Trekking out of town to avoid Air Raids

The Women's Voluntary Service was entirely voluntarily but featured heavily in the official response to the bombing. They distributed clothing and bedding to the homeless amongst many other functions, including feeding centres and co-ordinating information about missing people.

From mid November the Luftwaffe turned its attention to Britain’s major cities as well as London. None had been immune from bombing before but now there were large scale raids aimed at reducing whole cities to ruins, to ‘Coventrate’ them, as the Nazi propaganda boasted. Coventry gained attention as being the first but most major provincial cities suffered in the following months.

Now began the mass movement of people out of cities at night, with people seeking shelter anywhere, even sleeping in the open – ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there’. Southampton had been the subject of devastating raids on the 23rd and again on the 30th November and 1st December. The phenomenon of ‘Trekking’, as it became known, did not feature in the weekly Home Security situation report to the War Cabinet, which merely commented with respect to ‘Morale’:

Illustrative of the general morale in cities suffering from intensive attack, on the morning after two nights’ raids at Southampton only one dock worker failed to turn up for duty.

TNA CAB/66/14/3

Independent observers recorded things differently:

Throughout Monday there was apparently a large unofficial evacuation. Two people spontaneously compared the lines of people leaving the town with bedding and prams full of goods to the pictures they had seen of refugees in Holland and Poland. Some official evacuation took place on the Monday, but at the Avenue Hall rest centre a group of fifty waited all the afternoon for a bus to take them out; the warning went when there were still no buses, and all of them went out to shelters without waiting any longer.

On Monday evening from about 4.30 onwards a stream of people were leaving the town for the night. When Mr. Andrews left the train at the docks, he was impressed by the seeming deadness of the town; there were no cars, and hardly any people except those that had left the train with him. But farther out people were moving. The buses were full, men and women were walking with their baggage. Some were going to relations in outlying parts, some to shelters, preceded by their wives who had reserved them places, and some to sleep in the open. ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there.’ Many were trying to hitch hike, calling out to every car that passed; very few stopped. This caused considerable annoyance, especially as many coaches completely empty went by.

Trains leaving were full of women and children; many had little baggage, as if they were coming back next day. The next day many returned after the night, but more were intent on getting out. In some neighbourhoods whole streets had evacuated, most people leaving a note on their doors giving their new address; one such notice read ‘Home all day, away all night’.

Leonard England, Mass Observation report on an air-raid on Southampton, 4th December, 1940

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