Why did the British government decide to evacuate children from Britain’s major cities in the early stages of World War 2
Evacuation in World War 2 was the process of removing children from their families in major cities and moving them to quieter locations away from potential bombing. The children were placed with relatives wherever possible but the majority of children were sent to stay with complete strangers who would look after them until the bombing had ceased. Evacuees were sent into other people’s houses with their gas masks and the clothes they were wearing, not knowing when, if ever they’d be re-united with their families and people that cared about them.
Evacuation wasn’t always bad for the children; sometimes they’d settle down and enjoy life in the countryside. The more unfortunate children were bundled through the doors of people that didn’t want another child but often they were accepted more as time went on. The primary reason for the evacuation of young children was obviously their safety. Britain’s major cities were expected to be the targets of German bombers, as this was where the most damage could be caused.
Rural areas wouldn’t be as much of a target as there wasn’t really much to be gained by dropping a bomb where the only victims would be a few sheep as this wouldn’t have any particular effect on Britain’s war effort. Britain’s war effort itself could benefit from the evacuation of children because women wouldn’t have the responsibility of looking after them so they’d be able to work in munitions factories providing vital weapons for the soldiers out fighting.
The women would be quite willing to work in the munitions factories because their thoughts would be with the soldiers they were making the weapons for – often their husbands. Another way Britain’s war effort could benefit from evacuation would be that with the children growing up in the countryside, they’d stand a much better chance of living until they were old enough to join the army. Evacuees in the countryside would eventually join the army to protect the people living in the cities – their families.
The British government had to be sure that bombing was almost certainly going to happen otherwise children would never have parted with their families. They installed air-raid sirens which as well as being a warning signal would inject worry into mothers fearing for their children’s safety, therefore making them more willing to allow them to be evacuated. The British were so confident that bombing was a definite threat because planes that had been used in World War 1 had been developed to travel over longer distances, carry heavier guns and generally more destructive weapons.
Bombs were being mounted near the under-carriages of planes and could be dispersed by pressing a single button inside the cockpit which meant that the pilot’s job was just to fly over the desired areas, making destruction of important places almost inevitable for the British public. It wasn’t just the ease with which the bombs were dispersed either; it was the sheer power of them. The planes could carry bigger bombs and bigger bombs meant more danger. Hitler had sent pilots to intervene in the civil war in Spain to gain experience in fighting in a war-time environment.
The British pilots only had experience of flying in a peace-time environment, so in many cases they wouldn’t really know what to expect when they flew over German cities for the first time which would be quite off putting for their first few flights and could force errors to be made. The Spanish civil war was also significant because it left absolutely no doubt that the destructive power of the German Luftwaffe was an enormous threat. The threat of the Luftwaffe was also coupled with Germany’s new tactics – blitzkrieg.
The blitzkrieg tactic basically meant “lightening war” and was a concept original devised by a German army officer called Hans Guderian. The tactic was then later adopted by Hitler and used to devastating effect against Czechoslovakia and Poland which demonstrated the potential danger faced by Britain once more. The German’s would be able to apply their new tactics more successfully during the night as this reduced the risk of planes being shot down by anti-aircraft gunners.
Because of the darkness the German Luftwaffe pilots wouldn’t be completely aware of the location of the cities they were due to bomb and in the hope of hitting Britain’s industrial targets would drop their bombs in large numbers, often hitting areas of housing and killing families in these areas. The British government knew this and ordered a complete blackout during the nights so that the location of their cities remained a mystery, evacuation was also seen as a precautionary measure.
Children would be better away from this environment because as if an air raid wasn’t frightening enough they could easily become separated from their parents in the darkness of the black out. Another reason behind evacuation was the fear of poison gas attacks. Gas was lethal and a very unpleasant way to die as had been seen in World War One. As a precaution, the British government developed and issued 38 million gas masks before the war was officially declared.
These masks were made appealing to young children by making them in the designs of well known figures such as Mickey Mouse; however this alone may not have been enough of an incentive for the children to actually wear them. If they weren’t worn, gas would get into their respiratory systems, causing an extremely painful death. Evacuation removed children from this additional danger. I believe that the British government’s most important reason however, was that children were safely away from the bombing of the blitz.
This would be within their own best interests because if children were being killed, their parents would hate the government for allowing the war to begin in the first place and the country’s morale levels would drop immensely which could mean losing the war. Children were also needed to survive because as soldiers were killed they needed replacements and without children who would they be? The next generation were being relied on heavily and were being brought into fighting as soon as they were old enough.
If they’d been in the cities they would’ve most likely been killed or seriously injured during an air raid and wouldn’t ever have able to fight for their country, again meaning a loss of the war for Britain. The British government was nearly ready for war in 1939 because war plans were drawn up in 1936 and gave the country three years of preparation. Included in these war plans were individual plans for the evacuation of young children. These plans were so effective they meant that evacuation could begin even before the war was officially declared.
I believe that the British government certainly did the right thing in evacuating children from the country’s major cities. It may not have pleased parents immediately after the decision was made but in the long run they’d see that it was best for the safety of their children. Without evacuation, Britain’s morale and conscription levels would have been rock bottom. I believe that evacuation was one of the factors that lead to Britain’s victory in the Second World War.