Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Patricia Minson, who edits the Chard Chimes, received an enquiry from a reader who had read an article about the old railway line, what we know as the Stop Line (Chard to Ilminster section. They asked why little Donyatt Halt was used to disembark World War 2 evacuees rather than the bigger Chard station.
Many who have walked that section of the Stop Line will know that there is a charming statue of a little evacuee girl which was erected at Donyatt Halt. The Museum’s Research Team were asked to help. Gerrie went on the ferret and responded by saying “The evacuees were decanted at Chard Junction and bussed into the town".
Donyatt was a Halt and not a scheduled stop. One evacuee described Chard on arrival “it was like a cattle market with everyone looking them up and down and picking them”.
Gerrie then went on the hunt and tracked down the "man who knows it all" about the evacuee statue. Brian Harper was the driving force behind the Donyatt Halt project. He now lives outside Ilminster, but has a fund of stories and films about the evacuees in Donyatt. Brian is going to share these with our research team over the coming months.
However, he related the story about how the statue came to be erected at Donyatt Halt. The group had a photo of Doreen Ash when she was an evacuee and who had lived with Mr and Mrs Hutchins (who were childless). Doreen was sent by train to Chard Junction and then taken by bus to Donyatt Village Hall to find her new home. There was a wealthy South African Captain who employed Mr and Mrs Hutchins as a driver and housekeeper and seems to have been a great benefactor in the village. He had a large car and petrol coupons from somewhere and the children were driven around for treats by Mr Hutchins.
Interestingly, when asked, Brian said that he had found Doreen through the pages of the Saturday edition of the Daily Mail which used to have a lost and found section at the rear. By luck, one of her neighbours had seen it and told her a few weeks later, because Doreen had gone away and cancelled her copy for that weekend!
Brian Harper and the team spent over four years working on the Donyatt Halt project and they arranged an afternoon tea for all the returning evacuees, we think it was for
the opening of the exhibition in 2009. Over 600 people turned up and lots of photos were taken and memories exchanged as none of them had seen each other for over 50 years.
If you have not already done it take a stroll along the Stop Line Way and look at the statue. There are various access points depending on how long you want to walk.