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Chapter 10: Evacuation and the Social Services: September 1939–May 1940

(i) Disorganisation and Discontinuity

At a meeting of ministers five days after the outbreak of war it was decided that mothers would have to be excluded from any future evacuation scheme. The reports received on the condition and behaviour of the women moved from Liverpool were mainly responsible for this drastic change of policy. When the lessons of evacuation came up for discussion in the War Cabinet six weeks later this decision was endorsed, and it was put on record that the movement of mothers with young children had largely failed. If and when air raid began Government assistance for the removal of mothers and children under the age of five would not, therefore, be available.

Another important decision on future policy was also reached at the same time, and here again Government thought was strongly influenced by the character of the first evacuation. Ministers were also sensitive to the criticisms that were being levelled at the civil defence and evacuation services. It was decided that no more ‘mass’ evacuation schemes should be arranged. Instead, only limited and gradual movements of unaccompanied children should be planned for the future. Moreover, it was resolved that such movements should not begin until air raids had started, and that, for the time being, secrecy should be the rule as it was feared that parents would fetch their children home if they knew that the Government might give them another chance.

The importance of Chapter VII, which studied at some length the condition and behaviour of the evacuees, can now be understood in the context of Government policy. For it was largely the revelation of these conditions which led ministers to reverse, within a few days and without much discussion, the direction of policy hitherto founded on a mass of reports and recommendations from the Committee of Imperial Defence concerning the probable effects of air warfare on civilian society. All considerations of casualties and panic among women and children to which, as Chapters I and II bear witness, so much study had been devoted during the nineteen-thirties were

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abruptly swept aside. The principle, accepted for fifteen years by all those who had examined the problem, that evacuation from London should at all costs preceded air attack, was now abandoned. Yet the risks had not abated. The Air Staff held firmly to its estimates of the striking power of the German Air Force.

The Health Departments were instructed at the end of 1939 to prepare a new evacuation plan. This time, however, it was to be of much more modest dimensions; restricted to unaccompanied schoolchildren, operated gradually and over a longer period, and not to function until after the bombs had begun to fall.

Meanwhile, the Departments’ main, and most difficult, task was to stem the flow of returning evacuees. Having moved a large number of mothers and children to the country the only sensible policy was to try and keep them there. But trying to keep them there meant doing a great many things, and doing them quickly, because the goodwill of the reception areas was rapidly evaporating, and all the difficulties of winter, the cold, wet, boring countryside (for that is how many of the town-dwellers saw it) would have to be faced.

After the first rush of improvising some of the more urgent services and of re-billeting and re-distributing certain of the children to appropriate schools had begun to die down, the Health Departments tried to stimulate the local authorities to make more permanent provision. In England and Wales this was chiefly the task of the education and welfare authorities—generally the county councils.; Where there was the will, however, there was seldom the staff, the equipment and the technical experience. These were some of the obstacles to progress.

In the middle of September 1939, local authorities were asked to open schools in reception areas so as to relieve householders of children during weekdays; it was suggested that communal meals, hostels for children who were difficult to billet, and nurseries for young children should be provided if there was a demand for such services, and the Government announced that it was prepared to compensate householders for damage caused by evacuees.1 In October the receiving authorities were urged not to discriminate between local residents and ‘official’ evacuees, and to make available to the latter the full range of statutory health services.2 If additional staff were needed, the evacuating authorities—who were invited to cooperate—were to be asked for doctors, school nurses, midwives and other workers.

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But the return to the towns showed no sign of slackening. On 17th November another circular was sent exhorting local authorities to take positive steps to stop the rot.3 ‘The evacuation scheme has called, and must inevitably call for, unremitting labour and for qualities of tolerance and unselfishness … If this spirit of service, which has been so strikingly manifested in the receiving areas, is to be maintained, it is essential that all should feel that the burden of service is equitably distributed.’ To this end, it was reiterated that communal services should be developed, evacuees redistributed, and occupation activities, such as clubs and play centres, provided. The Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland appealed to the reception areas to hold parties and give the children a ‘merry Christmas’,4 school holidays were shortened to relieve householders, and the Ministry of Information launched a publicity campaign to discourage parents from fetching their children back.

At first, the Ministry of Health looked mainly to the authorities who had been charged with the responsibility of billeting evacuees to provide many of these emergency services. These were chiefly the urban and rural district councils. The county councils in England and Wales were not, during this period, brought into the evacuation scheme to the same extent, apart from their responsibilities for education. It has already been pointed out that the problems likely to arise in the areas receiving evacuees were not intensively studied before the war, and this was the main reason why some of the original policies of the central departments were not always appropriate to the functions and capabilities of the different local government units. Rural district councils with a solicitor as part-time clerk, a typist and an office boy or two, could not be expected to organise and administer such technical services as communal restaurants, or hostels for children who were difficult to billet.

As soon as the Health Departments had had time to consider these questions, a process began of ‘breaking-up’ the local administration of reception services. At the end of November 193, for instance, it was decided to transfer the responsibility for organising communal meals for evacuated schoolchildren to the education authorities.5 The service was thus brought within the purview of the Board of Education, and in line with the powers to provide school meals already possessed by local authorities. In this and other fields some of the confusion which had existed in the reception areas as to who was responsible for what was gradually cleared away.

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But progress in sorting out administrative functions, and in generally setting a hundred and one problems which bothered both central and local departments alike, did not immediately produce the essential staff to organise and run the necessary services. Teachers and voluntary helpers had gone with the 1,500,000 mothers and children, but the authorities in the evacuation areas had not transferred many medical officers, health visitors, midwives, dentists, social workers and school nurses who represented, in the towns, the relatively highly organised and comprehensive maternity, child welfare and school medical services. Now the reception areas badly needed staff of various kinds because the local services, generally backward and often undeveloped, were inadequate even for the peacetime needs of the existing population.6 But—and this was one of the major difficulties—considerable numbers of these trained people had been caught up in the civil defence and casualty services in the cities with the closing down of clinics, welfare centres, nurseries and the school medical service. This problem was not made any easier by the transfer of staff from certain Government departments to various forms of war work. For instances, 601 members of the staff of the Board of Education, or one-quarter of the whole, had been lent to other departments by October 1939.7

In most of the vulnerable areas the school medical services, in addition to the school meals and milk schemes, had been suspended in anticipation of the evacuation of all schoolchildren.8 In London and Liverpool, the records for which have been studied, these services were entirely withdrawn. With the exception of one ‘cleansing unit; which was sent to Wales, the whole of the Liverpool staff was transferred to the casualty services. In London, the position was much the same, all school nurses (about 440), for instance, were standing-by in hospitals and first aid pots waiting for casualties. In many areas, large numbers of maternity and child welfare centres had been commandeered for civil defence and, as late as April 1940, there were 316

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in England and Wales still wholly or partly used for such purposes.9

The evacuation authorities had, in response to the Government’s policy, given priority to the needs of the casualty services, even to the illogical extent of transferring midwives to general hospital and first aid work. The high estimates of the number expected to be killed and injured led to the wholesale abandonment of many of the peacetime health services in the target areas. As the demands for staff to run services for the evacuees increased in urgency during September and October 1939 efforts were made to send help to the reception areas.10 But it took time to extricate doctors and nurses from hospitals and first aid posts and, meanwhile, public pressure for a resumption of normal services in the cities continued to grow as more and more mothers and children returned home.

Hundreds of thousands of children in the evacuation areas had been without education, health services and school meals and milk for over four months, and by the end of December the figure was above 1,000,000. At first, the Government feared that any general reopening of the schools in these areas ‘might imperil the whole evacuation scheme’. This was one of several dilemmas. Another was represented by the interference to civil defence arrangements if the schools were returned to the education authorities. Yet another was furnished by the conflict between the need for education and the need for air raid protection at or near the schools.

