Many mothers in English cities had to send their children away to the countryside for the duration for the war – from September 1939 – estimates range from 800,000 to more than two million children. Around 2,500 children were sent overseas to Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It is estimated that, by the end of 1941, around 14,000 British children had been evacuated overseas by private arrangement, over 6,000 to Canada, 5,000 to the United States and around 600 to Australia. Unfortunately two ships carrying children overseas were torpedoed by German U-boats in 1940.
By the end of 1941 Australian mother’s were also encouraged to send their children out of the cities – to protect them from possible bomb attacks – not only because of the possible physical injuries, but also the horror of seeing and hearing bombing happening around them. Evacuation was not compulsory in Australia, except for Darwin, which did actually face Japanese air raids and bombing – women, children and aborigines were evacuated. In other cities you could register your children for evacuation – just in case.
Most children returned to their families after the war – some having been away from home for six years. What must it have been like to be sent away from home at five, 10 or even 14, as some of the older ones were, and then come home years later? Could you pick up where you left off? Would you remember, or like, your mother? Would mother’s cope with their children? And what about the children whose lives actually improved when they were sent away, perhaps living better quality lives than they had at home?
Hopefully we will never again be a position like that of WWII (although evacuation of children to other countries had happened in subsequent wars, like the Vietnam War), but as a mother the idea is an interesting one. If you are interested, here is some further reading –
The memories of Mavis Robinson
The memories of playwright Terence Frisby
When The Children Came Home: Stories Of Wartime Evacuees by Julie Summers (book to buy)