WW2 Evacuees to the Crich area

During WW2 many evacuees came to stay with families in the Crich area. Also teachers and their children moved into the area – many stayed, or returned, after the war.

Margaret Smith's story

Margaret Smith taught at Ripley Junior School on Shirley Road for many years, certainly into the 1970s. Originally she came to the Crich area from Southend with some her pupils. Some of her reminiscences were recorded in 'Bygone Derbyshire' written by Arthur Satchwell for the Derby Evening Telegraph. The following are transcriptions of undated articles provided by her son Philip Smith.

Seldom a square peg
NATURALLY, there were a few misfits among the wartime evacuees, points out Margaret Smith, of Laund Nook, Belper.
The surprising feature was that there were so few square pegs in round holes, but things got themselves sorted out eventually.
One or two of the children, however, were so desperately homesick that they could not stay.
Luckily we were blessed with six weeks of glorious weather, and Dunkirk and the threatened invasion seemed a long way away from the Derbyshire countryside.
Settled down
"The headmaster of one of the Crich schools generously gave us a classroom — at some inconvenience to his own pupils.
Two of us shared the room and the older children used the Congregational Hall at Fritchley for their lessons. Some of these children walked every day from Plaistow Green, the other side of Crich Stand, to Fritchley and back.
Exercise books, text books and school equipment had been brought with us, and we soon settled down to school life again.
We took the children for walks and picnics during the summer holidays, and, of course, the foster parents included them in their family outings.

The day war broke out
IN THE wake of many anniversaries of the Second World War, Margaret Smith tells of the evacuation of Southend schoolchildren to Derbyshire in June 1940.
Now living in Laund Nook, Belper, she says:" When war broke out in September 1939, I was a young teacher in Southend. At that time we all thought that London and the big industrial cities would be the main targets for the German bombers and that we would be relatively safe.
All this changed in May 1940 when Germany had overrun France, Belgium, and Holland and occupied the Channel ports. Now it was possible that invading troops would come to the mouth of the Thames and make their way to London.
If this happened, Southend would be in the front line of the fighting.
On Sunday, May 26, we heard the announcement on the nine o’clock news . . . "Schools from the following area will be evacuated to reception area next Sunday. Southend was included on the list.
Parents were faced with a heart-rending decision — I still don’t know, after 50 years — what I would have done. Looking back, I don’t suppose Derbyshire would have been very safe once the invaders had landed with their tanks and used Blitzkrieg tactics.
However, with terrifying accounts of events over the Channel, of refugees blocking the roads and being machine-gunned as they fled, the thought of a comparatively safe place for the children was slightly comforting.

Evacuees first glimpse of Derbyshire
AN APPRECIATION of the first glimpse of the Derbyshire countryside is the abiding memory of children evacuated from the East Coast of England, says Margaret Smith, of Laund Nook, Belper.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, in September 1939, she was a young teacher in Southend, as she has previously explained in Bygone Derbyshire.
Mrs Smith says:" We met at school at 4pm on Sunday and boarded buses which would take us to the station.
The parents were wonderfully brave and most of them managed to hide their feelings as they said goodbye to their excited children.
At Southend station we were ushered into trains and the long journey began.
‘A mountain!’
We were on the same train as the boys from Westcliff High School who were also coming to Belper. They would share Herbert Strutt School with local pupils.
At Belper station there were more buses waiting and we were split into different parties — going to Denby and Crich. I was in the group for Crich.
It was a beautiful day and the countryside between Belper and Ambergate looked lovely.
As we went up Bull Bridge Hill one child exclaimed: A mountain!
I have read in recently published books of the ‘cattle market' atmosphere when children were billeted.
There was nothing like that at Crich.
Perhaps lessons had been learned in earlier evacuations in other parts of the country.
Here everything was well planned in advance. It all went smoothly and children were whisked off to their new homes.
Families were kept together or very near to each other.
Some of the older boys went to farms.
And last of all, the teachers found accommodation.

Living with the lists of evacuation
Margaret Smith, of Laund Nook, Belper, came to Derbyshire more than 50 years ago and was involved in the evacuation of schoolchildren from Southend.
Since she retired from teaching Mrs Smith has been ‘back to school’ several times to talk to junior pupils engaged on Second World War topics.
Looking back, she says: School on Monday morning was chaotic. Our school had been taken over by the ARP workers and we were split into small groups meeting in church halls or private houses, but we gathered in the school again to prepare for evacuation — less than a week away now.
Parents came to seek advice. We had no idea where we were going, but instructions came in from headquarters thick and fast and we began to make lists — oh, those lists!
Families were to be kept together, which involved co-operating with infant, junior and senior schools, and in our case the senior school was quite a distance away.
There were lists of clothing which children must take — luggage of course was restricted; lists of children whose families would need help in providing suitable clothing; lists of illnesses which children had had — there was not so much immunisation then; lists of personal difficulties of children, one of which, bed-wetting, was not always mentioned and which caused some upset in foster homes later.
The day before we left, Saturday June 1, 1940, we were told that we would be going to ‘an oil-refining town in Derbyshire — Belper.’ When we went for a last walk along the seafront, late on Saturday night, and saw soldiers with fixed bayonets, and barbed wire and concrete blocks in evidence, we counted ourselves fortunate to be leaving."

Evacuation Pear Tree School Derby to Crich - 1939

The BBC asked for WW2 memories from members of the public. These were placed on its web site at www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar. This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Odilia Roberts from the Derby Action Team on behalf of Mr W B Holgate.

