In 1945 3-year-old David James was living with his mum, Elizabeth, his baby sister, Val, his uncle Frank, his aunt and two cousins, all in a small rented caravan in Amersham! David’s dad was only 18 and serving in the RAF when he married Elizabeth after a whirlwind wartime romance, but the marriage didn’t last and homeless, with two small children, Elizabeth turned to her brother for support.
In September of the following year, Elizabeth heard a rumour that as soldiers were being pulled out of an army camp in Chesham Bois, displaced families were moving in. Beech Barn Camp was on Bois Farm land on the main Chesham road with a top and bottom camp either side of the Beacon School. The camp was made up of several corrugated tin Nissen huts used as barracks, a few wooden sheds, water towers, a cook house, and a parade ground.
When the family arrived with their few belongings in a pram no huts were available, but seeing how desperate Elizabeth was, she was offered shelter on the stage of the dance hall in the old barn theatre. This is now the dining room of the Beacon School. One family was already living in the Officers’ Mess and another in the officers’ accommodation next door.
David recalled: “Those Polish soldiers knew how to put on a good dance and party. Many nights I sat up in my bed on the stage watching the good fun and listening to the singing until I’d fall asleep. They were never rowdy and none of them ever failed to come up on the stage to give Val and I a sweet or play a game with us if we were awake. I had a very happy fourth birthday while we lived on that stage”.
Amersham Council eventually took over the organisation and renovation of the camp and the James family moved to one of the refurbished Nissen huts. As David explains: “Our new hut was a palace. It had an inside toilet – there’d be no more going across to the ablution block on dark nights. It had a bath, and a copper to heat up the water, and there was a big kitchen range in the living room. It also had real walls, no more blankets hanging on string. Yes, this was luxury!” In 1953, Elizabeth, David and Valerie were finally offered a council house in Weller Close. Today David lives in Freemantle, Western Australia with his wife, Choosri.