Part IV: The Long Years
Chapter 18: Evacuation: Second Movement
Previous chapters have told the story of the first great exodus from the cities in 1939 and of that smaller flow of population towards the west in the summer of 1940 as the likelihood of air attack and the threat of invasion increased. The subject of evacuation is now resumed, and in this and subsequent chapters the story if carried forward from 1940 to the end of the war.
When the bombing of London began in September 1940 it set going the second great exodus—the first, however, to take place under battle conditions; in time, the longest of any during the war, and in character the most difficult to deal with because of the competing demands for house-room in safer areas from workers in the new war production factories. A comparison of the statistics for this population movement with those for other movements during the war shows that, in terms of the number of mothers, children and other evacuees concerned, the second movement was smaller than the first, and the third—in 1944—was smaller than the second.
From the beginning to the end of the war, just over 4,000,000 people in Britain, mainly mothers and children, were helped by the evacuation schemes to stay for a time in safer areas of the country.1 This great uprooting of human beings from their homes took place in three waves of diminishing strength, each connected by a slender, continuing trickle. The first, which accounted for about 1,450,000 people, was carried through within a few days at the outbreak of war. In the spring and early summer of 1940 a further 300,000 or so were moved to safer inland districts from London, certain towns on the coast and other areas. This was the prelude to the second big wave which moved about 1,250,000 people. It spread itself over a much longer period of time than the first; for the number evacuated rose and fell largely in response to changes in the weight and geographical distribution of air attacks. As the enemy withdrew his bombers and flow of evacuees subsided until, by 1942, only a small trickle was reaching the reception areas. The third wave, affected around 1,000,000 people within two months, irrupted violently in the summer of 1944 when flying-bombs were flung at London and south-eastern England.
The figure of 4,000,000 people over-states the total number of individuals who experienced some spell of evacuation. Many left their homes several times, particularly Londoners who had to face more than other city dwellers the turmoil of separation from home and
family. Nevertheless, the figures do provide a rough guide to the strength of each movement during the different phases of the war. They do not, of course, include those people who made their own arrangements to stay in less dangerous areas of the country. An earlier chapter, examining the total movement of population during the period of transition from peace to war, concluded that about 2,000,000 individuals left London and other large cities without help from the Government.2 No parallel analysis is possible for later periods of the war. A study of food registration figures and other data suggests, however, that the scale of private evacuation diminished as the war went on at least as markedly as did the volume of official evacuation, and possibly in greater measure.
The accompanying diagram depicts the important phases in the history of evacuation.3 Line A represents the total number of persons billeted or otherwise accommodated under Government authority and includes, as well as mothers and children, teachers, helpers, the aged and infirm, homeless people and other assisted groups. Line B
Government Evacuation Scheme 1939–45
picks out only the unaccompanied children. The fluctuating level of this line more truly reflects, not only the changes in the responsibilities assumed by central and local government, but the continuing weight of the burden voluntarily accepted by householders in caring for other people’s children from the areas of danger. It is an index of domestic work, voluntarily undertaken and inconspicuously rewarded. That the care of child evacuees began and remained a voluntary burden needs to be emphasised, for the compulsory billeting of children was seldom resorted to during the five years in which evacuation formed an essential part of the Government’s civil defence policy.
Many of the problems thrown up by the first evacuation were repeated during the second movement and later in the war. Many new problems also arose as the evacuation scheme was tested in battle conditions. Together, they led to changes in policy, to a broadening in the scope and character of Government aid, and to important developments in the field of social welfare. The problems which dominated the scene during 1940–1 divide themselves into two broad groups. The first, chiefly concerned with questions of dispersal and settlement, are discussed in this chapter. The second, mainly an assortment of administrative and social issues bound up with the provision of billets and welfare services in the reception areas, are dealt with in the next chapter.
In the summer of 1940, a few weeks before the heavy raids began, there were only about 460,000 children and 60,000 adults billeted in safer areas of England and Wales. About half of these children—some of whom had come from towns on the coast—had been evacuated as recently as May to July 1940. Scotland had only 27,000 evacuees still away of the original exodus of 175,000 from Glasgow and other cities. While, therefore, something had been saved from the first evacuation, and something gained from the operations in the early summer of 1940, much of the work of dispersing mothers and children, particularly from London, had to be done all over again. There were, for instances, over 520,000 children of school age in the London evacuation area in September 1940.
