Many children, pregnant women and disabled people were evacuated from London and other places that were being bombed in the Second World War.
Some of the people evacuated, often called evacuees, were sent here to Buckinghamshire. They needed to be sent to places without any major cities or industries that would attract bombing.
Evacuees were given a place to stay, or billeted on local families. The families who took on evacuees were given money by the government to pay for the extra food and clothing they would need to buy. In High Wycombe, every house was visited before the evacuation to see how much room there was for evacuees.
Read these extracts to see how people reacted to evacuation in Buckinghamshire.
The parish magazine of Farnham Royal published this comment in November 1940:
“Troops are billeted here, London firms have their offices here, children are evacuated here, & finally a great company of aunts, uncles and cousins have joined up with their relations here.” (BRO 1995, 11).
One lady, Dorothy Cousins, was living in High Wycombe during the war and had a two-up, two-down house in Gordon Road. She had to take on three evacuees who were “occupying one double bed.” (Porteous 2001, 47-8). Roger File, also from High Wycombe remembers that “Cockney accents began to be as common as the… Bucks one.” (File 2001, 74).
Mavis Dyson remembers the evacuees arriving in Winslow when she was 13:
“It seemed as though coach loads of them all arrived at once with helpers and school teachers looking after them. Most of the children looked tired, sad and frightened” (Brooks 2000, 239).
Some evacuees went to schools in the area if there was enough space, but sometimes special schools had to be started because there were so many children. Two London schools were housed in Claydon House and four nursery schools from Croydon were looked after at Waddesdon Manor. One nursery school was housed at Oving House.
Ealing County Girls Grammar School was evacuated to High Wycombe High School. Each school had use of the buildings every other day and otherwise four classes could be held at once in the Union Baptist Schoolroom in Easton Street (Wright 2001, 60).
Pic of High School
Kathleen Whitelock attended Ealing County Girls Grammar School and was evacuated to Buckinghamshire. At first they were sent to Aylesbury but soon moved:
“After a bit, we were all moved on again to High Wycombe. This time we shared the school buildings with the girls from High Wycombe School so we’d be in proper school classrooms at least a couple of days a week. Again I moved home, first to a family out in the country in West Wycombe who had an outside loo full of spiders! But I loved it there, I loved being in the country and we walked miles. I remember collecting huge bags of acorns for the pigs.” (Kathleen Whitelock: WW2 People's War).
Mrs N Baldwin was at the High School in High Wycombe at the time:
“It must have been a nightmare for the staff to organise this to ensure that we all had laboratory time and gym and games. It was a great temptation when working at home if the weather was good, to spend less time on work and more on activities of our own.” (Mrs N Baldwin: WW2 People's War).
Peter Coombs remembers when he was evacuated to Buckinghamshire:
“The schools were pretty rudimentary though and there'd be 60 children in one room with only one teacher, and she was about 70!”. (Peter Coombs: WW2 People's War).
The evacuees mainly came from London and so were not used to living in the countryside. Read some of these descriptions below to see what people thought of it.
Jacqueline Ball was evacuated to a house in Princes Risborough that her father had rented. Later her parents joined her and they moved to a house called Linfield in Saunderton. She was only 4 years old so doesn’t remember much, apart from practising putting gas masks on every day, which was scary because she couldn’t breathe properly. She also remembers the air-raid siren. The family didn’t have an air-raid shelter and so she had to shelter under the kitchen table while her sisters were taken to the cupboard under the stairs (Jacqueline Ball: WW2 People's War).
Joyce Parry remembers being badly treated by her foster parents when she was evacuated to Iver Heath, even though her school had given her a tin of corned beef to give to the family. She was made to do a lot of the housework (Joyce Parry: WW2 People's War).
Mrs G Weller remembered being evacuated to Buckinghamshire but crying herself to sleep every night. After seven weeks her Mum came to take her back to London and they stayed there during the Blitz (Mrs G Weller: WW2 People's War).
Ralph Wittamore remembers going to Winslow Manor House and living with twenty other families. Though the parents always argued about hot water, bathrooms and food, the children all played together and walked to the local school singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. He says, “For me it was a very good, happy time.” (Ralph Wittamore: WW2 People's War).
Kenneth Coombs says of his time as an evacuee in Buckinghamshire:
“We all enjoyed the change from city to rural life. It gave us a lot more freedom, we could run around and I didn't go to school for months! That was in the earlier part of the war. Once the raids started in earnest though of course we were confined to home much more.” (Kenneth Coombs: WW2 People's War).
Sylvia Hopgood was first evacuated to Windsor but returned to London soon after:
“When the bombs started falling on London again it was decided to evacuate us once more. This time it was arranged to send us to an Aunt who lived in an isolated cottage in Taplow, Buckinghamshire (still not far from Windsor). It had no running water, just a tap outside in the lane. No electricity, just paraffin lamps and candles. No toilet or bathroom, just a small shed at the end of the garden with a wooden seat with a bucket underneath! We were self-sufficient, growing vegetables and salads. We also kept chickens.” (Sylvia Hopgood: WW2 People's War).
Iris Rhodes was evacuated to Stokenchurch whilst her sister went to High Wycombe. She did not enjoy her time in Buckinghamshire:
“It was all very strange to me - I was not used to the countryside. I started school while I was there and remember how cruel the local children could be to the evacuees - taunting us with tales of bombs being dropped on our homes in London and killing our parents and pets. We tended to stick together and in a way felt superior to these country people.”
But it wasn’t all bad:
“some good did come out of it. I have to thank that time for my love of the countryside now. It was in Stokenchurch I first really heard the birds and saw wild violets and primroses and learnt to eat from the hedgerows - ‘bread and cheese’ and cob nuts.” (Iris Rhodes: WW2 People's War).
Businesses were also evacuated. Many businesses evacuated to High Wycombe as it was the biggest town in Buckinghamshire and had a railway link to London but was far enough away to be safe from bombing. A company called Cossor’s, which made equipment for radar, were relocated to High Wycombe. Long & Hambly of Highgate moved to High Wycombe to make gas masks, valves and rubber moulding.
Roy Norris worked for a company making parts for tanks. It was relocated to Buckingham after being bombed out of London. He was very grateful to escape the bombing, “Arriving in Buckingham was like arriving in fairyland. Full of lovely friendly people and it was so peaceful.” (Roy Norris: WW2 People's War).
Middlesex Hospital was also evacuated. It was set up at the Tindal Centre at Bierton Hill in Aylesbury, which was first built in the nineteenth century as the Aylesbury Union Workhouse. It has mostly been demolished now. One land girl, Pat Osbourne, remembers being taken there when she suffered a “rupture” or hernia, something you can get from heavy lifting and physical work:
“You were wheeled up to the old part for your operation and then wheeled back to the huts.” (BRO 1987, 43).
- Why do you think only children, pregnant women and disabled people were evacuated? Why wasn’t everyone evacuated?
- What would be good about being evacuated to Buckinghamshire? Can you think of some other places in Britain that people might be sent to?
- Do you think people were mainly happy or annoyed at taking on evacuees from other counties?
- Did the residents of Farnham Royal welcome evacuees or would they have preferred not to have them?
- Search for some of the country houses mentioned as schools on the Unlocking Buckinghamshire’s Past website and look at the descriptions and pictures. Imagine going to school in one of the country houses. Do you think it was different to going to school in London? How? Do you think the children enjoyed it? How would it be different to your school?
- What were some of the best things about moving to the countryside? What were the worst?
Go back to find out more about Buckinghamshire in the Wars.