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Britain Since the 1930s

by Mandy Barrow
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Evacuation of Children and Women
during World War 2

How do you think the children are feeling in the photo above?
What do you think they have packed in their bags?

What is evacuation?

An evacueeEvacuation means leaving a place. During the Second World War, many children living in big cities and towns were moved temporarily from their homes to places considered safer, usually out in the countryside.

When did evacuation take place in Britain?

The first official evacuations began on September 1 1939, two days before the declaration of war.

A second evacuation effort was started after the Germans had taken over most of France. From June 13 to June 18, 1940, around 100,000 children were evacuated (in many cases re-evacuated).

When the Blitz began on 7 September 1940, children who had returned home or had not been evacuated were evcuated. London's population was reduced by a little less than 25%.

Why was evacuation introduced by the Government?

Why was it important for people to be evacuated?

Who was evacuated?

What did they pack in their suitcases?

How were they evacuated?

Where were they evacuated to?

When were they first evacuated?

When were they evacuated again?

How many people were evacuated during the war?

What was it like for a child to be evacuated?

Why was evacuation introduced by the Government?

The British government was worried that a new war might begin when Hitler came to power in 1933. They were afraid that British cities and towns would be targets for bombing raids by aircraft.

Why was it important for people to be evacuated?

People, especially children, were evacuated for their own safety. It would have been too dangerous for them to stay in places where the bombs land on their homes and schools.

Evacuation poster

Who was evacuated?

  • schoolchildren (827,000) and their teachers
  • Mothers with children under five (524,000)
  • Pregnant women (12,000)
  • Some disabled people

A further two million or so more wealthy individuals evacuated 'privately', some settling in hotels for the duration and several thousands travelling to Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and the Caribbean.

What clothes did children take with them?

The government recommended that in addition to their gas mask and identity card the evacuees had the following items:


2 vests
2 pairs of pants
Pair of trousers
2 pairs of socks
6 handkerchiefs
Pullover or jersey


Pair of knickers
2 pairs of stockings
6 handkerchiefs

What else did they pack in their suitcases?

  • Overcoat or mackintosh
  • Comb
  • 1 pair of Wellington boots
  • Towel
  • Soap
  • Facecloth
  • Toothbrush
  • Boots or shoes
  • Plimsolls
  • Sandwiches
  • Packet of nuts and raisins
  • Dry biscuits
  • Barley sugar (rather than sugar)
  • Apple

Evacuation by trainHow were they evacuated?

By train and road

Where were they evacuated to?

To smaller towns and villages in the countryside. Some children were sent to stay with relatives outside in the countryside, but others were sent to live with complete strangers.

Sir John Anderson (a member of the House of Commons and placed in charged of Air Raid Precautions or ARP) divided the UK into three areas:

1. Evacuation – areas where heavy bombing was expected.
2. Neutral – areas that would not need to send or receive evacuees.
3. Reception – rural areas where evacuees would be sent.

When were they first evacuated?

At 11.07am on Thursday 31st August 1939 the order was given to evacuate forthwith.

1.5 Million children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people such as the disabled, evacuated to safer countryside locations in just two days.


There were no big bombing raids on Britain in the first months of the war (know as The Phoney War) as a result by early 1940 many children had returned home.

When were they evacuated again?

When heavy bombing raids started in the autumn of 1940 - The Blitz - and then later, in 1944, when Germany attacked Britain with V1 Flying Bombs and V2 rockets.

How many people were evacuated during the war?

By the end of the Second World War around 3.5 million people, mainly children had experienced evacuation. No one was forced to go but parents were encouraged by posters and told that their children would be safer from German bombs if they moved to the country.

What was it like for a child to be evacuated?

Children had labels attached to them, as though they were parcels. They stood at railway stations not knowing where they were going nor if they would be split from brothers and sisters who had gathered with them. They felt scared about being away from their families.

After their train journey they arrived at an often unknown destination tired, hungry and uncertain whether they would ever see their families again. On arrival there were 'pick-you-own evacuee' sessions where hosts haggled over the most presentable children while the sicklier and grubbier children were left until last.

Find out more

My Evacuation Story by Ruth Marsden (student)
Ruth writes about how she imagines it was like to be evacuated.

Evacuation information

Photos of Evacuees


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Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant.
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.

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