Wartime tale of Plaistow evacuee who rubbed shoulders with the military greats
The wartime memories of a Plaistow-born evacuee who rubbed shoulders with figures including Lord Beaverbrook and General Eisenhower are recalled in a new book written by her son.
A Summer Interrupted tells how Eileen Barnett was taken from her family in Libra Road at the age of 12 to spend the Second World War in rural Somerset.
But rather than living with farm labourers, she found herself transported by Rolls Royce to Hatch Court, the country manor house of military hero Hamilton Gault.
She was charged with looking after his three children — Dennis, Charles and Marie — and during her stay met major Allied leaders.
It was there, in 1943, aged 16, that she met American Sergeant Bob Burns, eventually returning with him to Texas, where she still lives, as one of 83,000 war brides in 1946.
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The book has been a labour of love for their son, 58-year-old insurance consultant Mike Burns, who started researching his mother’s life in 1987.
“I was growing up in the States with my parents and my mother started talking about her life,” he said.
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“It was fascinating and because I’m a student of military history and I asked her to start writing down the things she could remember.
“It was not just the terrible evacuation and losing touch with her parents, but life in the country and the fact that she literally became a parent herself, aged 12.
“I carried out a tremedous amount of research, partly because I wanted to make sure it was accurate.”
That included visiting Hatch Court to inspect the visitors book and a trip to Plaistow with his mother, now 85.
“For her, it was kind of a revelation,” said Mike. “She had not been back to the area since the end of the war.
“We went back and tried to look for her old house but of course it had been bombed and replaced with a different house on Libra Road.
“All that was left was the pub, the Libra Arms.”
Mike also tracked down the graves of his grandfather and grandmother — in Manor Park Cemetery and the City of London Cemetery — and attended the evacuees reunion at St Paul’s Cathedral with his mother in 2009.
“She really didn’t know where the graves were and it was a bit of a quest for me to find out,” he explained.
“We did have some tough discussions about why nobody had ever gone to look for them.”
He added: “When she came back in 2009 for the commemoration at St Paul’s, with all those people who had experienced the evacuation, it was the cap on her life.
“It was a moving day and I think if she never did anything else she was happy to be able to attend.”
• A Summer Interrupted: The Remarkable Story of an Evacuee is out now, priced �14.95 and published by Propogator Press.