24 November 2012

English Children Of WWII

Did you know 3 million English children were evacuated privately and by the government
from major targeted locations during the Second World War?

You've actually 'met' four of them already...

Right here...

via amazon

'' Once there were four children whose names were Peter,
Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to
them when they were sent away from London during the war because
of air-raids. They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in
the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest railway station
and two miles from the nearest post office. '' 
(bold text, my addition)

Beginning in 1939
in a government-sponsored scheme,
children were transported en masse
via trains and buses to the English countryside
( often Wales and the West Country )

Upon arrival,
many children were brought to a central location
and selected by foster families
based on appearance,
much like a cattle market
Can you imagine?

An unusual event during an unusual time

Some siblings were kept together,
but often they were not

Most of these urban children had never visited a farm,
much less seen a cow before

The government even transported some children
to safer havens in foreign countries by ship
with the real threat of torpedoes looming
( Canada, United States, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand )

Most evacuees were away from home for four or five years,
experiencing the bulk of their childhood away from home

Some children felt abandoned and terribly homesick,
while others saw it as a grand adventure to live a totally different life

'' ...let's go and explore tomorrow. You might find anything
in a place like this. Did you see those mountains we came along?
And the woods? '' - Peter, The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe

Can you imagine being a parent during that time,
torn between your heart and head of letting
your children live with unscreened strangers for a indefinite amount of time
in hopes of them surviving the war?

Photo of a typical evacuated child traveling
with gas mask, suitcase, and baggage tag with child's name
(Book here)

How could a parent surrender their child to the great unknown?

Well, those parents would not want to expose
their children to the tragedies they had witnessed in World War I

They would want them to be safe from attack,
and would send them abroad if they thought it would be safer there
if Great Britain came under Nazi control

( only 22 miles of channel separated England
from German-occupied France )

There was huge pressure from the government
for parents to voluntarily evacuate their children
There was little time to decide

Furthermore, there were no schools left in 'evacuated' cities
as most had moved to the country too

I can't imagine the inner turmoil to 'do the right thing'
It would be impossible to know what that would be exactly

Sadly, parents had a hard time visiting their children
with rations of petrol, little free time, long distances,
and transportation difficulties due to bombed systems

What amazes me is that this affected
a whole English generation still living today
 as evacuees and as hosts
(now in their 70s and older)
YET I never hear it referred to
- I just happened to stumble upon a book about it in the library -

After the war,
children trickled back home
with new regional accents and country life experiences

Many returning children had to adjust to a new home (as previous one bombed),
a biological family that seemed like strangers (many didn't recognize their aged parents),
and often a new family dynamic with no father, a new baby, or a stepfather in the home

Some children became orphans or were young adults when the war ended,
so may not have ever returned 'home'

The evacuation was a success in that it saved thousands of young lives
who may not have survived had they stayed

But the break up of families was certainly a casualty of the war

I don't know about you,
but it gives me a greater appreciation for the privilege 
of witnessing my kids' childhood

And it makes me want to give them just one more squeeze before bedtime :)

Read more:
When The Children Came Home by Julie Summers (my source)
My Secret War Diary, By Flossie Albright by Marcia Williams (children's book) 


Gesci said...

Hmm... now that you bring it up, I do recall several literary and film references to this, but I hadn't fully realized it, either!
How interesting. I think I'm off to do a bit of googling...

Once again, you've provided my brain with some great material! Thanks, Laura!

~*~ saskia ~*~ said...

I'm happy I stumbled upon your lovely blog again, Laura. Off to reading some of your past posts..
Have a Wonderful Weekend!

Sandra said...

Great posting, Laura and yes, the book and subsequent film: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" give a small idea of how things were for the children during the last World War. That book and especially that little picture on the cover, really tug at my heart. One cannot imagine how it was for those children, nor for their parents at the time.
Did you read about the, then, Queen's response and reaction to all the children being evacuated? She refused to leave the city of London with her two girls as she wished to stay where she was, by her husband's side, and also to remain to give comfort through her presence and words during the difficulties of the Nation in time of adversity and hardship.

