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The government made plans for the evacuation of all children from Britain's large cities. Sir John Anderson, who was placed in charge of the scheme, decided to divide the country into three areas: evacuation (people living in urban districts where heavy bombing raids could be expected); neutral (areas that would neither send nor take evacuees) and reception (rural areas where evacuees would be sent). It is estimated that between June and August 1939 some 3,750,000 moved from areas thought vulnerable to those considered safe. (1)
Herbrand Sackville, 9th Earl De La Warr, President of the Board of Education, attempted to reassure mothers anxious about their children who had been evacuated from danger zones. "I do wish that some of you parents of evacuated children could see the effects of your children of only a few days in the country. If you are feeling anxious about them, I think it would reassure you. Our task must be to save your children as far as possible from the sufferings and beastliness of modern war. So, however much you may miss them, don't take your children back just because nothing has happened during the first few days of war." (2)
In July, 1939, the government published a leaflet, Evacuation: Why and How?: "If we were involved in war, our big cities might be subjected to determined attacks from the air - at any rate in the early stages - and although our defences are strong and are rapidly growing stronger, some bombers would undoubtedly get through. We must see to it then that the enemy does not secure his chief objects - the creation of anything like panic, or the crippling dislocation of our civil life. One of the first measures we can take to prevent this is the removal of the children from the more dangerous areas. The scheme is entirely a voluntary one, but clearly the children will be much safer and happier away from the big cities where the dangers will be greatest." (3)
After the outbreak of the war the number of evacuees increased rapidly. It is believed that in September 1939 alone around a quarter of the population moved. According to Angus Calder: "It was, on the surface, a triumph of calm and order. The parties, clutching gas masks and emergency rations, shepherded by their teachers, were guided and controlled by an elaborate system of banners, armlets and labels." Official records claim that 47 per cent of primary schoolchildren, and about one third of the mothers went to the designated areas. This included 827,000 schoolchildren, 524,000 mothers and children under school age going together, 13,000 expectant mothers, 7,000 blind, crippled or otherwise handicapped people; and 103,000 teachers and helpers. (4)
Jim Woods lived in Lambeth and at the age of six was evacuated with his sister. "I remember going to the station and there were literally hundreds of children lined up waiting to go. Everyone had a cardboard box with their gas masks in and a label tied to their coats to identify them if they got lost. We ended up in South Wales. The first night we slept on the floor of the church hall. The next day my sister and I were allocated to a Mr. and Mrs. Reece. At first it was quite frightening being separated from your mother and not understanding what was going on. However, after a few days we settled down and quite enjoyed being in Wales. After living in London we were now surrounded by countryside. The village was lived in was very small. There were mines close up by and we had great fun exploring the slag heaps. My sister and I got on very well with Mr. There were upsets sometimes. On one occasion we decided to go home to London. We followed the railway track. We thought it would take us back to London but after following it for about a mile we discovered it was a railway line used by the local mines." (5)
The billetor received received 10s. 6d. from the government for taking a child. Another 8s. per head was paid if the billetor took more than one. For mothers and infants, the billetor provided lodging only at a cost of 5s. per adult and 3s. per child. The people who took the children into their homes complained about the state of their health. Research suggests that around half of the evacuated children had fleas or headlice. Others suffered from impetigo and scabies. Muriel Green lived in the village of Snettisham in Norfolk: "The village people objected to the evacuees chiefly because of the dirtiness of their habits and clothes." (6)
Billetors were sometimes appalled by the behaviour of the evacuees. It is estimated that about 5 per cent of the evacuees lacked proper toilet training. One billetor reported about how when one six year old boy went to the toilet in the front room his mother shouted: "You dirty thing, messing up the lady's carpet. Go and do it in the corner." (84) Another report suggested: "The state of the children was such that the school had to be fumigated after the reception. Except for a small number the children were filthy, and in this district we have never seen so many verminous children lacking any knowledge of clean and hygienic habits." (7)
Oliver Lyttelton, a Member of Parliament, allowed ten children from London to live in his large country house. He later complained: "I got a shock. I had little dreamt that English children could be so completely ignorant of the simplest rules of hygiene, and that they would regard the floors and carpets as suitable places upon which to relieve themselves." (9) However, according to Richard Titmuss, evacuation meant that the "poor housed the poor... and the wealthier classes evaded their responsibilities throughout the war." (10)
The Dorking branch of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, produced a report on the children evacuated to their area. "It appeared they were unbathed for months... Condition of their boots and shoes - there was hardly a child with a whole pair and most of the children were walking on the ground - no soles, and just uppers hanging together... Many of the mothers and children were bed-wetters and were not in the habit of doing anything else... The appalling apathy of the mothers was terrible to see." (11)
Children evacuated to Oxford and Cambridge were asked to write essays explaining what they liked and disliked about their new homes. A thirteen year old girl wrote: "There isn't much that I really like in Cambridge. I like the meadows and parks in the summer but it is too cold in the winter to go there. I miss my home in Tottenham and I would rather be there than where I am. I cannot find much to do down here. I miss my sister and my friends. I haven't any of my friends living in Newnham (Cambridge) where I live and I never know where to go on Saturday and Sunday as I have no one to go with. At home I can stop in on Saturday if it is cold, but I have to take my brother out because the lady in this house goes to work and sometimes it is too cold to go anywhere. I miss my cup of tea which I always have at home after dinner. I miss my mother's cooking because the lady does not cook very well." (12)
About two million people adults privately evacuated themselves - to Wales, Devon, Scotland and other quiet areas. Constantine Fitzgibbon reported that his mother was inundated with requests to take in wealthy strangers from London: "A constant stream of private cars and London taxis" arrived in September, 1939, "filled with men and women of all ages and in various stages of hunger, exhaustion and fear, offering absurd sums for accommodation in her already overcrowded house, and even for food. This horde of satin-clad, pin-striped refugees poured through for two or three days, eating everything that was for sale, downing all the spirits in the pubs, and then vanished." (13)
Kate Eggleston, admitted that sometimes the evacuated children were badly treated: "I was at primary school when war broke out, in Nottingham. As a small child I can remember the evacuees coming. We were horrible to them. It's one of my most shameful memories, how nasty we were. We didn't want them to come, and we all ranged up on them in the playground. We were all in a big circle and the poor evacuees were herded together in the middle, and we were glaring at them and saying, 'You made us squash up in our classrooms, you've done this, you're done that.' I can remember them now, looking frightened to death. They were poor little East-Enders, they weren't tough at all, they were poor little thin, puny things. They used to be very quiet, and they only used to talk to themselves. We weren't friendly with them at all, we were very much apart, we just ignored them. It was prejudice from the teachers from the word go. When the evacuees arrived, they were pushed round from classroom to classroom in a big bunch according to their ages, in no welcoming way. All the existing children had to sit three to a bench instead of two, so we all moved up, and the evacuees sat down by the windows, which must have been the coldest and the draughtiest place in the classroom. I remember that we were put into sets, and that the 'duffers' were the ones who sat by the window, so all the evacuees were in the duffers' set." (14)
Some children were very happy with their situation: "I was 5½ years old when war was declared; I lived in Coventry with my parents and two teenage sisters... I was at school at St Joseph's Convent, which was evacuated to Stoneleigh Abbey, a fantastic country manor house with large grounds, huge trees and flowering bushes. I found it very different from life in a busy city. We slept on camp beds in the ballroom and were given navy blue blankets. I was fortunate enough to have my bed by the window and was allowed to put my teddies on the windowsill... I was delighted to find that the teacher who was sleeping with us was our music teacher... She was very kind and would comfort all the children who were homesick and explained why we had to be there. Fortunately, most of the children adapted to the situation fairly quickly." (15)
When the expected bombing of cities did not take place in 1939, parents began to doubt whether they had made the right decision in evacuating their children to safe areas. As Muriel Green pointed out: "Many evacuees returned to London because on the night of 3rd September, and the morning of the 6th there was an air-raid warning. They said they thought they had been sent to safety areas, but they decided they were no safer on the East Coast than in London especially as they have air-raid shelters in their gardens and in the parks. There are none here." (16)
By January 1940, an estimated one million evacuees had returned home. A survey carried out suggested that the lack of bombing was the reason why four out of five decided to leave. Other reasons given were homesickness among the children, dissatisfaction with the foster home and the loneliness of the parents. "Once the retreat from evacuation started, it was sure to become a rout. Parents from the same street or block of flats, travelling down to see their children at the week-ends and travelling back again together, would soon form a common resolution to bring their children back again." (17)
There are still a number of people who ask "What is the need for all this business about evacuation? Surely if war comes it would be better for families to stick together and not go breaking up their homes?"
