Why were children evacuated?
People expected cities to be bombed, as enemy planes tried to destroy factories. But bombs would hit homes and schools too, so children would be in danger. The government tried at the start of the war to 'empty the cities' of children and mothers, This was 'evacuation', to protect them from air raids.
The plan was put into action in September 1939. About 800,000 children left their homes. However, many returned home after a few weeks. Others stayed in the countryside for the rest of the war.
Where did children go?
Children were sent from cities to places where there was less risk of air raids. Many London children went to Devon, Cornwall and Wales. Other children moved to villages in the North, East Anglia and Scotland.
Evacuees went to live with host families. Their new homes were called 'billets'. 'Billeting officers' arranged for people to look after the children. Things did not always go to plan. Some children ended up in the wrong places. Sometimes evacuees just stood in a line, and local people picked which children to take.
A smaller number of children (perhaps 10,000) went to other countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States.
How did evacuees travel?
An evacuation journey often began with a walk to school. Then it was off in buses to the station, where special trains were waiting. It was quite exciting, but most children felt sad as they waved goodbye to their mothers and the steam train puffed away.
Every evacuee had a gas mask, food for the journey (such as sandwiches, apples, chocolate) and a small bag for washing things and clothes. Pinned to the children's coats were labels. On the label were each child's name, home address, school and where he or she was going. Often the journey took several hours.
Life for evacuees
Though evacuees missed their homes, many enjoyed the country. Country life was full of surprises. Some city children had never seen a cow, and were startled to see where milk came from. Seeing carrots growing in muddy fields, one child said in disgust 'ours come in tins'.
Locals and evacuees went to school and played together. Most became friends, though local children sometimes said it was unfair when the 'townies' were given sweets and parties!