Don’t Do It, Mother!
In many wartime homes in cities across Great Britain, no matter how much time was spent ‘digging for victory’ or ‘making do and mending’, there would never be enough to go around. Pre-empting the scarcity of food and constant threat of death from the skies, actions were taken before war was even announced to remove children from the cities and send them to the countryside.
On the 1st of September 1939, 1.5 million children washed and dressed for school as usual but were sent home, told only that they were going on a trip the next morning. City kids, many of them poor and living in London’s notorious insect-infested slums, were excited at the prospect taking a train out to the countryside. Little did they know that for most it would be years before they returned home. An anonymous writer describes the trauma of being evacuated to America:
“Whether they believed it or not, they told us that the separation would not be for more than a year. But at 14, a year is a very long time, and I reacted with revulsion, with rage, with panic, cried most of the time in the few weeks leading up to the journey to Liverpool, and refused to be reconciled to my fate. My sister Claudia seemed to think it would be an exciting adventure.” (6)
Officially evacuation was voluntary but there was a genuine fear that children who remained in cities were not safe and many families were grateful to relinquish the care of their children to rural hosts. While some children flourished in their new surroundings others floundered and were left vulnerable to abuse.