Soon after the outbreak of war with Germany in 1939 my school, Pear Tree Senior Boys, in Harrington Street Derby had their first evacuation of some children and teachers to Ockbrook, as it was considered that owing to the schools proximity to Rolls Royce Engine Faculty and Leys Foundry it could be dangerous in case of air raids, therefore to keep our future generation safe the children were taken out of town to Ockbrook, I think this was during September 1939.

I stayed at home in Pear Tree Crescent and enjoyed life with the schools closed; however in October my mother Emily Jones took me to school one day. I don’t think I realised at that time I was also being part of the second evacuation, this one to Crich, admittedly still only 12 miles from home but in those days with not much in the way of transport and a long way away from bombs, it was deemed to be safer.
When I arrived at Pear Tree School as I remember only part of a single decker busload perhaps 20 — 25 kids, we had a label attached to our coat collars and were each given a carrier bag of foodstuffs, I also remember an 8oz bar of chocolate, which we didn’t see very often due to sweet rationing. We were then taken to Crich and into the Council room on the common adjacent to ‘The Dimple’ (where recently filming has taken place of ‘Peak Practice’).

We were then handed over to the families with whom we were being billeted, Alex Widdowson and I went with John and Doris Sulley of Crich, who lived in a stone detached house (3 bedrooms) which John had built himself when he was a young stonemason in the 1920’s. Mrs Sulley’s two younger sisters, Gladys and Hazel Bradshaw (aged 22 and 19), lived with them therefore Alex and I had to share a bed in the small back bedroom for the first few nights. I would imagine the Sulleys and the girls would have quite a job on their hands comforting two 12 year old lads taken from home into a strange village life, but they did succeed and our lives settled down

I have spoken to soldiers of 18 years old complaining of ‘home sickness’ but try it as a 12 year old, I can’t recommend it!

Still when we finally settled in to a new atmosphere life became very good, after only a few days, I assume till the following Monday, we started school at Crich Council School which had only three teachers and taught all ages from 4 to 14 years old, very different to town schools which had Infant, Junior and Senior classes all in separate schools. The class work was at least one year behind the work we were used to, so life was very easy. Our only problem that I recall was that as the school football pitch was along side Hilts Quarry, if you kicked the ball over the fence and into the quarry it was a long walk round to find the ball.

Later in 1939 the Railway Servants Orphanage Boys, from Ashbourne Road, Derby, were evacuated to Crich. They were billeted in a large house at the top of Bull Bridge Hill. They then came to Crich School. A room at one end of the school was emptied for their use. When they had settled in, we Derby lads were moved into their class. Those boys had to walk to school each day, return to Bull Bridge for their mid-day meal, return to school again after lunch and then walk back after school, a long walk for young boys and their teachers, no matter what the weather. Rain, snow made no difference. I don't know how long they stayed there after they returned home.

Hazel and her friend Dinah Byard, who lived next door but one from the Sulleys, were friendly with the sister of Jack Ludlam who had a farm on Moorwood Moor, so each Saturday we would walk to the farm to work with Jack and I well remember ploughing with two Shire horses and working with horses each weekend and all of the time I was at Crich and when it snowed, working with them pulling the snow plough to clear the local roads. Learning all of the different jobs on the farm was very enjoyable.

My Lady CoachThe one big problem was that there were no buses from Derby to Crich so our mothers only managed to come to see us very occasionally on a Wednesday afternoon, as they had to catch the train to Ambergate and then walk to Crich and then back home the same way. There was a shopping bus that ran from Crich to Ripley on a Friday morning to return late afternoon but if you missed the return bus you had to walk, owing to the petrol rationing no one could get a taxi or a lift of any kind, only one bus a week, however the bus from Alfreton to Matlock ran daily services from Town End taking workers to Lea Mills at Cromford, but not much help to get to Derby.

Dinah’s father was the preacher at a nearby Methodist chapel and so we had to go to chapel every Sunday, twice a day, but I don’t think it did us any harm.

John Sulley like many country people kept poultry but to get their food you had to forfeit your egg ration but this paid off OK. I soon purchased two bantam hens and a cockerel, looking after them kept me employed every day but John also got help with his poultry.
I remember my mother sending me a shilling postal order each week (5 pence in present day money), which gave me a bit of pocket money. With John sitting a hen on a clutch of eggs to breed his own poultry we did occasionally get a cockerel in the oven and so saw a bit extra meat to help out the meat ration. I remember on one occasion one of Jack’s pigs on the farm was choking on a cabbage stalk, he went into the house to get a sharp knife to kill the pig, but Roger, who helped on the farm occasionally, and I stood the pig up on it’s legs and he thumped it’s back until it cleared the blockage and lived, when Jack returned and saw the pig alive he was not very pleased, as he could have legally killed it and would have had bacon and pork to last a long time.

We didn’t go home for Christmas as it was too dangerous and so we didn’t see Pear Tree Crescent again until school broke up for the summer holidays in July 1940. We returned to Derby for a holiday and as there had not been much bombing near home Alex and I decided not to return to Crich. I sometimes regret not going back to see all our friends but our school had reopened and so there wasn’t much time. I did however cycle to Crich to see some locals who had poultry, to obtain a few eggs to help out with the egg ration. To travel 12½ miles each way seems a lot of effort for a few eggs, sometimes 6, sometimes none at all.

I settled down to life in town again. Whilst I was at Crich the evacuation of France took place and some soldiers from the South Staffs Regiment were billeted with my mother and stepfather, on returning from France, for a short while until they were called back to duty

Goodby Gloria

Read: Goodbye, Gloria: A Child’s Wartime Story by Gloria Westonwhich includes her time in Crich
Kindle or paperback (ISBN 05951 79037)

Tony Lester's memories

Read Tony Lester's war-time memories on this site: WW2 Memories