Eventually, the Government decided that a start would have to be made, and on 1st November 1939 it was announced that ‘such schools in evacuation areas as can be made available for educational purposes shall be reopened for the education of the children of parents who desire them to attend’.11 A resumption of education in successive stages was to be accompanied by the reestablishment of the school medical and dental services.12

From November 1939 onwards the Education Departments and

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the local education authorities began their task of recovering staff and of obtaining the release of schools, clinics and feeding centres from the civil defence and military authorities.13 Some 2,000 schools—or nearly one in five—in only the evacuation and neutral areas of England and Wales had been wholly or partly occupied by civil defence, military and other authorities, and by January 1940 the figure for evacuation districts was still a high as 1,588.14

The full story of the dislocation of the education system, the efforts made to repair the damage, and the stimulus applied by public opinion is the concern of the volume on education in this series of histories [never published]. After eight months of war, the position of elementary schools in the evacuation areas of England and Wales was that roughly one-half of the children were receiving full-time instruction, thirty percent were on half-time, ten percent, were receiving less or home tuition, while another ten percent—about 115,000 children—were not receiving any instruction whatever. Secondary schoolchildren were better off, for eighty-seven percent were on full-time, eight percent on half-time and only about five percent were not at school.15 In all schools under the managements of education authorities in Scotland, some sixty percent of the children were receiving full-time instruction, about thirty-six percent part-time and four percent none at all.16

These figures, which afford a rough guide to the progress made in reinstating full-time attendance at school, do nothing to show the effects of the war on the quality of the education that children were receiving in the spring of 1940. Nor do they convey what it meant for schools and classes to be broken up, for children to lose touch with their former teachers, to be sent to different schools, to be placed in different classes, often to have no books and to lose that continuity of attention which underlies good schooling. All these matters are the concern of the education volume.

The task of re-establishing the school medical and other welfare services in the evacuation areas, while many of those who had been evacuated returned quite soon, and all were left with hardly any education and medical supervision. While the schools and clinics were empty the cinemas and the fun-fairs, which were just as vulnerable to air attack, were crowded with children. This situation, made worse by the effects of the blackout during the winter months, gave

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rise to some serious problems. In particular, it was found that the open shelters were being misused; bunks, screens, escape tools, electric heaters, doors and fittings were being stolen or smashed. Children went round banging electric light bulbs with sticks in order to hear them pop, and the walls and floors of the shelters were constantly fouled.17 All this hooliganism and indiscipline forced the Government to review its policy of keeping the shelters open.18

There were also disquieting reports on the physical condition of some of these children, and of a rise in the number of juvenile delinquents in London, Glasgow and other cities.19 The problem of welfare work among young people was greatly aggravated by war conditions; many of the clubs and evening institutes closed down either because buildings were commandeered for civil defence purposes, or because leaders, instructors and other staff were diverted to different work. The Board of Education, conscious of the need for social and recreational facilities, and anxious to keep alive during wartime an interest in music and art, took action to deal with those problems in October 1939. Grants were made to voluntary youth organisations, for instance, and other funds were provided into the ‘Service of Youth’ schemes and the Council for the Encouragements of Music and the Arts.20

Apart from the reopening of clinics for the cleaning of verminous children, progress was slow in the resumption of the school medical services in the evacuation areas. By April 1940 less than half of the pre-war clinics and hospitals providing for vision, ear, tonsil, adenoid and rheumatic conditions under the school medical service in London had reopened. Instead of the equivalent of fifty-nine whole-time dental surgeons employed before the war on hospital and school work the number engaged in March 1940, in the London County Council’s service, had only recovered to about eight. In Liverpool, there were

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only six school dentists to cope with a school population of over 100,000.

The Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education, in assessing retrospectively the effects of evacuation in the target areas, came to the conclusion that it was not until about the4 middle of 1941 that the medical inspection of schoolchildren was resumed ‘on more or less normal lines’. But by the time this was achieved other factors, such as the shortage of medical and dental officers, had begun to intervene and handicap the work of the school medical service.

The school meals service was also slow in re-establishing the 1939 level of provision. Judged, however, by the standard of achievement which was reached in the middle and late years of the war, school feeding before the war was in a rudimentary stage. On an average day in 1938 about 100,000–120,000 children, out of a population of roughly 4,250,000 elementary schoolchildren in England and Wales, received free school meals, while about 50,000 obtained meals on payment. To recapture this level of provision might have seemed a modest task for local government; but a long time passed before it was accomplished. Nor, in terms of quality, was the standard of the school dinner before 1939 very high.21 In 1916, when the science of nutrition was in its infancy, London had set up a minimum value of 750 calories for the school dinner. This was at a time when the country’s food supplies were menaced by a submarine blockade. What London said was to be the minimum value in the second year of the First World War became, after the war, the standard—or maximum—for most authorities. This standard held for twenty-five years until the third year of the Second World War when the Board of Education set up a new standard—an energy value of 1,000 calories.22 It needed a second war, employment demands for mothers in factories and another food shortage, to achieve what twenty-one years of peace and thousands of nutritional investigations had failed to do. And of this achievement there was hardly a sign during the first year of war. Even this pre-war provision in England and Wales of paid school meals was not reached until February 1941.

The damage done to the milk-in-schools scheme was repaired somewhat earlier. In October 1939 the number of children receiving milk in England and Wales was down by about 1,000,000, and total quantity drunk was down by forty percent. Six months later these reductions had been halved, and about the middle of 1941 the pre-war provision of some milk to about 2,500,000 elementary schoolchildren was restored. In Scotland, the pre-war position was regained

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in October 1940. The time taken in reaching these inconsiderable standards of 1939 was not due to there being more children in the schools. On the contrary, between mid-1938 and mid-1941 the child population of Britain declined by about a quarter of a million.

Preparations for war, and the events of September 1939, thus inflicted some serious and long-felt injuries to the general body of the health and social services. No part of the fabric of these services was immune. To regain the lost ground was everywhere a painful labour. When the extent of the damage had been assessed, and the work of reestablishment had begun, wartime factors came into play to obstruct recovery. Indeed, many of the welfare services for children had not reassumed their pre-war level of provision by the time the first heavy air attacks were launched on London in the autumn of 1940. Then came more disruption to undo the work of repair.

(ii) Problems of Administration and Finance

The first effects of the war on the general structure of the social services have been briefly surveyed in order to explain why it was difficult to send staff and equipment to the reception areas in the interests of the evacuees. The drafting of considerable numbers of trained workers into the casualty services, and then the imperative demands for restitution in the target areas, were reasons why help for the evacuation scheme was slow in being sent. There were, in addition, other impediments to progress. Some of them were ignorant in the existing system of local government and were magnified by wartime difficulties; for example, the doctrine of local financial responsibility was not easily adaptable to the movement of masses of people over local boundaries. Other impediments were traceable to administrative difficulties and to the Government’s call for financial economy. These various hindrances will now be discussed, and their effects will be examined in relation to certain aspects of the evacuation scheme.

To organise quickly and smoothly a group of new social services for evacuees demanded, in the reception districts, a well-regulated system of day-to-day administration and a sufficient number of people equipped with that kind of practical experience which knows how to get things done, in the right order, and within the limits set by central policy. These requirements were not generally available in the reception districts in 1939. And even when substantial improvements had been made the standard of performance was by no means uniform over the whole country. This was, indeed, one of the basic

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problems in the administration of the evacuation scheme. The actual work of running the scheme—as distinct from policy-making—of finding billets, providing equipment, organising and administering services of various kinds, devolved upon not one, but hundreds of local authorities. It was the number and the different types of local bodies which represented the major complication; not the fact that the scheme was based on local government.

In the autumn of 1939 there were, for instance, administrative as well as physical problems in apportioning staff from London between the large number of claimants from the receiving areas. A considerable proportion of the County Council’s staff of doctors and dentists were on a part-time basis, and this also made it difficult to distribute them over the country. Then, when some of the reception authorities did appeal for help they sent their applications to the wrong places. They wrote to the London County Council instead of to one of the metropolitan boroughs and vice versa.23 Throughout the war, there were local authorities in the provinces, members of voluntary organisations, Army welfare officers, and even some officials of newly established Government departments who found it hard to understand the complicated arrangement of functions between the London County Council and the metropolitan boroughs.

The picture became more confusing whenever receiving authorities were caring for children from a number of areas. Sometimes, anything up to twenty separate sending authorities, all with different standards of service, were involved. Who should be asked to help? When the problem was looked at from the other end—from the desk of the official in the evacuation area with children scattered over a number of counties and dozens of receiving authorities—the question became: to whom should help be sent?24

The structure of English and Scottish local government in 1939, with its multiplicity of units and their variation in size, ability and functions, was not of course the ideal administrative machine to be at the receiving end of a scheme which sent out 1,500,000 mothers and children in one mass movement, and paid little regard to the boundaries of counties, boroughs and districts. These local checks to the growth of a centralised bureaucracy had their place in the scheme of things in peacetime, but the particular qualities from which they derived their strength were often primarily those which were undesired—and sometimes harmful—in time of war. Local government

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as it existed in 1939 was not in fact built for modern war, certainly not for war on civilian society. It would indeed have been strange, and it would indeed have been the wrong kind of local government, if it had been created to deal with many of the problems that arose during 1939–45.

