EVACUEES

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Eighty years ago this September saw the start of World War Two. As tensions between Britain and Germany increased during the 1930s the Government started making plans for a major war. In 1938, Cuckfield Urban District Council, the local authority responsible for Lindfield commenced planning for an evacuation. The Government scheme provided for the dispersal of school children and under school age children with their mothers from ‘crowded towns where the result of air attack would be most serious’ to safer rural areas.

A survey was conducted to identify households with space to accommodate evacuees; everyone was expected to do their bit. Households taking in children with board and lodging would receive 10s 6d (52p) per week for the first child and 8s 6d (42p) for each additional child. Mothers with children under 5 years were provided with accommodation only, the payments being five shillings (25p) per week for the mother and 3s (15p) a child.
The first real sign that a war was imminent and inevitable was on 1st September 1939 when mid Sussex received the first wave of evacuees; the war started two days later. Children were evacuated by schools, and all travelled by special trains to Haywards Heath station for distribution around the area. Evacuees in the Cuckfield UDC area at the beginning of the war numbered 951 unaccompanied school children, 223 young children accompanied by 148 mothers, 95 teachers and helpers. It is thought over 300 evacuees were assigned to Lindfield. Further evacuees were received during the war.

After being given a drink and biscuit by the Women’s Voluntary Service, Southdown buses transported all the evacuees allocated to Lindfield to King Edward Hall. The unaccompanied children waited in the Hall to be chosen by residents. Most host families only wanted a single child not siblings. Some were prevailed upon to take two or more children, with a couple at Butterbox Farm, who had no children of their own, taking six evacuees.
A temporary dormitory was provided at Old Place for children who remained unchosen until the Billeting Office placed them with suitable families. Unplaced children were then accommodated in a communal home at Sewell’s Cottage (today St Johns Lodge), owned by Maud Savill, opposite the church.

Gladys aged 13, stayed at St John’s Lodge, which was run by Mrs Marx, recalls ‘we sleep on camp beds with one pillow and a blanket. There was no furniture apart from blackout curtains, trestle tables and benches. I used to help with the younger children, bathing the girls and washing their hair. Mrs Dennett with her son moved into help, as nine children were too much for one woman to look after. The soldiers had a cookhouse in the Mission Hall and they used to give us meat to help our meagre rations. Children paid a penny a week for treats such as jelly. We used to shake an apple tree behind the house to get apples.’ After about a year Maud Savill wanted the house and the children were found local families.
An evacuee, Lionel, came to Lindfield accompanied by his mother and young sisters, recollects ‘after arriving with our Jewish school we were taken to live in a tack room above stabling belonging to Mr McNaught at Little Walstead. We shared the tack room with Mrs Cohan, another mother and their children. My mother asked the Billeting Officer where food could be obtained. He kindly promised to take care of this and returned with milk for my six week old sister and various provisions including bacon. This was the first time I had encountered and eaten bacon. While at Walstead, Mr McNaught’s daughters taught me to ride, it was a revelation that people rode for pleasure. In London we had only seen horses pulling carts’.
The Lindfield School roll in September was about 180 and they were joined by some 200 pupils from Henry Fawcett School, Kennington, London, The schools operated separately with their own teachers, and in theory shared the school facilities, although Lindfield always had priority! The Reading Room and King Edward Hall provided extra classroom space, if a room was not available the children had to do gardening, collect acorns for pig food or blackberries for the Horsted Keynes jam factory. As the war progressed the number of evacuated children reduced as many returned to their families. In May 1943 those that remained were merged with Lindfield School.

Scaynes Hill School hosted St Gabriel’s School, Westminster. The newly opened Haywards Heath Senior School, (Oathall Community College) welcomed St Matthew’s, Westminster and Senrab Street School, Stepney, these formed the LCC Schools Unit which operated separately to the end of the war. The private schools also took in evacuated schools at various times.
Lindfield Women’s Institute, the Town’s Women’s Guild and Women’s Voluntary Service rallied to help by establishing a clothing depot, a canteen and playroom for mothers and their children, and social meetings with a penny being charged for a cup of tea and a bun. Similar support arrangements made by Scaynes Hill women.

For both the residents and evacuees there was a bit of a culture shock, on the one hand there was an influx of inner city children and families many from an impoverished background with ‘Cockney’ accents and ways. For the others a small village surrounded by field with animals, woods and country noises presented new experiences. All quickly settled into their changed life. One girl had the novelty, and anxious times, walking across a field of cows on her school journey. Another billeted with a family in America Lane used to walk their goat to its field each morning, and learnt how to milk.
After school the evacuees met up on the Common, their new green playground, and increasing mixed with the village children; who found it useful to blame the evacuees if anything went wrong.
Russell who came with his school from Kennington Oval was billeted in a council house in Eastern Road ‘with Mrs G, her son and daughter, there were seven of us in the small house. Then from time to time my elder brothers would stay. Also her husband when on leave, to say nothing of the generous hospitality to Canadian soldiers – though not at the same time! How we managed I can’t think. I only know I had never been as happy before’. Russell and other evacuees have fond memories of Lindfield, playing on the Common and in streams, enjoying entertainments, film shows and Christmas parties put on by the Canadian soldiers in King Edward Hall.
However there were also unhappy memories. Three sisters and another girl were billeted in a house where they were poorly feed, not well looked after and badly treated. The woman used their rations to feed her son and had black market sugar under her bed. They were not allowed upstairs during the day for fear of wearing the carpet! Unhappy, it was not long before they returned to London.
To end on a happier note, some friendships were established that last many years and two girl evacuees, Gladys and Dorothy, met there future husbands while staying in Lindfield eventually marring after the war ended.

 

 

Published in Lindfield Life Sept. 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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