Two Little Evacuees

Here is a story/trick/puzzle that should be presented informally when you are sitting down in a casual social situation.


In the early part of the Second World War (1939-1945), many children from the big cities; London, Birmingham, Coventry, Southampton, etc. were sent to rural towns and villages to protect them from enemy bombing. These children were called, 'Evacuees'. This is a story about two of them.

Johnny and Archie were brothers. Johnny was eleven and Archie, nine – “Nearly Ten!” he would say. They had been sent to stay at a farm near Sturminster Newton, a small town in Dorset. The farm was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Appleyard and it was Mrs. Appleyard who had volunteered to ‘foster’ the two city youngsters. Mr. Appleyard was not too sure. He was a kindly man but a little suspicious of ‘city folk’. However, he and his wife did their best to make the two boys feel welcome.

They had their own bedroom, which contained two single beds and the two evacuees soon adapted to their new home. But Mr. Appleyard still could not help feeling that these youngsters would need to be watched. He had five prize chickens and was particularly protective of them!

One night, Mr. Appleyard had a dream. In his dream, he saw the two boys creeping down the stairs and heading for the back door. They went into the yard and made for the barn. The barn where Mr. Appleyard kept his chickens!

“They’re after my hens!” he thought. In his dream, he clearly saw them taking the chickens!

First Johnny took a hen then Archie followed suit. Johnny took another, Archie did the same then Johnny took the last one! – Still in his dream, Mr. Appleyard went downstairs intending to catch them – but the boys heard him and quickly replaced the chickens back on their perch. When Mr. Appleyard looked, he could find nothing wrong. He went back upstairs to bed

The boys now knowing that the coast was clear, took the chickens again, one at a time, in turn. First Johnny, then Archie, and so on, just as before!

This of course was all in Mr. Appleyard’s dream. When he woke up, he was so convinced that it was all true, he got out of his bed, and still wearing his pyjamas, he went outside to look for his chickens.

He found them exactly where they should have been – One, Two, Three, Four, Five. All on their perches.

Feeling a bit foolish, he went back into the house and when he looked into their bedroom, he found the two boys were in their beds, fast asleep!


This story was created for the presentation of an old matchstick trick/puzzle that I learned many years ago. You can do the trick with seven matchsticks, coins or any small object that can be held in the hand. I now do it with ‘one inch’ woollen pom poms.

Begin with seven pom poms in a cluster on the table. Tell the story to the point where you say, “Mr. Appleyard had five prize chickens” – as you say this, pick up five of the pom poms and lay them in a row. Now pick up the two remaining pom poms, one in each hand; they represent the two boys.

As you say, “First Johnny took a hen”, your left hand picks up the ‘chicken’ at the left end of the line. “Then Archie” – right hand picks up a chicken from the other end, and so on. Each hand picking up a chicken in turn (You will finish up with four pom poms in the left hand and three in the right).

Then as you go on to say, “The boys heard him and quickly replaced the chickens” – you return the pom poms to the table one at a time, but commence this time with the right hand. When five pom poms have been returned, you will have two in your left hand and none in your right! (keep both of your hands closed throughout these movements as though each hand at the end still holds a pom pom).

Finally, when you pick up the pom poms again, begin with the left hand. At the conclusion, you will have five in the left and only two in the right.

As you end the story and say, “He found them exactly where they should have been –One, Two, Three, Four, Five – “ Lay the pom poms in the left hand down in a row as at first.

On the line, “Fast asleep in their beds – “, open your right hand to reveal the two remaining pom poms.

Practice the picking up and putting down sequence, until you can do it smoothly and without hesitating. Also remember to keep your hands loosely closed so that they both appear to be holding the pom poms throughout the routine.

Copyright story and presentation Leslie Melville 1997.

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