The displaced

The more I look at the question of Second World War evacuees in the area, the more I am astounded and puzzled by the matter. A search of the newspaper archives reveals that we absorbed huge numbers of folk, not just children. This has been a revelation to me.

What has also caused some degree of surprise is that the papers for the period indicate in some articles that there were instances where Evacuees were not merely unwelcome, but some folk were actively hostile to them; and the children in particular seemed to come to some conflict with the law. One report even suggests the authorities lost touch with some people moved here, and couldn’t find them later!


Wartime Evacuees leaving Kentish Town. Image from the BBC.

Reader and contributor Jenny Langford sent me some interesting comment on adults that came here in wartime:

Dear Bob,

There is much talk about men who were brought to this area to work in the mines during the war.

But similar things happened with teaching staff at the schools I’ve learned.

It was only at my late aunt’s funeral about 2 years ago, she was almost 95 yrs old when she died, that I found out how she came to be here in Walsall Wood. She was after all, Yorkshire born and bred.

After doing her teacher training at college in Brighton, she was ‘sent’ to Walsall Wood to teach during WW2… Because we needed teachers here I presume.

She had no choice in the matter I understand, she was told that they were sending her here, and so she came.

Maybe this explains why she lodged at the house of a local Councillor?

She stayed and many years later, she moved to become headmistress of a school in West Bromwich, a long way from Yorkshire.

Kind Regards

Jenny Langford

What I’m interested in here particularly is that in all the conversations I’ve had with folk about local wartime history, all those times I’ve talked informally, in person about the bad days of conflict, nobody has ever mentioned the incomers in anything but the most general terms. Jenny points out that the teacher grew roots here, and many must have done so. Who were these people? Some must surely be still in the area to tell their tales?

The article I include below is a case in point: a sudden influx of blind folk. That must have been quite memorable. Why is it not really mentioned?

I’d really like to build up a record of this if possible. You know the drill, comment here or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

From the Lichfield Mercury, Friday 16th August 1940:


A happy thought by Mr. and Mrs. John Insull, host and hostess of the Wheatsheaf Hotel, Brownhills, has brought much Joy to some thirty blind people evacuated from the south coast to billets in Brownhills. With the help of the W.V.S., who furnished names and addresses, invitations were sent out to these people, and on Thursday afternoon a most appetising tea was set out for them in the hotel annexe. Some old friendships were renewed. The blind ladies who were at Bexhill-on-Sea together met again, neither having known that the other was in Brownhills, while two others, who formerly lived in the same street, discovered each other, and chatted together like happy children. Mr. Insull has placed his rose garden and annexe at the disposal of the visitors at all times. On behalf of the visitors, Mrs. Williams, of Lea, Lewisham, thanked Mr. and Mrs. Insull for their kindness and generosity, and Mrs. Cooper, of Bexhill, said that the people of the Midlands had a happy way of rubbing off the square corners when making friends. Mr and Mrs Myers from Dover, remarked ‘We miss our families very much, but look forward to the postman with his letters.’ A musical entertainment was provided.

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12 Responses to The displaced

  1. Pedro says:

    Evacuation…there was a chief billeting officer who reported for November 1940.

    The number of evacuees and nurses in the district at the present time was…

    West Bromwich 73 children

    Margate. 958 children

    51 Teachers and others

    London and East Coast towns 87 children and 99 adults

    Priority class 7 children

    Burntwood Emergency Hospital 58 nurses

    Totaling 1333

  2. Pedro says:

    What’s wrong with the Baggies?

    (November 1940) Compulsory Billeting Powers

    Referring to the billeting matter. Councillor Deakln said they had called a meeting of the billeting officers on the previous Sunday, and they were quite willing to make provisions for those evacuees mentioned, but were of the opinion, as were the Council, that It would have been more satisfactory If the evacuees had come from a further distance than the place mentioned. Nevertheless, the billeting officers did not want it to be known by the public that in the reception of those evacuees, whether from West Bromwich or anywhere else, compulsory powers would be used.

    They were definite that the Council had to decide to use compulsory powers and put the evacuees where there was most room and most convenience. He had brought the matter
    before the district officials at Birmingham, who said other districts were in sympathy with them, as for instance, Tamworth who would rather have children from further afield.

    Mr B. L. Illingworth (Chief Billeting Officer)…
    If you don’t have West Bromwich children you will have to have them from Walsall, Old bury or Birmingham. If we cannot get the children in the houses we shall have to use compulsory powers.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    I understand that St Matthew’s hospital in Burntwood received injured servicemen during the last war.(source; a lady who used to visit them ) I believe that one local butcher in Walsall Wood received three relative’s children from Kent, and that the eldest child was called up to join the RAF as a fighter pilot. Sadly he lost his life in action (Source; a lady who played with these children ). Also, in conversation this afternoon with a lady who was a child in Ogley Hay junior school at the time , names of some of the evacuees from Liverpool were “fondly” remembered, and that six evacuee children were in this lady’s class. She was unaware of any blind evacuees, though.
    Thank you and Jenny for raising this topic, Bob.
    kind regards

  4. William Roberts says:

    The chirpy population with their bulldog spirit the jolly sing along around the piano to keep the old chin up the smiling housewife welcoming poor little evacuees into her farmhouse kitchen.

    This is what the Pathe news reels portrayed but lets be honest they were 99% propaganda the reality was more poverty, fear, sporadic death and destruction and the threat of subjection by a brutal fascist enemy.

    History seems to get a bit too rose tinted sometimes watch this 1941 Pathe offering and ask yourself if trudging bare foot in pond mud while eating a raw carrot on a stick was an Easter treat then what was the rest of the year like!.

  5. Pedro says:

    The film that William Roberts has highlighted is from 1941. I wonder what the people of Burntwood made of it?

    December 1940…the appalling condition of air raid shelters in Burntwood parish, which it was stated “were not fit for a dog to go in” was the subject of strong criticism of the responsible authorities at the Burntwood Parish Council.

    Councillor Nevill declared that the authorities responsible for the shelters knew nothing about the job they were at. The shelters were not fit for a dog to go in, and any miner on the Chase, if he were given four loads of clay, and three men to work, could make any one of those places waterproof. There were men on the dole, but there had to be some contracts set. That was the way they were muddling through the war.

    “We have got in charge in this country the finest leaders that can be picked, but like a motor car, between the engine and the back wheels there are nothing more than a lot of rusty old cogs. They are still there and they take more getting out than the Germans. They never make contact with the common people, and some of them have never looked into a shelter. We in Burntwood parish have had the ‘*****’s end’ up to now

  6. I know you have read this before, Bob, but I will offer it again here. A couple of things to highlight: 1) there were two waves of evacuees at different points in the war, and 2) when I was researching Audrey and her brother, I was lucky enough to leaf through a bundle of dockets with the information for each 1942 evacuee …they were in the Lichfield record office.

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  8. elaine venables says:

    my father who was a special constable at the time dealing with refugees at watling street school he often spoke about one small boy whose clothes were stitched on the inside with paper money and a plea to look after the child I often wonder what happened to him.

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