This Wednesday morning a story was told by Doreen Higgins, a member of our club. Her parents were schoolteachers in London when Britain declared war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939. Her mother, father, brother, and herself were residents of London at that time and her father was teaching at a school in the center of London. The British government believed that when war was declared, bombing of London would start immediately and accordingly made plans for the evacuation of children from those areas it deemed most at risk, that is, central London. Other cities in Britain put similar programs in motion, but this a London story. The teachers were the key to the plan.

On September 2nd and 3rd 1939, the process began.  Children to be evacuated assembled at their school with their little suitcases, their gas masks, their ration books, with their names pinned on their coats.  Their teachers took them by bus to the train station and from there the teachers and the children went wherever the train was going.  (The train system was dedicated to this process for these two days.)  Their destination was somewhere within a radius of about 50 miles north and northwest of London, well away from the center of the city and also from the southeast coast of England, over which the bombers would come.  The actual town where they would find themselves was not known until they reached it.  It should be stated that this evacuation was voluntary for children aged 6 years or older; in those days the school leaving age was fourteen.  Doreen's father took his class of some twenty boys and girls aged 12-13 and found himself in Northhampton, a town some 40 miles north of London.  Kind families who had volunteered to be hosts met the children and welcomed them into their homes, and the teachers, too.  The children, who became known as "evacuees," shared the local school accommodations with the town's school systems, which usually meant that the "locals" went to school for half the day and the evacuees, with their teachers, took the other half.

The parents of the evacuees had only limited ways of finding out where their children were; in those days, hardly anyone, and certainly not the parents of these children, had a telephone.  Very few people had a car.  Lists were eventually posted at the schools in London so that parents could locate their children but for most, visiting them was difficult if not impossible.  Meanwhile, in the "reception" areas, as they were called, conditions became very difficult.  Children misbehaved; host families had difficulty with the evacuees - many had a problem with the children's accents and could not understand them.  Their lifestyles were beyond different - the evacuees were London "street" kids, many had never been in the countryside, and there were fights and turf wars with the local children, and delinquency.

And back in London nothing happened........there were no bombs; all was quiet.  Children started to trickle back home, but there was no school for them because the teachers were still in the country.  Gradually more and more children returned to London, and finally the teachers were ordered back to London to resume teaching there.  Life returned to something akin to normal.  Then, in September 1940, the bombing of London started.

The teachers were told they had two choices:  they could accompany their students, once again, out of London the same way as before. Or they could stay in London and help run the "Government Rest Centers."  These were centers for bombed-out people and used the once-again-empty school buildings.  They offered, to people who were bombed out of their homes but not injured, shelter, clothing, warmth, food, and sleeping room until other arrangements could be made.  This, of course, was all contingent upon the school building itself remaining intact, and many were damaged or destroyed.  Doreen's father, a decorated veteran of World War I, declared that he was not taking 20 adolescents out into the country again for anything, and he managed a Rest Center until they were deemed no longer necessary, some two years later.  It was a period of time she and her family would always remember.