It is quite easy to understand this feeling, because it is difficult for us in this country to realise what war in these days might mean. If we were involved in war, our big cities might be subjected to determined attacks from the air - at any rate in the early stages - and although our defences are strong and are rapidly growing stronger, some bombers would undoubtedly get through.
We must see to it then that the enemy does not secure his chief objects - the creation of anything like panic, or the crippling dislocation of our civil life.
One of the first measures we can take to prevent this is the removal of the children from the more dangerous areas. The Government have accordingly made plans for the removal from what are called " evacuable" areas to safer places called " reception " areas, of school children, children below school age if accompanied by their mothers or other responsible persons, and expectant mothers and blind persons.
The scheme is entirely a voluntary one, but clearly the children will be much safer and happier away from the big cities where the dangers will be greatest.
There is room in the safer areas for these children; householders have volunteered to provide it. They have offered homes where the children will be made welcome. The children will have their schoolteachers and other helpers with them and their schooling will be continued.
If you have children of school age, you have probably already heard from the school or the local education authority the necessary details of what you would have to do to get your child or children taken away. Do not hesitate to register your children under this scheme, particularly if you are living In a crowded area. Of course it means heartache to be separated from your children, but you can be quite sure that they will be well looked after. That will relieve you of one anxiety at any rate. You cannot wish, if it is possible to evacuate them, to let your children experience the dangers and fears of air attack in crowded cities.
Children below school age must be accompanied by their mothers or some other responsible person. Mothers who wish to go away with such children should register with the Local Authority. Do not delay In making enquiries about this.
A number of mothers in certain areas have shown reluctance to register. Naturally, they are anxious to stay by their men folk. Possibly they are thinking that they might as well wait and see; that it may not be so bad after all. Think this over carefully and think of your child or children in good time. Once air attacks have begun it might be very difficult to arrange to get away.
I do wish that some of you parents of evacuated children could see the effects of your children of only a few days in the country. So, however much you may miss them, don't take your children back just because nothing has happened during the first few days of war.
The time may come when air raids are a grim reality. The Government felt it to be sufficiently important, to save the nation's childhood, to put the whole transport system at its disposal for nearly four days. But it would hardly be possible to do the same again.
The state of the children was such that the school had to be fumigated after the reception. Except for a small number the children were filthy, and in this district we have never seen so many verminous children lacking any knowledge of clean and hygienic habits.
It appeared they were unbathed for months... The appalling apathy of the mothers was terrible to see.
There isn't much that I really like in Cambridge. I miss my mother's cooking because the lady does not cook very well.
I was an evacuee for six weeks. The main problem between evacuees and hosts seems to me to be the difficulty of adapting one to the other. A few of the hosts treated their evacuees, mainly girls, as guests, or as they would their own children. But the majority treated the girls as unpaid maids.
A good deal of publicity has been given to the hosts burdened with dirty, verminous evacuees, but none or very little to cases where well brought up, middle class girls and boys have been billeted in poor, dirty homes, where they have little to eat and none of the facilities they are used to. At least half of the 250 girls evacuated with the school are billeted in tiny, dirty houses where they have to do any housework that is done. Being billeted in such houses has a very bad effect on the younger girls of an impressionable age, and they grow slack in their care of their personal cleanliness and manners.
There are a good many clean middle class homes in the area but the owners of these homes have seen to it that they did not have to take in evacuees.
The Government allowance for evacuees is another problem. A great many hosts find it impossible to manage on the Government allowance and they grumble incessantly to their evacuees and demand a supplementary allowance from parents. When the parents explain that this has been forbidden the hosts become extremely disagreeable, nag the evacuees, give them poor food and their meals separate from the rest of the family. I think a great many of the problems of evacuation would be solved if evacuees were found billets roughly corresponding in class to their own homes.
I was at primary school when war broke out, in Nottingham. We were all in a big circle and the poor evacuees were herded together in the middle, and we were glaring at them and saying, "You made us squash up in our classrooms, you've done this, you're done that." I can remember them now, looking frightened to death. We weren't friendly with them at all, we were very much apart, we just ignored them.
It was prejudice from the teachers from the word go. I remember that we were put into sets, and that the 'duffers' were the ones who sat by the window, so all the evacuees were in the duffers' set.
I was fourteen when war was declared. In the interests of safety, it was decided that my sister and I should be evacuated. We went to Chorley Wood which was only 30 miles from London but it was considered to be a safe area. We were billeted with a family in a large house where there were servants. It was not something that we were used to. We were terribly homesick and unhappy and after a few months we went home.
Back at home I got a job working in an office producing service uniforms. As the factory had a big basement it was turned into a shelter for the factory employees. That's how we spent our evenings. All huddled together listening to the sirens and bombs.
