World War 2

Evacuation during the Blitz

The evacuation of children from British towns and cities gave temporarily protection from the Blitz during the Second World War.

As war drew near in August 1939 the Government began to put into operations defence measures. On the last day of August the voluntary evacuation of children of school age from danger areas took place.

During the first phase to the evacuation, roughly half of London’s school children had become evacuated. The day of departure must of been very painful for both parents and children. During early morning the children became lined up in the playground by their teachers. Each child carried a gas mask and a bag containing essential items.

british evacuation of children during 1940
British Evacuation of children during 1940

Some children were said to have departed with buckets and spades because their parents had not the heart to tell them what was really happening. Another story was that a child asked why the mothers at the school gate were crying, to which a quick-witted teacher replied “because they cannot go on their holidays too”.

The children, walking in pairs, were led to the station by a person (usually the school caretaker) carrying a placard giving the reference number of the group. The majority of children departed by train and in four days 72 London Transport Stations despatched some 1.3 million children in 4,000 special trains.

Often the trains had become diverted along branch lines. Many only had single compartments and no corridors. The food was that which was taken and the toilet facilities were few. The journey was often long, and not even the teachers, knew where they were going. On arrival, the children were marched to the reception centre, which was often a school or a church hall.

a policeman makes sure some evacuees are on the correct train out of london in 1940
A policeman makes sure some evacuees are on the correct train out of London in 1940

Then began the long process of distributing children among the local people. Once settled, parents would visit their children at the weekend. By the end of the year, with the expected bombing not having taken place, many parents took their children home.

When the Blitz began the process began again, and this time the Government began to clear all children from a belt ten miles inland. From the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk and later from towns such as Chatham, Rochester, Hull and Portsmouth.

The other form of evacuation consisted of institutions such as schools, hospitals and government departments becoming relocated in safer areas. Hospitals in the war casualties. Many large country houses and mental hospitals had become requisitioned. Doctors and nurses despatched to them to await the injured.

british evacuation of children in 1940
British evacuation of children in 1940

The BBC moved to Bristol, and then, when Bristol was bombed, to Evesham in Worcestershire. Billingsgate Fish Market left London for Maidstone, while part of the War Office went to Evesham. Part of the Ministry of Information went to Malvern. Civil servants from London had become dispersed as far away as Blackpool in Lancashire. Many remained in their new homes after the war ended.

Many who could afford to leave the danger areas voluntarily. Several of the coastal towns of the South East and their populations fell dramatically. Folkestone in Kent saw its population of 46,000 drop to 6,000.