Friday, 3 December 2010

Meet Rose Peppercorn

Because I am such a gobby show off who loves dressing up in a costume and swanning about on stage, teachers at my school often ask me to write a monologue and perform it for their class to tie in with their history lessons. This is for year 3 who have been learning about WWII--particularly what it was like to be an evacuee. For those of you who don’t know about what was dubbed “Operation Pied Piper” (and I only had the vaguest sense before moving to the UK) during WWII because England received such terrible bombings of major cities, something like 90% of all children over the age of 5 were sent away to be fostered by strangers in other, safer parts of the country. Many of these city children had never been on a farm before or seen so many trees. Some were cared for by kind and loving people--but others, sadly, were not. It was compulsory to take in evacuees--if you had any spare space you were given a child/children.  Some people resented this job and treated their charges more like slaves.

11 year old Rose Peppercorn lives in London with her working class mum and dad and 13 year old brother Stanley, 4 year old sister Kitty and baby brother Jack.  Her mother fiercely vows she will never send them away. Her father is busy as a fire fighter and is often absent. Stanley (being a boy) is allowed considerably more freedom than Rose who doesn’t care for babysitting or knitting comforts for the soldiers. All she cares about is reading--she dreams of becoming a teacher. But unfortunately, there are no books at home and Rose must do her reading at school.

At first it doesn’t seem like there is a war on. They are given gas masks, but thankfully never have to use them. Things don’t get real until the bombs begin to fall. Being in the Anderson shelter is frightening--you don’t feel very protected from the bombs. Then her school is bombed and the library destroyed. Rose is heartbroken. Her mother asserts over and over that although other children on their street are being evacuated, she will never send them away. Then their house is destroyed by a bomb and everything changes.

They must be evacuated. Her mothers last words are that Rose must look after Kitty at all costs. The train ride to Wales was exciting until Kitty needed to use the toilet. There was no toilet on the train and Kitty has an accident. They arrive in Wales and it is like a slave market and children are chosen by their ability to work. Stanley is chosen to work on a farm.  No one wants Kitty and Rose will not go without her. They are the only children not chosen. The billeting officer drives them around and takes them to an old woman’s house who had not attended the collection of evacuees. Her first words to the girls are “Come in. I didn’t ask for you. I don’t want you, but come in anyway.” Rose and Kitty are forced to share a small room and sleep in the same bed.  Kitty still wets the bed and Rose is teased at school for smelling bad, but the lady refuses to wash her clothes. They are fed very little and are always hungry. The woman is very cruel and chains Kitty up outside like a dog because “Even puppies can be housetrained. If she is going to act like an animal then I will treat her like one.”

The next day Rose complains about their treatment and the billeting officer comes to remove them, but they must be separated. Rose does not see her sister again until the end of the war--5 years later.

Rose is taken to a retired teacher’s house to stay. The woman is kind and allows Rose to call her Auntie Gwennie. She indulges  Rose’s love of reading and encourages her to go to university after the war.

It has been 6 years from the start of the monologue and Rose is now 17 years old. Kitty is so grown up she didn’t recognise her. Stanley has decided to stay in Wales and continue farming. Her baby brother Jack died during the war, but she has a new sister named Victory. Her father breathed in lots of smoke and now has black lungs and cannot breathe and therefore cannot work. The mother takes in washing, but it is not enough money. Stanley says he will send some money from the farm every month, but it is not enough to feed the family. Rose is told she must go to work to put food on the table. It ends with the words:

“All my dreams of university….of becoming a teacher…of reading every book in the world….gone. Gone. All because of the war.”

 Here is Rose looking very worried about being evacuated. You can click on the pictures to make them bigger if you really want to see the detail (and a close up of our slightly messy flat) You can see in the photo I am wearing my evacuee label. All children were tagged before they left home. The tags had their name, a number assigned to them and were stamped with their final destination.

The monologue runs 25 minutes and afterwards will follow a session where children can as me questions and I will answer as Rose. It is always great fun for me and the kiddos.

I should say that every detail in the monologue is true--in the sense that it happened to a real person who then recounted their memories in one of many books I used as research. The whole things takes about 6 weeks to put together from research, writing, finding the costume, memorising it, staging it and finally performing it--which I am doing TODAY at 9:30. Woohoo! Wish me luck!!

1 comment:

  1. How did it go????? I didn't read until after you were done!