Ann Young - The Blitz evacuee was Derbyshire's gain
PUBLISHED: 11:42 28 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:47 20 February 2013
Evacuated from London as a child during the Blitz, Ann Young has spent her life serving the local community ... Mike Smith reports
Mortimer Road is a long street that runs parallel to the railway line near Kensal Green station in north-west London. The road is flanked on both sides by terraces. Because all the dwellings are arranged in mirror-image pairs, each house has a doorway adjacent to that of its neighbour on one side and a double height bay window adjacent to that of its neighbour on the other side. These repetitive twin faades form a wave-like pattern that stretches almost all the way down the street, but a glimpse into the middle distance reveals that there is an interruption in the regular geometry. This gash, now filled by modern dwellings in vaguely sympathetic style, came about on one dreadful night in 1940 a night that Ann Young (ne Rainger) remembers all too well, even though she was only four years old at the time.
Ann was born and brought up in a house on Mortimer Road. When the whistling bombs came over during the London Blitz, she would take shelter by sleeping with her mother under the dining room table. Even today, she can recall those awful moments when the sudden cessation of the whistling meant that a bomb was about to drop. After 14 nights of uneasy sleep under the table, Anns mother decided that they should spend their nights in the safer confines of the nearby railway tunnel, where Ann also had her faithful teddy bear, Elizabeth, for company. One morning, after a particularly heavy overnight raid, mother and daughter returned home to discover that their house had been reduced to rubble. Among Anns few salvageable possessions was a pair of ballet shoes found protruding from the debris.
Ann and her mother were taken by an air-raid warden to a billeting officer who arranged for their evacuation. Clutching her faithful teddy and her ballet shoes, and wearing a luggage label that had been attached to her coat, Ann boarded a train with her mother and set off for the Peak District market town of Chapel-en-le-Frith, where billeting was arranged in an old stone cottage. Unfortunately, the nights proved no more peaceful than they had been in London because the sound of whistling bombs was replaced by the noise of rats scurrying in the eaves.
Anns mother asked if they could be moved to another location in the town and the authorities duly obliged. A few weeks later, they were joined by Anns father, who had been invalided out of the Air Force. He was carrying the only photographs of Ann that remain from her early childhood all the others had gone up in flames when the bomb dropped.
Some wartime evacuees found it difficult to settle in unfamiliar surroundings, but the Raingers adapted quickly. Although Anns mother experienced some early communication difficulties due to her Cockney accent, including an encounter with the local ironmonger who thought she had asked for caps when she had actually meant cups, she soon got to know people and came to relish her new life in a small town where it is rarely possible to walk down the street without encountering someone who wants to stop for a chat. Anns father set up an accountancy business and Ann became a pupil at a local school.
After leaving secondary school, Ann worked as a dispenser at Boots in Buxton. She married in 1955, having met Malcolm Young at a dance in Chapel Playhouse. Their son, Stewart, was born five years later. Meanwhile, Anns parents had become actively involved in the local Conservative Association, particularly by helping at election time. Ann has distinct memories of waiting for the election results to be announced from the steps of the Kings Arms in Chapel-en-le- Frith, but she has even more vivid memories of being invited to a fundraising coffee morning at which the Duke of Devonshire was present.Oh, this is posh, she thought, and from then on she became involved in local politics herself.
Although the poshness might have triggered her involvement, it was the chance to serve the local people that drove her on. She was elected to Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council in 1979 and to High Peak Borough Council four years later. As a nondriver, Ann would always walk through the town to the shops, meeting lots of people along the way. She would go out with her shopping list on one side of a piece of paper and return home with a list of peoples needs and problems on the other side. Her constituents also knew that they could always knock on the door of her cottage and that she would be there for them. However, she does admit to being less than pleased on the morning of her sons wedding when a resident knocked on her door just as she was putting on her hat and demanded that she should do something immediately about the roadworks that were causing dirty water to come up to his door, although she did find time to offer him a mop and bucket!
Believing that people should only stand for election if they are prepared to throw themselves fully into the work of the council, Ann served on many committees and achieved particular satisfaction from her time as Chair of the Housing Committee. In 1992, she was elected Mayor of the High Peak, an office that entails plenty of pomp: four days after her appointment she met the Queen, who was on a visit to the High Peak; during her term of office she was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace and she met the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester when they opened the Nestl factory in Hatfield, an occasion that called for Ann to wear her Mayoral hat and an ermine-trimmed cloak. At a function later that day, she was wearing more casual clothes when she once again encountered the Duchess, who remarked: Same woman; different frock.
But it was the opportunity to help local people and to promote the High Peak that gave her most satisfaction during her term as Mayor. She carried out no fewer than 376 engagements in her year of office, conducted a special crusade to improve facilities for disabled people, including pushing for dropped kerbs at road crossings, and went out of her way to be an ambassador for her beloved High Peak by making people from far and wide aware of the beauty and attractions of the area. Recalling the day her year as Mayor was over, Ann said, I came down to earth with a bump life suddenly seemed empty.
However, Anns life did not remain empty for long, because she continued to work as a councillor with all her usual vigour. In 2004, she was made an Honorary Freeman of Chapel-en-le- Frith in recognition of 25 years of service on the parish council, to which she has just been elected to serve for yet another four years. Her son, Stewart, who has inherited his mothers passion for local politics, served as Deputy Mayor of the High Peak from May 2010 to May 2011. As he is widowed, his mother served as his Deputy Mayoress throughout his year of office, fulfilling many engagements in his company. In effect, the girl who left London in the Blitz to seek a new life in the Peak District has managed to achieve a Dick Whittington in reverse twice over!