Evacuees and Refugees

Cambridge District Scout Archives

Refugees         Those moving from conflict or persecution abroad

Evacuees         Planned evacuation from the cities of mothers, children and the infirm.  This occurred in three waves in WW2. In September 1939 after which over half returned home, September 1940 and in 1944 when the V2 rockets appeared.

Cambridge Archives

The Cambridge records for World War One are very slight; those for the Second World War give significantly more snippets but few solid reports.  The 67th and 68th Cambridge were both evacuee Groups, the first all evacuees and the second the Cambridge offshoot of an evacuated school and pack.

Other influxes are usually smaller and rarely mentioned.  References are to raising funds rather than direct help. Not every child comes with a label, as they did in the WW2 evacuations, and the University attracts many from around the world. The existence of a foreign name, for example P/L Pavlovitch in the 5th Cambridge in 1919, has not been included in these records.

The Great War

1915    5th Cambridge entertained 40 Serbian Boys. In July 1919 two ‘sturdy Serbians’ won the wrestling at the District sports. They were not specifically identified as refugees.

WW1    ‘During the war scouts held camps for refugee scouts from Belgium and Serbia’ WTT Archaeology of Scouting 1978 (100 Serbian refugees were housed in Westminster and Cheshunt Colleges having escaped the advancing Germany Armies. Some were admitted to the Perse and Higher Grade School without cost)

1915 The 17th formed a small Belgian Patrol of four (Scout News Cambridge Journal)

World War two

Local Census reports from 1939 and 1940 (below) asked for numbers of evacuees.  The returns are probably incomplete.  The 67th comprised purely of evacuees specifically from London, was registered as working at District Headquarters, Grafton Street and was run by leaders from Selwyn College.  The 60th, The Leys School, recorded four Rovers and, possibly not connected, a Rover Mate from the Westminster Crew.  A list compiled after 1992 has 12 names of ‘Some Leysians who may have come to this country as refugees from Germany, Austria etc.’ between 1936 and 1939. Three of these became Scouts. The Crew also hosted four or five German refugees in April 1939, but as visitors not at the school or as Scouts. An ASM from the 1st City of London Group was working with the 12th and a Mr. Bennett (a London Scouter at present in Cambridge) was recorded.

This note, from the Howard Mallett DC, introduces a Scout moving from Norwich to the 13th. Not a standard evacuee step but Norwich was nearer the coast and East Anglia was a potential invasion site.

There is no definitive list of District numbers for 1939 but from these returns 110 of the 746 Cubs, Scouts, and Rovers were evacuees.  The 1940 list is (even) less complete but lists 62.  A significant number of the first wave of evacuees returned home as the phoney war continued.

Approximately 3000 evacuees were in the initial evacuation.  Assuming an age range of 0 -16 about 750 were boys over 8 – about 15% were absorbed by Cambridge Scouting.  A year later the numbers had dropped to just over a 1000; the incomplete records suggest c.24% were in Scouting.

Cambridge Archives

1939                District Minutes

1938/39 13th AGM ‘wishes to welcome several Senior Scouts who have been evacuated and hope that they feel at home.’ The report also mentions as a visitor a Hungarian scout (June 1939). He was not described as a refugee.

March 1939    ‘Mr Mallet read a letter from IHQ stating that foreign refuge boys may be accepted into British Groups’

Sept 1939        Report on Groups with no Scouter and evacuated Cubs and Scouts

23rd Crew had admitted both a German and an Austrian   The German Rover (no name given) was for a time Secd. To Cambridge Refugee Committee

(Later)  23rd at one time had three refugees on their strength, but they are all now in Canada.

March 1942 From the Evercircular Letters ‘I (have) heard nothing lately from either Ernst or Heinz and wonder if they have gone touring’ This can only be a veiled reference to being detained or deported to Canada.

At a later date (after 1941) the Evercircular letter that ran between members of the 23rd Crew in the Services mentioned ‘Hans is in Cambridge, Heinz is with the Pioneers in Bristol, Ernst is at Woolwich with the RAOC‘. In 1943 Hans and Ernst visited W T Thurbon in Cambridge. It appears that they were sent to Canada for a time as potentially dangerous enemy agents. Canada, finding many to be refugees, objected to the imposition; they had been lead to believe that they were housing dangerous enemy agents. Many were returned to the UK.

June 1939 13th Cambridge record ‘a talk by an Hungarian Scout.’

9/39                  Dist Min Re Evacuees – DC report  ‘The CC agreed to see …the Borough Treasurer’     This appears to relate to a request to support evacuees.

Oct 39 13th Cambridge ‘also had several London Scouts (evacuees) to stay with us owing to the onset of war on the 1st September 1939’ This group of six was later placed in a separate patrol, Swallows. By November the numbers in the troop were up to 55 – a mere handful of 39 turning up on one evening. The numbers diminished with the the return of evacuees as the ‘phoney war’ continued. Numbers also diminished with the blackout in winter and the freezing cold of the hut.

Nov 39             Temporary registration of HQ Grafton St for evacuee group 67th Cambridge.

55th Cambridge
Evacuees at either end of the kneeling row


Feb 40 13th Cambridge ‘Sorry to say goodbye to Owen and Arthur (two of the older evacuees)’

9/40     Dist Min          A discussion…on difficulty of dealing with evacuees    DC mentioned that at present there was 56 Scouters in the District.  In Sept 1939 there were 104.  It was possible that a further 14 Scouters would be called up shortly.

