Evacuation in Berkshire

A national Evacuation Scheme had been planned as early as 1931, when a committee was set up by the Government to prevent the panic flight of civilians from possible target areas.

Berkshire was categorised as a ‘Reception’ area due to the rural nature of the county. Local councils were instructed to prepare to receive evacuees including children, mothers with children under five, pregnant women and some disabled people.

On 1 September 1939 the first evacuees began to arrive by train, two days before the declaration of war. In the first wave of evacuation 23,915 children were received into the administrative area of Berkshire County Council.

A second wave of evacuees from London arrived in 1940. A Great Western Railway programme, dated 26 February 1940, lists the number of evacuees expected to arrive in Berkshire by train from Paddington. 

Great Western Railway London Evacuation Scheme circular, 1940, C/CD/B1/8

Local authorities were expected to plan accommodation and schooling for everyone they received. Wartime nurseries were set up to provide childcare for babies and toddlers of women employed in essential war work and other vulnerable children. This circular, dated April 1944, is an urgent appeal by the Ministry of Health for additional staff.

‘These Children Need You!’: government circular, 1944, C/CD/B1/6

A blessing for Town and Country

There were many challenges for the children from towns and cities who had to adjust to countryside living. This account of evacuees in Binfield includes amusing anecdotes of two little girls proudly picking a marrow they found “growing wild” in the neighbouring allotment and a boy who would not eat the potatoes because “they came out of the dirt, ours come from sacks”.

Historical notes on Binfield compiled by David Franklin Tomlinson
c.1990-1995, D/EX1511/1/5/211

For many people evacuation was an opportunity to break down the social barrier between town and country folk. Charles Hazell, a farmer from White Waltham, recounts in his memoirs:

“…I am of the opinion London Evacuees have got a knowledge, now, of Country folk, as never before in history. I am sure many will return on retirement, and settle down with, a pig, rabbits & chicken and a nice garden or allotment. What a blessing for Town and Country to get intermingled with affairs and that spot of gardening give them a real love for more and the social life of the Countryman has fairly caught hold of them. What a difference when they first came down…”

Charles Hazell memoirs, 1946, D/EX1505/1

Oakfield Hostel: ‘Wot an ‘ostel!’

Oakfield Hostel in Wokingham was a home for evacuees from London, many of whom had struggled to settle in private billeting.

On 15 June 1940 the doors opened to thirty weary and excited children. This album of photographs and notes, compiled by staff, gives a view into life at the hostel including the daily humour, personalities and the affection held for the young residents.

Oakfield Hostel album of photographs and notes
1940-1951, D/EX1362/1

In 1941 the American Red Cross gave the hostel a grant of £50 to buy toys and occupational equipment. This caused much excitement as they had not previously been able to provide anything beyond a few donations from friends. The matrons spent the day shopping in London and returned with an abundance of delights including Meccano sets, footballs, games, books, paints, crayons and dolls.

Many of the children stayed in touch with staff long after the hostel closed on 25 October 1945. Over the years Kennie, who arrived aged three and went on to become one of the oldest inhabitants, stayed in contact with the matrons. He sent them this photograph of him on his wedding day, 10 August 1963, along with pictures of his children as they grew up.   

Photograph of former resident, Ken Aitken,
with his wife Judith on their wedding day, 1963, D/EX1362/3