Category Archives: Chelsea, war, evacuee, London

Evacuation during World War Two was no guarantee of safety

The aim of the British evacuation scheme was to send children and adults to safety until the war was over, But the war took many forms and few places in the UK were completely free from danger. Air raids, unexploded bombs, military vehicles, guns and minefields posed risks to evacuees wherever they were posted. The newspaper cutting below shows how some Portsmouth mothers were concerned for the safety of their evacuated children.

A Sec w war mothers who feared evacs safety

Many evacuees died in the supposedly ‘safe’ areas to which they were sent. Four year old Alfred Parsons died within hours of his arrival in the market town of Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Alfred and his brother were evacuated to Driffield and then sent to the sick bay at Filey for treatment. The two boys were left unattended for some time and later, a nurse found Alfred with his nightclothes on fire in the corridor. From another child she learned that he had pulled aside the fireguard, placed paper on the fire and his clothing had become ignited. Recording a verdict of death from shock, following extensive burns, the Coroner said, ‘I do not think it can be reasonably suggested that there was any negligence – however it is recommended that in places and institutions where there are children, fixed fireguard should be in place.’

Four-year-old John Stobart died when a pair of semi-detached houses in Newcastle-under-Lyme received a direct hit from a bomb on 26 June 1940. He had only arrived in the district a few days earlier from his home in Romford, Essex. ‘Planes were heard and several bombs fell in a residential suburb within a radius of 50 yards,’ ran a report in the local newspaper. ‘One hit a bungalow and demolished the living rooms, but left the bedrooms, occupied at the time by a family of three, intact.’ John was not so fortunate as the bomb that struck the house of the two semis where he was staying crashed through the bedrooms to the ground floor. John, and most of the people injured, were trapped in the two semi-detached houses, which were completely wrecked.

Child evacuees from London were amongst eleven people killed when high explosives fell on a Devon town in January 1941. ‘The baby sister of two children who died was saved and their mother was admitted to the local hospital suffering from cuts and shock,’ reported the Western Times on 24 January 1941. The bombs, though, did not necessarily have to be German. Florence Webb, originally from Carshalton in Surrey, had been evacuated to Friends Green near Weston. At about 09.00 hours on the morning of 26 August 1944, the skies above the Hertfordshire village were full of USAAF bombers as they headed out from their bases to targets in Europe. Disaster struck as some of the bombers passed over Weston. One B-17 from 568 Squadron, nicknamed Ding Dong Daddy, collided with another from 569 Squadron. Florence Webb was killed by a bomb which crashed through the roof of a bungalow in Hertfordshire but did not explode. Four members of the crew escaped by parachute.

Cathy Hammond, whose family had been evacuated from Guernsey in June 1940 (just days before Germany occupied the island) lost her baby brother during an air raid alert in Bolton, Lancashire. However, as she explains, it was not a bomb that was the cause, ‘One of the air raid wardens came to help my mother by carrying my baby brother, Nicholas, whilst she looked after Pamela and me. Unknown to my mother, the air raid warden accidentally dropped my brother on the way to the shelter! On arrival he handed him back to my mother but did not say what had happened. Nicholas died during the night, leaving my mother shocked and devastated. She later learned that the warden had been too afraid to say anything.’

Fixed anti-invasion defences also posed a very real risk to evacuees, though the intended victim was supposed to be an invading enemy. Sophie Rosenthal and her friend were killed when two land mines exploded in the West of England. A witness said that he spotted Sophie as the smoke from the first explosion cleared away. He shouted at her to ‘Stay still!’ but she could not hear him. Sophie stumbled on, another mine exploded and she was blown up. A police officer said that it was possible to walk from the sands onto the minefield as there was only one warning sign.

A ronald munting grave cornwall died on mined beach

Another fatal explosion occurred on Sunday, 30 July 1944, when six boys climbed through barbed-wire fencing into an anti-tank minefield on a beach near Gunwalloe in Cornwall. (The beach is used today during filming of the popular Poldark series) The only witness, an Auxiliary Coastguard, saw the boys climbing through the wire from his lookout post about half-a-mile away. In his statement to the inquest into the death of two of the boys – Harry Dale, a local lad and Ronald Munting, an evacuee, the Auxiliary Coastguard said that when he saw the boys trying to enter the minefield he waved a red flag and blew his warning whistle. One of the gang, eleven-year-old evacuee, Peter Michael Reed said that the two deceased boys and four others, including himself, went towards the minefield. Harry and Ronald entered first, by getting through and over the wire fencing, and shortly afterwards the explosion occurred. When asked by the Coroner if he had not seen the danger warning notices, Peter replied, ‘The only notice I have ever read is the one which stated that there is danger when a red flag is flying and planes are exercising.’ Ronald Munting’s father attended the inquest and stated, ‘The place is not sufficiently protected and the nearest warning notice was not facing in the direction the boys approached the minefield. Also, the evacuees had not been warned about the minefield.’

