Full Evacuation

From Historical Hastings

One aspect of invasion preparation that has been lost is the plans for full evacuation of seaside towns such as Hastings that were within 20 miles of potential German landing sites. Voluntary evacuation had been in place since circa October 1940, but regional government, together with central government had planned to remove all citizens from potential landing locations to prevent the invaders from utilising civilians to hamper any defences.

The Hastings and St Leonards Observer ran details of the plan in their Saturday 21 October 1944 edition when the threat had passed as follows[1]:-

If Hitler had Invaded

Secret Plans for Hastings Evacuation

Secret plans prepared in complete detail for the compulsory evacuation in three days of the whole of the civilian population still left in Hastings after the first voluntary evacuation scheme, with the exception of about a thousand people required to stay for Home Guard and Civil Defence duties, and other essential services may now be disclosed.

The Plans have remained in being until quite recently, for it was only at the end of last month that the Regional Commissioner's direction under which they were prepared was cancelled.

They were based on the use that the enemy was known to have made use of the civilian population to hamper the defence in his invasion of the Low Countries and France. The Government and the defence authorities were determined that he should have no opportunity of repeating these tactics if he attempted an invasion of this country, and compulsory evacuation plans were their counter-move.

Although it was never necessary to put them into operation, the disclosures made by the discovery in Brussels this week of a vast store of maps and guides for the use of German forces invading Britain show that there were good reasons for the preparation of evacuation plans for our southern coasts.

Enemy Plans

Sussex and Kent, the enemy's maps and guides indicate, would have been the first part of this country where an invasion would have been attempted, with the object of drawing our forces into a battle in the Weald for the defence of London.

Then there would have been a descent on the south-west coast, with the aim of making a "pincer" drive by armoured forces across Wiltshire and the Cotswolds, and taking the defenders of London in the rear.

In the swoop on Sussex that would have formed part of these plans, Newhaven was to provide harbourage, and the flat beaches of Hastings, Brighton and Littlehampton were to be used by landing craft.

The "Observer" was told on Thursday the "inside story" of the preparation of the compulsory evacuation arrangements at Hastings, which entailed many months of strenuous and closely-detailed organising owrk on the part of the town's municipal and police officials.

Even until the last twelve months the scheme was constantly under revision, in order to ensure that all the information on record was up to date.

The first voluntary evacuation scheme, in September 1940, reduced the population of the borough from 65,000 to 22,000. Early in 1941 the Government too the view that this reduction was not sufficient, and the complete compulsory evacuation of the town was ordered to be planned.

Compulsory Scheme

Under this scheme the Government required everybody to leave with the exception of certain people who were considered necessary to carry on essential services. These included members of the Home Guard and Royal Observer Corps, the lifeboat crews, senior local officials, a quorum of magistrates, a proportion of the Civil Defence Services, a proportion of the police and a proportion of the staffs of water, sewerage, electricity and gas undertakings.

A small committee was set up to determine who actually should remain, and these people received from the police authorities a printed notice informing them that in the event of the scheme being put into operation they were not to go.

The evacuation plan was divided into three parts, known as Sections A, B and W. Section A covered the compulsory evacuation of all children of school age, accompanied by such mothers with young children as wished to take immediate advantage of the opportunity offered.

To enable the scheme to be prepared, the Regional Commissioner issued a direction that every child of school age living in the borough had to be registered on a certain date and the local authority kept informed of any movement in or out of the town of such children.

Section B covered the compulsory evacuation of the remaining civilians after Section A had been put into operation and Section W was a joint scheme embracing both sections A and B to be operated in grave and immediate emergency.

To get these schemes prepared involved an enormous amount of work, which was handled by the Evacuation Office at Summer Fields, the Education Office, the Health Department and the police.

Notices were prepared to be delivered to everybody affected by the Evacuation Order, giving full instructions about assembly points, transport arrangements, and what clothing and necessaries were to be taken.

