World War 2


Children evacuating by train.
Children evacuating by train.

As war drew near in August 1939 the Government began to put into operations defence measures. On the last day of August the voluntary evacuation of children of school age from danger areas took place.

In the first phase roughly half of London's schoolchildren were evacuated. The day of departure must of been very painful for both parents and children. In the early morning the children were lined up in the playground by their teachers. Each child carried a gas mask and a bag containing essential items. Some children were said to have departed with buckets and spades because their parents had not the heart to tell them what was really happening. Another story was that a child asked why the mothers at the school gate were crying, to which a quick-witted teacher replied, 'because they cannot go on their holidays too'.

The children, walking in pairs, were led to the station by a person (usually the school caretaker) carrying a placard giving the reference number of the group. The majority of children departed by train and in four days 72 London Transport Stations despatched some 1.3 million children in 4,000 special trains.

Often the trains were diverted along branch lines. Many only had single compartments and no corridors. The food was that which was taken and toilet facilities were few. The journey was often long, and not even the teachers, knew where they were going. On arrival, the children were marched to the reception centre, which was often a school or a church hall. Then began the long process of distributing children among the local people. Once settled, parents would visit their children at the weekend, but by the end of the year, with the expected bombing not having taken place, many parents took their children home.

When the Blitz began the process began again, and this time the Government began to clear all children from a belt ten miles inland from the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk and later from towns such as Chatham, Rochester, Hull and Portsmouth. The other form of evacuation consisted of institutions such as schools, hospitals and government departments being relocated in safer areas. Hospitals in the war casualties. Many large country houses and mental hospitals were requisitioned and doctors and nurses despatched to them to await the injured.

The BBC moved to Bristol, and then, when Bristol was bombed, to Evesham in Worcestershire. Billingsgate Fish Market left London for Maidstone, while part of the War Office went to Evesham, and part of the Ministry of Information to Malvern. Civil servants from London were dispersed as far away as Blackpool in Lancashire and many remained in their new homes after the war ended.

Many who could afford to leave the danger areas voluntarily. Several of the coastal towns of the South East and their populations fell dramatically. Folkestone in Kent saw its population of 46,000 drop to 6,000.