Dorrith describes her experiences as an evacuee in Innerleithen and how she learned English.
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INT: You must have been eight when you came to Scotland.
D.S: I was seven and a half.
INT: But you can’t really remember any of it?
D.S: Oh I can remember bits of it but not very much.
INT: Going back to what happened once you were here, during the wartime you must have just been at school, were you?
D.S: Well no, what happened was we lived in Stevenson Terrace and to begin with the children didn’t go to school. The children went to people’s houses and had their lessons there – the school hadn’t been opened.
But then when the school was opened again I went. Then I think there was a bomb or two in Edinburgh, not an awful lot. But they decided that I’d be safer in the country. A lot of children from Edinburgh went to the Borders and I remember we went to Innerleithen, which is not too far from Peebles. We went down this road and knocked people’s doors to see if they would take evacuees. I went to a door and the people were called Crozier. They invited us to come in. Mummy and Daddy Gallimore went into the front room. There was this girl called Nan Crozier and she was very nosey and she told me to come on through to her bedroom. So I went through to the bedroom -and she was a wee bit of a show off- and she said, “I can do country dancing, highland dancing.”
She brought out shoes and said, “These are my dancing shoes.” I said, “But they look just like tightrope walker’s shoes.” So we decided we would try to walk the tightrope and we went into the bathroom and Nan walked across the edge of the bath. Then I said I could do it too. So I took my shoes off and went onto the bath with my hands outstretched. And just as I was doing that there was a big bang at the door. I think it must have been the father wondering what we were doing and I put my hand up and I knocked the shelf down that was on top of the door and it was full of stone hot water bottles. So I think that’s why they didn’t take me!
INT: Oh dear, oh dear.
D.S: The people in the next house took me and I, enjoyed Innerleithen; it was nice. In fact we were there this year just going back and having a look at it. But I don’t know how long I was there; I don’t think I was there for more than a year, but I loved my time in Innerleithen – the people were nice as well.
INT: And you would have gone to the local school there?
D.S: Yes. I didn’t want anybody to know where I’d come from. The teacher was a Mrs Chisholm or Miss Chisholm, I don’t remember. It was a big composite class and I arrived and she asked me what my name was. And I said, “Dorrith Oppenheim” and she said “That is a strange name. Where do you come from?”
I said “Germany!” and she yelled out “Germany” at the top of her voice so that was that. We were going back to the house in the afternoon, and the boys threw stones down at us from a hill above Lee Pen just above where we were walking. They thought I was a German spy. One just missed the teacher and she never asked me anything else again. I knew that the boys could have got into trouble with the headmaster. I didn’t want anyone to know I was a refugee.
INT: You probably had an accent?
D.S: I must have had.
INT: It would have been hard.
D.S: All I could say when I came to this country was, “I have a handkerchief in my pocket” and every time I learnt a new word I would put it in “my pocket”. For example I said, “I have a teacher in my pocket. I have a dog in my pocket. I have a house in my pocket.” And that’s one of the ways I taught myself English.
INT: Because of course, in those days they didn’t have the learning support or anything in school to help you. You must have just had to manage on your own.
D.S: Of course there was “The Beano” comic and do you know I was in the charity shop yesterday and I saw a Beano annual and I got it for my grandson. I’m going to read it first!
INT: You must have learnt some very interesting expressions from Dennis the Menace and others in the stories.
D.S: I know. But that’s the way I taught myself English.