It had been in the minds of some members of the Government to superseded local authorities in the event of war for all civil defence purposes ‘and to employ their officials as agents of the Government’. For various reasons, which will be explained in Civil Defence , this was not done. And so the machinery of local government, as constituted in September 1939, had to be made to work. It will be important to remember this in succeeding chapters, for the story is a continuing one of adaptation and adjustment to new situations. In this sense, the first evacuation movement was not a failure, for it forced both central and local authorities to learn certain lessons which were useful when air attacks came in the autumn of 1940.

At the beginning of the war it was therefore inevitable, in a society which had not fashioned all its agencies of government to subserve and worship efficiency, that the machinery of local administration should move slowly in adjusting itself to new tasks. And when there was uncertainty at the centre of government, when there were good arguments for a resumption of normal services the vulnerable areas, and equally good arguments for keeping these areas stripped to go into action in the event of air attacks, there was bound to be confusion at the level of local government.

But not all the confusion was reasonable. Some of the delays in providing evacuees with the services they needed were caused by evading or fumbling the questions of financial responsibility. Who was to pay if such-and-such a service was provided for people who moved, first in one direction and then in another, over local boundaries? If recovery were to be sought in the area of evacuation where did this or that person came from? These, in simple form, are the kind of questions which local officials asked. They compel the historian to ask additional questions. How far did excessive localism hold up the development of social services for evacuated mothers and children? Did it restrain evacuation or cause a return to the towns? Did it, in short, make access to many of these services difficult and burdensome?

These are important questions for they are relevant, not only to 1939, but to the whole of the war. The migration of people over boundaries, their settlement in new areas and return to the original neighbourhoods, never ceased. The movement rose, fell, and rose again at different periods, and all the time the financial responsibilities of the local authorities in whose areas the migrants had their place of ‘normal’ residence became more diffused.

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Nor were these questions restricted to the evacuation scheme. They applied, in one form or another, to the hospital services, education, public assistance, maternity and child welfare and, indeed, to a large sector of the health and social services in England, Wales and Scotland. Not only then did they touch at many points the lives of those who had recourse to the social services, but they also raised in a serious form a problem of manpower. For attempts to divide the costs of peace from the costs of war by continually transferring small items of expenditure from the books of one authority to those of another involved the employment of an army of accountants and clerks.

These two groups of questions; those affecting the development of, and access to, the social services, and those which raise the issue of administrative costs, go to the roots of the problem of local government. They lead, in fact, to an area of inquiry far wider than those volume can—or should—attempt to cover. Nevertheless, localism is of such great importance to the wartime history of the social services that a separate chapter—Chapter XII—has been set aside for examining part at least of the rich and complex material relating to the ‘boundary problems’ of local authorities in England and Wales. In the present chapter, it has been sufficient to note the existence of these problems as a constant and often a dominant factor in complicating all the urgent social tasks of the evacuation period.25

Interwoven with the complications of localism were the complications of finance. In 1939 financial resources were proclaimed to be ‘the fourth arm of defence’.26 One enemy was inflation, and the Government was intent on keeping it at bay. Its plan of action had repercussions, which the present chapter must explain, on the new wartime social services. Some of these repercussions led to a course of action or determined administrative doctrine which prevailed throughout the war.

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The effects of the Government’s anti-inflation policy on the social services may be studied broadly in two ways; first, in relation to the monetary contributions made by local authorities to each other and to the payments passing between the local authorities and the central exchequer; secondly, in relation to the payments made by individual citizens for participating in the evacuation scheme and other services. The first investigation is for the most part postponed to Chapter XII ; the second is pursued in the following page by the method of selective illustration. Billeting allowances, in the general setting of means tests and personal responsibility, have been chosen as one example from a wide field.

Before the war, it was often believed by many people who did not use the statutory health services that provision was free of charge. This was not so; for local authorities had the power (and sometimes the duty) to recover what they could from the people who were helped. In consequence, there grew up a bewildering variety of means tests covering a large range of services. Apart from unemployment and health insurance, at least twenty tests were in common use by local authorities.27 Nearly all these tests were based on different income scales, and often the same authority employed for no good reason different tests for the various services it supplied. It was quite possible, therefore, for a typical working-class family (with two or three children) experiencing a normal amount of illness, mishap and economic strain, to undergo each year several different means test at the hands of several different departments of the same local authority.

The war aggravated this problem by introducing many new assessments of need, and by bringing individuals and parents up against a considerably large number of different means tests. Moreover, new administrative machinery for new tests had to be devised, while, owing to the immense movements of population, arrangements had to be made for local authorities to act as debt collectors for each other. However, when the amount of money at stake was considerable, some authorities preferred to follow their ‘nationals’ about all over England and Wales. Throughout the war, the London County Council continued to assess and recover hospital costs from sick people transferred under the emergency hospital scheme from the Council’s hospitals to institutions elsewhere in the country. It was generally believed that this practice was peculiar to London; but in 1944 the Ministry of Health discovered that seventeen other hospital authorities—out of fifty-one involved—were doing the same, while

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fourteen more were partly doing the work themselves and partly relying on the receiving authorities.28

For many social services, no collected statistics showing the proportion of cost recovered from the consuming public are known to the historian. A few pre-war figures have been brought together, however, and these must suggest that in some instances the costs of administration must have exceeded the sums recovered. For medical treatment under the school medical service, gross expenditure during 1936–7 in England and Wales amounted to £2,443,000. About three percent of this was collected by local authorities from parents, a sum equal to the employment of 200 officials at £400 a year each. In 1938, the amount that authorities were able to collect from tuberculous patients and their relatives for hospital, sanatorium and dispensary treatment only amount to 2.5 percent of the total expenditure.

Between the outbreak of war and 31st March 1941, the London County Council recovered £16,928 from about 15,000 sick persons transferred to emergency scheme hospitals in the country. The cost of hospital care for these chronic and acute cases was put at roughly £161,500, so just over ten percent of the expenditure was collected. The administrative cost of assessing means and collecting this money from patients or relatives was estimated at 23,9 percent of the expenditure in 1939 and 27.9 percent in 1942.29

Such figures as these, showing a low proportion of recoveries and high proportion of administrative costs, had not apparently been examined or collated for study before the war.30 There were, therefore, no arguments available on this score to counter the reasons which impelled the Government to decide to recover from parents the cost of billeting children. No to do so, said many voices, might be dangerous; the families might be ‘pauperised’. The Government did not want to take any steps which might weaken individual initiative and parental responsibility.

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This was one reason why the Government did not accept the recommendation of the Anderson Committee on Evacuation that recovery should apply only in the case of evacuated adults.31 Another powerful reason for collecting contributions from parents was the cost of billeting allowances. Some recovery must be made, it was argued, because the payments of such allowances might involve £50,000,000 a year and ‘if nothing is done it is clear that an inflationary tendency would be created’.32

Both the Treasury and the London County Council (the latter having been asked to take on the work of recovering contributions from parents) pressed for a categorical statement to be made to the public before the outbreak of war. But the Health Departments feared that this would weaken the response to the evacuation scheme. Recovery, it was subsequently said, was not concealed from the public before the war, but it was not stressed.33

When the question came before the War Cabinet a month after the outbreak of war the case put forward reflected the prevailing mood of hesitation, characterised, in this instance, by a wish for the best of two worlds. It was thought that a soon as steps were taken to recover money from parents for the maintenance of their evacuated children, ‘a great increase must be anticipated in the number of children returning to the towns’. At the same time, it was believed that any general reopening of the schools in the vulnerable areas might ‘imperil’ the working of the evacuation scheme. Months elapsed before education was re-established but, so far as the recovery of allowances was concerned, it was agreed on 3rd October 1939 that the disadvantages (children returning to the towns) were ‘more than outweighed by the importance of recovering the cost of billeting from parents in accordance with their ability to pay’.

The recovery arrangements began to operate on 28th October 139. The scheme was related to the level at which billeting allowances for unaccompanied children had been fixed, namely, full board and lodging (exclusive of clothes and medical attention) 10s. 6d. a week where only one child was billeted, and 8s. 6d. a week for each child where two or more were billeted. These rates were based on the payments made in 1938 by London County Council for children boarded out.34

In addition to the father and mother, the persons liable to repay included grandfathers and grandmothers but not sisters and brothers. The dependency rules under the Poor Law Act of 1601 were on the

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same lines.35 The sum to be recovered was founded on an estimate that, after excluding travelling (for which the Government paid), the cost of the services provided (board, lodging, general supervision, medical attention, etc.) amounted on the average to 9s. a week for each child.36 The Government recognised, however, that evacuation meant only a partial saving to parents and it, therefore, agreed to accept 6s. a week in full discharge of the legal obligation.37 Those who could pay 9s. were invited to do so. Those at the bottom of the economic scale, on unemployment assistance or poor relief, were not expected to pay anything, and deductions were made from the assistance they received if any children were evacuated. For those between these extremes a formula was designed so as to recover, according to means, from parents who could afford something but not the legal 6s. a week.

