Evacuate to Halstead - Halstead & District Local History Society

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Evacuate to Halstead
The following articles from the The Gazette & Times and the Cheshunt Weekly Telegraph of 1939 provide an insight into evacuations from London during the early part of World War II:


'At the meeting of the Halstead Rural District Council the Clerk presented his report on the evacuation in the rural district. He stated that on the evening of Saturday, 2nd September, at about a quarter to seven he received a telegram to the effect:

"Bus parties, 4,000 persons, arriving Sunday at your office. Leaving London eight and fourteen hours. Arrange billets." ( Imagine this —Receive a message at 6.45pm on a Saturday evening to say that 4,000 people, including unaccompanied children, will arrive tomorrow and you have to provide accommodation for them).

During the same night 4,500 emergency rations were received by rail. The Technical School (today's Library) was used for reception and many helpers attended on Sunday and 4,019 individual rations were put up. As paper bags did not arrive with the rations Messrs. Woolworths let them have a supply.

The billeting officers came to Halstead from the different villages to obtain their papers and to take the bus parties to the respective villages. Arrangements were made for the 2,000 persons expected in the morning to be billeted in nine parishes and for the parties of 2,000 expected in the afternoon to be billeted in the other parishes.

During the Sunday, 841 mothers and children and about 1,000 unaccompanied school children arrived, the last bus reaching Halstead at 6 p.m. The Billeting Officers from every parish waited many hours and it was not until seven o'clock that he was able to ascertain that no more persons would come that day.

Sincere thanks were due to the Council staff, the Women's Voluntary Services and many other people who helped with the reception and arrangements. To the Billeting Officers a mere expression of thanks was altogether inadequate. At very short notice they made the necessary local arrangements. It was a very difficult task and they carried it out splendidly, and their work was still continuing. They tried to satisfy householders and also the evacuees and in many cases they had succeeded.

The evacuation, which was from Wood Green, seemed to have been arranged very quickly and with very little organisation and that added to the reception difficulties. It was expected that the evacuees would he unaccompanied school children, but the arrival of a large number of mothers and children and 33 expectant mothers made billeting very troublesome. Up to last Wednesday 25 per cent, of the persons evacuated had returned to London.

The Clerk mentioned that two ladies responsible for billeting in different parishes had handed in their papers and the problems arising in those two parishes were being dealt with by the Council's Office. The Clerk also mentioned certain expenses which had been incurred, including the employment of a shorthand-typist to deal with the correspondence about evacuation.

The Chairman said the Clerk and his assistants had a very hectic Sunday. Mr. F. C. Krailing also commented upon the Billeting Officers in several of, the villages. Many of them were waiting from 11.30 to 6 o'clock expecting the arrival of evacuees.

At the meeting of the Halstead Rural District Council on Friday, Mr. David Ward inquired whether the Council had any control over the going out and coming in of evacuees. At present the position was very unsatisfactory. Evacuees were leaving without hardly any notice. It was more like a beano or holiday. Surely there ought to be some control.

The Clerk (Mr. S. R. Long) said there were no means of preventing evacuees going back, but it was the duty of the Council to discourage them against doing so.
The Rev. B. C. Cann: If they feel they would rather go back it is up to them.
The Chairman (Mr. R, E. Vaizey) said it was not within the province of the Council to do anything.

Mr. Ward said he had every sympathy with the evacuation, but it seemed to him that it was being rather abused. Remarks were made respecting the condition of some of the children evacuated, surprise being expressed that there was not previous medical inspection.

The Rev. B. C. Cann said the condition of some of the children did not say much for the educational and welfare facilities in the districts from which the evacuees came.

The Medical Officer (Dr. J. S. Ranson) said Dr. Gemmell and himself inspected the children that came to Halstead Urban, but it was not possible to inspect all those who came into the Halstead Rural district.

The Clerk said a further instruction had been issued that there was to be a medical inspection before children were evacuated.


Mr. Ward thought a general vote of thanks was due to all who had taken part in the evacuation. All had worked hard, particularly the Clerk.

