'From the East End to Soham'
The memories of:- Frank Rose, Jack Benjamin, Leslie Lewis, Bernard Statman, Norman Leff, Yoel Sheridan who were Second World War evacuees to Soham, Cambridgeshire.
The Planned Evacuation
Preparations for Evacuation were well-advanced in 1939. In July a Civil defence leaflet Evacuation Why and How? explained the Government’s position: "We must see to it then that the enemy does not secure his chief objects - the creation of anything like panic, or 0the crippling dislocation of our civil life. One of the first measures we can take to prevent this is the removal of the children from the more dangerous areas.”
Everyone was certain of one thing. The war when it came would involve the wide scale bombing of the civilian population in some of the major cities. Such bombing during the Spanish Civil War had given a stark warning of what could happen. The “evacuable” areas under the Government scheme were:- London, as well as the County Boroughs of West Ham and East Ham; the Boroughs of Walthamstow, Leyton, Ilford and Barking in Essex; the Boroughs of Tottenham, Hornsey, Willesden, Acton, and Edmonton in Middlesex; the Medway towns of Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester; Portsmouth, Gosport and Southampton; Birmingham and Smethwick; Liverpool, Bootle, Birkenhead and Wallasey; Manchester and Salford; Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Hull; Newcastle and Gateshead; Edinburgh, Rosyth, Glasgow, Clydebank and Dundee.
It was going to be a massive operation involving all children of school age, and parents were urged to register their children. Children below school age had to be accompanied by their mothers or some other responsible person. Expectant mothers could register, as could the Blind. The areas where the children would go to, and their mothers in some cases, were called “reception” areas: “There is room in the safer areas for these children; householders have volunteered to provide it. They have offered homes where the children will be made welcome. The children will have their schoolteachers and other helpers with them and their schooling will be continued.” The scheme was voluntary but it was anticipated that as many as 3,000,000 could be involved. After weeks of waiting, the German invasion of Poland on Friday 1st September 1939 was the signal for the plans to be implemented.
The Reception Areas
Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, which were at this time separate county council areas, with the boundary falling about half way between Ely and Soham, were designated as “reception areas”. In January 1939 the Ely Standard was reporting that local authorities had been asked to make an immediate survey of the accommodation available.
Householders would be paid by the Government at the rate of 10s 6d (52p) a week where one child was taken and 8s 6d (42p) for each child where more than one child was taken. Where a child under school age was accompanied by its mother or other responsible person the householder would be asked to supply lodging only at the rate of 5s 0d (25p) a week for each adult and 3s 0d (15p) a week for each child.
It was urged that local authorities appoint “experienced persons, such as Health Visitors, Sanitary Inspectors and teachers, to do the work of visiting.” There was no right of entry to obtain information and “Any cases where preliminary difficulties cannot be overcome by the discretion and tact of the visitor should be reserved for further consideration.” As the year progressed, Billeting officers with supporting committees were in place at county, town and village level.