Chapter 19: Social Care in the Reception Areas
(i) Welfare Services
During the first year of war little progress had been made in the development of welfare services for evacuated mothers and children. The general shape of Government policy was clear enough; what was still largely needed was the translation of central policy into local service, established, equipped, staffed and easily accessible. There was not only a need for special evacuation services, but also for an extension of the normal—or peacetime—social services which, in rural areas and small country towns, often fell far below the standard of provision obtainable in London and other cities. An earlier chapter tried to give a picture of the kind of personal problems confronting evacuees when they found that this service was not available, or access to that one was blocked by disputes about money and local government boundaries.1 The reasons for this state of affairs and for the lack of energetic progress with the provision of welfare schemes during the first year of the war have already been explained.2
It was apparent to the Ministry of Health a few weeks after the first heavy raid on London in September 1940 that a fresh approach to the problem of reception was badly needed. Contrary to expectations, bombing did not create a great demand for evacuation, nor did it discourage the return to London of dissatisfied and unhappy mothers and children. Something had to be done to stem this returning flow and make evacuation more attractive. Conditions in the reception areas had to be improved through the provision and extension of welfare services in the hope that life would become less difficult for both the evacuees and the householders.
The first need, if local authorities were to be persuaded to improve their services and develop new forms of welfare, was the adoption of a more liberal financial policy. Stimulated by the bombs, and anxious about the rising tide of homeless people, the Government removed many of the restrictions on spending money for welfare purposes. There were to be more hostels, group homes, social clubs and welfare centres; more money was to be spent on them, and more staff
with experience of social work were to be employed an evacuation duties in the reception areas. Regional officers of the Ministry of Health were given more freedom to approve at once proposals put forward by local authorities, and to aid this process blocks of administrative work were transferred from Whitehall to the regional offices.
The first important wartime circular on welfare was sent out by the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education to all authorities in reception areas on 18th October 1940.3 It sounded a note of urgency, and stated the immediate action to be taken under many heads. This circular, and a continuing stream of further ones throughout the winter, amending, supplementing and stimulating, imposed on local authorities a great burden of executive work. It was one thing to decide and direct; it was quite another to translate these policies into reality, particularly as everything was wanted at once and not, as in peacetime, by slow degrees. Nor was it the most favourable moment to choose to establish thousands of hostels, sick-bays, social centres, nurseries, and homes for families, expecting mothers and old people. Few of these services could bet set up without buildings, equipment and staff; yet this was the very time when many fierce competitors appeared for empty houses in the safer areas, when insistent cries for furniture, bedding and equipment of many kinds were heard in the bombed as well as the unbombed areas, and when the demand for trained staff to run welfare services far exceeded supply.
This was the period of the war when practically every Government department, many business firms, voluntary organisations and private hospitals were all feverishly searching for large country houses. Local authorities, to whom power to requisition unoccupied private houses and other buildings for the evacuation scheme had been delegated at the beginning of the war,4 were sometimes at a
disadvantage in matters of prestige and sensitiveness to local interests.5 The Army—one of the biggest competitors—was more forthright. IT had a habit of requisitioning just the type of house fit for use as a hostel or nursery. In many areas it had taken over by the end of 1940 all large houses, village halls and empty buildings, even after some had been inspected and earmarked for the reception of evacuated mothers and children. The evacuation scheme was further handicapped by the reluctance of some owners to allow their unoccupied houses to be used as hostels or nurseries; convalescent servicemen were generally preferred.6 All these conflicting needs and competing interests were simply an expression of the many-sided tasks facing the nation in 194; room had to be found in the safer parts of the country in which new armies could manoeuvre and train, in which vital munition factories could work undisturbed by the enemy, and in which mothers and children and sick and injured people could find some respite from air bombardment.
Even when buildings had been obtained for evacuees, local authorities were still confronted with a shortage of many kinds of equipment for hostels, maternity homes, communal billets and nurseries. A residential home for forty young children required over 4,000 articles of equipment. Until central buying departments and regional stores were properly functioning, equipment had to be scraped together in bits and pieces.7 Voluntary workers and civil servants went out to search the shops; country blacksmiths were sought to make fireguards for nurseries; vans went round to collect a cot here and a mattress there. Simultaneously, the standards of equipping and furnishing were raised by the Ministry of Health; local authorities were told, in effect, to forget the economies of the past and not be ‘niggardly’ with Government money in establishing welfare services.8 The bombing of shops, stores and factories increased the difficulties of obtaining goods and sufficient equipment; four of the five firms making cots for nurseries were, for instance, damaged by enemy action during the winter of 1940–1.
