Evacuation to Shropshire

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Second World War 1939-1945

Suggested inquiry questions: Use these documents to find out how evacuation was organized in Shropshire.

Potential activities: Students carry out a local study to find out how evacuation was organized in their local area during the Second World War.

Download: Lesson pack

What happened to children who were sent away?

The Second World War broke out in 1939. The British government expected the German air force to bomb cities and their factories, and so they began a mass evacuation a few days before the start of the war. Around three million school children from the cities at risk were sent to live with foster families in the safety of the country until the war was over.

One safe place was Oswestry, a small town in Shropshire near the border with Wales. People in the town provided billets (homes) for evacuees (people evacuated) from Birkenhead, part of the city of Liverpool on the north-west coast. At the outbreak of war, about 3,300 children and 900 mothers were sent to Oswestry on special trains from Liverpool.

The children from the city experienced a totally new way of life in the country. For the people in the country, too, having so many outsiders coming into their area was a major event. Use this lesson to work with original sources which reflect the experiences of children evacuated to Shropshire during the Second World War.


1. Read Source 1. This is an article from Owestry’s local paper, the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser, about the arrival of evacuees.

  • Were the people of Oswestry proud of their role in the evacuation? What evidence do you have of this?
  • What does the source tell us about how the children were welcomed by the people of the town?
  • How well-run was the evacuation?

2. Read Source 2. These are the memories of Margaret Corlett, who was evacuated from Birkenhead to Oswestry.

  • Who chose where each evacuee would stay?
  • How does the evacuee’s account (Source 2) differ from the account of the local paper (Source 1)? Think about the following:
    • How were the evacuees treated?
    • How well was the evacuation organised?
    • What was the reaction of people in the town?

3. Read Source 3. This is a letter written by Ellen Howard, an evacuee from Birkenhead aged 13.

  • Look at the words Ellen uses in this letter. Write a list of how she describes each of these items below for Birkenhead, then do the same for Oswestry and compare the two lists. What are the differences?
    • Noises
    • Surroundings (trees, streets and so on)
    • Atmosphere (the quality of the air)
    • Cars
    • Work
  • The letter was published in the local newspaper, the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser. Do you think the paper would have published it if Ellen had been unhappy? Give your reasons


Preparations for war began in 1938, the year before war broke out. People were given gas masks and plans for evacuation were prepared. The plan for evacuating the children was called Operation Pied Piper. In September 1939, when the evacuation began, the scheme went fairly smoothly.

Householders in the country who billeted (housed) city children were given money by the government. They got 10s. 6d. a week (53p in modern money) for the first child they housed and 8s. 6d. (43p in modern money) for any other evacuees they took in. That doesn’t seem like much, but you could buy a pint of milk for around 4d. (2p in modern money) back then!

The evacuation meant children swapped one life for a completely new life in the country. The 1930s was a period when unemployment was high. Many of the children who came from Merseyside had been living in poverty. Some did not even have the few belongings that they were told to bring with them and some had never taken even a day’s holiday away from the city. The sight of ‘wild’ animals (such as cows or sheep) must have been as astonishing to them as a day at a safari park is to us now. Life for evacuees was not entirely unpleasant. Although most evacuees must have been homesick, some had their mothers with them. In the case of the Oswestry evacuees, up to one mother was evacuated with every three children sent away.

Billeting evacuees was one way people in the country helped on the Home Front and the evacuees got involved in the war effort as well. The children in Oswestry learnt to knit clothes for the armed forces, helped to ‘dig for victory’ by planting vegetables in school playing fields, and manned stalls to collect scrap metal. In summer they helped with the harvest and even gathered acorns to feed the pigs.

Teachers' notes

In this lesson students begin by looking at an extract from a newspaper called the ‘Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser’. It declares that the evacuation scheme ‘was carried out without a hitch’ and suggests that local people were very proud of their role. Teachers could discuss with students is important to consider the purpose of the paper. The second source is the recollection of an evacuee, Margaret Corlett and infers that the townspeople were not so selfless and tried to select children they ‘liked the look of’. Again teachers could point out that this is just one account and recorded long after events. The third source is an account from another evacuee, Ellen Howard. Her letter, describing a highly positive experience was printed in the ‘Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser’. Again it is worth discussing with students if the newspaper would have published a negative letter.

The sources, including the photograph at the start of the lesson, also reveal something of the atmosphere of evacuation. Generally, the new life of evacuees was better than it had been in the cities. However, they show that the perspectives of evacuees and locals sometimes differed. Although some evacuees saw the country in positive terms, others were not so happy with their experience of evacuation. We are given some idea how people in the country perceived evacuees and how evacuees perceived the country.

All sources are provided with transcripts. Students could work on the sources individually or pairs and report back to the group with their findings.

We thank the Shropshire Archives for their support in the creation of this lesson.

Extension activity

Students could attempt a piece of extended writing, such as writing a letter home or a diary entry describing their first week as an evacuee in Oswestry. Things to include:

  • What it was like to be without their family?
  • Did other children have their families with them?
  • How well were they received by the people of Oswestry?
  • Show how life in the country was different to life in the city
  • What things are they enjoying/not enjoying?
  • What things do they miss/not miss from their old life?

The lesson could perhaps be used to teach citizenship issues. The lesson shows how the lives of people living in the town and country were once quite distanced. Today, increased access means people from towns can easily visit the countryside, whilst people from rural areas also experience the cultural and leisure facilities of cities. The gap between town and country is narrower than it once was.

Connections to curriculum

Key stage 1 & 2
Events beyond living memory that are significant nationally or globally.
A study over time tracing how several aspects of national history are reflected in the locality (this can go beyond 1066)

Key stage 3
Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to the present day

Key stage 4
AQA GCSE History
Thematic study: Britain: Migration, empires and the people: c790 to the present day

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Second World War 1939-1945

Suggested inquiry questions: Use these documents to find out how evacuation was organized in Shropshire.

Potential activities: Students carry out a local study to find out how evacuation was organized in their local area during the Second World War.

Download: Lesson pack

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