As war was declared in 1939, the British government knew that cities would be bombed, and thought that gas would be used. A million coffins were prepared. It was feared that many child casualties would affect morale, so pressure was put on parents to send the children away to the safety of the countryside.
Families gathered at railway stations. A label was tied to the children, giving their destination. The evacuations began on September 1, 1939. Some parents refused to allow their children to leave, but amazing numbers sent them away. Over one million evacuees left London by train.
School children travelled with their teachers, and children under five went with their mothers. Pregnant women were also evacuated. For many children the journey was exciting — they had never seen the country before. It was the first time they had seen farm animals. For many others, it was the first time they had been away from home and they were very distressed. Many evacuees felt homesick. Strangers chose them and took them to live in their homes. They went to the local school and had to make new friends. Some never settled down in their new homes. Others were happier with their new families than they had been at home. Very young children sometimes forgot their real parents.
Country people found the city children hard to cope with. They were horrified by their ignorance — for instance, many were amazed to find out that milk came from a cow. Many evacuees were poor — they had never worn underclothes, eaten food from a table or slept in a bed.
There was no bombing between September and Christmas so many parents took their children home again. Some children were evacuated again the next year and some stayed in the country for the whole of the war.