Books

Evacuee Boys: Letters of a Family Separated by War

This is a small book which covers the few years of the Second World War where two boys, Andrew and John Forbat are evacuated away from their family as so many children were. 

What makes this book different from other evacuees tales?

It shows us the letters that the boys, mainly Andrew wrote home to their parents. John added in more as an afterthought at the end of the letters. Life was busy when you were a child. Until Andrew moved back home (due to his age) and John became the rather sporadic letter writer. Interspersed with this are excerpts of their father’s journal entries.

John and Andrew Forbat were Hungarians. They had come over to Britain in 1936, their emigration they thought would be the end of their troubles. Little did they know that they would be moved again at the outset of war. Then Andrew moved yet again when he was interned as an enemy alien.

The letters are honest and whilst they tell of the people they lived with and the problems they had adapting to differing circumstances and also religion. (They were Jewish) Their childlike comments in the letters, no matter how difficult the circumstances bring out the honesty of youth. Requests were made for their bikes, more clothes because they were outgrowing theirs, trips to the cinema, to the baths, progress in swimming, sending love to their extended families and asking about the war and how it was affecting them.

But underlying all this was an adult feel to these letters, Andrew left responsible for his brother was concerned for and about money. Many of the letters, asks for more money to support himself and his brother. It also details how he has spent the money he has got and why.

This afternoon I went [to] Trowbridge and saw at the pictures, ‘The Four Feathers’. It is an excellent picture. At the same time, I went to Woolworths, bought a lock for the bike (6d) at Curry’s a bicycle pump (1/3) and battery (3d) for reserve in case I cannot get one later when the first one is exhausted and paid 6d to go to pictures. I also bought a Scout hat for 3/- and gave John 2/- for saving up for his watch, which he wants to buy when has enough money. (I thus have 2/6d left but do not be frightened for that will last me until you send some more.)
This book is a great piece of social history and could be easily read by both children and adults alike. It amazed me how quickly letters seemed to be getting through in wartime (although I put this down to the way children envisage the passage of time). I am sure our postal system now is very different.
Whilst John Forbat is the author of this book, there is an afterword from his brother Andrew, which puts very much into context a child’s perspective of war especially when they were in fact not native to the country they were living in.
We did not realise at the time the great danger in which Britain was. There was never any doubt in our minds that the Allies would have victory and that Hitler would be defeated. Despite shortages, rationing, blackout and hardships, there has never been a greater sense of unity and co-operation among the British people. We had a united purpose and determination, and it is our privilege to have experienced those days.
It also shows the belief in victory.
An interesting novel and if you want something small and a different angle to some Second World War books then this could be the ideal book for you.

 

I do like epistolary books. I always feel privileged to have been allowed a glimpse at someones past and grateful that they are happy to share that. It tells us so much about not just the person but all the events that are going on at the time. A book which I think would add a different angle once you have read the wonderful Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. 
Ironically enough I am reading about the Mitford Sisters and the letters between them. Letters seems to be prevalent at the moment. 
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3 thoughts on “Evacuee Boys: Letters of a Family Separated by War

  1. This one does sound interesting. For some reason I’m never keen on reading epistolary books but usually end up enjoying them when I do.

  2. This sounds like one Mum would enjoy, but I’m also beginnign to think it would be one I’d enjoy too.

    Being in the countryside, my family/ancestors didn’t have to evacuate during the war, but instead my nan took in the children of family who had moved away to towns and cities. So they saw it from a different perspective.

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