Malmesbury and the Evacuees of World War II

on Monday, 16 January 2017. Posted in Archives, History Centre, Schools

Two visitors to the History Centre, a grandfather and his grandson were very interested by what they discovered in the school log books of two Malmesbury schools during WWII. We were so impressed by Ben’s research on the topic, we thought you would be too, and he kindly agreed to let us publish it as a WSHC blog. Many thanks to Ben Tate, age 11.

Malmesbury and the Evacuees of World War Two

Westport Church of England Boys’ School

Westport CofE Boys’ School was a primary school for boys which was running during the second world war. This historical article on it includes many real accounts from the school’s log book in the time of world war 2, which can be located at Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.

1939 In 1939 alone, 32 evacuees (and also their teachers) attended Westport, 14 of which were from London.

Due to the breakout of war, the term began a week late on September 11th 1939, rather than September 4th 1939.  Within 2 weeks of the start of term, 2 evacuees had already gone back home and 2 more had just arrived. This shows the real instability for schools managing evacuees.

At Westport they had separate registers and separate classes for evacuees and local children (as order of the attendance officer).

Something I found fascinating was that at the start of the term (September 1939) they had 32 evacuee pupils but by October 1939 they only had 16 left as the rest had gone home. This again shows the instability of schools trying to manage evacuees.

1940 The headteacher of Westport wrote in the school’s log book on 18th January 1940 that 9 local boys and 5 evacuee boys from Westport had sat a public examination.

A few weeks later in February, the headmaster wrote that Mr. Ellis (one of the teachers who had come with the boys) had had to go back to his house in London as it had been burgled.

In May that year, the headteacher wrote of how 2 evacuee boys were up against the court for crimes like robbery and vandalism.

I worked out that by May 1940 the evacuees had been integrated into one class with the local children at Westport. (That was only the first record I could find in the log book. It may have been earlier, but I haven’t found evidence).

Later that year, in June, the headteacher wrote that there was a possibility of more evacuees going to Westport but the headmaster had said that unless the top floor was brought into use, the school was going to have a real problem finding accommodation for the extra pupils. I failed to find out whether they ever opened the top floor, but I did find out that later in June, 71 evacuees and 3 teachers arrived at Westport, all from east London.

A couple of weeks later, the headteacher wrote about two evacuees who had tried to escape their foster parents and run back to London by road. He went on to say about how they had robbed their foster parents and had only got as far as Swindon when they got caught.

A couple of days after that, the headteacher recounted that Mr Murray (a teacher) had been called up for war service.

On 8th November 1940 the headteacher of Westport wrote about how he had had to keep getting new teachers as they were being called up for service and teachers who had come with the evacuees kept going back home. I found an account of this in June 1940 when the headteacher of Westport wrote, 4 new teachers arrived at the start of June: “The month isn’t even out and 1 of them has already gone back to his home in Essex”.

Something I found interesting in the Westport School’s Log book was on November 15th 1940 the headteacher wrote that bombs had been dropped on Hullavington (obviously due to the air base). He went on to say that a couple of children had been frightened but it was ‘quickly forgotten’. I was personally surprised at that.

1941   In January 1941 the headteacher of Westport wrote in the log book that all evacuees at his school currently had spent Christmas with their foster parents.

The headteacher wrote in the log book on 4th April 1941, that before the holidays the school had 130 evacuees, yet after 2 weeks holiday, they only had 117. On the 25th April 1941 he wrote about how 2 boys had gone back to their homes in Tilbury. He went on to say exactly: “It’s turning into a slow and steady flow”.

1942             I could find no references to evacuees, though I am not saying there weren’t any. I believe there were references to evacuees that I read, it was just that the headmaster had not specifically said the boy is an evacuee. I think this because by now evacuees were not a new thing and they were more integrated and accepted in the local communities.

1943 The same thing happened for 1943 as it had done in 1942.

1944 In 1944 again I had trouble finding accounts saying the child was evacuee although I found a reference talking about how the older boys at the school – some of whom must have been evacuees – were being allowed afternoons of school to help with the potato harvest.

1945 On 8th May 1945 the headteacher of Westport wrote in large writing – very unlike his usual, neat style – ‘VICTORY DAY! WAR IN EUROPE ENDED TODAY.’

Shortly after that (25th June 1945), he wrote that since the war in Europe was over, many evacuees had gone home. Therefore he had had to shuffle around the classes, as many of the students had been evacuees.

The last account that I found in Westport Church of England Boys School Log Book I’m going to tell you about was written on 10th September 1945 which simply said – in large handwriting – ‘THE WAR IS OVER. THE JAPANESE WAR IS OVER!’

the school log book for Westport CofE, Ref: F5/800/183/1/4

Cross-Hayes Church of England Girls’ School

Cross Hayes CofE Girls’ school is the second school’s log book that I looked at. Like Westport it was a school in Malmesbury open during the Second World War and was where the library now is. This historical article will include many real accounts written by the headteacher of Cross-Hayes at the time. Unfortunately for this school, I only have 1939 and 1940 to study as I had a limited amount of time at the history centre.

1939 34 evacuees arrived at the start of 1939 with two of their teachers. They got taught separately from the local children by the teachers who had come with them.

On the 15th September 1939 the headteacher of Cross-Hayes wrote about how she had fitted gas masks to every child in the school. In the same entry she wrote about the many air raid practices they had had over the past week.

On October 5th she wrote how she had discovered 3 of the evacuees had an infectious skin disease called impetigo, which is spread by bad hygiene.

A couple of days later (October 31st ) the headteacher mentioned impetigo again when she recounted Miss Burrow of the Education Committee spending all day treating cases of impetigo.

1940  On 4th June the headteacher of Cross-Hayes wrote that Mrs Foster of the county authorities had come to see what accommodation there was available for more evacuees. Mrs Foster had said although it would cause severe over-crowding, they could fit an extra 84 more evacuees at the school.

And my last recount from the headteacher of Cross-Hayes was written on 3rd July 1940 and said that the school nurse had spent the whole day cleaning the heads of 23 evacuated children who were found to be verminous. The headteacher went on to say that none of the local children were verminous.

Other Facts I Found out at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

In 1939 alone, 15 evacuees went to Malmesbury Secondary School. Consequently they had to buy 12 additional desks.

In Malmesbury there were 48 foster parents taking in evacuees.

Generally people thought of evacuees as unruly and boisterous. I found an example of this in Westport School’s log book. Residents living around the Triangle said they would be grateful if the foster parents would keep the evacuees under control out of school hours. This disturbance was caused by evacuees playing around the war memorial causing an uproar and distress to some elderly residents.

Evacuees were taken to and from their homes on a special train.

The first evacuation in 1939 did not give the evacuees any health checks, but they did in the second. During the second round of the evacuations, health checks were not compulsory, but parents were advised to allow their children to be checked as they were more likely to be fostered willingly. They introduced these checks due to the fact that many foster parents were refusing to take evacuees because of their poor hygiene.

There were no checks to see whether the foster parents were suitable to look after children,  which I think is outrageous, and must have led to cases of neglect, abuse and over-work.

Once the war had ended, every foster family got a letter of appreciation from the Queen (who is our current Queen’s mother).

Ben Tate


Accredited Archive Service