The responsibility for assessing incomes and collecting charges was placed upon the county councils and county boroughs of evacuating areas (in Scotland, upon the county councils and the town councils of large burghs). Where disputes arose over assessment, referees were appointed to adjudicate. The Treasury estimated that this machinery would collect about £3,600,000 a year, and that the local costs of collection would absorb between fifteen percent and twenty percent of the money.

Administratively, the scheme was a formidable undertaking. For local authorities it meant a great deal of extra work at a time when they were hard pressed with many new responsibilities. Staff had to be transferred from other duties, and education was one of the biggest sufferers. School officers, including teachers and attendance officers, were employed on the assessment of parents’ contributions in, for example, Birmingham, Bradford, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.

The first Government circular on recovery, issued on 4th October 1939,38 was quickly followed by a string of further circular expanding and elaborating the scheme. On 7th October a second circular dealt with the business of compiling a complete list of all unaccompanied children and their parents’ addresses.39 Two days later, a third concerned itself with the issue of model letters and recovery forms to parents and the supply of stationary for over a million recovery cases.40 After a further three days, circular 1887 appeared together

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with a memorandum,41 seven pages long, which dealt with problems of liable relatives, and also suggested recovery by the evacuating authority from the poor law authority in cases where a child was being maintained on public assistance. Sums ranging from 1s. to 5s. 6d. a week would in effect, therefore, be collected by poor law authorities from parents; they would then be passed to the evacuating authorities who, in turn, would hand them on to the Government.42 Finally, the whole book-keeping process would have to be looked at by the district auditors.

These circulars, in dealing with the scale of repayment by parents,43 probed deeply into such complicated matters of income assessment as profits from lodgers, capital investments and mortgage payments (including advance on apportioning capital and interest charges). They advised, too, on rule for ‘dependency’ calculations, and added a reminder that when parents moved from one area to another their papers should be transferred to the new authority.

Moreover, as fresh and unexpected problems arose the list of circulars grew in length and complexity. On 16th October, circular 1891 was sent out with another memorandum,44 five pages long with copies of six model letters, giving advice on what was to be done about those parents whose financial circumstances changed. Every case of payment below 6s. a week had to be continually reviewed, reminders being sent, and visits made to the homes of the parents. A week later, another circular dealt with questions of appointing referees, legal proceedings for recovery of debts, apportionment of the cost of the salaries of local staffs between the evacuation account the local government duties, and travelling expenses for parents when attending on referees.45 It ended by asking for adequate statistical returns. This brought to a close the first phase in the organisation of the recovery scheme.

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To launch the scheme was difficult enough, but to administer it through six years of war, amid all the vicissitudes of family circumstances, extensions in the classes of evacuees from whom recovery was sought, the changing value of money, and the continual movement of parents and children, was even more burdensome. The assessment rules were framed by the Health Departments to apply to ‘normal’ families. But the war was abnormal in the way it treated different families and no two cases, in several million assessment and reassessments, were quite alike.

No account can be given here of all that was involved in this piece of wartime administration which was regarded, on the surface and by many people, as a simple and reasonable measure for the Government to introduce. To do so would be to explain in detail how millions of addresses were obtained, how parents were traced all over the country, how systematic records were disorganised by the movement of children from one area to another and by children returning home for a few days or week or leaving school, how a great number of statements by parents on relief were checked with the Assistance Board and public assistance authorities, how arrangements were made with postmasters for the delivery of millions of small remittances how methods with the Military of Pensions, the War Office, the Admiralty and many poor law authorities for repayment in respect of various categories of evacuated children, how recoveries were arranged for children in residential nurseries and other institutions, how thousands of cases were referred for legal proceedings, how by 1942 arrears totalling over £2,000,000 had accumulated, how during the course of the war many personal problems were solved and how at its close many others still remained in part unsolved. A statement drawn up by the Social Welfare department of the London County Council for the period to 31st March 1943 showed that 524,000 assessments and reassessments had been undertaken. Nearly 4,000 cases were submitted to referees, and 2,150 were referred for legal proceedings.46

All this administrative activity for the recovery of billeting charges did not produce a relatively large sum of money. Exchequer expenditure on allowances for unaccompanied children in England and Wales amounted to £6,700,000 during the financial year 1939–40. Towards this, £559,950 was collected from parents;47 but a considerable

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sum had to be deducted to cover the local expenses of collection, assessment, bookkeeping, audit and so forth.48 The administrative costs of the central departments, at headquarters and in the regions, are impossible to estimate. The amount collected seemed to so low that an analysis was made by the writer of the repayment statistics for the first two months of the scheme.49 The detailed results of this investigation (covering 654,000 unaccompanied schoolchildren in England and Wales) are not published here, but the main findings for the period to the end of December 1939 are summarised below:

1. The average sum collected per child per week was 2s. 3d.

2. The parents of eleven percent of the children were on public assistance or unemployment assistance.

3. The parents of another fourteen percent of the children were found to be unable to make any contribution owing to low wages, inadequate Service allowances and other factors. Thus, one-quarter of the cases were classified ‘nil assessment’.

4. These proportions varied considerable from one part of the country to another. While only eighteen percent of the Birmingham cases were ‘nil assessments’, the proportion in London was twenty-seven percent and in Liverpool and Sunderland it reached forty percent. Over twenty percent of the parents of evacuated Liverpool children were on some form of public relief, while in Birmingham the corresponding figure was only three percent. The average weekly sum collected per child ranged from 1s in Sunderland to 2s. 6d. in Leeds.

5. These local differences in the proportions of ‘nil assessments’ and weekly sums recovered showed a close correlation with the percentages of persons unemployed in each locality, and with the percentages of the occupied male population allotted to social classes four (semi-skilled workers) and five (unskilled workers) by the Registrar-General at the census of 1931.50

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6. About two percent of all parents offered to pay more than 6s. a week and forty percent offered the legal 6s.

These figures are important, for while they may well be unrepresentative of the populations of London and other cities and of the parents who evacuated their children under the Government’s scheme, they nevertheless throw some light on the problems discussed in earlier chapters. They help to explain, if they do not justify, the state of many of the children’s clothing and footwear, and they depict a background of poverty against which the behaviour of the mothers and children has to be visualised. Clearly, it was not enough to say that these conditions were simply the result of unemployment, for the analysis shows that the number of parents who were found, after a careful means test, to be unable to pay anything because of insufficient earnings—insufficient for the number in the family—was higher than the total of parents on relief. This fact, when placed against the statistics of public relief, shows how formidable was the problem of poverty before the war. In 1939 the average number of insured persons unemployed in the United Kingdom was 1,480,324, and there were, mostly in addition, about 1,275,000 persons receiving poor relief.51

The question of how much the parents should contribute towards the maintenance of their evacuated children was naturally allied to the question of how much the Government should pay the foster-parents. In the early months of the war, the rates fixed by the Government of 8s. 6d. and 10s. 6d. a week were strongly criticised as in adequate. To some extent, these criticisms reflected the deterioration in goodwill in the reception areas, caused partly by the condition in which many of the evacuees arrived, partly by the absence of air attacks on London, and partly by a belief that some of the parents were better off and were saving money at the expense of people in the reception areas.

Moreover, what was considered as inadequate by householders at the higher social levels—those who were generally more successful in getting publicity for their criticisms—was often acceptable to others. An agricultural labourer on 30s a week with a boy aged seven billeted on him found an additional 10s. 6d. quite welcome. On the other hand, a middle-class householder, anxious to give the same standard of food and care as his own child was receiving, soon learnt that the sum of 17s a week for (say) two secondary

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school boys aged sixteen was not nearly enough. Throughout the war, the problem of these different standards of living was an insoluble element in the evacuation scheme—for no Government could deliberately discriminate between social groups by paying different amounts. In proportion as to the number of children billeted on better-off householders changed, so, generally, did the volume of complaints about billeting allowances.

