Pied Piper was the name given to the operation actioned on 1st September 1939 to disperse millions of children from London and other major cities to safer temporary homes in parts of the country considered less likely to suffer enemy bombing. To start with this included the south coast, but in 1940, in a second wave of evacuation children from the south coast counties were transported northwards and to Wales. St Albans received evacuees, and their teachers and other carers, both in 1939 and 1940, some returning in 1942; others remaining until the end of the war in 1945.
Princess Street Elementary School, Camden, now Primrose Hill Primary School
Haverstock Hill School, Camden in 1950. The school now has replaced buildings on the same site.
Rhyl Elementary School, Camden, now Rhyl Primary School.
Ore School came together in these new buildings in 1940, one month before being evacuated back in to old school buildings (Priory Park) in St Albans.
The historic building occupied by Hastings Boys' Grammar School. After WW2 there were changes in organisation and buildings. It is now William Parker College.
New End Elementary School, Camden, now New End Primary School.
St Mary in the Castle School as occupied in the 1930s. The school was absorbed and moved into new premises post war.
Operation Pied Piper was the name given to the means by which children, mainly by school, and their carers – teachers and other adults – were escorted by train and/or bus from London and other major cities to what were called reception areas; towns and villages not thought to be at risk of enemy bombing. Localities in both evacuation and reception areas changed with time, but St Albans, which was close to London, was nevertheless in a reception zone. St Albans therefore, received large numbers of children under Pied Piper.
The south coast counties were also initially within a reception zone and large numbers of schools were sent to the towns on or close to the south coast. However, by 1940 the official strategy had changed, and those schools were moved again in July of that year to a wide range of counties north of London and to distant areas such as the South-West and Wales. Many of the mid-July arrivals in St Albans returned to their home areas by the end of 1942, although many of the Pied Piper children remained here until 1945.
Contingents of children from the Channel Islands also arrived nearby, for example to Harpenden, in 1940 just before the islands were occupied. And several hundred adults were moved to the district to take up emergency jobs for the war effort in various workshops, offices, factories and shadow factories.
All of these various groups required the support of residents to take responsibility with accommodation and care.
In particular those hundreds of householders acted as hosts to look after the children on behalf of their own parents in a unique operation of which not everyone approved. Nevertheless the emotional and physical stresses placed on the children and their various carers deserved – and still deserve – to be more widely recognised. None of these groups received any recognition at the time and until recently failed to be included in remembrance commemorations. This should be rectified before the memories fade.
This school, which remains on its original site, is now called Primrose Hill Primary School. In 1939 there were some 300 junior aged children and the same number of infants. It is not yet known whether both departments came but we know that Primrose Hill was paired with Fleetville School, St Albans, which then, of course, only occupied the Royal Road building and its recently acquired huts. Would there have been room for 600 children, even if the hall was used by two classes?
Fleetville's own children attended school in the mornings, while Princess Road took over in the afternoons. Lest we imagine this straightforward arrangement continued unchanged for six years we must take into account a number of varied factors, including some parents choosing to have their children returned to their London homes at any time they chose, children transferring to a senior school, probably in another town, when they reached eleven years, and parents moving to another town when they were allocated different jobs. So the situation was fluid.
Princess Road was also given access to the hall at St Paul's Church, Blandford Road, presumably in the mornings where their less formal education took place. It was at least a base out of the wind and rain, especially in the winter. The part of Blandford Road outside the church was cordoned off to form a temporary playground each day.
We know from occasional reports in the Herts Advertiser that the children ranged far and wide around the city, visiting places of interest. At least one letter home mentions a history study of Romans at Verulamium – of course!
Rhyl Primary School was given the address Malden Road NW5, but in fact the school fronts onto Rhyl Street. There is also a reference to Rhyl Girls' School and it is probably one half of the senior department of Rhyl Elementary School. The school comes to our attention because the Herts Advertiser ran an article soon after the children's arrival, under the headline "We Did Not Want to Come". A number of children were interviewed to discover how they had settled.
"I am staying with very nice people (Scottish) and I think St Albans is a very nice place, but I think I would rather be back in London. The lady I am staying with has not got any pets. On September 1st we had to leave our homes and families in the morning, not knowing where we would sleep that night. We all carried our belongings on our backs, and we each had to look after one infant on the journey."
Parliament Hill School was allocated to St Albans Girls' Grammar School in the buildings now occupied by Fleetville Junior School, Hatfield Road. We have become aware of a little personal information, in that two of the girls from that evacuated school were billeted at a house close to the Wynchlands shops. And after all those years, courtesy of a former neighbour we know that their names were Betty Penny and Monica Neagle who were about 14 when they arrived. They probably would not have remained beyond their school leaving age.
All of the Parliament Hill children were billeted with families in the district and it is presumed most stayed with families in or around Fleetville. Hosts took responsibility for their guests trout the weekends. So, for up to six years the child population of our East End probably doubled. On the positive side that's twice as many potential friendships, and it would be good to think some of those friendships continued, at least by letter, after their return to London.
Haverstock Hill Senior Schools also spent time with us but having a rather different outcome. The school was formed from earlier establishments into purpose designed buildings at the foot of Haverstock Hill in 1911. In 1939 the girls' section was lead by Mrs Pearce, while the head of the boys' school was Mr H J Blackwell. At the beginning of September the schools travelling en-masse boarded a train from nearby St Pancras and arrived at St Albans "for the duration" as the rather vague expression was often expressed.
The school's home would be Beaumont which had barely been completed and their own pupils moved in under their head teachers Miss Ellis and Mr T H McGuffie. Like Haverstock Hill itself Beaumont School Girls' and the Boys' School shared a single building but were administered completely separately – interesting when there was only one telephone! The school was likely to be below capacity, enabling some flexibility in the use of classrooms and halls, and there is some evidence for joint classes.