The Clerk said that many of the helpers were from Halstead Urban. Mrs. Butler and members of the Women's Voluntary Services rendered considerable and very valuable help. It was perhaps invidious to mention names as everybody was only too willing and anxious to help.

At the meeting of the Halstead Urban District Council on Monday it was reported that the teachers from the evacuated areas had nominated Miss E. Mills to be their representative on the panel from which the Tribunal to deal with evacuation appeals was to be chosen.
The Clerk (Mr. Ronald Long) mentioned that the premises in Head Street would be opened on Tuesday, and all matters dealing with evacuation would be dealt with there. Continuing, the Clerk mentioned that Dr. Manson, the Medical Officer for Wood Green, visited the district and had expressed appreciation of what had been done in the district for the evacuees from Wood Green. He visited the Home and had also been good enough to send a health visitor down to the town for a month to help with the work. The Chairman and Clerk of the Waltham Abbey Urban Council also visited the town and expressed pleasure at what they saw and were grateful for what was being done by Halstead for the children from their district.

The Chairman (Mr. F. N. Adams) said it was very satisfactory to be complimented by both these authorities.

The question of whether more evacuees should he received in the town was discussed, and the Clerk mentioned that as at present instructed he was not to receive any more without first obtaining the authority of the Council.

Mr. E. B. Parker said there was heaps more room in the town for evacuees, but there were some people who would not lift a finger to help this problem. There were heaps of big houses and other places where these children could be housed, and the least anyone could do was to offer hospitality to them. Some did not intend to and were making it as awkward as they could.

The Clerk mentioned that a letter was being sent round to all houses and a register of accommodation would be prepared. When that was done they would know exactly what accommodation was available. Each case would then be dealt with on its merits. They must have a reserve of accommodation.'

THE GAZETTE & TIMES, Friday October 6th 1939

'The following article is reproduced from the "Waltham and Cheshunt Weekly Telegraph.

"Here we are again," and, as the old song continues, "happy as can be". Another week has gone by, and the happy relationship which sprang up between the Waltham evacuees and the people of Halstead on our first arrival has been cemented and strengthened. Let me prove this by quotations from the children themselves, and, as usual, ladies first:

Margaret Diprose writes: "We arrived at Halstead a fortnight ago. Yet really it does not seem so long, as the time flies. We've had a wonderful welcome. I am staying with some very nice people, and everybody else I know is too."

Jean Fenner is particularly pleased with her new surroundings, and says: "Halstead is very nice, as there are meadows just out of the town and two very nice playing fields where we can sit or play. The people of Halstead talk very broadly, and are often very difficult to understand. I think that while we are here we shall have many pleasant times exploring Halstead and the countryside".

"Everybody is thoroughly enjoying herself," is D. Cook's comprehensive comment, and Molly Barker anticipates a pleasant stay with, "Halstead is a nice place, and I'm going to enjoy staying here.

And how do the boys react to their new life? As evidenced by the following com­ments, in much the same, cheerful way.

After praising the warm reception we had on our arrival, John Sell writes thus of his billets: "The people who had taken us were very nice, and let us roam about in their small orchard. We shifted our billets so that we could be near each other, and again the people who took us were good to us."

In a letter to a young friend left behind at Waltham, Sid Watts writes: "Halstead is all right. I do not know why you did not come. You would like it very much." And the same sentiments are expressed by Don Speller, who says, "I bet you wish you were down here, Boy, instead of where you are. It is out of the danger zone, and safe."

And now for a general summing-up by Bert West, the school captain. "The people of Halstead have responded splendidly to the call of evacuation. A really warm and homely welcome awaited us. No time was lost in billeting when tired children might have regretted coming. Within two hours of our arrival, we had been settled with our new mothers. I admit most of us were homesick, but those boys who have gone home lacked the will to carry out that which they intended. Now that school has started, I find my time fully occupied. With thoughts of football ahead, I have no wish to return to a town void of children. To the children left behind, I say, "Come down here; we are having a lovely time".'

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