CHAPTER 6 EVACUATION

The First Scheme

Only those who were intimately connected with the Evacuation arrangements can fully appreciate the problems involved.

Nine months before war broke out plans for Evacuation had to be made and Walthamstow was included in the official Ministry of Health Scheme for Greater London, the co-ordination of which was carried out by the Education Department of the London County Council. Mothers and children were registered in May 1939 and given preliminary instructions and, when evacuation commenced in September 1939, 2,000 mothers and 11,700 children of all ages left for the reception areas either with school groups or mothers-and-children groups. They were despatched by train from Blackhorse Road and Walthamstow Stations (L.M.S.). Hundreds of helpers had to be recruited to handle the school parties at this end, to assemble them, feed them, record them, inspect them for clothing and health, and finally shepherd them to the despatching points. Helpers were also required to accompany trie parlies and, if possible, remain with them in the Reception Areas, which were spread over the Counties of Rutland, Northampton, Bedford and Hertford. Day Special Schools for handicapped children and the Nursery School were sent to residential schools in Hertfordshire, Suffolk and rural Essex: some of these Groups were later moved to Dorset, Glamorgan and Middlesex, while the Nursery School went ultimately to Buckinghamshire. In addition to the children evacuated under the official scheme a large number were evacuated under private arrangements.

Education Problems

The education of the children caused many problems in the Reception Areas but these are matters rather for the record of those Areas than for ourŽselves. Suffice it here to say that we provided 500 teachers to assist with the education of Walthamstow children in the Reception Areas. The evacuation of 9,000 school children out of a total school population of 15,000 created serious reorganisation problems in Walthamstow, although at first all schools were closed by Government order. Arrangements were made, however, for education to be continued in the homes, lessons being set for work at home and teachers visiting the homes once or twice per week to supervise the work done. By October 1939, the position had sufficiently stabilised for attempts to be made to return to a more normal form of organisation and, during that month, all children still remaining in Walthamstow and those who had already returned from Reception Areas, were required to register so that we might consider how best to re-open the Schools. Some 10,000 children registered and schools commenced to function again in January 1940: full-time compulsory attendance at school was resumed on the 1st April 1940.

Later Evacuation Schemes

The original evacuation scheme covered mothers with children, unaccompanied children, expectant mothers, cripples, blind persons and old people. Later, certain minor variations were made, including provision for evacuation of persons rendered home-less by destruction of their homes, but the chief variation was that which required would-be evacuees, (other than children or mothers with children), to provide satisfactory evidence that they had a billet ready for them at the other end. This, of course, reduced the number of evacuees considerably and also reduced the possibility of the abuses which had tended to arise under which children, (and mothers), were evacuated and returned several times. (One youngster was known to have been out and back no less than seven times!) By the early summer of 1940, so many of those evacuated in September 1939 had returned to London, that a second large-scale evacuation was carried out in June and July. From Walthamstow 180 mothers and 2,563 children, in addition to others in the evacuable classes, were sent out to the South-West Counties and South Wales. Again, the official exodus was supplemented by a " trickle " of assisted evacuees to private billets, and during the raids of 1940/41 the "trickle" developed into a steady "flow."

Yet a third organised evacuation had to be carried out when, after the period of reduced air activity over London during 1941/1944, the enemy launched the flying bombs in June 1944. The elementary school population of Walthamstow had crept up to over 12,000 or 80 per cent of the pre-war number. The " flying bomb " evacuation differed from its pre-decessors in that it had to be hastily planned and carried out actually " under fire," but there were no casualties throughout the operation. Over 940 adults in priority classes and 3,076 children were sent in organised parties to the Midlands and North of England and to South Wales and, in addition, a large number of private evacuations were assisted.

In March 1945, plans were completed for the organised return of official evacuees for whom accommodation was, at that time, available in the war-damaged London area.

In the Reception Areas

Throughout the war-period, close relations were maintained between the Home Authority and the numerous reception Authorities in connection with the education, health and general welfare of the evacuees. A scheme for the supply of clothing for unaccompanied children was co-ordinated by the L.C.C. and assisted in the Evacuation and Reception Areas by the Women's Voluntary Services Organisa-tion. Another important ancillary service enabled parents to visit evacuated children at reduced rail fares on production of a voucher from the Evacuating Authority.

This record of evacuation would be incomplete without one general comment. Although there were some complaints, which received wide Press publicity, of bad billets (and bad billettees) the schemes worked remarkably smoothly, having regard to the upheaval caused by uprooting hundreds of thousands of Londoners and planting them among people who knew little or nothing of the background of Londoners. A warm tribute is due to the kindness and thoughtfulness displayed by many dozens of billeting officers and by the overwhelming majority of the billetors who provided accommodation and, in addition, a warm-hearted hospitable reception.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen