Laura Arjona & Irene Garrido

Through the memories of the evacuated children we learn how important your appearance was in order to be the first choice.

Valerie hedges: “I arrived at a school hall, and sat on the floor with some other children. They were mostly boys, and older than me, so I was pleased that I was soon called and sent for a ride in a car. I was so excited by the car ride that I wasn’t at all upset that at the first house we called at, the woman loudly refused to have me. “I have already taken three tonight” she said. So I was taken to number ten.

Joan Clarkson: She recalls how for the evacuees it was like being in a cattle market. They were taken to the village hall and then the local people would go along and choose those they liked the look of. Whoever was left was waltzed around the village by the billeting officer, and wherever there was room they had to be taken in.

Harry Cole: He said “we had actually been put on display and offered for selection! It was like a slave market. It was a wonder they didn’t look at our teeth. To twos and threes our numbers gradually diminished until there was only my mum, my brother and me left. No one, it seemed, wanted a frightened woman with two cockney boys. Luckily they were with an elderly lady and her unmarried daughter”

There were brothers who were separated whereas others stayed together:

An anonymous contribution: “…From time to time someone came and took one of us away and soon my brother went. No-one told me where he was going or if I would ever see him again. This was very worrying as my mother had asked me to look after him. I was too shy to ask about it.”

Alan Grant: “With 9 years old I was evacuated with my sister who was 4 years old. We were billeted together because it was always done to keep brothers and sisters together if possible. We went to stay with an elderly couple”

Through those memories it is shown the differences between the “Londoners” and the families in the country areas. One of the evacuees, Allan Burnett explains it:

“Our hosts had never seen a tramcar, escalator, department store or even a lavatory chain. We co-existed in mutual misunderstanding”

Whereas families of very few members were always complaining about not having enough rooms for the evacuees, there were large families who were delighted to take them. Here there are examples of it.

Ivy Ellis: She recalls how she was billeting with her twin two year old girls. The woman’s name was Dolly. Her husband was in India. She had seven children of her own, her niece with two boys, her grandmother, and a Jewish family consisting of a mother and two fairly grown up girls. With Ivy and the twins, there were 18 in the house!

Jim Brittain: He arrived by train. “In the village hall “The Palace” we all stood around and I held on to my two brothers, as prospective “fosteres” looked over the evacuees and decided which to take into their households. There was little enthusiasm in taking on a whole family of three boys, and I had made it clear that we were to remain as one unit. “The palace” was therefore starting to get rather empty, when at last someone decided to take us all! This family had six children on their own“ (So they were 11 members altogether )

Lilian Burnett: She was evacuated with her baby Pam (15 months old). “ As there was nowhere for the majority of us to go, we were taken from the hall in a lorry, stopping at the end of each street. The welfare workers went knocking on doors asking if anyone could take us in, even for a night”
“The family consisted of a man and wife and two girls aged four and six. They all had to sleep in the same bed so that Pam and I could have the other bed.“

Evacuees used to move from house to house several times. There were plenty of reasons: maybe because they were ill or because of the treatment they received...

Bill Clapham: “After leaving hospital, the family said they could not keep me any longer because they had to care for an elderly relative. Whether this was just an excuse to the billeting officer I do not know. Changing billets was a common occurrence.”

Joan Herring: “We didn’t have a “pick your evacuee” session when we arrived. Instead of that, the billeting officer called out “Now, who’s going to go in here? There was total silence and then I heard myself say “I will”. That led me to having 3 billets in the ten months we were there, whereas the girl who went in the next house I believe stayed put for the whole time.”

- How did evacuees travel?

An evacuation journey often began with a walk to school. Then it was off in buses to the station, where special trains were waiting. It was quite exciting, but most children felt sad as they waved goodbye to their mothers and the steam train puffed away.
Every evacuee had a gas mask, food for the journey (such as sandwiches, apples, chocolate) and a small bag for washing things and clothes. Pinned to the children's coats were labels. On the label were each child's name, home address and school. Often the journey took several hours.

Most of the evacuees lined up in their school playgrounds with their teachers. Buses transported some of them to a London mainline station.

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The railway station teemed with hundreds of children. They had no idea where they were going. They travelled in a corridor train.

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On reaching their destination they were taken by buses again to various centres. From time to time someone came and took one of them away. They had been allocated in advance.
Some brothers and sisters were separated, sometimes in the same village.

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Olive Martin went from Hornsey station to a little station in Sandy in Bedfordshire. She had her daughter on reins (a set of bands fastened around a small child that an adult holds so that the child can walk alone but cannot run away) most of the journey.

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But nobody called out her name. There were just a few of them left. Then, Mr. Portman, one of the chief organizers, took them to the Church hall. He saw her so tired (Lorna was also crying) that he decided to take them to his house, in spite of the fact that he had a daughter and two nieces with them.

"A family in Wartime: Evacuation"

What type of families were the children billeted with?
It was always the luck of the draw which determined whether one was billeted in a loving confortable home or if one spent the war years with people who showed little care or understanding for one's needs.
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.
Contrasting experiences have stayed with the evacuees and what is left can only be described as the best of times and the worst of times.

Some evacuated mothers had to work with their host families. Joan Pearce's job was feeding the chickens, boiling up all the potato peelings and kitchen waste and then putting bran in the mixture and squeezing it through her fingers to mix it. Olive Martin , apart from the ordinary chores which she did anyway, went to help theirs hosts a couple of evenings a week in one of the fish and ship shops they owned.

Some host families were extremely religious as Joan Morgan' host on Redhill or Iris Sharp's third destination, who were a nice family and looked after her very well, but were very ardent Methodists. Joan was billet with Mrs Knight not for very long. Then, she was billeted with another woman, Mrs Parker, so that she could live in the same house as her sister. They lived in a thatched cottage for a year. The Parkers invited as many soldiers as they could for Christmas dinner in their cottage. Joan had a very upsetting experiencie. The cat's family had kittens, but they were all drowned except one. Mrs Parker could not cope with Joan's sister, so both of the sisters were moved to an hostel in Torrington.
Joan complained to her father because the matron was foul: Joan was forced to eat a dish of tripe and onions, which really made her sick. The hostel was such an awful place to stay in that they used to dawdle back to the hostel from school. The girls had no freedom in the hostel. They had to get down behind their chairs on their hands and knees for reading the Bible and praying for half an hour after tea time. One particular day, Joan was wacked by the matron with a stick until she cried: "One particular day I had been naughty and was not allowed to go out on the walk because I had been sent to bed. The Deputy Matron had a dog which was not allowed near the children, but she let it come up on my bed to keep me company. When the old witch came back and saw the dog hairs on the bed she wacked me with her walking stick through the bed clothes until I cried. I complained to my dad and I was found another billet".

Joan Pearce arrived at a building that seemed to be a windmill. It was their foster parent’s home. Joan stayed at that house for three months. Then her hostess broke her ankle and asked if Joan could be moved until she was well, but Joan never went back there. Joan was then billeted with the Fischer family: Mum, Dad, two girls aged nine and eleven, and a boy of seven. She stayed with them for the duration. She was an only child, so it was quite an experience being part of a bigger family.

After being housed twice, Joan Marriott was not able to settle. Then she finished up in the house of Edna and Charlie Hayler in Hailsham. They were wonderful with her. She stayed with them from September 1.939 until June 1.940.

Some children settled well with their host families and remained in touch after the war.