Documents reveal Honiton was prepared for World War II

PUBLISHED: 16:37 25 August 2009 | UPDATED: 00:01 16 June 2010

JUANITA Maxwell Phillips (on top the ladder) in her Little Theatre, which became the hub of Honiton's war effort.

JUANITA Maxwell Phillips (on top the ladder) in her Little Theatre, which became the hub of Honiton's war effort.

Copyright Archant Ltd

HONITON S evacuation plans for the Second World War have been discovered among papers handed to the senior council

HONITON'S evacuation plans for the Second World War have been discovered among papers handed to the senior council.

The papers will be exhibited in Honiton on Thursday, September 3 - exactly 70 years since war was declared.

They will form part of an exhibition and talk being staged at Meadow View Chapel to commemorate the numerous achievements of the late Juanita Maxwell Phillips.

The papers come from Alderman Phillips' personal collection of documents. She was serving her eighth term as Mayor of Honiton when war broke out in September 1939.

Tony Simpson, secretary of Honiton Senior Council, who will talk about Mrs Phillips' life at two events in September, said: "The papers show that as mayor and evacuation officer, Juanita was expecting up to 600 children from the London area with their mothers, teachers and other carers.

"In fact, I believe, there were several evacuations and 300 were billeted around Honiton and almost 3,000 across East Devon.

"Honiton was much smaller then, but I wonder if we could cope today?" Documents show that the first evacuees to arrive in Honiton were from Gloucester Road School, London.

Each child arrived at the railway station with a tag bearing their evacuee number and school, a gas mask and a change of clothes.

They were assembled in the station yard before guides from local churches, the Mothers' Union and WVS escorted them to the Mackarness Hall, Wesley Methodist Hall, the Baptist school room and former YMCA for feeding and billeting.

Mr Simpson said: "Juanita was in charge at the Mackarness Hall. She loved children but there must have been a lot of comforting and reassurance needed from the local women's groups involved as many younger children were quite confused.

"History tells us we were not prepared for war, but Honiton certainly was.

"Juanita's letters from January 1939 show these plans were drawn up eight months before the war started.

"From 1938, she was also the WVS war co-ordinator of the air raid precautions, with seven district committees and a staff of four.

"There were air raid precaution training sessions in The Little Theatre, Honiton, from 1938 onwards - even gas and chemical warfare training."

As well as being mayor, Juanita was also the Food Executive officer responsible for rationing in Honiton throughout the war.

"She signed up her Little Theatre for the Food Office and for ENSA, the wartime entertainment group, so she must have been pretty busy," said Mr Simpson.

"Honiton's evacu-ation plans were very thorough and seemed to work well.

"Local people were brilliant and many evacuees kept in touch long after the war; some may even have settled in Honiton.

"She arranged meetings for the London teachers and met the mayors of London boroughs, who came to Honiton to check on their children."

Among the documents uncovered is a poem, sent to Juanita, from the people of London, and a comic poem of thanks, which played on her Spanish name.

There are letters of thanks from the Mayor of Southwark and from the Salvation Army Corps at Carshalton and Kennington Lane, who accompanied the children.

Mr Simpson said: "I have a modest connection in that my mother helped to manufacture the gas masks the children carried in little boxes.

"They were made at the Everlastic factory and, when Nottingham was bombed, mum evacuated to Wales, where I was born shortly after her arrival in 1941."

Celebrating Juanita events will take place at 10.30am in the Little Theatre (now Meadow View Chapel) on September 3 and 10.

Note: The date in last week's Herald was incorrect.

Coffee will be served and, at the event on September 3, a minute's silence will be held at 11am.

All welcome.


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