FOR many it was the most traumatic experience of their young lives — being told to pack a small suitcase, having their name pinned to a jumper, being kissed goodbye by their parents and shipped to a far off town or village to be taken in by strangers. Yet it was a necessity of the age, the only way to avoid the destructive power of the German bombs that rained down on our major cities and towns during the Second World War.
In all, almost one and a half million people were displaced under the Government Evacuation Scheme implemented by the Ministry of Health. Initially — the scheme was actually set up before the full might of the Luftwaffe was to be felt on these shores — people thought that the heartbreaking separation was over-cautious but there is no doubt it saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Evacuees faced a lottery in terms of the new life they were moving to — whether happy and loving or sad and lonely — but whatever they found it was to leave a lifelong memories. Some of which have been recorded in a new book, Evacuees: Children's Lives on the WW2 Home Front, compiled by author and historian Gillian Mawson.
She said: "I have always had a passionate interest in social history, and during 2013 I collected evacuation stories from all over Britain for a new book on the experiences of 100 Second World War evacuees. It contains extracts from the personal stories of, not just children, but also the mothers and teachers who accompanied them – who spent the war in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
"These moving stories are accompanied by wartime photographs, many of which have been rescued from evacuees' attics. "There is so much more to the evacuation story than groups of children arriving at railway stations with labels tied their coats. "I have also gathered stories from mothers and teachers who travelled with the groups of evacuated school children, and who took on a huge amount of responsibility. Hopefully this book, with the help of the family photographs, will paint an intimate picture of how the British people opened up their homes to evacuated children and adults during the dark days of the war."
Clifford Broughton, aged six, was evacuated from Lewisham in south east London to Garnant in December 1940. He says: "My sister and brother were billeted with Blodwen Thomas, a miner's widow while I stayed with my family at home. However, in December the London Blitz intensified, so I went to join Mavis and John.
"Auntie Blod was very generous to accept all three of us and for that we were eternally grateful, because it lessened the blow of leaving our parents. "It was a sea-change in culture, moving into a rural, Welsh-speaking mining community, but we were safe, save for the nights when Swansea was bombed in February 1941!
"We could hear the explosions even though we were 20 miles distant. "Mum and Dad visited us alternately once a month. Considering that it was a seven-hour journey from Lewisham this was a tremendous effort on their behalf. The village was at the confluence of two rivers at the head of the Amman Valley. One of the rivers was known as the black river because it was literally black from the colliery workings upstream.
"Auntie Blod's neighbours showed us how to kill chickens, and what with a pig slaughterhouse just down the road, we were certainly indoctrinated into country life. Although I only had a few Welsh friends, I learned a little Welsh before we returned home in April 1945."
After the war, Auntie Blod and the Broughton family visited each other. Auntie Blod died in the 1980s and Cliff says that he will always be grateful for her love and affection during those wartime years."