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The Experience of Evacuation in World War II

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Before the outbreak of war, the Government had decided that children, expectant mothers, mothers with children under 5 years old, blind persons, and the aged should be evacuated from London to the countryside.

Photograph of a large crowd of children evacuees stand on the platform at Ealing Broadway. Original caption reads, "Wonder where we're going!". October 1939. Archive ref num: LT000030/018 Pennyfare_Oct_1939_00005

Frank Pick, Vice-Chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB), was appointed Evacuation Officer for the purpose of devising the scheme of transport required. This message asks all staff to do whatever they can to assist in the war effort. 'We can learn from its disturbed experiences... much that will assist us to turn our Transport Board to better account when peace returns.' On Pick's retirement in May 1940, he was succeeded as Evacuation Officer by another LPTB figure, T E Thomas.

Message to staff from Frank Pick, Vice Chairman titled "War as an Educator". November 1939. Archive ref num: LT000030/18 Pennyfare_Nov_1939_00001

In the first 4 days of September 1939, the scheme of evacuation was put into effect. 640 special underground tubes, 4,985 buses, 533 trams, and 377 trolleybuses were used to carry over 550,000 people either to main railway stations or direct to the countryside.

Photograph showing the evacuation of children. [1939-1945]. Image courtesy of the LIFE Photographic Collection gettyimages-50531180

Les Gaskin, child evacuee, discusses his experiences. For some the experience was exciting, for some frightening, for others it was simply underwhelming!

Audio clip of Les Gaskin describing wartime evacuation. 20 July 2017. Les Gaskin Interview - Evacuation 1

Official reports, perhaps unsurprisingly, claimed the evacuation a major success that had gone off very smoothly and efficiently. But LPTB staff painted a slightly more chaotic picture. "It was bedlam", was the summary of one trolleybus conductor, mirroring his colleague's tales of excited children, inappropriate use of train alarms, obstacle races over seats, and repeated requests to drive in the driver's cabin!

Article thanking staff for the successful movement of 600,000 mothers, patients and children from London to the country. Includes amusing and moving feedback from the staff. Archive ref num: LT000030/018 Pennyfare_Oct_1939_00002

No early attack occurred and by mid-January 1940 it was estimated that 34% of the people evacuated had returned to London and the return was continuing due to a perceived lack of threat or because they were unhappy away from their families and their homes.

Photograph of small child being evacuated. [1939-1945]. Image courtesy of LIFE Photographic Collection gettyimages-2673067

"My brother managed to get home before me because he was that much older, and I followed because...I was unhappy. So my sister and my brother came down to pick me up." Teresa Griffin talks about her experiences as a child evacuee.

Audio clip of Teresa Griffin describing her wartime evacuation experiences. 16 January 2018. 2018-01-16 Teresa Griffin Evacuation

After the invasion of Holland and Belgium, in May 1940, a further evacuation took place: 102,806 children and 9,100 adults were taken from London to the countryside in 6 days from 13 June 1940.

Photograph showing child evacuees. [1939-1945]. Image courtesy of LIFE Photographic Collection gettyimages-3329674

"When that Dunkirk occurred, there was another evacuation and I was evacuated on my own this time...the woman there she didn't sort of look after you very much...when my mother and father came to see me I was in a hell of a state...", child evacuee Les Gaskin speaking about wartime evacuation.

Audio clip featuring Les Gaskin, a child during wartime evacuation. 20 July 2017. Les Gaskin Interview - Evacuation 2

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