Harpenden Evacuees 1939 - 1940

The stories behind some newly acquired records

A refund. Credit: John Olley

The Society has recently acquired a number of ‘chits’ which record payments to and from Harpenden householders (in the Crabtree Lane area) who took in evacuees in 1939-1940 and also a billeting secretary’s notebook. 

John Olley has used these records to tell the stories of the families involved – both hosts and visitors.

We plan to add a schedule of host families and evacuees shortly.

Reluctant Visitors

During 1939 and 1940 a number of reluctant visitors started arriving in Harpenden. They were our first evacuees. Things became very difficult for the householders with whom they were billeted and for the evacuees themselves. Householders were being asked to take strange children from London into their homes and the children were being taken from their homes and families and lodged with complete strangers, in a strange place and sometimes with people who resented having them.


Certificate as Billeting Officer. Credit: John Olley

Having examined billeting records for the areas of Holly Walk, Glemsford Drive, Weyboume Close and Crabtree Lane and read the notes on each child made by the billeting officers, I have a fair idea of the difficulties faced by both the householders and children alike.

East Enders

Many of the children were genuine East Enders, coming from crowded housing and poor families with both parents having to work in some instances and many with a father in the forces, leaving the mother to cope with several young children, and some having a part-time job to make ends meet. This meant that some children were allowed to run wild and get into all sorts of trouble.

Imagine the situation where these children suddenly find themselves in a household where this sort of behaviour is not tolerated and clashes between householders and children are inevitable. I imagine that all the householders of that period are no longer with us but some of their descendants may be but I want to be free to mention a few names from that period of time to give an idea of what both the householders and the evacuees went through.

Some Individual Cases

Visitors Authorisation card. Credit: John Olley

A Mrs Martin of Holly Walk had an evacuee called John B billeted with her on September 26th, 1939. Several visits were made by the billeting officer in October and November until John was sent home on December 22nd, 1939 for Christmas. He returned to Mrs Martin on January 10th, 1940 but was re-billeted with Mrs Halsey of Glemsford Drive to, as the note made by the billeting officer read, ‘Give Mrs Martin a rest’. He had only been with her for three months!!

Mrs Coldwell of Holly Walk had two evacuees, Alan F aged 5 and his six years old sister, Gladys F. Their home was in Polygon Road, St.Pancras. They were billeted on October 10th, 1939 and received two visits from the billeting officer that month. On October 11th they were taken to the clinic with septic sores. They both returned to London on October 21st, 1939.

Returns to London

Many children returned to London within a few months but records show that many of them came back to Harpenden to fresh billets soon after. Some changed billets a number of times; it must have been very confusing for the children, not knowing where they would be billeted, how long they would be there before being shunted off to a new address. Is it any wonder that some of them played up?

Not all the resentment came from the children. Many of the householders resented being forced to take young children from London, some no doubt from a very rough and deprived background with very little discipline. Many of the children were far from being little angels, but on the other hand, some householders could be real dragons.

The schools they came from

Some details of the schools the children had attended in London are given in the notes kept by the billeting officers Most of them attended one of the five schools mentioned. The majority of children had attended the Hugh Myddleton School, a total of 47.

Hugh Myddleton Primary School, 2013 – different to the one the evacuees knew! Credit: School website

The Hugh Myddleton Primary School is in Myddleton Street, Finsbury and is still in existance. The Hugh Myddleton Secondary School was in Bowling Green Lane, Clerkenwell but closed in the mid 60’s. A further 25 came from Enfield School, 13 from Crondall Street School, Crondall Street, Hoxton, 10 from Medburn School, Somers Town and one from Mablin School.

During the war the Hugh Myddleton School was evacuated to Manland Senior School (now Sir John Lawes) and I knew a number of the children evacuated to Harpenden in 1941. There was some resentment at first from a few of the Manland pupils but on the whole we got along fine.


