Evacuation Plans

Plans to evacuate children were established before the war under the code name ‘Operation Pied Piper’. Although plans for evacuation had been discussed since the mid-1920s, the responsibility of evacuation was as late as 1938 placed on the individual, as is reflected in the suggestion made in the Government-issued booklet The Protection of Your Home Against Air Raids that suitable billeting with relatives or friends in the country should if possible be arranged for the young and infirm.

However, for the inhabitants of the poorer areas near factories and dockyards, primary targets for air raids, private billeting was not an option. Plans for evacuation were, as many other early wartime initiatives, driven by the desire to avoid mass panic. The Government thought that a large exodus from London and other cities was inevitable; panic, it was expected, would drive people out of the cities and unless the Government took control of the process, chaos and confusion would ensue. Thus the ‘Committee of Evacuation’ was set up under the chairmanship of the Home Secretary John Anderson.

The official scheme restricted evacuation to ‘priority classes’ – schoolchildren, mothers with children and the disabled - and divided Britain into ‘evacuation’, ‘neutral’ and ‘reception’ areas, roughly, thirteen, fourteen and eighteen million respectively. The former consisted of the urban districts where heavy air raids could be expected, but certain towns later heavily bombed – notably Plymouth, Bristol and Swansea – were not classified as ‘evacuation areas’. The ‘neutral areas’ would neither send nor take evacuees. The response to the official publicity in the summer of 1939 showed that the demand for evacuation would fall short of potential. Whereas over eighty per cent of parents had said they would want their children evacuated at the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938, in August 1939 only just over two-thirds was of the same mind.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 18/11/2011.