We got through nearly a year of that and then we had a terrible tragedy. It was September 19, 1940. The war had been on a year. My mother had a cleaning lady and she left my sister with her while she went out to do some shopping. Where we lived had a direct hit. The cleaning lady escaped but my sister was killed. She was eight years and three days. My parents never got over it. Virtually everything we had was destroyed.
One priest felt it necessary to call upon the parents of the evacuees to insist upon their return home, alleging that any physical danger they might incur thereby was trifling when compared with the spiritual dangers they ran by remaining.
Everything was so clean in the room. We were even given flannels and toothbrushes. We'd never cleaned our teeth up till then. And hot water came from the tap. And there was a lavatory upstairs. And carpets. And something called an eiderdown. And clean sheets. This was all very odd. And rather scaring.
Except for a small number the children were filthy, and in this district we have never seen so many children lacking any knowledge of clean and hygienic habits. Furthermore, it appeared they were unbathed for months. One child was suffering from scabies and the majority had it in their hair and the others had dirty septic sores all over their bodies.
Many of the mothers and children were bed-wetters and were not in the habit of doing anything else. The appalling apathy of the mothers were terrible to see.
Their clothing was in a deplorable condition, some of the children being literally sewn into their ragged little garments. There was hardly a child with a whole pair (of shoes) and most of the children were walking on the ground - no soles, and just uppers hanging together." "The state of the children was such that the school had to be fumigated after the reception.
I was eventually evacuated. I remember going to the station and there were literally hundreds of children lined up waiting to go. We ended up in South Wales.
The first night we slept on the floor of the church hall. There were mines close up by and we had great fun exploring the slag heaps.
My sister and I got on very well with Mr. We thought it would take us back to London but after following it for about a mile we discovered it was a railway line used by the local mines.
We were in Wales for about two and a half years. After we went home Mr. Reece came to London and asked my mother if he could adopt us. I did not find out about this until I visited them after the war.
Many evacuees returned to London because on the night of 3rd September, and the morning of the 6th there was an air-raid warning. There are none here.
The village people objected to the evacuees chiefly because of the dirtiness of their habits and clothes. Also because of their reputed drinking and bad language. It's exceptional to hear women swear in the village or for them to enter a public house. The villagers used to watch them come out of the pubs with horror.
We were evacuated twice during the war. The first time was to Edworth, a village in Bedfordshire, where we stayed for eight months. We were billeted in a manor house on a dairy farm. The parlourmaid, who was the one designated to actually look after us, used to beat you for reading in the morning. I can remember getting really severely beaten for reading Anne of Green Gables. She didn't approve of working-class people reading, and anyway morning was for work, not reading. She was a very sadistic woman. I had this younger sister, a funny little girl. I had to look after her all the time, I was always hemmed in. My mother used to say, 'Promise me you'll never leave her.' The parlour-maid didn't want to look after us, so she used to get at me through my sister if I didn't do what she wanted. She used to hold her head under the water, that sort of thing. So one day we ran away; there was a nice lady on the evacuation panel, and I can remember trying to find her in the village. The woman at the manor sent her son after us, so after that he had to follow us on the bus to make sure we went to school.
Throughout Monday there was apparently a large unofficial evacuation. Two people spontaneously compared the lines of people leaving the town with bedding and prams full of goods to the pictures they had seen of refugees in Holland and Poland. Some official evacuation took place on the Monday, but at the Avenue Hall rest centre a group of fifty waited all the afternoon for a bus to take them out; the warning went when there were still no buses, and all of them went out to shelters without waiting any longer.
On Monday evening from about 4.30 onwards a stream of people were leaving the town for the night. When Mr. Andrews left the train at the docks, he was impressed by the seeming deadness of the town; there were no cars, and hardly any people except those that had left the train with him. But farther out people were moving. The buses were full, men and women were walking with their baggage. Some were going to relations in outlying parts, some to shelters, preceded by their wives who had reserved them places, and some to sleep in the open. 'Anything so as not to spend another night in there.' Many were trying to hitch hike, calling out to every car that passed; very few stopped. This caused considerable annoyance, especially as many coaches completely empty went by.
Trains leaving were full of women and children; many had little baggage, as if they were coming back next day. The next day many returned after the night, but more were intent on getting out. In some neighbourhoods whole streets had evacuated, most people leaving a note on their doors giving their new address; one such notice read 'Home all day, away all night'. Men as well as women were leaving; one man was going to Northampton to his son's, regretfully, after 26 years in Southampton.
All day people were leaving the town with suitcases and baggage. All of these seemed to set out with a set purpose and aim but all the aims were different. Here and there, for instance, there were streams of people all with baggage. Following these streams, Mr. Andrews saw them split up, some going to bus stops, others to trains. Both trains and buses were leaving half empty, there was no great rush. People seemed puzzled by which stations were open, which buses were running, and were moving from one to the other.
The news that anybody could be evacuated by applying at the Central Hall seemed to be leaking out only slowly. One woman midday was telling everybody she met, but another at the same time was telling her friends to go out to Romsey, 'there was still room there'.
Methods of billeting varied greatly. In the well organized city of Cambridge, volunteers were waiting on the station platforms as each train came in to take the evacuees to 'dispersal centres' organized in different wards, and efforts were made to keep school parties together. In many areas, however, local householders had assembled to pick their evacuees when the trains or buses arrived, and 'Scenes reminiscent of a cross between an early Roman slave market and Selfridge's bargain basement ensued. Potato farmers selected husky lads; girls often or twelve who could lend a hand in the house were naturally much in demand; nicely dressed children were whisked away by local bigwigs. Those who got 'second pick' were often resentful, and there was likely to be a residue of unwholesome looking waifs whom nobody wanted, but whom somebody would have to take when the billeting officer began to mutter about compulsory powers. The alternative was usually a more or less haphazard distribution of children by the billeting officer and his helpers.
Social mismatching was inherent in the scheme. The official evacuees came disproportionately from the poorest strata of urban society, for several reasons. Firstly, the well-to-do were more likely to have made their own arrangements. Secondly, the evacuation areas were mostly areas of high population density, where overcrowding was at its worst, while the wealthier suburbs were often classified as 'neutral' areas. Thirdly, the poorer classes had maintained a higher birth rate than their social superiors. Social surveys of several provincial towns in the 1930s had suggested that while twelve to fifteen per cent of families were living below the poverty line, they included twenty-two to thirty per cent of the children. Large families, then as always, were a contributory cause of much poverty. And it is clear from detailed studies of evacuation in several areas that parents with only one or two children were less likely to send them away, and swifter to bring them back, than those with five or six; the smaller the family, the more it clung together.
