The day of evacuation
Most evacuees have a vivid
recall of events on the day of their evacuation. The images
are of busy train stations, shouting officials and sobbing
In London, the schoolchildren sang 'The Lambeth Walk'.
Elsewhere there were choruses of 'Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me
Goodbye'. For most it was 'like going on an adventure': a
phrase that is still uppermost in the minds of evacuees 60
"We marched to Waterloo Station behind our head teacher
carrying a banner with our school's name on it," says James
Roffey, founder of the Evacuees Reunion Association. "We all
thought it was a holiday, but the only thing we couldn't work
out was why the women and girls were crying."
For the newspapers the evacuation represented an
irresistible human story. An upper-class Englishwoman, Mollie
Panter-Downes, described the scene in her fortnightly piece
for the New Yorker and remarked on the 'cheerful little
cockneys who could hardly believe the luck that was sending
them to the countryside'.
The stereotypical images were already forming in people's
Parents gave instructions to their children: "Don't
complain," "Grin and bear it," "Look after your sister,"
"Write home as soon as you can."
The failings of evacuation
Broadly speaking 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
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 Geoffrey
Barfoot who had been seconded from the town hall to act as a
billeting officer in Weston Super Mare. "It was soon obvious
that we just didn't have the bed space."