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Evacuation in Britain during the Second World War Assignment

1) Study sources B and C.

Which Source is the more useful as evidence about the start of the children’s evacuation journey?

Source B is a photograph depicting evacuees walking to the station. Obviously, as it is a photograph, it is at least useful in part, as it is definitive evidence showing children at the start of the evacuation journey. It also shows many children and some adults, who are probably teachers. This fits with what was happening at the time: 827,000 children and 103,000 teachers were evacuated in September 1939. The date also fits, as the photograph was taken in September 1939, and evacuation began on 1st September 1939. There are also lots of evacuees, which is accurate as the first evacuation was the largest in the war.

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However, the source has many limitations as well. The key limitation is related to the provenance of the source. It is unknown who took the photograph, which raises the possibility that it could have been taken for government propaganda. There is much more evidence that supports this theory: the photograph looks very posed as all the children are looking in the camera, waving and smiling.

This is inconsistent also, as evacuation was often stressed and traumatic. Another imitation is that there are no parents on the photograph, though one would think that parents would want to say goodbye to their children before they went away. In addition, many sources say that evacuation was disorganised though on the photograph it looks well-organised – which further fuels the idea that it is an example of propaganda, which, though it doesn’t show the start of the evacuation journey, it is a useful example of the propaganda techniques were using at the time.

Source C is from an interview conducted with a teacher who was involved in evacuation. The content appears to correspond with what actually happened, as evacuation was a distressing process, and the source says, “The children were too afraid to talk”. It also says, “We hadn’t the slightest idea where we were going”, which is consistent with the belief that evacuation was disorganised, as is commonly thought. Also, as it was said by a teacher, this means it is likely to be true as teachers were very involved in the evacuation process – as has been said, 103,000 teachers were evacuated themselves in September 1939. There is no reason why the teacher would lie, so all these points lead to Source C being a useful source.

On the other hand, like all sources, it has its limitations. The interview took place in 1988, almost fifty years after evacuation happened. Consequently, there may be some problems with the quality of the interviewed teacher’s memory, so it could be unintentionally inaccurate. Another point is that the reason for the interview is unknown. The teacher may have been angry about the evacuation process and so the source could possibly be slightly unbalanced or exaggerate, though, even if this was the case, it can still give us what those involved actually thought about evacuation.

In conclusion, both sources are useful in part to show the start of the children’s evacuation journey as both contents have similarities with what is known to have happened. However, I feel that Source B is more likely to be useful as an example if government propaganda at the time than showing the start of children’s evacuation journey, as it is a personal experience of evacuation.

2) Source G is an extract taken from a novel.

Is it reliable as evidence about evacuees?

Source G is taken from Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, which was published in 1973, about the adventures of a girl called Carrie, who was evacuated in the Second World War. The content of the extract appears to be similar to a realistic experience evacuees may have when first meeting their hosts. Many of those living in the countryside who hosted evacuees had the opinion, often from other families who were hosting evacuees, that all children in the cities were poor and unhealthy. Many were not, and some middle-class children often were in worse conditions with their hosts.

In this extract, the hostess, Miss Evans, believes the children to be poor as they do not have any slippers with them, however, they only had no slippers because there was no room in the case and the evacuees found the idea that Miss Evans thought that they were poor funny – “Her brother Nick whispered, ‘She thinks we’re poor children, too poor to have slippers,’ and they giggled.” This notion – that many hosts wrongly stereotyped evacuees as being poor – is also in Source F, that says, “We were not all raised on a diet of fish and chips eaten from newspaper, and many of us were quite familiar with the origins of milk.” So the content of Source G is supported by another source, making it more likely to be true and therefore it is more reliable.

Source A also supports the reliability of the text. Even though it appears to contradict the views of Source G that not all evacuees were poor and deprived – “There were reports of children ‘fouling’ gardens, hair crawling with lice, and bed wetting.” it explains Miss Evans’ reaction to the children not having slippers in Source G, from what she had heard of evacuees, they were often similar to those in Source A.

Another small point that could make the source more reliable is that it was published in 1973, which was forty-four years after the start of evacuation, which makes it quite possible that the author, Nina Bawden, had personal experience of evacuation to base her novel on. If this were the case, she would know a lot more about the reality of evacuation to have as a starting point for her novel, so it would be more reliable.

However, there are a lot of points that make the source unreliable as well. These centre around the fact that the source is an extract from a novel. This means that the purpose of the text is not to inform the reader about history, but to entertain the reader. This means that, even though Nina Bawden has obviously researched evacuation, and possibly used her own experiences, it is going to be more exciting than a normal evacuee’s story, so the content about evacuation could be exaggerated, and the novel is more focused on the adventures of the evacuees than the process of evacuation. This makes the source unreliable as its purpose was not to be a reliable piece of work about evacuation, but a novel meant to be interesting and enjoyable to read.