As for the other half of the experiment, there was a shortage of housing, sometimes very acute, in the country as well as in the towns. Those with room to spare would be found disproportionately among the well-to-do. A Scottish survey suggested that only four out often evacuees from the overwhelmingly working-class town of Clydebank went to families judged to be working-class, and a third went to homes which were assessed as 'wealthy'. In many cases, like was matched with like, and working-class families took working-class children into environments much like those which they had known at home.
(1) Douglas Reed, A Prophet at Home (1943) page 187
(2) Herbrand Sackville, 9th Earl De La Warr, President of the Board of Education, radio broadcast (14th September, 1939)
(3) Government leaflet, Evacuation: Why and How? (July, 1939)
(4) Angus Calder, The People's War: Britain 1939-45 (1969) page 38
(5) Jim Woods, Voices from the Past: The Blitz (1987) page 14
(6) Muriel Green, Mass Observation Archive (29th November, 1939)
(7) Richard Titmuss, Problems of Social Policy (1950) page 122
(8) National Federation of Women's Institutes, Town Children Through Country Eyes (1940)
(9) Oliver Lyttelton, Memoirs of Lord Chandos (1963) page 205
(10) Richard Titmuss, Problems of Social Policy (1950) page 393
(11) National Federation of Women's Institutes, Town Children Through Country Eyes (1940)
(12) Angus Calder, The People's War: Britain 1939-45 (1969) page 46
(13) Constantine Fitzgibbon, The Blitz (1957) page 26
(14) Kate Eggleston, quoted by Jonathan Croall, in his book, Don't You Know There's a War On? (1989) page 114
(15) Sheila A. Renshaw, Voices of the Second World War: A Child's Perspective (2017) page 21
(16) Muriel Green, Mass Observation Archive (29th November, 1939)
(17) Angus Calder, The People's War: Britain 1939-45 (1969) pages 46-47
Evacuation to Wales in WW2
Evacuation to Wales in WW2
Many thousands of people, along with vital institutions and priceless historical objects, were evacuated to Wales for safety in the Second World War. Wales was conveniently close to many of England&rsquos major cities but far enough from occupied France and Belgium to be at low risk of invasion.
Wales&rsquo rural nature meant that most of the country was of little interest to Luftwaffe bomber pilots. Holiday resorts on the North Wales coast had ample accommodation for civil servants performing vital work, such as collecting taxes and controlling food supplies.
HistoryPoints has featured many places which are connected with this colossal relocation of human life and activity, as you can see in the list below. Click on the town name to see our page about that location, then click on the WW2 Evacuation to Wales icon to return to this page.
If you visit any of the locations, you can use your smartphone to scan our QR codes to receive the relevant web page on the spot.
Bangor University - PJ Hall was adapted to store National Gallery paintings
Bangor - the BBC&rsquos popular comedy series It&rsquos That Man Again was broadcast from Penrhyn Hall
Conwy - paintings moved to Bodlondeb and Guildhall from Williamson Gallery, Birkenhead
Llandudno - the BBC Theatre Organ was moved to the Grand Theatre and played for hours to fill up radio airtime
Rhyl - romantic novelist Roberta Leigh began writing by torchlight under the bedclothes while an evacuee
Blaenau Ffestiniog - some paintings stored in Manod quarry needed extra-low railway wagons to return to London in 1945
Aberystwyth - items evacuated from London to the National Library of Wales included originals by Shakespeare and da Vinci
Bangor - University College London has wartime science labs in a shop in High Street
Bethesda - pastor resigned as deacons wouldn&rsquot allow classes for evacuee children in their chapel rooms
Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel - Lake House School of Sussex occupied the hotel from 1940 to 1943
Aberdyfi - the Literary Institute was used as a school for evacuees
Conwy - St Mary&rsquos Convent School relocated from Lowestoft to a house in the Morfa area
Conwy - evacuees were taught in Tabernacl Chapel as local schools were overwhelmed
Betws-y-coed - the Royal Oak Hotel was the wartime base of Dulwich Prep School
Betws-y-coed - stables buildings were classrooms for Dulwich pupils during the war
Betws-y-coed - secret army operations ousted a Sussex girls&rsquo school from Craig-y-Dderwen
Llandudno Junction - seven evacuees from across England passed the 11+ here in 1942
New Quay - London Nautical School had lessons, PT and dances in the Memorial Hall
Vale of Neath - school for deaf and blind children evacuated to Aberpergwm from East Anglia
Llandudno Junction - the Minister of Food often stayed at the Station Hotel while his ministry was in Colwyn Bay
Llandudno - the Imperial Hotel was the Inland Revenue&rsquos wartime HQ, with office for future PM Jim Callaghan
Colwyn Bay - Britain&rsquos wartime food supply, including rationing, was controlled from the town
Rhyl - wartime home of the mechanical traction section of the Royal College of Military Science
Beaumaris - aero firm Saunders-Roe, ex-Isle of Wight, employed Tecwyn Roberts, later of NASA&rsquos manned flight project
Bangor - Belgian and Dutch diamond polishers moved in to a tailor&rsquos shop in 1940
Bangor - Daimler relocated aero-parts manufacture to Bangor, including in the Crosville bus depot
Y Felinheli - Dow-Mac moved engineers from Suffolk to assemble tugs for vital war operations in the Persian Gulf
Caernarfon - NECACO made parts for many of the RAF&rsquos most famous aeroplanes
Colwyn Bay - Belgian and Dutch diamond polishers moved from southern England to a hardware shop
Abergavenny - the Wendy Boston teddy company&rsquos founders moved to Wales after air raids on Birmingham
Holyhead - Dutch Navy vessels which had escaped the Nazis&rsquo clutches operated from the port
Bangor - the naval training ship HMS Conway moved from the Mersey to the Menai Strait in 1941
Aberdyfi - German and Austrian refugees trained as commandos 1942-3. Many died in action later
Conwy - Royal Netherlands Army soldiers were billeted at the Morfa after escaping their homeland&rsquos occupation
Llandudno &ndash Royal Artillery&rsquos Coast Gunnery School moved from Essex to the Great Orme
Pendine - experimental small-arms firing range relocated here from Kent in just three weeks
Beaumaris - Charles Henry Bean, evacuated from Liverpool, joined the army and died aged 19 in 1945
Bangor station - nearly 2,000 evacuated children and their teachers arrived in a few days in September 1939
Bangor library - where the WVS received and medically checked evacuated children
Llanfairfechan - Prof David Thoday and his wife housed six refugee families at Llys Owain
Conwy - isolation hospital created for skin-disease treatment after influx of child evacuees
Conwy - Belgian tailor and family returned to where they&rsquod been refugees in the First World War
Abergele - Gwrych Castle was home to 180 Jewish children evacuated by the &lsquoKindertransport&rsquo
Talacre - evacuees lived in holiday chalets. Children&rsquos sleep was disturbed and high rents were alleged
Hawarden - blind and infirm people from Birkenhead were housed in the former rectory
Lampeter - Polish refugees who settled in the area are buried at St Peter's Churchyard
Cardiff - Wally&rsquos Delicatessen was founded by a Polish Jew who had fled from the Gestapo&rsquos clutches
Cardiff - a child evacuee was fatally struck by a train near Radyr after collecting milk from a farm
Llandudno - Evans&rsquo Hotel was earmarked by MI5 to hide double agents if the Nazis invaded
Colwyn Bay - a secret BBC studio was established at Penrhyn Buildings to continue broadcasts after an invasion
Llanrwst - the Eagles Hotel was earmarked by MI5 to hide double agents if the Nazis invaded
Evacuation took place during the first months of World War Two. Evacuation was a potentially traumatic occurrence and the government tried to lessen its impact by issuing advice to all of those impacted by evacuation. This advice was delivered to what the government referred to as “evacuable” areas – the advice is clearly biased towards the government’s viewpoint – that evacuation was for the best and pushed home hard the potential consequences of what might happen if children were not evacuated from danger areas. Below is the advice leaflet produced by the Lord Privy Seal’s Office in July 1939.
