This is a book telling the story of evacuees from Manchester by the evacuees themselves. The author was herself evacuated, a process that must have been so very frightening to youngsters. I learnt a lot from this book, I hadn’t appreciated how many evacuees returned home during the phoney war period and then endured many a night in a damp and cold Anderson shelter which must have been just as frightening as being evacuated.
Audrey tells us a little about the context around evacuation and the practising the children did. I didn’t appreciate that before war was declared all the plans were being put in place in the lead up to the outbreak of war. The evacuation started in the days before the start of the war after which followed the phoney war, the period between September 1939 and May 1940 when little action took place. This clearly led many parents into a false sense of security and, missing their children, brought many evacuees home. Some were evacuated a second time when the bombing started in earnest particularly in mid to late 1940 when Manchester suffered its own blitz.
This book gives us the children’s perspective and how it impacted them through to adulthood. Published in 1989, Audrey Jones compiled these memories of those who lived through such a turbulent time in our history.
There are many different tales but the common thread was fear of where they were going and who they would end up with. There was little information, no one was told where they were going. Parents were letting their children, some as young as 5, go with no knowledge of where they would be or when they would see them again. In fact, the evacuees from Manchester didn’t go that far, 20 miles or so. But in a time of war and when so few people had a car this was quite a distance. Place names had been removed from stations by then, so the children didn’t know where they were until someone told them.
Once they arrived at their destination, the locals came by and chose who to take home. I remember only too well the unpleasantness of being the last one chosen in games at school so this must just have been awful. It would not have been easy for those who had to take in evacuees either, and most of the stories show that the children were well cared for, though there is of course nowhere quite like home. Many suffered appalling homesickness motivating some to head home on their own.
A few children were evacuated overseas, Canada and Australia two of the destinations. On the one hand that must have been a tremendous adventure, but on the other the most terrifying. One child, sent to relatives in Canada, was on a boat which was torpedoed and after spending time in a life raft was taken back aboard the torpedoed ship as it could be mended at sea and continue its journey! The saddest part of this tale is that the evacuee settled so well in Canada that when she returned home after the war that was when she was most unhappy.
Many of the children kept in touch with their second families and continued to visit them after the war. I find this heart warming – such a difficult time for all but lasting friendships and connections shine a positive light on those dark times.
I am very privileged to have been able to read this book. I have kept it too long I know, but want to thank Stephen, Audrey’s son, who trusted me with his treasured copy.