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Evacuees re-live wartime memories 70 years on

PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 September 2009 | UPDATED: 11:48 06 July 2010

Seventy years ago they packed their suitcases and boarded trains and buses out of London. Many were treated with kindness and love by their adopted families, but for some it was a time of heartache and cruelty.

Seventy years ago they packed their suitcases and boarded trains and buses out of London. Many were treated with kindness and love by their adopted families, but for some it was a time of heartache and cruelty. Today almost 2,000 evacuees will attend a service at St Paul's Cathedral, exactly 70 years after Operation Pied Piper was put into action.

Sporting a brown label bearing their name and address, some of those who were evacuated to Norfolk during the second world war will be among the congregation in London's St Paul's Cathedral today.

Organised by the Evacuee's Reunion Association, the service is an opportunity for evacuees to meet up, celebrate and remember those who were evacuated as the Nazis bombed London.

A book of remembrance, naming some who did not survive evacuation, will be carried through the cathedral.

And after the service a Lancaster will flypast in honour of the children who left their homes for the safety of the countryside of Britain.

Jim Wright, trustee of the Evacuee's Reunion Association, said: “The idea of the 70th anniversary is a day of celebrations, a day of people meeting up and a day of remembrance.

“There is going to be a lot of fun. It doesn't matter who you are on that day. If you are wearing a luggage label, you are one of us” The association was set up in 1996 after a group of evacuees joined the Great Parade in London the previous year wearing luggage labels.

As well as recognising their contribution to the war, the idea of the association is to put evacuees back in touch with each other as well as to chronicle and tell the truth about the experiences children had during the war.

“We tell the good, the bad and the ugly”, said Mr Wright.

“We are not all ignorant; we did not all have no knowledge of table manners.”

“There were problem children and there were problem families. There are stories that would make your hair curl.”

“All the stories are there and each one is an individual one. You won't find two alike.”

Operation Pied Piper was the secret code name given to the government's scheme for evacuation during the war which was rolled on September 1, 1939, two days before Britain entered World War II.

Although many youngsters returned to their homes during the early stages of the war - “the phoney war”, between 1939 and 1945 almost 3.5m children were evacuated.

“We didn't choose - it was our Dad who would have filled in the form”, said Mr Wright.

The Evacuee's Reunion Association are now trying to get a permanent memorial to the evacuees put up.

While there are memorials including the cenotaph, one for Battle of Britain pilots, women and even animals who have lost their lives to war, there is no memorial for the evacuees.

Artist Maurice Bilk has been commissioned to build the memorial and it is hoped work will start on the sculpture soon.

To find out more or to join the Evacuee's Reunion Association go to www.evacuees.org.uk or call 01777 816 166.

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