A home from home for World War Two evacuees

Evacuees from Leytonstone arriving in Itchingfield in 1940
Evacuees from Leytonstone arriving in Itchingfield in 1940

It’s hard to imagine how frightening it must have been for children who had to be evacuated during the Second World War.

Some little more than babies, they left their homes and their families to find safety in the countryside with people they had never met.

Evacuees being visited by their families in Billingshurst in January 1940

Evacuees being visited by their families in Billingshurst in January 1940

It was the job of those strangers to become friends and surrogate parents to the youngsters and make their stay as enjoyable as possible.

These pictures were published in the West Sussex County Times in January 1940 and show some of the youngsters who found safe haven in the Horsham area.

As well as staying in people’s homes, children were billeted to camps in the area set up to cope with the sheer numbers coming from the cities.

One such camp in Itchingfield was called Cooper’s Camp – named after the farmland on which it stood.

Members of the Roffey WI with evacuees in January 1940

Members of the Roffey WI with evacuees in January 1940

It was built by James Longley & Co, from Crawley, under contract to the National Camps Corporation. The camp was occupied by 200 boys from Tom Hood Central School, Leytonstone – and they brought all the school’s equipment with them.

The lads were looked after by headmaster Mr AE Hunt and the other teachers.

The County Times report stated: “They will probably find the quiet life of this rather isolated spot somewhat strange at first, but there is no doubt that they will readily adapt themselves to the new environment and enjoy it immensely.

“It was a very happy throng that disembarked from the coaches and marched up the drive of the camp to the assembly hut, where they listened to a few words of welcome and instruction from the headmaster.”

A tea party for evacuees in 1940

A tea party for evacuees in 1940

Over in Roffey, the members of the Women’s Institute made sure none of the children missed out on a Christmas treat.

Some 95 youngsters, both evacuees and the children of local service men and women, enjoyed a party at the Roffey Institute.

Then there was community singing and games, with Mrs Boon at the piano, before each child was given a bag of sweets from the Christmas tree.

No matter how pleasant their surroundings, the children doubtless missed their parents.

In Billingshurst, 20 coaches brought 600 parents from Peckham to visit their youngsters – and they brought Father Christmas with them.

Some £70 worth of presents were given to the 1,000 children.

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