Party for Nottingham Evacuees, Worksop

Image ID: 14708

Party for Nottingham Evacuees, Worksop

Courtesy of Nottinghamshire Archives

Grove House, Westgate
Worksop
England

The evacuation of Britain's cities at the start of World War Two was the biggest and most concentrated mass movement of people in Britain's history. In the first four days of September 1939, nearly 3,000,000 people were transported from towns and cities in danger from enemy bombers to places of safety in the countryside. Most were schoolchildren, who had been labelled like pieces of luggage, separated from their parents and accompanied instead by a small army of guardians - 100,000 teachers. Most were unaware of where they were going, what they would be doing and all were wholly ignorant of when they would be coming back. The fear of air attack from German bombers at the start of hostilities encouraged parents to send their children to safety. Parents gave instructions to their children: 'Don't complain,' 'Grin and bear it,' 'Look after your sister,' 'Write home as soon as you can.' Generally the four-day official exodus worked surprisingly well. The real problems came in the reception areas where the Government had left arrangements for the children's arrival and care to local authorities, with little more than an injunction to do their best. The result can only be described as a typically British wartime shamble. Hundreds of children arrived in the wrong area with insufficient rations. And, more worryingly, there were not enough homes in which to put them. Twelve months earlier, the Government had surveyed available housing, but what they had not taken into account was the extent to which middle-class and well-to-do families would be making their own private arrangements. Consequently, those households who had previously offered to take in evacuees were now full. Keeping control of the whole thing became a joyless task. 'The trains were coming in thick and fast,' says a Geoffrey Barfoot who had been seconded from the town hall to act as a billeting officer. 'It was soon obvious that we just didn't have the bed space.' As a result of the mismatches, selection was made according to rudimentary principles. Billeting officers simply lined the children up against a wall or on a stage in the village hall, and invited potential hosts to take their pick. Thus the phrase 'I'll take that one' became etched on the memory of our evacuees. Little things, like going to the pictures, learning to bake bread, walks in the woods and the generosity of those who took evacuated children into their homes, have remained constant in the minds of evacuees. For many it was a life-enhancing, mind-broadening experience, leaving them with memories they treasure to this day. Others, however, were beaten, mistreated and abused by families who didn't want them and didn't care about them. The painful experience of John Abbot, evacuated from Bristol, reflects the darker side. His rations were stolen by his host family, who enjoyed good food whilst John was given a diet of nothing more than mashed potatoes. He was horsewhipped for speaking out and, with a bruised and bleeding body, was eventually taken in by the police. Then there was Terri McNeil who was locked in a birdcage and left with a chunk of bread and a bowl of water. After the initial panic, through fear of bombing raids, had died down, and 'The phoney war' was underway, many parents recalled their children from where they were evacuated, only to return them again after the 'Blitz' began on the 7 September 1940, with heavy raids on London, and later

Date: 01/12/1939

Organisation Reference: NCCN001115

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