The rates fixed in 1939 resembled those paid by most poor law authorities except for one important qualification. They took no account of the age of the child.52 No more did the rates paid by the Service departments for the children of other ranks. At the beginning of the war these Service allowances stood at: 5s. a week for the first child, 3s. for the second, 2s. for the third and 1s. for every child thereafter. The gap between these figures and the 10s. 6d. or 8s. 6d. paid to foster parents for evacuated children was soon noticed by social reformers. It also created a difficult problem for officials assessing the income and expenditure of families with evacuated children, since parents were bound to mark the contrast between the contributions which the Government expected them to make and those which it made itself for the maintenance of the children of Servicemen.

Impressed by the volume of complaints about the billeting rates of 10s. 6d. and 8s. 6d. a week—which they described as ‘bitter’—the Health Departments asked for an increase for children aged over fourteen years. The Treasury, looking at the lower rates for the children of Servicemen and of those who fathers were unemployed, was sceptical: ‘it is a matter for argument whether in fact the average boy or girl of fifteen eats more than one of twelve’.53 It was estimated that this would affect only about 14,000 out of the 900,000 or so unaccompanied children.

Other attempts were made by the Health Departments to improve the position of foster-parents. It was proposed, for instance, that extra allowances of 5s. a week should be paid to householders who were willing to nurse a sick unaccompanied child in their homes. This, it was pointed out, would be a good investment, for it would help to relieve the expensive sick-bays for minor ailments set up by

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local authorities under the evacuation scheme. But the Treasury was convinced. Another approach in June 1940 produced a different response.54

Throughout the winter of 1939–40 complaints about the inadequacy of billeting payments continued. As time went on, many of the small and not easily calculable items of cost in the care of children, the wear and tear of household equipment, laundry, repair of clothes, hair-cutting, bus fares and toys,55 became more important. The meagre concession announced in October 1939 had not satisfied many householders. While the current rates were defended in Parliament,56 the Health Departments persisted in their attempts to secure further improvements. In March 1940 another small change was made when the allowance of 10s 6d. was paid for children aged fourteen and over.57 At the same time, the Government decided to pay billeting allowances for unaccompanied children evacuated under private arrangements, but only in cases where the parents, after assessment, were found to be unable to pay 6s. a week.58

It was not until the Government feared that its new evacuation scheme might be jeopardised by serious opposition from the reception areas that any substantial change was made. In April 1940 a comment by one of the Ministry of Health’s regional officers summed up a series of gloomy reports. ‘The plain fact is’, he said, ‘that the reception areas are not far removed from open revolt’. There were, in truth, many signs in the early spring of 1940 that, as a ministerial report to the Cabinet declared, the existing scheme could not ‘be maintained much longer on its present basis’. A general review of policy followed, and one result was the introduction of new scales of weekly billeting rates:59

Unaccompanied schoolchildren
Under 10 years No change.
10–14 years 10s. 6d. for each child.
14–16 years 12s. 6d. for each child.
Over 16 15s. for each child.

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To householders taking children aged fourteen and over these changes represented a real improvement, although the cost of living had moved sharply upwards, and by June 1940 was seventeen percent higher, according to the official index, then in September 1939. Those who had children aged under ten billeted on them were, therefore, worse off than nine months earlier. Two years were to pass before any further changes were made in these billeting allowances.60

How much the parents should pay the Government for their evacuated children, and how much the Government should pay foster-parents, were matters which loomed much larger during those periods when the war seemed to move sluggishly or not at all. At other times, the springs of human compassion could be relied upon for sacrifices in the general interest. It was unfortunate, therefore, that the first substantial improvement in billeting allowances for children aged over ten years did not come until nine undramatic months had passed, and the times were growing more exciting. It was the same in those other fields of social policy where the Government’s aim was to sustain the hard-pressed foster-parent, and to make mothers and fathers feel confident that their children’s welfare was the concern of the evacuation services. For the first nine months of war progress in the development of these services was slow. The pace did not quicken until the summer of 1940.

The proposal of communal meals for evacuated children, first suggested by the Anderson report which advocated provision on a big scale,61 made little headway during the first year of the war.62 Many of the local authorities were apathetic, two-thirds reporting the communal meals were not needed. Although the central departments stressed the importance of relieving foster-parents of some of the work of providing meals and supervising the children, they did not make the idea attractive when they asked for about 2s. a week. Foster-parents, who were receiving only 8s. 6d. or 10s. 6d. a week for the upkeep of a child, who were reluctant to part with 2s. to pay for only five meals in a week. The parents could not very well be approached by the authorities, for they had already been assessed for the full board and lodging of their children. Likewise, the supply of school milk for evacuated children was hampered, by the question, which will be further discussed in Chapter XII, ‘who is to pay?’

The provision of hostels for children difficult to billet and for secondary schoolchildren was due later on to become a prominent feature of the evacuation scheme; but Treasury approval of hostel schemes was not given on any significant scale until May 1940. It

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was understandable, therefore, that some householders felt they were being used as a cheap instrument for the accommodation of evacuees. Billeting in private houses was very much less expensive than the provision of hostels or camps. It was with the deliberate purpose of rehabilitating the evacuation scheme and making the new plans more acceptable to the reception areas that the Government, in May 1940, decided—among other things—to give more active encouragement to the establishment of hostels.63

The clothing scheme for evacuated children was another aspect of welfare which worked unsatisfactorily, and to the disadvantage of generous foster-parents, during the first year of the war. The importance of this problem was underlined in an earlier chapter,64 where an account was given of the preliminary steps taken by the Ministry of Health to launch a clothing scheme for necessitous children.

The procedure was for the teacher to report a child needing boots or clothing to the director of education in the evacuation area if the parents could not provide the equipment, or had neglected to do so.65 This authority then approached the parents, and investigated and assessed their means.66 If was only after this that the ‘secret’, clothing fund, supplemented by gifts and articles made by voluntary workers, came into operation to help poor parents. Investigation, therefore, preceded the supply of the equipment. The Ministry’s circular, in outlining this procedure, stressed the principle of parental responsibility for, as the Minister said, parents ‘might forget’ when their children were away from home. Perhaps this conception of parental affection was a little harsh; perhaps it was also illogical, seeing that parents had fetched nearly a million children home within five months. But it did reveal the dilemma.

It certainly would have offended against all the canons of welfare work, hitherto practised, to have provided children with clothes out of the taxpayer’s money before the financial circumstances of the parents had been investigated. But what was insufficiently realised

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was that many town children were not equipped for winter in the country, and that evacuation imposed a compulsory levelling-up in social standards of dress for a large number of children. In addition, clothing costs had increased in several ways. Boot repairs cost 5s. at the local shop instead of 1s. when done by father in the weekend garments could not be altered and handed down so easily when the next recipient was in the care of someone else and many miles away; some foster-mothers in the country liked children to have a ‘Sunday best’; parents, over-conscious of a social gulf and fearing indignities that might pain their children, were reluctant to send inferior garments bought at jumble sales or from second-hand dealers; while the Government’s cost of living index showed a rise of over thirty percent for clothing items in the eight months to April 1940.

In practice, the operation of the scheme proved cumbersome; it involved too many delays before children, sorely in need of clothes, got them. Sympathy for children, ill-shod, cold and wet, was unnaturally repressed when foster-parents and teachers were expected to harden their hearts for several weeks while the machinery of correspondence and assessment slowly turned over.67 The original scheme would not have lasted as long as it did if bombs had fallen in the first months of war, or but for the generosity of foster-parents, teachers and many people in the reception areas. The opening of air attacks in the autumn of 1940 led to some radical changes which are discussed in a later chapter.68

The lack of energetic progress in the field of social welfare during the first nine months of the war was due to the combined effect of many antithetical forces. Some of these have already been identified: the generally uncertain political and war situation; the shock caused by the physical condition of some of the evacuees; conflicting pressures from the towns for rehabilitation and from the country for help; the structure and habitual practices of central and local government in face of totally new problems involving money expenditure; the inherent contradiction between a vigorous economy policy and the maintenance of the evacuation scheme which, to be successful, meant spending money on a variety of social measures.

In one way and another, these influences worked against the welfare schemes discussed above; communal meals and school milk, hostels and clothing for evacuated children. These services were

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intended to benefit the unaccompanied schoolchild. Other measure, more specifically framed for the evacuated mother and her child, with the same objective of preventing a return to the cities, are described below.