A number of evacuees did cause problems. One girl, Ellen C, who was billeted with Mrs Dockerill in Holly Walk some time in September 1939 and in the notes of the billeting officer’s log there is an entry to the effect that on March 5th, 1940 ” there were several complaints re Ellen C and her……….? (indecipherable). She was subsequently removed to St. Martin’s Lodge on March 15th, 1940.

Mrs Rigby of Holly Walk had three evacuees billeted with her. they were Dorothy K, her sister Queenie K and their brother, Ronnie. Dorothy spent some time at St. Martin’s Lodge with a septic foot. They were all pupils from Crondall Street School in Hoxton, London. It is not recorded where in Harpenden Ronnie went to school, however, on October 23 rd,1939 he was transferred to Manland School as it was nearer to his billet. On November 18th, 1939 all three children returned to London and the Billeting Tribunal sanctioned a four month rest for Mrs Rigby.

The Log

Log book open at the Reeve’s page. Credit: John Olley

All billeting officers kept a log of the households in their area. This listed each address, the householder’s name, the number of rooms in the house and the number of members of the family. If you had vacant rooms you had to take an evacuee unless you had a doctor’s certificate or had been granted exemption by the Billeting Tribunal.

Master Reeve was a good artist. Credit: John Olley

Although attempts were made to keep siblings together there were times when this was not possible. In one case, Mrs Tyler of Crabtree Lane had three boy evacuees. John R was the eldest at 11, his brother James R was 9 and the youngest, George, was 8. In the billeting notes John and James were moved to Piggotshill Lane on September 23rd, 1939 while George was billeted in Cravells Road. All of them had only been billeted with Mrs Tyler on September 1st, 1939. No reason for their removal had been recorded in the billeting officer’s log.

One day’s pay for Walter D?. Credit: John Olley


In another case Mrs Hawkins of Crabtree Lane had five evacuees. Grace D, Alfred D, Walter D, John D (no relation) and Leonard F. Mrs Hawkins obtained exemption on the grounds that the house was being let. As a result Grace D was moved to 18, Weyboume Close, Alfred D to number 3 and Walter to number 15.

So although they were split up they were at least in the same road. John D was re-billeted in Glemsford Drive but of Leonard F there is no further mention.

One young three year old proved to be rather a handful. Alfred G was billeted with Mrs Fawcett of Crabtree Lane on October 24th, 1939. Mr Fawcett called the billeting officer on October 27th to advise them that he was starting his holiday the next day and they were going away.

Refund of allowance. Credit: John Olley

They had two other evacuees, Kenneth H and Isidore K. Kenneth was re-billeted in Glemsford Drive and Isidore returned to London. Mrs Fawcett called the billeting officer on November 25th saying she was going to the Hall (?) to try and dump Alfie G. Unsuccessful!! On November 26th Alfie escaped by way of the bedroom window. A note adds “out searching for two and a half hours. Found in the Southdown Methodist Church”. On December 1st, 1939 Alfie was taken to the clinic and afterwards to St. Martin’s Lodge. That was the last we heard of Alfie.


Unless householders had an exemption they were obliged to take an evacuee, or more than one dependent on the number of rooms available. An exemption would only be granted after the Tribunal had considered all the facts.

Exemptions were granted in quite a number of cases and for a variety of reasons. A doctor’s certificate indicating ill health was one reason. Another householder preferred to billet servicemen rather than children. One was granted exemption as they worked for the local council; another was cooking all day at a school and had four children of her own, another was at work all day and was also pregnant. One householder in Crabtree Lane had a doctor’s certificate but the Tribunal would not grant exemption.


The billeting officers received a number of complaints every month and not always from the householder. Sometimes the complaint would be made by the mother of the evacuee if she thought her child was not being cared for property. John B was billeted with Mrs Martin in Holly Walk. Mrs Martin wanted the child removed to give her a rest. After going home for Christmas in 1939, John returned accompanied by his mother who had expected him to be re-billeted. After staying with Mrs Martin for a few days he was re-billeted with Mrs Halsey in Glemsford Drive to give Mrs Martin a rest.

