Evacuees

The impact of war on the lives of children, usually the innocent victims of appalling adult actions and exploitation, touches all of us who hold any degree of humanity. This piece reflects on evacuation in World War Two and how it affected the lives of young people.

According to the diary of John Robert Sherratt, who lived in Hartington throughout his life, 1900-1977, children were being evacuated from Salford to the village on 1 September 1939, two days before Great Britain declared war on Germany. It is not easy for subsequent generations to imagine how a child must have felt moving from noisy, heavily industrialised cities like Salford to the quiet of a rural farming location like Hartington, let alone the trauma of suddenly being separated from home and family. It must have been as equally traumatic for parents, entrusting young sons and daughters to completely unknown guardians, and it was not uncommon for parents to ‘reclaim’ children after just a few weeks and take them back home. Parents nowadays find it hard to imagine the sudden enforced removal of their children.

 

My mother, now living in Dove Holes, Derbyshire, was also evacuated on 1 September 1939, from Newton Heath, Manchester, to Darwen in Lancashire. Inevitably it brought mixed consequences. My mother was ‘taken in’ by Mrs Whittle, who looked after my mother like one of her own and is still remembered with great fondness. As a young child in the early 1950s I can remember ‘Grandma Whittle’, which is what my brother and I used to call her, who we met once or twice and who always sent us a gift at Christmas until her death in the early 1960s. However, what my mother lost was her education. She was 13 when war was declared and about to commence her third year at Harpurhey Girls High School, Manchester. By the time she returned the following spring there was practically no schooling going on in the Manchester area; when she reached 14 in April 1940 her father decreed that she was wasting her time and was old enough to start work, and so she did.

Newton Heath is adjacent to another area on the east side of Manchester, Miles Platting, then populated with many houses but also large engineering works and similar heavy industry, a likely target for German bombing. At least two evacuees from Miles Platting were brought to Hartington, Ron and Eric Outhwaite who arrived in 1940. They were placed with Fred and Maria Birch and stayed until 1942, a time they remember as a very happy one; Eric in particular kept in close contact with Mrs Birch, who he regarded as a second mother, until her death in 1976. His birth mother had died in 1942, which was one of the reasons Eric and his brother Ron returned to Manchester.

Another evacuee from Manchester who stayed with the Birchs’ was Gordon Fletcher, arriving quite soon after the start of the War. Like my mother, Gordon returned to Manchester during 1940, little knowing that he would become a victim of the very threat that evacuation was designed to circumvent. Gordon was killed in the Manchester Blitz on the night of December 22, 1940, when his Grandma’s house took a direct hit. Relatives wrote to Mrs Birch with this awful news.

Two successive nights of bombing in December 1940 killed almost 700 people in Manchester. My mother vividly remembers the sky seemingly alight, seeing and hearing it all from her home a couple of miles away. She may have lost her education but fortunately did not lose her life.

By Richard Gregory

The Diocese of Derby

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