VE Day SPECIAL: LOTTE MOORE (Children’s Author, WW2 Evacuee & Friend of WINSTON Churchill)
On this special VE Day, we bring to you an interview between Grow’s own Joff Alexander-Frye and 84-year old author and WW2 evacuee Lotte Moore, who is an inspiration and a mouthpiece for a generation which represents resilience, humility and selflessness. With the challenging backdrop of COVID-19 in mind, which we celebrate this VE Day against, we have arguably never needed to hear the wisdom and example of Lotte’s generation more than now.
At the tender age of just four year’s old, Lotte Moore remembers being told by her parents that she had to pack her bags and move away to Herefordshire immediately, due to the war. She was one of the millions of children who were evacuated during World War Two and she spent two whole years in the countryside, away from her family and her home, with no contact with her parents whatsoever.
Then , at just nine years old, she shared with me her memories of VE Day itself:
“I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. It changed everything for the adults in our lives and suddenly everyone was jumping about and singing, the church bells were singing, all of the street lights were turned on. It was an incredible sudden day and none of us children really understood what was going on. Then we heard Churchill’s voice – ‘The war is over!’ – booming out of the radio. My mother suddenly threw a Union Jack flag around her, jumped on a lorry and off she went cheering. Everyone was doing an extraordinary dance called The Conga, all zipping around the village. It was a day of such joy. I shall never forget it.”
She went on to tell me how, before the war began, Lotte and her family would regularly spend time with Winston Churchill and his wife at Chartwell. On one occasion, Lotte’s younger brother got in trouble with their parents when he swam underneath Churchill, who was floating in his pool, and turned him over in the water! Lotte’s mother screamed, “Don’t drown the Prime Minister” and her brother naively replied, “who’s the Prime Minister?”
Lotte wrote her memories down in a book called Lotte’s War (Urbane Publications), which was adapted by Nick Bromley and renamed ‘A Child’s War’ – the play tells the story of a little girl and her childhood in Britain during World War Two. Lotte freely gives her time, when not in lockdown with her 86-year-old husband Chris in their Hammersmith home, to visit schools, read to the children, show them the rations they had to endure (including Spam and tapioca pudding) and answer their questions about WW2. She has visited more than 200 schools and once the pandemic is over, despite a broken back, plans to visit even more!
Her childhood memories include barrage balloons, rationing, living in dorms with many other children, missing her family and her home, returning to West London in total darkness, living by candlelight and in fear for their lives as houses around them were bombed (the moment she realised the truth of what war really meant) and then moving to Chipstead, Chevening in Kent, where the whole village spent hours, sometimes days, in a massive cave underneath their garden which was used as an air-raid shelter.
Lotte’s father, John Pudney, was a pilot and she recalls knowing the war was over when he returned home wearing his own clothes, not his uniform, and the joy she felt at that realisation. John Pudney wrote the famous wartime poem ‘For Johnny’ and her grandfather, AP Herbert was an MP, a close friend of Winston Churchill and a novelist.
I also asked Lotte how she felt that the current COVID-19 crisis has been often likened to ‘wartime conditions’. With a mixture of honesty and grace, she replied:
“With this virus, I find it terrifying. In the war, you knew it was Hitler and you didn’t want him to invade your island and you were very frightened. But this virus is much more frightening for me. It is insidious, it is silent and it is invisible. We’re not allowed out, because we’re ‘oldies’ and I have bad lungs. The end of the war was so special and I think it is so important to pass on our stories to the children of today. We should be called ‘the valuables’ not ‘the vulnerable.’ We are able to pass on so much history to them, for them to tell their children when they are older.”
I’d go as far as to say that Lotte’s generation is an example of the resilience which is embedded in the DNA of our country. We’ve never needed reminding of that as much as we do at the moment.
I asked Lotte what she would be doing to celebrate VE Day and, with an excited grin on her face, she commented:
Tomorrow, i’m going to stand on my doorstep with all of my neighbours who I haven’t seen and i’m going to give them a song sheet and we’re all going to sing a few war songs and wave flags together to celebrate. It is a wonderful time to celebrate together.
In a spontaneous and special moment, our time together drew to a close with Lotte starting to sing a few of the war songs that she so treasures. as we sang the choruses of We’ll Meet Again (made famous by Vera Lynn) and Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag’, I was struck by the lasting impact that Lotte’s childhood has had on her – an indelible imprint infused with both sorrow and joy. How fitting for these strange times that we find ourselves in at the moment.