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Service at St Paul's to mark evacuation

PUBLISHED: 10:28 02 September 2009 | UPDATED: 11:50 06 July 2010

MORE than 2,000 people packed into St Paul's Cathedral in London yesterday to mark the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of children from cities to country areas.

MORE than 2,000 people packed into St Paul's Cathedral in London yesterday to mark the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of children from cities to country areas.

Former evacuees, who as children were given rations and sent off around the country to places of safety, including Norfolk, Suffolk, and other parts of East Anglia, gathered to remember the historic event.

Wearing brown paper labels, the former evacuees, many now in their 70s and 80s, shared their experiences - both good and bad - with one another before and after the service.

A planned fly-past by a Lancaster bomber was cancelled due to the windy weather conditions.

The Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, said: “We come to this cathedral church today to remember the three-and-a-half million children, who, 70 years ago, as the threat of war loomed large, were taken from their families and homes to live with strangers and to be cared for by them.

“This evacuation created the greatest disruption of family life ever experienced in this country and had far-reaching effects that are felt even to this day.”

In his address, the Rev Hugh Ellis, honorary chaplain of the Evacuees Reunion Association, said his role as a listener for the past 15 years had been a “great privilege”.

Of their stories, he said: “They were diverse, some wonderful, all very human but some were life-scarring.”

TV presenter Michael Aspel attended wearing a brown paper label identifying him as an evacuee, as did all those attending.

He was sent from his home in Wandsworth in south west London in 1940 at the age of seven to live with a couple called Cyril and Rose Grabham in Chard, Somerset.

He said that although he had a “good time” in the countryside, time felt as if it went slowly during his four-and-a-half years away from his family.

He said: “It was a fear that one was never going to go home. There was no way of knowing when it was going to end.”

The return to bomb-hit London also posed difficulties.

“From freedom in the country it was a hell of a shock,” he said.

After the service, the former evacuees stood on the steps of the cathedral reading each other's labels and swapping tales.

The Evacuees Reunion Association is trying to raise £1 million for the St Paul's Cathedral memorial, which will show 11 children of various ages lining up ready to be evacuated.

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