World War Two – Evacuees in Spencers Wood

Evacuees came to Spencers Wood in September 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two.  In a wish to keep at least our future generations safe, young children were removed from the cities and towns which were likely to be bombed, and taken to country villages.  Spencers Wood, Ryeish Green, Three Mile Cross and surrounding villages were designated reception areas particularly for children from London.  Mothers with very young children came also but most children came alone or as a group from school with a teacher.  The children for this area travelled from Waterloo Station to Wokingham, where they transferred to coaches for the rest of their journey.  They each had only a small case and the all-important gas mask in its box fastened with string round their necks.

Children were allocated to local residents and it is heart-warming to know that many children regarded their time here as some of the happiest of their lives.  Not all placements were successful, of course, and some boys and girls returned to London when there was little or no bombing during the autumn of 1939.  However most of them returned when the air raids began in earnest.  The John Ruskin School and the Cypress School in Croydon brought whole classes of children here.  The children had to continue their education and the local school buildings had to accommodate the extra pupils.  At first, Ryeish Green (then a junior school) and Lambs Lane schools arranged to have separate sessions with their own children taught by the original staff attending in the mornings, and the London children having their lessons in the afternoons.  This was soon changed and the children were mixed together to have lessons for the whole school day.  It was quite a culture shock for both groups of children and rooms were described as “bursting at the seams”.

As the town children settled in, they regarded their surroundings with amazement.  There were few of the amenities they were used to – no street lighting, few houses with electricity, many with no mains water.  It was strange to get water from the well in the garden or from the communal well on the Common off Basingstoke Road.  Instead of narrow streets with their neighbours’ houses and industrial buildings, there was all that sky and lots of open space with green fields, woods and animals!  Children had to fit in with the customs of the families they were staying with, but many found plenty of time for play and for exploring the wide countryside.  Children roamed with their new friends to Shinfield or to Grazeley, enjoying streams and woods. Clocks were put forward two hours in summer to get the most daylight in the evenings and everyone was expected to assist in getting in the harvest.  Schools closed so that the children could help in these vital labour-intensive tasks since all the younger men were away at war.

With the abundance of children in the villages, special efforts were made to entertain them during holidays and at Christmas.  Church and chapel were important.  Concerts were put on and shows at schools were rehearsed and polished ready for performances there and in the village hall.  Local children recall that some of the refugees were “rather boisterous” but that they all learned to become tolerant of one another and some formed lasting friendships.  Several of the refugees who attended Lambs Lane School recorded memories reproduced above.

Patricia Green   September 2009