South Shields Local History Group

Under Construction


Britain first evacuated civilians on 1st September 1939 when 1.5 million civilians;, mainly women and children, were evacuated.  War was declared two days later on the 3rd September 1939.

Plans were drawn up in South Shields to evacuate; school children, pregnant women, mothers with young children, some school teachers and people with disabilities.

Evacuation was voluntary, though the authorities actively encouraged people to go it was not mandatory.  Because South Shields was an important sea port it was almost certain to be bombed as it had been in World War I.

An estimated 12,000 people were to be evacuated in two days, this was an enormous logistical challenge.

Parents were advised what children could take with them: a  gas mask in case, a change of underclothes, night clothes, plimsolls (or slippers), spare stockings or socks, toothbrush, comb, towel, soap, face cloth, handkerchiefs and a warm coat.  Many of the poorer children did not have some of these items.

Children were advised to always carry their gas mask in the small case, even babies wore them.

On the first day 5,305 children were expected to leave by train and 6,500 people the next day. 

12 trains were organised to leave from South Shields, High Shields and Tyne Dock.

Some people made their own travel arrangements.  The evacuees were to be evacuated to Cumberland and Westmoreland; which included town such as Kendal, Windermere, Penrith, Workington and Egremont.

A large army of volunteers was organised to help the children onto the trains and to meet them at their destination.

Because the scheme was voluntary many people who had originally registered for the scheme had a change of mind and did not leave Shields, so the numbers who did leave were much lower than the authorities expected (even Hitler could not make people leave Shields!). 

When they arrived by train in the Lake District they were met and taken to stay with local families.  Some people stayed the whole duration of the war but many quickly returned to Shields.

Because of the desperate poverty of a large proportion of the children it was realised that they would need to be supported with gifts of clothing and shoes.  The South Shields Shoeless Children’s Fund (which operated in Shields for a shocking 58 years) was organised by the Chief Constable Tommy Humphrey’s and Lady Chapman supplied 3,506 pairs of shoes in 1940.

  Various charitable organisations like the W.R.V.S and others knitted clothes for poorer children.

Many of these children lived in appalling slums where infectious diseases were rife, they had no running water and little food or money available so lice, scabies and other conditions were common.

Some children were evacuated to Australia, Canada or South Africa. 

Some children thrived in the countryside like these young children blackberry picking who still remember to take there gas masks with them!

But there were also many who were unhappy there, like these two eleven year old boys who decided to walk back from Kendal to South Shields, a distance of 100 miles!

At the end of 1942 there were 997 children still in Westmoreland and Cumberland, by June 1944 there were 500 and by October 1944 arrangements were made to bring the remaining 320 children back to Shields.

British Newspaper Archives
Shields Gazette
South Shields at War: Craig Armstrong
Terry Ford

Michael Mulhern

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