It appears that the first evacuees came to the town in late 1939. But when the expected bombs failed to arrive during these first months of the so-called ‘phoney war’, many left. Shireley Bell recorded in her diary in March 1940 that:
“The evacuees have dwindled their way into obscurity – back home.”
The town made them welcome with a local branch of the Womens Volunary Service (WVS) formed to organise the town into areas, each with a designated person responsible for finding them homes to go to. A meeting ahead of the first arrivals in September 1939 attracted 60 people to the Urban District Council offices, with representative from many of the womens groups across the town.
The following shows the allowances the host families received to provide for them:
- 10 shillings and 6 pence per week for a single child (worth about £20 today)
- 8 shillings and 6 pence per week per child if there was more than one (worth about £17 today)
Horncastle was a reception centre for evacuees not just for the town itself but also for the surrounding villages also. The evacuees would arrive on trains to the railway station at the bottom of Langton Hill. As Horncastle station was never intended to cater for such large numbers of passangers, they were then walked the short distance to the Grammar School on West Street for a brief medical examination (to check for lice etc.) and given refreshments, before being taken to their new homes.
The people of rural towns like Horncastle were shocked by the state of some of the children who had come from the inner cities. Miss Lily Boys, County Organiser for the WVS described how in 1939:
“Universally, householders have been shocked at the disgraceful and disgusting conditions in which a certain portion of the population live”, and the “low slum type form the majority of the mothers, some out for what they can get, most of them dirty, many of them idle and unwilling to work or pull their weight.”
So perhaps in 1941 when more evacuees were sent, some Horncastle people can be forgiven for being less keen. However it certainly does not show them in the best light when many people refused to take in the poor children evacuated from the industrial towns like Hull & Grimsby to the relative safety of a country town like ours.
The Skegness Standard reported 22nd June 1941 how Rev Chapman who was also the town’s Billeting Officer was then looking for homes for 381, but could only find accommodation for 180 to begin with, despite it being illegal to refuse, and the threat of a steep fine. It does make you wonder how these poor little children taken away from their parents must have felt in such unwelcoming placements.
The Chairman of Horncastle Urban District Council Mr R. H. Bell candidly admitted that he was ashamed of some of the town’s citizens:
“My wife still had children running after her, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, late that night [after 10:30pm] asking her if they could go with her. We landed with four. If it had been our children, sent away to another town, and we thought such a thing had happened to them, we should have felt like going over there with a gatling gun.
The children had been on the go since 4 o’clock that morning. It was scandalous. Kids have feelings the same as other people and to see you are not wanted is a bit hard.”
In another moment of uncensored honesty at the same meeting Cllr Morris made his views clear:
“Ever since the war started, they had been appealing for voluntary workers for various organisatons, but had never been able to get enough volunteers. They got the faithful few to do different jobs, but a lot of people absolutely refused to do anything. Their war effort was nil. So long as they could sit back whilst others did the work they were satisfied. It is time such people were made to do something”.
The Council unanimously voted to ask the Police to prosecute those who refused to take children in without reasonable excuse.
Brian Lovely told us how he remembered the evacuees who came to Horncastle, mostly from Hull and Grimsby because of the bombing. He was friends with three or four, and he remembered Uncle Harold on Prospect Street had two boys from Hull live with him, whilst another old spinster further down the street had several to look after. As well as staying with families, some of the evacuees stayed at the Horncastle Children’s Homes (Holmeleigh). He noted they didn’t all go home either, one chap Rolly Mellars from Grimsby came back after he’d served in the war, married a Horncastle girl and stayed in the town until his death a few years ago in his 90s.