Receipt for allowance? Credit: John Olley

Mrs Pluck of Glemsford Drive had five evacuees. One, Albert L had come from Oster House on November 4th, 1939. On November 13th complaints about his bed-wetting were made and he was subsequently moved to Holly Bush Lane. Mrs Hull, also of Glemsford Drive had six evacuees, four boys and two girls. Two of the boys, James W and his brother David W must have given her considerable trouble as she made a considerable fuss about both of them. As a result both boys were returned to London on January 18th, 1940.

Rosalind H was another child who gave considerable trouble to Mrs Edmunds of Glemsford Drive. She originally came from St. Martin’s Lodge but, as a result of bad behaviour, was soon re-billeted in Crabtree Lane. Mrs Hall of Weybourne Close also had her fair share of trouble. She had four evacuees, one girl and three boys. Eileen H and her brother Joseph were billeted with her on September 2nd, 1939. In October 1939 Mrs Hall made several complaints re Joseph’s behaviour. Two days later their parents arrived and took both children home.

Complaints ranged from bed-wetting to dirty habits, included unwillingness to eat certain foods, stealing, selfishness and in one case a damaged wash basin. Despite all the traumas most evacuees were well looked after and, in one case, the family liked Harpenden so much they stayed and are still living here and have raised families of their own.


Saving paper! Credit: John Olley

She did pay eventually! Credit: John Olley

Comments about this page

  • I am 77 and want to write my life history for my children and grandchildren while I have time. Is there any record as to whatever date I came to Harpenden and when I left. My two sisters and brother went to Batford I think. I was very lucky and went to Mrs Milner on West Common then next door to Mr and Mrs Lewis as Mrs Milner had family coming to live with her. Mrs Lewis was the lady taking Evacuees to their new homes and I was left with a neighbour and her son who took me to Harpenden so all went to Mrs Milner. The neighbour of my Mums returned home with her son and I stayed on.

    I want to know if possible the date I arrived and when did I return home as I stayed on for a while. The Lewis’s wanted to adopt me but it did not happen. I was sent to St Hilda’s and have written to the school, but do not expect they can tell me when I started and left the school as I am 78 this year.

    Mrs Lewis did a lot for the W.V.S .and I think Mr Lewis was in charge of the Home Guard. I would love to know if there were any photos or newspaper articles. My name was Iris Bone and my sisters were Gladys and Lily and my brother Alfie. Hoping you can find something about our arrival from Enfield.

    Ed. We fear most records have been lost – just a few for the Crabtree Lane area have survived. However, Kelly’s Directory for 1941 show Mr & Mrs John G Milner living at 63 West Common and Mr & Mrs Alec Lewis at 64 West Common. If we can identify these houses we will send you a photo.

    We will shortly publish an account of what we know of arrangements made for evacuees hosted in Harpenden. These mainly refer to children from the East End of London, who arrived at the outbreak of war in September 1939.

    We have now added a page about Iris’s memories

    By Iris Page (05/03/2014)
  • My mother was an evacuee along with a brother and sister. They all stayed in Harpenden until recently. Now I’m sure most of the children who came are no longer with us. It would be a tribute to those who came and the nice families that looked after them to be remembered officially in Harpenden. I was born there and spent many years growing up there.

    Stories of families are being lost because no one is writing it down. Would it be possible for the people of Harpenden to do something? You have a great History Society that refers to Edwin Grey’s “Life in Hertfordshire village”. Can someone please remember the evacuees.

    If anyone wants to get in touch with me, please make contact through this website – contact us

    Ed. The Local History Society would be very pleased to receive information and reminiscences from evacuees who stayed in Harpenden or returned to their families. We have some records in our archives, but there must be photos and other items hidden in family albums which could be shared.

    By Steve Floyd (28/01/2014)

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