John Varndell's memories of Childhood

Captain of Pevensey Minor Football team

By John Varndell

Photo:Football Team

Football Team

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Childhood Memories

By John Varndell


War was declared on 3 September 1939 (I was 8 years 9 months old), living in the country (3 miles from Croydon Airport ) which was the main airport for London at that time. All the famous pilots flew to and from Croydon, including Amy Johnson, Jim Mollison, Douglas Bader, Lindberg, Amelia Erhart etc. Just before the war started the German Foreign Secretary Von Ribentrop flew in and out regularly and Herman Goring, Marshall of the Luftwaffe.We had oil lamps, kitchen range (for cooking) a house-brick wrapped in a blanket for a hot water bottle and no street-lighting.


In the spring of 1944 I was evacuated with my school to Findon in Derbyshire. I carried my gas mask and kit bag with a label on my coat.We left Carshalton by train to Euston Station. From there we caught another train to Derbyshire with many other children from the London area. Fighter airplanes flew overhead as an escort protecting the train. We were then taken by coaches to a large field in the countryside, where many tables were laid up with food for us travellers. We were then taken to the small school in the village of Findon where people who were to take us to their homes had gathered. I was taken (with another boy I didn’t know) by a Mrs Bull to her house at the other end of the village. There were 34 of us, aged between 4 and 13years, to attend the school, which had only 3 classrooms.


From the age of 6 months (1931) I was brought on various visits to Eastbourne , as my mother’s sister married an Eastbourne man. I came to live in Eastbourne in December 1944 (age 14) and went to Eastbourne Technical School , for general education, building skills and it was during this time I learned to play both football and cricket.

Pevensey Minor Football Club 1949

I am pictured centre, front row. I was the founder, manager and captain of this club.

All the boys in this club I recruited from the Eastbourne Technical School and the Eastbourne Grammar school .

In 1949, we won Eastbourne and District League and Cup, and the Sussex Cup – there were 84 clubs entered in the Sussex Cup, so it is clear how successful we were!

The club folded because most of the players entered National Service when they got to 18 years old, However because I was an apprentice, I didn’t get called up for National Service until I was 20.

In 1985, I decided to try and find my old team mates and found all the ones who were still alive. We had a reunion that then became an annual event, the next one planned for later this year.




I travelled by train from Eastbourne to Croydon to meet two other 14 year old boys. We then went by bus to the city of London . Crowds of people, of all ages, had descended on the city and were celebrating wildly. The two fountains in Trafalgar Square were not working and both fountains had a sailor and girl dancing in them. A police band was playing on top of a surface air-raid shelter and people were throwing thunder-flashes at them.


At Piccadilly Circus men were playing football with the top of a ‘belisha beacon’. Others were marching in line playing bugles, drums and tin lids.



This page was added by Richard Potter on 26/07/2010.

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