Although, measured in numbers, the problem was nearly as great as at the outbreak of war, the Government, warned by experience, considered it necessary when the raids began to proceed more cautiously with schemes of evacuation. It was believed that much of the goodwill of householders and local authorities had already been lost, perhaps irretrievably. The sensibilities of the reception areas were this time more prominent in the minds of the policy-makers.
But caution in the re-opening of evacuation facilities was soon discovered to be unnecessary, for, as earlier chapters have explained, resistance to evacuation steadily hardened as Londoners became familiar with air raids and shelter life. Opportunities for mothers and
children in the Metropolitan area to evacuate with Government help were, therefore, widened, and different forms of assistance were offered, first to allow and then actively to encourage members of the priority classes to leave for safer districts. The main staple of the service was the scheme for sending out groups of schoolchildren (without their mothers) in organised parties under escort to pre-determined destinations. The London County Council handled all the complicated operational arrangements not only for its own area but for many other nearby areas in the Home countries, while the Ministry of Health allocated the parties to different reception districts according to its knowledge of the housing situation, the need for billets by workers in new and transferred war industries, the requirements of evacuees from target areas elsewhere and other considerations.
Unlike the exodus of 1939 there was no mass evacuation; instead, a daily or weekly stream piloted through different channels into areas of relative safety according to the circumstances of the moment. During September 1940, about 20,500 unaccompanied children were despatched from the Metropolitan area in organised parties. In October, there was a marked drop, and Ministers began, for the first time, to discuss ways and means of compelling parents to send their children away. In December, few doubts remained about London’s attitude to the raids, for only 760 children were evacuated in organised parties. It was in this month that the Government was forced to relinquish the idea of compulsion after every conceivable method of enforcement had been explored and debated. All that resulted was an Order under Defence Regulation 31C. This gave the authorities power to send away from the area of Greater London any child certified to be suffering or likely to suffer in mind or body as a result of enemy attacks.4 During the whole of 1941 only 470 children, most of them under five years of age, were sent away under this order.
Between 15th September 1940, when the first party left London, and the end of September 1941, close on 60,000 unaccompanied children were evacuated in organised groups. These children were despatched to predetermined reception areas at first at the rate of several parties a week and then at longer intervals—hence the name given to the scheme of ‘trickle’ evacuation. The total of 60,000 amounted to only fifteen percent of the number of unaccompanied children sent away in the mass exodus of 1939—when there were no bombs.5 On the other hand, the number of London children who went away with their mothers during 1940–1 was somewhat larger than the total of the unaccompanied group—a reversal of the position in 1939.
The arrangements for the organised evacuation of mothers with
their children were suspended after the troubles of 1939, and only cautiously restarted a fortnight after the heavy bombing of London began.6 At first, these facilities were restricted to homeless mothers and children in a few East London boroughs. But the response was small—much less than had been expected—and well within the capacity of the administrative machinery and the transport available. As a result, the scheme was widened to include all mothers with children of all ages in the whole of the Metropolitan evacuation area. In November 1940, any fears of the scheme being swamped by an overwhelming demand had completely disappeared, and an intensive propaganda campaign was launched by the Ministry of Health and the local authorities to persuade all mothers and children to leave London. By the end of September 1941 about 129,000 mothers and children had been sent away in organised parties. Nearly seventy percent of this group left in a single month—October 1940.
In addition to these schemes of organised evacuation, two other conducted services were also operating; the evacuation from London each week of about 150 to 200 expectant mothers and some sixty to seventy children aged under five. The mothers went to the emergency maternity homes in the reception areas, while the children, who for some very good reason such as serious maternal illness could not be taken out of London by their mothers or sent to relations or friends, were placed in residential nurseries or specially selected billets in the country.7
Thus, there were four distinct groups in the Metropolitan area who were provided by the Government with an evacuation service which included transport, reception, the arrangement of accommodation and the payment of billeting or lodging allowances. Since the service carried with it the guarantee of accommodation of some kind in a reception district, it was considered that these evacuation facilities could be extended only to those who, in the last resort, it was possible to billet compulsorily on householders. Children could be billeted compulsorily; some other classes could not. That was the chief reason why an organised evacuation scheme was never made available to homeless families, the aged and the infirm. The Government took the view, and in this it was generally supported by public opinion, that householders could not be compelled to accommodate old people, for instance, in their homes. Another reason advanced against an organised evacuation service for such people was the limited quantity of billets available—or thought to be available—in reception districts. If bombing went on for a long time and the billeting situation worsened some reserve must be held for mothers and children. Above all, if house-room had to be strictly rationed then
mothers and children came first. Those who were old and infirm and who could not make their own arrangements to leave would, therefore, have to remain in the bombed cities.
