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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Before the Last All Clear by Ray Evans

Before the Last All Clear is the personal memoir of Ray Evans, who was one of the millions of children (yes, millions--what a remarkable undertaking!) evacuated from London during WWII.  It was an ARC from Mr. Evans.

Product Description

Some recall it as the greatest adventure of their lives. For others, being a wartime evacuee was a nightmare. These are the witty yet deeply poignant memories of a man still haunted by the cruelties he endured. During World War II, around three and a half million British children were evacuated away from possible air raids in the big cities in one of the largest social upheavals Great Britain has ever seen. One of those children was Ray Evans. This is the story of a young evacuee from Liverpool sent to live in the Welsh town of Llanelli. Separated from his mother, brothers and sisters, six-year old Ray was dispatched to a series of families who ignored, exploited and brutalised him. Pushed from pillar to post, he finally finds happiness with a family who make him so welcome that he is reluctant to leave when war ends. Set in a world of ration books, air-raid sirens and ever-present danger, this is a candid and direct account of wartime Britain as seen through the eyes of a child.
 Evacuated in 1939 with his mother and brothers and sisters, Ray and his brother Frank originally shared the same billet with a family in which the husband was kind, but the wife was totally insensitive. 
The written rules Mrs. Jones handed to Ray and Frank when they first arrived included:  No relatives or friends to be invited into the house at any time; Do not enter the house by the front door; Upstairs bathroom is out of bounds, use the sink in the scullery; The Parlour and Dining-rooms are out of bounds; The pantry is our of bounds; Every morning, empty and clean chamber pot...and more.
Eventually, Frank got a new billet (after an accident with the chamber pot), and six-year-old Ray was left alone, especially after the husband died.  While it is difficult to see how anyone could be so callous concerning such a young and helpless child, Ray had a hard time convincing the woman in charge of finding homes to move him.  There simply were not enough homes available.

After about two years, Ray is moved.  However, things go from bad to worse... 

Ray does, eventually, have some better experiences and finally arrives at a home that truly takes him to their hearts.  It has, however, taken years, and without doubt, Ray's sense of trust has been damaged by his experiences, but he blossoms when he finally receives loving care.
Ray Evans is not a professional writer, but he has written a touching memoir concerning his experiences.  It is the only first-hand account I've read about the evacuees and was informative in both the general and the particular.
Above are posters from the era.  And below a photo of some of the children as they leave for their new homes.       
      More about the evacuations can found in the following links.
"Keeping control of the whole thing became a joyless task. 'The trains were coming in thick and fast,' says Geoffrey Barfoot who had been seconded from the town hall to act as a billeting officer in Weston Super Mare. 'It was soon obvious that we just didn't have the bed space.'"

"I'll Take that One

As a result of the mismatches, selection was made according to rudimentary principles. Billeting officers simply lined the children up against a wall or on a stage in the village hall, and invited potential hosts to take their pick. Thus the phrase 'I'll take that one' became etched on the memory of our evacuees.

Steve Davis, a clinical psychologist specialising in the study of war trauma, says this was the first of many moments that caused upset and humiliation for the evacuees and put their welfare under serious threat. 'It was little more than a paedophile's charter', says Davis, whose work involves counselling former evacuees."

For some children, the experiences were wonderful, but for others, devastating.  While the percentage of misery may have been small in numbers, the effects on the children were large and long-lasting.

Has lots of links and articles.
Destinations included Wales (where Ray's family were), Canada, and Australia.
Many children remained in their new homes for six years.
Nonfiction.  Memoir/History.  2006.  228 pages.


  1. I can't believe I have never read any accounts of plight of the children evacuated from London during WWII. Thanks for the review & I'll be adding this novel to my TBR list!

  2. I would like to learn more about the experiences of the evacuees. such an interesting subject!

  3. My husband was one of the children evacuated from the Greater London area to Wales. He was 4 years old at the time, but still remembers standing at the train station with a label around his neck.

  4. Anon -- It amazes me that so many children were evacuated so quickly. That children so young were sent to strangers for such a long time is almost unbelievable. I hope your husband was one of those who reached a caring family!