Government Evacuation Scheme: new arrivals in Cardiganshire

The Government Evacuation Scheme, codenamed Operation Pied Piper, began on Friday, 1st of September 1939 and arranged for the removal of more than three million people from areas under threat of aerial bombardment to towns and rural locations deemed to be less at risk. Priority was given to school children, accompanied children before school age, expectant mothers and disabled people.

In a report to the Board of Education the County Medical Officer of Health recorded that between the 1st and the 4th of September 1939 a number of trains carrying evacuees from Liverpool arrived at Aberystwyth and Borth stations:

The 1,647 school children and mothers with babies and toddlers who alighted at Aberystwyth were carefully examined by a team of doctors and nurses in the adjacent school buildings and after being fed at the different church and chapel schoolrooms were distributed to their billets. Those destined for the rural area were examined in rooms at the Borth railway station and then taken by buses to different centres for food and afterwards into the country where their new homes were situated.

The following extract from the report demonstrates the pressures put on the local medical services:

It was obvious, even on the Saturday, that medical problems were going to be difficult. Fortunately, Tanybwlch, a country house close to Aberystwyth which has been taken over as an emergency fever hospital, proved big enough to accommodate not only evacuees suffering from infective diseases, but also suspected contacts. The cleansing station which had been opened at the Bronglais Public Assistance Institution, Aberystwyth, and the existing public health, dental and nursing services, however, were inadequate to deal with the large numbers who required medical and nursing attention, apart from isolation. By the middle of the week, six nurses had arrived from Liverpool on loan for a fortnight, and a lady doctor and two nurses had been appointed. The Liverpool nurses searched the billets for patients needing treatment at the clinic which had been opened in one of the College buildings. This clinic gave daily occupation for the doctor and the two specially appointed nurses for some weeks.

Other papers relating to the Government Evacuation Scheme concern the provision of emergency maternity accommodation. In 1944 arrangements were being made for the evacuation of expectant mothers from London by train to two hospitals in Cardiganshire: the Cardigan Memorial Hospital Annexe and the Aberayron Hospital. The women were accompanied by midwives and nurses who often remained to provide support at the hospitals. The Medical Officer of Health was requested to send a telegram each week to inform the Welsh Board of Health of the number of vacancies at both hospitals.

This letter of 24th August 1944 indicates the urgency of the situation regarding maternity accommodation with the proposal to move the Beckenham and Penge Joint Maternity Home to Aberystwyth, converting the Queen’s Hotel in Aberystwyth for this purpose:

Letter re conversion of Queen's Hotel into maternity home Aug 1944

Letter relating to conversion of the Queen’s Hotel, Aberystwyth, 24 Aug 1944

The arrangements were made very quickly and by the following month expectant mothers were arriving in Aberystwyth:

Telegram re maternity home - arrivals expected from London Aug 1944

Telegram relating to maternity home at the Queen’s Hotel, Aberystwyth, 15 Sep 1944

This arrangement was fairly short lived as by the end of 1944 the situation had improved in London and the Queen’s Hotel was released from the evacuation scheme. This letter expresses thanks to Cardiganshire County Council for its assistance in providing emergency accommodation during this time:

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Letter relating to release of the Queen’s Hotel from evacuation scheme, 19 Dec 1944

The Queen’s Hotel played an important role in the Second World War: it was used as a R.A.F. base before it was converted into an emergency maternity home. It later became the headquarters of the County Council and the home of Ceredigion Archives. The papers of the County Medical Officer of Health were stored in its attic for many years.

Clare Connolly (Project Archivist: Papers of the County Medical Officer of Health)

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