In our look at the effect of World War I on High Wycombe and the surrounding area we have not so far considered the impact of the evacuation of people from other regions.

In fact if you mention the word ‘evacuees’ to most people they would associate that with the second World War.

Although not quite on the same scale as WWII there were two main periods when evacuees arrived in High Wycombe during the Great War.

The first occurred not long after the start of the war on August 4th 1914. This was when people from Belguim were fleeing as the German army invaded their country.

The Wycombe area welcomed several groups of these Belgian people. One group were housed in a ‘large country house’ in Downley, almost certainly Plomer Hill House. This was situated to the west of Plomer Hill Road, at the bottom of the hill. The house was subsequently acquired by the entrepreneurial Wycombe businessman Alek Stacey.

A second group took up residence in a house called ‘’Borshams’’ in High Wycombe.

It was the practice for the residents of High Wycombe to make gifts to ‘’Our Belgian Guests’’, who when fleeing from the troops would have had little opportunity to take much with them. For example the Bucks Free Press reported on April 2nd 1915 that the following gifts had been made: Tickets for the operetta at Wycombe Abbey A garden wheelbarrow, spade and fork Oranges, sugar and tea Beef, tea, sugar and eggs Also ‘underclothing’ by the Belgian Workroom Committee, and ’soldiers mittens’ by Spring Gardens School.

‘The Belgians’ themselves, as well as expressing thanks for these gifts, also said that ‘the loan of a watering can for the garden would be much appreciated. It is not known how many of the evacuees from Belguim returned home to their mother country after the war, but certainly some remained in the Wycombe area.

It is also known that a Belgian lady was visited by her Uncle, a soldier in the Belgian Army who had been captured by the Germans. When he was liberated in 1917 he visited his niece Celina, then living as an evacuee in Beaconsfield, see the story in the panel below.

The second wave of evacuees to the area took place from October 1917, when unusual names started to appear in the Admission Register of schools such as that in Back Lane (now Kingsmead Road), Loudwater. Names such as Samuel Muscovitch, son of Lazarus Muscovitch, and Joseph and Henry marks, sons of Harry Marks.

These were children from London and appear to be mostly from the Jewish/East European community in the East End. The reason for their evacuation is almost certainly the impact which German bombing raids were having on the civilian population in southern England. However it was only a few weeks before they returned home to London.

The first German bombing raid actually occurred very early in the war. On December 24th 1914 a Zeppelin airship dropped a bomb over Dover. It did not do much damage but the blast knocked gardener James Banks out of the tree he was pruning !!

For the next two years these airships made spasmodic bombing raids, inflicting some damage and causing casualties. The German tactics changed in late 1916 after the development of their long range heavy bomber aircraft, the Gotha and the Giant. On the 28th November a lone German Gotha aircraft dropped six bombs on London. Massed air-raids then commenced in 1917.

On the 25th May 1917, the Germans carried out a massed air-raid on targets in Southeast England deploying 23 Gotha heavy bomber aircraft. The bomber aircraft raid caused even more concern to the British civilian population than did the early airship raids. This was because the only two bombers that reached their targets did more damage than any of the Zeppelin raids that proceeded it. A total of 95 people were killed and 192 wounded including soldiers and civilians.

The first of the London bomber air raids took place on the 12th June 1917 with 14 Gothas. Over 100 bombs were dropped from 12,000 feet. But many missed their strategic targets and 162 civilians were killed: the capital's highest death toll in the German Great War air-raid campaign of Great Britain.

Soon London was ringed with anti-aircraft guns and barrage balloons, and considerable numbers of children were evacuated to the countryside away from the bombing threat.

On the 31st October 1917, 22 Gothas carried out their first incendiary bomb raid over London using a total of 83, two kg, bombs. Although many of incendiaries failed to activate, ten civilians were killed.

The first series of Gotha daylight raids - eight in all - was on the City of London and Southeast England; it lasted three months, although the physical damage to London was again quite small. The last German air raid of the war occurred in October 1918, when 6 bombers were shot down. The total number of Gotha air raids over London in 1917-18 was 27.

In total some 500 people were killed in England by German bomber raids. The British response to these raids was the subject of much debate in the country, many arguing that it was immoral to bomb the civilian population.

We now know of course that massed bombing raids became a widely used tactic of waging war.