The fact that it was written by Nina Bawden is also unreliable. She is a very good author, but that does not make her an excellent historian. Although she will not have just made up completely the ideas bout evacuation in her book, it is not her job to make sure every point in her novel is historically accurate. It is fiction, after all. So it is more unreliable, as it was written by someone without necessarily great historical knowledge of evacuation.

In conclusion, I do not think that Source G is reliable as evidence about evacuees as, even though its content is similar to what actually happened and is backed up other sources. It is a fictional text, and so it does not have to be accurate and may be more exaggerated to make it a more entertaining read.

3) “Evacuation was a great success.”

Do you agree or disagree with this interpretation?

Evacuation took place in Britain during the Second World War, beginning on 1st September 1939, two days before war was declared. It was planned for many years before it was put into action, when the government realised that the possibility of an attack on civilians was a real threat. It was known as Operation Pied Piper. Throughout the war, thousands of children, pregnant women, mothers with young children, disabled people and teachers were evacuated from big cities to the countryside.

Its primary aim, therefore, was to protect the vulnerable and important from German bombing. So the first way to judge if evacuation was successful or not it to look at this aim. However, evacuation had several consequences, some which made it more of a success, some which made it less of a success. So I should look at these to. I am going to investigate whether or not it was successful for the evacuees, the host families, the government and the country as a whole, to enable me to judge whether or not evacuation was overall a great success.

The first angle to look at evacuation from is that of the evacuees themselves. They were mostly children, but mothers of children under five, pregnant women, disabled people and teachers were also evacuated. The first point therefore to make is that it accomplished, at least to some extent, its primary function: only twenty-seven of those who were evacuated and stayed in the countryside for the duration of the war were killed by German bombings by 1942. So it was successful as it protected the vulnerable and the important from civilian attacks, which makes it certainly successful in part.

This success is heightened by the fact that many were evacuated, especially in the first wave of evacuation. Almost one and a half million people were evacuated in the first wave of evacuation, not including those who left the cities to stay with relatives and friends, which amounted to over two million children. This is shown by Source B, which is a photograph from September 1939 showing the beginning of the evacuation journey. The photograph shows that a lot of people were involved in evacuation and, though it was obviously posed, probably for government propaganda, it still seems that many were evacuated and so evacuation was successful in this way.

Source B also shows that the process of evacuation was a success. From Source B, it would appear that the children are very happy and there is an orderly process. Even though Source B is probably government propaganda and it cannot tell us how the children really felt or what the process was like elsewhere, it seems that the organisation of the journey was a success from this source.

Another point showing that evacuation was successful is that many evacuees benefited in a variety of ways from living in the countryside. For most it was the first visit to the countryside and lots of evacuees had never seen a cow before the evacuation, so their education about the countryside was improved. Many of the children from the cities were very deprived in the cities – for example, Source A speaks of “the obvious poverty and deprivation of the town children, not to mention their bad manners.”

Even though this source is focusing on the negative aspects of evacuation to make it more entertaining, it has a valid point. The evacuees were also very unhealthy and unhygienic, with reports of “urinating on the walls” (Source E), “hair crawling with lice, and bed-wetting” (Source A). Even the government admitted that there could be problems with evacuees. In Source D, a government propaganda photograph of evacuees in the bath, which confirms the belief that many evacuees were very dirty. The fact that this is government propaganda makes it more likely to be true in this case, as there must have been a big problem for the government to admit to it.

However this shows that evacuation was successful because many of these problems were solved due to evacuation. Source H says, “They’re healthier and happier”. This may be slightly exaggerated as it is from another piece of government propaganda, but it is still makes the valid statement that evacuation was successful as evacuees came out of it in a better state than when they were first evacuated. Of course, many evacuees had a really good time and enjoyed the new experiences that country life brought, which makes evacuation more successful as it made people happier.

However, there are several reasons that, from the evacuees’ point of view, evacuation was not a success. Firstly, the organisation of evacuation was not always as orderly as Source B shows it. Often it got mixed up and villages expecting children sometimes received instead hundreds of pregnant women. Many hosts chose their evacuees, which was upsetting for those left until last. Source C, which is a teacher’s memory of evacuation, speaks of the confusion of evacuation – “We hadn’t the slightest idea where we were going”. So this shows that evacuation was unsuccessful as the process was not always smooth.

