We’ll Meet Again: Evacuations

As part of the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs (1939-45), we look at those who were evacuated from Islington to rural locations during this time.

Throughout the Second World War, many of London’s children were evacuated to country towns, such as Cambridge, Kettering, Sheringham and Huntindon. The separation was often highly painful for both the parents and children; However, the press encouraged an unsentimental attitude towards evacuation, stating that, “Mother must use her head as well as her heart and be really sensible.”

Evacuees wore labels indicating their destination and were allowed to take one favourite toy. Parents were issued with a list of items that their children would require whilst away, including clothes and wash items, but many struggled to afford everything.

Foster families were advised to treat evacuees like members of their own family. Some children were probably happier, and many healthier, in the country, but most, naturally, missed their homes and families.

Evacuations from London began on 1 September 1939, however, many of these early evacuees returned to city within a few months. With relatively little military action occurring in the early period of the Second World War, people began calling it the ‘Phoney War’; this encouraged half of Islington’s children who went to Cambridge in 1939 to return to the city by March 1940. A second wave of evacuations took place during the Blitz, which started in September 1940.

Islington’s Evacuees

Hugh Myddelton School, Finsbury, 1939

A teacher from Hugh Myddelton School in Corporation Row, Clerkenwell, speaks to parents about evacuation from the school at the outbreak of the war. 

The evacuation of mothers, children and some disabled people began on 1 September 1939. In London, teachers took parties of children to the stations and the trains moved off once filled. Final destinations and billeting arrangements were fairly haphazard.


Evacuation from Holloway, Islington, 16 September 1939

Teachers from Holloway carry their baby while supervising the evacuation of local school children.

Teachers took an immense share of the responsibility for the care and organisation of evacuated pupils, which often disrupted their own lives. All those involved in evacuation found themselves learning how the ‘other half’ lived, sometimes a pleasant experience, sometimes a painful one.


North Islington Nursery evacuees, 1939/40

North London Islington Nursery evacuees playing and having fun outside at Ashenden, Essex.

Several large and famous country houses in Britain, including Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth House, hosted groups of evacuated nursery-aged children and their mothers. Many of these grand houses also became temporary schools. In some instances, the houses and their staff benefited from a sense of new life being brought into stately surroundings.


Tollington Park Central School evacuees, 1939

Evacuated girls from Tollington Park Central School, Islington, tending to a vegetable garden in Huntingdon. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged civilians to grow their own fruit and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet during a time of rationing and reliance on tinned food.

So-called ‘Victory Gardens’ were cultivated in private gardens and public parks, including Highbury Fields. There were vegetable allotments in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, and King George VI even instigated vegetable gardening at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.


Highbury Park Vale School evacuees, 1939/40

Highbury Park Vale School, Islington, evacuees milking a cow in the country. Dealing with farm animals was an entirely new experience for most Islington children, many of whom would have never seen a cow before.

Additions to the school curriculum included nature studies, practical geography and local history. Upbeat articles in the press encouraged the healthy country lifestyle, and how the children were too busy with lessons, new friends and activities to be homesick.


Islington evacuees fishing, 1939/1940

Whilst away from the city, evacuees took part in many new outdoor activities, including fishing. The Holborn and Finsbury Gazette describes such a fishing trip in 1939, “The river is a big attraction and in the shallows you will find many [evacuated] youngsters, hardly ‘complete anglers’ for their equipment usually consists of a jam jar, line and a bent pin, but all very optimistic and happy.”

Throughout the war, fish was not rationed but it became increasingly scarce and more expensive to buy as the war progressed.


Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing more images from the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs (1939-45). Next week we’ll be exploring the theme of shelters in Islington and Finsbury during the Second World War.

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