In an effort to assist and encourage evacuation among certain groups of people who could not be imposed on strangers as easily as unaccompanied children, the device of providing billeting certificates and free travel vouchers for those who found their accommodation was greatly developed. These certificates were not backed by direct or indirect compulsion; but they entitled the holders to free lodging allowances which were paid to the householders. This scheme, known as ‘assisted private evacuation’, proved to be a valuable aid to the general policy of dispersal. It was publicly announced in June 1940, and was first used as a means of promoting the evacuation of mothers with children under five years of age from certain areas on the coast. It relieved the Government of responsibility for finding accommodation, and thereby avoided the risk of another wave of resentment arising in the reception areas against the mothers from the towns.
From October 1940 onwards, the facilities under this scheme were extended to other groups and to an increasing number of bombed areas.8 Mothers with children of school age or under, expectant mothers, and aged, infirm, invalid and blind people were issued with these billeting certificates and free travel vouchers if they were able to make their own arrangements to stay in either neutral or reception districts. Homeless people of either sex were also offered these facilities, and they were allowed to settle in any area (including London) except certain parts of the country which were put out of bounds—for instance, various towns on the coast. The Government’s desire to accelerate the dispersal of mothers and children and its anxiety in 1940 over the accumulating number of homeless people in London helped to bring about these developments in evacuation policy.
The more diversified policy became, the more, however, it led to administrative complications. Attempts were made, for example, to recover from some of these evacuees and homeless people part or all of the costs of accommodation in hostels and requisitioned houses.9
The widely varying circumstances of different families, an absence of advice and direction from the Ministry of Health on the practical application of means tests, the lack of any public statement that recovery of costs was intended, and the inability or disinclination of many local authorities to collect weekly for the Government small sums of money, all combined to produce confusion and feelings of injustice among some of those concerned. It was said by a number of chief billeting officers in June 1943 that the Ministry’s circulars on the subject caused ‘more dispute and contention’ than all the thousands of evacuation instructions put together; it was also said that nearly seventy-five percent of local authorities attempted to recover costs ‘on entirely wrong principles’.10
This was not the only important branch of the Government’s evacuation policy to be criticised. Another was the scheme for helping parents to send their children away to stay with friends or relations, or to accommodation which the parents themselves had found in reception area. This was, in effect, a ‘private evacuation’ scheme; but the Government, instead of granting only a lodging allowance (as for other groups making their own arrangements) paid a billeting allowance to the householder, e.g. board as well as lodging.11 The payment of such allowances had been authorised on the outbreak of war for children privately evacuated,12 but pressure from the Treasury for cuts in expenditure led to certain injustices. In November 1939, allowances and free travel vouchers were given only for children whose parents were found, after a means test, to be unable to afford more than 6s. a week for the maintenance of an evacuated child.13 This restriction of the scheme to a minority of poor families was removed only in piecemeal fashion, and it was not until 10th May 1941, after protests from the London County Council, that the means test was completely abolished. From that time, unaccompanied children who were privately evacuated were in the same position, so far as title to
billeting and free transport were concerned, as children sent away in officially organised parties.14
Despite the difficulties about entitlement to billeting and lodging allowances, about the areas from which people could move with Government help and the areas to which they could go, and about the methods employed by local authorities in recovering the costs of billeting and other services, all these schemes of ‘assisted private’ evacuation were widely used during the winter of 1940–1. Measured in numbers, they made by far the biggest contribution during the period of the second exodus to the Government’s strategic aim of dispersing mothers and children from the areas of battle.