Iota said...

That book was written by a friend of my brother! She's also written one on what it was like for wives when husbands returned from war.

It must have been dreadful, especially for the families whose children were sent overseas. Dreadful for the children, dreadful for the parents. They'd have been strangers when they came back, as you say.

Try and see the film "Goodnight, Mr Tom". It's about this issue, and stars the wonderful John Thaw. You'd like it. Have kleenex ready.

Iota said...

You're right, though. It is a very hidden issue. I expect a lot of the children had a miserable time, being used as cheap farm or domestic labour, bullied at school by children whose ways were very different, or who knows what else. Maybe it was just too much to face later in life, and that's why no-one talks about it much.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

I hadn't come across that about the Queen. I can't imagine how I would have chosen - impossible to say...

Happy Homemaker UK said...

What a small world! It was a fabulous book, and I have since stumbled upon many others. I'm not sure I could handle the film, though :)

Iota said...

You totally would handle the film - I strongly recommend it. It's wonderful.

9 is my favourite number too (I feel like a small girl in the playground at this point...)

my little red suitcase said...

this is a great post! My Mums sister was evacuated as she was 7 years older than my mum who was only 6 and stayed at home. there was always a distance after that that could never be made up between them which was a shame. Also my elderly cousins father decided not to send her and her brother. They lived in Coventry which was heavily bombed. His reasoning was that if anything happened they would all go together. He had seen a man at work lose his whole family, so I think this affected his decision. Anyway they didn't go! luckily everyone was alright. Heather x

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Wow, thank you for sharing - thank goodness they all made it. What a scary time!

Kay G. said...

My husband's parents were evacuated from London during World War II. His mother had a tough time with a woman who was not nice to her. His Dad went to Scotland and the childless couple liked him so much, they wanted to adopt him.
He was there for TWO YEARS!
I need to ask them if I could write a post about them. Incredible to think what that generation went through.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

It IS amazing - clearly the generation has 'kept calm and carried on'. That would be a fascinating post - I think most Americans have no idea about the evacuees.

Vintage Sheet Addict said...

Iit must have been awful for the parents and children, do you think, when you are in a war situation you have to think differently? You go into survival mode with all 'normal' feelings needing to be squashed? I'm not sure I could let me children go :)

Noelle the dreamer said...

This brought a lot of discussion amongst us with hubby born in 39 and being one of the youngest in his family. Worcester (Midlands) was an evacuation center for children. Despite Pershore airfield nearby and many dog fights above the city, Worcester remain relatively untouched. SIL and BIL's all remained together!
We were amazed to notice in your post how few people know of this exodus. It touched many families and often children and foster families kept in touch.
Perhaps due to occupation on the Continent, WW2 remains vivid in most people's mind in Europe. The heart rending decision to send their children away was the ultimate sacrifice for families. I thank the Lord I did not have to make such decision but both hubby and I agree we wouldn't hesitate!
Vintage Sheet Addict summoned up: Survival is the only thing that matters.
Thank you again Laura for a great post!

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...


I hope that you had a fabulous Thanksgiving! I have read many books about this and find it as fascinating as you. What a difficult decision for the parents and in many cases for the children who ended up sometimes with people who were not so kind. I think that as Americans who have never really had a war like this we cannot grasp the horror. Thankfully there were many wonderful people to take in the kids.

Have a beautiful Sunday, Elizabeth

ann said...

I watched 20/20 tonight on a story about a young woman Jaycee Dugard who had been kidnapped at 11 and for 18 years suffered during her imprisonment with an evil man, even giving birth to his two children alone. She was finally saved, but the bravery and courage that she now exhibits demonstrates the power of the human soul. I cannot imagine being separated from my children and to have sent them away in time of war must have been heartbreaking, but I suppose necessary. Quite an interesting lesson you have shared.

Heather Woods said...

