Author Terence Frisby and his brother spent time in Cornwall as Evacuees in the 1940s
PUBLISHED: 11:53 24 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:56 20 February 2013
Terence Frisby is perhaps best known as the author of There's a Girl in My Soup. What is less well known is that he and his brother spent time in Cornwall as evacuees in the Second World War
Terence Frisby is perhaps best known as the author of Theres a Girl in My Soup, which was at one time Londons longest-running comedy, a smash hit all over the world, eventually becoming a film starring Goldie Hawn and Peter Sellers. Four years ago at a party, Alan Giddings, the Executive Officer of the North Devon Theatre Trust, asked Terence and a friend if they had a project for him.
It just so happened that Terence had an award-winning radio play, Just Remember Two Things: Its Not Fair and Dont be Late, about how he and his brother, Jack, were sent to Cornwall in 1940 as vackies (evacuees). After promises of backing for a West End production came to naught, Terence decided to try to raise the money himself and wrote a book, Kisses On A Postcard.
What could have been a heartbreaking story is the most delightful tale thatll warm the cockles of your heart! Terence himself sets the tone in the first chapter when he writes I was the luckiest of children: I had two childhoods.
On 13 June 1940, Terence, his brother, Jack, and 700 other children were packed onto a train from London bound for Liskeard in Cornwall. His mother came up with the most brilliant idea, which turned the whole thing into an adventure for them, as Terence explained: She said we were going to have our own secret code, like the Secret Service. She produced a postcard and it said, Dear Mum and Dad, arrived safe and well, everything fine. Love Jack and Terry. It was addressed to Mum and Dad and it was stamped. And she said to us, In that space there, you put the name and address of where you are going.
Remember, nobody knew where we were going or anything. And we said, Is that the code? We didnt think much of that. She said, No, this is the code: if its horrible you put one kiss and Ill come and bring you straight home. If its all right you put two, and if its nice, you put three.
On arrival, after squash and a bun, they were taken to Dobwalls where they stood in the middle of a school hall. The villagers came in and said, Ill have that one, and Ill take her. All that was going on and someone put their hand on my head and they said, Ill have this one. I said, If you take me, youve got to take my brother. She said, Got to? And I said Yes, my mum said. She said, Well, if your mum said, then that must be right, mustnt it?
She was known to the whole village as Auntie Rose, a Welsh woman with a huge capacity for love, married to Uncle Jack an ex- miner 5ft tall, a tiny little man, like a little rubber ball, an atheist with no time for the church.
I remember saying to him at one point, There is only one God, isnt there Uncle Jack? And he said, At most. Then when I went on to ask him why church and chapel were different, he said, Church is a lot of lying, hypocritical, God-bothering Tories. And I said, Whats chapel, Uncle Jack? He said, Chapel is church without the poetry.
Terence knew that Uncle Jack had fought with the Royal Welsh in the First World War, but it wasnt until years later that he discovered he had been in the massacre at Mametz Wood, in which 1,000 men went in and 17 came out alive. One of those 17 was Uncle Jack.
Terence and Jack were taken to a tiny hamlet outside Dobwalls called Doublebois.
There was this minute cottage, one of seven Victorian slate and granite cottages. There were chickens on the run, a cat on the sofa, a canary in a cage, a pig in the shed. There was the River Fowey down in the valley, there were fields, woods and open spaces, but best of all, right beside the cottage where we were, in a cutting, was the main London to Penzance railway line and Doublebois station. My brother and I thought wed died and gone to heaven! We covered the card in kisses, but my mum turned up a week later, just to make sure!
There are some wonderful characters in the book, like Terences special friend Elsie, who taught him how to play doctors and nurses in a little hut in the woods. You have to take all your clothes off, she told him, to which he innocently replied, The school doctor just looked in my hair for nits.
Elsie played doctors and nurses with quite a few of the US Army officers stationed nearby, and at the end of the war, left with a small child and ostracised by many in the village, she too was taken in by Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack.
Terence and his brother kept in touch with their surrogate parents long after his childhood. They came to my brothers wedding, which was about eight years after the war. Theres a picture of them in all the family things at the wedding. Uncle Jack died of a heart attack in his sixties, Auntie Rose went to live with her other son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter.
I asked if hed ever revisited Dobwalls, perhaps when hed been in rep in Penzance as a young actor? I went back some while ago and I was invited into the house by the people who had it. It had all changed, there were modern, plastic things in there and I thought, I dont want to come back in here again. And of course at Doublebois now, the station has gone. The railway line is still there, but the station has gone. I really think I should keep it how it is in my memory. As I said at the beginning of the book, its a tribute to Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack Mr and Mrs Jack Phillips from Wales who gave us a wonderful time.