Most of the mothers who went with their children under the evacuation scheme were lodged in billets, the Government paying the householder 5s. a week for the mother, and 3s. a week for each child. During the first year of the war no attempt was made to recover any part of these sums from the mother. For those who were in financial need despite this help, the Government made arrangements under the Unemployment Assistance (Emergency Powers) Act 1939, for the payment of cash allowances through the local offices of the Assistance Board.69

Some of the mothers who were evacuated had been earning their own living; the great majority, however, were normally dependent for support on their husbands. In most cases, the husbands were able to send sufficient money to keep their wives and children in the reception areas since accommodation was provided for them at the Government’s expense. It was, however, recognised that the cost of maintaining two separate households was greater than the cost of maintaining one, and that where the husband’s wages were low there might not be a sufficient margin to enable him to support his family in the reception area. Provision was accordingly made so that assistance could be given to the wife even though the husband was in full-time employment.

No study has been made by the writer of the administration of this scheme, or of such questions as the method of assessing need, the adequacy of the allowances, and whether those in need knew of, and had access to, the service. It is sufficient to record here that at the beginning of the war some 46,000 evacuated adults in the reception areas of Britain received help, and that within four months the number had fallen to about 4,400, largely because of the return of the mothers to the towns. The question of providing medical services for those who could not afford to pay for a doctor—chiefly a matter of the poor law medical service—is dealt with in Chapter XII .

In addition to the problems of financial and medical aid to those mothers cut off from the familiar and varied sources of help in the cities, there was the more difficult one of organising some kind of service for children under the age of five.70 Ideally, what was needed were nursery schools or centres to relieve both mothers and householders of young children during part of the day. But provision of this kind was not generally available in the reception districts.

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What kind of a life was it for these mothers? Hoe did they spend their days in the towns and villages of the country? The picture cannot be painted in all its detail, but its significance is plain. Its dark colours and dreary scene may perhaps be best revealed by quoting from two typical reports sent in by inspectors of education in Devonshire and Hertfordshire at the end of 1939.71

The main difficulty here is the mother She has been put into a completely new environment away from the freedom and responsibilities of her own home. There is lack of organisation and definite objective in her life. She has no husband to care for and more often then not she is accepted as a necessity, but not welcomed in the billeting household. It follows that all sorts of restrictions will prevail both for her and for her children. Living in a billet is almost equivalent to being cooped up in part of a house. The children, who need activity and interest, are confined to one, or perhaps two, room. They cannot run in and out about the house, as the householder expects them to stay in their own quarters. Free use of the garden is very often resented. It is very difficult to clean the rooms with the children there all the time. More difficult still for her to get the necessary washing done, and not at all easy to cook, as she will have her children running around the kitchen. These condition create a very bad psychological disturbance both for mothers and children. They become difficult, the children cry and are irritable, and the nervous energy of the mother is sapped. sometime she punishes them for nothing at all and at others she is over indulgent and sentimental. In order to escape from the billet she goes out as much as possible but she has nowhere to go. She does her shopping, but lingers over it, shop-gazing and gossiping. The children, meanwhile merely stand by and become what the mother calls ‘naughty’. I have seldom, of ever, since the war, been in the busy, crowded Exeter High Street without seeing these mothers and children wandering about looking miserable. I am told that the audience of the afternoon performances at the local picture houses contains a considerable number of mothers and young children, and they are also seen outside the local public houses in the evenings, the toddlers waiting for their mothers who are inside. These children have no ordered day and no afternoon sleep.

Hostesses do not as a rule consider the payment by the Government of 5s. a week for the mother and 3s. for the child as covering more than the bare bedroom accommodation and the result was that the evacuees found themselves practically homeless during the day, with no facilities for bathing the children, for washing or ironing their clothing, or even for providing them with a properly cooked meal. In many cases they were expected to do these things in their bedroom.

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It is known that one mother takes her child once a week by workman’s train to London for a real bath, another takes all her washing back once a fortnight to be done at the public wash house in her own neighbourhood. The children themselves have very little done for them. There are a few toys for which they can scramble and fight, there is a very small gravelled yard where they can play between the perambulators. Indoors there are no small chairs or tables and no beds for rest or sleep. There is no peace or confidence here for the children to build upon. They are out-of-hand, nervous and fretful, lacking sleep, proper nourishing food, regular milk and medical attention, and they are for the most part under-clothed. There is no quiet for them nor for their mothers, and it is agreed by those in St. Albans interested in the welfare of these refugees that there is a most urgent need for the opening of places of organised assembly and self-respecting occupation for them if they are to remain or become useful members of society.

The establishment of nursery centres for the under-fives was a crying need in many reception areas. The central departments had recognised the need in September 1939.72 They hoped that the nurseries would be set up and run by voluntary workers; but this hope was not fulfilled. A variety of organisations, such as the Women’s Institutes and the Women’s Voluntary Services, as well as many public-spirited individuals, did a great deal for the mothers through clubs, make-and-mend parties and occupations centres; but few attempts were made to cope with the problem of the under-fives. For one thing, technical and financial resources were lacking.

Partly as a result of pressure from certain voluntary organisations,73 and partly because they were alarmed by the rapid return of mothers and children, the Health and Education Departments drafted plans in October 1939 for the establishment of something between a day nursery and a nursery school for children aged two to five at which social training and supervision would be provided. Small groups of children in the charge of a warden would, it was hoped, be accommodated in rent-free houses and other premises. For 10,000 children, the cost was tentatively put at about £100,000 a year. The Treasury refused to authorise this expenditure. The Board of Education then obtained evidence from inspectors on the need for provision of this kind, and re-drafted its circular to local authorities.

The circular was eventually issued in a modified form on 9th

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January 1940.74 Nursery centres were to be set up mainly in districts with fifty or more infants, the need for voluntary help was emphasised, and while the cost was to be met in the first place by the Government, it would in the case of certain children be recovered from local education authorities in the evacuation areas.75 The Treasury’s apprehensions that the scheme, and its ‘many enthusiastic supporters’, would encourage the establishment of centres on a large scale proved would encourage the establishment of centres on a large scale proved unfounded, because when the circular at last went out eighty-eight percent of all the evacuated mothers and accompanied children in England, Wales and Scotland had returned to the vulnerable areas.

It cannot be assumed that greater progress would have been made with the organisation of these centres and of other welfares services if the hand of finance had been less powerful. They represented, in any event, difficult tasks for inexperienced local authorities. Nevertheless, repeated references to the need for economy, and an insistence on the submission of all proposals for regional or central approval, made its impression, particularly as one of the primary responsibilities of the Ministry of Health in 1919 had been to restrain, rather than stimulate, local expenditure. Later in the war, it was hard to convince local authorities that times had changed and that the Ministry wanted them to spend Government money. At the back of the minds of councillors and officials there was still the fear that, because of some circular or regulation they had overlooked or did not understand,76 the burden would eventually fall on the rates. Nor did the adoption of the principle of recovering ‘normal’ or peacetime expenditure from the evacuation authorities dissipate these suspicions.77 Whatever the merits of the case, few urban and rural authorities were confident of out-manoeuvring the extracting money from such experienced giants as the London County Council.

With the first stage over in the autumn of 1939 of improvising sick-bays, maternity homes and certain other services, the Treasury, alarmed by what was felt to be a lack of financial control, asked for stronger authority to be exercised. As a result, stricter measures of

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control were introduced by the Ministry. It referred all applications for instance, from local authorities to put up huts for the treatment of infectious diseases to the Treasury for approval. A proposal to purchase patients’ temperature charts at 1d. each was countered by the Treasury with the suggestion that they might be made by the senior forms of evacuated schools.78

The policy of tightening financial control over the work of local authorities on evacuation and other wartime services was elaborated in a circular issued by the Ministry of Health on 22nd January 1940.79 It was laid down that, apart from one or two minor items,80 local authorities should not incur without prior approval new liabilities for expenditure, except in an acute emergency after air attack.81 However, by the beginning of 1940 the need for an immediate expansion in the provision of social services in the reception areas was rapidly diminishing. By January, nearly two-thirds of all the evacuees in the safer areas of England, Wales and Scotland had returned home.

(iii) Ebb Tide of Evacuation

At the request of the Health Departments, the first evacuation count was taken by local authorities on 8th January 1940. The results showed that about 900,000 evacuees, out of the total for Britain of 1,473,000, had returned to the target areas. In other words, the proportion of evacuees remaining in the reception areas after four months of war amounted to only fourteen percent of the expected number of refugees for whom the Government had made transport arrangements in August 1939.

