WW2 evacuees: experiences, emotions and attitudes of host families

evacuee children

There is a great deal of information available about the WW2 evacuation of city children into rural areas to keep them safe from the Nazi blitz. This page is different. It lets you see evacuation through the experiences, emotions and attitudes of the families who were forced to host the evacuees.


By Elisabeth Anne Davey (1933-2017): her childhood recollections of what is was like for a community to have evacuees foisted on them, with additional firsthand contributions

Why rural households had to have evacuees

Homes with spare rooms in rural areas were required to have evacuees billeted on them to escape the Nazi WW2 bombings in the cities. Children under five went with their mothers and older children went alone or with brother or sisters.

Understandably these evacuees were seldom really welcome. At the time, I was living with my grandparents on a semi-permanent basis in West Wratting, Cambridgeshire and was, to all intents and purposes, a village child. Before my father joined the armed forces, I had lived in London with my parents.

West Wratting was one of the villages that was requird to have evacuees.

How rural families could escape having evacuees

Where they could, many rural families took steps to avoid having evacuees. In my grandparents' family, it was agreed that several more of their London grandchildren would arrive to 'fill up' the rooms. This satisfied the authorities. After quite a short while, my cousins went back to London. As a more or less a permanent resident, I stayed and could see what was happening in neighbours' homes firsthand.

From the webmaster, a baby at the time

I was one of these grandchildren, but as baby at the time, I went with my mother and don’t remember any of it. I do, though, remember my mother speaking about it years later. She said, "I would rather risk living in my own home with the bombs dropping round me than stay as a visitor in someone else's house".

Effects on domestic arrangements

My grandmother's friend who lived in the village had three evacuees allocated to her: a mother and two young children, probably about 3 and 5 years old.

They slept in the 'spare room' and lived in the kitchen. They shared the cooking facilities with my grandmother's friend, but ate at different times, with my grandmother's friend and her family eating in the dining room. I could feel the tension, although it was only spoken about much later. Try to imagine it happening to you with no end in sight.

Cultural differences

The children were real East Enders.

Very few of them, if any, had ever seen the countryside. Their dialects and cultures were strange to the host families who were forced to cook, wash and clean for these strangers.

I was in a better position than most as I was originally from London. So I had a foot in each camp. I could understand what the evacuees were saying as well as the village dialect, and I could drop into either accent or culture. The host families could not and they found themselves living with constant irritation. Some tried hard to make it work, and some managed better than others, but most evacuees seemed to be unhappy. There must have been some families who were happy to have the evacuees and gave them a really good evacuation experience, but I didn't see any.

Evacuees' table manners

Once my mother and I went into the kitchen while 'our evacuees' were eating. My mother asked the youngest child why he had no sausage on his plate, as his mother and brother both had sausages on their plates.

He withdrew his hand from under the table and showed us that he too had a sausage. This sausage was clutched firmly in his little hand. How terrible to be eating food with his fingers, and not a knife and fork, we thought!

We were secretly rather shocked by his behaviour, but I hope we didn't show it too much. What sheltered and privileged lives we had led. The war would change all that.

Dick Hibberd

Effects on schooling

Schooling changed with the arrival of the evacuees, which of course did not please the host families.

The village children, me included, went to the village school in the mornings with the village teachers, and the evacuees went in the afternoon with their own teachers. So our time in school was essentially halved.

Whether or not we suffered from this disrupted education, I don’t know, but the villagers seemed to think so.

Furthermore, the arrangement meant that they had their own children 'on their hands' and 'under their feet' every morning. Looking back, I don’t think that this was really much of a problem. We village children we were used to amusing ourselves and we knew how to enjoy the countryside. It was more difficult for the evacuees and more still for the host families.

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