Library photo: London evacuees with gas masks (in cardboard parcels) and luggage all set for evacuation from the capital. Credit: Royal Voluntary Society/PA
If you are reading this in a few months or day’s time I should say that yesterday was VE Day. And as usual Antrobus went to town. Despite the cancellation of the activities in the Village Hall due to Covid 19 and the social distancing measures were are currently under, it didn’t prevent appropriate commemorations taking place throughout the village.
So it was by chance that I had come across the school register for Arley School just a few days ago and thought it would be a good time to share some initial findings. The ones that caught my eye were between 1939 and 1945, and concerned the entries for a number of evacuees.
It is difficult to find information on evacuees. Data isn’t held centrally and it all happened very quickly. The government had planned to evacuate about 3,500,000 people although only 1,500,000 actually made use of the official scheme. Almost all had been evacuated to the reception areas by the evening of 3 September, just a few hours after the official declaration of war. The ‘Government Evacuation Scheme’ designated places as evacuation areas, from which young children and vulnerable people were to be removed to safer locations. In most cases this meant removals from the most densely-populated areas, not the whole district which is interesting considering that Runcorn Rural District (in which Antrobus was then located) was one of those areas at risk.
Arley School was just over the border in the then Bucklow Rural District, although many of the children from Whitley Reed and Crowley attended (more to follow in future posts). The first wave of evacuees arrived at Arley School in September 1939 aged between 5 and 12. These included the Jones siblings from North Shields who stayed six months at Garland Hall, Crowley with John and Anita Whitlow. There were three others from Runcorn, Salford and Widnes who all stayed less than four months. One lasted just four days.
We know that within a few weeks of the outbreak of war – the “Phoney War” period – many mothers and children had left the countryside and returned to their extended families after the widely anticipated bombing campaign had failed to materialise, and this appears to be true here. By early 1940, it was estimated that around 80% had returned home. But that summer, another wave of evacuations took place after Hitler invaded France and the launch of the Blitz.
The following year brother and sister arrived from Southmead Bristol they stayed two weeks and then returned in January 41 where they stayed a month. Also arriving were a family of three brothers and sisters from Euxton Lancashire
In March 1941 six evacuees from Salford entered the school. Three were all billeted in Aston by Budworth with Mrs Newport, two with Mrs Hall and one with Mrs Howarth. Those living with Mrs Hall stayed the longest: May Taunton for over two years and her eldest sister for 17 months who had to leave school once she had reached 14. It’s not clear from these records whether she stayed in Aston by Budworth or returned home to Salford.
The saddest arrivals of all took place in the late summer of 1942.
Extract from Arley School Register 1943
The Arscott siblings arrived from Bootle and were billeted at Aesop’s Cottage, Arley. The notes in the register said
“bombed twice at Coventry and Bootle.”
Then the very young Noakes brothers lodged with Mrs Eynes at Land’s End Farm, Aston by Budworth. The eldest brother, had attended Victoria Road School in Northwich, but the youngest was just 5 at the time. The notes in the register simply said:
Left London 13 Nov 1940. Lost all.
No evacuees enrolled in 1943; the last group all arrived in September 1944 from London. However their stay wasn’t prolonged. Some left after 2 or 3 days, others two weeks – just one stayed nine months.
All in all, across the four years, the coming and goings of evacuees would have had a big impact in a rural country school: out of the 61 entries between 11 September 1939 and November 1944, 32 were evacuees, 26 were locals and for the three remaining it is not clear whether the entire family had moved as a result of the war or for work.
And against a backdrop of the coronavirus and the tea parties and bunting, until this week, an undiscovered and sobering reminder of the sudden upheaval to lives of the war in Cheshire.