World War II: Allied Evacuations of Civilians (September 1939)

World War II Allied evacuatiins
Figure 1.-- Source: These British school children from London or other large city have just gotten off the train at their provincial destination. They are proceeding to a church or town hall where they will be assigned to families that will take care of them. Notice the gas mask boxes and labels. The photograph is undated but was probanly taken sometime about September 1-3, 1939. Source: Imperial War Museum.

The Allies, especially the governments and public, believed that the NAZIs would begin the War by launching an aerial bombing campaign. There was great fear that this would include poison gas attacks. There was huge discussion of this in the inter-War era, especially after Hitler's rise to power. Paris was in range of Luftwaffe bombers, London was not in any meaninful way a long as the Low countries and France stood between. The Germans did begin bombing Polish cities at the inset of the War, they did not, however, bomb British and French cities. This was presumably did not because that would have resulted in the Allies bombing German cities. As far as we know, these evacuations only took place in Britain and France, not in Germany during Britain and the Germans. The British began evacuating London and other large cities even before declaring war. The British were not prepared for war, but one area they had prepared for was a German aerial bombing attack. This was the result of German Zephin and bomber attacks during World War I. The first step was to get the children out of London and the other large cities. The evacuation was not mandatory and quite a number of parents held on to their children. It was one of the largest mast movement of civilians in the history of War.

French Evacuations

The French organized evacuations, but on a much smaller scale than the British. The French evacuated large numbers of school children from Paris. This AP wirephoto of French school boys appeared on August 30, 1939, as Hitler was posed to launch World War II. The caption read, "While troop trains roll across Europe today, these Paris school boys, blanket rolls on their backs and valises in their hands, hurried to school to join playmates in a flight from the city and the dangers of air-raids. Evacution of nearly 50,000 children from Paris was begun." We think the French evacuations were the individual choices of parents and not a French Government action, but our information is still limited. We are not sure yet what happened in other cities.

British Evacuations

The British Government even before war was declared on Germany in September 1939 sought to safeguard the civilain population, especially children, from aerial bombardment. The Government on August 31, 1939 ordered the evacuations to begin. Within a few weeks, 3 million Britains, mostly children had been evacuated from the cities. It was the most extensive movement of people in British history. Chaos insued as the children were tagged liked parcels and shipped out of the cities. The abrupt separtaion of many very young children from their parents was a traumatic experience. The British concern was especially deep because of the Luftwaffe atracks on civilian populations. Even before the Blitz, the British watched in horror as the Luftwaffe in September launched terror attacks on Warsaw and other Polish citids. The vast majority of the children evacuated were sent to the English countryside, usually to live with individual families who volunteered to care for them. After the German victory in France (June 1940) and the Blitz on Brutain began (July 1940), the Government began to see Canada and other Commonwealth nations as safer havens, nor only from the aerial bombardment, but also from a possible German invasion. Some children were evacuated by ship to British Dominions, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. The first child evacuees, or "guest children" were of the wealthy classes, sometimes entire schools were sent through private arrangements to family or friends in Canada. The British public eventually demanded the government pay so that less privileged children were also eligible. The War situation changed by early 1941. A German invasion was no longer though eminent and the Luftwaffe was forced to wind down its bombing campaign. Two ships carrying child evacuees were torpedoed. As a result, the Government in early 1941 ended further evacuation plans. This program has been the subject of both scholarly study as well as a wide range of liteary and theatrical treatment.

Germans Do Not Evacuate

We are not sure if plans for an evacution of children were brought to the Führer. We do know that no such evacuation was ordred. A factor here was Hitler was not sure about the reaction of the German people to war. This was one reason that he was intent on having the British and French declare war, not Germany. This could put the onus for the War no the Allies not himself. He was also confident that the Allies would not declare War. And when they did was sure that they would not strike with force. He was also relying on Luftwaffee Chief Göring's assurance that the Luftwaffe could protect German cties. Göring would give terribly flawed advise as the war progressed, but on this occassion he was right. The Germans would eventually evacuate their children as well, but not for several years after the War finally turned against them and Allied bombers began brining the War home to the Germans. The German KLV evacuations would be very different from the Allied evacuations.


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Created: 9:47 PM 12/19/2011
Last updated: 12:59 PM 8/22/2014