Second World War evacuee returns to Dales village after 80 years

Alan Thompson.

A pensioner has returned to the Swaledale village where he spent five months as evacuee during the Second World War.

Alan Thompson returned to Muker where 80 years ago he arrived as an evacuee aged nine.

Alan described the stay in the village as the “best five months of my childhood”.

In 1943 the street in Sunderland, where Alan lived, was hit during a bombing raid.

His mother, concerned for their safety, brought the family to Muker where they lived at The Flat, now Corner Cottage, in the middle of the village. Why Muker, Alan will never know.

Despite the passing of time his memories of the village remain vivid. He remembers Dick and Louis Guy from Hilltop Farm, two miles away, reaching school by horseback, both sat astride one horse.

He recalls walking through the meadows and over the bridge to help strew the hay with Rowly Hestletine at Ramps Holme and Rowly teaching him to count in the Swardle dialect – yan, tan, tethera.

He remembers flicking rose hips at a passing army tank whose crew, in retaliation, turned the gun on the cheeky kids and the walks he and his mother took to Thwaite, and once all the way up Buttertubs Pass.

He remembers singing at the unveiling of wildlife photographer and film maker Cherry Kearton’s plaque on the school wall and playing rounders in the school yard (at which he freely admits he was not good).


Alan underneath the plaque erected in memory of Cherry Kearton.


He remembers the crush he had on Nan Guy, one of the seniors, who mixed the Horlicks with a plunger. He even recalls the taste of the best gooseberries he’s ever eaten, picked from a bush by the side of Straw Beck. The contrast between his life in the Victorian terraced streets of Sunderland, and the wide open spaces of Upper Swaledale, must have been immense.

At the time Alan was an evacuee, his father was serving in the RAF as a rear gunner in a Wellington bomber. On a night-time raid his Wellington was hit and the rear gun turret blown away. Though somehow uninjured, Alan’s father was left dangling from the aircraft. Held by one leg, he managed to endure the flight home but knew that on landing he’d be crushed as Wellingtons landed on a rear wheel, which along with the turret had been destroyed.

Dangling from the rear of the plane he’d effectively become the rear wheel! As the plane came into land, in enormous pain, he hauled himself up by his leg and survived. Like many heroes of the war, it was an experience he rarely spoke about.

At the age of 23, Alan left England and spent the next 60 years working as an engineer in Africa. He lost his Sunderland accent and enjoyed many adventures, but the memories of his time in Muker never faded. Soon after his return he phoned the Old School Gallery and told about his time in the village and his hope of being able to visit.

To welcome Alan back to the village, some of the locals, three or four of whom were pupils at Muker school when Alan was an evacuee, came to meet him.

It was a pleasure to listen to their recollections of the people and the stories from the time. Afterwards I drove Alan, and his friend Tracey, over Buttertubs and up the dale to Keld. Alan was once again captivated by the landscape: the fells, the waterfalls, the dry stone walls and the barns. It was clear that the place has, and always will have, a special place in his heart.

After the war Alan’s father applied to be the warden at the newly opened Keld Youth Hostel. If his application had succeeded perhaps Alan would have enjoyed a very different life in Upper Swaledale.

1 Comment

  1. Good story but it was his mother’s decision for both of them to leave Sunderland, which means he was’t an evacuee.

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