Operation Pied Piper
The evacuation of Britain’s cities at the start of World War Two was the biggest
and most concentrated mass movement of people in Britain’s history. In the
first four days of September 1939, nearly 3,000,000 people were transported
from towns and cities in danger from enemy bombers to places of safety in the
countryside. The fear of air attack from German bombers at the start of
hostilities encouraged parents to send their children to safety.
Most were schoolchildren, who had been labelled like pieces of luggage,
separated from their parents and accompanied instead by a small army of
Most were unaware of where they were going, what they would be doing and all
were wholly ignorant of when they would be coming back.
For many of these children the trauma of separation and isolation and the
tensions of fear and anger were to stay with them long after the war was over.
Most evacuees have a vivid recall of events on the day of their evacuation. The
images are of busy train stations, shouting officials and sobbing mothers.
Parents gave instructions to their children: ‘Don’t complain’, ‘Grin and bear it’,
‘Look after your sister’, ‘Write home as soon as you can’.
Carrie’s War is based on the very positive experience the writer Nina Bawden
had when she was evacuated to rural Wales at the start of the war.
An evacuee remembers
By Derek Clifton
What was it like being an evacuee?
I have to go back seventy years in my memory bank so there might be a few
areas that may seem a bit sketchy. I will try not to embroider the facts too
What was the train journey like? Were there any adults present?
Had I been on a train to the country before?
The train journey to Maidstone normally took about an hour from Herne Hill,
but as the train had to stop every time an aircraft flew overhead in case it was
a German bomber that may attack us, the journey took much longer. I had an
apple and sandwiches, but there was nothing to drink. The train had no toilets
and we just held on until Maidstone when we could go to the toilet. There
were no adults in our compartment of the train. Yes, I had been on a train
before on a day trip to Brighton.
How did I feel about leaving London?
Well, it was quite exciting really, knowing that we were being taken to safety
and it also gave us reassurance that we were being cared for, even by
strangers. Not knowing what was to happen next was also quite exciting to
me as I had come from a not too well-balanced home life as I will tell you
When did you see your mother again?
After about a year Uncle Arthur – the one with the club foot – drove my
mother down to see me. She was so upset when she saw me she told the
Filmars (the people I was staying with) that she wanted to take me home. I
could never really understand that – although I must admit, at the time I never
gave it much thought – but off I went in the car – my first ride in a car – back
to London. I stayed with my mother for only a short time before returning to
my Aunt Enid's as my mother was limited in parenting skills – my cousin Rene
much later told me.
As a city boy how did you adapt to country life?
I got off on the wrong foot. Derek Butler and I were dropped off together to
stay at a Mr and Mrs Long's house. Earlier in the day – as we were getting on
to the coach at Maidstone railway station, we were each given a paper carrier
bag with provisions and, although nothing was said to us, we were supposed
to hand it over to whoever boarded us. But I refused to hand over some of the
things that were readily consumable – biscuits and the like – so got off on the
bad side of the Longs.
Things went from bad to awful as our relationship worsened and I was sent
across to a nearby farm – Pond Farm – to stay with their daughter and son-in
law, Mr and Mrs Filmar. I was much happier there – even though they had no
children. I had Derek Butler to play with when he came across to the farm. We
walked together each school day to catch the bus to Maidstone and would
often deviate from the direct route – about two miles away to the bus pick-up.
We didn't know how far it was really as all signposts had been removed to
prevent any enemy landing from finding their way about.
What do you remember most vividly about your time as an evacuee?
You must remember that I was evacuated three more times after Pond Farm,
whenever the Germans bombed London intensively.
I went to Skellow in Yorkshire twice and to somewhere in Surrey with my
cousin Rene, but that was for only a few weeks as she was to return to marry
Arthur before he went overseas in the Army. Rene's brother, Ernest, was
already in the army and was later reported killed in Italy. My most vivid
memory was while at Skellow a couple of years later. (Skellow is north of
Doncaster and we went there when the bombing was quite intense – shortly
after we arrived the Germans bombed Doncaster Railway Station.)
Anyway, we played football in the next street as it was more level than the
one in which I was billeted – with a miner and his five miner sons.
Looking out at the game from her bedroom window was one Rosemary Skipp
and, for me, it was love at first sight. We saw quite a lot of each other when I
was free from paying football, but the five sons of the miner told me that she
was only interested as I was foreign to the area – so spoiling my dream. As a
born romantic I can recall that as, perhaps, my most vivid memory.