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The summer of 1939 saw children all over Britain being packed off to various countryside sites, they were transported by trains and London busses and were fully equipped with gas masks, name tags and personal belongings. They were being evacuated, the biggest movement of population in peacetime. There were many reasons for this dramatic movement and the need to tear children away from their families. The most important reason for the government to decide to evacuate children from places that were likely to be in danger was the change in warfare.
Technology had changed, the invention and the progress of the aeroplane meant that countries at war could bomb each other from the air. The British had seen the effect of air attacks, on newsreels on the Spanish civil war. In 1936 the Spanish civil war broke out, a rebellion of Spanish officers led by General Franco against the Spanish Republican government. Hitler and Mussolini contributed to General Franco’s side, believing that it was a fight against communism.
The first area to feel the effect of a German bombing raid was Republican Spain, and throughout 1937 German rearmament continued. The British could see that being an island was no longer an advantage against attack. The government’s worries are shown in this text: “If we are involved in war, our big cities might be subjected to determined attacks from the air” – Why and How, public information leaflet, July 1939. A further reason for evacuation was the government’s fear of mass casualty. If children were evacuated there would be a generation left to ensure Britain’s future was safe.
It was expected by military experts that there could be casualties as high as 4million. Preparations for mass casualties were being made by 1939, hospitals were evacuated, and coffins were built to cope with the estimated amount of casualties: ” and the government ordered hospitals to prepare for the worst and stockpile coffins” – Hindsight, volume 13. The government were not only worried about mass casualties but mass panic. Their research had shown a high demand from public for evacuation.
If the government did not organise the evacuation process then there would be chaos, as parents would find it hard to place their own children in safe areas. It would lead to whole families leaving the large cities, and setting up elsewhere. This would mean that the workforce towards the war effort would drop dramatically, as factories producing bombs etc. were usually based in large cities, the danger areas. If the government organised the evacuation of children then the parents would be more likely to stay behind and contribute to the war effort.