Reunion for Evacuees

From: James Roffey, Chief Executive, The Evacuees Reunion Association, The Mill Business Centre, Mill Hill, Gringley-on-the-Hill, Nottinghamshire DN10 4RA.

Evacuees Station

Evacuees Station

On Friday 1 September 1939 thousands of children from all parts of London were evacuated due to the imminent start of the Second World War. I was evacuated with my sister’s school, Peckham Central Girls’ School. They formed us up into a long “crocodile” file in the school playground, tied luggage labels on us bearing our name and that of our school, then the big gates were opened wide and we were marched along the road to Queen’s Road Station, led by a policeman. Our parents were not allowed to walk with us or go on to the station. They all stood on the other side of the road watching in grim faced silence. I caught a glimpse of my mother in the crowd as we passed Jones and Higgins. I waved to her but she didn’t wave back. I suppose she couldn’t see me. Then she disappeared and hurried down Rye Lane in the hope of seeing one of my brothers with Peckham Central Boys’ School at Peckham Rye Station.

Where were they taking us? That was a secret. Queen’s Road Station was already crammed with other evacuees from other local schools. After a long wait, our special train came inching its way into the station. It was made up of very old carriages with no corridors and no toilets. They pushed us on to the train – brothers, sisters and friends all trying hard to keep together – slammed the doors shut and off we went into the unknown. Eventually we arrived at Pulborough in West Sussex. That evening the streets of Peckham were strangely quiet and deserted; the children had gone! The code name for the evacuation was “Operation Pied Piper”.

I was away from home until 1944; others until the end of the war. Many never could go home because their homes had been bombed and their families killed. The long-term effects of the evacuation remain with us.