In August 1938 Adolf Hitler began to make speeches to suggest he was going to send the German army into Czechoslovakia. The British government began to expect a war with the Nazis and the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ordered that A. R. P workers were mobilised. Cellars and basements were turned into air raid shelters and underground shelters were dug in public parks for communal use. On 3 September 1939, the people of Britain heard over the radio that war had been declared. Outline plans had been drawn up as early as 1935 after the Munich conference however they became much more detailed.
The British Government had decided to organise an evacuation scheme in which Sir John Anderson was put in charge. He decided to split the country into three groups. The first was people who lived in Urban districts. These included large cities like London and ports like Liverpool. The Germans bombed Liverpool because it was the country’s main port. The country’s economy had changed by then. The country could no longer grow enough food to support its own people. Food had to be imported from places like America and therefore, like the First World War, they wanted to bomb the country into submission.
People would have to be evacuated from these areas because they were expected to be very heavily bombed. Also the Air ministry predicted that in London in the first 60 days of the war there would be 60,000 dead. These figures probably helped to influence the mass evacuation. The next area was neutral. People wouldn’t have to be evacuated from these areas because they weren’t considered to be dangerous but people wouldn’t be evacuated to these areas either because they weren’t considered to be quite safe.
The last areas were places like Scotland and North Wales, which were considered to be safe and people where evacuated to these areas. Mass evacuation actually began on 1 September. The children were evacuated from train stations with their nametags and only what they could carry themselves, clothes wise. Also all the children were issued with gas masks. This was because of the awful memories of the gas attacks in world war one. Children under five were evacuated with their mothers and children of school age were evacuated with their teachers.
Expectant mothers, as well as disabled people were also evacuated. Altogether 1. 5 million women and children were evacuated. However two million people made their own arrangements to go and stay with friends and family in the countryside. The British press printed photos of children having fun in the countryside to promote the idea of evacuation and to give it a good impression and also to boost the morale of the public. The British government was expecting a lot of deaths. You can tell this because they ordered a million cardboard coffins.
The Second World War was the first war in which it was total war. In the First World War, they didn’t have very good planes. Now, however the Germans had the most powerful air fleet in the world, The Luftwaffe. Instead of just being able to bomb only the East Coast now they could bomb anywhere in Britain. By Christmas almost one million of the evacuees had started to return home. This was due to the phoney war. No bombing had taken place for nine months. People wanted to be evacuated again however when the bombing restarted.
Many of the people who returned however weren’t evacuated again. The second evacuation wasn’t nearly as well organised as the first one. This was simply because it hadn’t been planned for as long. Since evacuation happened there have been many critics of it. People have asked ‘why? ‘ and ‘wouldn’t it have been better for families to stick together? ‘ Some people obviously had bad experiences but with a scheme so large, this is only to be expected. I have concluded that it may not have been a perfect system but it still saved millions of lives.