Evacuees at Mersea. Drawing by Don Butlin for Mistral 1990
Evacuees came to Mersea in two main waves.
1st September 1939 over 400 unacommpanied children came to Mersea from West Ham. They had come to Colchester by train and were taken to nearby schools for food, and for the next stage to be organised - buses to West Mersea School. At the school, the Billeting Officers, all the staff, and many volunteers were waiting.
Householders on the island had been told they had to make room for as many children as living space
permitted. The householders thoughts were often along the lines of choosing two nice ones, but for the
children themselves, it must have been terrifying. They were mostly under 11, frightened, lonely,
Two days later on 3rd September, 332 women and young children also came to the island.
The evacuees came with the headmaster of a West Ham School, Mr Robson, and a number of voluntary helpers.
The numbers vary in different reports, but it is difficult to imagine the effect such large numbers had on the island. The school implemented a shift system, with local children in the morning and evacuees in the afternoon. There was overflow into the Legion Hall and the WI Hall. Plans were made for providing school dinners for the first time, though this did not happen until most evacuees had left.
Other small schools started, often run by teachers escaping
from London and catering for children who had voluntarily left London.
The Council requisitioned Oxford House in Mill Road and equipped it to accommodate children with ailments or just suddenly needing accommodation.
Life on the island with evacuees settled down. A Billeting Tribunal met to resolve problems of accommodation, though often this was to rubber stamp arrangments where local families had agreed between themselves to move children.
Many householders found evacuees a strain, but others really welcomed having them in the family. Kathy Negus was even adopted by a local family, and her sister also stayed in touch, returning to Mersea for her honeymoon.
The last months of 1939 were the 'phoney war', with little action on the land, though there was serious action just off the coast and abroad. The result was that many evacuees drifted back home.
By May 1940, there was a serious threat of invasion and a new evacuation plan. Mersea and the surrounding area was a possible invasion area and the remaining evacuees were encouraged to move. In June 1940 17 children and 16 adults were evacuated from Mersea to Cinderford in Gloucestershire. 62 remained at West Mersea or were taken home.
Negus family evacuees
Mersea Island in Wartime by Pat Norris Page 1 Page 2
A recollection of 1939 by Helen Searle 1991 and in 2001
Page 1 Page 2
Evacuees come to Peldon