Except for a small number the children were filthy and in this district we have never seen so many verminous children lacking any knowledge of clean and hygienic habits. 

from an interview with a host family

verminous: having lice and fleas.


Snaith Primary site - excellent & easy 


YouTube and other movies

BBC movie-animation

  Film clips


BBCi Children of WWII site - simple

The 'HistoryLearning' site - basic info

The 'BattleofBritain' on evacuations  

The BBCi site on evacuation (esp. the audio-memories) - fab!

The Bristol evacuees

The govt's Learning Curve site

Evacuees' memories (eye-opening)

Blackpool memories


  Chesham at War: evacuation


An extract from Norman Longmate's fantastic book: How We Lived Then


The government knew that cities would be bombed, and thought that gas would be used. A million coffins were prepared.  It was feared that many child casualties would affect morale, so pressure was put on parents to send the children away to the safety of the countryside.


Families gathered at railway stations.  A label was tied to the children giving their destination.  The evacuations began on 1st September 1939.  Some parents refused to allow their children to leave, but amazing numbers sent them away.   Over one million evacuees left London by train.  


School children travelled with their teachers.  Children under five went with their mothers.   Pregnant women were also evacuated   For many children the journey was exciting, they had never seen the country before. It was the first time they had seen farm animals.  For many others it was the first time they had been away from home and they were very distressed.



Source A

Government propaganda put immense pressure on parents to send their children to the ‘safety’ of the countryside.  In this poster, who is the ghostly figure whispering ‘Take them back’? 





Source B

Evacuees on a train out of London, September 1939.  All photographs like this were vetted by the government before they were released. 





Source C  

A teacher remembers being evacuated with children from her school  

All you could hear was the feet of the children and a kind of murmur, because the children were too afraid to talk.  Mothers weren't allowed with us, but they came along behind.  When we got to the station the train was ready. We hadn't the slightest idea where we were going and we put the children on the train and the gates closed behind us. The mothers pressed against the iron gates calling, 'Good-bye darling'.

from an interview in 1988 with a teacher.


Many evacuees felt homesick.   Strangers chose them and took them to live in their homes.   They went to the local school and had to make new friends.  Some ended up with brutal or dirty carers.   The country was different to city life.  Some never settled down in their new homes.

       Others – such as the comedian Kenneth Williams – were happier with their new families than they had been at home.  Very young children sometimes forgot their real parents.











Source D

Evacuees enjoying a bath – again, a photo published with government permission.   This picture was published in London, where the children’s mothers lived.



Country people found the city children hard to cope with.   They were horrified by their ignorance – for instance, many were amazed to find out that milk came from a cow.  Many evacuees were poor – they had never worn underclothes, eaten food from a table or slept in a bed.  Some were filthy and naughty. Many wet the bed. 



Source E

The mother of a host family looks back

The children went round the house urinating on the walls.  Although we had two toilets they never used them.  Although we told the children and their mother off about this filthy habit they took no notice and our house stank to high heaven.

from an interview in 1988 with the mother of a host family


Source F

An evacuee looks back

How I wish the common view of evacuees could be changed.  We were not all raised on a diet of fish and chips eaten from newspaper, and many of us were quite familiar with the origins of milk.  It is just as upsetting for a clean and well-educated child to find itself in a grubby semi-slum as the other way round.

from an interview in 1988 with someone who was an evacuee in 1939


Source G

An extract from a novel about evacuees

Miss Evans looked down at their feet.  "Better change into your slippers before I take you to your bedroom."

      "We haven't any," Carrie said.  She meant to explain that there hadn't been room in their cases for their slippers, but before she could speak Miss Evans turned bright red and said quickly, "Oh, I'm sorry, how silly of me, why should you have slippers?   Never mind as long as you're careful and keep to the middle of the stair carpet where it's covered with a cloth."

      Her brother Nick whispered, "She thinks we're poor children, too poor to have slippers," and they giggled.

Nina Bawden, Carne's War (1973)

A novel for children written by someone who had been an evacuee.


Did You Know?

The immediate reaction of families, faced with a wild, filthy urchin, was to blame the parents.  In time, however, they realised that poverty, rather than parenting, was to blame.  For many middle-class people, it was the first time they had seen poverty at first hand.  In this way, evacuation was one factor which led people to demand a Welfare State after the war.


There was no bombing between September and Christmas so many parents took their children home again.  Some children were evacuated again the next year and some stayed in the country for the whole of the war.


Source H

Relations between evacuees and host families

Many children, parents and teachers were evacuated when war was declared. The evacuees were received at reception centres and then placed with local families.  Arrangements, however, did not always go smoothly. Unfortunately many evacuees could not settle in the countryside. The country people were shocked at the obvious poverty and deprivation of the town children, not to mention their bad manners.  There were reports of children 'fouling' gardens, hair crawling with lice, and bed wetting.

D Taylor, Mastering Economic & Social History (1988)

David Taylor is a modern historian.



1.  Is there any difference between Source A and Source B? 

2.  Look at sources B and C.   Were evacuees excited at the idea of going away? 

3.  Which is more useful to an historian, Source B or Source C?  

4.  Sources E and F are interviews with people involved in evacuation.   Why are they so different?  

5.  Source G is from a children’s novel.   Is it therefore useless to historians?