Through the deliberate distortion of the figures; reversed hands and some torsos twisted 180 degrees, the memorial conveys some of the anxiety and confusion the child evacuees felt. The split open luggage clutched by the figures represents how families were torn apart by the evacuation process.
Renowned sculptor and child holocaust survivor, Maurice Blik PPRBS FRSA, later created the bronze sculpture that encapsulates the fear and confusion facing the evacuees. The half-life-size bronze memorial was first conceived over a decade ago when Maurice met somebody on a flight sitting next to him who explained that The British Evacuees Association wished to erect an Evacuees Memorial. Captivated by this idea and given his own wartime holocaust experience, Maurice identified with the sense of bewilderment and displacement these wartime children must have felt when torn from their parents and sent to live in unknown locations with strangers. Once funds for the Memorial had been secured from The British Evacuees Association, it took Maurice a year to complete the sculpture.
The evacuation led to the displacement of 3.5 million people, most of whom were children, in the greatest social upheaval in British history. This extraordinary process was necessary as the country was at total war, and ultimately more civilians were killed during the conflict than military personnel, including thousands of children.
The British Evacuees Association was formed in 1996 with the support of The Imperial War Museum, London. Now celebrating its 21st year, its main aim as a non-profit-making registered charity, is to provide an audible voice for former child evacuees, previously known as ‘The Silent Generation’. Many have now disclosed their wartime experiences for posterity and to ensure that future generations are informed of their unique and incredible stories.
The service was attended by Barry Fletcher and Harry Spalding, two former evacuees who became good friends because of their shared experience.
Barry was one of hundreds of children from Birmingham who boarded train W507 at Aston Station on 1 September 1939, like the others as he bid farewell to his mother he didn’t know where he was going and had no comprehension of how long he would be away from home. He and the other children from Station Road Board School disembarked the train at Redditch to be split into smaller groups and sent on buses to their final destination; Barry found himself bound for Feckenham, a small village, four miles outside Redditch.
When they got off the bus, the evacuees were herded into the village hall and instructed to sit on benches so that they could be inspected by prospective host families – this was the moment when the reality of their situation finally dawned on the children; they weren’t on a jolly holiday at the seaside. Barry was one of the last children to leave the hall, he and Harry, a nine-year-old, went to live with an elderly retired couple in their small cottage, where the two boys shared a double bed. Two young boys proved to be too much for the couple to handle, and after Christmas, Barry and Harry found themselves moved to 41 High Street; a large manor house in the centre of the village, where they lived with a family of five, two other evacuees, and their school teacher.
Sarah Montgomery, Managing Director, National Memorial Arboretum, said: “Evacuees during World War II faced tremendous adversity; they were separated from their families for long periods of time, and sometimes circumstances meant that there was no home or family for them to return to. We are proud to be the home of this magnificent new memorial, I’m sure people will find this evocative tribute incredibly moving when they visit.”
Karen Follows, Manager of The British Evacuees Association, said: “We have finally achieved our long-term ambition of siting The National Memorial to the Evacuation at The National Arboretum in Staffordshire. The Evacuees are the last living link to World War II, and much of their story still remains untold. The memorial encapsulates the emotion of the bewildered children perfectly. The Evacuees had their childhoods taken from them and their lives were changed forever. The evacuation of 3.5 million children was the greatest social upheaval that this country has ever seen and it is important that their experiences are acknowledged and recorded for future generations. These children grew into the adults that got Britain back on its feet after the Second World War and they deserve recognition. Our Memorial helps ensure that they and the important part they played in history, will never be forgotten.
Image: Every Which Way , David Faul
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