Overseas British Evacuation of Children: Destinations--United States

Figure 1.--The British evacuation of children to America was primarily a prvate undertaking. The arrangements were organized by the U.S. Committee for the Care of Refugee Children which involved many Quakers. The location of this photograph is unknown. It is not Wellesley College or the Home for Little Wonderers. This scene was part of a British newsreel showing how the evacueees were doing. Pathe News

At the beginning of the War America was neutral. Most Americans wanted no part of the War, but from the beginning there was enorous sympathy for Britain. America was a large country which easily absorb the evacuees ahd like Canada was relatively close to Britain. The fall of France brought the issue to a head and British officials began planning for a lasrge-scale evsacuation of British children. America had, however, strict immigration laws. This presented a serious obstacle to accepting any significant number of British refugees. The evacuations to America were a private undertaking and not a Goverment evacuation. For the evsacuations to take place, however, the organizers needed to obtain American visas for the children as well to find families in America willing to care for the evacuee children.

Childrens Overseas Reception Board

The War news inspired private groups in America and the Dominions to offer a safe haven for British children. There were groups in Austrlia and New Zealand willing to take in chidren, but the distances involved meant that it the overseas evacuations would mostly be to America and Canada. The Government estblished the Childrens Overseas Reception Board (CORB) (May 1940). It ws assigned the responsibility of organise the overseas evacuation of children to the Dominions. [Wallace] It was at this time that the long antiipated German Western offensive was launched (May 10). Within weeks the BEF had to be evacuted from Dunkirk an France fell. It looked to mny as if Britain as next and the Panzers would be moving up Whitehall. The disastrous news from France changed attitudes about overseas evacuations. Parents had submitted 210,000 applications by July when the scheme was closed.

British Overseas Evacuations

While the need to assist Jewish children was the impetus behind USCOM, in the aftermath of the fall of France (June 1940) and the German attacks on Britain, attention turn to British children. It looked very likely that Britain too would soon fall. British officials began planning for a major overseas evacuation. Unlike the evacuation from the major cities, this was not to be just children in cities targetted by the Luftwaffe, but was to save British children in general.

U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children

The U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) is best known for its efforts to try to save Jewish refugee children during World War II. AFSC Chairman Clarence Pickett organized the USCOM (JKune 1940). USCOM also worked to save British children when the NAZIs began to bomb Britain into submission. Images of German bombing raids and European refugees had a major impact o American opinion and this only increased when the Germans began bombing Britain. USCOM was organized by the Quaker American Friends Service Connitte (AFSC), but operated on a non-sectarian basis. As America was neutral, USCOM?AFSC was able to operate in Vichy France even safter Hitler declared war on America. They managed to save over 800 Jewish children in Vichy France. First Lady Eklenor Roosevelt strongly supported their activities. USCOM spokesmen lobbied for immigration support, but this was not achieved until after the War. Mrs. Roosevelt's support helped USCOM expand its work. The committee continued to function after the War when chagese made to the immigrsation laws. USCOM closed (1953).

American Political Background

USCOM conceived of participasting in this effort and helping to evacuate British children endangered by the Luftwaffe bombing of Britain. Some in the U.S. Government including the President and First Lady wanted to help save children endangered by the German boming. The Administration was thus receptive to lobbying by humanitarians groups desiring to bring British children to America. All this was going on in the midst of President Roosevelt's campaign for reelection. A heated political debate was in progress in America at the time over aid to Britain. between the isolationists desiring to keep America from supporting Britain and President Roosevelt'd Administration which was determined to aid Britain. The President also faced the third term problem. It is difficult to know to what extent this influenced his judgement. Mrs Roosevelt's concern was more likely strictly humanitarian. The USCOM sought to temporarily relocate British children to the United States for their security. One report suggests The President asked his wife to work with USCOM to arrange the transport of British children across the Atlantic to America (June 1940). It seems more likely the First Lady raised the issue.


