Evaluation of the Success of the Evacuation of Children from Major British Cities during World War II

Evaluation of the Success of the Evacuation of Children from Major British Cities during World War II

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Evaluation of the Success of the Evacuation of Children from Major British Cities during World War II


Before discussing how successful evacuation was it must first be
asked, how is success measured? Evacuation may have succeeded for
some, but failed for others. Some groups of society may have benefited
from it, others may have become worse off because of it. In some ways
evacuation was a great success. The government introduced evacuation
in 1939 to save people's lives and this was achieved; but did the end
justify the means? Can the minor successes of evacuation be said to be
just by-products of the main success?

Primarily, evacuation was successful in its main goal; it saved lives.
Throughout the blitz sixty thousand people were killed and eighty
seven thousand people were seriously injured. The may sound a lot, but
these figures are relatively small compared to estimates before the
war. Because of this evacuation was definitely a great success, but
did this success justify other failings?

The evacuation of millions of children from towns and cities in
Britain highlighted the gap that existed in the country between the
rich and poor. This had both positive and negative connotations.
Firstly, the government took steps to make social improvements to try
to lessen this gap. The government introduced things like free school
meals and milk in order to improve living conditions in poorer areas
of the country. It could be argued that these improvements were
imminent regardless of evacuation, however evacuation certainly acted
as a catalyst for these improvements. However, the rich-poor gap
certainly came to the attention of the host families. They had to
endure poor hygiene and bad manners from children "from homes where no
sentence was complete without a swear word" ('How We Lived Then').
Many of the hosts were shocked at the lack of hygiene displayed by
some of the evacuees. Oliver Lyttelton, who allowed ten children from
London to live in his large country house, later said, "I got a shock.
I had little dreamt that English children could be so completely

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ignorant of the simplest rules of hygiene, and that they would regard
the floors and carpets as suitable places upon which to relieve
themselves." The state of the clothing the evacuees were sent in was
another issue hosts had to deal with, "She thinks we're poor children,
too poor to have slippers" ('Carrie's War' - Nina Bowden). Although
this is only a children's novel and many be diluted for entertainment
purposes, it shows the attitudes of the hosts towards the evacuees.
From this, it can be said that evacuation was both a success and
failure depending on whose points of view it is looked at from.
However, most of these successes were not planned by the government
and were just side effects of evacuation so cannot really be called
successes of evacuation.

The treatment that the evacuees received at their host families varied
considerably. Some of the evacuees were treated very well by their
hosts. To many of the evacuees the homes that they were sent to were
luxury compared to their own homes in the cities. Many were treated
much better by their hosts than at home, so much so, that many of them
did not wish to leave, "don't let this woman take me away; she says
she is my mother, but I want to stay here with my aunties" ('How we
lived then'). However, there were also cases of the other extreme.
Some children were treated very poorly. In some cases this may have
been because the host families simply did not have enough to care for
the evacuee, "they were starving there before the war" (Source E).
This highlights the poor planning on the government's parts and the
lack of faith that many parents had in evacuation. However, this could
be misleading, as this was said during an interview, and interviewers
tend to have their own agendas and ask leading questions to try to get
the answers they want. But in some cases the poor treatment was not
because the host could not, but abused the children physically,
sexually or, in some cases, as slave labourers. Whether or not
evacuation can be said to be a success from this is purely subjective.
A child sent to a host who treated them well would judge evacuation to
be a success, whereas a child sent to a host who treated them poorly
would judge evacuation to be a failure.

Evacuation had a profound psychological effect upon the evacuees. At
the start of the war, people's opinions on evacuation varied. Some
evacuees had never been away from home before so seen this as a great
adventure. Others were terrified of being sent away from their
families. Source A shows evacuees walking to the station; all are
smiling and waving to the camera, suggesting that moral is high.
However, photographs are selective, as it is not clear why it was
taken; it could been for a newspaper, government propaganda or simply
someone taking a nice picture. Also, it was taken at the start of the
war, before the evacuees had reached their hosts or experienced what
life there would really be like. Source B is in contrast to Source A.
Source B says, "the children were too afraid to talk". This suggests
that even at this early stage in the process of evacuation, it had
already had traumatic psychological effects on the children. Also, the
man in charge of evacuation, Sir John Anderson, has been described as
"a cold, inhuman character with little understanding of the emotional
upheaval that might be created by evacuation". Such a man could not
have cared about the evacuees. These traumatic effects can be shown by
the bed-wetting by many evacuees, "constant washing of bedding soon
represented a serious burden". Again, the success of evacuation is
purely subjective as the personal experiences of each evacuee were
different.

Germany's plan to invade Britain was in three stages: gain air
superiority, bomb major cities, and then launch a sea-borne invasion
along Britain's south coast. When the government started to evacuate
children in 1939, they were preparing for an imminent bombardment of
Britain's major cities; this did not happen as the Luftwaffe were
still in the first phase of the invasion plan. This meant that no
bombs were dropped on British cities and this made many people feel
that evacuation had been unnecessary and began to bring their children
home. By January 1940 an estimated One Million people had returned
home. A survey in Cambridge investigating the reasons for the returns
found that four out of five evacuees returned home because of the lack
of bombing in the cities. This shows poor planning by the government
and rendered the initial evacuation pointless, as many returned
evacuees died in the blitz, making evacuation a failure.

Many aspects of evacuation were very poorly planned. Firstly, the
areas that were designated as high risk, low risk or neutral were not
very well researched. Some evacuees were sent from areas that didn't
get bombed in the blitz, to areas that did get bombed. This not only
undermined evacuation, but also had the exact opposite effect that
evacuation had set out to achieved. Also, the transportation stage of
evacuation was poorly planed, as Source B highlights, "we hadn't the
slightest idea where we were going". This is a teacher talking, so not
even the people organising the evacuation knew where they were going.
Further lack of planning was shown when the evacuees arrived. Many
evacuees were sent to the wrong place; and the villages they were sent
to were not expecting them. Source D, a government poster asking for
more foster families highlights the government's failings; the
government did not have enough host families at the start of
evacuation. Even when the evacuees were sent to the correct place it
had still been poorly planned. Many children did not have basic
provisions, such as shoes or medical care. The spread of many
infectious conditions, such as head lice, that could easily have been
avoided if the government would have took steps to check for such
infections before sending the evacuees to avoid the infections
spreading. Also, many evacuees found that they had a lack of
recreational activities in the countryside, this lead to an increase
in crime in the countryside; this was due to boredom, coupled with the
rich-poor gap. From this, evacuation was a failure as there were many
failures on the part of the government when planning evacuation both
before and after the war started.

In conclusion, it is hard to evaluate success, and it was mainly
subjective; there were many success and failures, but all in all,
evacuation as a success as it achieved what it set out to and despite
some failures it saved lives, which is what it set out to achieve.
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