MobilisingBritain was far from ready for war in 1939. For years the government’s foreign policy had been conducted on the assumption that Hitler, with his huge and well-equipped army, was poised to strike East and fight it out with Bolshevik Russia. Another assumption made by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was that the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler would tell the truth and honour his verbal agreements. This turned out to be a fatal mistake. The pact between Hitler and Stalin in late August 1939 made it plain that these two leaders had quite different plans. Poland would clearly be the next victim, after which the German Army would turn on Belgium and France.
But plans to evacuate as many children as possible from the cities had already been made, and were now put into effect.
EvacuationCan you imagine removing a million children from their homes parents and schools, to a completely different and possibily alien place? That’s what happened in the first months of the war. Firstly, a full-scale rehearsal of evacuation plans took place throughout the country. Nine hundred schools in London and those from about 30 other vulnerable areas took part and a statement after the rehearsal said that it had involved a school population of over a million children throughout the country and had been a marked success. Hundreds of ‘Relieving Officers’ what we would nowadays call ‘Social Workers’ were given the responsibility of meeting groups of children and organising local people to get them into homes. How that was done, differed from area to area. Some country-side towns and villages had a well-organised group of ‘billeting officers’ others simply did the best they could with train-loads of children (perhaps with a couple of teachers from their school to help).
“For some of us it was just a great adventure – something we had to do because all the grownups said we had to do it. We weren’t all frightened or fearful in fact for many of us it was a bit of a holiday. But for some it was a traumatic and horrible experience, especially when being lined up in a strange school hall and ‘chosen’ like you were a piece of second-hand baggage.“