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The results of the count in January 1940 are summarised below:82

From evacuation areas in England From evacuation areas in Scotland
Number remaining in reception areas Percentage remaining Number remaining in reception areas Percentage remaining Total remaining Percentage
1. Unaccompanied schoolchildren 420,000 55 37,600 61 457,600 55
2. Mothers and accompanied children 56,000 13 8,900 9 64,900 12
3. Expectant mothers 1,100 9 40 10 1,140 9
4. Blind persons, cripples, and other special classes 2,280 43 160 9 2,440 38
5. Teachers and helpers 43,400 49 3,100 23 46,500 45
522,780 40 49,800 28



The return to the towns within four months of eighty-eight percent of the evacuated mothers and accompanied children, and nearly one-half of the unaccompanied children, was hardly a surprise to the Government after the reports it had received in September and October 1939.84 The evacuation scheme, as an integral part of the plans for the protection of the civilian population, had largely failed to achieve its object of removing for the duration of the war most of the mothers and children in the target areas. From the narrow financial point of view the failure had its compensations. The costs of evacuation were but a fraction of the Treasury’s pre-war estimate. The number of evacuees remaining in the country was only one-seventh of what had been expected, while the diminished provision of education, school medical, milk, meals and other social services, the postponed raising of the school-leaving age, and the cessation of new building in the form of houses, schools and clinics, saved a lot of

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money. But this saving weighed very little in the balances of war policy, when the estimates of enemy air attack remained still as they had been before September 1939.

The flow-back to the towns was not equally distributed. In some places and among certain groups the return was rapid and general; in others, it was gentle and apparently selective. Part of the statistical material has been analysed in an attempt to understand the motives laying behind this migration; the social and economic characteristics of the place of evacuation and reception have been studied, and account has been taken of the distance between the two areas.

So far as unaccompanied children were concerned, it appears that the return to the different evacuation areas in Britain was more uniformly spread than the exodus. Whatever the reasons were which decided parents to send their children away, they seem to have varied in strength much more in different parts of the country and even in different areas of the same city than the reasons which decided parents to fetch their children back.

In Appendix 3 to Chapter VII it was shown that the proportion of children evacuated from a large number of areas ranged from eight percent for Rotherham to seventy-six percent for Wallasey and Salford. According to the January 1940 count, the proportion of those evacuated who had returned to their home areas ranged from thirty-four percent (London) to seventy-nine percent (Dundee). The figures for four of the large cities are given below.

Unaccompanied Schoolchildren

Proportion sent September 1939 Proportion of those sent still away in January 1940 Number away in January 1940 expressed as a percentage of the estimated number of schoolchildren in the evacuation area before the war
% % %
London 49 66 34
Glasgow 42 25 11
Liverpool 61 62 38
Birmingham 25 56 14

London and Liverpool were the main areas which had the largest proportions—a little over one-third—of their children still evacuated in January 1940. At the other end of the scale, Rotherham, Sheffield, Walsall, Derby, Coventry and Dundee all had less than ten percent of their children still away. For Glasgow, Edinburgh, Middlesbrough, Bradford, Nottingham, Birmingham, Smethwick and West Bromwich the proportions lay between ten and fifteen percent.

The distance between the evacuated child and its home seems to have been some importance in determining the return flow to London. For instance, only nineteen percent of the London children

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sent to Somerset had returned by January 1940, whereas thirty-five percent had done so among those evacuated to Hertfordshire. The proportion of children returning to the poor areas of East London was higher than that to the better-off districts of West London. Economic and educational poverty, a stronger sense of family solidarity, a shorter distance between home and billet, and a higher rate of rejection by householders in the reception areas, may all have operated to cause this difference between East and West.

By January 1940 evacuation in Scotland and over a great part of the Midlands and north of England was no longer a big administrative and social problem.85 Only in London and a few areas in the provinces, such as Merseyside and the counties receiving evacuees from these places, was evacuation still a live issue. There was, too, little left of the original evacuation of mothers and children, for only 65,000 remaining in the reception areas of Britain, and this number continued to dwindle between January and May 1940. The heaviest and most rapid rate of return took place among the mothers whose homes were in the impoverished areas of East London, Liverpool and Glasgow.

During the first four months of 1940 the total number of official evacuees in all reception areas continued to diminish, though somewhat less rapidly than in 1939. Of the unaccompanied schoolchildren in England and Wales, the total of 420,000 on 8th January 1940 fell to 347,000 by 31st March, and to an estimated figure of 254,000 in May 1940.

The strength of the flow-back to the cities was reflected in the poor response to the new evacuation plan which was made public in the spring of 1940. Following the Government’s decision at the end of 1939 to maintain the evacuation scheme, a new plan—plan 4—was drawn up for the removal of 670,000 schoolchildren without their mothers—or about one-sixth of the number of evacuees for whom transport had been arranged in August 1939.86

The new scheme was not to operate until ‘air raids develop on a scale involving serious and continuing perils to the civilian population’.87 Even then, no facilities were to be provided for mothers and young children. Transport arrangements were to be spread over a longer period of time, and in the metropolitan area it was expected that six days would be required to send out 267,000 schoolchildren.

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The Government’s determination to prevent a repetition of the troubles of 1939 by a thorough medical overhaul of every child was the chief reason for this.88

Although the Ministry of Health’s advisory committee was almost unanimous in declaring that the voluntary principle was dead, and that the new plan should be based on compulsory evacuation and compulsory billeting,89 the Government decided to retain the voluntary character of the original scheme. Parents were, however, to be asked to register their children in advance for evacuation and to sign an undertaking not to bring them back until the whole party returned. To make the proposals more acceptable in the reception areas a series of improvements were agreed upon. There were to be more hostels, a better type of helper with experience of social work was to be sent out, more school nurses were to be released for evacuation work, billeting allowances for older children were to be raised, strenuous efforts were to be made to inspect and clean-up all the children, and the good feature of the original plan, such as the provision of sick bays and medical care, were to be maintained.

During March and April 1940 the Ministry of Information and the local authorities ran a publicity campaign to encourage parents to register their children for evacuation, and to persuade people in the reception areas to join a roll of householders pledged to help in the care of children. The press and the wireless were extensively used, and some 9,000,000 leaflets were distributed. The Government pleaded for cooperation from parents—a very different situation from that envisaged in 1939 when it was thought that the problem would be the control of panic-stricken crowds leaving London.

Nevertheless, the campaign was a failure. Only one householder in fifty approached in the reception areas was prepared to help—and many of these were already looking after evacuated children. In the sending areas, where schemes for the removal of 670,000 children were being drawn up, less than one-fifth had been registered for evacuation by 25th April—a fortnight after the German invasion of

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Norway and Denmark. In the metropolitan area the figure was below ten percent. While 118,000 children were booked for evacuation in England and Scotland, 375,000 parents refused to cooperate, and 882,000 parents did not reply at all to the appeals that were sent them.

Why did the Government’s efforts to persuade parents to register their children for evacuation fail so miserably? The country had been at war eight months, the rationing of food had begun, the Germans were successfully opening their smashing attacks in the West, the threat of bombing seemed just as real, yet the response to the evacuation scheme was negligible although the new plan had been more carefully prepared. The changes and improvements that had been made suggested that it stood a better chance of success than the arrangements of August 1939 or September 1938. But the response was weaker; far lower than at the outbreak of war, and insignificant by comparison with the public reaction at the time of the Munich crisis in 1938.

Perhaps it was that parents were unwilling to sign an undertaking not to fetch their children home without permission from the authorities—for that is how the pledge may have been interpreted. Or it may have been thought that if air attacks came a benevolent Government was bound to make arrangements for a fresh evacuation, and the decision to part with children could be deferred until the emergency arrived. These and other parental reflections were, however, probably weighted in the spring of 1940 with many of the old coefficients arranged on this occasion on a difference scale of values. The mood of the country had changed since August 1939. It might be said that the attitude of the public had lapsed from a state of tension to a state of apathy—for one often follows the other. But so sweeping a generalisation implies criticism—and should there be criticism when it was to the nation’s advantage that the people now showed no strong impulse to leave the threatened cities?

Although the Government continued to emphasise that air attacks might come at any time, and that a policy of evacuation was still essential, these warnings made little impression on public behaviour. The people preferred to wait and see, for although they had as yet no experience of what the bomber could do, a large proportion did at least know what evacuation meant. For many, that was enough. Now, and perhaps for the first time in their lives, families knew what it meant to be divided, and what it was like to live in unfamiliar and often unsympathetic surroundings.

