Evacuation was a great success - do you agree or disagree.

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Ashley M. Dickson, Year 10 Coursework, GCSE History.

On 3rd September 1939, World War II was declared. The British Government was all too aware that the international warfare that was to follow would be disastrously horrific, threatening the lives of thousands of civilians. It was quite obvious that the main targets would be the highly populated areas, and the government felt it was absolutely necessary in order to keep civilian casualties and fatalities to a bare minimum. The first round of this life-saving process commenced on 1st September 1939, and within the first month of war, a staggering 3,500,000 people were moved. 1.4 million of which were relocated within the first four days of September. It is somewhat self-evident, then, that the logistics of such an operation would be nightmarishly chaotic, and millions of evacuees were heroically moved. Despite this, there were many problems with evacuation. Social problems arose due to social mis-matching, the incompetence of billeting officers and the supposed ‘Phoney War’. Organisational problems, along with the infamous negative experience stories, contribute to the notion of failure of evacuation. However, the very fact that it saved the lives of millions of people shows a slight success. The significant word there is people. We are all people, and it our duty bound to protect and guard each other’s lives, but there are other factors involved as the subject is not ‘black and white’. Evidence and sources of information have varied greatly, over the years, as to the success or failure of evacuation. This includes the sources I am analysing that will follow. This variation of evidence is because success or failure of such an event that involves people is reliant upon personal experiences of evacuees and hosts. Obviously, experiences and feelings felt during evacuation differed vastly. It is because of this that there is such a wide range of evidence available.


        Evacuation was a huge process. It was inevitable that organisational difficulties were going to occur. At the fault of the billeting officers, many evacuees had no hosts arranged for them and so ended up being taken to anyone who would accept them. They were literally dragged from door to door, while prospective hosts slammed their door shut. Source C says: ‘We hadn’t the slightest idea where we were going…’ Source A says: ‘Arrangements, however, did not always go smoothly.’ The children recognised that people were offering people money to take them and they were still saying ‘NO’! This must have been an emotionally scarring experience. Of course, the accuracy of source A can be questioned somewhat. Firstly, it’s a secondary source from a text book. The title of the book is ‘Mastering Economic and Social history’, written for British schools. Evidently, it will be limited in detailed knowledge as it covers both economic and social history. Additionally, there isn’t time frame given which the book provides information on. Evacuation inn 1939 would have been a very small part of this book. Furthermore, the information given is quite vague, and it states that ‘many children, parents and teachers were evacuated’. It fails to give definite facts and figures. It also states that these unspecific figures of people were evacuated when war was declared. WRONG! The first round of evacuation took place between the dates of 1st – 3rd September. This signifies just how incomprehensive the book actually is.

        Alternatively, it seems that the process of walking to the train station, where they would board their trains – destination: somewhere in the rolling hills of the countryside, was fairly organised. This was because of the pre-evacuation rehearsals. Teachers, students, and some mothers had practised the journey to the train station in the summer term of 1939, as portrayed in Source B. The relevant aspects of Source B are discussed in question 1, but the main thing about the source is that it’s informing us of the positive organisation when it comes to travelling to the train station. From there, it all went down hill, as indicated by Source C.

        In conclusion, the organisational side of evacuation was actually quite good. It was just the incompetence of the problematic billeting officers that failed an otherwise successful aspect of evacuation.

When evacuation took place, it was quite obvious that the children would need a place to go, and one would think that the authorities would have had the sense to match the appropriate classes with each other. But no, there was social mis-matching galore, and it is because of this that the ‘negative experience’ stories exist. These stories are available as the viewpoint of the evacuees, and hosts, separately. Source E is an interview with a host mother, held in 1988. It shows how a poor, working class child was placed with a higher (middle-upper) class host. The evacuated family, which included the mother, was of a very poor background. The host complained of the children urinating on the walls. She even told the mother of the evacuated family to try and stop the atrocities committed by the children, unbeknownst of their crimes. It seems, due to her language and tone, ‘…urinating on the walls… our house stank to high heaven’, that the host is a very upper class person, and the evacuees are of a very poor background. These extremes of class dissimilarity elevate the situation further, as opposed to a less significant variation.

However, this extremity is relevant to the reliability of the source. It is secondary, as it is an interview held in 1988. Apparently, the interviewee (the mother of the host family) is quite an affluent individual. Such people are notoriously known as being superficial attention seekers. Because of this, it is quite probable that she has exaggerated the not-so-dramatic truth. Additionally, it is an interview, so editing on the interviewer’s behalf may have taken place in order to make the publication interesting, or in some way be an excuse from the host. Indeed, hosts received a lot of bad publicity during the evacuation process, with newspaper publications that portrayed horrific situations where children were being beaten, used and abused, and this host maybe trying to redress the balance.

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To conclude, Source E indicates a huge failure.

Similarly, but on Source E’s contrary, Source F also shows social mis-matching. A secondary source, it is again an interview with a World War II evacuee, taken in 1988. It shows that it wasn’t just poor, unrefined children that were evacuated. This interviewee is (or was) obviously of a higher class background and claims that ‘It was just as upsetting for a clean and well-educated child to find itself in a grubby semi-slum as the other way round.’ I t is quite apparent that this person had somewhat of a difficult time ...

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