The start of the journey
Why and How?
Public Information Leaflet No. 3
Read this and keep it carefully. You may need it.
Issued from the Lord Privy Seal’s Office July 1939
There are still a number of people who ask “What is the need for all this business about evacuation? Surely if war comes it would be better for families to stick together and not go breaking up their homes?”
It is quite easy to understand this feeling, because it is difficult for us in this country to realise what war in these days might mean. If we were involved in war, our big cities might be subjected to determined attacks from the air – at any rate in the early stages – and although our defences are strong and are rapidly growing stronger, some bombers would undoubtedly get through.
We must see to it then that the enemy does not secure his chief objects – the creation of anything like panic, or the crippling dislocation of our civil life.
One of the first measures we can take to prevent this is the removal of the children from the more dangerous areas.
The Government Evacuation Scheme
The government have accordingly made plans for the removal from what are called “evacuable” areas to safer places called “reception” areas, of school children, children below school age if accompanied by their mothers or other responsible persons, and expectant mothers and blind persons.
The scheme is entirely a voluntary one, but clearly the children will be much safer and happier away from the big cities where the dangers will be greatest.
There is room in the safer areas for these children householders have volunteered to provide it. They have offered homes where the children will be made welcome. The children will have their school teachers and other helpers with them and their schooling will be continued.
What you have to do
Schoolchildren would assemble at their schools when told to do so and would travel together with their teachers by train. The transport of some 3,000,000 in all is an enormous undertaking. It would not be possible to let all parents know in advance the place to which each child is to be sent but they would be notified as soon as the movement is over.
If you have children of school age, you have probably already heard from the school or the local education authority the necessary details of what you would have to do to get your child or children take away. Do not hesitate to register you children under this scheme, particularly if you are living in a crowded area. Of course it means heartache to be separated from your children, but you can be quite sure that they will be looked after. That will relieve you of one anxiety at any rate. You cannot wish, if it is possible to evacuate them, to let your children experience the dangers and fears of an air attack in crowed cities.
Children under five:
Children below school age must be accompanied by their mothers or some other responsible person. Mothers who wish to go away with such children should register with the local authority. Do not delay in making enquiries about this.
A number of mothers in certain areas have shown reluctance to register. Naturally, they are anxious to stay by their men folk. Possibly they are thinking that they might wait as well wait and see that it might not be so bad after all. Think this over carefully and think of your child or children in good time. Once air attacks have begun it might be very difficult to arrange to get away.
Expectant mothers can register at any maternity or child welfare centre. For any further information inquire at your town hall.
In the case of the blind, registration to come under the scheme can be secured through the home visitors, or enquiry may be made at the town hall.
If you have made private arrangements for getting away your children to relatives or friends in the country, or intend to make them, you should remember that while the government evacuation scheme is in progress ordinary railway and road services will necessarily be drastically reduced and subject to alteration at short notice. Do not, therefore, in an emergency leave your private plans to be carried out at the last moment. It may then be too late.
If you happen to be away on holiday in the country or at the seaside and an emergency arises, do not attempt to take your children back home if you live in an “evacuable” area.
Work must go on:
The purpose of evacuation is to remove from the crowded and vulnerable centres, if an emergency should arise, those, more particularly the children, whose presence cannot be of assistance.
Everyone will realise that there can be no question of wholesale clearance. We are not going to win a war by running away. Most of us will have work to do, and work that matters, because we must maintain the nation’s life and the production of munitions and other material essential to our war effort. For most of us therefore, who do not go off to the Fighting Forces our duty will be to stand by our jobs or those new jobs which we may undertake in war.
Some people have asked what they ought to do if they have no such definite work or duty.
You should be very sure before deciding that there is really nothing you can do. There is opportunity for a vast variety of services in civil defence. You must judge whether in fact you can or cannot help by remaining. If you are sure you cannot, then there is every reason why you should go away if you can arrange to do so, but you take care to avoid interfering with the official evacuation plans. If you are proposing to use the public transport services, make your move either before the evacuation of children begins or after it has been completed. You will not be allowed to use transport required for the official evacuation scheme and other essential purposes, and you must not try to take accommodation which is required for the children and mothers under the government scheme.
For the rest, we must remember that it would be essential that the work of the country should go on. Men and women alike will have to stand firm, to maintain our effort for victory. Such measures of protection as are possible are being pushed forward for the large numbers who have to remain at their posts. That they will be ready to do so, no one doubts.
The “evacuable” areas under the government scheme are: London including West Ham, East Ham, Walthamstow, Leyton, Ilford and Barking in Essex Tottenham, Hornsey, Willesden, Acton and Edmonton in Middlesex the Medway towns of Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester Portsmouth, Gosport and Southampton Birmingham, Smethwick Liverpool, Bootle, Birkenhead and Wallasey Manchester and Salford Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Hull Newcastle and Gateshead Edinburgh, Rosyth, Glasgow, Clydebank and Dundee.
In some of these places only certain areas will be evacuated. Evacuation may be effected from a few other places in addition to the above, of which notice will be given.
Women and Evacuation in the Second World War: Femininity, Domesticity and Motherhood. By Maggie Andrews
Charlotte Tomlinson, Women and Evacuation in the Second World War: Femininity, Domesticity and Motherhood. By Maggie Andrews, Twentieth Century British History, Volume 32, Issue 1, March 2021, Pages 149–151, https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwaa021
Mothers tearfully waving goodbye as small children clamber onto packed trains, and children alighting onto rural train platforms, name tags around their necks, and small suitcases in hand, are central images in Second World War iconography. The popularity of such images might suggest that evacuation is a well-known and well-worn topic, but in Women and Evacuation in the Second World War: Femininity, Domesticity and Motherhood, Maggie Andrews explores an overlooked but essential part of the story—the experiences of the ‘ordinary women whose domestic lives and families were turned upside down’ by evacuation (p. 1).
