Book brings memories of evacuation to life

Launch of Geoff Sleeman's book Too Many Goodbyes, at Oakham Castle.  From left, publisher Paul Bland, author Geoff Sleeman and Alex Bland, 11. 'Photo: MSMP291013-024ow
Launch of Geoff Sleeman's book Too Many Goodbyes, at Oakham Castle. From left, publisher Paul Bland, author Geoff Sleeman and Alex Bland, 11. 'Photo: MSMP291013-024ow
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Geoff Sleeman was among the millions of children evacuated from their homes during the Second World War, to save them from the risk of the aerial bombings of cities.

During Operation Pied Piper, which began on September 1, 1939, the eight year old, his brother Jim and sister Kitty, were relocated from their one-bedroom flat in Battersea and sent to live in Horsted Keynes, in East Sussex.

Now aged 82, Mr Sleeman has been persuaded to write an account of his experiences as a child evacuee.

Too Many Goodbyes tells the stories of the three years that he and his siblings spent in the “posh house with a large estate, four live-in staff and a chauffeur”.

Mr Sleeman, a retired head gardener at the Inns of Court, in London, was persuaded to put his experiences down in print by his friend David Bland, a builder, who is also a historian.

Mr Sleeman, of Clipsham Road, Stretton, said: “He was doing some repairs on my cottage and I was helping him with it.

“I happened to mention that as a child I had been an evacuee. Being an historian he got very interested.

“He got me to do an interview on tape for the Oakham Museum and then said that I had enough information to write a book.

“So it became a challenge. I said I’d write one chapter and if he liked it I’d continue. My wife and everyone who read it liked it. So I wrote the rest of the 300 pages.” All by hand.

Mr Sleeman, whose book “pays great tribute” to the family and the staff who looked after him, his bother and sister “really well”, added: “The house next door belonged to Harold Macmillan (Prime Minister from January 1957 to October 1963) and some of the stories are of the mischief we used to get up to there.”

The book, which was launched at Oakham Castle on Tuesday, is published by Little School Publishing.

Paul Bland, who set up the publishing company so he could get the book into print, said: “I was handed this handwritten manuscript one day. As I read it and re-read it I realised they were very good stories.”
Too Many Goodbyes costs £10. To order a copy go to www.littleschoolpublishing.co.uk