Evacuation was when children in target cities such as London, were moved to homes considered safe by train or road, often in the countryside, where they were temporarily fostered and looked after until they could go home safely.
There were three main evacuations during the war. The first beginning two days before the declaration of war on September 1st 1939, although for months later more than half had returned as the feared German attacks had not happened. The second main evacuation effort begun on the `13th June 1940 when the Germans had taken over parts of France, and again when the Blitz began in September that year. The final main evacuation effort happened in 1944 when over 1,000,000 people, more than in previous attempts, were moved from London because of the threat of German V1 and V2 rockets.
The 3.5 million people who were evacuated were school children and their teachers, mothers with young children under 5, pregnant women, and some elderly or disabled people.
People were moved because there was a very real threat of violent bombings so the Government moved the children to keep them safe as they are the country’s future. They were moved to many places all over Britain, in particular small towns and villages in the countryside away from large targeted cities and ports.
It was confusing and scary to be an evacuee. At the station they were labelled just like a parcel, and were lined up not knowing whether they would be able to stay with their brothers and sisters or where they would be going to. They were apprehensive and worried about leaving their families to live with complete strangers, but at the same they were slightly looking forward to seeing a place they had never seen before and perhaps only read about in books. After a long journey by train or road they would arrive tired and hungry in the countryside, uncertain that they would see their families again. They were bundled into village halls, where a picking session for the families taking the children in began, and brothers and sisters would be split apart, and the ‘less presentable’ children would be left until last, upset and alone. Although they were often very homesick, the enjoyed the fresh air and those who were put on farms were happy to be around animals they had only seen in pictures at school. When they were sent back to their families they were filled with joy and love.
To find out more about life as an evacuee you could read these books:
- Kisses On A Postcard by Terence Frisby: The playwrigth recounts his ‘other life’ in Cornwall with his foster parents Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack
- When The Children Came Home by Julie Summers: a collection of memoirs about life as an evacuee, from departure to trying to adjust to returnin home.
- Far From The East End by Iris Jones: a fictional story about a young girl who has difficult relationships with her parents but discovers an idylic life when she is evacuated to Wales.