75 years since start of Belfast evacuations

Bob Pue from Carrowdore is organising a re-enactment of the evacuation of children in Belfast during WW2. He is pictured with A4-4-2 steam locomotive.
Bob Pue from Carrowdore is organising a re-enactment of the evacuation of children in Belfast during WW2. He is pictured with A4-4-2 steam locomotive.

The start of an evacuation programme which saw schoolchildren from across Belfast flee the Blitz is being remembered today, 75 years after it began.

It is estimated that several thousand children began being transferred to safer, more rural locations, many of them in Co Down, from July 1940 onwards.

The main route used by such evacuees was the Bloomfield-to-Comber railway.

Many children were then sent to live with families as far away as Downpatrick.

The train line closed in 1950, and there is little sign that a railway even ran along the route, which now forms part of the Comber Greenway pedestrian-and-cycle route.

But a “recreation” of the evacuations is being organised today along the Greenway, which will see participants take part in a roughly six-mile walk to Comber from the site of the old station near Cyprus Avenue in east Belfast, retracing the journey of the original evacuees.

“One of the reasons we decided to do this was we found it was an event which was very much forgotten,” said Bob Pue, chairman of the Belfast and County Down Railway Co Ltd, which looks after memorabilia of the

“We thought this is an opportunity to highlight something that had a traumatic effect on quite a number of people.”

A number of former evacuees had been in touch to say they wanted to take part.

Although he was born in 1945, he knows many of those who had been evacuated as children.

“It meant children being taken away from school, and quite a lot of them taken away from family,” he said.

“If their father was in a wartime-neccessary job in Belfast, he couldn’t have gone further afield.”

The same applied to many women who had taken up posts vacated by men who had enlisted.

A lot of the children would have travelled alone.

Mr Pue – a 69-year-old Carrowdore man who was former curator of the Prison Service museum – said some had “horrendous” stories to tell of having been placed with families.

“Some were treated like royalty, and some were made to work hard on the farms.

The programme was planned before the outbreak of war, but Mr Pue said the numbers involved are not certain, but that it is likely to have been well into the thousands.

When it comes to recreating the journey today, he said that two trips will take place today – one at 11am and one at 1pm – will leave from the old Bloomfield site, commencing with the sound of an old air raid siren.

Vintage buses will then bring them back.

Participation is £4 on the day, and he estimated up to 1,000 may take part.