In WW2 there was an urgent need for hundreds of people to flee from London and be accommodated elsewhere in the country. The places which were called into use were often the estates and grounds of Britain’s very many stately homes and castles. For example, code breakers went to Bletchley Park. Aristocratic families were removed to far less salubrious accommodation, walls were panelled to prevent damage and precious objects were taken to places of safety. In Our Uninvited Guests Julie Summers considers twelve locations and the different uses that they were put to in the war.
Her examples include homes becoming hospitals, schools, maternity hospitals, training spaces for special agents, home for refugee children and even a bank. She talks about the history of the premises and then details about who came there. Using diaries and interviews with people who remember the times she explores how these newcomers reacted to the places they were relocated to and also how the original inhabitants felt about the invasion. Some of the moves obviously worked better than others but there seems to have been a lack of resentment from the unwilling hosts and an appreciation by the visitors. The format of the book also allows the reader an insight into aspects of the war that they might not have thought about previously. She also follows up what happened to some of the individuals featured in the book, the institutions that were evacuated and the stately homes after the war.
I found this book fascinating and each chapter has its own surprises. What astounded me overall, however, is that in most cases the houses were lived in by a small family and a few servants but when turned over to the war effort they could accommodate hundreds in the same space. Given how many stately homes were used this way it helps you to remember the luxury, space and heritage inherited by and experiences by just a small percentage of our population.
A very interesting slice of history.