During 1938 the Government Evacuation Scheme divided Britain into zones, classified as either “evacuation”, “neutral”, or “reception”, with priority evacuees to be moved from the major urban centres and billeted on the available private housing in more rural areas. In early 1939, the reception areas compiled lists of available housing.
In the summer of 1939, the government began publicizing its plan through the local authorities. Official evacuation was declared on 31 August, but began on 1 September, two days before the declaration of war.
As with air raid precautions, Aberchirder Town Council had little direct involvement in dealing with evacuees. The Council minute book does however contain these entries:
The minutes for June 1939 refer to the imminent arrival of about 100 evacuees from Edinburgh, including about 30 from Broughton Primary School – one of whom was Archie Bell, whose memoir is included below – who would be arriving at Glenbarry, having travelled by train from Aberdeen. There was concern the survey of households had revealed “that many householders were not suitable, on grounds of old age and infirmity”, to take evacuees.
In the event, as the Banffshire Journal for 5 September reported:
The burgh’s proportion of evacuated mothers and children detrained at Cornhill railway station. The numbers were considerably fewer than had been anticipated. Tea was provided at the higher grade school [what is now the Old School].
In September 1939, the Town Council set up an Evacuation Appeal Tribunal consisting of Provost Auchinachie, Cllr D R Gerrard (the banker) and Mrs A R Smith (wife of baker Auckland Smith, who was to be Provost from 1949 to 1962). Its job was to hear appeals from householders who had been selected to have evacuees billeted on them. In 1941 Cllr Gerrard and Mrs Smith resigned, being replaced by Mrs Grant (Southview), and Ex-Provost James Morison (Provost 1926-29) and Bailie John Jamieson also joined the group.
One of the major impacts of the evacuees was to be on local schools, but again the head teachers’ log books contain relatively little information:
All schools were closed in the first week of September to make arrangements to receive evacuees from Edinburgh. When they reopened the available records show numbers of evacuees enrolled as:
Culvie (existing roll 56) – 9; Marnoch (78) – 14; Netherdale (26) – 12; St Marnan’s Episcopal (18) – 1.
(Unfortunately the log book for Aberchirder J S School has not survived.)
Almost immediately all schools in the area had to close again for a week because of an outbreak of diphtheria among the evacuees in Banff. Thereafter the new pupils seem not to have caused too much disruption to school life once they were equipped with books. However within six weeks of arrival many began to return home – by the end of the year 9 from Marnoch, 8 from Netherdale and the single one from the Episcopal School. (The number for Culvie was not recorded.)
A second wave of evacuees appears to have arrived in April 1941, when 4 “voluntary refugees” from Renfrew were enrolled at Marnoch, and the Episcopal School recorded the following year that one evacuee had left “having been removed from the district by the Glasgow Public Assistance Committee”.
Three reminiscences by Charlie Anderson, Archie Bell and John Joseph Macfarlen, look at the experience of evacuation from different points of view: