Evacuees & Refugees
Operation Pied Piper was a Government scheme developed during 1938 by the Anderson Committee and implemented by the Ministry of Health. The fear was that bombing would cause widespread deaths among the civilian population in the event of war. The country was divided into zones, classified as either Evacuation, Neutral or Reception, with the priority being given to evacuees being moved from the major urban centres and billeted on available private housing in more rural areas. In early 1939, the reception areas compiled lists of available housing.
Evacuation was officially announced on August 31st and began on September 1st, two days before the declaration of war. From London and the other main cities, people in the priority class were to board trains and be dispatched to rural towns and villages in the designated areas. They were also to be sent by bus to closer areas. In the event, there was much confusion and evacuees were gathered into ad hoc groups and put on the first available train, regardless of its destination. School and family groups found themselves separated. Some reception areas soon became overwhelmed when they received more than the expected number of evacuees and others found themselves receiving people from a priority group or social class different from the one they had prepared for. One answer to this sudden influx of children into local schools was to introduce a double shift of lessons. Back in the Evacuation areas, the exodus of teachers meant that almost a million children staying home had no source of education.
In the first three days of official evacuation, 1½ million people were moved - 827,000 children of school age, 524,000 mothers and young children under 5, 13,000 pregnant women, 7,000 disabled persons and over 103,000 teachers and other helpers. Some people were reluctant to move and only 47% of the schoolchildren, and about one third of the mothers actually went to the designated areas. About 2 million wealthy individuals (including around 13,000 children) evacuated privately, some settling in hotels for the duration and several thousand travelling to Canada, USA, South Africa or Australia. The National Gallery art collection was sent to the Manod Slate Mine in North Wales for safe keeping. The Bank of England moved to Hampshire and between 1939-1940 sent 2,154 tons of gold from its vaults to Canada. Further evacuations of around 100,000 children took place during 13-18th June 1940, when a seaborne invasion was expected. Then between 20-24th June around 25,000 people arrived from the Channel Islands before it was invaded.
In May 1940, the Children's Overseas Reception Board had been created to organise the evacuation of children to Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Only 2,664 children had been moved by 18th September 1940, when the ship City of Benares was sunk by a U boat. It was carrying 90 children being evacuated and 77 of these were drowned. Following this, the scheme was scrapped as too dangerous.
Further evacuations took place In September 1940, following the bombing of several British cities. As a result of this, London's population was reduced by almost 25%. By February 1941, around 1½ million people were still evacuees but this had dropped to 1 million by September 1941 and only 350,000 by December 1943. The V1 flying bomb attacks from June 1944 caused people to evacuate again and around 1½ million moved. From September 1944, the evacuation process was officially halted and reversed for most areas except for London and the east coast.
For many children, being evacuated was an adventure. Those from the city slums had never seen so much greenery and those billeted on farms learned new skills like milking or working with horses. Many formed friendships with their hosts that lasted a lifetime and some even moved back to live when they were old enough.
On 15th November 1938, following persecution of Jews in Germany by the Nazis, a delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed to the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to permit the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children, without their parents. The Government agreed to waive immigration requirements to allow the entry of unaccompanied children ranging from infants up to the age of 17. No limit upon the permitted number of refugees was ever publicly announced. Initially it was considered that there would be around 5,000 children but, after the Colonial Office turned down a request to allow the admission of 10,000 children to Palestine, the number was increased to 15,000.
The Refugee Children's Movement (RCM) was set up and promised to find homes for all the children. They also promised to fund the operation and to ensure that none of the refugees would become a financial burden on the state. Every child would have a guarantee of £50 to finance their eventual re-emigration, as it was expected that the children would only stay in the country temporarily. The RCM sent representatives to Germany and Austria to organise the move, which was to be termed Kindertranport (Children’s Transport). An appeal for foster homes was broadcast on the BBC Home Service radio and soon there were 500 offers. RCM volunteers visited possible foster homes and reported on the conditions. They did not insist that they should be Jewish homes, as long as the houses looked clean and the families seemed respectable.
In Germany, volunteers made priority lists of those Jewish children most in peril, ie teenagers who were in concentration camps or in danger of arrest, Polish children, children in Jewish orphanages, children whose parents were too impoverished to keep them or children with a parent in a concentration camp. Their guardians or parents were given a travel date and told that the children could only take a small suitcase with no valuables and only 10 Marks in money. Some children had nothing but a manilla tag with a number on the front and their name on the back, while others were issued with a numbered identity card with photo.
The first party of nearly 200 children arrived in Harwich on 2nd December 1938. Most were from a Berlin Jewish orphanage burned by the Nazis and the others were from Hamburg. The first train from Vienna left on 10th December 1938 with 600 children. Over the following 9 months, around 10,000 unaccompanied, mainly Jewish, children followed. Initially the children just came from Germany and Austria but in March 1939, after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, children were transported from Prague. In February and August 1939, trains from Poland were arranged and transports out of Nazi-occupied Europe continued until the RCM ran out of money at the end of August 1939 and decided it could not take more children. The last group of children left Germany on 1st September 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, and 2 days later Britain declared war on Germany. A party left Prague on 3rd September 1939 but was sent back.
The Nazis had decreed that the evacuations must not block ports in Germany, so most transport parties went by train to Holland, then to Harwich. From there, a train took some of the children to Liverpool Street Station in London, where they were met by their volunteer foster parents. Children without prearranged foster families were temporarily sheltered at summer holiday camps and some went to live in evacuee camps. The last known boatload of 40 children left Holland on 14th May 1940, the day the Dutch army surrendered to Germany.
The experience of leaving relatives and staying in a completely new place was extremely traumatic for the children. An added difficulty was being in a country with a different language, different religion and no communication with relatives once the war had started. At the end of the war, children from the Kindertransport tried to find their families. Some of the children were able to reunite with their families but many were not so lucky and discovered that their parents had not survived the war. Even so, they were still the lucky ones. Many children were still in Europe when Germany occupied those countries, resulting ultimately in their death in concentration camps.
After the war, many people found themselves many miles away from their homes, if indeed those homes still existed. The eastern European countries were also now under communist control and not an attractive place to return to, especially for those who had fought for Germany in the war. These Displaced Persons wandered around western Europe trying to find a place to live and many were placed into camps.
European Voluntary Workers
When most of the PoWs were sent home in 1948-9, they left a severe labour shortage in Britain. The government decided to replace the prisoners with Displaced Persons from other parts of Europe. Advertisements were put in European labour exchanges asking for stateless people to come and work in the UK. They were called European Voluntary Workers and most lived in camps that were once used by the Army or PoWs. The scheme ceased in 1951.
When Axis forces invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the country quickly fell but two resistance groups, the royalist Chetniks and the Communist partisans, fought a guerrilla campaign against the occupiers and a bitter civil war against each other. The Allies decided to back Tito’s partisans and so, when the war ended, the Chetniks were left with nowhere to go. They crossed into Italy and were put into camps for displaced persons, in which they stayed for months and even years. The youngest and fittest Chetniks were allowed to come to Britain as European Voluntary Workers. At the time, there was very little voluntary about it as the alternative was to stay in a Displaced Person camp. Around 100,000 displaced Europeans came here under the scheme, of whom 10,000 were Chetniks.
Donnington O Camp (SJ7014)
A camp that was set up in 1951 for European Voluntary Workers. Most of the EVRs who went there were Chetniks and, since they could not go back home, they settled to form a large community locally. Life in O Camp was apparently quite good. Most of them worked on the military base and made a reasonable living. They lived in Nissen huts that housed two men in each, heated by a central stove. The camp was only for men and if any man married they had to find alternative local accommodation. The leader of the camp was Captain Miodrag Krsmanovic, who had been captured in the early days of the war and spent a long time in a German prisoner of war camp. He became the link between the British Army who ran the base and the camp inhabitants.
The above photo shows a visit to the camp by members of the Yugoslav royal family. In the centre is Prince Andrija, son of King Petar's brother, with his wife beside him and Captain Miodrag Krsmanovic on the left. Over 500 people passed through the camp between 1951-1963. Krsmanovic became friendly with Brigadier Barclay, the commanding officer of COD Donnington, who supported the construction of new accommodation on the site of the Nissen huts. This new accommodation was named Barclay Lodge. Those who created the original community still meet together in the two Serbian Orthodox churches in Telford and in a social centre, where there is a plaque to the work of those EVWs who came here to solve Britain’s labour shortage after the war.
Hinton Manor Refugee Hostel (SJ534435)
Hinton Manor was used as a residential school for evacuated Czechoslovakian Jewish children.
Iscoyd Park Camp (SJ504420)
After the war, this US Army hospital become a camp and hospital for Polish refugees. The owner, Colonel Philip Godsal, returned to the house in 1946 but because of the presence of the camp lived in a self-contained flat on the first floor in the library wing. It was not until 1957 that the park was finally given back to the family.
Sheriffhales Camp (SJ757115)
In 1948, the closed PoW camp was occupied for a time by Eastern Europeans who did not want to return home to live under communist rule.
St Martin’s Camp (SJ311363)
In 1948, the closed PoW camp was occupied by European Voluntary Workers.
Wellington Camp (SJ652126)
The remains of a large European Voluntary Worker camp can still be seen behind the new sports hall of Blessed Robert Johnson School. It housed a whole variety of Europeans including Serbs, Ukrainians, Romanians and those from the Baltic states.