Between the friendships made at school and in Fleetville many pupils saw the district as a second home. We are not in a position to understand the trigger but it is probable that a number of pupils were still being enrolled at the Camden premises, and as the oldest pupils left Beaumont School, it must have been unnecessary to retain four senior heads. In 1942 Mrs Pearce and Mr Blackwell decided to close Haverstock Hill at Beaumont, but they gave their parents the choice of leaving their children at Beaumont or returning to Camden. We know that the offer was accepted by a number of the evacuee children, who then became Beaumont pupils, but there seems to be no record of who and for how long – staying of course with their hosts. Could a small number of leavers have remained in St Albans, taking up essential war-time jobs?
At the close of summer term 1942 a collection was taken among the boys of Haverstock and presented to Mr McGuffe so that a sports cup could be purchased. At least until 1959 the Haverstock Cup was presented annually to the winning house athletics team. But no-one in those following years thought it significant to inform pupils of the story behind the trophy.
Mr Blackwell, in a letter to the Herts Advertiser, commented "Will you permit me to express to the citizens of St Albans the heartfelt thanks of the children and staff who, during these three years and more, have enjoyed the hospitality of the city. We owe more to the kindness, helpfulness and forebearance of its citizens than we shall ever be able to repay. Each of us, I know, will have a warm corner in his heart for them."
Another of Camden's schools to find itself in St Albans in 1939 was New End Elementary School. Today it still operates within the building first provided for it in 1906 and is now named New End Primary School.
At present we know very little about which school it was attached to in St Albans, so this information will be added when available.
This is not a college from Northampton, but probably an educational organisation from Camden. We have a single reference to it in a photo appearing in the Herts Advertiser in 1940. It was attached to what was then known as St Albans Modern Grammar School, then St Albans County Boys' School, now Verulam Academy. When further information is available we will add it here.
St Mary's in the Castle Senior School arrived in the summer of 1940 when the risk of heavy bombing along the south coast was realised. The school was not a large one and occupied old premises in the centre of Hastings, but through a series of amalgamations has now been absorbed into Ore School. We know that it had a base at the former St Stephen's Parish Hall, which also counted a number of junior children among the contingent. Mr J W Brittain was the Head Teacher of the school, with Miss F A Poole assisting. We are not yet sure which St Albans school St Mary's was attached to. It may have been St Peter's. When further information emerges it will appear here.
Another Hastings school arriving in 1940 was Ore School; Ore is a suburb on the eastern side of the town. In St Albans it was linked with Priory Park School in Old London Road. This school no longer exists but a number of its pupils helped to form St Julian's School in Watling Street. Priory Park was originally built for senior boys, but later became a senior school for girls.
Ore School was established in 1851 and remained in old and inadequate buildings until a new campus on a new site was opened in June 1940. The following month the school population de-camped to St Albans Priory Park where the buildings were old and inadequate. So the children had one month being educated in a brand new school! More complicated still, the old Ore buildings also accommodated children from Lucas Vale School, Deptford, near New Cross. Today, this school is Lucas Vale Primary School, using its original buildings. We think Lucas Vale's re-evacuation was not with the children of Ore School to St Albans.
The boys from Hastings Grammar, when they arrived in the summer of 1940, were linked with St Albans Grammar School and used its facilities. We have no further details about billeting and the families they stayed with. As with other south coast schools they probably returned to Hastings at the end of the summer 1942 term.
There have been changes to buildings, site and name during the post-war period and a new campus is now called William Parker College.
The arrival of the boys from Bexhill Grammar found themselves linked to St Albans Modern Grammar School, later renamed St Albans County Boys' School, now Verulam Academy in Brampton Road.
Formed in 1926 the school is now a Sixth Form College on a modern site under the name Bexhill College.
We have discovered that at least ten schools from Camden and the Hastings area remained in St Albans for either part or the whole of the Second World War.
Princess Road Elementary School, Camden
Rhyl Elementary School, Camden
Parliament Hill School, Hampstead
Haverstock Hill Schools, Camden
New End School, Camden
Northampton College, London
St Mary in the Castle School, Hastings,
Ore School, Hastings
Hastings Boys' Grammar School
Bexhill County Grammar School for Boys
Knowledge of further schools spending time in or near the city would be welcomed. These are stories which have a finite life, but it will already be too late for many of the parents, hosts, teachers and other carers. We must therefore garner what recollections we can while those who were at the centre of them are still alive to recall and relate their stories.
Records of men and women who left their families to fight or serve in other ways are available in their millions ; their accounts are often frequently re-told. Where the accounts of evacuees are included in the collective memory they are mainly restricted to the Pied Piper operation and briefly end when children arrive at their billets.
Millions of children were removed from their families for up to five years, forced to adapt to new lifestyles, making fresh starts, sometimes retaining only tenuous connections with their parents and home, and even if siblings left their homes together many were separated on arrival at their host billets. While many enjoyed their experiences, large numbers were not treated well. And the eventual return to home was a challenging one; some children were never re-united with their families and had therefore lost everything.
The Government has never officially recognised the role played by the evacuated children, their teachers and other carers, the parents from whom they were removed, the host families the schools to which they were temporarily attached, and other carers in the reception areas.
At least there is now a memorial sculpture for us all to share at the National Memorial and Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Courtesy British Evacuees Association
The British Evacuees Association has been representing evacuees for the past 25 years. The Evacuee, the organisation's journal, has as its byline: "The International organisation for evacuees and everyone interested in the story of the greatest family and social upheaval ever experienced in Britain."
Link to the British Evacuees Association website
© 2021 St Albans' Own East End Mike Neighbour