The evacuees in Wolverton & New Bradwell
Memories of World War 2
During the Second World War, many families and children were evacuated out of London to towns like ‘New Bradwell’ and ‘Wolverton’. At the time, these towns were in “the countryside” and therefore were considered safe from the dangers present in London. As time marches on it is easy to forget how traumatic it must have been for the children and families that escaped the bombing:
“…had a battered suitcase and mother tied up everything in a tablecloth. ‘Felt as if I was deserting a sinking ship. I didn’t like it very much because on the one hand I wanted to get away and on the other hand I felt like a traitor or guilty because I knew that I was leaving all those behind to suffer, whereas I was sort of getting out of it.’”
A teacher called Ralph Finn who had been billeted in New Bradwell with his wife and new born baby recalled the “buzz bombs dropping on Oxford Street [in London]” He described seeing “Stretchers dripping red with blood”…The newspaper man that I used to buy my newspaper from was in about eight different parts, the newspapers still clutched in one hand.”
Memories of local residents
Many interviews were conducted by the Living Archive with people who had either been evacuated or who had received evacuees into their homes.
“True that some of the evacuees’ habits “left a lot to be desired” Bed-wetting, and “some of them never had a bath. They didn’t know what the luxury of a bathroom was”.
“Some were quite nice people really, but others were a little bit rough and ready, you know – lot came from East End, led a different life to what they did here.”
“Neighbours had some – 2 childless couples in P’s road had boys billeted onto them, who were ‘dead scruffy’ and only just about got the clothes they stood up in, and the clothes were ragged. One lot had never even had a bed to sleep on, they just slept on the floor. ‘They were really way down’. One of the women who had helped with the boy scouts, went to the Scout Hall and asked if anyone could help with clothing for the two boys they had. People provided cast-offs – which they still had at the beginning of the war…..To begin with they ‘took the war seriously’ and felt sorry for them. They’d been heaved about, and shoved about….Both families in P’s street kept their boys for the whole of the war.”
“The women were very sorry to see them go at the end of the time, and the kids very sorry to go back’…”
Clashes between Londoners and locals
Although most people were very accommodating and tried their best to help the evacuees there were inevitably, clashes between people.
“Had evacuees – straight from the hop fields-horrible smell pervaded the house. Had them for a short time. Miss L and mother didn’t keep long hours and didn’t drink a lot and apparently that’s all they seemed to do – go to pubs, leave the children in the house, go to friends and play cards and come home at 3 and 4 in the morning.”
“Londoners drank more and looked for (a) special life that wasn’t there”.
“Heard women talking in shops about evacuees, lot had their beds ruined – only to be expected – separation, strange environment,…”
“Heard women say they didn’t know what a lavatory was for, oh it was a turn up for the books. Those women really deserved a medal, keeping their patience, dealing with the extra work, cleaning up the children, getting rid of the lice and so on. It was so difficult. And they carried on valiantly.”
Plea to local people
However, Ralph Finn (mentioned above) had something to say to people who were less than tolerant of the ways of the evacuees. He worked as a teacher in New Bradwell after the school he worked at in Canning Town was “cloven completely in half”. He became so incensed that he wrote an article for the Wolverton Express entitled ‘Open Your Hearts’. In this article he accused the townspeople of neglecting the evacuees and letting them ‘roam around’. He implored them to ‘give some love’ saying “What was missing was love and affection. They had none”. He goes onto say “People in Bradwell and Wolverton were earning money while other people were getting killed. They were safe and secure, fine. In fact they were better off then they’d ever been in their lives.’….Many of the East End kids were not close to their parents – parents often didn’t bother to visit. Kids… got homesick, ….The London children were looked upon as intruders, but they made a profit out of the intrusion.”