The first plan was that the evacuation of these priority classes should take place in two days and in advance of the outbreak of hostilities. On day one, all school units would be dispersed by train or in certain circumstances by motor coach to accommodation in the reception areas. On day two, following the same timetable and methods, the remaining evacuable classes would be dispersed. Private travel was expected to be temporarily suspended to allow the free passage of evacuation traffic.
Again the fact that Suffolk was to be a reception area caused some concern locally, especially the way in which the East Coast seemed to have been arbitrarily divided into these zones. The Home Office regarded Suffolk the least likely area along the whole of the East Coast from the Thames to The Wash to be attacked. It was noted that during the Great War, Ipswich and Felixstowe suffered from enemy raids while Norwich was relatively untouched, yet now Norwich was a neutral area and Ipswich a reception area. Harwich was regarded to be a danger zone yet Felixstowe Urban District and the densely populated County Borough of Ipswich, only two minutes flight away for a bomber, were regarded to be safe enough to be reception areas. Also earlier, Mr R.R Stokes had offered to manufacture shells at the Waterside Works, Ipswich, on a non profit basis; the offer was declined, one of the reasons being that Ipswich was considered to be too vulnerable to air attack! Sewage and water supply was still of concern. For example, Thedwastre Rural District Council was scheduled to receive 2,400 evacuees, while its population as at mid-1938 was 7,691. There was no sewage disposal in any of the 20 parishes and only one privately owned piped water supply for a dozen houses; the chief water supply was dug or bored wells.
It was of paramount importance that advance arrangements should be made in the districts that children would be transferred – the Administrative Council of London for example had over one million children of all ages. Although use would be made of empty houses and camps, the Government expected the vast majority to be housed in occupied houses.
The first step was a requirement for local authorities to undertake surveys to ascertain the number of surplus rooms (on the basis to accommodate one person per habitable room) and the amount of these rooms available in households where the householder was willing to accommodate unaccompanied children. It was hoped the scheme would be voluntary and that it would not be necessary to use compulsory powers in this event. Teacher’s organisations and the Women’s Voluntary Service widely gave assistance in this survey. This survey was to be completed by Feb 28th 1939. From the results of this survey, an estimate of the allocation to individual districts was made along with a list of detraining stations drawn up. Special groups (e.g. expectant mothers, special schools for handicapped children etc were to be accommodated in camps and other suitable buildings, for example Alexandra’s Children’s Home was taken over in its entirety for the purpose of an emergency maternity home while many of Suffolk’s Holiday Camps were used for nursery and other special needs schools).
Householders were to receive 10s. 6d. where one child was billeted or 8s. 6d. for each child where more than one child was taken. Children under school age would be accompanied by a responsible adult and householders in this case would only be required to provide lodgings, not board, at the rate of 5s. a week for each adult and 3s. a week for each child. If a householder provided lodgings for a teacher or helper, they would receive 5s. a week. In order to acknowledge the essential service that the householder had undertaken a card was produced for display in their windows: “I do not know any higher or nobler for of National Service that could be undertaken. We recognize what these people have done, and they should have some tangible proof of it which they can display, and proudly display, in trying to be of real service to the Nation” – Minister Of Health.
The Evacuation Scheme came into effect on the outbreak of War. Although the Evacuation Scheme was mostly efficiently organised, unsurprisingly given the nature and size of the scheme, things did not always go according to plan, as illustrated in the case of West Suffolk. Firstly no planning could be made as the only information available was the study undertaken by Local Authorities – there was no information on numbers expected to arrive or to what village they were destined to go. The original plan envisaged using the Bury railhead to serve the Rural Districts of Thingoe, Thedwastre and Cosford and the Borough of Bury St Edmunds. This was to be under the responsibility of the County Council. Other rail heads at Brandon, Sudbury and Newmarket were to be run by the Local Authorities. The Sudbury railhead was eventually dropped. Instead of as originally planned, children in school parties arriving during the first two days, mothers with children on the third day and other priority classes on the fourth day, the different classes arrived mixed up, some on full trains, others on half empty trains. Thedwastre and Cosford Rural Districts were full while no school parties went to Sudbury Borough, Haverhill Urban District and Melford and Clare Rural Districts at all. The latter two Districts, along with Hadleigh Urban District did however have an overflow of mothers with children of school age from the Ipswich railhead.
The Government scheme had envisaged that school children would be evacuated as a school group with their teachers while children under five would be evacuated with their mothers or another responsible adult. This did not happen – parents travelled with their children irrespective of age and other family members travelled with the school parties. Some villages with small schools ended up with large school parties, others with none at all while in some cases the original school parties were scattered over up to a dozen villages. Arrangements had to be put in place to teach children where they ended up in each village, which included additional buildings being hired to organize a school. In one instance, where the numbers of evacuated children were too big to allow the above, some had to be moved to other villages which had no evacuated children. This caused numerous problems with billeting.
Problems were also experience with evacuated children’s health – many arriving with dirty heads, impetigo and in a few cases infectious diseases. In London, where the children were evacuated from, it was normal at the start of every term for children to attend clinics and be cleaned up – in Suffolk it was down to parents to keep children clean. As the evacuation took place at the end of the summer holidays there was not time for the London children to attend these clinics. Hence the children arrived dirty and infected clean children. Additional nurses were obtained from London County Council to help Suffolk’s School Medical Services deal with the situation.
Above: Table showing no. of evacuated children in West Suffolk
Schooling in West Suffolk was provided for the evacuated children as follows:
- Number of separate schools that have been opened in villages where no schools exist - 6
- Number of villages in which extra buildings have been hired to supplement existing schools - 38
- Number of villages in which the schools have absorbed evacuated children without extra accommodation - 29
Ipswich also experienced some problems, but much of this was due to the local authority which had not yet provided sufficient air raid shelters for schools. These were supposed to have been constructed by the end of the summer holidays, but as they were not ready by September and the outbreak of war, many schools remained closed until November. As a result, the evacuated school children arrived to find the Ipswich schools still closed and special arrangements had to be made to continue schooling until the schools opened.
As the mass terror bombings never materialised, many of the evacuees did begin to return home by the end of the year.
Right: Children being evacuated from London. It was treated as a
holiday at the time.