DURING World War II, many Glasgow children spent their formative years in unfamiliar surroundings. Some had happy memories while others were glad to return to the  city.

Early in 1938, the British government began preparations for the expected war, including identifying places most likely to be bombed. Plans were made to evacuate 190,000 people from Glasgow to less vulnerable areas all over Scotland.

In March and April 1939, the schools handed out forms so that mothers and children could register for evacuation. It was not compulsory, but the authorities needed to gauge how many people were likely to go.

A list was made of safe areas to which people could be sent. Many families made their own arrangements, and those with friends and family in country areas preferred to send their children there.

Glasgow Times: Castlemilk HouseCastlemilk House (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

In Glasgow, 106,000 children were registered for the government evacuation scheme. A total of 26,000 were registered as private evacuees, and 46,000 were registered to stay in the city. About 20% of those registered did not report for evacuation.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1939, detailed preparations were made for transport, food supplies, medical attention and volunteer helpers. Rehearsals were held in Glasgow schools in June. When it came to the days immediately before the war, the schools were ready.

The first evacuation took place in early September 1939. Children were evacuated both near and far,  from the edge of the city, like Castlemilk House, to Aberdeenshire. Some arrangements broke down. Not all of the promised accommodation was available. It became difficult to fit families into households where the strong preference was for older boys who could work or single sex families, or who did not want mothers or babies.

Glasgow Times: A telegram to Lourdes SecondaryA telegram to Lourdes Secondary (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

Many difficulties arose from the different social backgrounds of those sharing a house. The problems between rich and poor and Protestant and Catholic were not always anticipated. And even poor people in country villages  and on farms found it difficult to understand poor people from the cities.

In 1939 the Provost of Rothesay protested about condition of some mothers and children arriving in Rothesay, with many suffering from skin diseases. A year later Rothesay wrote that “Roman Catholic children should be placed in Roman Catholic homes, if possible,” as parents of evacuees complained about their children being billeted in houses of opposite faith.

READ NEXT: 'We fought to save People's Palace and we won'

Records in the City Archives show that one boy rejoiced he was to be housed in a manse, where there were maids. The visitor’s form for Inverary Castle recorded 55 vacant rooms but none for evacuees. At the bottom it said that mothers and families could be placed there “if need be.”

Many children lived in a tenement with one- or two-roomed houses and no bathrooms or inside toilets, making it difficult  - or impossible - to keep clean. They often suffered from complaints like scabies or nits, which flourished in areas of overcrowding. They were an accepted part of the life in city slums.

During the school terms these conditions were improved by constant inspection and treatment by the school medical service. Evacuation took place at the start of the new term after the summer holidays. It had been decided not to hold up the process by a systemic medical examination.

Seventy-seven percent of the mothers and children of Scotland who were evacuated by the government scheme in January 1939 were back home by January 1940.   

Most parents’ natural reluctance to be separated from their children was strengthened by stories of unhappy experiences of the first evacuees and the absence of bombing until 1941.  Parents felt that it was better for families to stick together.

When the west of Scotland was first heavily bombed in March 1941, 20,000 Scottish school children were still evacuated. Some children who stayed at home were killed or injured or their schools or homes were destroyed.

A new scheme was organised  evacuating 58,000 school children, again mostly from Glasgow. This  worked better because parents, children, the receiving households and organisers had gained experience and of course the danger of staying in industrial areas was clear.

Despite careful organisation, the movement of large numbers of people around the country was not entirely successful. By the middle of the war there was a much clearer idea of what should have been done. More private evacuation was encouraged, with people choosing to stay with family or friends and school groups were kept together in hostels, where possible.