Saturday, 12 June 2021

Henley Archaeological and Historical Group

THE June lecture was called Children and War — Experiences of the Second World War in Oxfordshire and given by

THE June lecture was called Children and War — Experiences of the Second World War in Oxfordshire and given by Liz Woolley, an Oxfordshire local historian who does her own primary research.

Older members were taken down memory lane as she recalled the start of the war when evacuation from places such as the East End took place and Oxfordshire was a designated reception area.

This caused disruption to home life, both for those who arrived and for the householders in whose homes children and some mothers were billeted. Imagine sharing a kitchen with another woman from another upbringing!

There was also disruption to school life and in Whitchurch, for example, the school day was sometimes divided between local and evacuated children on a shift system.

War production work involved not only local women, for example Pressed Steel Cowley employed 2,500. Morris Motors was turned over to war work and housed the civilian repair unit, which managed the salvage and repair of 80,000 aircraft. About 25,000 tons of aluminium ingots were recovered from the scrap metal

All sorts of land was turned over to food production. Children were involved in the Dig for Victory campaign, being taught gardening in school and then sent out to pick potatoes and to do other agricultural tasks. Eighty-one tons of sheep wool was collected from hedgerows by children at Tiddlington, boy scouts at Barton and Worton collected 35 tons of waste paper and 16,000 books were collected by children in Summertown in a fortnight.

At its peak, evacuation increased the county’s population by more than 20,000 (at least 10 per cent). There was also evacuation out of the county to America and the colonies.

Of course, children’s lives were affected by such dramatic change to an unfamiliar landscape and, although many children were well received, a small minority were either ill-treated by householders who could not cope, or behaved badly enough to be sent to special hostels.

However, many evacuees retained fond memories of their foster homes in Oxfordshire and maintained contact long afterwards, despite some feelings of homesickness at the time. It was felt that evacuation would keep children happy and safe and in many cases it certainly improved their physical health.

Liz was speaking on behalf of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Trust, which is building a museum in Woodstock to house the archives and collections of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and the Queen’s Own Hussars and provide a centre for research into war and its effects on communities. The museum is due to open next year.

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