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Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

Leslie Ernest Scant - Exwick at War


My earliest memories of Exwick are living with my Father and Stepmother at No 13 Exwick Hill and going to the infants class at Exwick School where Miss Passmore was the class teacher and Miss Phillips was the Head Teacher. My arrival to the village was about the latter part of 1939, probably between September and November. During January 1940, I was placed in a children's Home in Heavitree Road while my Stepmother was having a baby. Whilst at Heavitree Road I attended Newtown School with a number of other children from the home. On my return home I was to find I had a baby sister named Marina. During my time at No 13 I was befriended by a kindly lady from across the road at No 6 who would often give me hot cakes when she saw me outside after she had been baking, I think she liked me.

I think I should tell you at this time that my birth name is Leslie Ernest Scott, the reason for which will become clear later.

A move to Plymouth

The next few months or more is a little unclear in my memory but I will do my best to convey what I can recall. My Father took me away to Plymouth to stay with his sister, my aunt from where I went to school during my stay. I seem to recall my aunts house being situated in a road at the back of a cinema off Union Street. I have been told since that the school I attended was probably at Ernisettle?

It was some time later about September 1940 that my Father brought me back to Exeter. After lodging a few nights in an house off Isca Road St Thomas, my Dad was to bring me back to Exwick. I was asked to wait for him in the playground opposite the Church while he went to see someone. He duly collected me and took me to the lady at number 6 Exwick Hill, the very lady who had befriended me previously when I lived opposite at number 13. My father, stepmother and baby sister had left the house opposite and I was told I was going to stay with the kind lady and her husband who were called Edith and George Scant and whom I could call Auntie Edie and Uncle George, whom I soon settled in with and became very fond of.

During March and April 1941 I was officially adopted and my name changed to Leslie Ernest Scant. This may have seemed a bit strange at first as I had already been to the same school as Leslie Ernest Scott, and naturally had to explain what had happened to the other children. However, it wasn't very long before I was calling Auntie Edie and Uncle George Mum and Dad, and I must say life became most pleasant for me, and I was very happy.

Rationing and coupons

In the early days of the war, life seemed to go along from day to day in much the same way, doing the things we normally did like going to school and going out to play etc. Gradually things started to happen. Food went on ration, sweets and clothes needed coupons when purchased. Air raid shelters were built and practice runs of air raid sirens were given, plus everyone was issued with an identity card and gas mask which were to be kept at hand at all times.

Soon nearly all metal railings and any scrap metal was being reclaimed for the war effort to build ships, tanks, aeroplanes, ammunition etc., anything to help win the war. At school we were encouraged to collect waste paper, old books and silver paper.

Children who were evacuees from the big cities around the country came to stay with local families. Because of the influx of extra children, an extra class was formed and housed on the top floor of the vicarage. The teacher was Miss Tucker. I clearly remember her asking a little cockney lad how to spell OXO to which he replied " O kiss O " Miss. It was quite a novelty and interesting, meeting children from different parts of the country. On the vicarage lawn we would sometimes have folk dancing lessons.

I have reproduced a couple of school photographs here, taken in the school playground at the back of the old Toll House.

The Exwick munitions factory

There was a factory built down the Village which I always understood to be a munitions factory. We had a man staying with us who worked at the factory, He was called Mr Geary (Bill) and I believe he was from Torquay. After the war the factory site was to become Hill Palmer & Edwards Bakery (Mothers Pride).

During the war many of the children from the village and surrounds belonged to either the Life Boys, Boys Brigade, Brownies or the Girl guides and a number belonged to the choir. I myself was in the Life Boys and Boys Brigade, and also for a short time in the choir. Among the villagers quite a few families were related, I myself had an uncle, aunt and four cousins living next door, Whose names were Mr James (Jim) Scant, Mrs Florence (Flar) Scant, Barbara, Gordon (Joe) and Betty who were twins, and Kenneth the youngest. Exwick was a lovely village to live in during those years, every one worked together and seemed almost like one big family very closely knit.

At one period during the war we even had a boys section to the Fire Guard. This was great fun for us lads being able to use stirrup pumps and hoses up against the vicarage wall and old stables on Exwick Hill.

Preparing for the blitz

Whether or not there had been any air raids during the day people used to go to bed at night with the thought that they might well have to get up during the night due to an air raid, and run to an air raid shelter. We would go to the Exwick Laundry communal shelter. Some families preferred to go up the hill and into the fields, where they felt more safe out in the open. On one occasion when we were going to the shelter there seemed to be bullets ricocheting over our heads. Next day we found the chips out of the wail. There were a few bombs dropped up over the fields when enemy aircraft were offloading their surplus bombs before making their return journey, which left large craters and can still be seen today in some parts of the country. There were some cottages bombed right next to the Railway on the Red Cow Village side. I remember one morning after an air raid walking with some other boys over to Exwick Road Cemetery where a bomb had dropped during the night on the older part of the cemetery, Almost next to the houses.

On Sunday afternoon prior to the night of the blitz May 1942, I remember our family going to bed for a couple of hours in preparation for any disturbed sleep we might have due to air raids, Mum must have had a sixth sense because later that night we had the air raid that turned out to be the night of the blitz. After the all clear we left the shelter at the laundry and Mum, Dad and I walked through the playing fields from the Thatched House to Emmanuel Church on our way to make sure Uncle, Aunt and children were safe. Fortunately it turned out they were. During our walk through the playing fields we saw a site we would never forget.

Exeter was ablaze and fireman's ladders could be seen silhouetted against the night sky. The next day or so after we were able to go to town and see the devastation, the greater part of the city was in ruins. I remember my Mum and I stopping to speak to a workman from our village who was helping to clear the rubble in Cathedral Close giving her a maundy fourpenny piece which he had found and I still have to day.

In the months and years after the Blitz I cant really remember there being many if any more air raids over this area. However I do remember sometime later when there was a build up for the Invasion of France, American convoys coming through the village and when they halted for a moment or two we kids would hang around them saying "got any gum chum" to which the soldiers would often throw us some and sometimes give us little momentoes in the form of army badges.

VE Day

When Victory was declared over Germany, (V E Day) Victory in Europe the people of the village organised celebrations. We had a large bonfire in the playground and a piano under the church tree on the pavement and dancing in station road in the evening. During the day the children had sports on a piece of land adjoining the institute. There might well have been a fancy dress because I have photos of my Mum and Dad dressed up for both Victory Celebrations, which are reproduced here. The second Victory celebration was for Victory over Japan (VJ Day).

© 2007 Leslie Scant

Recollections and Experiences Of Leslie Ernest Scant age 6 to 11 years during the war years in Exwick.

Leslie ScantLeslie Ernest Scant as a boy.The Scant brothers at Exwick.Kenneth, Leslie and Gordon Scant at Exwick Hill.Edith and George Scant on VJ DayEdith and George Scant dressed up for VJ (Victory Japan) Day.

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