These particular schemes were applied, alongside the service of organised evacuation, first to the Greater London area and certain towns on the coast, and then, stage by stage, to one heavily bombed city after another. They operated in some new areas15 as well as in many of the original (1939) areas.16 Plymouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, Barrow and some other towns were in this period declared ‘evacuable’, either partly or wholly; in the same period, some of the old evacuable areas were redefined and extended.
The heavy raids on Glasgow and the Clydeside districts in the spring of 1941 led to Scotland’s second—and last—big evacuation. By this time, there was little left of the 1939 exodus. Most of the mothers and children had gone back; for instance, over ninety percent of the children originally moved from Clydebank were living in the burgh when it was smashed in March 1941.17 So much of the work had to be done as second time. The organised and assisted evacuation schemes were put in to action and applied to Glasgow and Clydebank, and the burghs of Greenock, Port Glasgow and Dumbarton were added to the list of evacuable areas.18 Over 100,000 mothers, children and other priority classes left Glasgow, nearly 90,000 taking advantage of the assisted schemes. A count in July 1941 showed that some 142,000 people from all these areas were billeted in Scottish reception districts.
The widespread distribution of bombs on Britain during 1940–1 made it essential that evacuation policy should be as flexible as possible,
if local safety-valves were to be provided in different parts of the country immediately a city was heavily attacked. The device of the assisted schemes helped to meet this need, in combination with the arrangements for the evacuation of organised parties of mothers and children. After a hesitant start in the autumn of 1940, the Government’s evacuation policy developed a flexibility which allowed it to meet most of the demands for dispersal during 1941. Its achievements, in a purely numerical sense, may be summed up in a few figures. From September 1940 to the end of 1941, the total number of mothers and children sent away in organised parties from all evacuation areas in Britain to pre-arranged destinations was probably in the neighbourhood of 350,000 to 400,000: in this total there were about 141,000 unaccompanied children (129,000 from evacuation areas in England and Wales and 12,000 in Scotland). In addition, some 20,700 expectant mothers were evacuated under the special maternity scheme; 9,400 from London and 11,300 from other towns and cities.19 In all, therefore, the organised evacuation schemes handled around 400,000 mothers and children during this period. This was only one-third of the numbers involved in the 1939 exodus; but, on the other hand, the assisted schemes, which were not available in 1939, were used by about 850,000 people—for the most part mothers and children. The total number of people in Britain who in this period were helped in some form or another by the Government to leave the bombed cities thus amounted to approximately 1,250,000.20
The problem of where these people should go—of distributing the load of evacuees equitably among a steadily diminishing number of districts entitled to the name ‘reception’ with its connotation of relative safety—was much more difficult to solve than in 1939. Long-term detailed plans, with timetables and tidy schedules of allocation to different districts, framed on the knowledge of current population movements and spare housing accommodation, were out of question. The enemy’s tactics, in constantly shifting his bombers from one part of the country to another, imposed almost day-to-day changes in the direction of evacuation movements. No one knew which city would be attacked next, how long the ordeal would last, and what demand for accommodation in nearby areas would arise from some new surge of evacuees and homeless people.
All the time this nine months’ battle for house-room was being fought the Government had to reserve, however serious the situation in certain parts of the country and despite protesting cries from over-burdened local authorities in particular reception areas, some margin
of accommodation against the threat of armed invasion, gas attack and ‘saturation’ bombing. Already, great stretches of land with many houses, large and small, on the north-east, south-east and south coasts had been put out of bounds. April 1941, many towns on the coast had lost more than half their pre-war population, partly as a result of the schemes to remove mothers and children from potential landing areas and partly because of the economic hardships which communities in the front-line, like Dover, were forced to suffer.21 Behind these military belts of land, room had to be left, in the event of invasion, for retreating refugees. As the winter of 1941 was ending, the threat of invasion returned, the coast evacuation scheme was overhauled, more towns were declared ‘evacuable’,22 and more mothers and children were helped to leave.
