THEY had known each other for years and Elizabeth Watson gladly accepted friends' invitation to escape heavily bombed London for the relative safety of the south coast. Sadly, they then fell out. Ultimately it came at great cost.

Mrs Watson instigated the row by accusing Herbert Read and his wife, Lucy, of failing to properly look after young evacuees also accommodated at their home.

"In my opinion," she wrote to the parents of two boys, "He (Mr Read) is not a fit person to have evacuated children."

The couple were naturally furious and through their solicitors demanded an apology. None was forthcoming and they sued Watson for libel, much to the dismay of Mr Justice Wrottesley.

"If there was ever a case which ought never to have been brought, it is this one," he bemoaned giving judgement in the civil action which was heard at Hampshire Assizes on July 16, 1941.

Scott Henderson, acting for the Bournemouth couple, accused Watson of making "a highly defamatory statement" about how the two youngsters had been treated and demanded an apology but got short shrift. "Instead of receiving one, they were told the matter would be proved up to the hilt."

Bournemouth Echo: Bournemouth in the 1940s.

Mr Harwood, appearing for the defence, denied the letters were defamatory and were in true in substance or in fact.

In his opening address, Scott Henderson maintained the boys had been properly fed and treated like everyone else in the house. Some were rougher than others and their behaviour had to be addressed on occasions. Billeting officers also supervised them.

May Clifton, from Warren Avenue, Shirley, Southampton and Arthur Barnes, who lived in St Denys, Southampton testified they had received letters from Watson criticising their treatment before the court heard from the Rev Leslie Smith who taught at Taunton's School and acted as an honorary billeting officer.

He evidently did not concur with Watson. "My impression was it was a quite satisfactory billet."

However, he then confirmed the boys had been removed from the house by mutual consent.

Mr Read spoke of the couple's friendship with the defendant until January when "she called me everything and I told her a few home truths." His wife said the boys had never complained they had not received enough food and that others had better, a fact endorsed by a former home help.

Bournemouth Echo: Taunton's school in 1927.

"There was no difference to the food given to them and that given to the boarders," said Gladys Gallagher

Watson repudiated that. In her scathing defence, she accused the couple of double standards.

"The food they received was not as good as given to other boarders. They were given the cheapest margarine, 5d a lb. They never had butter."

She maintained she had been approached by the boys to write to their parents and showed what she had written to them before posting the letters.

The court finally heard from the two boys.

Bournemouth Echo: Southampton in the 1940s

Arthur Barnes, 13, described how he had been evacuated from Southampton to Bournemouth at the beginning of the war, and how he had to spend pocket money on cakes because he was so hungry. Mr Read swore at him on several occasions and he complained to his father about it. Read strenuously denied it.

Basil Clifton, who was 15, also gave similar evidence which led to the defence counsel commenting "the sting of the libel has been justified."

At the end of the hearing, the judge reflected his disgust by awarding Mr Read a derisory one farthing in damages and merely gave judgement for Watson against his wife. He made no order for costs against either party, leaving them to find the money to pay their respective solicitors and barristers.