Photograph album shows life of Hull child evacuees at start of Second World War

One of the photograph's in the album showing child evacuees in Gilling East from Hull, in 1939 as the Second World War broke out. Photo sent by Helen and John Dean.
One of the photograph's in the album showing child evacuees in Gilling East from Hull, in 1939 as the Second World War broke out. Photo sent by Helen and John Dean.

A photographic album showing the life of children evacuated from a school in Hull during the Second World War has recently been discovered. Laura Drysdale reports.

The first four days of September 1939 saw British civilians moved on mass in the hope of escaping the danger to come.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, nearly three million people were evacuated from towns and cities deemed to be at risk of bombing to places of relative safety in rural, countryside communities.

Among them, separated from their parents, were the children of Hull’s Mersey Street School.

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The young evacuees were sent to the villages of Gilling East, Harome, Hawnby and Ampleforth and they remained in North Yorkshire’s Ryedale district for varying periods, until spring of 1940.

One, whose name is not known, documented his five-month stay in Gilling in an album, using photographs and notes to chronicle the experiences of a group of boys.

He paints a picture of life away from home, listing cinema shows, cooking sausages, picking potatoes and pigeon shooting among their exploits.

“Someone opened the school,” he writes in the book. “Syllabus - physical training, gardening, rambles of exploration, outdoor sketching, animals, lumbering and farms, arithmetic, local history and geography.

“Out every day in the autumn sun, round the fire in the winter ice.”

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The album came into the possession of John and Helen Dean, members of Ryedale Family History Group nearing 18 months ago.

It was handed to them, given their interest in local history, by a staff member at a Ryedale book shop they regularly frequent, after being discovered in an attic.

“There are very few names in the album and certainly not that of the photographer,” John says.

“He was a young man who stayed with Canon E. Hudson, the Rector of Gilling, and his family and recorded details of activities.”

John and Helen are on a quest to find out more about the album, which can now be seen in full through the online Helmsley Archive.

They are seeking information from any of the school’s evacuees who are still alive today, or their families, and hope to identify the name of the man who produced the album.

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“Little is known of the provenance of this album,” they say. “The photograph captions only include one or two names.

“Through research we have identified the majority of the boys billeted in Gilling. Sadly, the majority have now died.

“We have had contact with a few pupils from Gilling East who still live locally and remember the evacuees coming to their school.

“It is hoped that we might find some surviving evacuees who will help us with the story of Mersey Street School evacuation in 1939.”

The pair have spoken to three people who were children in Gilling that year, including a host family, but are hopeful of more details emerging so they can piece together more about the album.

They want to find out how children fared on their return to Mersey Street School and whether anyone remembers teachers Mr Royle or Mr Brown, or the head Mr Osborne, who travelled to visit his dispersed staff and pupils.

They also want to recognise the great journeys that so many people made, often away from their homes and families, to escape potential bombing.

“We want to celebrate these people whose lives were turned upside down,” John says.

“Their families were worried about letting them go. We have got a lot of empathy with the children who were there.”

To view the album, visit www.helmsleyarchive.org.uk. Anyone with information can contact editor@ryedalefamilyhistory.org