Primary History

World War 2: Evacuation

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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!

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Fun Facts
  • Teachers sent letters home telling parents what to pack for evacuees: washing things, clean clothes, 'strong walking shoes', and a favourite book.

  • One teacher told her class not to suck or eat their name-labels!

  • Evacuee Norma Reeve from London stayed in a grand country house. The butler served her meals at table.

  • By 1940-1941, when the bombing was at its worst, there were 1.3 million official evacuees.

  • Evacuees were told to take food to last 2 days - including cold meat, hard-boiled eggs, biscuits and fruit.

  • Host 'mothers' swapped stories about evacuees, such as how some poor children refused to get in the bath. Coming from slum homes without proper bathrooms, they were scared of drowning!

  • Paintings from the National Gallery were 'evacuated' for safety from London to a quarry in Wales.

  • One evacuee remembered carrying his case in one hand and a bundle of comics in the other.

  • One little girl got so hungry on her evacuation-journey that she ate her toothpaste!

  • One child from a city didn't like the farm toilet; she remembered 'there was no chain [to flush the loo]; it was a hole'.

  • Some country children called town evacuees 'skinnies'. Can you think why?

  • One country mum wrote to a magazine to ask if she could swap her town-evacuees, because they were 'rough and rude'.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

air raid
An attack by planes dropping bombs.
air raid drill
Practice for what to do in air raid, such as going to the shelter.
air raid shelter
A building to protect people from bombs.
Countries (including Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the USA) who joined forces to fight the Axis Powers.
Small plot of land for growing vegetables.
atomic bomb
Weapon first used in 1945 when two bombs were dropped on Japan, killing more than 100,000 people.
Axis Powers
Germany, Japan, Italy and other countries that were allies in World War 2.
Wartime ban on street lights and other lights at night.
German air raids, from a German word 'blitzkrieg' which means 'lightning war'.
British Empire
Countries ruled by Britain.
Controlling what people say or write.
People not in the armed forces.
Civil Defence
A network of civilian volunteers who assisted in the war effort by helping in air raids and rescuing people from bombed buildings.
Group of friendly countries almost all of which were once part of the British Empire.
concentration camp
Prison where Jews and other prisoners were kept by the Nazis.
Slip of paper marked or torn out of a ration book.
6 June 1944, the date Allied forces landed in Normandy, France.
department store
Large shop selling different things in different departments.

E to G

Someone who was evacuated, moved from a danger area to a safer place.
Places where things are made.
The Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and other services.
Frank,Anne (1929-1945)
A German Jewish girl who spent two years hiding from the Nazis in a house in Holland. Her wartime diary was published after the war.
gas mask
Face mask to protect people against poison gas.
general election
Vote to choose Members of Parliament, and a new government.
Machine for playing music records.

H to L

Hitler,Adolf (1929-1945)
Leader of Nazi Germany.
Mass murder of Jews and other people by the Nazis.
host family
People who took in evacuees to live with them.
Attacked and taken over by an enemy.
People who follow the religion of Judaism.
To free from an enemy's control.

M to O

military uniform
Clothing worn by soldiers, sailors and airmen.
To do with the navy or warships.
A fight between ships at sea.
Short for National Socialist Party (in Germany), a follower of Hitler was also called a Nazi.
Taken over by enemy forces.

P to S

prime minister
Leader of the government of Britain.
prisoners of war
Soldiers captured by the other side.
Controlling news media (such as radio) to show your side in the best way.
Controlling the supply of food, clothes, petrol and other things.
A person forced to leave their home, often by war.
A list of names. In WW2 people had to register with shops before they could use their ration books there.
Fighting back in an occupied country, for example by refusing to help the enemy.
scrap metal
Waste metal such as old cooking pans.
Machine that made a wailing noise as a warning when enemy planes were seen.
A catchy phrase or saying.
Soviet Union
Country made up of Russia and other states that are now independent.
steam train
A train pulled by a locomotive burning coal.
stirrup pump
Small hand pump for squirting water to put out fires.

T to Z

A short message sent by phone, then printed out and delivered.
London's Tube rail system.
United Nations
Organization set up in 1945 by the Allies to work for world peace.
People who don't eat meat.
war crime
Mass murder or cruel treatment of people during a war.
Wooden board with ridges, for scrubbing dirty clothes on.