Evacuees Return to Paddington Station

Photo:Evacuation poster

Evacuation poster

Imperial War Museum

14 September 1944

By Sarah Boyle based on original research by Hamish McGillivray

Approximately one million children were evacuated from London and from other British cities in September 1939.  Moving out to the countryside was a huge change of pace for women and children accustomed to a city lifestyle. Families living in the country also had to adapt to their new hometown dwellers. It was a time of great uncertainty (in some cases, hysteria) due not only to the nightly bombings of London - from September 1940 to May 1941 - but also food shortages and rationing. By 1944, believing the Blitz to be over, many women and children began making their way back to the war-torn city.

The government was of course concerned with their citizens’ morale and placed observers around London to take notes. One particular observer, LB, was at Paddington Station on 14 September 1944 from 12.45pm to 4pm while swarms of families were being reunited. LB’s first impression of the bustling train station was “My goodness, but it's like Blackpool on a Bank Holiday!” LB then goes on to say, “There are crowds of people everywhere - men and women, and children of all ages and stages. The luggage is piled high on platforms…..stacks and stacks of it, trunks and suitcases, prams, cots, and bicycles in their hundreds. Light and heavy rescue workers of the Civil Defence are working at top pressure to reduce the pile but every incoming train brings its fresh load of luggage.”

As might be assumed during such an exciting time, there was a large crowd in front of the Arrivals Indicator.  Considering it was mostly women and children sent away, the crowd was predominantly male. LB makes note that a representative from every social class is present: “the middle-aged gentleman immaculately dressed with a walking stick and lemon gloves…the labourer all dressed up in his Sunday best, all with their eyes glued on the Indicator." Once the crowd was informed that the train was due, there was a scramble for the platform.

The mass enjoyment is still tainted by the burden of not knowing when another bomb could fall. LB records several people discussing whether or not they should have come back so soon. One man is happy to see his wife and children but states “I must say, the Council’s done all they can. It’s not so bad, but you should have stuck it a bit longer. You didn’t oughta’ come back yet…” while another woman is sure she’s made the right decision this time; “I said to my mam, well this is the third time we’ve been evacuated and the third is generally the luckiest. We’re not going away no more!”. Another older woman suggests: “Churchill’s son-in-law said that we’ve finished with the flying bombs. Well that was enough for us that was evacuated…”

All of this is taking place as masses of luggage are being sorted and stacked on prams in order to get it home. LB makes note than no one seems to have packed lightly. He even writes a quote from one woman, “John caught those two rabbits himself and insisted on bringing them home, as if we haven’t got sufficient luggage to cope with.” Food rationing obviously played a great part in this man’s decision to pack rabbits. The overwhelming piles of luggage also prove just how prepared Londoners were to outlast the Blitz.

Quotations Copyright: Mass Observation Archives

This page was added by Sarah Boyle on 07/10/2011.

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