Nursery School Teacher During the Second World War

Woman recounts her experiences as a nursery school teacher in California during the Second World War.

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In 1944, the height of the Second World War, I traveled from my hometown of Elmer, New Jersey, to Cameron Valley, Virginia, with our blond, blue-eyed, 2-year-old Ernie, to be with my husband, Aaron. A technical sergeant with the Quartermaster Corps of Fort Belvior, he left for the European theater four months later. 

Our government offered a six-month training course for nursery school teachers, and I enrolled in Alexandria, where I had rented an apartment. Six months of a grueling schedule in a city filled with soot and grime, plus contagious childhood diseases rampant in the academy Ernie attended, played havoc on Ernie's health. Concerned friends invited us to sample life in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our friends

June and Bernie Fry met our yellow school bus at the end of The Old Santa Fe Trail. During our three-week visit, I inquired about employment at local nursery schools. No one was hiring. Then Lady Luck smiled upon us. A wealthy family needed a substitute for their vacationing governess. I qualified, and agreed to the live-in arrangement, which included Ernie, for one month. We got along famously with 4-year-old Alex Bonnyman, a charmer.

Soon it would be time to move on. Where?

Not unlike my beloved Granddad Flitcraft, my destination would be California. Amid tears, we bid all friends goodbye and took a taxi to the Greyhound bus terminal. Three days and three nights later, I watched bleary-eyed as the bus pulled into the Los Angeles depot at 4 a.m.

I limped toward an agent's window to inquire about a hotel in the City of Angels and accepted the only reservation available. The hotel, a seedy affair, stood in a questionable section of the city. War regulations stated we must be out by 9 a.m. (with less than three hours sleep). We found ourselves gaping at palms and smelling flowers in the early morning sunshine.

Finally, we settled with a North Hollywood family, Russell Horton, wife Gladys, Russ Jr., four, and Madalyn, two.

Several months passed before I became uneasy and decided it was time to move on. We moved to Beverly Hills, to a cottage on the grounds of a private school in need of a kindergarten teacher. Ernie would attend the nursery school.

Our neighbor, Mr. Willet, frequently visited the school with his collie, Pal, in tow. The three homes now housing the Eunice Knight Saunders School had been previously owned by him. They had been gifts to his bride, Miss Billie Dove, the beautiful blonde actress of silent films.

One morning as he walked about with his Brownie camera, Mr. Willet met us on our way to the schoolyard. He invited us into his yard, where he took snapshots of Ernie with Pal, who was Lassie, of Lassie Come Home and other films.

A whirlwind of activities took place during the two weeks spent in Beverly Hills. The War ended. Aaron, via V-Mail, said he'd come home and to wait for him in New Jersey. I joined others in a parade in Hollywood. Homeward bound, we said goodbye to what might have been. With precious snapshots, happy memories never wear out.

Evelyn L. Botbyl
Wilmington, Delaware

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.