Modbury-resident Mary Jones is looking forward to celebrating a very special birthday this week as she turns 90 years of age.

Although born in Holloway, north London, she was evacuated to Dartmouth during World War II when she was five-years-old, together with her older brother, Bob.

Unlike tens of thousands of other children who were evacuated but sent to live with strangers, she stayed with her grandparents, although it meant seeing her parents for no more than once a year.

“I was bewildered, because I had left my mom and dad and I didn’t know what was going on – they didn’t tell me anything.”

Living in a rural environment meant a huge upheaval for hundreds of thousands of city children, but Mary quickly adapted to life in the area. The same could not be said for everyone else, though, and she recalls other children going through an unpleasant selection process when families came to her school in Dartmouth, carefully choosing who they would take with them.

“They just looked at the kids and said ‘I don’t want that one, he’s got a sister’. They just picked kids as if they were oranges from a shop.”

Dartmouth before WWII
Dartmouth before WWII (Mary Jones)

During the war years, she witnessed preparations for the D-Day landings, saw a German bomber getting shot down and remembers how Dartmouth’s residents were temporarily required for security reasons to have a special a passport to get in and out of the town.

During preparations for D-Day on June 6, 1944, the whole of the embankment along the River Dart was packed with barges, and she remembers a US soldier timidly approaching her grandmother. “He asked ‘what is happening to us, missus?’ and my grandmother said ‘I don’t know, but may God go with you’. They all went out and they probably all got killed.”

The ferry at Kingswear before WWII
The ferry at Kingswear before WWII (Mary Jones)

She also recalls happier times, though, as the US troops freely handed out bubblegum and other treats, most of which she had never seen or tasted before.

“We didn’t have sweets in those days as everything was rationed,” she told this paper.

Her mother eventually took both she and her brother back to London, but Devon’s pull was strong and she returned and settled in the area for good with her husband in the 1980s.

“I always looked upon it as my home,” she said.