Evacuation - 1940

In September 1940, with the growing threat of invasion, the Government considered the evacuation of the civil population from East and South-East Coastal towns.

Voluntary evacuation was encouraged but in the summer of 1940 compulsory evacuation was considered.
A number of problems were identified with compulsory evacuation:

  • It would involve 200,000 which would have to be evacuated and compulsory billeted inland. If invasion did not occur this might cause a difficult situation to arise.
  • Public opinion was considered to be already “somewhat jumpy” and would become more so if compulsory evacuation was ordered from South-East and East coastal towns. Also people on other parts of the coast would ask why they were not being evacuated.
  • People evacuated from the Coastal strip would still be liable to bombing in the rear areas.
  • Any invasion would likely only be on a few points of the coast. Was it necessary to evacuate the whole South-East and East coast towns if only a few points would be affected by attack?
    • As a result the War Cabinet decided “That the scheme for compulsory evacuation of all but essential people from the nineteen East coast towns between Sheringham and Folkestone should not be put into operation for the present”.

      The Minister of Home Security was still to encourage voluntary evacuation from these towns and if any of these towns were affected by operations the civil population should be made aware that they would have to stay where they were – “Stand Firm”.

      Ipswich was one of the coastal towns affected. The Emergency Committee drew up a plan for voluntary evacuation during Sept 1940, with people expected not to settle anywhere east of Bury St Edmunds. When the immediate invasion threat subsided during October, the question of allowing evacuees to return arose and by November many had returned. However the Government maintained the voluntary evacuation scheme up until 1944, as to relax it would mean admitting there was no longer any threat of invasion, which would have affected the policy for the Home Guard. The Regional Commissioner maintained the pressure on the Emergency Committee to continue to encourage voluntary evacuation, which the Committee continued to resist. The Regional Commissioner was finally forced to put the scheme into “cold storage” in August 1944, when he informed the Emergency Committee that Ipswich would have to house some of the evacuees from London as a result of the V1 rocket attacks on the Capital. He could no longer argue that Ipswich should continue to encourage voluntary evacuation while at the same time receiving evacuees from London!

      Another evacuation scheme that was put into place but soon halted in the summer of 1940 was the evacuation of children to North America. In June the scheme was being promoted by a Committee of private Members of the House of Commons and enquiries to the scheme were occupying a staff of 350 people! Many public schools were also considering removal to North America. Practical difficulties included providing sufficient shipping along with naval escorts. The scheme was also generating rumours – that the Royal Princess had gone to Canada and that King and Queen and Government were to follow soon. The Government decided to call a halt to the scheme by closing the lists on the grounds that more names had been received than could be dealt with. Public schools were also to be encouraged not make arrangements to remove to North America.

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