Why Did the British Government Decided to Evacuate Children from Britain’s Major Towns and Cities?
During the early years of World War 2 children were evacuated from the major cities to the countryside. This was because the government was fearful that if Germany started bombing Britain nearly a whole generation could be killed and wiped out. This would be a terrible event as generations after may be hindered because the men are away fighting. Therefore it was necessary to protect children from this.
On the 31 of August, 1939, Britain’s government announced the first evacuations. Many mothers were reluctant to let their children go, but most let them.
The evacuation was removing children from major towns and cities. This was so if the city was bombed the children would not be killed. The children were evacuated to the countryside because if Germany were to bomb Britain they would bomb the cities and factories because most of the war effort would be going on there.
The evacuees had to go on trains to get to the countryside, this was because trains were the fastest was to get lots of children around the country. At the train stations the children lined up reading to go on the train. The evacuees had a gas mask with them and a small suitcase with belongings, around the neck was a name tag identifying each individual child. Once they arrived in the countryside they gathered in village or school halls where they were chosen by foster families. This was a nerve-racking experience for some or a chance of adventure for others.
As Britain thought the bombing would start immediately children were evacuated quickly. Time passed and nothing happened. This period of time became known as the ‘Phoney War’. During this period of time barrage balloons were deployed to force the German air force to fly higher, some places in public view were painted yellow with a gas sensitive paint – this was to act as a warning signal to easily show if there was gas or not from the bombs, 400 million sand bags were distributed and 38 million gas masks were distributed. As nothing happened mothers wanted to bring their children home, with some doing so. As a result the government were forced to produce propaganda which tried to persuade mothers to keep the children at the country side because if you bring them home you are helping the Germans, because if the children were in the cities they could be bombed and wiped out. This campaign had little success with lots of children returning home.
Not only did the government have problems with mothers wanting to bring their children home but they also had a hard time organising the evacuations. For example a village which was expecting young children received hundreds of pregnant women. The evacuees and hosts had to adapt to a new life quickly, this was because most of the hosts were rich middle-class people where as the evacuees were from working class backgrounds – it was the first time they had ever met, let alone lived with.
When the Blitz began another evacuation had to take place, although not on the same scale as the one in 1939. The government supplied Anderson air-raid shelters which were sunk into the ground in the back garden. They have enough room to house up to six people. By 1940 2,300,000 Anderson Shelters were given to families. A lesser known bomb shelter used was the Morrison Shelter. The Morrison Shelter was designed for people without a garden. It was similar to a table but in the event of an air raid people had to lie underneath it. As there were not enough shelters to go around, and they were not effective against high explosive bombs deeper, safer, shelters were needed. So in 1940 the London Underground was used as a shelter. At its peak 170,000 people were on it’s platforms sheltering. Everyone had to carry a gas mask with them at all times, even the evacuees in the countryside. This could be seen as propaganda as it can raise morale showing that the Government cares and the families will be safe in the shelter if an air raid happens.
Regardless of the fact the countryside was deemed safer on the 1st of September a ‘Blackout’ was put into force. This was a country wide rule which forced everyone to have thick black curtains put on their windows which stopped light from houses being seen outside by enemy bombers. This was to make the German pilots job harder to navigate and find good targets as they could only bomb in the night as it was safer for them. The German pilots also had to fly higher than they usually would have to because as an attempt to make the pilots life more difficult barrage balloons were deployed. It was a large balloon that floated in the air, it was attached to thick ropes, this meant if a plane crashed into the ropes or the balloon itself it would be damaged and crash.
After all this has been considered the British government thought that an evacuation was the best way to protect the younger generation, as a fail safe method to protect the generation would be to remove them from the threat which would ensure that morale in Britain would remain high continuing the war effort against Germany.