Two weeks before war broke out, the Government of Great Britain were poised to start evacuating from major industrial cities. This was the process by which the blind, crippled or otherwise disabled and children up to the age of 14 were re-housed outside of their residential area. Alongside them were teachers from the schools that they had previously attended, who went along to the nearest school in the selected town where the children were evacuated to.
This precaution reflected on the statistics that the Government had compiled- they estimated over 1,000,000 would die due to bombing; as they thought that the Germans would use chemical warfare, rather than merely dropping bombs on the cities. To safeguard the future of our country, and minimize civilian deaths, children and non-essential workers were moved out of the cities. Children were initially excited by the prospect of leaving home and family; as the Government had persisted in telling everyone that the war ‘would be over by Christmas’.
When it became rapidly more apparent that this was not the case, kids began to get restless and many fled from their country homes in an effort to return to the cities. Previously to any bombing raids, however, during the phony war, many parents decided that the Government were paranoid, and sent for their children to be returned home. This put a great strain on the Government, as they had many children to evacuate yet, and if the first wave of evacuees came back, and then wanted to go again when the bombing started, it would cause a lot of extra work.
An article in the Daily Mail told of the Government’s advice against bringing children home; as it would not be possible to evacuate them quickly enough to insure their safety, especially if Germans targeted the railway networks around the country. Some members of the public were shocked by stories of city children doing ‘uncouth’ things at the houses of their hosts, such as excreting against the walls and wetting their beds with fear of what might happen to them in the hands of country folk.
Of course, it was inevitable that there would be a handful of cases like this, but the newspapers are not going to report children settling in well, and enjoying themselves: it’s not news; it’s far better to print something that interests people, as they are more likely to buy the paper again. It’s sad that even in a time of war newspapers are after a sad story for news; rather than a good one. Who says that good news is no news? Although that’s a different argument for another time.
On the whole, children settled in well and only a few attempted escape. However, the stories that got loose into the papers only served to dishearten those who had not sent their children yet; as they realised that the Government had perhaps not got everything worked out yet. The majority of people seemed to settle in OK though. Many evacuees were stereotyped by the people in the country; as one reports ‘I am quite familiar with the origins of milk’.
The common view of city-children was that they were not ‘worldly’, as it were: they did not depend on the same values as the country people; but it often worked both ways. City children were often shocked by the relatively simple lives being led by their host families. This meant conflicting reports were rife, where some children were amazed, and some families also amazed by the lifestyles each other were used to. The general public felt that the Government had been too hasty, and had perhaps over estimated the resolve of the Germans.
Some people didn’t’ send their children away for a different reason, however, and that is that they don’t trust the Government: they are sceptical of anything the Government say from the start; perhaps because they didn’t vote for Winston Churchill, or for another reason, but they simply do not like the idea that they are relying on the Government; as if they are going to be called upon one day to pay their debt back. Maybe they saw through the blatant propaganda the Government were pinning up everywhere.
(“Thank you, Mrs. Evans… we want more like you!”), and decided that if the Government were going to ‘bend the truth’ then maybe it was better to make their own arrangements. Just because they didn’t use the Government funded scheme, it doesn’t mean that they chose to keep their children by their sides: quite a few were evacuated to relations or close friends in other parts of the country, which seems like a very good idea: given the choice, I’d rather have my child leave me for four years and live with a relative than a complete stranger who I would more than likely never meet in my life.
Many parents evidently agreed, and so some went to other parts of the country on their own accord. A handful of people are just plain awkward. If you tell them to do something, then they do the opposite. Many were just being rebellious and proving a very immature point to the Government when they chose against evacuating their children to the country, and I think that they must have regretted it when the bombing started. It seems nonsensical to chose making a futile point that is just going to be put down to your stupidity over choosing the safety of your children.