Homes flattened, the old mills smashed,

Pavements glittered with broken glass,

But we prayed all would come to pass,

Our hope, by bombs, could not be dashed.

The morning smoldered, the air was still,

As my mother led me from Cheetham Hill,

Along the road we met those like we,

Who were to become evacuees.

The trains were loaded against mother’s cries,

As we fled the death rained down from the sky,

The belching chimneys became grassy knolls,

Wailing sirens to church bell tolls.

Goodbyes whispered on trails of steam,

The city melts to fields and streams,

Trembling hands upon my battered case,

Clutching memories of my mother’s face.

For a family I did not find,

As my new home paid me no mind,

Relegated to a new scullery maid,

In Manchester I wish I’d stayed.

To my mother I wrote and wept,

Shivering in the attic where I slept,

But mother I knew I was not alone,

You came and saved me, you took me home.

The inspiration for this poem came from the transcript of an interview with Rosa Slater, regarding her experience of evacuation from Manchester during WWII.

The interview can be found within the digital sound archives in Manchester Central Library and details young Rosa’s evacuation from Cheetham Hill to a ‘small community just north of Blackburn’. Evacuation to the countryside offered a major culture shock to many inner city children and experiences differed. Rosa’s interview offers insight into the emotional trauma of being separated from her family and being ‘chosen’ at the school hall by a new host family.

Rosa details being ‘picked by this a lady (…) and put in the attic on a camp bed’ she was told she wouldn’t be joining the billet family for meals but was told to eat in the kitchen with the maid servant, a role she would be forced to perform. Rosa was seen as an extension of the hired help and would have ‘certain chores’ to carry out. The treatment worsened when Rosa’s letters to her mother were not posted which led to her mother from removing her from the billeting household.

I chose to write about Rosa’s experience as opposed to the more positive interviews regarding evacuation to shed light on an a lesser known aspect of children billeting with families in the country. You can hear a more detailed version of Rosa’s story in her own words below.