The first section of the book outlines the practical, cultural, and emotional factors that shaped wartime evacuation.
The Red Army initiated an offensive into East Prussia in October 1944, but it was temporarily driven back two weeks later. After that, the German Ministry of Propaganda reported that war crimes had taken place in East Prussian villages, in particular in Nemmersdorf, where inhabitants had been raped and killed by the advancing Soviets.  Since the Nazi war effort had largely stripped the civil population of able-bodied men for service in the military, the victims of the atrocity were primarily old men, women, and children. Upon the Soviet withdrawal from the area, German authorities sent in film crews to document what had happened, and invited foreign observers as further witnesses. A documentary film from the footage obtained during this effort was put together and shown in cinemas in East Prussia, with the intention of fanaticising civilian and military resolve in resisting the Soviets.  A Nazi information campaign about the atrocities at Nemmersdorf, as well as other crimes committed in East Prussia, convinced the remaining civilians that they should not get caught by the advancing enemy. 
Since many Soviet soldiers had lost family and friends during the German invasion and partial occupation of the USSR (about 17 million Soviet civilians plus 10 million Soviet soldiers died in World War II, more than in any other country  ), many felt a desire for vengeance. Murders of Axis prisoners of war and German civilians are known from cases at Soviet military tribunals. Also, when Soviet troops moved into East Prussia, large numbers of enslaved Ostarbeiter ("Eastern workers") were freed, and knowledge of the suffering and deaths of many of these workers hardened the attitude of many Soviet soldiers towards East Prussians. 
Lev Kopelev, who took part in the invasion of East Prussia, sharply criticized atrocities against the German civilian population. For this he was arrested in 1945 and sentenced to a ten-year term in the Gulag for "bourgeois humanism" and for "pity for the enemy".  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn also served in East Prussia in 1945 and was arrested for criticizing Joseph Stalin and Soviet crimes in private correspondence with a friend. Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to an eight-year term in a labor camp.  Of the atrocities, Solzhenitsyn wrote: "You know very well that we've come to Germany to take our revenge" for German atrocities committed in the Soviet Union. 
The evacuation plans for parts of East Prussia were ready in the second half of 1944. They consisted of both general plans and specific instructions for many towns. The plans encompassed not only civilians, but also industry and livestock. 
Initially, Erich Koch, the Gauleiter of East Prussia, forbade evacuation of civilians (until 20 January 1945), and ordered that civilians trying to flee the region without permission should be instantly shot. Any kind of preparations made by civilians were treated as defeatism and "Wehrkraftzersetzung" (undermining of military morale). Koch and many other Nazi functionaries were among the first to flee during the Soviet advance. Between 12 January and mid-February 1945, almost 8.5 million Germans fled the Eastern provinces of the Reich.   Most of the refugees were women and children heading to western parts of Germany, carrying goods on improvised means of transport, such as wooden wagons and carts, as all the motorized vehicles and fuel had been confiscated by the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the war. After the Red Army reached the coast of the Vistula Lagoon near Elbing on 23 January 1945, cutting off the overland route between East Prussia and the western territories,  the only way to leave was to cross the frozen Vistula Lagoon to reach the harbours of Danzig or Gotenhafen to be evacuated by ships taking part in Operation Hannibal. Mingled with retreating Wehrmacht units, and without any camouflage or shelter, the refugees were attacked by Soviet bombers and fighter aircraft. Many wagons broke through the bomb-riddled ice covering the brackish water. Furthermore, horses and caretakers from the Trakehner stud farms were evacuated with the wagon trains.   The evacuation was severely hampered by Wehrmacht units, which clogged roads and bridges.
The remaining men aged 16 – 60 were immediately incorporated into the Volkssturm. However, some Volkssturm members, without basic military knowledge and training, escaped into the woods, hoping to simply survive.  Refugee trains leaving East Prussia were also extremely crowded, and due to the very low temperatures, children often froze to death during the journey. The last refugee train left Königsberg on 22 January 1945. 
Berlin military writer Antony Beevor wrote, in Berlin: The Downfall (2002), that: 
Martin Bormann, the Reichsleiter of the National Socialist Party, whose Gauleiters had in most cases stopped the evacuation of women and children until it was too late, never mentions in his diary those fleeing in panic from the eastern regions. The incompetence with which they handled the refugee crisis is chilling, yet in the case of the Nazi hierarchy it is often hard to tell where irresponsibility ended and inhumanity began.
Operation Hannibal Edit
Operation Hannibal was a military operation that started on 21 January 1945, on the orders of Admiral Karl Dönitz, withdrawing German troops and civilians from Courland, East Prussia, and the Polish Corridor. The flood of refugees turned the operation into one of the largest emergency evacuations by sea in history — over a period of 15 weeks, somewhere between 494 and 1,080 merchant vessels of all types and numerous naval craft, including Germany's largest remaining naval units, transported about 800,000 – 900,000 refugees and 350,000 soldiers  across the Baltic Sea to Germany and occupied Denmark.  This evacuation was one of the Kriegsmarine's most significant activities during the war. 
The greatest recorded loss of life from a ship sinking occurred during this operation, when the transport ship Wilhelm Gustloff was hit by three torpedoes from the Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea on the night of 30 January 1945. She sank in under 45 minutes figures for the number of deaths vary from 5,348,   to 7,000   or 9,400.  The 949 survivors  were rescued by Kriegsmarine vessels led by the cruiser Admiral Hipper,  although it is claimed that "the big warship could not risk heaving to, with a submarine close by".  Also, on 10 February, the SS General von Steuben left Pillau with 2,680 refugees on board it was hit by torpedoes just after departure, killing almost all aboard. 
On 24 January 1945, the 3rd Belorussian Front led by General Chernyakhovsky, surrounded the capital city of East Prussia, Königsberg. The 3rd Panzer Army and around 200,000 civilians were trapped inside the city.  In response to this, General Georg-Hans Reinhardt, commander of the Army Group Center, warned Hitler of the imminent Soviet threat, but the Führer refused to act. Due to the rapid approach of the 2nd Belorussian Front led by General Rokossovsky, Nazi authorities in Königsberg decided to send trains full of refugees to Allenstein, without knowing that the town had already been captured by the Soviet 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps. 