As I have said, for many of the evacuees, it was their first time away from home, making it a very distressing time for them. Source C says that “the children were too afraid to talk” on the way to the train station. There is a possibility that many of the problems such as bed-wetting and behavioural problems were caused by homesickness, and, because of the war, it was sometimes harder than normal to contact parents in the cities, making the homesickness worse. So evacuation was unsuccessful in this way as, even though the evacuees were safe, they were regularly very distressed and unhappy.

Also, many evacuees had problems with their hosts. In the most severe cases, hosts, often farmers, used evacuation as a way to get essentially slave labour for their farm. Many hosts believed that, as they had to pay for the evacuees’ upkeep, they should have to earn it, especially since the money that the government gave host families to help them often was not enough. This led to a lot of evacuees running away, making evacuation unsuccessful as the evacuees were still in danger, in the city.

However, the major problems that evacuees had with their hosts were to do with social class. Even though evacuees sometimes benefited from country life, the majority of evacuees found it extremely difficult to fit into a different social class. This made them unhappy, so evacuation was not a success in their eyes. The cities were often full of poverty, and evacuees from these areas had to try and fit in with a middle-class country family, completely the opposite of what they were used to. They were almost frightened of the cleanliness and of such commodities as running hot water and lavatories upstairs.

For other evacuees it was the other way round. Source F is the memory of an evacuee from a middle-class background, which says, “It is just as upsetting for a clean and well-educated child to find itself in a grubby semi-slum as the other way round.” Also in Source G, an extract from a novel, the middle-class evacuees find it amusing when their host, Miss Evans, thinks that they do not have slippers because they are too poor. Even though it is a novel, so it is fictional and any truth about evacuation may be exaggerated to make it more entertaining, it is still probably true that many evacuees found it hard to integrate into a different social class, so, in this way, evacuation was not a success.

To fully examine the success of evacuation, it is necessary to look at it from the point of view of the host families as well. The first reason that it was successful in this way is that there were enough hosts. Enough people agreed to take evacuees so that all the evacuees were safe from the bombings. So it was successful for the hosts as they did their job. Many felt it was their duty to their country to do it – if they couldn’t fight, they could help with the war effort this way. These feelings were helped by government propaganda, but many hosts were just glad to do their bit, so, as they managed to do this, evacuation was successful in this way.

Evacuation was a success when looking at the host families because of what they learnt as well. A lot of those in the countryside didn’t realise the poverty of the cities until evacuation. As source A says, “The country people were shocked at the obvious poverty and deprivation of the town children.” So, even though the hosts had to deal with the consequences of this “poverty and deprivation”, at least they became aware of it. This was one of the successes of evacuation, so it aids the idea that evacuating was a success.

However, there are several reasons that, for the hosts, evacuation was not a success. The evacuees were often badly behaved and unhygienic. Even though it is possible to say that they benefited from this to learn about the deprivation of the cities, it was still very hard for them to cope. Source E, by a host remembering evacuation, says, “The children went round urinating on the walls. Although we had two toilets they never used them.” Also, Source A says that the children were often bad mannered and had head-lice. Even the government admitted that they’ve “been a handful”, in their propaganda advertisement in Source H. Hosts, who were just trying to help the war effort, found themselves under a lot of stress and many couldn’t cope, so in this way evacuation was not a success.

Many of these problems stemmed from evacuees and hosts being in different social classes. As I have said, this made it very hard for evacuees, but it was also hard for hosts as well. Obviously, they had the problems I have talked about above with evacuees, with the hosts of some of the poorer evacuees having to pay to clothe them and to keep them healthy. These cases led to a stereotyping of evacuees, so all hosts believed that they would receive evacuees from poor backgrounds.

For example in Source G, the extract from a novel, when learning that her evacuees have no slippers, Miss Evans, the host, “turned bright red and said quickly, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, how silly of me, why should you have slippers?'” She automatically assumed that the evacuees, Carrie and Nick, were too poor to have slippers, even though the real reason was that there was not enough room in the cases. This may be a fictional text, but it is supported by Source F, in which another evacuee remembers the annoyance of stereotyping evacuees – “We were not all raised on a diet of fish and chips eaten from newspaper.” So evacuation was unsuccessful as many hosts got a stereotypical view of children from the city from evacuation, which was not always correct.

Another reason the hosts did not find evacuation successful is money. They got given an allowance by the government for looking after evacuees, but this was not always enough to feed, clothe and control the bad habits of some evacuees. Also, as the war escalated, a lot less food could get into the country. This didn’t just lead to rationing but to food prices rising. However, the allowance hosts got for looking after the evacuees did not rise, causing many host families to run out of money, so evacuation was not successful for them.

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