Welcoming the War-time Evacuees by Rex Needle

ONE OF THE EXEMPLARY patriotic acts by the people of Bourne during the Second World War from 1939-45 was in giving homes to hundreds of children who lived in sensitive areas of Britain that were likely to be bombed by enemy aircraft.

Even before the declaration of hostilities, the government was making plans to evacuate vulnerable members of the population and although the war did not officially start until 3rd September, billeting officers were already in place in safe rural areas across the country, knocking on doors to identify suitable accommodation. Over the next few months, 1½ million children were moved to safe places, by road, rail and sea, with gas masks, identity labels tied to their clothing and baggage and a supply of food for the journey. It was a step into the unknown for all of them and many were frightened at being away from their families for the first time.

Among those cities that were evacuated was Hull, the east coast fishing port where British shipping was a regular target for enemy planes, and the children were sent to safety as it came under attack. They were found temporary homes inland in the Yorkshire countryside, at Soham in Cambridgeshire and at Bourne where the arrangements for their stay were in the hands of the Women's Voluntary Service [the WVS] which established a network of 200 volunteers looking after the town and 28 of the surrounding villages to receive the evacuees, mainly from the Estcourt Street Board Schools for infants and juniors in Hull, the Craven Street School for juniors and the West Dock Avenue School.

The lady in charge was the late Mrs Kate Cooke, the WVS chairman for the area, who was subsequently awarded the MBE for her community service. She checked on the available homes with her band of helpers, among them her teenage daughter Joy, now living in Canada. “The children arrived with labels around their necks, many quite distraught and lonely of course”, she told me. “They were magically taken into homes around Bourne quickly although I never understood why they came to us as we were on an obvious target ourselves if the Germans invaded. Many were unhappy at being away from their parents and developed bed wetting problems that distressed the people taking them in. I helped a little, but being only 14 was not that valuable other than talking and giving reassurance to some of the younger children and taking them out for little walks, but in that situation, every little helped.”

Evacuees arrived at regular intervals over the next three years, usually in large parties accompanied by several teachers. They made the trip from Hull by bus to the ferry that took them across the Humber, escorted by Royal Navy patrol boats, to Immingham where they caught a train to Essendine, on the main east coast line, and then they were transferred to a local train for the final leg of the journey to Bourne.

On arrival, they were marched in a crocodile from the railway station to the Corn Exchange where the WVS ladies were waiting with cups of tea and comfort and small parties of children were then taken around Bourne to the various homes selected by the billeting officer and the householders came out and chose the children they wanted to live with them. By early evening, most had been allocated a family and were settling into their new homes while others were sent to Bourne House in West Street, a large property that had been vacated by local solicitor Cecil Bell in 1940 and bought by Kesteven District Council for use as dormitory accommodation. A total of 900 children from the Hull area were eventually found homes in the Bourne area during these troublesome times.

The boys and girls were soon participating in the life of the town. Most of them attended the Abbey Primary School but accommodation was limited and so overflow classes were held in the schoolroom at the Baptist Church in West Street which was taken over by Kesteven County Education Authority in 1940 in order to create additional classroom space. The authority paid an annual rental of £10 plus rates, heating and lighting costs and the wages of a caretaker. The threat of aid raids meant that all windows were blacked out to prevent lights from showing after dark and a blast screen was erected in front of the two main windows in the schoolroom.

The evacuees remained until the war ended in the summer of 1945 although it was the early months of 1946 before arrangements were made for them all to return home. But their stay had made a lasting impression. One of the boys who came was Dennis Staff, then aged 11 years old, and he was billeted with Ernest and Lilian Grummitt at their home at No 42 Burghley Street. After the war, he emigrated to Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Navy where he had a distinguished career as a naval intelligence officer. But he always remembered his years in Bourne for the hospitality and generosity he received.

"I have the deepest gratitude for your town", he wrote later. "You willingly opened your homes to dozens of strange children who were frightened and afraid but it was an enlightening experience that gave me confidence and determination for the future. My evacuation to Bourne opened up a new life for me, teaching many values which I still cherish, and I am truly grateful to you all. I wonder how many people today would open up their homes and turn their daily routine into chaos to provide a place of safety for strange children who spoke with an odd dialect. It is only in my old age that I can appreciate exactly the inconvenience they endured.”

Our links with the Hull evacuees have continued to this day. Many remained in Bourne, married and brought up families, while others returned home to continue their lives. In the summer of 1990, some of those who had been sent to the Dyke area returned by coach for a tearful 50th anniversary reunion, arriving on Saturday 14th July to coincide with the annual fete and the thirty visitors all turned up wearing identity labels tied to their coats exactly as they had done in 1940. The Lord Mayor of Hull, Councillor L A Taylor, also sent a message of goodwill which now forms part of a small display in the village hall to commemorate those events.

NOTE: The article above was published by The Local newspaper on Friday 1st February 2008.


Leaving Home

by Sylvia Hazel Roberts

Just a little girl with shabby clothes

Unkept hair and runny nose

Gas mask hanging around her neck

label pinned upon her chest

Standing on the platform all forlorn

Knowing she was being sent miles from home.


Who will want her?

Who will need a child of five?

To love and cherish and to keep alive

She was the last one left in the village hall

Eyes filled with tears, one poor lost soul.


"I will take her for one night"

the old lady said

"And wash her and feed her and put her to bed."

She prayed that night, please hear my plea

Please send my Dad here for me

But the prayer must have fallen on deaf ears

For there she stayed for two whole years.


Sylvia Roberts was an evacuee from Hull in the early part of the 1940s.  At a young age whe was sent to live with a family in Hereward Street and attended Bourne Abbey Primary School.

"The days spent at the Abbey Primary School - wonderful sunny days in the playground and cold snowy days in the winter when the tops of our milk were frozen solid.  I remember walking through the woods gathering hazel nuts on our nature walks."


Some of the Hull evacuees pictured in the playground of Bourne Abbey Primary School.

 They are from the left (back row) - Annie Londsborough, Sheila Carmichael, Jean Hamilton, Pat Drury, Vera Newland, Dorothy Jefferson and Barbara Sutherland, (centre row) - Irene Pittaway, Dorothy Cope, Kitty Beal, Miss Topham, Brenda Farrell, Irene Jordan and an unknown girl, (front row) - Chrissie Stone, Joyce Cope, Jean Stevenson, Marjorie Spencer and Ruth Mitchell.

Pupils attending the Abbey Road school, photographed circa 1943

For more facinating stories about evacuees from Hull billited in Bourne go to Bourne Online and the BBC websites.

Teachers and pupils at Bourne Abbey Primary School in 1946.

Grantham Journal News Article 20th February 1942