The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa

The Second World War

As had happened in 1914-18, the Second World War put a great strain on the Society's operations. Donations and subscriptions were significantly reduced, the prices of food and clothing increased, and extra expenditure required for matters such as the provision of air-raid shelters and the evacuation of some of the children. Wherever possible, children were returned to their own parents to make room for those who were made homeless or orphaned by the war. Between 1939 and 1941, the number of children in the Society's care fell from 1,200 to 800.

Apart from 50 of the older boys who were about to enter the Royal Navy, the inmates of the Arethusa were temporarily returned to their homes. The remainder were evacuated in 1940 to Salcombe, in Devon, when the ship was taken over by the Admiralty as accommodation for naval ratings.

At the Fordham House Hostel in London, the building was reinforced and sleeping accommodation for boys and staff set up in a locker room and adjoining lobby, with the women sleeping in the swimming bath. Underground shelters were set up at the Bisley, Esher and Fortescue House homes.

The Society's homes all contributed to the war effort by growing vegetables on any land they had available. At Royston and Esher, the children picked herbs for food and wild plants for medicine. At Fortescue House and Bisley, the boys made small lathe-turned parts for use by the forces.

After an incendiary bomb landed in the grounds of Esher House, the girls and their teachers were evacuated to a school at Bradford. Two flying bombs fell on Fortescue House in 1944, on in a playing field, the other directly on the building. The boys were subsequently evacuated, some to South Wales, the others to a nissen hut camp at Bucklesham in Suffolk. The boys were all later transferred to Pontefract in Yorkshire. The only home to be entirely undamaged was Royston, but not a single child or member of staff was injured.

On wartime casualty was the Duke of Kent, the Society's President since 1936. He was killed in an air crash in 1941.