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Whitstable at War - World War II

A Question of Evacuation

    

A Question of Evacuation...

   

Most people have heard stories of children evacuated from London to the countryside. However, despite Whitstable's proximity to the front line and the massive activity, around and above the county of Kent, Whitstable was deemed to be relatively safe and pthere was no similar evacuation of local youngsters.

In fact, we have stories of children being evacuated TO Whitstable....

     

I was evacuated to Whitstable with other children from the Medway Cottage Homes at Chatham in Kent. The boys were taken in by the local inhabitants of Whitstable and the girls were billeted at Tankerton. 

For a few weeks, I was with the Family Swift of Nelson Road and then went to Cornwallis Circle. It was here that I first saw one of the aerial fights between Spitfires and German planes. 

Then, it was decided to send us down to South Wales. I have many happy memories of my time at Whitstable. One of which was buying a pennyworth of broken biscuits at the local Woolworth stores. 

On the beach was an old wreck and I spent many a happy hour playing Pirates or I made myself Captain. I remember the declaration of the war and the church bells ringing for the last time until the end of the war. 

How many ex evacuees are still living and have been back to Whitstable? I have visited Whitstable about four times in all. It still has a place in my heart for the kindness shown to us Home's Children. 

Keep smiling.... 

Bern

Bernard Shaw
Graz
Styria
Austria 
(Late of the UK)

   

Other evacuations to Whitstable were personal decisions rather than anything directed by the authorities and they often involved family connections with the town...

 

Dad, a Londoner, had been evacutated to Brixham in Devon but promptly collected by his mother after writing home about an early bombing raid on the harbour where he had been on the hill side overlooking the town and the German pilots had cheerily waved at him as they went in to drop their bombs. 

Dad was taken back to London in time for the Blitz, then shipped out to his Aunts (to what his mother thought was safety) in Whitstable. 

So, although not an official evacuation, I am sure there were plenty of others who were sent 'down' to Whitstable to avoid the relentless bombings in London. 

Vanessa Trampleasure

 

Dad was a railwayman at Whitstable railway station during the 1930s.... which is how he met my mum. Her garden backed onto the station platform in Railway Avenue.

He was eventually "promoted" to a goods shunter and, at the outbreak of war, was transferred to a marshalling yard in SE London. It was there that he witnessed some intense bombing.

The couple decided to marry. Mum moved up the line to Barnhurst in order to be with him and it was there that my brother was born. 

During bombing raids, my brother was often heard to say "Wheee... boom... annudda one". Soon "annudda one" was one too many and mum moved back to my grandparents home in Whitstable (Railway Avenue).... where she witnessed the effects of a V2 landing in London's Fields! 

Dad stayed with my other set of grandparents in Eltham and travelled down to visit whenever possible.

Dave Taylor
Whitstable   

   

The Official Line

 

In many ways, it was a quite remarkable situation. So, what was going on? Well, Brian Smith has carried out some research and details the official line below....

   

Evacuation Plans

   

General records do not show any evacuees from Whitstable. However what is not generally known is that the initial plan was to evacuate children from London and the Medway towns to East Kent of all places!  Who was the nutter who thought that one up!  It was like putting the children under a huge tree on a golf course in a tremendous thunderstorm. 

Fortunately evacuation was voluntary – if Mum wanted you to go to Kent, you went.  The insignificance of Kent children to authorities would seem to be demonstrated by the first evacuations from Kent being 125,000 sheep and 20,000 cattle! 

When the Germans overran the Low Countries, 1000 lorries transferred the sheep elsewhere to preserve the Romney Marsh Breed and as one book states ‘This move helped thin the population of East Kent – both animal and civilian- to a fraction of what it had been.’ As the sheep were ‘Romney Marsh’ I guess the 20,000 cattle were the civilians?

The first proper evacuation to Kent began on Sept 1st 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.  Planning allowed for just over 136,000, mostly children but mothers, teachers, invalids and blind people were included.

The Medway towns were the first to face evacuation, among other locations, 3,782 were allocated to Herne Bay and 3,500 to Bridge Blean rural district which may have included Whitstable in wartime or the town was never graded as an evacuation zone.

From September 3rd to the 5th it was London’s turn. The biggest single group of about 13,000 were to go to Folkestone which would become the third most attacked town in the country.  Good one! 

But, as the evacuation was voluntary, only about 47,000 of the planned 136,000 arrived at their destination.  By January 1940,  75% of evacuated children across the nation had voluntarily returned home.  Kent must have been a little more favoured as 62% remained.

The second phase of evacuation was a February 1940 scheme to ready 19,000 children in reception centres across Kent and Sussex to be evacuated within 4 days of necessary. Again, evacuation was voluntary starting with parents registering their children in advance.  But, by April’s end, only 6.6% of those eligible had registered.  The plan was abandoned when emergency evacuation became necessary, the authorities finally realising in the summer of 1940, the risk of bombing and cross channel shelling on Kent. 

Phase three of the evacuation process began in earnest with thousands being evacuated to Wales, the West Country, Sussex, Oxfordshire, the Midlands and Berkshire.

A fourth phase, the only compulsory evacuation plan for selected coastal towns (not Whitstable) was never implemented.  No further evacuation plans were implemented from 1941 until further threats of large scale attacks regenerated the process in January 1944 until September of that year.  Again, Whitstable is not specifically mentioned.

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing
Victoria
Australia 

   

The Result....

  

Life in Whitstable was therefore a peculiar one for children. Allowed to remain in a major theatre of war, they witnessed the Battle of Britain, bombing raids and V1 attacks. 

They continued to play and grow up amidst the restrictions of war. However, there were also new opportunities with the occasional direct hits on the town providing an opportunity for investigation and souvenir hunting. The activity in the skies also provided an opportunity for aircraft spotting in a context quite different form anything that had gone before. 

This explains why so many of our contributors can provide first hand accounts of the action even though they were in their early years.

It was an extraordinary situation with play so closely interwoven with war.... as detailed in Chapter 13: Children at War. 

  


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