On this day in 1939, Operation Pied Piper, which aimed to evacuate people, especially children, out of Britain’s cities, began. The Operation’s aim was to move people away from areas most at risk from aerial bombing into more rural, less industrialised areas that were less likely to be targets.
In total over 3.5 million people were moved, although the initial aim had been to evacuate more. There was enormous variation in the level evacuated between cities, with only 15% of children evacuated from some Ares, which over 60% were evacuated from Manchester, Belfast and Liverpool.
Many children went to Devon, Cornwall and Wales. Other children moved to villages in the North, East Anglia and Scotland. A smaller number of children (perhaps 10,000) went to other countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States. Evacuees went to live with host families, in what were called billets. Evacuees and their hosts were often astonished to see how each other lived. Some evacuees flourished in their new surroundings. Others endured a miserable time away from home.
By the end of 1939, when the widely expected bombing raids on cities had failed to materialise, many parents whose children had been evacuated in September decided to bring them home again and by January 1940 almost half of the evacuees returned home. However, following the German invasion of France in May-June 1940 the Lufftwaffe was able to increase attacks on Britain and so the period known as the Blitz instigated another period of evacuation. Nevertheless, the evacuation was still voluntary and many children remained in the cities. A further late wave of evacuation began in June 1944, pushed by the introduction of the German V-weapon, which was launched against cities in the east and south-east of England.
For some children, the end of the war brought an end to a prolonged period of fear, confusion and separation. For others, it brought considerable upheaval as they returned to cities and families they barely remembered.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British important events and people in British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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