Most of the children have never left their hometowns – the giant industrial centres of the North. The great evacuation has begun. My Granddad now aged 66, was one of these children standing nervously at the platform, too young to know why he was being taken away from his Mummy and Daddy. He remembers the despair he felt to this day: “I can remember my mother being very ill with cancer and I thought that I was being punished for it, as it turned out that was the last time I ever saw her as she passed away sadly later that year.
” The arrival of the evacuees in Lincolnshire was a speedy and very impersonal exercise. Each group of children was rushed from the station as soon as possible to make room for the next lot. Evacuees were transported to billeting centres set up around the city before being taken to their new ‘home’. The centres included City School and St Giles Junior School, both in which my granddad was placed.
It was The Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) that welcomed all the new arrivals and handed out drinks and emergency rations, which consisted of a tin of meat, sweetened and unsweetened milk, a pound of biscuits and half a pound of chocolate. The children were also allowed to write a postcard to their parents. The Billeting officers then took the children out to meet the families that they would be staying with. Each house on the list was visited, and one or two children would be dropped off until every child had been allocated a place to stay.
Because of such hurried arrangements, householders did not know in advance who they would be asked to take in. It was those hurried plans that cause most of the problems later on. My granddad’s brother pat, who was fifteen at the time can vividly recall how hard it was for him to get a place to stay because of his age: “I ended up sleeping in the street for the first two nights as everyone had favoured the younger kids and there was nowhere else to go. But a young lady saw me on the street felt sorry for me and agreed to take me in.
I was up all night, angry with the billeting officers for being split up from my brother. He was only five and I was promised that we would be placed together. ” Here are two statements from people who do not see evacuation in such a positive light. Joan Stanley, of Welton, near Lincoln, was a teenager when her family received a four-year-old evacuee: “It was a horrendous experience being evacuated for both children and their parents, when they left on the trains they did not know whether they would see their parents ever again.
The poor things were just parcels to a family waiting to take them – it was like being called up to the forces, you were just a number, not a human being any more. ” And Evacuee Reunion Association general secretary James Roffey, who belies that the effect of being taken away from your home at such a young age has scarred some for life: “You were suddenly uprooted, your mother wasn’t there, strangers are all around you and yet you are being told big boys don’t cry and you have to be grown up. The big problem was homesickness, which becomes a debilitating disease.
And yet you weren’t allowed to show it, you created a big shell around you. The whole process of evacuation had a psychological effect on the evacuees. Some children were left until last and were thinking to themselves ‘why wasn’t I picked? ‘ ” But although the evacuation had a bad effect on many people it left most of those who took part untouched. For some it was the time when they acquired a sense of self-reliance and independence that has stayed with them their whole lives. Coventry evacuee Philip Hodgkinson, said: