Why did the British government decide to evacuate children

Prior to and during the Second World War (1939-1941), in Britain, were two evacuations at two different periods in time – both for the same reasons (supposed German invasion), but in different situations. The first period of evacuation took place right from the moment Britain declared war on Germany – meaning the British government had obviously anticipated the forthcoming war and plans had been drawn well before any official declaration of war.

However, with no actual warfare between the two countries, by Christmas 1939, parents began recalling their evacuated children to be at home with their families for the festive season. This period became known as the 'Phoney War' – war was expected and declared, yet it never happened. From April to May 1940, Germany put their plans into action and showed monumental strength by overtaking France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway in a swift attack. They now controlled Western Europe, leaving a clear path toward Britain. The British government knew that it was their country next on Hitler's 'invasion hit list' and it was now that the second period of evacuation began – with war imminent.

There are many reasons as to why the British government decided to evacuate children from Britain's major cities in the early years of the Second World War, one being the fact that if the children remained within the dangerous confinements of a city under attack, this would ultimately end up with many dead children scattered around cities all over Britain and of course casualties are bad enough, but also mentally, this would have been damaging to the morale of the people of Britain. For them to see death would be bad enough but, children, innocent and defenceless children, the country's future destroyed along with its morale. If British people saw the casualties, the decision to go to war would surely be questioned and this would mount pressure on the government, so the evacuation of children appeared to be the best move for the British government. Linking to the fact that children were the future, maybe not at that exact point in time but potentially, these children were an integral part of Britain and if the numbers decreased, so to, would the literacy levels, future army recruits and other future positives for the country – of course, there are always children being born but nevertheless, these casualties would be hugely damaging.

Another reason into why the British government wanted to evacuate children from the major cities of Britain was the fact that due to the events during April-May 1940 ('Blitzkrieg' from Germany against major Western European countries), Britain expected war and like previous events, heavy aerial bombing from the German Luftwaffe.

The reason as to why children were evacuated from the bigger, major cities was because these cities were where heavy bombing was expected due to their industrial entities. If these 'factory-filled' cities were bombed, the result would be catastrophic, with infliction upon production of weapons and other resources required by Britain – all this negativity and this was without the casualties of children had there been no evacuation. So, with these forecasted invasions the British government must have felt they had no choice but to evacuate the children from these cities.

Another factor toward the decision to evacuate the children of Britain was the fact that an essence of genuine fear and awareness of the power that the German air-force possessed was growing amongst the people and government of Britain. War was no longer the man-to-man combat it once was and it was acknowledged that a single bomb dropped by a plane would be enough to cause the destruction that many hated war for what it was in the first place – death, and much of it.

This awareness came from events in Spain (1936) where a civil war had broken out and the Germans had got involved. What was to follow in Spain, more specifically Guernica (destruction particularly terrible) would haunt those who witnessed it for many years, both first-hand or in cinema. The scenes of this terrible destruction from German aircrafts was shown in cinemas throughout Britain, and the thought-provoking images of dead people or more specifically, children must have played a part in the decision to have children evacuated from Britain's major cities. 

Another reason was the fact that in the face of imminent warfare, the government was planning its utilization of the British adult population, to put it simply, how they could be of use. Now children were vulnerable, but mainly, useless in terms of contribution to the war effort and with men going to war for their country and women and young-adults working in factories/farms, children would only prove a hindrance to worried parents who would work with the knowledge of their child at 'home' alone.

This aspect of sheer vulnerability must have played a part in the government's decision to evacuate the children of Britain with the added concern that even if bombs did not land directly on houses containing children, many buildings would be weakened in their foundations and could have proven a danger (collapsed). 

Another reason was the fact that there was a strong possibility that many of these non-evacuated children would be psychologically affected – seeing death and bombs crashing down on cities was not the sort of exposure a child needed and so the government probably felt it had to evacuate, for the sake of the children's mental health. Also, the government must have been under pressure from worried parents to take action for naturally, they had to protect their children – the most obvious form of protection would have been evacuation. This form of evacuative ideology must have come from the first period of evacuation ('Phoney War'), and this time with the threat real, the British government had to act.

Another reason as to why the British government evacuated children from major cities was the fact that, with children being of no use in terms of contribution towards the war effort, keeping children in these cities would have only left a bigger workload for the ambulances/emergency services and of course more casualties. Conclusively, the government felt that the children were better off out of the way.