Man evacuated to Wigan shares his fascinating memories

David Talbot returns to Wigan
David Talbot returns to Wigan

The son of a BBC war reporter evacuated to Wigan during World War Two has spoken of his memories of the borough from 75 years ago.

David Talbot, whose father Godfrey Talbot called the town his second home, spent around four years of his childhood in the borough living with his grandparents during the battle against Nazi Germany and its allies.

The family’s link to Wigan came through David’s mum, whose father Robert Owen was a borough electrical engineer and lived in a large house next to the power station where he worked.

The decision to relocate David and his mum to the borough came after Godfrey was despatched to the frontlines to cover the 8th Army campaign in North Africa, which would eventually see him be on hand when the Allies reached Rome the day before D-Day.

It was in that house that David spent the war years, somewhat separated from areas of Wigan which were still very much how George Orwell described them in The Road to Wigan Pier.

He attended Woodfield Primary School and some of his formative experiences in childhood happened in the borough, with he and other children also taking some interest in what was going on in the outside world.

David, who is now 83 and lives in South London, shared his war reminisces in the run-up to the 75th anniversary of D-Day on a journey back to the borough he still has fond memories of.

David said: “I was about four when I arrived in Wigan and I stayed until I was nine, when I was hoiked off to a preparatory boarding school on the tip of Anglesey, which was quite a culture shock after my privileged existence in Wigan.

“My grandfather was one of the foremost men in the town, so he had a chauffeur-driven car.

“I went to Woodfield, which was a private school in those days, and I remember quite a few of the children from there.

“I remember Mesnes Park and Mesnes Road very well because when the king and queen visited we lined up with our little Union Jacks along the road and waved them at them.

“We lived in a house called Bradford House, which was up quite a squalid road. The house was cut off from the rest of Wigan by a high stone wall and a great big garden, so I only really knew the centre of Wigan.

“There were two cinemas on King Street and The Ritz, and I think I saw my first film in one of them. There was also the Hippodrome where I was taken to a pantomime when I was a little boy.

“We only had one air raid when they offloaded bombs from Liverpool. My grandfather panicked and sent us up to the Lake District for six months, which was lovely. He knew a family who had a farm at Buttermere and we stayed there.

“We also made contact with my father. Things were going quite well by the time he got out there.

“I didn’t know much about D-Day but I do remember I was very keen on the Russians. I had a map and used to chalk their advances on it. We children only knew that the Russians were our allies and the enemy were the Germans.”

David spoke vividly of what Wigan town centre was like three quarters of a century ago.

He said: “There was a bookshop called Wildings on Wallgate and my grandfather was in the subscription library service there and at Boots.

“There were some class distinctions in those days and we weren’t allowed to go to the public library or swimming baths. We used to go to the open-air pools at Southport.

“There was also a shop which had a cash box in the middle with wires linked to it. The bill would be whizzed across and then it would whizz back with the receipt and change.”

Following his time in Wigan David continued with his education, did National Service in the Royal Air Force and ended up at Cambridge University to study history.

Jobs including working for Reckitt and Colman in Norwich, reading the local news and selling advertising for a national newspaper followed before he did further study in Reading and then embarked on a career in teaching and education management.

He says he has retained a fondness for Wigan throughout his life, regularly returning to visit family members still living in the borough.