Early in 1941, another important factor had forced itself into all calculations of the house-room available for evacuees in the reception districts. Other competitors began to seek in progressively large numbers spare accommodation in the safer, and often rural, areas of the country. As the new war factories in the west and north-west of England and in Wales entered the campaign for production, their appetite for workers and, in consequences, for houses, increased. The Supply Departments’ demands for both grew by leaps and bounds and the Ministry of Labour was asked to compel workers to transfer from other areas. But, as the Ministry said, compulsion was useless if there was nowhere for the workers to live when they moved. The attack then turned on the Ministry of Health and the local authorities whose responsibility it was to billet or find houses for transferred war workers. Lord Beaverbrook (Minister of Aircraft Production at the time) bombarded Mr. MacDonald (Minister of Health) with telegrams. These Ministerial exchanges were accompanied by demands from the Production Departments for the summary ejection of evacuees and ‘wealthy drones’ from the new industrial areas.
Simultaneously, vital sections of the aircraft industry were dispersed to safer districts without prior consultation with the housing department (the Ministry of Health),23 while many private firms, from banks and insurance companies to concerns engaged on important Government contracts, migrated to places like the Stroud Valley in a
haphazard and uncontrolled fashion.24 There they often set up their own billeting organisations and a general scramble ensued with the local authority as one of the participants.
Competition for scarce house-room came also from transferred hospital staff, medical students, teachers, evacuation helpers, civil servants, fire service and civil defence personnel and members of the Armed Forces. Here is a bundle of problems which cannot be treated in this book; all that can be done is to emphasise the great complication of the task of finding homes for evacuees caused by the claims of war industry from the autumn of 1940 onwards. A rough conjectural figure worked out by the Ministry of Health indicated that, by March 1942, something like 1,000,000 war workers had transferred to new districts in England and Wales. The vast majority of these transfers were voluntary in the sense that the workers were seeking fresh jobs in other areas or moving with migrant industries.
The attempt to reconcile competing demands for accommodation in congested districts had begun in a tentative way early in 1940. By January, the Ministry of Health was conscious of the need to collect reliable information about the housing situation in certain areas, if only to equip itself with answers to charges already being levelled by the Production Departments. Accommodation surveys, based on sample inquiries, were started in a number of areas, and by August 1490 reports had come in from about eighty local authorities. But the results had come in from about eight local authorities. But the results were disappointingly incomplete. Many of the surveys had taken the form of rather haphazard sampling. To numbers of authorities a ;sample’ meant a ‘slice’—often a quite unrepresentative slice of the town. The results, in fact, were biased. To overcome these defects, a new inquiry form was introduced in February 1941 to find out the number of additional persons who could be accommodated in each house on the basis of one person to each habitable room. Questionnaires, designed to provide an index of spare house-room (and also to build up a list of householders prepared to take lodgers), were delivered to all houses in the areas under survey. During 1941, 667 accommodation surveys were carried out by local authorities in England and Wales.
The results of these later inquiries were useful allies in the development of some degree of control over the movement of evacuees, homeless people, war workers and other migrants groups.25 The information
obtained helped the Ministry of Health to take preventive action and, in some of the worst instances of overcrowding, to apply such drastic measures as the compulsory removal of evacuees.26 One of the most important aids to policy provided by these surveys was that they enabled well-founded decisions to be made on the ‘closing’ of towns to further immigration.
The idea of preventing people from entering and settling in congested areas was first suggested towards the end of 1940. The Ministry of Aircraft Production pressed for something to be done to give priority in house-room to transferred war workers and, in January 1940, action was taken. A new Defence Regulation gave the Minister of Health power to make a Lodging Restriction Order under which householders were not allowed to give or let lodgings without securing the prior approval of the local authority.27 The object was to close specified areas to evacuees and other persons whose presence might diminish the amount of accommodation required for incoming war workers. The first Order was applied to Swindon borough and Highworth rural district on 9th January 1941. During the next two years a large number of other towns and districts in England and Scotland were similarly put out of bounds.28 In all, places inhabited by nearly 1,000,000 people were placed under this ban in the interests of war production.29
The relevance of this instrument to evacuation policy was that it gave to the Ministry of Health some means of controlled, by negative direction, the stream of ‘assisted private evacuees’. In numbers,
these people were twice as important and took up twice as much house-room in the reception areas during 1940–1 as the evacuees sent out in organised parties to pre-arranged destinations. Unlike the exodus of 1939, when the assisted evacuation schemes were not available and the district to which evacuees were sent was generally settled in advance by the Government, many families could—and did—from the autumn of 1940 onwards choose their own district. While this meant more freedom of choice for people evacuating with Government help, it involved the danger of overloading some of the relatively safer areas, and of taking accommodation required by workers engaged on vital jobs.
