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History - Evacuation of British Children in WWII

In 1939, as war became more and more imminent, the British government grew concerned about the threat of air raids and bomb attacks in London and other large cities. It was decided that children, and in some case mothers and teachers, should be transported, or evacuated, to safer areas. British Evacuation began on 1st September, 1939, two days before the declaration of war. It did not officially come to an end until March 1946, although some returned home long before this time. Approximately 3.5 million people were evacuated in total, mostly children. They would be transported to the countryside, where the threat of bomb attacks was significantly less than in the cities, by train, bus and sometimes even boat.

Evacuation was not compulsory, but it was highly recommended by the government. Posters explaining the benefits of evacuation were displayed around towns and cities. Children below school age (under five years old) had to be accompanied by their mother. Disabled adults were also evacuated. Many families made private evacuation arrangements, and sent their children abroad to countries such as Canada, Australia and even Bermuda

Evacuees were distributed to foster-parents, who would be expected to accommodate them for the duration of the war. The experiences of evacuees depended on the type of family they stayed with those who were evacuated to live with kind and welcoming families took away many more positive memories when they returned home. Often, moving in with new families involved experiencing different social classes for the first time, and was consequently an eye-opening, as well as life-changing, experience.

On the day of evacuation children would usually assemble, complete with name labels hanging round their necks, at a train station. Encouraged by the government to bring as little as possible, their suitcases would contain a minimal amount of clothes, including a vest and mackintosh, as well as soap, a facecloth and a toothbrush. Billeting officers, who were in charge of finding homes for the evacuees, paid money to families who agreed to take in evacuees

Although moving away from homes and families was difficult for evacuees, it was often equally difficult for those who stayed behind. Many of those evacuated before and at the start of the war returned home in 1940 because there were no big bombing raids, but during the Blitz of 1940, and during German attacks on Britain in 1944, many had to be evacuated again as conditions in cities grew increasingly dangerous.

 
Clare Roberts
British International School of Bratislava

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Bratislava History Project
British International School of Bratislava
Peknikova 6, 841 02 Bratislava
+ 421 2 6930 7081 info@bisb.sk

 

Contact : Richard Jones-Nerzic