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Having witnessed the invasion of other European countries the British Government was well aware of the damage that would be wrought on a city in the event of an air raid and the danger that this put civilians in. Predictions were made that there would be 4,000,000 civilian casualties in London alone. The Government stockpiled an enormous number of coffins in cities, constructed thousands of barrage balloons to help fend off any attack and laid plans for mass civilian evacuation.
It was decided that, to keep children, the aged and the infirm safe, a mass evacuation would be held from the major cities to the countryside.
Over the first 4 days of September 1939 over 3 million people were evacuated from areas that were thought to be especially vulnerable to air attack. The abrupt order to “Evacuate forthwith” was issued at 11.07am on Thursday 31st August 1939 and, just one week later, a quarter of the population had a new address!
It is the single largest mass movement of people in Britain’s history and required an army of chaperones. Over 100,000 teachers went with the children to try to ensure that a semblance of order was maintained in the chaos of movement.
It was undoubtedly a scary experience for both children themselves their parents, who didn't know where their children were being sent. As it turns out the predictions of devastation and mass casualties in the cities was grossly over-exaggerated and probably only served to cause even more panic.
The logistics of moving such a large number of people in such a short time meant that most people didn’t know where they were going to end up and simply had to pack a single suitcase and go. Children were labelled, like their luggage, and shipped off.
Evacuation wasn't always a bad experience - many children ended up having a great time with their new friends.