My latest book, Britain’s Wartime Evacuees’ is the result of 8 years of interviews with evacuees and the examination of wartime documents of their parents and wartime foster parents, together with research into wartime newspapers and archives. It can be found on Amazon as a book and kindle:

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I am so proud to have taken part in a podcast project by ‘Discover Buxton’ heritage group in sharing a truly wonderful story of kindness to evacuees and refugees arriving in Buxton. You can listen to the podcast  ‘Buxton, A Place of Hope’ and view some wartime evacuee images at this link:

To find out more about the Channel Island evacuees’ lives in England and Scotland, see my latest book ‘Britain’s Wartime Evacuees’ – see below and click:


Some time ago I was given a wartime report, written by Mr Rose, a Guernsey teacher, in Summer 1940. He and his pupils were evacuated to Lancashire. He wrote his report after visiting his pupils’ billets in Oldham, Lancashire. I have taken part of that report and retyped it, removing the names and addresses the for reasons of confidentiality. Sadly, some parts are upsetting, such as “Boy subject to terrifying nightmares. Goes to open window and shrieks.”   Lest we forget!

Lovely piece in the Lowestoft Journal about my new book:-


Some sad news… and some good news – November 2016

This past week has brought some very sad news but also, thankfully, some good news about the Second World War evacuees I have interviewed – and those who cared for them during the war.

I am very sorry to report that the lovely Mrs Ruth Harrison has passed away. She and her parents cared for Win De La Mare, an evacuee child from Guernsey, between 1940 and 1945 in Stockport. Ruth and Win practically became sisters during the war and were heartbroken when Win had to return to her parents in Guernsey in 1945. However they remained in constant touch through letters and visits across the Channel. (Win told me that she never really settled into Guernsey life after the war.) Below is a photograph of Ruth and Win, in England, which I took a few years ago. Also pictured are Ruth’s son, Phil, and Win’s Guernsey friend, Rose, who was also evacuated to Stockport in 1940. Rest in Peace Ruth. You will be missed by all who knew and loved you.


Thankfully I have some pleasant news to report. Evacuee mother, Mrs Ruth Berry, who was evacuated from Guernsey to St Helens in 1940, will celebrate her 107th birthday on Saturday 19 November.  The photograph below was taken at her 105th birthday party in 2014.


Check out my recent article on the emotional wartime letters sent by child evacuees to their parents – and still treasured by their families: click the link below


My third book, ‘Evacuation in the Second World War told through Newspaper reports, Official documents and the Accounts of those who were there’ will be published on 30 November 2016 by Frontline Books. It contains testimony, wartime photographs and documents from hundreds of British evacuees who spent the war years  in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Testimony is also included from evacuees who were sent to the British mainland from The Channel Islands and Gibraltar. The chapters cover themes such as: Plans for Evacuation, The Parents’ Decision, Finding Homes for evacuees, Wartime Letters Home, Evacuated adults and teachers, The kindness of strangers, The return home and the Aftermath of evacuation.  The tragic aspect of evacuation is also covered, such as children who suffered at the hands of their foster parents or died within days of being evacuated to supposedly ‘safe areas.’

The book can be pre-ordered here:


“I was so upset yesterday. So far we have had such wonderful dealings with the local WVS ladies  – they have been kindness itself and so very understanding of our position. However a woman from the WVS Head Office in Manchester called round to our home yesterday. She said that she was checking evacuees’ homes to ensure that we had everything we needed, but then started criticising the way that Mrs Batisse and I were looking after our children and the way we had organised our home. She then primly stated “I don’t agree that you should both be going out to work and leaving the children”. We explained that we needed the money and that one of us was always with the children when the other was working. She wrote some notes on her clipboard and said primly “Well I have said my piece, I will leave you now to think about what I have said”, to which I replied “And we have said our piece, so thank you and goodbye!” She looked quite shocked and left. She was a very ‘well to do’ woman so I expect she thought we were rather below her in ‘class’ and wanted to put us in our place. If she calls again, Mrs Batisse and I will not allow her over the threshold!”


I have received a photograph dated AUGUST 1939 shown below.  It was taken when London school children took part in an ‘Evacuation Practice’ just a few days before millions of children were actually evacuated. It includes  young twin boys with curly blonde hair, at the back of the group. I would like to find them and I have a little information about them from the back of the photograph.

They were possibly born in the Bermondsey district of London and their names were George and Albert Davies. Their nickname was ‘The Coronation Twins’ because they were born on the day that King George 6th was crowned.

George & Albert Davis Evac drill

If you recognise them or have any suggestions that could help me, please contact me via the comments box below. Please share this blog post too, if you can.

Thank you

Gillian Mawson,

England, UK

You can read some of the stories from my Second book of 100 Evacuation Stories here:

My previous books can be found on my Amazon author page here