The Evacuation of Liverpool

During World War II approximately 130,000 people were evacuated away from Merseyside.  These weren’t only school children, but also pregnant women, young mothers with babies and disabled adults.  By 1st September 1939, war with Germany seemed inevitable.  Although nothing was official, people feared they would be attacked as soon as war was declared, so evacuation began days before Prime Minister Chamberlain declared war over the wireless.

The Liverpool Corporation arranged for children to be moved to the quiet countryside of Cheshire and North Wales, where they would be much safer from bomb attacks.  Many children were evacuated by ship from Liverpool to Canada, South Africa, New Zealand or Australia and many of these evacuees never returned home. However hard it might have been, for many parents this was one way to ensure their children would survive even if Britain was invaded.

world war II evacuation lime street

Unexpectedly, after war had been declared, months passed by and the bombs didn’t arrive… this was known as “the Phoney War” and many children were brought back home to Liverpool.  However, once France fell to the Nazis in May 1940, german planes moved much closer to the English Channel and soon after the Blitz on Britain began in earnest!

evacuees liverpool

© Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Like parents in all major industrial cities, those in Merseyside had to be persuaded to let their children go to strangers many miles away for an unknown length of time.  Newsreel reports showing bombs and gas attacks in Spanish cities helped persuade many parents, as did information from schools, loud hailers, churches and newspapers.  Understandably many parents did not want to let their children go, so they stayed in Liverpool.

evacuation poster wwII

world war II evacuation lime street

Inevitably, children reacted differently to this stressful upheaval… some were frightened, others saw it as a great adventure!  Many had not been to the countryside before, nor seen fields or farm animals and were overwhelmed by their new surroundings.

Once children arrived at their destination with their gas masks across their shoulders, they were chosen by billeters who often made their choice based on how the child looked and how strong and healthy they seemed.  Many were separated from their siblings, which was often very traumatic.  Some children were not selected at all and were taken from home to home by the organisers who tried to find them places.

evacuated children wwii

There were many reports of billeters being shocked by the condition of children from poorer inner-city areas; they were very often dirty and ill-dressed.  Lice, malnutrition and diseases such as impetigo, scabies, and diptheria were common in densely populated urban areas, but were very rare in the countryside.

evacuation bathtime

Experiences varied dramatically and inevitably a lot of it was down to pure luck.  Many children had a wonderful time and some even refused to leave at the end of the war.  Some even chose to be adopted by their billeted parents.  Thousand of children lived away from Merseyside for several years.  In that time they had grown a lot and become accustomed to being distanced from their parents; some reunited families were practically strangers.  Many children returned to Merseyside able to speak Welsh fluently – some had forgotten almost all the English they knew.

The most unlucky children were placed where they were not wanted.  Some had a miserable time; fed poor food, forced to live outside and work long hours.  There were several cases of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

Mothers often suffered terribly.  They missed their children and at the same time were struggling to cope with bomb raids, rationing and the absence or even death of their husbands.  They were also asked to pay what they could towards their children’s upkeep.  Parents could visit their children but were encouraged not to do so often as this could unsettle the children.  Consequently, mothers usually knew little about the people who were raising their children.

evacuees return home

For most children and parents, the return home meant a very emotional and happy reunion.  There’s no doubt the evacuation of children from Britain’s cities during the Blitz did save lives.

11 Comments

  • March 20, 2013 - 10:36 | Permalink

    I am trying to find the farm I went to when I was evacuated from Liverpool in 1940. I know the village was LLANDEGLA and the farm was the JONES FARM. I would like to get in touch with any of the family who are still alive, as I was very good friends with the farmer’s son. I am planning to go back to the lovely school and church we went to and try to relive the past. Any information anybody can offer will be very helpful!
    Thank you.

  • Ken Sankey
    April 4, 2013 - 17:10 | Permalink

    Having been evacuated to Swaffam, Norfolk in 1939, I am curious to know how the project was funded; by central or local government? And were parents obliged to make a contribution?

    Interested to hear from anyone with information.

    Ken Sankey
    aged 78
    Taunton, Somerset

  • Sylvia
    May 7, 2013 - 19:26 | Permalink

    I was one of very few, if any, Jewish children evacuated to Chester. The Welsh at that time were very religous and quite prejudiced. I was walked around the city for many hours and was finally found a home that would take me at about midnight. I was eight years old and put into a storage room with no light. I was left there alone and was terrified.

    The people who took me in were not unkind, but the food smelled strange and I was afraid to eat anything. It was not a happy experience, I never saw my parents until I believe it was my grandmother came to get me. I have no idea how long I lived in Wales, but I had nightmares for many years. I believed I had been abandoned..

  • michael stapleton
    June 1, 2013 - 03:34 | Permalink

    My mother was one of the lucky kids, because her sisters husband lived in Oxford. Once the family found out about the 7s 6d which was paid to the adoptive households, they jumped on to the big swindle and fixed it so all the kids lived in Oxford. There where 8 kids in total living with there big sister Sissy, who had a new name so there was no connection between the Booths of Bootle and the Smiths of Oxford, in fact they got more money because they kept all of one family together, SMART OR WHAT?

  • Michelle Walsh
    July 6, 2013 - 11:48 | Permalink

    Hello, my father Jkhn Walsh was evacuated to Wales during WW2. He lived in Marsh Lane Bootle Liverpool. He cant remember the name of the place he went in Wales but is desperate to find out where he went. Does anyone remember a boy called John Walsh? My dad is 77 in 6 days and i know it would be great for my dad to know any information about anyone or anything about were he might have been evacuated to at thT time.
    thank you

  • michelle walsh
    July 6, 2013 - 11:50 | Permalink

    My dads name is John Walsh not the spelling previously posted .

  • Daniel Shalloe
    July 14, 2013 - 00:29 | Permalink

    Hello everybody. Does anyone out there know what happened in WW2 to the kids at Tiber Street School in Toxteth? I have a picture of my dad there as a six-year-old in 1935 and am assuming he was evacuated when war started, although he never mentioned it.

    Hope to hear from you!
    Thanks,
    Dan

  • November 18, 2013 - 19:51 | Permalink

    My two brothers and sister where evacuated from Liverpool during the war. I stayed with my mum, dad and baby brother. They where split up when they got to Wales. Sadly my two elder brothers are both dead now, but my sister often talks about it.
    We lived Kirkdale in Melbourn St. no 19 I think. My father was train driver. My mum’s sister lived higher up the street, she was my aunty ethel and one of her sons was captured in Arnhem. I was at my aunty ethel’s house wheh she got a telegram to say he was a prisoner. We moved to warrington at the end the war and sadly we all split up, but I often talk about it to my sister. Haven’t been back since a couple years after war. Anyway thanks for listening.

  • Lisa
    December 25, 2013 - 21:14 | Permalink

    I am so happy I found this website.

    That’s my mother and her older sister pictured in the 5th photograph (my mother is the short dark-haired girl in the middle and her older sister immediately to her left).

    My mother moved to New Zealand in the early 60s and we stumbled upon this picture by accident when friends brought some books on Liverpool over to the house. Sadly, my aunt died in 1994 and my mother in 2009 and although this is a bittersweet memory for me and my family, it’s also a fascinating piece of family history.

  • January 20, 2014 - 13:16 | Permalink

    I am trying to find the people who looked after my brothers – William Henry Murphy, James Murphy & Leslie Murphy. I believe they were evacuated to Bethesda, North Wales. I’d like to find out where they stayed during the Second World War or perhaps have some help accessing evacuee records?

    With Thanks,
    Alan Murphy

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>