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.

20 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

    • ruth quillan
      December 30, 2014 - 14:37 | Permalink

      My name is Tony Quillan and I also was evacuated to Wales in 1940 to a place called Llandrindod Wells. I am also from Marsh Lane Bootle and am now 79 yrs old. Does your dad have a brother called Tommy?

  • 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

    • Janet Murdock
      April 10, 2015 - 21:56 | Permalink

      Hi there, My dad went to Tiber St. and was evacuated to Kington in 1939 when he was 9. My brother went to the new Liverpool Museum yesterday and said there is an exhibit from Tiber St about children during the war, so I’d like to try and get in touch with anyone, hence finding your enquiry. Maybe we can find more out, hope to keep in touch.
      Janet Murdock

  • 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

  • May 12, 2014 - 22:33 | Permalink

    I am 77 years of age and was evacuated, but for only 2/3 days. I lived right next to the goods yard in Wavertree L15. I had to go all through the war. How I survived I just don’t know.

  • john jones
    December 2, 2014 - 21:23 | Permalink

    I had just turned 5 years old when the May Blitz started. I was in Clint Road school cellars when the colledge across the street got bombed. I remember the explosion and have a vivid memory of the liverpool bombing because I was not evacuated. I am now 78 and live in New Zealand, but I still remember them dark days.

  • Elizabeth Kilbourne
    April 11, 2015 - 14:22 | Permalink

    My mother, Dora Lewis, was a Primary School teacher at Beach Road Council Primary School (Infants Dept) Litherland during World War 2.

    She and children from the school were evacuated for a short time to Blackpool and then for longer to Wales.

    In Wales she was at Llanyre which is near Llnndrindod Wells. She acually lived at the Vicarage where the minister was a Daniel Archer Lewis (M.A. Oxon) (no relation- my father was from Glasgow).

    My mother later applied for a different teaching post in June 1942 and Daniel Lewis provided a reference for her.
    In her application my mother writes

    “War time has given me experience of modern problems, for I have assisted in the evacuation of children to Blackpool and Radnorshire; have assisted in Group Household Teaching, and for eleven months have had complete charge in a Reception area, of a group of 23 children whose ages ranged from 5 to 8 1/2 years.
    Besides teaching both Infants and Juniors of this group in a Church Hall 3 miles from the nearest school. and taking a special interest in Nature study, I have done welfare work in connection with clothing problems etc. out of school hours.
    During the early months of the war I attended lectures in First Aid, Home Nursing and Gas, obtaining Certificates in all three branches.”

    I have been in contact with the current vicar at Llanyre, a Ben Griffith, who thinks the school with which she would have been connected was the Oxford Road School in Llandrindod Wells, which no longer exists but has been replaced by a school called Cefnllys.
    He says the Church Hall where she taught still exists.

    My mother died in 2003 but I have been trying to find out details of her and the children’s evacuation. When did they go? How did they get there? When did they return?
    Are there any photos of the teachers and the children in Wales?

    Any information would be greatly appreciated or tips as to whom I could approach for more info.
    One of the earlier posts was from someone who had been evacuated from Bootle to Llandrindod Wells and I wonder if there is a connection with my mother’s evacuation.

  • Stanley Kirkbride
    April 28, 2015 - 17:48 | Permalink

    I was evacuated to Wales during the war. We lived on Scotland Road and I have no idea where we went. As I am now 74 I am keen to find some information…

  • Steven Tann
    May 10, 2015 - 13:36 | Permalink

    My Mother went to Morrison Girls School, Greenbank Road, Liverpool.
    Her name was Jean Ellison and she was evacuated to North Wales in 1940. She does not remember where though. Does anyone know how to get evacuee information? She is now 86 and would love to know any information from someone who may have known of her.
    Many Thanks, Steven Tann (son)

  • Vera Fullard/ Corbett
    June 12, 2015 - 23:42 | Permalink

    I was evacuated to Lampeter from St Silas School Dingle. The lady was Mrs Griffiths. Our parents came to visit, but found the place so far away some of the mothers brought us back home. I left my New Ball. I think I was 4yrs old. My Father was taken prisoner during the war and got the DSM at Palace from King George. I remember we celebrated in street when he came home!

  • Susan Morgan
    July 22, 2015 - 22:04 | Permalink

    My father, James Morgan, was evacuated to Ruabon from Liverpool with his two older brothers, Richard and Michael. In June 1943 some children at the school they were attending found an unexploded grenade and brought it home where Michael died in a tragic accident. My father witnessed it and was himself blown by the blast.

    I know of a similar incident that happened further out west near Aberystwyth (I think) where a lad was killed and someone else injured.
    I am interested to know of any other people who had similar stories. There was never any explanation as to where the grenades came from despite a military investigation.
    Best wishes,
    Susan Morgan

  • Leave a Reply

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