During the Soviet assault, the Frische Nehrung spit became the last means of escape to the west. However, civilians who tried to escape along the spit were often intercepted and killed by Soviet tanks and patrols.  Two thousand civilians left Königsberg every day and tried to reach the already crowded town of Pillau. The final Soviet assault on Königsberg started on 2 April with a heavy bombardment of the city. The land route to Pillau was once again severed and those civilians who were still in the city died by the thousands. Eventually, the German garrison surrendered on 9 April, and as Beevor wrote, "the rape of women and girls went unchecked in the ruined city" 
The widely publicized killings and rapes in places like Nemmersdorf by the Soviets led to a severe degree of fear in the entire German population of East Prussia. Those that could not escape the advancing Soviets were left to their fate. Wealthy civilians of East Prussia were often shot by Soviet soldiers, their goods stolen, and their houses set on fire.  Zakhar Agranenko, a playwright serving as an officer of marine infantry in East Prussia, wrote:
"Red Army soldiers don't believe in 'individual liaisons' with German women. Nine, ten, twelve men at a time – they rape them on a collective basis." 
Even Russian women liberated from forced labor camps were raped by Soviet soldiers.  The rear-guard units of the advancing Soviet armies were responsible for a large proportion of the crimes committed by Red Army personnel.  Soviet Officers like Lev Kopelev, who tried to prevent crimes, were accused of pity for the enemy and became Gulag prisoners. 
These acts of violence were influenced by a desire for revenge and retribution for crimes committed by the Nazis during their invasion of the Soviet Union, collectively driven by Soviet propaganda.   The propaganda was a purposeful goad to the Soviet soldier and reflected the will of the political authorities in the Soviet Union right up to Stalin.   There is no question that Stalin was aware of what was happening.  Given the strict control of the Communist party over the military hierarchy, the pillage and rape in Prussia was the result of the Soviet command at all levels. Only when Stalin saw that it was in the Soviet Union's interests to check the behaviour of the Red Army did he take steps to stop it. 
The Red Army eliminated all pockets of resistance and took control of East Prussia in May 1945. The exact number of civilian dead has never been determined, but is estimated to be at least 300,000. However, most of the German inhabitants, which at that point consisted mainly of children, women, and old men, did escape the Red Army as part of the largest exodus of people in human history.  Antony Beevor said:
"A population which had stood at 2.2 million in 1940 was reduced to 193,000 at the end of May 1945." 
The Schieder commission in 1953 estimated casualties in the 1945 campaign at 30,000 civilian dead in East Prussia,  and overall civilian losses in the entire Oder–Neisse region at 75–100,000. 
The West German Statistisches Bundesamt figures from 1958 estimated total civilian losses in East Prussia of 299,200 including 274,200 in the expulsions after May 1945 and 25,000 during the war.   According to the Statistisches Bundesamt, in total, out of a pre-war population of 2,490,000, about 500,000 died during the war, including 210,000 military dead and 311,000 civilians dying during the wartime flight, postwar expulsion of Germans and forced labor in the Soviet Union 1,200,000 managed to escape to the western parts of Germany, while about 800,000 pre-war inhabitants remained in East Prussia in summer 1945. The figure of 311,000 civilian deaths is included in the overall estimate of 2.2 million expulsion deaths that is often cited in historical literature.
The West German search service issued its final report in 1965 detailing the losses of the German civilian population due to the flight and expulsions. The West German government authorized its release in 1986, and a summary of the findings was published in 1987 by the German scholar de:Gert von Pistohlkors.  According to the West German search service, the civilian population of East Prussia (including Memel) before the flight and expulsions was 2,328,947.  They put civilian dead and missing at 514,176  persons. The number of confirmed dead was 123,360 (9,434 violent deaths, 736 suicides, 9,864 deportation deaths, 7,841 in internment camps, 31,940 deaths during the wartime flight, 22,308 during the expulsions and 41,237 from unknown causes).  There were an additional 390,816  cases of persons reported missing whose fate could not be clarified. Some historians in Germany maintain that the search service figures of confirmed dead provide a realistic view of the total losses due to the flight and expulsions they believe that the cases of persons reported missing whose fate could not be clarified are unreliable.   The German historian Rüdiger Overmans maintains that the statistical foundations of the West German government search service report to be unreliable he believes that new research on the number of expulsion deaths is needed.   However, the German government and the German Red Cross still maintain that the higher figures which include the persons reported missing whose fate could not be clarified are correct.  
The German Federal Archives estimated that about 1% (100–120,000 of the estimated 11–12 million total German civilian population) in the Oder–Neisse region lost their lives due to military activity in the 1944–45 campaign as well as deliberate killings by Soviet forces. 
According to other sources, in summer 1945 about 800,000 Germans were still living in East Prussia.  The Red Army's brutality towards civilians during the East Prussian campaign, coupled with years of Nazi propaganda regarding the Soviet Union, led many German soldiers on the Eastern Front to believe that "there could be no purpose in surviving Soviet victory". This belief motivated many German soldiers to continue fighting even though they believed that the war was lost, and this contributed to higher Soviet casualties. 
Most Germans who were not evacuated during the war were expelled from East Prussia and the other former German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line in the years immediately after the end of World War II, as agreed to by the Allies at the Potsdam conference, because, in the words of Winston Churchill: 
Expulsion is the method which, in so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble. A clean sweep will be made.
After World War II, as also agreed at the Potsdam Conference (which met from 17 July until 2 August 1945), all of the area east of the Oder-Neisse line, whether recognized by the international community as part of Germany before 1933 or occupied by Germany during World War II, was placed under the jurisdiction of other countries. The relevant paragraph regarding East Prussia in the Potsdam Agreement is: 
V. City of Koenigsberg and the adjacent area.
The Conference examined a proposal by the Soviet Government to the effect that pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement, the section of the western frontier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which is adjacent to the Baltic Sea should pass from a point on the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg-Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic and East Prussia.
The Conference has agreed in principle to the proposal of the Soviet Government concerning the ultimate transfer to the Soviet Union of the City of Koenigsberg and the area adjacent to it as described above subject to expert examination of the actual frontier.
The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement.
From Censorship to Chaos
Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Secretary of State for War, was informed of the situation within an hour of the first reports reaching the War Office. He held an emergency telephone conversation with the Ministry of Information’s Deputy Director at 11pm but was unconvinced by the Ministry’s assurances. Fearing that the censors would not be able to protect vital information from leaking out, Hore-Belisha decided that the War Office would re-impose its original ban on the news at 11.30pm.
This decision forced the Ministry of Information to make a desperate request for retrospective self-censorship. It was explained that the previous decision was void and that any such mention could result in prosecution. Indeed ‘All possible steps’ would be taken to protect ‘the national interest’.
The Ministry was certain that editors would alter their front pages to ensure compliance with the new ruling. The Home Office, which had been contacted directly by Hore-Belisha, was not so sure and one unnamed senior official decided additional measures were necessary. Scotland Yard were instructed to arrange the seizure of all newspapers, police officers were deployed to newspaper offices and wholesale newsagents throughout Britain, roadblocks were erected in Fleet Street, and newspaper trains were stopped en route from London. The situation was widely described as one of ‘chaos’ and ‘complete confusion’.
