wonderful day we stopped driving those daily ten miles and moved into our cottage.