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The Experience of Evacuation in World War II

Object Type: Folder
In Folder: WWII Showcase

Date of Document

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.

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

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.

Experience of 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.

"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.

"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.

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!

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.

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.

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