During the Second World War every community in England contributed to the War Effort. Even in the quietest of places the routine of daily life could be radically altered. These ‘Safe Areas’, as they were known, were often a haven for the many evacuees that left the cities and industrial towns. At Butterton in the Staffordshire Moorlands the number of schoolchildren almost doubled with the arrival of seventeen evacuees from Ramsgate. This was similar to Croxden which received twenty evacuees from Manchester.
At Draycott-in-the-Moors John Cope was the newly-appointed headmaster when War was declared in September 1939. In fact Mr Cope had only taken up residence the day before the arrival of forty children from Manchester on September 3rd who were distributed throughout the locality. In addition to being headmaster Cope also discovered that he had been appointed the local billeting officer.
Undeterred, he managed to secure places for all of the forty children and provided accommodation for one of the two teachers who accompanied them. However, he soon found that a ‘considerable portion’ of his time was spent dealing with problems connected with billeting. The school log book which he kept helps to paint a picture of what life was like for both the local children and evacuees.
School opened on September 4th, but only for the Manchester children who were taught by their own teachers. Under a directive from Stafford the local children were not asked to attend until the following week. By the middle of the month, under the approval of the County Inspector, this segregation was abandoned and the evacuees and local children were merged.
During the first Christmas of the War, although the school was closed for the traditional fortnightly holiday, the building itself remained open. This was so that the evacuees would have somewhere for recreation as well as to ‘relieve foster parents of the responsibility of their wards.’ This culminated on December 28th when a party was given for all the children.
That first winter of the War witnessed some particularly heavy snowfalls, probably far worse than previously experienced by the Manchester children. On January 30th 1940 Cope recorded ‘A way has been cut into the school. The snow in the school grounds is as much as 7 feet deep in places, while in the surrounding districts drifts are reported as high as 18 feet. Communication with many farms is impossible and it is not surprising that only 4 Staffordshire children are present. The school, however, is being kept open if only on account of the Manchester children who have been able to get in.’ Despite the prolonged period of severe weather the school managed to survive on its supply of fuel and so was at least warm and dry.
During the summer of 1940 another large-scale evacuation from the cities of England took place. This time the children came from Dagenham and Gravesend, being moved for ‘military reasons.’ On June 3rd Cope estimated that between 800 and 900 evacuees, along with their teachers, arrived at Cresswell railway station. After being medically examined at Draycott School they were dispersed throughout the villages in the district. Forty remained at Draycott and were billeted by the end of the same day.
From September onwards it was not unusual for the air raid sirens to be heard during the day. These were relatively short, not lasting more than half an hour, when sanctuary would be sought in the shelters at the school. However, Cope also recorded that ‘the nightly visits of the German air force have commenced and there have been sleepless nights. Therefore the registers have not been closed until 10am.’
The school managed to provide a Christmas party each year throughout the War with the exception of 1940 ‘although it was found possible to provide every child with a bottle of milk, a liberal supply of biscuits – and a very rare commodity these days – a bar of chocolate.’
Sadly Cope did not record how the children felt, or individual experiences, but his jottings do provide a fascinating glimpse for those interested in both the history of Draycott and wartime evacuees.