The Ministry of Information continued to petition the War Office but their pleas were ignored. Things became almost farcical when the Ministry’s French equivalent (the Commissariat Génèral à l’Information) released additional information about the British troops in the early hours of 12 September. This led to a second change of heart in the War Office and the ban was finally lifted at 2.55am. However, the decision came too late for some newspapers to include the story in their early editions, and many papers were delivered hours late on the morning of Tuesday 12 September.
Evacuation to Shropshire
The Second World War broke out in 1939. The British government expected the German air force to bomb cities and their factories, and so they began a mass evacuation a few days before the start of the war. Around three million school children from the cities at risk were sent to live with foster families in the safety of the country until the war was over.
One safe place was Oswestry, a small town in Shropshire near the border with Wales. People in the town provided billets (homes) for evacuees (people evacuated) from Birkenhead, part of the city of Liverpool on the north-west coast. At the outbreak of war, about 3,300 children and 900 mothers were sent to Oswestry on special trains from Liverpool.
The children from the city experienced a totally new way of life in the country. For the people in the country, too, having so many outsiders coming into their area was a major event. These sources will show what each side thought of the evacuation.
1. Read Source 1. This is an article from Owestry’s local paper, the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser, about the arrival of evacuees.
- Were the people of Oswestry proud of their role in the evacuation? What evidence do you have of this?
- What does the source tell us about how the children were welcomed by the people of the town?
- How well-run was the evacuation?
2. Read Source 2. These are the memories of Margaret Corlett, who was evacuated from Birkenhead to Oswestry.
- Who chose where each evacuee would stay?
- How does the evacuee’s account (Source 2) differ from the account of the local paper (Source 1)? Think about the following:
- How were the evacuees treated?
- How well was the evacuation organised?
- What was the reaction of people in the town?
3. Read Source 3. This is a letter written by Ellen Howard, an evacuee from Birkenhead aged 13.
- Look at the words Ellen uses in this letter. Write a list of how she describes each of these items below for Birkenhead, then do the same for Oswestry and compare the two lists. What are the differences?
- Surroundings (trees, streets and so on)
- Atmosphere (the quality of the air)
Preparations for war began in 1938, the year before war broke out. People were given gas masks and plans for evacuation were prepared. The plan for evacuating the children was called Operation Pied Piper. In September 1939, when the evacuation began, the scheme went fairly smoothly.
Householders in the country who billeted (housed) city children were given money by the government. They got 10s. 6d. a week (53p in modern money) for the first child they housed and 8s. 6d. (43p in modern money) for any other evacuees they took in. That doesn’t seem like much, but you could buy a pint of milk for around 4d. (2p in modern money) back then!
The evacuation meant children swapped one life for a completely new life in the country. The 1930s was a period when unemployment was high. Many of the children who came from Merseyside had been living in poverty. Some did not even have the few belongings that they were told to bring with them and some had never taken even a day’s holiday away from the city. The sight of ‘wild’ animals (such as cows or sheep) must have been as astonishing to them as a day at a safari park is to us now. Life for evacuees was not entirely unpleasant. Although most evacuees must have been homesick, some had their mothers with them. In the case of the Oswestry evacuees, up to one mother was evacuated with every three children sent away.
Billeting evacuees was one way people in the country helped on the Home Front and the evacuees got involved in the war effort as well. The children in Oswestry learnt to knit clothes for the armed forces, helped to ‘dig for victory’ by planting vegetables in school playing fields, and manned stalls to collect scrap metal. In summer they helped with the harvest and even gathered acorns to feed the pigs.
The level of this activity is key stage 2. This lesson treats the well-known story of evacuation from the perspectives of:
The sources on this page show that the atmosphere of evacuation was not entirely negative. Generally, the new life of evacuees was better than it had been in the cities. However, the sources show that the perspectives of evacuees and locals sometimes differed. Although some evacuees like Ellen saw the country in positive terms, others were not so happy with the evacuation.
By contrast, locals (as represented through the local press) were very proud of their role. However, as Source 2 shows, they were not completely altruistic and tried to cherry-pick those children they ‘liked the look of’. Of course, primary evidence from evacuees and from newspapers with an agenda to report the evacuation in positive terms is sometimes slanted.
The lesson could be expanded with a final question asking pupils to do a piece of extended writing, such as writing a letter home or a diary entry describing the first week as an evacuee in Oswestry. Things they might write about include:
- What it was like to be without their family?
- Did other children have their families with them?
- How well were they received by the people of Oswestry?
- Show how life in the country was different to life in the city
The lesson could also be used to teach citizenship issues in relation to ‘Unit 04: Britain – a diverse society?’ The lesson shows how the lives of people living in the town and country were once quite distanced. Today, increased access means people from towns can easily visit the countryside, whilst people from rural areas also experience the cultural and leisure facilities of cities. Thus, although lifestyles in both are still different, the gap between town and country is narrower than it once was.
Home Front WW2: Clothes Rationing
Everyone was given a book of 66 coupons to use to buy new clothes for one year.
This was cut to 48 in 1942 and 36 in 1943. Each item of clothing cost a certain number of coupons.
Second hand clothes were not rationed and children’s clothes were handed down from one child to the next or sold on to other families. The government used the slogan ‘Mend and Make Do’ to encourage people to repair or patch torn or worn clothes.
After war was declared, people expected that the Luftwaffe would bomb Britain and that civilian casualties would be enormous.
The Department of Health in Scotland spent the early months of 1939 preparing details for the evacuation of unaccompanied children, mothers with children under school age, blind people and invalids from vulnerable areas. Areas affected were Edinburgh, Rosyth, Glasgow, Clydebank, Dundee, Inverkeithing and Queensferry – and from May 1941, after the Clydeside air-raids, Greenock, Port Glasgow and Dumbarton were added.
Evacuation was voluntary. Some had made private arrangements but when the order came at 11.07 on 31 August 1939 to ‘Evacuate Forthwith’, nearly 176,000 children assembled 120,000 leaving Glasgow within three days.
Children mustered at their local primary school, carrying their gas-mask, toothbrush, change of underclothes and label. They walked to the nearest railway station, to be evacuated to secret destinations – Glaswegians to Perthshire, Kintyre and Rothesay Edinburgh children to the Borders or the Highlands.
It was a logistical nightmare to process the evacuees on arrival and allocate accommodation. For some children it was a great adventure, for others it completely dislocated family life. By Christmas 1939, the feared German blitzkrieg hadn’t happened and three-quarters of the evacuees had returned home.
Watch the video: Evacuees of the Second World War: Stories of children sent away from home (July 2022).