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Solway Plain - past and present

The Evacuees

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.”

Scene at city railway station Children awaiting evacuation
Scenes as the children await evacuation from 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.

Children arriving at Carlisle London Rd Goods Station
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.”

Some of the children came to stay with families around Mawbray. At Easter, the Methodist Sunday School used to organise an open air service on the Sea Banks. The picture below was taken around 1943 and, as well as the local children, includes many who were evacuated to the farms and cottages around the village.

Hymn singing on Mawbray banks

One family in Mawbray played host to a young mother and her two children from London. However, after two weeks she returned home. She said her husband was having a ‘good time’ during the absence of his family.

One host family has commented on getting a bit more than extra mouths to feed with the arrival of the evacuees. They got ‘nits’ or head lice! It could have been coincidence but, apparently, some of the children were in a bit of a state when they arrived.

One little boy who obviously didn’t know what an evacuee was, often remarked – “I isn’t a bacuee is ah?”

A previous resident of the village recalls several families who took in evacuees. Three boys, with the surname Arthur, stayed with a family at Hailforth. Another family who lived at the bottom of Mawbray village had in total six boys, all looked after by two women. Mr and Mrs Storey of Mid Town Farm took in the three brothers: Cyril aged 5, Alan aged 7 and Ronnie aged 9.

Dougie Hunt
Dougie Hunt, aged seven, was billeted at Edderside. On his first morning there, he insisted that he wrote down and sent his new address to his parents. They had provided him with a brand new pencil and paper. The following weekend Dougie’s father arrived on a motorbike to see where his son was located. By this time Dougie had settled in and was quite happy to wave his father off. Dougie returned to Newcastle after the war, but soon came back to Cumberland and spent the rest of his life in the area working in the farming industry.

Violet McFarlane came from South Shields. Her Mum sent her six eldest children to the country, keeping the youngest three at home. Violet, aged 6, and her sister Joan, 10, were sent to Westnewton and billeted with Mr and Mrs Reay at Brookside Cottage. Country life suited the girls and Violet looks back on these years as the happiest time of her life.

Violet and Joan McFarlane
Violet and Joan at Brookside Cottage

Jimmy and Lizzie Wilson of Croft Farm, Mawbray took in a bewildered seven-year-old, Ronnie Embleton from South Shields. Two of his brothers also found new homes in Mawbray. Harry, 5, went to Miss Osborn, the schoolteacher, and Walter, 11, lived with Miss Nattrass. Ronnie came back to visit the Wilsons, after the war, when he spent a holiday with his young family at Silloth Lido.

Ronnie Embleton, his family and the Wilsons
Ronnie Embleton and his wife (on the left) with the Wilsons when he returned, with his children, during a holiday at Silloth.

During the war, our member, Winnie Bell, was a Billeting Officer and arranged local accommodation for both evacuees and servicemen.

Billeting Officer's pass
Reverse side of pass

This was her official pass.


Cumberland News 23/9/1939:-


George Greenfield, an 11-year-old South Shields evacuee, who had been drafted to Aspatria on Friday, was found walking home to Newcastle on the railway lines between Wigton and Aspatria on Saturday night. He was billeted at the Public Institution, from where he was sent home.


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