ID: PH01_VAC / Elaine Barker

TitleEvacuees come to Peldon

'That night [Friday September 1st] the first trainloads of London schoolchildren steamed into St Botolph's station. Some including mothers and babies went to Shrub End and Lexden but most were taken by Eastern National buses into the country villages.' Essex at War Hervey Benham

In his book 'Essex at War' (1945 Hervey Benham recorded that 14,000 evacuees including children, expectant mothers and women with babies arrived at St Botolph's railway station in Colchester during the first three days of September 1939. According to a detailed scheme, already drawn up, the evacuees were then dispersed into the neighbouring districts by bus: 5,500 in the Lexden and Winstree Rural District, 5,500 in the Tendring R.D.C., 1,600 in Brightlingsea, 900 in West Mersea and 500 in Wivenhoe. 
Benham continues:

'The order to evacuate London was put into operation on Sept. 1, 1939, and trains began to arrive as per schedule; the unaccompanied children first in charge of their teachers, and later mothers and young children in hastily organised trainloads. Before being despatched by bus to their new rural homes all were "watered and fed" at one of three schools and issued with 48 hours' emergency rations. The staffs of these three reception schools, Wilson Marriage, St. John's Green and Canterbury Road, had a very strenuous time. ...
The picture in the villages where those evacuees went has been drawn for all time in "The Oaken Heart", in which Margery Allingham tells the story of war-time life in Tolleshunt D'Arcy, thinly disguised for the purpose under the name of Auburn. ...

Apart from the two entries in the Essex County Standard below, child evacuees in Peldon are not mentioned again.

LONDON CHILDREN BILLETED When school children were evacuated from London and it appeared that Peldon had been denied its part in the scheme there was a general feeling of disappointment and intending hostesses were stocked with surplus supplies of bread etc which had been taken in to feed the little visitors at the weekend. During the following week however an overflow party of 29 boys arrived from Rowhedge, all pupils at Water Lane Council School, Stratford and three of the masters who came with them were billeted at the Rectory. The boys have settled down happily in their several homes and they spend the time in gathering the blackberries, playing football or helping in farm work. On Sunday morning they were made welcome at the Parish Church, Stratford choir boys sitting side by side with Peldon choir boys, and a special address was given by the rector (Rev J R Wilson). Later in the day some of the boys' parents visited them. On Wednesday when the Church of England day school was re-opened, accommodation was found for the London pupils.
Essex County Standard 16.9.1939

The concert below featured another refugee from London, violinist (and conductor) Peter Rush who had made his name with 'Ambrose's Orchestra' and The Blue Lyres in their 1930s broadcasts from the Dorchester Hotel.

CONCERT:- A concert in aid of church funds was held in the school on Friday October 27 when the building was packed with an appreciative audience ... Other items were provided by boy evacuees from Stratford. Essex County Standard 4.11.1939

TREAT FOR EVACUEE CHILDREN Stratford boys evacuated to Peldon have had a good time during the holidays. On Dec 28th they were taken by special bus to Colchester Hippodrome to see the film 'Stanley and Livingstone'. On the following days the boys were joined by local children at a party held in the School some 50 being present. After a bountiful tea and several lively games, a Christmas tree from the Rectory garden proved a great attraction and Mr N O R Sergeant [churchwarden], in the role of Father Christmas distributed gifts to each guest. The sum of 30s had been allotted by the London County Council and local subscriptions amounted to £1.16.6 Cakes, butter and sugar were provided by the ladies of the parish and Milk by Mr E H A Scales [Farmer at Harvey's Farm]. The rector ( Rev J R Wilson) who is also the evacuation officer, thanked all who had contributed to the success of the evening. Essex County Standard 6.1.1940

After this point any references to evacuees in Peldon disappear. As Hervey Benham wrote

'But before the bombs came most of the evacuees and the plucky little schoolmistresses who braved the discomforts of a cruel winter in the un-centrally heated villages had gone back whence they came.'

Reading Peter Wormell's book about Langenhoe School, Called to The Classroom, he confirms that many evacuees returned home after a few weeks when it seemed there wasn't going to be an invasion or air raids, the so called 'Phoney War'.

By the time Robert Munn, a schoolboy at Water Lane, Stratford was evacuated, schoolchildren from his school were no longer being sent to this area. He wrote.

I only started at Water Lane School Stratford in 1941, during the Blitz, I wasn't evacuated until either late 1941 or early 1942 to Skipton in North Yorkshire. Robert Munn

With the release of the 1939 register, it has been possible to identify some of the evacuees who came to Peldon from their names and precise dates of birth. The Peldon register is dated 7th October 1939 and fourteen children appear to be living with Peldon families. Of course, by 7th October, some of the arrivals in early September, five weeks before, may already have returned home, missing their families and their parents lulled into a false sense of security during the 'Phoney War'.

The evacuees range from five to fifteen years old, all but one, the youngest, listed as attending school. There are six girls and eight boys. At this point Peldon School was still open. In one case a mother and child, Emily and Kathleen Lambert, are taking refuge with grandparents, Fred and Amelia Gladwell, at Hillside Cottages. Emily was born in Peldon but her seven year old daughter in Hackney.

Children were taken in by some of the farms, The Nicholases at Malting Farm, Ransomes and Brick House Farm, the latter appearing to take two children. Thistledown, Rose Cottage, Ray View, Hazeldene and houses in Butcher's View also have single evacuee children. Checking the names on , the children's places of birth are West Ham, Stepney, Hackney and Poplar. The 1939 register was used to issue identity cards, which continued until 1952. With the advent of the NHS in 1948 it was also used as the basis for the NHS Central Register. There are later additions to the register in green ink, giving the girls' married names from the 1950s right into the early 1990s. Many entries on the register are blacked out for the privacy of people who may still be alive, so it is likely more evacuees were still living in the village.

Hervey Benham continues that by June to December 1940

'All but a handful of the evacuees (those who came to love the country and stayed to the end) were back in London...the lure of the city lights, coupled with the winter's false lull, proved stronger than all the government's appeals and warnings. There were warm hearts in the villages but no picture palaces or fish and chip shops'

We know that by June 1940 out of all the mothers and children who had arrived in Colchester in September 1939 only 22 remained. They were allowed to stay although in the September of that year 13,000 local children were evacuated from Colchester as the bombing raids increased.

When in 1944 the V1s or 'doodlebugs' caused another big-scale evacuation, Essex was excluded as being unsuitable.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project

Are there any locals who have stories to tell about evacuees to or from Peldon?
Did any of those evacuees decide to stay and make Peldon their home?

Read More
Evacuees on Mersea

1940 - a diary of life on Mersea

AuthorElaine Barker
SourceMersea Museum