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Looking Back 1939

In 1939, evacuee children were being moved from towns to the countryside and being brought to live in small villages across the country.

Contributer, ‘A.R.P’ wrote about the arrival of some young evacuees from Glasgow to a small Lowland village.

From Town to Village

By A.R.P

The Children Arrive

‘Under the spreading chestnut tree
Mr Chamberlain said to me
‘If you want to get your gas mask free
Join the Scottish ARP…’

I heard a little Glasgow boy in the Borders singing the above to the tune of a popular song. And the song was being sung also by a contingent of Glasgow evacuees as they arrived in a certain Lowland village. Thus cheerily they came and were gathered together in the local Corn Exchange under the benevolent wing of the reception officer. Yet in spite of all the watching care, one tiny six-year-old escaped, and trailing recklessly across the street, paid a first call at the sweetie shop, the reception officer in hot pursuit. Six-year-old won the race by much more than a neck and came from the shop sucking noisily at an ice-cone. His pursuer, hot and self-conscious, captured a grubby paw, and the return journey was begun. When the quiet haven of the Exchange was reached once more, the officer took a look at the youngster’s identity-label, reading thereon “John Knox”.

“Eh weel,” he exclaimed loudly, giving vent to suppressed emotion, “John Knox was aye a rebel agin society and authority….”

Although the light side was present, so were the difficulties. Some 600 folk had descended on the village in a body. And if preparations had been made for the reception of these visitors, their sudden influx brought several problems into the administrative field. Now, the three churches of the village always unite for the evening service every Sabbath. With the advent of the evacuees, it was decided to hold the usual evening service in the afternoon instead; and to make these services essentially for young people. It was also decided to ask all parents and guardians to bring their children to church on Sunday afternoons. Youngsters from five to nine years of age would go to one church hall, and there they would be under the care of the primary Sunday-school staff; children from ten to fourteen would accompany their elders to whichever Church was holding the service. This arrangement was put into operation so that, in the unlikely event of an air-raid, parents would not have the additional anxiety of children left at home.

Of the three ministers, two decided to find room in their manses for children, while the third volunteered to give up two rooms in his as a hospital. Rapidly he got the first room furnished with two cots and a bed, the chimney swept, the window made light proof. The willing villagers handed in blankets, bedding and rugs. A medicine chest was installed, and everything is now ready for the first chill or worse. The local V.A.D (Voluntary Aid Detachment)  has agreed to staff the ‘hospital’ during the day, but so far no-one has come forward for night duty. Laughingly, the young minister puts the difficulty thus,” I doubt I’ll just have to be night-duty sister as well as sky-pilot.”

After the initial stages, evacuees and villagers settled down together; but country life was much too quiet for one newcomer, who complained bitterly, “Sure, an’ it’s dull here. I’ve bided a month an’ I’ve never seen a fecht nor a funeral.” There happened to be a funeral two days later, so perhaps her opinion has been altered.

The evacuee children in all parts of the country have shown a wonderful stoicism in tragic circumstances. In one of the crowded compartments of a train about to leave Glasgow a little girl was crying. Her elder brother on the opposite seat leaned across and dried her eyes as best he could. He worked vigorously  and silently but vainly, and at last he said, rather sharply. “Wheesht lass. Ye canna hae yer dad. He’s bidin’ hame to be boomed…!”

The children well repay all the labour lavished upon them. Their quick and unconscious humour has lightened the cloud of anxiety over many a parish.

But perhaps the evacuees billeted at the home of a retired Army officer settled down most quickly of all. A just though strong discipline has made their days full and happy; and they’ve nicknamed their new friend “the Captain” and his big motor-car “the taxi”.

Through clouds and sunshine this great scheme jogs upon its appointed way. There are still corners to be rubbed away, and joints to be dovetailed completely, but Church and people are perfectly united in their titanic effort towards out-and-out success. As one minister says, “Things are still and will remain for some time, in a state of flux. The evacuees haven’t decided whether they want to remain in the country with us, or not. But on our side, we are marshalling our resources, and have clarified both our ideas and our needs; and now we are driving steadily forward towards getting the best out of our Sunday Schools staff – increasing the number of teachers where possible, pooling our resources in small and compact parishes etc. Yes, we are making the grade, and conquering in our social battle.”

Undoubtedly, now – more than ever before – the Church of Scotland is afire with zeal to create and maintain a living ministry in this most instant and pressing of all Christian work.

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