Children and World War Two

Children and World War Two

Nearly two million British children were evacuated from their homes at the start of World War Two. Many British children were forced to endure rationing, bombing raids, and prolonged periods living away from their family with strangers. Children accounted for nearly one in 10 deaths during the Blitz of London from 1940 to 1941.

On 31 August 1939, the government issued the order “Evacuate Forthwith” to protect the nation’s children. ‘Operation Pied Piper’ started the next day. The government described the evacuation as ‘the biggest exodus.

Evacuation procedures differed according to a family’s wealth and social status. Some parents with money made their own arrangements to send their children away from danger. Private schools in cities often moved to manor houses in the countryside where their students could be kept together. Other children gathered at rail stations in early September with no knowledge of where they would be sent. Evacuees were given a stamped postcard to send from their billet address to inform their parents of their whereabouts.since Moses’.

Evacuated children arriving at Brent Station, Devon, in 1940, Author: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer
Evacuated children arriving at Brent Station, Devon, in 1940, Author: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer

‘Operation Pied Piper’ was a huge undertaking, with approximately 1.9 million children evacuated. Memories of Guernica were still fresh, and it was decided that six cities were vulnerable to German bombing.

The passage of so many children was not always smooth. Anglesey expected 625 children to arrive, but a total of 2,468 arrived. Pwllheli in North Wales was not allocated any evacuees, but 400 turned up.

City children sometimes experienced prejudice in the country. Many people in rural England saw city children as lice-ridden and anti-social. R Baker, an evacuee from Bethnal Green, remembered seeing a woman ‘looking at evacuee’s hair and opening their mouths’ until a helper said ‘they might come from the East End, but they’re children, not animals’.

Many mothers brought their children home during the ‘Phoney War’ (September 1939 to May 1940). By January 1940, about 60 per cent of all evacuees had returned home. The government had not planned for these children to return, and many schools remained shut in city centres. This caused social problems: some children were left unsupervised during the day because their fathers were away fighting and their mothers were at work in the factories. These children were nicknamed the ‘dead-end kids’. These children were placed in great danger during the Blitz. Some parents, nick-named ‘trekkers’, travelled with their children out of the city centre at night to safer open ground.

By the end of 1941, city centres had become safer. Life for children regained a degree of normality. Rationing ensure that everyone ate and the fear of gas attacks had disappeared. Some cinemas even re-opened.

The Home Front was thrown into turmoil once again in 1944, when the first German V-1 flying bombs landed. London was targeted and British children were once again in great danger. This danger increased when V-2 rocket attacks begun.

What was the psychological impact of World War Two on surviving British children? Many children had been separated from their families during their formative years; others had endured the terror of bombing and rocket raids. However, many children enjoyed their stay in the countryside and were reluctant to return to the city at the end of the war.

MLA Citation/Reference

"Children and World War Two". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.