The children were evacuated from Liverpool. As America was neutral, the children were landed in Canadian ports. They then were taken by train to American destinantiions. Pne such destination was Boston and Welesly College. We do not know of other sites where the children were proccessed at this time. Only about 800 British children were evacuated to America. One of the individuals involved tells us about the experiences of his brother and himself--Alan and Grahm.

Wellesly College

After arriving in America, some of the children were billetted at Wellesley College until host families could be found for them. Wellesley College is a one of the best known women's liberal arts college in America, one of the notable Seven Sisters. It is located, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, founded in 1875. We are not sure just how Wellesley fit in to the refugee story. Many important colleges and universites with traditions and ties to Britain were important supporters of the Administration. It might have been Quaker connections. Quite a number of Quakers attended Wellesley College and the Quakers played a major role in the American Committee which took responsibility for the children were Quakers. And many Wellesley alumni were Quaters. One of the refugees tells us, "In my communication with the archivist at Wellesley College in 2008 here is an extract from one of her eMails, 'The files have a few items that indicate Wellesley College was approached about this enterprise early in the summer of 1940, and clearly at some point the Boston Chapter of the United States Committee for the Care of European Children was involved. The Transcript covered part of Wellesley's expenses. " The Transcript reffered to is the Boston Transcript newspaper. I think it was the Transcript who arrange our accommodation with Wellesley College, as they were our sponsors and responsible for the physical arrangements. The Welfare aspect was the American Committes responsibility. Many of Wellesley students returned early to College to look after us. Local children also used to come and play with us. I learned to ride a bike round the quad at Wellesley thanks to one boy. We couldn't have been made more welcome." We are not sure just how many of the British refugee children were processed through Wellesly.

Another Transcriptor Group

A further group of Transcriptors were landed in New York. Their first night was spent in the New York Mission to Seamen. One of the girls was a bit put out as all the loos were for men! They had a day out at the World Fair. They were eventually billeted at Clift House, Winthrop Highland, Massachusetts. That might be the building with the portico in the Pathe newsreel (figure 1).

Little Wanderers

There were other reception points for the British evacuee children. One group was boarded at the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston. This was a Home created in the 1860s to care for children left homeless and wandering the streets of Boston after the Civil War, presumably the children of men killed in the War. They are still in existence and offering services to underprivlidged Boston children. We see from the Little Wanderers web site they had over 250 evacuees through their door in 1940, but this could well include children other than British. A British reader tells us, "I have been in touch with the administration at the New England Home for Happy Wanderers. They have been able to tell me that the photo in this page, is not their home. They had over 250 evacuees through their doors. The numbers sponsored by the Boston Transcript would have been a small proportion. The Portico building and the one next to it with shutters, looks Ivy League to me. There was an evacuation group from Oxford linked with Harvard. [It may have been Yale.] I wonder if this might be at Harvard? Perhaps other viewers might offer and opinion. An interesting Western Union Telegram from The Wanderers Home to a prospective Foster Parent dated September 6. It reads: 'WOULD LIKE TO PLACE LITTLE ENGLISH GIRL WITH YOU IMMEDIATELY CAN YOU COME TO NEW ENGLAND HOME FOR LITTLE WANDERERS TOMORROW MORNING TO CONSULT WITH US AND SEE HER IF IMPOSSIBLE WOULD YOU ACCEPT HER SIGHT UNSEEN IF AGENT BROUGHT HER DOWN TO MARTHA'S VINEYARD SATURDAY OR SUNDAY PLEASE. XXXXXXX Care of U.S. Committee European Children.' The article doesn't say whether Bridie was accepted 'sight unseen' or not, but is was a very happy fostering and Bridie is still in touch with her foster siblings." [Ardouin]

