Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group

During the Second World War, the Solway Plain played a part in the housing of young children and their mothers who were sent, from the dangers of the cities, to the safety of the countryside. During the first week of September, 1939 about 12,600 children, mostly from Newcastle-on-Tyne and the surrounding towns arrived in this area.

Evacuees arriving at Wigton station
The evacuees arrive at Wigton Station

5,000 were “billeted” with families in Carlisle; the Borders area, north of the city, took 4,200 and 3,400 were sent to Wigton and the towns and villages along the Solway coast.

The 'Carlisle Journal', in patriotic voice, spoke of them “fleeing their homes because of the threat of a Werewolf to blast their cities to the skies . . . they have been given sanctuary in the towns, dales and fells of Cumberland . . . the sheltering hills resound to the happy laughter of kiddies who, but a few days ago, were silenced in their play by the dread fear of what cruelties might be perpetrated upon them at the orders of a man whose wickedness has thrown Europe into the maelstrom of strife and misery.”

City evacuees at station City children awaiting evacuation
Evacuees prepare to leave their homes in the cities.

In Silloth, the children were taken to the British Legion room. 294 were allocated to their new homes on Friday and a further 79 on Saturday. Mr C.E. Ellison, in charge of the operation, said that more could have been accommodated.

At Allonby the church hall was used as a reception centre. 65 children and 10 adults arrived on the Friday, followed by a further batch of 15 children and 12 parents on Saturday. Mr T.F. Walker was in charge with R.B. Faulder and Messrs Metcalfe, Twentyman, Thompson and Stobbart acting as billeting officers.

The area in between, Holme St Cuthbert’s parish, received 43 children with two teachers and five helpers on Friday, plus four adults and seven children on Saturday. They arrived by bus from Aspatria station and were allocated to farms and cottages in Mawbray, Beckfoot, Newtown, Edderside, Salta, Tarns and Pelutho. They were given tea at the school and then transported to their new homes by cars, provided by “practically all the farmers in the parish”, according to the 'Carlisle Journal'. Some disappointment was expressed by Mr W.R. Fawcett, the official in charge, as the full complement of children promised had not arrived.

Press cutting of families arriving in Carlisle
A Cutting from the Carlisle Journal, September 1939

Evacuees continued to arrive in smaller numbers over the next few months. By November, the 'Journal' was reporting that a further 364 children and adults would arrive over the coming week despite the fact that an estimated 5,000 from the original contingent had already returned home. This included about half of those allocated to the Wigton and Coastal areas, while only 20 or 25 per cent of those billeted in Carlisle had left. The reporter commented that “Evidently Carlisle, which has retained twice as many of its evacuees as the country, appeals to them more than green fields, fresh air – and loneliness.”

Click here to read the stories of some local evacuees
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