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13 November 2014

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You are in: London > TV > Television > TV Features > Children’s War


Evacuees during World War ll

Children’s War

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.  

My parents were both evacuees and the stories of their privations during the war were an effective guilt-inducing mechanism. 

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.

"I still remember my horror as a child at being told that the luggage label on Paddington Bear was no different from the one attached to my mother"

Kurt Barling

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.

Evacuee's label

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

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.  

Some of the children were billeted with adults who didn’t have the first clue about caring for children. There are many examples of mothers fetching their children back to face the bombs rather than have them unhappy in their new found homes.

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 week’s launch has started the long haul to raise the one million pounds to achieve this.

last updated: 16/09/2008 at 11:59
created: 16/09/2008

Have Your Say

Were you evacuated during the Second World War? Share your memories here

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Cassie McHaffie(Nee HUTH)
At age 6 my brother aged 8 both went to Stanwick in Northants from Stratford West Ham in London . I was very fortunate and chosen in the village hall by a Lady whose surname was Humphries. I well remember being taken to the Squires house for afternoon tea and there was a maid in the Humphries house named Edith . Being the youngest of five children and very poor I had never seen a bathroom or inside toilet.I had a room to myself upstairs and The house was called "Beechtrees " as it was surrounded by Beech trees . I cannot remember how long I was with the Humphries but it was a long time and they taught me so much and looked after me very well .Memories I have embedded in me are that they were connected to a shoe factory in Rushden so I had good shoes provided and they had two sons in the Airforce at that time .Mrs Humphries became unwell and I had two more billets in Stanwick which were not so good ! My brother was mistreated and before the end of the War we were brought back to Stratford East London and I sat the Eleven Plus in 1944 there . Two scholarships were awarded to me and I went to St Angelas convent in Forest Gate . Before I emigrated in 1965 My husband and children then aged 4 and 7 went to Stanwick to thank the family once more before we left UK. A lady who lived opposite the Humphries saw us and remembered me even though she had not seen me for 21 years. She told me the Humphries had moved to Rushden so gave us the address . Imagine our surprise when Mrs Humphries opened the door and said "Oh it is Kathleen the evacuee "(as I was called in wartime and christened as ) We were made welcome and she and her husband were so happy to see our children and at the thought of us going to see them they were thrilled .Even though I have lived in Australia for 44 years now I will never ever forget the War years and was so happy last week to obtain two tickets for my husband and myself to attend the Reunion in St Pauls on September Ist this year . It is something I look forward to and I would like to add that it was through the magazine "This England " that I saw the article on this event I only have one sister left from our family who lives in UK and she has subscribed to "This England " for me for many years It would be wonderful if there were others present at the Memorial who went to Stanwick as sadly my brother who was with me at that time passed away 10 years ago. Thank you for the chance to recall my memories as I am forever grateful to the people that changed my life at a very early age .

terence (terry) lenihan
Evacuated aged 5 yrs (a sister aged 3 yrs) to Hatfield Herts from Nth London on 01/09/39.I was 'lucky' to be placed with elderly billetors for whom I was a child of theie family: (I remained throughout duration of WW2 an anxious child unsure as to whom I belonged and where my 'true home' was located.I went home to a 'troubled family existence'I discovered only fairly recently that the family wished to adopt me but my father refused.To this day I remain a regretful person about this.I have returned many times to Hatfield.. joining the local History SOciety.I have spoken at both my London and Hatfield schools about the war and the fears and anciety that have remained with me to this very day

Joan Gencarelli, Honolulu, Hawaii
In 1939 my mother, older sister, baby brither and i left Clapham Junction station for Brighton, where we stay for the next 6 months. My sister was sent to school in Chertsey Surry to be with her classmantes, and i joined her there. Six months later, my sister and i were separated from a loving family by my mother who thought the cottaged dirty and the food inadequare. My sister was relocated up North, and i was placed with a family of 4 in the same town. The following year was brutal, and ended when my foster family recieved minor damage to their home. i was relocated again to live with another evacuee, a boy 7 years my senior and three adults. For the next 4 years i stayed in a house where nobody spoke my name. Education was limited due to crowding and lack of teachers. Planes fluew overhead and sirens screamed and i hid under the bed, or in the cupboard under the stairs. I longed for my beautiful mother, her scent of roses and day-dreamed about our reunion. Five years later the war in Europe ended and i went home to meet my family of strangers.

Connie Francis (nee WOLFE)
In l940 my two younger sister and I were evacuated to Cornwall from West Ewell in Surrey. I was approaching my 9th birthday and my two younger sisters were 7 and 5 years old. I clearly remember being told by our Dear Mother to "Take care of the girls, you are the eldest". I learned responsibility at an early age. We carried our gas masks in cardboard boxes, a bag of clothing and were well labelled with our names and destination. We were very well organised but, of course, knew little of our destination or what would happen to us. Eventually we arrived in Wadebridge,Cornwall where we sat on benches inside the village hall and selection began. One lady wanted my youngest sister, as company for her little boy of the same age but I insisted we all had to be near each other, no one wanted three evacuees. Eventually we were billeted just outside of Blisland,Cornwall. I was fortunate and lived on a small farm with a very kind lady Mrs.Dowrick,her son Georgie, he was 3 or 4 years old. Mrs. Dowrick's Father lived with her and Georgie. My two sisters were billeted in the farm of Mr and Mrs.Prout, opposite my billet. These billets were outside the village of Blisland and near the edge of the moors. Very near to our billets, on the side of the road was a huge rock where we would meet every evening... and cry to go home....after a few months of visiting us regularly, Dad came and took us all home. I returned to Blisland in adulthood and took pictures of the Crying Rock, as we called it. What good kind people these were to take into their homes three little girls who were not at all happy to be away from home. I returned to Blisland as an adult and photographed the Crying Rock. What kind people we had to care for us, albeit for only a few months. Eventually, Dad took us back to West Ewell and the war, frightening tho it was, we were safe with our parents.

