WAR LOOMS ON BRITAIN
The Munich Crisis -
THE PHONEY WAR AND EVACUATION
war imminent, the Government ordered plans to evacuate children (and
others) from London and other cities into effect on the 1st September
1939. The Government estimated that 3,500,000 people would be
evacuated in this period alone. In fact in the first four days of
September 1939 1,500,000 people took up the offer to evacuate to safer
areas away from the major towns. Many people preferred to stay at
home and take their chances rather than saying goodbye to their loved
ones. It is important to remember that the Government always
stressed that evacuation was purely voluntary and in no way would families
be spilt if they didn't want to. In some ways it may have been
easier if evacuation was mandatory as the decision to send off your
children weighed heavy. Remember, most families had never been
apart from each other and this must have been a heart wrenching decision
However the threat of heavy bombings
and poison gas was real in September 1939. Newsreels
reported a new form of warfare that Poland had witnessed called the
Blitzkrieg which Britain did not feel prepared for. The Government
knew that she was no where ready for war but done all she could to rectify
this. The Local Defence
Volunteers (LDV) was formed to prepare for the Hun invading Britain and
although in real terms the LDV was no match for an invading German army,
symbolically the LDV was a giant in raising Britain's morale.
However, fears of a Blitzkrieg soon turned to more of a Sitzkrieg.
PICTURE: Little Girl waiting to be evacuated
PICTURE: Evacuees smiling for the camera
GOODBYE TO LOVED ONES
With the railways running around 4,000 evacuees specials in the first 4 days of September 1939 this part of the evacuation process proved to be a extremely well orchestrated and generally smooth operation. The same could not be said for the reception parties once the children got to their destinations.
There was indeed a certain sense of secrecy that surrounded children's movements and destination points. Much like troop movements it was widely believed this would help prevent any enemy sabotage attempts.
RECEPTION NIGHTMARES AND THE SLAVE AUCTION
There then followed the second method. Children were sent with a Billeting Officer tramping around from door to door. This could lead to a humiliating experience for the children if they were rejected visit after visit. It must be remembered that these children were confused and missing their parents. This type of rejection had profound effects. Indeed various studies carried out at the time proved that chronic bed wetting was common place in children evacuated. Indeed the W.V.S. issued a leaflet for civil defence entitled "Bed Wetting for householders taking unaccompanied children" which highlighted the extent of this problem.
In happier times before the outbreak of war and mass numbers of children descended on sleepy middle class towns, the better off British had no real idea of the poverty and the dreadful living conditions endured by the poor. This stark reality was really brought home with the advent of evacuation. Many of the poorer children had inadequate footwear and clothing. Some of the children had head lice and language could be colourful! Some even brought with them little tricks they had learned such as shoplifting and pick pocketing!
THE PHONEY WAR ENDS ABRUPTLY
The following table gives an idea of the numbers of people at this time leaving the major cities to safer havens.
BRITAIN BEGINS TO BREATHE AGAIN
the Summer of 1944 London in particular began to return to some normality.
There were still intermittent bombings but Britain did not experience the
same kind of devastating raids she had experienced in the late summer of
1940. However this would change, for a short time anyway, in 1944.
|TIME TO REFLECT
In conclusion, evacuation experiences varied widely. To many it was a happy experience. However to others it was an experience that, at worst, would scar some children into adulthood.
It must be remembered that evacuation did save countless lives and was necessary to protect the vulnerable. Try asking yourself the question "What would you have done?"
It is a dilemma that thankfully most of us have never had to face.
PICTURE: Time to reflect on the true price of evacuation
© hshf - Page last updated 23 July 2011