Landing a Scoop – Episode 2, Evacuees in Long Marston
The focus this time is on the impact of the evacuee children on the school and the village, based on their personal contributions to SCOOP, soon after their arrival in 1940, and the feelings of some Long Marston children who also contributed. As in Episode 1, their expressed thoughts have to be seen in context; it is possible that they might have been saying what the Headmaster wanted them to say, rather than their true feelings.
The initial, and not too surprising, response of several of the evacuees is that the major change was the quietness of the village, compared to the ‘noise of traffic and people hurrying about’ of London, as described by Irene Baldwin of Homerton (near Hackney). Her first response was that she did not like it but soon she felt differently as she began to appreciate the ‘hills and fields, the sheep, horses and cows.. Irene also expressed surprise at their being ‘very few shops’ whereas previous interviews have revealed that, at that time, there were numerous shops and small businesses in the village, certainly by modern standards.
Evelyn Read from Peckham also expressed surprise at the quietness and the distance from the nearest towns but soon began to appreciate the pleasures of going for bicycle rides and watching horses being shoe’d in the Blacksmith Shop which was her temporary home.
The Impact on Long Marston
Though it is impossible to confirm this accurately, Betty Brooks of Long Marston suggests that the evacuee children caused the school numbers to double overnight. Her view was that their presence made a ‘great difference to Long Marston’ as the village became ‘rather busy’. Usually the roads in the village had been nearly deserted since the war started, now there were always some children playing outside. Another Long Marston pupil, Sheila Bott, wrote that she had heard people say that ‘they never saw so many children in the village before’.
One initial compensation for Long Marston children was that, according to Joyce Robinson, all the pupils took an extra week’s holiday to allow the school to make arrangements to integrate the sudden surge in student numbers.
Integration with the Village
There is conflicting evidence about the extent and success with which evacuees integrated with others in the village, likely to be based on the different experiences of the children. Betty Brooks complained that the evacuated children did not seem to mix much with those in the village while Sheila Bott commented that they all seemed to ‘settle down all right and made friends with us’.
The extent of mixing may have depended to some extent on which part of London they came from and therefore where their education took place. The SCOOP edition includes contributions from children evacuated from Chiswick, Edmonton, Hampstead, Homerton and Peckham, quite different parts of London. One significant comment from Sheila was that those that came from Hampstead – maybe a more upmarket area? – went to school in the Vicarage, rather than attending lessons with local pupils.
Another factor impacting integration may have been that, according to a number of comments, there were apparently many more boy than girl evacuees!
Clearly some of the evacuees found Long Marston more to their taste than others. Despite being impressed by the countryside and the animals, Irene Baldwin said that she will be glad to go home again. John Gosbee wrote that he liked Long Marston much better than London, particularly the gardening sessions on Tuesday and football on Wednesday (It can be assumed that the Long Marston gardening sessions were more educational than those in Wilstone; during our interview with David Mead, he recalled the Wilstone teacher getting pupils to weed her garden!). Also positive about life in Long Marston was Evelyn Read who commented that ‘people are very nice here and I like being here very much’.
There are no signs of home sickness though this would probably not be admitted publicly. We do hear from Joyce Robinson that children used to go back home in twos and threes nearly every week, though it is not clear whether this is for a break or a permanent exit. One Long Marston student Gwyneth Perry comments that a lot of children have gone back and is perhaps a little harsh in her judgment that this is ‘very silly’.
So what can we learn about the life of evacuees from analysis of Scoop and what questions arise?
- The numbers of evacuees, in proportion to the Long Marston pupils, were far higher than our research had previously indicated
- This had a big impact on the school and the atmosphere of the village
- Some evacuees were educated separately and this may have been connected with the area of London they came from
- A number of the children went back to their homes, some temporarily, some permanently
- Did the boys really outnumber the girls and why would that be?
There is one final irony about the evacuation to Long Marston. Only a few months later, a bomb fell on Long Marston school, killed the Infant Headmistress and badly injured at least one of the evacuees. Long Marston was not the safe haven they were looking for.
We showed this article and the copy of SCOOP to Neil Dean who was 5/6 years old at the time and remembers the evacuees coming to Long Marston (ironically Neil himself had to be evacuated to Shropshire after the bomb badly damaged his parents’ shop).
He recalls that the above mentioned Joyce Robinson married a GI and went to live in the USA where she was believed to be still living in 2022.
Neil also recalls that one of the evacuees, Jean Frost, was injured with a broken leg by the bomb and Mr Savage put her leg into a splint at the scene. Jean lived with her sister Joan at Langdon Cottage near the old Marston Gate station which was closed by the government in the early 1960s. Jean’s parents were not impressed by the irony of their daughter being injured in the supposed safe place in the country.