It had such a huge impact on the generations of the day. I know there were a lot of children who were sent over here to Australia and never went back home due to the vast distance between the countries. I'm surprised so many people aren't aware of this whole event. I know I learnt about it at school here in Australia. I guess it comes down to the difference in historical references that are taught in different countries.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

WWII is not on the minds of Americans, partly because there are no visual reminders. Here, there are many memorials, and some pillboxes and shelters still stand. Many buildings have stories of how they were repurposed during the war. In the US, many of the buildings didn't even exist until post war. There is no question Americans did not suffer hardships like the Europeans. The English fibre definitely includes the war, whereas in the US it does not.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

I was wondering if other countries learned of it - fascinating you learned it at school! I can't imagine never going home or never seeing my kids again. The whole situation just blows my mind.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

I know the lion is supposed to symbolize Jesus in the book, but I can't help but wonder if the lion could symbolize England also - slain but rises again after the war to become victorious... (the lion is a symbol of England, for those unfamiliar) That would be a fun book club discussion :)

Sandra said...

Yes, that would be a fun book discussion! I remember reading, when I wanted to understand the symbolism of the story by C.S. Lewis, that the main story is an allegory of Christ's crucifixion. Aslan (the lion) sacrifices himself for Edmund (a traitor). Aslan is killed on the Stone Table which breaks when he is resurrected.
Just out of interest, here you can read about the present Queen's mother and her reaction to leaving London during WWII: http://www.biography.com/people/queen-mother-elizabeth-9286203
Just scroll down a little to see the appropriate paragraph.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Thank you for sharing the link - what a wonderful, concise piece on the Queen Mother.

Pom Pom said...

I can't imagine it. You explain it well.

likeschocolate said...

I can't wait to read that book! I did know that children were evacuated. I had a German friend who was Jewish who was evacuated to England. Amazingly, she has no hate for the Germans. She is a remarkable woman. She was 9 when she was sent to England.

Pet said...

In the Spanish Civil War many children where sent to the Sovient Union for the very same reason. Then, Stalin kept them around, until the 60s!

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Wow! That would be incredibly painful to surrender your children, even if you felt it was for their own good. I had heard of this before, but didn't realize it was so wide-spread. Great post, as a reminder to all us parents to be grateful to have our children within arm's reach.

Daydream Living said...

Laura girl, again a great post! I too am more aware of the privilege of seeing our children, since we live here.
A lot of workers here don't see their children, wife or family. Not a war to separate them but lack of money to support them, that's the other side of the glamour...
I didn't know about the UK so thanks for sharing this.
All is well, have to get back into my routine, still have no routine to speak off other than the girls daily ones, life is good but hectic so see you soon, hugs from far away
Maureen x

Wendy said...

What a great post! Something not many of us know about. I've read stories about the evacuated children but the book you mentioned sounded like a great read. I checked the US Amazon site and I can't get it here on my kindle :o(...

Happy Homemaker UK said...

You definitely see the same in the US with migrant workers who send money back home. You bring up a whole other point about families.

Great to hear from you from sandy Dubai, as always :)

Happy Homemaker UK said...

That's a shame. It would be nice for Americans to have more access to books written by British authors. It probably has something to do with licensing?

Happy Homemaker UK said...

I think I recall they got the idea of the evacuation from your Spanish Civil War. But I didn't know they stayed so long and under Stalin's ruling. Wow

Tiziana said...

It's amazing how I've never heard of it! I'm from Malta, an ex-british colony up to 1964...so we're very familiar with English history. And I am surprised that I never made the connection when reading the Chronicles of Narnia.

Very interesting!

Denise said...

I love this article, Laura; it's fascinating. I never read the Narnia Chronicles, but our son loved them.

For several years, we had a neighbor who was British; he was from London and was also a childhood evacuee. He was in his early 70's when he lived here, but no longer lives in the neighborhood.

Yes, I think it would be incredibly difficult to have to make the decision to evacuate our only son; I'm so thankful we never had to experience that. I can't imagine how I would have dealt with that (not very well, I suspect). I'm so glad you shared this bit of history with us.


Denise at Forest Manor