Luggage Ready

Because the directions prevented the people being evacuated from taking anything except light hand luggage, the Town Clerk instituted a special scheme for additional luggage to be packed and deposited at certain points in the town, ready to be forwarded to the reception areas which were Beckenham, Bromley, Chislehurst, Orpington, Reigate and Wimbledon.

The Corporation itself made plans to set up alternative municipal offices to carry on the town's business.

One special problem that arose was concerned with the large proportion of invalid and infirm persons living in the borough. A complete schedule of all these people, with details of their condition, was compiled by the Health Department, with the assistance of the Health Visitors.

Special Trains

A secret time schedule of evacuation special trains from Hastings and the neighbouring coast towns in East Sussex was prepared in full working detail by the Southern Railway, and these transport plans envisaged the completion of the entire movement from Hastings in three days.

Each train was planned to carry 800 people, and all the five local stations, from Ore to West Marina would have been used.

Co-operation was established with the Maidstone and District Motor Services, Ltd., for the conveyance of parties in buses from assembly points to the nearest railway stations, and the detailed plans issued showed how many people would require bus transport to the stations and how many would be able to walk.

Each child included in Scheme A was supplied beforehand with a printed label to be filled in with the child's name and address, and naming the assembly point.

Advice to Mothers

A circular leter was also sent to every mother in Septemby, 1941, giving preliminary directions and lists of clothing and articles that each child would be required to take, so they could be prepared in advance.

A further printed notice was prepared, to be issued in the event of the evacuation scheme being put into operation, stating the date and time of assembly for children and mothers.

Envelopes were addressed in readiness for the distribution of these "take action" notices, which would have been carried out by a special postal delivery.

The notices for the remained of the civilian population under Scheme B would have been distributed by the police, all the arrangements for this side of the evacuation plans being handled by the Police War Emergency Department.

For those people who would have had to remain behind, plans were made for communal feeding, and for one large store to remain open for the supply of personal necessities, all the other shops in the borough being closed.

Pets Doomed

As pets could not be taken on the evacuation trains, arrangements on a large scale had to be made for all domestic animals to be "put to sleep".

Although the complete details of evacuation plans were necessarily veiled in secrecy, meetings were held to acquaint the townspeople as far as possible with an outline of the emergency schemes.

Nothin, of course, could be published at the time which would have been of value to the enemy, and these meetings were only very briefly and discreetly reported in the "Observer."

Not only was there a great deal of work locally in the preparation of the schemes, but the reception areas also had problems to tackle.

The Ministry of Health officials responsible for the evacuation and reception plans went to great lengths to ensure that the movement would be carried out with as little hardship as possible, and the Ministry of Food made plans to supply emergency rations for 48 hours for distribution to the evacuees before they were billeted.

Food Stocks

Food stocks to provide these rations were actually delivered to storage points in the reception areas to be held in readiness in case the scheme should have to be put into operation.

To deal with the possibility of members of a family being separated from one another in the course of the evacuation movement, the Ministry of Health had address cards prepared for distribution through the Post Office to households in the reception areas.

When completed with particulars of evacuees in the household, the cards were to have been sent to the Ministry of Health at Blackpool as a "clearing house", and by this means the whereabouts of all the members of the same family would have been traced.

Kept Up To Date

The entire evacuation scheme was kept under revision until quite a late stage in the war, after all further danger of this country being invaded appeared to have disappeared, and the registration of school children was constantly reviewed.

The official Direction from the Regional Commissioner cancelling his previous Direction for this registration to be carried out was issued as recently as September 28th [1944].

Hastings and its neighbours were fortunately spared the necessity for all the plans socarefully made for clearing the coast-line to be put into force, but it is evident from the story now disclosed by the "Observer" that the efficiency of these civilian evacuation preparations would have withstood the test, and that they would have been a vital factor in the defence of Britain against the invading German forces.

References & Notes