Children were initially evacuated from the city from 1st September 1939, after a lot of arguing about which parts of Birmingham were most at risk. It was thought that over 80,000 children would be evacuated at that time, but only 25,241 elementary and somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 secondary pupils actually went, together with teachers and a few other adults. Over 4,000 mothers with just under 8,000 children under five were also evacuated. These people were evacuated into the country areas around Birmingham for the most part, while some others went as far away as Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. However, most of the mothers had gone back to the city by the end of October, and many children also came back as it became apparent that bombs were not falling on Birmingham, and because of the high costs of contributing towards the foster families' expenses.
By the end of January 1940, over 90% of the elementary children were back at home. In the late summer, air raids finally started,
and got much worse in the autumn and winter, and around 50,000 children were taken out of the city, half of them by their parents, rather than by means of any official system. Their lives in the
country were sometimes happy, and the children enjoyed the different lifestyle, but other children were unhappy, and some were treated badly or insensitively by their carers. It cannot have been
easy to live away from your family for up to five years.
This information has been taken from Carl Chinn's excellent book Brum Undaunted, pages 47 to 56, which gives the best summary about evacuation from Birmingham. Rita Dexter's story is reproduced here from page 54:
I attended Holy Souls RC school in Acocks Green, and was about eleven when the bombing started earnestly. We were also without
water, this only being delivered by tanker (tea with a hint of petrol – different!) Every day we said our tearful goodbyes, only to reappear home again at 4.00 p.m. Then it happened, it was for
real. We were on the train, destination unknown to us. I now know that we were going to a mining community in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The day lost its enchantment when we were all piled into
the Village Hall, tired, hungry, and bewildered. On reflection, it was really awful. Kindly people came in and chose their evacuee. Not nice when you are among the last three to be selected. It
was, I suppose, almost ten at night when a rather severe looking lady chose myself and another girl who I didn’t know particularly well.
Girls from the Convent School went to Strensham Court (destroyed by fire in 1974) and returned at the end of Spring 1944. Strensham Court was the home of the Taylor family, former Lords of the Manor of Yardley.
Other children from St Mary’s Church of England school went to Nottinghamshire: these are school log entries.
18th October 1940 The Air Raid Shelters sustained a direct hit from an enemy bomb at 8.35 on 17th inst.: two shelters were demolished and the remainder rendered unsafe for use. The wall of the lavatories was badly fractured, the asphalt playground was cracked in many places, the roof holed in two places and a great quantity of window glass shattered. No one was on the school premises when they were struck and no casualties occurred.
(The school reopened on 4th November, on a voluntary basis until the shelters could be repaired. Amazingly, the shelters remained until September 1973).
25th November 1940 Parents registered their children for evacuation.
30th January 1941 89 children evacuated to East Retford, Notts. 192 still at school.
13th December 1941. 6 evacuated to Kirkby in Ashfield.
Harry Murch's history of Dolphin Lane school has a chapter on evacuation. Below are other memories from that school.
Joan Sparrow (née Kempson), from Dolphin Lane school
My sister and me were evacuated to Retford. I remember waiting outside the school with labels pinned to our coats and a few possessions. We were taken to Acocks Green Railway Station. On arriving at Retford we were dropped off at St. Saviour’s Church Hall to await families who would take us in. Because we would not be parted we had to wait until someone would take us both. Eventually a young boy came in and said his auntie Annie would take us. Mrs Palmer’s husband was working nights at the Gas Works so we did not meet him until the next day. He was very nice and made us welcome. They had two teenage daughters. Uncle Fred, as we called him, had a spaniel that used to go with him to shoot rabbits and pheasants - a good addition to the meat ration. He also had ferrets.
We were surrounded by farmland so we had plenty of places to play; orchards where we used to pick the pears; horses that the older children used to ride around the fields. We had a nice school with playing fields.
Retford was a market town so we used to go in on a Saturday. We also went pea picking in the summer. We had a bit of excitement when a German plane was brought down in the Recreation Ground. All of us children went to see it.
We attended a dance school and put on a pantomime ‘Goody Two-Shoes’. My mother came to see it and presented me with a bouquet of flowers. I felt very proud.
We had a happy time in Retford apart from the time Evelyn (my sister) fell into the river while playing. But it had a happy ending when some men fishing nearby pulled her out.
My mother used to visit us and bring my younger sisters. We used to be sad to see them go back home. Eventually it was time to return home and I went to Hartfield Crescent Senior School. (From The War Years, used with permission)
Sidney Bardell (from Dolphin Lane school)
We went on a coach to the station. The train had a blue streamlined engine. We took our gas masks and a case with clothes in it. When we got there we sat on benches in a hall waiting to be chosen – a bit like a cattle market. Mr and Mrs Fletcher chose me, with another boy, but he soon went to live somewhere else. It was a cold winter. We were often chased and ‘duffed’ up by the local children. I was not happy there. (From The War Years, used with permission)
Eunice Essex (née Nicolle) was evacuated from Hartfield Crescent school
I took my 11 plus and passed for Yardley Grammar School but alas I did not go as the school had been bombed and children were evacuated to Lydney in Gloucestershire. Our parents did not want my sister and I parted so I attended Hartfield Crescent Senior School, which in mid-November, six weeks after I started was evacuated to Loughborough. My father arranged for Brenda, my sister to go with me.
We were evacuated because of the shortage of water and the fear of typhoid. I can remember standing in queues with clean buckets to collect water from tankers in the street. Once we went to a well and carried water from Hartfield Crescent and Greenwood Avenue. I do not know how much would still have been in them when we returned to Dolphin Lane.
We were evacuated either on 22nd or 27th November 1940 and returned home on 9th June 1942. We stayed with two families. The first in the older part of the town, with house like Coronation Street, had the toilet outside, a ‘come-down’ from our indoor bathroom. We were there six months with a young couple and not very happy. We were taught in a chapel called Baxter Gate. The lady had to go into hospital, so we were moved to a more affluent part – all nice houses – to a middle aged couple. We were very happy and they came to my wedding. We kept in touch well into the 1950’s when they both passed away.
Our school towards the end was the church hall where all the evacuees from London, Portsmouth, Southsea, Ipswich etc. were taught. It was St. Peter’s, a two and a half mile walk to and from home.
We made friends with the Bland family of three girls. Eileen and I were the eldest girls. We visited each other after our return to Birmingham and she was my bridesmaid. We keep in touch today and they came to our Golden Wedding in 2000.
The reason we were away so long, one of the last to return home was because dad’s colleague at work had his children home and they were killed in a raid.
Whilst with our second set of foster parents they had a fellow billeted with them from Birkenhead, a worker for the new factory built on the outskirts of the town. He was there six months until his house was built and his wife and two little girls could join him. We used to go on Saturday mornings to queue for sweets for him to sent to the girls – that was before ‘points’ came out for your sweet ration. I remember Mars bars were 2d (about 1p in today’s money). We also used to queue at the local butcher from 8am to the shop opening at 9am for offal (no points), sausage, bacon, liver etc. It helped our ration for the week.
My foster parents had a daughter who lived at Husbands Bosworth, near Rugby. The family kept two pigs. They had to give one to the Government and kept the other, which was cut in half. Our foster parents were given half of that so we must have lived rather well.
I can remember waving our parents off at the station after they visited Loughborough and crying our eyes out. Seeing trucks go by with Tyseley on the end had the same effect.
We came home once with a 14 year old girl for Christmas. It was so hard to go back. (From The War Years, used with permission)
Sheila Pardoe (née Bradley) from Yardley Grammar School
In 1938 I passed the entrance exam into Yardley School and after having a very happy time in a co-educational school with lovely male and female staff, it all changed and on 1st September 1939 we were all called into school to be evacuated to an unknown destination. I can remember my mother kissing me goodbye and say "you'll be back in a week". We all congregated at School and had our gas masks given to us and other necessities, and we walked in a long 'crocodile' to Tyseley Station. We were not told where we were going, so it was a complete surprise to get to Lydney, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.
We assembled there in the village, or Church Hall and the ladies from the Women's institute took over and allotted us all to our billets. Mrs Iris Watts was the president of the W.I. and I was one of several children to be taken to her mansion called 'The Rocklands'. the Bus service there was the Black & White Bus Service and Mrs Watts' husband was the owner. They were millionaires, which was rare in those days, and Lydney was nick-named Wattsville.
We had given letters given to us to write to our parents as soon as got there, to let them know that we had safely arrived in Lydney. The Rocklands was was a lovely house with large grounds including a Tennis Court. They had maids, and a Chauffeur, Mr Watts didn't risk driving from the office at the end of the day - his office was almost in Wales. During the first few weeks, due to there being no bombing, some of the Yardleians went back home, but three girls plus me stayed on, then finally at the end of the year there were just me and another girl called Olive Brown left.
We went to Lydney Grammar School in the afternoons from 1.30 - 5 pm after the pupils and teachers had left. The Yardley school staff with us were really wonderful. They were always there for us and took us on trips, rambles, and there were evening youth clubs. We didn't see a lot of our hosts, as they were very busy people, they mixed with the Aristocracy, and went to Cheltenham Races and Ascot. The house maids were only young, but they were our main company. There was a games room in the house and we learned to play Monopoly and chess and do jigsaws etc.
Finally we went home for the Summer Holidays and because up to then there had been no air raids the School started up again back at Tyseley and we didn't go back to Lydney. In the late 1970s I visited Mrs Watts, a widow by then, and told her how much I had appreciated her taking me in and the happy time it had been.
Josie Smith (with thanks to Sheldon library)
Arrangements were made for my brother and I to be evacuated to an aunt in Canada. We had passed our medicals and we to go on the S.S. Athenia. Just two days before departure we were told that the Athenia was full and that we would be on the next ship. Part way across the Atlantic the Athenia was sunk. After that our parents wouldn't let us go. Later we were evacuated to loughborough, and one of the worst things was being herded into the Town Hall, where people came and chose the children they wanted, rather like goods on a supermarket shelf. My brother and I were sent to separate places. Jim hated it and ran away several times, until finally mother came and took us both back home.
from the Victoria and Albert Museum website