As soon as Lodging Restriction Orders had been made for particular towns or districts, the Ministry of Health took action to stop the issue of billeting certificates and free travel vouchers to persons wishing to move to such places. In future, they could only enter these ‘closed’ districts with the written consent of the local authority of the area in question.30 Throughout the remaining four years of war, similar directions were given as more and more towns and districts were closed for reasons of war production or national defence.
As a slight offset to these increasing losses of territory no longer available for evacuation purposes, some districts previously classified as neutral were brought into use as reception areas. Also, towards the end of 1940, arrangements were made with the Government of Northern Ireland and Eire for the payment of billeting allowances for mothers and children who went to stay in those countries.31 Local authorities in England and Wales were, too, authorised to issue billeting certificates and travel vouchers for certain groups who wished to go to Scotland.32 Similar arrangements were made for people in Scottish evacuation areas to be billeted in England and Wales,33 Northern Ireland and Eire. These extensions contributed a little to the relief of the problem in England of distributing the burden of evacuees and homeless people among the relatively safer areas. Nevertheless, the relief was very limited compared with the accommodation swallowed up and lost in all the evacuation and neutral districts, the banned areas on the coast, the closed towns, the cushion areas reserved for
refugees, the areas taken for Service billeting and training, and the military protected areas in Scotland and elsewhere.
These, in brief, were the measures taken, first to prevent evacuation movements from creating serious overcrowding in certain of the reception areas and, secondly, to remove at least some of the difficulties of housing war workers in the neighbourhood of the new production factories. They were not all put into effect until the period of sustained air attack was drawing to a close. But the Government did not know the enemy’s intentions, and if the attacks had been prolonged these instruments of control would have proved their worth more emphatically.
The popularity of the schemes for assisted evacuation during 1940–1 played an important part in bringing to the fore the question of house-room in the reception areas. These schemes carried the disadvantage that Government control over the direction of evacuation movements was weaker; but they also had many advantages. In particular, they had the effect of increasing and varying the number of safety-valves for families living in the bombed cities. They offered more freedom of choice. Parents, for instance, had an alternative to sending their children away in official parties to unknown destinations, there to be placed in the care of strangers. They could fix something up independently with someone they knew or with someone who had been recommended to them, or they could make arrangements with the help of relations, neighbours, religious associations or voluntary bodies. The Government then paid the railway fare and, if the parents could not afford very much, part or all of the cost of board and lodging.
The assisted schemes also helped by encouraging certain of the churches and voluntary organisations to find accommodation in the safer areas for mothers and children, old and infirm people and specially distressing cases. These organisations were thus drawn into a field of practical action, and given an opportunity to tap particular sources of goodwill (through, for example, parish magazines) which a Government department or a local authority could not easily reach. By these means, about 21,500 old and infirm people were sent away from London between October 1940 and June 1941,34 either to billets found for them by voluntary workers and to which they were matched, or to hostels set up and run by the Friends’ War Relief Service, the churches and other organisations.35 Billets that were arranged in a personal way were more likely to be suitable, and stood a
better chance of enduring, than the results of a formal local government billeting organisation buttressed with a hint of compulsion.
The large number of mothers, children and other people who used the assisted schemes was, perhaps, one reason why—in contrast to the discontents of 1939—there was little resentment against evacuees in the reception areas during 1940–1. Nevertheless, the difficulties confronting householders and local authorities were very real. In February 1941 there were 1,338,700 persons, for the most part mothers and children, billeted or otherwise accommodated in the reception areas.36 Those who lived in these areas were being asked by the Government to keep with them for an indefinite period upwards of a million and a quarter of uninvited guests, many of whom were themselves straining to return to the cities. Billeting in private homes had to be envisaged as something that might have to be endured for many weary months; perhaps even years. Or so it seemed in the winter of 1940. The reception and care of mothers and children in the safer areas of the country had to be regarded in this light, not simply as a short-term operation for which emergency improvisation would suffice. The fundamental object of policy was to keep the mothers and children out of danger for as long as possible. There was not much hope of success, of persuading householders that the Government was really trying to ease their burdens, without a big extension in the provision of welfare services to help and sustain both the householders and their wartime guests.