Dist Min 4/1940          An Evacuee in 12th required a Convalescent Home.  He was suffering from Mastoids and pneumonia.  It was agreed to send him to Rosemary Scout Convalescent Home and cover the expense.  The St Georges Day Collection would go to the home (£3/3/4)  (Mastoiditis is usually caused by untreated acute middle ear infection and used to be a leading cause of child mortality. Pneumonia is also a killer.)  The costs were £4/19/8

May 1940                    12th boy was sent to Rosemary Convalescent Home but as the area (Herne Bay Kent) was being evacuated will be brought back (via WVS)

September 1940 13th Cambridge created an evacuee only patrol. A number of very able Scouts came from London along with many other evacuees swelling numbers to over 50 for a time.

Dec 1940 AGM            The message concerning difficulty of absorbing evacuees was repeated    ‘impossibility of dealing adequately with Evacuee problem owing to shortage of scouters and HQ’s’.


Report for AGM 1941 ‘The Refugee members of the 23rd were at one time interned in Canada, have now released and are on war work or in the Pioneers’.


RSL 20th Croydon (Evacuated) acting SM 13th                                                 Scout Section Minute book 11/3/1942

Byron House School was evacuated to the District in 1942.  The school and Wolf Cub Pack, 1st Kenwood, later returned to London and the 2nd Kenwood, Cambridge Pack needed a new name.  They became the 68th Cambridge but were discontinued in 1947.

A Scouter based with the armed forces near Cambridge made links with the 26th Cambridge.  He wrote in The Scouter May 1942 of a cycle ride from Cambridge to Wood Green (55 miles) for a meeting with his group, returning the next day, he for his next nine hour duty they for town.


A J Covell, a School teacher and SM of the 13th was employed as a temporary roving headmaster during the war. As such he ran month long camps for evacuees each summer to provide healthy experience and to give the foster parents some relief. The boys camped for a week at a time and older Scouts from this old troop helped. The evacuees were not scouts, except for one ‘who was only an air scout’ and asked if there as to be discipline on the camp. In that the ‘squabblers’ did the washing up the answer was, presumably, yes.


67th Cambridge amalgamated with the 13th in 1944

A Dutch refugee is mentioned in the Landbeach Scouts (from the 13th Troop log)


27th Cambridge (Cherry Hinton) closed in October with the Scouter leaving and Evacuee Centre closing down.  The Council owned Hall had been a YHA immediately prior to the war and became a home for London evacuees. This incarnation of the 27th opened in 1944 and closed in 1945.


67th Cambridge (evacuee troop) lost its identity and the 13th/67th reverted to being the 13th.

At the request of the Secretary for Refugee Children, the 15th Cambridge took Andre Crehange ‘a 14 year old French scout of Jewish extraction staying in Cambridge for 2 months to a Scout camp.’


A party of 35 Polish Rovers from Bottisham were entertained to a camp fire by the 60th (Leys). Very large numbers of displaced Poles remained in Britain after the war. It is not specifically linked to the Nicholas Copernicus Grammar School in Bottisham but the school, run by the Committee for the Education for Poles in Great Britain, took over the RAF / USAAF base in Bottisham until c 1952.

Other displacements

In 1938 a number of Spanish refugees were accommodated in Cambridge. The Scouting involvement with this group is unknown.

WW2 Indirectly associated with Scouting Mrs. Lilley, host of the 11th Cambridge at her home in West Road, ejected the Rovers from their den in a garden shed to provide accommodation for refugees who were to at as her gardeners. The Rovers were obliged to meet in the same rooms the troop did also provided in her grounds. The troop rooms were described as a hayloft but photographs reveal a plastered rooms. The ‘shed’ should be considered in the same spirit, an inhabitable building that the Rovers or Scouts denigrated in a romantic fancy.

District Minutes June 1973     Supported 9 Ugandan Asians to find places on scout camps

Evacuees by Group

Returns from 1939 and 1940 local census

Known refugees

The following are known names of Refugees.

  • Fred Krebs (Frederick Otma) Austrian b 1931 relocated 1939 13th Cambridge 1942 National Service badge 1943
  • Heinz Rosinger German relocated 1939 23rd Cambridge
  • Hans Gordon German relocated 1939 23rd Cambridge
  • Ernest Rosenberg (Russell) German relocated 1939 23rd Cambridge

Four German refugees ‘Were welcomed into the Crew’ of the 60th Cambridge (The Leys) in 1939.

The wilds of Chesterton

The Cambridge Evacuation Survey was conducted in 1940 and first published in 1941.  Quoted in The Scouter it reflects part of the experience of Evacuees.

The Scouting experience was mixed, many not staying with the Troops because they were unlike those in London. One comment was that the facilities were better here and another that the air was better because it makes you feel hungry. Cub packs struggled with lack of space for the evacuees. Guides did better as many Guide leaders were also evacuated.

From The Scouter

Chesterton can only have been considered wild by one whose entire life had been within city streets.

The 13th Cambridge record evacuees joining them who were experienced scouts and stepped into senior roles within the troop – they did not consider Chesterton as the wilds.


Over 3,000 school children were evacuated to Cambridge in September 1939; over 1,000 remained in July, 1940.  The main part of the study was confined to 650 London school children from Tottenham and Islington and to 150 children who returned before those dates.

The main sources of information were questionnaires answered by the billeting officers and essays written by the children. According to the questionnaires only 8.2% of the children were definitely unhappy, with a higher proportion among adolescents than younger children.

Greater happiness was helped by

  • the presence of siblings in the same billet
  • frequent visits from parents

The main factors which caused return were

  • anxiousness or loneliness of the parents and/or children,
  • parents’ dissatisfaction with foster home,
  • parents’ poverty—cost of billeting, clothes, visits, etc

Initially many children had been housed in student lodgings. As other students were moved to Cambridge the evacuees moved to poorer quality accommodation. Parents, on their second visit, took many home. At this point the blitz had not started.

JWR Archivist Sept 2019