Evacuees during World War ll
A campaign has been launched to erect a national memorial near to St Paul’s Cathedral to commemorate the evacuation of British Children during the Second World War.
Kurt Barling has been speaking to former evacuees who believe this national story should be preserved for generations to come.
I’m part of that 60s generation that had to endure the endless dinner table lectures on why I should eat all my vegetables and be happy with half an apple for dessert.
I can still remember my feelings of horror as a child at being told that the luggage label on Paddington Bear was no different from the one attached to my mother when she was evacuated from London. We were chastened by the real hardships our parents had to endure.
Yet at a time when Enid Blyton was still virtually compulsory reading for the under tens, there was also a sense of mystery and adventure about those stories of being packed off to the country to live with kindly adults. Of course that was mostly fiction, just like the Famous Five novels.
The British government had long considered what to do with civilians, particularly mothers and children if war broke out. They recognised in the immediate aftermath of the Great War that airplanes made the possibility of ariel bombing a real threat. The Spanish Civil War and the bombing of Guernica had put that beyond doubt.
‘Operation Pied Piper’ was the secret plan put in place by the government in the event of war. It would involve the wholesale evacuation of children from major urban centres to the countryside. At a time when few people travelled it was recognised it would be the greatest social and family upheaval ever experienced in this country.
Although children were not forced to leave their parents, most parents in London believed it would be for the best. When the evacuation started it was swift and disorientating. Hundreds of “evacuation specials” were dispatched from the principal London rail stations.
Children and parents were separated outside the station and the children filed off in crocodile. Neither had any idea where the children were to be taken to. My mother ended up with her sisters in Sheringham, Norfolk. Unfortunately, as with many large families, the four sisters were split into two groups. That separation still haunts them.
A few years ago they all returned to Sheringham for a trip down memory lane. However, not all the memories were pleasant for evacuees. Nor were the destinations restricted to the countryside in Britain. Many children were sent as far afield as Canada and Australia.
Evacuees were labelled
Above all it was a period of confusion and dislocation. Perhaps it’s only when we grow older and have children ourselves that we recognise how traumatic separation can be. But the bewilderment, anxiety and uncertainty that faced many of the evacuee children has stayed with them over a life time.
The Evacuees Reunion Association have commissioned sculptor Maurice Blik to put forward a maquette of a possible memorial that evokes the mood of the evacuation.
Last week it was shown for the first time to members of the association. The sculpture, even in miniature, has a strong narrative depicting the vulnerability of that generation of city children who were dispatched in haste to escape the Luftwaffe.
It’s hoped that the final piece, where the sculpted children will be life-sized, can be place in the vicinity of St Paul’s Cathedral. The plan is to have Blik’s work fully commissioned by the time of the 70th anniversary commemoration at the Cathedral on September 1st 2009.
Those supporting the raising of a memorial believe it should reflect the whole story. Not everyone receiving those children turned out to be the kindly country folk that folklore would so often recall. As the evacuee generation has become the retirement generation more and more stories of the hardship and outright menace and brutality faced by some are being told.
A macquette of part of the sculpture
Many people in the countryside had nothing but antipathy for these city kids, often from poor backgrounds. They were housed in conditions far more basic than the propaganda films showed.
Having left the security of home for so many years, it is not surprising the evacuee generation now wants to have that collective experience commemorated. Irene Glausiusz is one of those in charge of raising awareness for the memorial.
She insists that of all the memorials in the Capital for the victims of war or for those who contributed to ultimate victory (even one for animals on Park Lane), none reflects the experience of three and a half million British children.
Television presenter Michael Aspel, himself an evacuee, told me he believed that it will remain an important story to tell future generations, a reminder of the sacrifices and pain endured by all in times of war.
As with all such memorials the money has to be raised predominantly by public subscription. There must also be a sufficient legacy (or Trust) to ensure that it can be maintained without recourse to the public purse.
last updated: 16/09/2008 at 11:59
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Were you evacuated during the Second World War? Share your memories here
Cassie McHaffie(Nee HUTH)
terence (terry) lenihan
Joan Gencarelli, Honolulu, Hawaii
Connie Francis (nee WOLFE)
Arthur John Bethell known as Jack Bethell
Mary Davis (Paddington London W.9) - Boston-Mass-U
Eileen Gorman(nee George)
Rosemary Davies Seam
Elsie and Jean Brown
Grace Rampling nee Robins