Evacuation was introduced at the start of World War Two as a way of ensuring the safety of young children living in cities. Thousands of children were evacuated from big cities that were at risk of aerial bombing, like London, Manchester and Portsmouth. By the end of the war, around 3.5 million people had been evacuated.
On the eve of World War Two, European governments were terrified of the devastating prospect of aerial bombing. The attack on Guernica in Spain during the Spanish Civil War sent shockwaves through European governments.
The British government introduced evacuation on the outbreak of war with this in mind. Young children travelled with their 'minders' - either mothers or teachers - to rural areas that were less likely to be affected by bombing.
At the beginning of the war, nearly 2 million children were evacuated. The government did not force children to leave the cities, but they released propaganda posters strongly encouraging evacuation. They also appealed to people in the countryside to care for evacuees, describing it as a ‘national service’.
However, the first few months of the war are described as the “Phoney War” due to the fact that no aerial bombings took place. Unconvinced that evacuation was necessary, many parents brought their children back to the cities.
Children were evacuated again in the autumn of 1940 during the Blitz.
Evacuees had widely varying experiences. Some found a home away from home in the country, while others lived with unwelcoming and uncaring families. For some evacuees living with a new family meant getting used to news rules and restrictions. What’s more, there could be a pronounced culture clash - life in rural Britain was very different to life in big cities.
See also: Evacuation WW2
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