The chief reasons then, why there was so little demand for evacuation in the spring of 1940 have to be sought in the experiences—or what some writers called the social psychology—of the first mass exodus. What it felt like to be evacuated in 1939; what impressions

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were gathered and what attitudes were formed; how, and in what way experiences were compared with life as it was pictured before and after evacuation; these were the important influences, these and the fact that people had had time for emotional adjustment, time at least to look war in the face.

The lessons of the first evacuation showed the great strength of the backward pull of the cities. Some of the considerations which were bound to have weight in persuading so many of the mothers and children to return home against the advice of authority are summarised in the following pages.

There was, for instance, the pull of better social services in London and the big cities and the push of inadequate provision in the reception areas. The poor law medical service, which failed to meet the needs of the poorer mothers and their children, was one such service. Difficulties in getting and paying for dental and eye treatment, school milk and meals, and specialist help under the school medical service represented others.90 The array of supporting agencies in the towns, social, economic and institution, such of as clothing clubs, check traders, hospital almoners, dental repair shops, foot clinics and welfare centres, all imposed barriers to mobility. For without sufficient money to buy service elsewhere, these institutions could not be left for long. Different or unsatisfactory education provision in rural areas, especially secondary and technical places, must have impelled some parents, thoughtful of their childrens’ future, to fetch them home.91 Nor was it any means true that bad social conditions were found only in the towns. Rural slums, old and dilapidated schools, and infections caught from local children, were other reasons for the return of some of the evacuees.92

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Then there were the economic factors; the cost of keeping two homes going, of fares to visit the reception areas,93 of extra clothes to meet the demands of winter in the country and the general levelling-up in standards required by many foster-parents. The effect of the Government’s decision to recover from parents part of the costs of billeting is difficult to evaluate. It was probably decisive among some families; at any rate, the Cabinet thought it would accelerate the return movement.94 Dissatisfaction with the amount of the billeting allowance paid to householders may also have reacted on the parents when they visited their children.95 All these factors, shading from the important to the trivial, from the rational to the irrational, operated against a background of insecurity and poverty in a large number of homes.

The atmosphere created in some of the reception areas by the physical condition in which evacuees arrived added to these discontents, and was also unfavourable to a long stay. The troubles of

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reception were, too, often accentuated by religious differences represented by poor Roman Catholic and Jewish families evacuated from Glasgow, Liverpool and the East End of London. Jewish customs were unknown and misunderstood in the rural areas of East Anglia long settled in their habits, and hostile to ‘foreigners’ though they might only be strangers from a neighbouring county. The harmful educational consequences of scattering Roman Catholic and Jewish schools over wide areas were increased by the absence of places of worship and lack of religious instruction. The Ministry of Health worked hard to reunite these schools, but the loss of goodwill in the reception areas made it difficult to find new and satisfactory billets for the children when they were moved from one district to another.

To the churches these developments represented, among other things, a financial burden as the cost of hiring village halls for worships, and the expensive of maintaining travelling priests, was added to a fall in the incomes of the evacuated parishes. But the chief fear of the Roman Catholic authorities was that the children were in danger of being weaned from the faith of their parents. Many of these children from Glasgow were billeting in strong Presbyterian homes in south-west Scotland, while the Nonconformist villages of North Wales received many Catholics from Merseyside. Householders were distressed when they saw children fasting, and when they had to rearrange the domestic time-table because of different hours of worship. Nor were matters improved when one or two cases of abduction became known, when Roman Catholic authorities insisted on moving children from billets, and when a few young Catholic children were taken to chapel because housewives could not leave their young charges unattended on Sunday mornings. What many people in the reception areas failed to appreciate was that in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church spiritual health was more important than physical safety.96

The social, economic and psychological reasons for the return of the mothers and children were, indeed, legion. Many books have been written,97 and at least 229 studies98 have been made, about

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evacuation and its consequences. All agree in one respect: that the general interference and inconvenience caused by billeting in private houses was not acceptable in the absence of air attack. The sanctity of the home, poor or rich, town or country, was paramount.

Amid all the imperative forces which changed, and overlapped, and pushed and pulled the evacuees about, there were two resistant elements around which all the rest swirled, and against which the first migration split and foundered. The principal enemy of evacuation was the solidarity of family life among the mass of the people. The urge to reunite became stronger as the social cleavages in the nation pressed down in one way or another on mother and child. The acute discomfort caused by the jostling of different and opposed social habits was the other great enemy of evacuation. All the implications of a stratified society came to the surface during this first evacuation, and then there were no physical hazards—as there were later—no bombs, no tasks to be shared in common, to help to hide or bridge the gulf. Discordant differences in speech, behaviour, dress, diet and morality were impressed, not only upon the householders, but upon the evacuated mothers99 and the children’s parents when they visited them in the country.

They were felt and expressed by children who, despite their advantage of greater adaptability, were found to be very sensitive to differences in social standards.100 Sometimes, these differences were pathetic. Two children, billeted in the county of Dumfries, were sent to a comfortable bed with clean, white sheets. When the householder went mother-like to see them in bed she found both children huddled in a corner of the room. ‘We’re no’ going’; there’, they said pointing, ‘that’s a bed for the deid folk’.101 ‘The country is a funny place’, said another child, ‘they never tell you you can’t have not more to eat’.102

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The children’s difficulties in a new environment were increased when the social and financial circumstances of the foster-parents were different from those of the parents. Conflicting loyalties touched and troubled the child in many situations when these differences were sharply marked. To be expected to use strange things like forms at meal-times and pyjamas at bed-times seemed, to some children, a betrayal of their parents. There were children who refused new clothes and fought and clung desperately to old and dirty things. Among the young this may have been simply an expression of love and a desire to keep alive memories of home; with older children it was simultaneously an expression of a refusal to be unfaithful to their parents’ standards. Feelings of guilt and contempt, love and hate, were all mixed up in the child’s mind with the struggle between the social conventions of the billet—what it was right to do—and things remembered of home—what it had been right to do. When, on the other hand, children were billeted on families poorer than their own, they could quickly interpret the change as a punishment for former ungratefulness to the mothers and fathers. A study of successful evacuation, carried out by a group of psychologists and social workers in Oxford, showed, that, after three years of war, the children observed were almost exclusively billeted on families belonging to the same social group as the parents.103

The relationship of the foster-mother to the mother was equally tangled. Because they are what they must be, mothers put up with a lot from their children. But foster-mothers were expected to suffer children whom they neither loved nor overestimated .There were, as Miss Burlingham and Dr. Freud have pointed out,104 only two courses open to them. One was to retain the attitude of a kindly but indifferent outside—in which case the child was deprived of affection. The other was to adopt the mother’s attitude, which meant feeling towards the child as if it belong to them. In some instances this may have succeeded, but success was difficult and short-lived if a wide social gulf divided the two families. The real mother of the child would be afraid when she visited the billet or received letters about the new life; its clothes, its food, its toys. She would be afraid of losing the affection of her child to someone who seemed more important, had more material things to offer and whose speech she could not always fully understand. And is she lost this, what else in life was left?

Because they possess so little, the family—and the line of relations—means much to the poor. ‘Among the simple and the poor’, wrote Dr. Isaacs and her colleagues, ‘where there is no wealth, no pride of status or possessions, love for the members of one’s own family and

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joy in their bodily presence alone makes life worth living. So deeply rooted is this need that it has defied even the law of self-preservation, as well as urgent public appeals and the wishes of authority’.105 The stubbornness of family life against which evacuation continually surged and broke during six years of war rested, almost alone, on the maternal personality. ‘The magic of the hearth remains unchallenged … it is rooted deep in all human nature, but the mother is the human anchor which holds it fast.106

A longing for home, worries about husbands and older children, and social and temperamental incompatibilities were the chief forces which impelled so many evacuated mothers to return. The isolation and strange quiet of the country—‘they call this spring, mum, and they have one down here every year’107—boredom, uncomprehended ways of life; these were the things which sometimes led to bad manners, ingratitude and irresponsibility. For that is how many people in the country read such behaviour; they knew little about the liveliness of crowded city life and the friendliness of the slums. But they did know what it had cost them to be tolerant of the intrusion into their homes of another woman dyed to the colour of a different environment.

The life of the working-class mother begins, ends and has its being in the setting of husband, children, home. The small, dark, unorganised workplace in which the mother spend most of her day, the neighbours, the shops, the gossipy streets; they are all an integral part of the daily round. Life had meaning for these women in the environment they knew so well. In a billet in the country it lost its meaning. They understood Mr. Churchill and the Luftwaffe among their own people, and in their own homes, not in somebody else’s. And so they went home.