Sunday, January 03, 2016

1939 Evacuation - 2,000 children leave New Cross Gate in two hours

I'm sure many of us returning to work after the Christmas holidays are not looking forward to getting back on trains and buses. Spare a thought though for some previous travellers... On 1 September 1939, at the start of the Second World War, the mass evacuation of children from London and other cities started. As these reports show, 2,000 children left New Cross Gate station alone in less than two hours. Two still existing New Cross schools are mentioned specifically - Childeric and Waller Elementary (now Edmund Waller Primary School):

'Greatest Evacuation Has Begun - 3,000,000 persons on the move - Exodus of Bible Dwarfed - Cheerful Youngsters at London Stations

Britain today began the giant four day task of evacuating 3,000,000 children, mothers, blind and maimed. From the big cities of the land there began an exodus on a scale without precedent in human history... Nearly half of the three million are from Greater London...

Before dawn nearly 200 children assembled at Myrdle street School, East London. Among them was nine years-old Freda Skrzypce, who arrived with her parents from Danzig on Sunday. She has a companion in Ruth Rosenzweig, aged nine, a Jewish girl. The dexterity with which children were shepherded through arriving masses of morning workers at Waterloo Station was a perfect piece of organisation. At Myrdle school, which is in a poor part of East London, children were told to be at the premises at 5:30 am, but before the gates were opened at five, some were already waiting outside... As one little girl was leaving here mother, she asked pathetically, 'I wonder if I'll ever see you again mummy - here or anywhere else?'.

.. In less than two hours nearly 2,000 children had left New Cross Gate Station on the Southern Railway. 'The discipline of the children was astonishing' a reporter was told 'and I had not one case of a difficult child. The children behaved as though they had been prepared for this for months. I wish all our passengers were as easy to manage'.  'A triumph of co-operation' was how a London County Council official described the evacuation. Children, teachers and railway employees worked in perfect harmony.

A cripple girl of eight, who has had eleven operations, was evacuated from St Thomas Hospital. Clutching a dolly, she pointed proudly to the foot of her bed saying 'My gas mask is there'.

(Express and Echo - Exeter, Friday 1 September 1939)

'Nearly 800 children left New Cross Gate Southern Railway Station at 8:50 am. Mothers and fathers gathered in a goods yard and waved good-bye with handkerchiefs and newspapers as trains moved out. None of the children knew their destination. 'I hope it is going to be the seaside' said one boy. 'I have brought by bathing costume along with me'

(Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Friday 01 September 1939)

'Activity at New Cross Gate Station, one of the big London entraining centres in the scheme, began soon after 8 a.m., with the arrival of tiny tots from Childeric Road Infants’ School. Hand-in-hand, with the requisite belongings, including gas-masks slung over their shoulders, they followed the instructions of their teachers. These children were quite cheerful — it was apparently a great adventure. Scores of mothers, despite appeals to go no further than the schools at which the children assembled, went to the station, but were not allowed on the embarkation platforms.

The first trainload to leave was practically all infants —and 95 per cent, delighted infants. Glorious weather and a train ride into the country— perhaps to the sea. It was great. Many took precious toys with them. Two little girls left together, each hugging teddy bears. There were dolls in plenty, and the tinier the children the happier they were. Two mothers changed their minds outside the station. They had walked at the side of the procession from one of the schools, but at the last moment, as their children were approaching the barrier, they caught them up in their arms and took them home again...

A master at Waller Road Elementary Junior School, who saw pupils off to-day, gave very remarkable figures of a timing test they had had at the school for putting on gas-masks. He said that from the moment the order was given every mask was on in 31 seconds, and one infant of four years had put it on in 15 seconds. A cheery Cockney going in the direction of New Cross Gate Station with a vegetable barrow hoisted a couple of youngsters on to his potatoes and pushed them to the station. The cheerful co-operation of London workers in travelling early did much to lessen delay and congestion. About 20 children arrived in a furniture van—singing!'

(Bristol Evening Post - Friday 01 September 1939)

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