In 1939, there were 190,000 children and priority adults within the area of Manchester that would be at risk of air raids upon the outset of World War Two. By April of 1939 therefore, meetings had taken place within Manchester (and across the UK) between teachers and parents, in which they discussed the impending situation in an attempt to make progress as early as possible. A report published in November 1939 entitled: Manchester Interim Report to the Education Committee and the Emergency Committee of the City Council concluded that these meetings had a very positive outcome: 71,00 schoolchildren, 58,000 preschool children and 4,000 expectant mothers within Manchester completed registration forms soon after April, whilst reception areas for those living in Stratford and Salford had been completed with 179,000 billets allocated.

The reception areas that residents were evacuated to included the following:

  • Lancashire
  • Derbyshire
  • Staffordshire
  • Shropshire
Teacher leading evacuees 1939
Note the armlets on the adults: Each school department had an evacuation number (Manchester, followed by a figure) which had to be placed on these armlets & used at the head of each communication from the school on the topic of evacuation

Not long after this, Manchester schools were given memo’s entitled: Evacuation Handbook No 2: School Children In Organised Groups In Charge Of Their Teachers. It was suggested that these be placed within the school log book or another appropriate place where they could be easily seen by the teachers. It outlined general information on steps that were to be taken in order to make evacuation as successful as possible; detailing what the warning signal would be, what the children should pack and how different school departments would be grouped and managed by the helpers. Particular precedence is given to the topic of luggage to carry, since it advises teachers to look at samples of suitable articles that the children should have packed – which was displayed on Jackson’s Row in Manchester.

This memo is referenced in the aforementioned Interim Report, which says that Evacuation Handbook No 2 was actually a provisional handbook that was ‘far from complete’ in detail and was intended to be published in its final form one last time (combined with other informative booklets for expectant mothers, blind adults and crippled adults). However due to the rapid development of the impending crisis it unexpectedly became the ‘marching order’ for evacuation (although supplemented by additional notifications) for Manchester children.

Evacuees arriving to the train station
Children are led from the busses to the train station.

Given that rehearsals for evacuation where ordered during the summer holidays, teachers who were participating had to be recalled with telegrams that were sent on Wednesday 23rd of August – informing them that they had to return to Manchester. These ‘get ready’ precautions were a way of schools getting used to the eventuality of evacuation – whilst they were only drills intended to only go as far as to have the children and teachers assembled at the school, 9 school departments in Manchester went as far as to coordinate with transport and railway services. The Manchester Evening News reported on the 28th August 1939 that ’80,000 children trooped into schools all over Manchester, which showed them in every detail the moves they must take if an emergency arises’.

However, on the 31st August 1939 evacuation was officially announced by the Minister For Health. Mary Cullen, an evacuee from Deansgate said that the adults on the train platform were weeping when the schoolchildren started singing a song called ‘farewell Manchester’, a song which Audrey Jones says (in her book of the same name) must have been taught in schools at the time. On this first day it was reported that between 46,274 – 52,761 children made over 800 journeys on 109 trains and 105 busses in the city.

Evacuees waving to departing train

The Manchester Education Committee would send a letter to those whom assisted in the scheme, stating that ‘only the devoted services of those responsible for the various evacuation parties could have accomplished such a difficult and complex undertaking so smoothly and efficiently’. A further show of solidarity by the people of Manchester presented itself after Lord Woolton appealed for blanket donations for the poorer evacuees, whereby the Manchester General Post Office was used as a receiving centre. The Interim Report gives a quite comprehensive list of those in Manchester who donated to the ‘Lord Mayor’s Evacuation Clothing Fund’, detailing the names, addresses those who helped – as well as their exact nature of what clothes they gave away.

Primary sources used:

Evacuation, Handbook No. 2 (revised draft). 1939

Manchester Interim Report to the Education Committee and the Emergency Committee of the City Council. 1939

Secondary sources used:

Farewell Manchester: The Story of 1939 Evacuation by Audrey Jones (1989)

Manchester Evacuation 1939-1945: The Exception To The Rule by Martin Parsons (2004)

This blog post was written for Archives+ by one of our volunteers as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project.