Wartime evacuees recall family splits
‘‘If only I could stay with you, My train moves on, you’re gone from view, Now I must wait until it’s over.’’
These words are from an Enya song called Evacuee. There’s a small group of people in Manawatu who know what being an evacuee is all about. As children during World War II, they were uplifted from their parents’ care and evacuated from metropolitan areas into the countryside to escape the Blitz.
The group used to meet at the Broadway RSA, and still meet every two months for a catch up over a meal.
Feilding’s Jean Waring was aged nine when she and her brother Peter went by train from London to Glasgow. While they were in Scotland, the war broke out, and the siblings found themselves in rural Ayrshire, in the southwest of Scotland.
‘‘We went away and didn’t come back until six years later.’’
She and Peter were lucky with their foster parents, though when they returned, no-one could understand a word they said. Ayrshire is Robbie Burns country and they’d picked up the dialect.
Geoff Barnes, not an evacuee, but who set up the Manawatu branch of ERANZ (Evacuees Reunion Association of New Zealand) for Brit expats who relocated to New Zealand, says they have recorded many similar stories.
‘‘They are on CDs waiting to be transcribed,’’ Geoff says. ‘‘Hopefully at some stage someone will transcribe them into a book.’’
Duncan Hall, who lives at Glen Oroua, was 14 months old when he was sent from Manchester to Brown Edge, a mining village in North Staffordshire.
‘‘I never went back,’’ he says. ‘‘I was brought up as their son. I went home in the school holidays. I basically had two families.’’
Not all the stories were happy ones. Country hosts were told they had to take in evacuees if they had room. Many did it because of the money. There’s a book called I’ll Take That One that sums up how things were.
There were no police checks either.
‘‘It would never be allowed now,’’ says Iris Howell.
‘‘Often parents didn’t know where their children were going,’’ Jean says.
An enduring image of the times were the luggage labels attached to each child for identification purposes, preserved in the shape of the name badges Jean and her fellow evacuees still wear.
Wartime evacuees from left Barbara Younger, Barry Richter, Jean Waring, Duncan Hall, and Iris Howell, with Geoff Barnes.