Some were smiling, others were quiet and apprehensive. A few were even excited.

All wore name tags and carried gas masks in cardboard boxes, tied to their coats or necks with bits of string.

For these were the evacuees, the children forced to leave Liverpool for the countryside after war was declared on Germany in September 1939.

As they waited in an orderly line, as if going on a school trip, they had no idea where they would be living – or when they’d come home.

Evacuees walk to the rail station to leave Liverpool at the start of World War II, September 1939

Evacuees walk to the rail station to leave Liverpool at the start of World War II, September 1939

One thing was for sure – this would be the most momentous journey of their young lives.

Many had not even seen fields or farm animals before – and were overwhelmed by the experience of living in the countryside.

Brothers and sisters could be separated and some children were not selected at all by prospective hosts. Organisers were then forced to take them from house to house to find a place.

The upheaval felt in Liverpool was massive. Around 130,000 people were evacuated from Merseyside during World War II.

St Alban’s School pupils hold their Christmas party in an air-raid shelter, December 1941

St Alban’s School pupils hold their Christmas party in an air-raid shelter, December 1941

As well as children, young mothers with babies, pregnant women and disabled adults were all moved out of the city.

Evacuation began days before Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war over the wireless on September 3rd 1939. Many feared an immediate attack on Britain.

The Liverpool Corporation ensured children were moved to rural areas of Cheshire and North Wales. Others were taken by ship to Canada, South Africa and even Australia.

Many parents did not want their children to leave. The Government tried to persuade them with newsreel reports of bomb and gas attacks on Spanish schools.

Smiles all round at Lime Street station as evacuees return from Wales, November 1944

Smiles all round at Lime Street station as evacuees return from Wales, November 1944

There were also leaflets and information in schools, churches and newspapers as well as people and cars with loud hailers touring the streets.

For the children who stayed, life carried on as best it could through the Liverpool Blitz. Birthday parties and family celebrations were held in air-raid shelters.

Our remarkable photo from December 1941 shows children from St Alban’s School, Liverpool, enjoying their Christmas party under railway arches in the North End.

There were broader smiles on the faces of children returning from evacuation to rural Wales at Lime Street station. Many had been away for five years and were delighted to be home.

Workers dig trenches to build shelters in Birkenhead Park, September 1938

Workers dig trenches to build shelters in Birkenhead Park, September 1938

The gas masks had gone by then, but the children still bore their name tags. Some carried their belongings bundled up in brown paper wrapping.

Back in Liverpool, communities came together at the start of the war to dig trenches, build shelters and volunteer wherever they could to keep spirits up.

The Women’s Voluntary Service served tea and sandwiches to people taking cover from bombing raids.

Even the football pools companies came together to ensure people could post their coupons through the war.

Mailbags full of coupons arrive at Unity Football Pools in Liverpool, December 1939

Mailbags full of coupons arrive at Unity Football Pools in Liverpool, December 1939

Tea and sandwiches provided by the Women’s Voluntary Service in a Liverpool shelter, October 1940

Tea and sandwiches provided by the Women’s Voluntary Service in a Liverpool shelter, October 1940

In 1939, Littlewoods, Zetters and Vernons formed Unity Football Pools and printed coupons in national newspapers to save paper.

Thousands of mailbags were delivered to the Unity headquarters in Liverpool every week.

*Many more unmissable photos feature in Clive Hardy’s brilliant book Around Liverpool and Merseyside in the 1960s.

Echo readers can order their copy at the special introductory price of £9.99 plus £1.99 P&P. Just go to our online shop or ring the order hotline on 01928 503777.

Don’t miss out on the remarkable story of an unforgettable decade!

Children hold hands in Bengel Street, Liverpool, on the eve of war, September 1939

Children hold hands in Bengel Street, Liverpool, on the eve of war, September 1939