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School Evacuees
War is declared. London stands ready.

Sunday Citizen June 16, 2002

Anyone afflicting themselves with a modern day teaching career must surely soon realise the attractions of compulsory birth control, especially since accepted wisdom now seems to decree that little more than a pat on the head and the promise of an extra sweetie is sufficient to stop the little blighters from running amok.

In an historical context, from the moral high ground, much the same approach was applied by the world community when Hitler began getting out of his pram, and several million dead, weapons of mass destruction and a world changed forever, are the legacy for which we may be eternally grateful.

World War II became the first total war in which civilians had no choice but to become involved. For children the realities were cruelly harsh, causing many to become uprooted from their homes and families and dumped into alien culture.

However, when the rhetoric stopped and the shooting began "there was a general expression of relief that the tension had ended, even though the decision might mean hardships and sorrow" and initially it did seem more like the start of an adventure holiday for the first batch of evacuee children who arrived, one Friday morning, at Bletchley station.

Dutifully gathered on Platform Seven, a welcoming party to include Mr Cook, the Billeting Officer, members of the police, clergy and teachers, endured an extended wait - caused by the disruptions of entraining and detraining at London before the train finally arrived at 2.45pm.

Local children had gathered to watch but were soon moved onto the station approach as the first 800 "refugees" alighted in one "happy throng, clutching haversacks, cases or parcels of clothing in one hand and steadying their gasmask cases with the other".

Formed into a line, they were then walked over the bridge to the station entrance and led to the Duncombe Street market entrance by the teachers.

Mr E Jones and his helpers then took charge of the rationing and, apart from the obvious lure of a l/4lb slab of chocolate, the children were also intrigued by a postcard of Bletchley with the printed greeting: "Bletchley has welcomed your child." On the reverse, a space allow them to post back their address details.

Having received the rations, the children were then assembled into groups. Eventually, under the charge of a marshall and helpers, the children were taken to the various areas and, at the road junctions, handed over in small sets to the relevant officer, who then saw them to their final destination.

As for the "hosf families, they received10s 6d for one child, 8s 6d for more than one and 21s for an adult. For their "keep" vouchers issued by the Evacuation Officer could be exchanged at Bletchley Road or Aylesbury Street post offices.

Now in use as a centre for the evacuation organisation, schools for the meanwhile remained closed for education and, as for their potential new charges. all from Islington, the first batch comprised 407 children and 47 adults from Ecclestone School, 300 children and 31 adults from St Pauls School, seven children and Iwo adults from Beresford School and five children and two adults from Arundel House School.

On the next day, from Highgate and North Paddington, 700 more evacuees arrived, many mothers with small children, for distribution to the Winslow Rural Area. The evening brought a further 500 by bus and 800 by train.

In an organised manner, Bletchley had now received its involuntary young population, but how would they settle in and how would the communities integrate? Well, the future held both laughter and tears, but, of course, that is a story for another article.