On The Home Front
The People and Parish of North Mymms 1939-45
Published by the North Mymms Local History Society
Chapter Eight - The Secret Visitors
We the Young People's Fellowship have carolled our way through the village every night this week collecting for the prisoners of war fund. Everyone had been most generous and I've enjoyed it as well.
As usual we started the week at the vicarage and at North Mymms Park where we were most warmly welcomed and encouraged.
On Wednesday evening we sang in Holloways Lane and dear old Mr Brooks came out and leaned on his fence to listen. "Beautiful", he murmured, "that will be our only bit of Christmas." When he learned what we were collecting for he tottered back to get us some coppers. Heather (Bowyer) went after him to save the walk back but no, he came back to the fence. We gave him another carol and wished him "Goodnight and Happy Christmas." He replied,"God Bless You all" and it sounded like a benediction.
Last night we were due at Lord Clauson's at 8.30 pm and intended to catch the 7.40 bus from the village and call at the houses in Bluebridge Road before reaching Hawkshead.
The bus was late and more than full so we all had to walk. The night was brightening but not as beautiful as Tuesday night. There was a slight mysterious making haze and a big round moon in the sky spattered with twinkling stars.
We arrived some minutes late and were welcomed by Lord and Lady Clauson. We sang to them and were in turn entertained by them to gorgeous orange squash and biscuits.
We wended our way down Hawkshead Lane to Cherry Dell stopping every fifty yards or so whilst Captain (McKinney, Church Army) did his duty with the box.
Along Warrengate Lane we linked arms to warm ourselves. The brook on our right sparkley coldly.
Then it was debated whether we should not call at Abdale House. Most of us knew that some hush hush refugees were living there. It was decided that we should call and we turned into the drive.
Most of us had never seen the house close to and we gazed at the gracious old place, all in darkness of course. I made some remark about it being haunted and Phyllis White (later Parkyn) was instantly thrilled.
We sang Good Christian Men but there was no sign of life. We began the First Nowell. Captain pressed the bell.
The door was opened by a dark foreign looking man who said something we did not understand. He stepped back and a maid appeared and, "English carol singers", she said excitedly.
The next half-hour was so full and exciting that it was rather a dream. We were ushered in and found ourselves in a warm ante- room, but we were not left there.
Into the dining-room we were urged by run hosts, eight, nine, ten men? I cannot say how many.
The table was laid, beautiful tall candles flickered high above the plates. The ceiling was festooned and there in the far corner was a lovely Christmas tree twinkling and sparkling.
Our hosts were in lounge suits and everyone had a silver bell and a sprig of holly in his left lapel. They were all the same, silver bell, two glossy leaves and a cluster of berries.
As soon as we were in a dark swarthy middle-aged man who seemed to be the leader started to sing and the others took up the strain.
When they came to the end the leader turned to a slim young man, who had just come in and told us in perfect English that they had sung one of their country's carols, "Now you sing."
So we sang the First Nowell. Sidney (Hall) excelled himself on the accordion. They obviously enjoyed it and sang another carol to us.
They were like children, so thrilled that we were there, so spontaneous. In their speech they all talked at the same time to each other and to us alternately and the interpreter had a busy time.
They were Yugoslavs. Some of them, three or four, I can't say just how many pointed to themselves and each other and said they were in Jerusalem the previous Christmas. I wondered if they were on the run and they made their way from Yugoslavia via Palestine to safety in England.
Whilst this was going on a maid appeared with a tray of wine glasses filled with ruby red wine and in a dream we took one each as they were preferred. Hosts and visitors alike raised their glasses high and toasted Christmas and the New Year.
We sang again, In the Bleak Midwinter and this pleased them mightily. "More sweet water", they said. Not wine. Only sweet water, it took many head shakings and noes to convince them.
We all talked. They asked "were we neighbours?" and what the YPF meant. The leaders conferred and put a £5 note in our box.
They sang, we sang and then said we must go. We sang God Bless This House and explained its meaning. They were all childishly excited and as we sang they squatted down to the level of a child whilst the others smiled and joked and pointed to him.
They came to the door with us, still smiling and talking and we slowly came away.
Postscript: About three weeks after Christmas the magazine 'Picture Post' carried a four page article with pictures showing King Peter of Yugoslavia and members of his Cabinet. There was his Minister of Education and Minister of Defence and others who had sung and mimed the Christmas story so short a time ago. The strangers at Abdale were now identified.
Note: This was written by Dorothy Field (who later became Mrs Dorothy Colville) at Christmas 1942.
On The Home Front - The People and Parish of North Mymms 1935-45
Index - On The Home Front
Chapter One - A Message From The Vicar
Chapter Two - The Special Constabulary
Chapter Three - The War Comes Home - Parish Bomb Damage
Chapter Four - The Auxiliary Fire Service
Chapter Five - Children in the Parish
Chapter Six - Keeping Busy on the Home Front
Chapter Seven - The North Mymms Auxiliary Hospital
Chapter Eight - The Secret Visitors
Chapter Nine - Church and People
Chapter Ten - Epilogue
Chapter Eleven - People
North Mymms Parish Magazine
Crockford's Clerical Directory 1939
Who's Who 1988
North Mymms Auxiliary Hospital 1940-46: A brief description by H.M.Alderman
Who Was Who (various years)
Note: Many thanks are due to Dick Colville and Leslie Abbott for allowing their reminiscences of the war years in the parish to be published. Also to Mr Colville for allowing the essay by his wife Dorothy to be reproduced. The North Mymms Local History Society