Zoe Watson, Archivist and Project Manager:
I’m working on cataloguing the Evacuee Archive as part of the Reading Connection project.
It is a collection of memoirs, interviews and material relating to former evacuees and war-children gathered by the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading. The collection mainly relates to evacuation schemes within Britain and the British children who were sent overseas to Canada, the USA, South Africa, and Australasia during the Second World War.
The British Government scheme to evacuate children from cities started in September 1939. Children, usually without their parents, were sent to areas of Britain that were considered safer from bombing and the effects of war, these were often rural areas. Smaller numbers of children were sent abroad. They were housed with strangers, some of whom were reluctant to take them. Some children did go in private arrangements to friends and relatives, and some went with a parent. Children received varying levels of treatment from these ‘foster parents’ and some children were kept in groups in hostel-like conditions. Stories in the archive range from the heart-warming where the kindness of the hosts meant that the children’s new lives in the countryside were as happy as they could be in the circumstances to heart-breaking cases of mistreatment and cruelty. The length of stays varied from weeks to years, and often evacuees had to move billets.
It is an interesting and thought provoking collection. I came across this interview with a former evacuee; he was interviewed in the late 1990s and shows the effect on him all those years later. He was evacuated from West Ham, London to Hemel Hempstead:
‘I recently visited the Imperial War Museum, well one of the lectures was on the psychological aspects of evacuation. I certainly do not have any bad memories of that time but it has left me with one curious feeling. All the time I was evacuated I used to tell myself that one day the war would be over and I could go back home.
After the war we were living in another part of London and then I made my way to where I used to live. The whole area had been completely obliterated in the first few days of the Blitz. I was quite unable to find the spot where my house once stood.
This happened more than 50 years ago. I have lived in many other places. I now have a grown up family of my own, I am a grandfather. I have a lovely house but somehow I am still waiting to go home.’
Please note the collection is currently closed for cataloguing. Contact us if you would like more information.