THE EVACUEE ARCHIVE
The University of Reading’s Special Collections contain a wide variety of material relating to World War II evacuation. In addition to books, interviews and documents, the archive includes 25 boxes of memoirs collected by Dr Martin Parsons, formerly Senior Lecturer in History Education at Reading and Director of the Secondary PGCE Programme.
Currently a team of volunteers led by Joanna Hulin, Reading Room Assistant at MERL, is assisting with the cataloguing process in order to make the content of these memoirs more accessible to readers.
The memoirs contain many recurring themes, but one which is particularly striking to anyone who has worked in Education is the disruption to schooling experienced by children of all ages. Colin, for example, who was evacuated from London to Essex in September 1939, had no schooling for a month after his arrival. His Geography teacher gave him and fellow pupils the task of mapping the village to keep them out of mischief (D EVAC A/1/488).
The lack of suitable school premises meant that, on arrival, many classes had to be held in the open air. And the severe winter of 1939-40 further disrupted attendance. Frequently school buildings had to be shared between local children and evacuees on a half-day basis. Sometimes, homesick children returned home early only to find that their schools had closed. In the Liverpool area alone it was reported that thousands of children went without lessons for 10 months.
Nothing speaks more poignantly of the plight of some of the children, however, than this comment from an anonymous respondent (D EVAC A/1/546) who had been evacuated from London to Somerset:
THE UNIVERSITY’S FIRST PHD IN EDUCATION
It was interesting to discover, therefore, that the first Education PhD listed in Professor Barnard’s history of the Education Department at Reading addressed some of the issues referred to above. What made it even more interesting was its focus on the town of Reading and, in particular, that it was a contemporary account or an investigation conducted while the evacuation was still in progress.
The thesis by Charles Preston Rawson was completed in 1943 and has the title ‘Some aspects of evacuation.’ Its structure and presentation is very different from any thesis I have seen before. And the format is not what would be expected in the Institute of Education today. However it contains a wealth of detail, documentary analysis, a questionnaire survey and an account of an intervention conducted by the author himself. It also presents a considerable amount of raw data.
In total, there are five volumes plus an envelope of supplementary material.
I believe this to be a valuable resource for historians of the period, so it is worth saying a little more about the content.
- Volume 1: deals with ‘Preparations for Evacuation’. Following a detailed analysis of official documents, Rawson concludes that, ‘It may be that I have shown the meaning of “Schooling in an Emergency”‘ (p. 11). There is also a case study of Springfield School (in Hackney?) consisting of a detailed diary of events leading up to evacuation.
- Volumes 2, 3, & 4: provide the results of a survey consisting of 19 mostly open-ended questions about ‘conditions in the London reception area up to Midsummer 1941.‘ The questionnaire went out to 112 evacuated schools and 104 were returned – an impressive response during a national emergency. For two years, Rawson also maintained close contact with 77 evacuated schools that were housed in or around Reading. He reports that, during this period, the school population of Reading increased by 55%.
- Volume 5: reports what is referred to as ‘The Reading Experiment.‘ This intervention was a personal initiative by Rawson conducted with the approval of the London County Council Inspectorate. It was an ambitious project that bypassed the problem of shared school premises and half-day education by hiring accommodation and borrowing equipment.
- Supplementary Materials: include spreadsheets, statistics, maps, graphs and diagrams meticulously produced by hand using different coloured inks.
The schools surveyed are not specified by name in the description of the sample which simply tabulates the type of school, the name of the head teacher and the area to which it was evacuated. However, they are identifiable because they are all named in the handwritten spreadsheet of school rolls (see below), and many are mentioned by name in the results section. Given the large size of the sample of London schools, it is inevitable that they would include some of those mentioned in the Special Collections’ evacuee memoirs.
One area addressed in the survey is ‘Has it been possible to carry on normal full-time education?‘ (Q7a). The answer is complex: by 1943 the situation had stabilised and, at least in terms of the number of hours of education, most schools were providing an equivalent of whole-day schooling. With regard to the combination of quantity and quality of the curriculum, however, there were reservations expressed by nearly half the schools in the sample.
THE UNIVERSITY OF READING AND THE EVACUATION
It is worth noting that the University of Reading has a number of other connections to evacuees and evacuee studies. Towards the end of Volume 5 of Rawson’s thesis there is a tribute to the University’s provision of courses of lectures and field excursions for evacuated teachers. These were co-ordinated by Reading’s Education Department and contributions were made by professors and lecturers from across the University. According to H. Armstrong’s account of the Education Department, students still in training also did their bit by helping out in local schools that were struggling with overcrowding and staff shortages.
Following her retirement in 1940, Edith Morley spent a year as a billeting officer in Reading. This is how she describes her role:
‘…I helped with work among the evacuees, taking children to their billets, visiting the billetees and their hosts, distributing dinner tickets and doing odd jobs of clerical work at a community centre and the like.‘ (p. 161).
Following this, she devoted her attention to helping refugees where she could make use of her foreign language skills.
It is also interesting that, prior to her appointment at Reading, Magdalen Vernon, pioneering experimental psychologist who became the first female Head of Psychology at Reading, conducted a study of the consequences of evacuation for adolescent girls. The investigation includes the effects on academic working habits, social relationships, leisure activities and attitudes to careers.
It would be neglectful to conclude this post without mentioning a second Education PhD that was completed in 1943. This was Isabella Erskine Campbell’s investigation into abstract thinking and language development in children of ‘average intelligence’.
Campbell’s thesis, set out in a format more like that of today, was written in the context of secondary school reorganisation. The results have implications for issues that are still relevant: selection at eleven plus, testing and examinations, curriculum, equal opportunities and the place of vocational education.
This PhD is a landmark because Isabella Campbell was a lecturer and tutor in the Department of Education, and the first member of staff in that department to be awarded a doctorate by the University of Reading.
Sadly, I can find no record of Charles Rawson publishing his research.
Armstrong, H. (1949). A brief outline of the growth of the department. In H. C. Barnard (ed.). The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 9-17). University of Reading.
Barnard, H. C. (Ed.). (1949). The Education Department through fifty years. University of Reading.
Campbell, I. E. (1943). A study of abstract thinking and linguistic development with reference to the education of the child of ‘average’ intelligence. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Reading.
Evacuation – a mammoth operation to move 200,000 to safety. (1957, November 19). The Liverpool Echo, p. 8.
Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.
Rawson, C. P. (1943). Some aspects of evacuation. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Reading.
University of Reading Calendar 1939/40 to 1943/44.
University of Reading Special Collections, Memoirs of Evacuated Children during World War 2 – D EVAC A .
Vernon, M. D. (1940). A study of some effects of evacuation on adolescent girls. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 12, 114-134.