The differencing reactions /feelings of people in Britain to the policy of evacuating children during WW2

During the war everyone had different opinions and feelings towards the evacuation process and the intention of this essay is to get across the view of every type of person. The different groups of people during WW2 were children, government, and host, parents who went and parent who didn’t go. Each of these groups had an opinion on evacuation although each individual had there own experiences during the evacuation period from good to bad.

Around 200,000 parents applied to send their kids to America but only a few actually got the chance to, parents feared that Britain would be heavily occupied. Many people wanted to send their children to America, as it is very far away therefore a lot safer. The Parents who went with their children during ww2 often had problems in the hosts’ houses due to them not being able to get used to the slow life of villages.

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In a textbook by David Taylor in 1988 stated “unfortunately many evacuees could not settle in the countryside” They had come with no husband as they were in the war so they were living with strangers in which sometimes they didn’t get along due to personality clashes and this made some mothers get there children and go home, it was hard for the mothers as there were no chip shops or busy shops like they were used to.

Some had lost their families and friends who were back in the busy towns so they felt alone, in addition, some had lost their homes. However the positive factors for parents who went were that they were safe from bombings and with their children so they weren’t frightened or alone, the parents had visits from their husbands if they were at home, this made the mothers a lot happier. In the village there were community centres built by the government.

These were close to the heart of all evacuees, as it made them have a sense of community between people who were from the towns. In the community centres there were classes teaching how to sew, a canteen so the evacuees could eat and socialise with other evacuees once or twice a week (this gave the host a break) and also beds for when the husbands came to stay. In some villages there were parties once a week for the evacuees, they could also do their washing in the community washhouses.

This gave them time to chat and discuss issues while getting work done. The community centres were the saviour for some of the mothers. The nurseries and schools gave mothers free time to have by themselves or to socialise with other mothers, bringing them happiness and comfort in an akward situation. Mothers who didn’t go had time to work mainly building war materials (women’s war effort), they could go out without worrying about children, having to bath them, cook for them etc.

This was good for the women as they became more independent; they had fun and more time for themselves, but many worried about their children and missed them. They could only get a small postcard from them, which wasn’t in detail, therefore they didn’t know if they were being treated well, if they got on with the host, if they were ill etc. Some women who had young children were worried that when they returned their children would be a lot different and their children wouldn’t recognise them.

They forgot what it was like to live only for your children, not to have time for them anymore when they had several years of doing as they pleased and working for themselves. Fathers of evacuees would mainly be at war or working in the fields, mines etc but when they returned they didn’t need to worry about their children. When the children returned the fathers found it very hard to get used to their newly independent wives who wanted to have rights and work and have free time, the number of divorces after the war doubled.

In an extract from a mass observation survey in may 1940 they interviewed a father of a seven year old boy in which he said ‘They can’t be looked after where they’re sending them’ and that ‘well, they’ve got nothing there; they were starving there before the war’ which shows a negative attitude towards the process and just like there stereotype of being poor deprived and starved they thought the same about the country people. Many children who were being evacuated were excited to go and were happy to comply as it was seen as a big adventure.

A series of short ministry of information videos called ‘Keeping the wheels turning: women and children at war 1939-45’ said that it was a ‘Big Adventure’ in which they would get ‘new friends’ and would have ‘new things to see and do’. Most of the children loved the new home in the countryside as they had new experiences such as seeing farm animals and being in the fresh air instead of smoky, busy towns. Furthermore most of the children loved their new schools and ‘came early as they were excited’.

They got to have milk just like all the other country children, they learnt new things, made new friends, became independent and had fun as they had plenty of time to play with their new friends and on the village green they also had a sense of community and safety around them. Also there were many bad things such has many children felt like visitors to the family not part of the family, they got pushed aside and were ignored. Some hosts treated their evacuees very badly.

Most evacuees stayed in their host’s house for 5-7 years and, if children were evacuated at a very young age, when they returned home at the end of the war there was a very good chance they wouldn’t remember their parents as they have spent several years in the country with a host family with different friends and grew up with the country around them and used to the countryside lifestyle and they would be then thrown back into the city life as they were when they was 5 of which they wouldn’t remember. The evacuees wouldn’t understand their parents and the parents wouldn’t understand their children as they had been separated for so long.

It was like returning to strangers maybe to destroyed houses due to bombings. For quite a few children both parents died in the war and therefore stayed with their hosts. In an interview in 1988 with someone who was an evacuee in 1939 said that ‘ how I wish the common view on evacuees could be changed, we were not all raised on a diet of fish and chips eaten from newspaper’ this shows that not all evacuees were poor and lived the lifestyle of a ‘common city child’ that was assumed and not necessarily true. The hosts were forced into looking after evacuees even though they were paid per week.

Most hosts thought the evacuees would be flea ridden, poor and starved so they looked down upon them, the houses were cramped and busy as they had extra children and some mothers in their house meaning more cooking, cleaning, ironing etc. It was awkward for the foster mothers, as they had to share their house with other children and women, which were strangers to them so there were personality clashes and petty arguments. Some hosts treated their evacuee’s very badly such as they beat them or neglect them of attention or food or other basic necessities, these sort of experience left a very bitter view on the evacuation process.

From an interview in 1988 a mother of a host family said ‘the children went around the house urinating on walls’ and that they ‘took no notice’ this made the evacuees look very bad and misbehaved which overall made some people’s view on the evacuees very negative also in a British textbook by David Taylor in 1988 it states that ‘there were reports of children ‘fouling’ in gardens, hair crawling with lice and bed wetting’ this also made a negative stereotype of the evacuees.

This made host’s judge the evacuees before they met them an example of this is in the book ‘Carries War’ in this book her host thinks they are poor and don’t have slippers as they can’t afford them when in fact Carrie and her brother just hadn’t had time to pack there slippers ‘she thinks were poor children, too poor to have slippers’.

Many hosts welcomed the evacuees as they were elderly and looked forward to the company and the help, they knew they were doing their part for the war and was helping the evacuees and their families by taking them on, they would be saving children’s lives directly and the children could help around the house and work on the farm.

The government had put the scheme in place, during this they made propaganda films such as ‘keeping the wheels turning: women and children at war 1939-45’ and ‘westward ho’ these were to advertise the positive points of evacuation and what happens and how ‘amazing it was’ it did show bad points such as a girl getting a mix-up with luggage but that was it, this reassured the parents.

A picture was taken in September 1939 showing evacuees walking to the station in London this picture showed children happily walking with their friends, they are all smiling this would reassure parents that its enjoyable for their children and that they are doing something good and fun for there children. The government help set up the community for evacuee’s by setting up community halls and feeding centres this makes the evacuees feel more comfortable and takes the pressure of the hosts for a bit, it didn’t always go smoothly but mainly it worked very well.

The government must have thought it was working, as they didn’t send the entire children home, they kept them there and in my opinion it was worthwhile. The main attitudes of people during the evacuation process was that children found it positive as did the government, hosts’ opinions varied as hosts had difficult times yet good times.

The parents’ attitude was mainly negative especially after evacuation, as their children had returned as completely different people. Everyone is individual and therefore everyone had different experiences and felt different things. It is impossible to say fully who liked and supported evacuation and who didn’t, or who enjoyed it and who didn’t as everyone was different.

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