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Lest We Forget Exhibition - Evacuation and school life

Birmingham Remembers VE Day

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Evacuation and school life

Directing evacuees

As in other aspects of daily life, Birmingham had made plans for the evacuation of children well before the declaration of war. Assembly arrangements had already been rehearsed, and the first trains left New St Station on 31 August 1939. The vast majority of evacuees were unaccompanied children of school age, some 25,000 in number, with teachers and helpers accounting for a further 4,000. Mothers of young children and babies were also evacuated, bringing the total to around 43,000.

Waiting for evacuation

Birmingham children were billeted mainly in the adjacent counties but also as far afield as Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire. School parties heading for Coalville report a warm welcome from their hosts and they were given 48 hour government rations of biscuits, beef, chocolate and tinned milk. The daily routines and timetables, during this coldest of winters, are recorded in school logbooks. Childrens' personal experiences of evacuation varied enormously and many returned to Birmingham when early bombing campaigns did not materialise. Inevitably parents missed their children and one child, returning after only ten days, left because her mother couldn't do without her. Heavy bombing in the east of the city in October and November 1940 prompted a second wave of evacuation.

School children being evacuated

30,000 children remained behind in the high risk areas of central Birmingham and their education was severely curtailed as schools were not allowed to open until air raid shelters were provided (finally achieved in July 1940). Despite the impact of interrupted schooling during the war years, the 1944 Education Act established nursery schools to release women for work in industry, and introduced the provision of free milk and school dinners - a development that improved many children diets.

By July 1944 with the emergence of the V-2 rocket attacks, Birmingham itself became an evacuation reception area for mothers and children from London and the southern counties. During this final stage of the war over 15,000 people were received by the city, and the Chairman of the London County Council visited to express its warm appreciation of the hospitality of Birmingham and its people.

'Lest We Forget' Online Exhibition