WWII Child Evacuee Recreates War-Time Journey

To mark the 80 year anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War on 3rd September, local wartime veteran Barry Gooders will recreate his journey as a child evacuee from London to Brighton in 1939, before visiting Take Shelter, the only restored school air raid shelter and public interactive museum in the UK.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Barry, now 87, arrived from London with his younger brother, Gerald, at Brighton station. They were just two of the 3.5 million children evacuated to safety as part of Britain’s ‘Operation Pied Piper.’

Barry recalls his personal journey to Brighton: “I was 7, and my brother Gerald was 5 when war was declared. We lived in Thornton Heath, and we arrived at the school with our parents to join all of the children who were going to be evacuated. When we arrived at the station we were in a state of high excitement because of going on a train journey with our friends. At Brighton station, we were ushered on to double decker green buses which of course we had never seen before, and off we went on what seemed like quite a long journey. They called the children from the bus, introduced them to the person in the house and we were just left there.”

On 3rd September 2019, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of war, Barry will retrace his steps to recreate the last leg of this emotional journey from Thornton Heath in South London, to Brighton station.

Barry will be accompanied on his journey by fellow veteran evacuees and Brighton school children. In stark comparison to his original journey, the group will travel to Brighton on a modern Thameslink Class 700 train.

Upon arrival at Brighton station, operated by Govia Thameslink Railway’s Southern Railway, the group will be received by Peter Field, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of East Sussex and a welcoming committee; reminiscent of those who met the original evacuees at Brighton station, 80 years ago.

Katherine Cox, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager for Govia Thameslink Railway, said:

“We are looking forward to welcoming Barry, the Brighton school children and Peter to the station to mark this important anniversary and are pleased to support the Take Shelter project’s goal of educating more visitors. The new accessible entrance at the project will allow more visitors to hear wartime stories and the importance of the shelter for local people during the Second World War.”

The party of veterans, children and their guests will then be escorted onto a present-day bus, generously provided by Brighton & Hove Buses who originally transported the children to their new homes and host families in 1939. Brighton & Hove Buses have changed a lot since 1939 with free Wi-Fi, USB charging and new technology designed to help improve air quality in the city. A vast difference to the journey Barry would have made back then in war time Britain. The bus will travel to Downs Junior School to visit the ‘Take Shelter’ project – the only restored school air raid shelter and interactive museum open to the public in the UK.

Managing Director of Brighton & Hove Buses’ Martin Harris said: “We’re really pleased to take part in recreating this momentous journey with veteran evacuees, Downs Junior School and GTR.

“I was amazed to discover the Take Shelter exhibition when I visited earlier this year and I encourage everybody to go and see it. Simply hop on a 26, 46 or 50 bus to get there. Catching the bus to the shelter is a fun and sustainable way to enjoy the overall experience.”

It is at Downs Junior School that Barry has been volunteering for the past three years; sharing his wartime stories and inspiring over 7,500 adults and children as part of the ‘Take Shelter’ school and community events.

The ‘Take Shelter’ project officially opened to the public in 2016 with the aim to capture and share wartime memories and skills with the local community. At the heart of the project is the Second World War air raid shelter underneath Downs Junior School. The 300 capacity shelter provides the perfect stimulus for veterans to share their stories and the ideal context for those who come to listen.

At 11.15am on 3rd September 1939, the nation huddled around their wireless sets as Chamberlain announced that Britain was indeed at war with Germany. Barry and the children will recreate this pivotal wartime moment, 80 years on from the original broadcast of the iconic ‘Declaration of War’ speech at Downs Junior School.

Thereafter, Barry will then invite guests to share his personal memories and first hand wartime stories in the underground air raid shelter. There will be an opportunity to capture him speaking with fellow evacuees and other invited guests, young and old.

Our veteran evacuees are now in their 80s and time is running out; we only have a limited time to welcome our last remaining war veterans to the underground air raid shelter museum. The entrance to the air raid shelter is prohibitive. It can currently only be accessed via a small cramped hatch and a steep metal ladder. This puts off and often prevents those with mobility or sensory issues to access the space. The ‘Take Shelter’ project is fundraising to create a larger, more accessible entrance to enable us to welcome as many older people and their families, for whom the war is still in living memory, to our unique shelter experience so we can preserve their stories.