IT’S the afternoon of Friday the 12th of August 1949, during the school summer holidays. With the War slowly receding in people’s minds, children in southern England are enjoying freedoms denied them during years of blackouts and air raid shelters.
In Hitchin, a picturesque market town in Hertfordshire, 13 year-old Millie Richardson and younger brother, Syd, aged nine, are planning to visit their grandmother. And why not? Except that granny’s home is on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, 700 miles away. But it’s Syd and Millie’s idea of
‘paradise’. Faced with a summer stuck at home in Hitchin, they take matters into their own hands.
Leaving a hastily scribbled note behind – “going away camping for a few days” – and completely undaunted by the fact that they have very little money, only the clothes they’re wearing plus their bathing suits, a couple of ration books and a bag of stale buns, Millie and Syd set out on the adventure of a lifetime. Now, their amazing story is retold in their own words, exclusively for BBC ALBA.
Thirty hours after they ran away, and after travelling unaccompanied by rail, sea and road, the terrible twosome arrive on Lewis. They have not parted with a penny, and no adult has stopped them along the way. Spilling from the bus in their mother’s native village of North Tolsta, they are tired, hungry and a trifle sheepish. But through guile, a lot of careful planning and a fair bit of luck they have made it to
the place of their dreams. As Syd recalls of his older sister: “We’d been there before and my big sister Millie was determined we’d go back. She led me astray – and I went happily!”
Back in Hitchin their anxious parents, Sydney and Mary, are relieved to hear by telegram that the children are safe and sound with Mary’s family. By Monday morning the story of their escapade will appear in newspapers across the country. Their antics are rewarded with a three week stay in their beloved Tolsta, which is exactly what they wanted all along!
Viewers will hear members of the community recall the novelty of these two sprightly English children arriving by themselves in the village, and piling in with the local youngsters for long days of fun down on the shore, a world away from life in genteel Hertfordshire. As Millie recalls: “It was so exciting for us. Milking the cows and fetching water from the well. My grandfather reading the Bible by the light of the
tilly lamp. And swimming in that ice cold water! It was wild, and free, and magical.”
When the holiday is over and they have to make the return journey south to London, Syd and Millie do so fully ticketed and with a stuffed purse. Islanders had showered them with pocket money, impressed by what they had pulled off, seemingly so effortlessly. In Syd’s words, “we were mini celebrities!”
Seventy years on from their childhood summer adventure, Syd Richardson and Millie Bukojemsky reflect on their escapade in Two Go to Tolsta: Sgeulachd Syd agus Millie.
This heartwarming half hour for Hogmanay on BBC ALBA, is a colourful and nostalgic look back at the siblings’ jaunty journey north – with the warning to any like-minded children who might be audacious enough to give it a go now – “don’t even think about it!”
Syd, a former journalist who now lives in Yorkshire, returns to his grandparents’ home in Tolsta and reminisces about the story that made headlines, and about the village he has loved all his life. From her home in Queensland, Australia, Millie looks back fondly on that heady summer of 1949 when, as a feisty 13 year-old and lover of adventure storybooks, she persuaded her wee brother to go with her all the way to Tolsta and she says: “I wanted to live there forever.”
Two Go to Tolsta: Sgeulachd Syd agus Millie will be broadcast on Hogmanay, Tuesday, December 31 at 8.30pm on BBC ALBA.
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