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) 

 
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