Oxford-Yale Group

An Oxford group was among the several private overseas evacuation schemes. Oxford scholars were among the many Brits with the fall of France fearing that the NAZIs would soon be crossing the Channel as well. Without any prompting, professors at Yale wrote to Oxford and Cambridge offering to take in their children (June 1940). Many Yale professors had professional contacts with British academics. The letter was written by a group named the Yale Faculty Committee for Receiving Oxford and Cambridge University Children. It offered a haven in still neutral America for the university children. Many British children had been evacuated to the countryside (September 1939), returned, and now being evcuated gain. This was an different offer. It was not a government program, but an offer from American university professors. And it meant safety once across the Atlantic. The children would be safe not only from the Luftwaffe, but the very real threat of German invasjon. They would, however, have to unlike evacuations to the countryside face the danger of prowling U-boats. Oxford parents were faced with the heart-wrenching decesion of parting with their children to save them. It was a parental decision, but they met at Oxford’s Rhodes House to discuss how to respond. The Oxford dons and their wives faced the same agonizing decision that other parents faced. They may have been a little more aware of the nature of the NAZIs, but no one outside German-occupied Poland at the time fully understood the evil involvd. Many were terrified with the possibility of their children being subjected to NAZI occupation. Others felt that the trauma of separation was just to painful to consider. Others did not like the idea of flight across the ocean seeing it as defeatism. After much soul searching, the parents of some 125 Oxford children decided to accept the Yale offer. As far as w know, Cambridge did not respond to the Yale offer. One historian writes, With just weeks to prepare 'an unseemly scramble' until on 8 July 1940 the SS Antonia set sail from Liverpool, carrying the children and 25 of their mothers through thick fog and out into a stormy Atlantic, bound eventually for New Haven, Connecticut. [AJP Taylor] Swathmore also seems to have been involved. When they arrived, all most knew abut America was from the Hollywood movies which meant cowboys, Indians, and gangsters. The children were about to be introduced to the cornucopia of Coca Cola (with ice), Hershey bars, chewing gum, cookies, the Good Humor Man, hot dogs, hamburgers, summer camp, baseball, and much more. Five years later they would return home sounding more American than British. And to a very grey Britain which would continue World War II rationing into the 1950s.

American Mission to Seamen

Our British reader tells us, "I came across another piece form the BBC sries on the Evacuation of children. The author writes that she was a Transcriptor and landed in New York in Early September`1940. They were lodged in the American Mission to Seamen and visited the Worlds Fair at Flusing Meadows New York before being sent to Clift House, Winthrop Highlands, Massahusetts. I can find no record of this as a Welfare institution. I have asked the Little Wandereds if they have any info." [Ardouin]

Program Ended

The evacuation program was ended by the British. The threat of an aminent German invasion had abated after the British victory in the Battle of Britain (September 1940). Churchill when he learned of the Benares disaster moved to end the overseas evaucation scheme. [Gilbert, 20th Century, pp. 321-342.] He had never liked the CORB project and there is some suggestion that he was not aware that it had been activated. The Benares disaster was a public relations disater for both the CORB program and the Admiralty. The British public seemed more enraged at the admiralty than at the Germans. The fact that the escorts were peeled off, Benares was at the head of the convoy, and the convoy was not taking evasive action all feaured prominanly in the subsequet inquiry. There were only two more CORB sailings. One ship departted before news of the sinking were reported. The last group of CORB children were 29 children sailing on the Nova Scoti (September 21). The convoy was attacked by U-boats, but Nova Scotia delivered the children safely to Canada. [Fently, p. 146.]

Kinsman Trust

The articles about the Little Warders and the little English girl also mentions that her father paid into a fund called the Kinsman Trust. It was set up to provide educational opportunitiies for children of the host families. Her foster brother later (post war of course) attended Magdalen College School in Oxford for a year. The existence of this Fund was news to me. [Ardouin]


Ardouin, Alan. E-mail message, September 12, 2009.

Fethney, Michael. The Absurd and the Brave: CORB--The True Account of the British Government's World War II Evacuation of Children Overseas (Lewes: The Book Guild, 2000).

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Taylor, AJP.


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Created: 6:10 AM 9/24/2007
Last updated: 9:49 AM 1/9/2017