henry pearce
iwas about 3 or 4 at the time i was with 1 of my brothers his name is william pearce does anyone no us thank you

Arthur John Bethell known as Jack Bethell
I was evacuated to Guestling, Sussex on Friday 1st Sept 1939 with Blackheath Road School.We travelled from St Johns Station Blackheath. Reggie&Ron Harding came with me and my brother and 2 sisters.My older brother was in the Navy.We lived in Cade Tyler House Greenwich.The last part of my evacuation was with Mr&Mrs Pitman in Somerset. I went to Sherbourne Abbey School. I was drawn into the country ways of life.We moved to Cheddon Fitzpaine my evacuee parents started working on Ted Gange's farm which was part of the Portman Estate. I attended Cheddon School. When I left school Mr Pitman asked Mr Ted Gange if I could work for him on the farm.Which I did, doing all aspects of farm work,Bert Starkey was also and evacuee when we returned to London Bert and I joined the National Fire Service times were hectic but we survived. I lost touch with Bert for 43 years and have now traced him and have renewed our frienship with him. I have also kept in touch with my foster relatives in Somerset, Sadley Mr&Mrs Pitman, also Dick and young Billy have passed away a musch sadder time for Somerset. I only have Stella and Franck Redell left. I am pleased to say my story is in Woolwich Firepower Museum as they have done an article on me for the Museum.Jack Bethell

Mary Davis (Paddington London W.9) - Boston-Mass-U
Having fond memories of our stay in Newcastle-U-Lyme, Staffordshire,with a wonderful family. I am, to this day, in contact on a regular basis by 'phone with the daughter of the family, who took us 'kids' from London, into their home. I have made three return visits to this area. My sister and I, were very fortunate to have been 'placed' in such a good home of caring people.

Stephen Sanders
If we want to reflect the whole story, how about a memorial to the children who didn't evacuate, but stayed in London and other cities during the Blitz? Let's not forget them, please.

Henry Teuma
I at the age of nine yrs & 9months & my sister 6.5yrswere evacuated to Patcham N Brighton 1-9-39.billitedwitha recently married couple.we only stayed 3 months &went back home.In June 1940Iwent to Exeter & stayed till May 1942.Iwas happy with the family I was withThe school was next door Iused to use the side doorsraight in to the play groudI was there for the blitz on Exeter we had no defencesaround us.

Eileen Gorman(nee George)
My sister and I were evacuated to a little village in Wiltshire called Hilcot. I was about 3yrs. and my sister was 5.We were separated at the village hall, but both got really good foster parents and spent the war years being very well looked after. We have very fond memories of the people that took care of us and I am still in touch with the son of the people who took such good care of me.

Diane Gardner
I was billeted with a family in Cerne Abbas, Dorset in 1944. Anyone out there who was also there? The only name I recall is Leon Vigilante, but there were many of us from London.We went to the village school and visited the American army camps where we were given chewing gum and peanut butter. I think some of the mums got stockings too.

Rosemary Davies Seam
Born in Feb 1940 at Woolwich, I was evacuated from London in about 1943, I have vivid memories, including the luggage label affixed to my coat. Marvellous to know there might be a memorial, hopefully I will live to see it. From Australia.

Derek Bailey
I was evacuated from Stepney in London to Warmley a village on the east side of Bristol. We got bombed anyway despite the evacuation. I lived with a family who treated me very nicely and we are still in touch 69 years later.

Elsie and Jean Brown
Ages 8&4 sent to Folkstone.Stay 2 wks.Later sent to Somerset stay 5yrs,Jean stay 3yrs.Elsie didn't want to come back to London!

Jim Wright
Was at the IWM and a good day.Evacuee twice 1939 and 1940. 1940 South Wales.Remember Cardiff getting done over.Member of E.R.Aare you?

Michael Waller
I was born in 1937, so remember most of the War Years because my Mother refused evacuation and we stayed in Brighton. We saw the V1 Rockets and the aircombatants in the sky overhead. We also saw the German bombers flying to London, then the Lancs flying out to Germany.

Grace Rampling nee Robins
My memory is of being in three billets in Yeovil, one in Sevenoaks and one in Ely, Cambs. Sevenoaks was right under the flight path of the both the V1 and V2 rockets!!! Also Ely was near an airfield!! Good thinking. When asked to list my elementry education on forms when applying for jobs when younger I just couldn't list all the schools I attended. Is there a record of where we sent? When we were met at the local stations we were taken by the billeting officers (in cars!!!) to our billets, and wondered whether our mums knew where we were. So the authorities must have records, surely.

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