With varying degree of success and a great deal of improvisation many of these time-consuming difficulties were surmounted, through in certain instances not until months after the 1941 raids had ceased. Sometimes progress was made by a combination of unorthodox and financially extravagant means, more often by a steady unravelling of day-to-day problems in which the Ministry’s regional staffs (or at least the best of them) played an important role. Unlike the situation in 1939, these branches of the central department were in working order when the second wave of evacuees arrived in the reception areas. Their officers, and many of the officers of local authorities, had by the autumn of 1940 already learnt something of the practical techniques of organising welfare services: what was more significant still, better relationships had developed between the Ministry’s men and the local government men. For these two groups of people to know each other by their Christian names, to work together in the field, and to regard ‘Whitehall’ as their common and unpractical enemy was all to the good.
The results of all this activity during the nine months of heavy raids were impressive. The sum of achievement, as measured by reports in the middle of 1941, was made up of many items of service. There were about 660 hostels in England and Wales, accommodating 10,000 children in July 1941; whereas a year earlier only a handful had existed. There had also been established some thirty special hostels approved by the Board of Education for secondary schoolchildren,9 and thirty school camps were being run by the National Camps Corporation.10 Scotland had set up five school camps and 106 hostels of different types.11
The provision of social centres, clubs, information bureaux, and family hostels for mothers and their children had grown, during the time-span of air attack, from a few brave ventures to a respectable total of social service. About 730 mothers’ clubs had opened, and 638 occupational centres were radiating a bustle of handiwork classes, make-and-men parties, clothing clubs, toy-making and boot repairing classes, lecture and discussion groups. What the evacuated mothers wanted was a place where they could meet outside their billets, somewhere to make and mend clothes in company, do their ironing and washing, obtain meals, and arrange for young children to be attended while they shopped or did part-time work. As these needs were met in many areas, largely by voluntary effort, the demand for classes increased; the London County Council lent instructors and
organisers from its evening institutes, and equipment and staff were supplied by the Women’s Institutes, local Councils of Social Service, the Y.W.C.A., the Friends’ War Relief Service, the Women’s Voluntary Services, the Personal Service League, London clubs and settlements and many other bodies. Stimulated by the enthusiasm of these organisations, mothers were encouraged to try their hand at many things—from knitting socks for the Soviet Army to making sleeping bags for London firewatchers. the most successful centres were those which rapidly progressed from the status of a meeting place with cups of tea handed round to that of a club whose members took an active share in its development.
Mothers who had their children with them and were faced with the difficulties of living in billets were helped in various ways. Some 480 canteens and feeding centres and a number of nursery centres and day nurseries were established for the care of young children, while the provision of 150 sick-bays for children and 731 hostels accommodating mothers and their children gave some relief to the work of householders in the reception areas. Progress was also made in the more specialised field of institutional provision for expectant and nursing mothers, children under the age of five, and old people. In June 1941, there were ninety emergency maternity homes, some fifty-five ante-and post-natal hostels, and about 230 residential nurseries with places for 10,000 children aged under five.12 Finally, fifty or so hostels were accommodating 15,000 able-bodied old people from London.13
In a different category of social service was the Government’s clothing scheme for evacuated children. This scheme, evolving into a characteristic British mixture of Exchequer money and charitable gifts, administered by local authorities and run by voluntary workers, was similarly affected by the change in outlook which, in the autumn of 1940, ushered in a new era of welfare activity. During the first year of war the scheme had run into difficulties; it was failing in its primary object of helping the poor to clothe their children in accordance with the generally higher standards imposed by living with strangers in the country.14 In October 1940, official emphasis shifted; it was no longer the recovery of costs from parents but the need to clothe the
children that took first place.15 More liberal grants were ‘confidentially’ allotted to local authorities in evacuation areas,16 action was taken to reduce the delay before children were supplied with boots and clothing, and the Women’s Voluntary Services were drawn further into the scheme to establish and run county clothing depots and make-and-mend parties in the reception areas.17
The Ministry of Health did not lay down a uniform plan for the operation of the scheme; local authorities were left to devise their own systems to suit local needs. Birmingham insisted on being different’ its motto was ‘Birmingham clothes for Birmingham children’. Liverpool ran an enterprising boot repairing scheme and managed to raise the standard of footwear of many of its poorer children in the reception areas. London’s scheme, launched in cooperation with the Women’s Voluntary Services, was counted one of the most efficient; as its success became apparent it was extended to include the children in reception areas of all evacuating authorities in the south, south-east and south-west of England.18
The brunt of much of the detailed work fell on teachers, already burdened with the routine of the school meals and milk services. They were asked to keep the clothing of evacuated children constantly under review, to maintain contact with parents and householders, to meet the cost of boot repairs (and in some instances clothing) out of special funds, to recover money from parents, to deal with clothing coupons and to do a hundred-and-one other jobs. The administration of the complicated machinery of clothing distribution, made more difficult, after June 1941, by the need to collect coupons for clothes supplied, was largely in the hands of the Women’s Voluntary Services. This was one of the biggest tasks of the many undertaken by this organisation to aid the evacuation scheme.19 In 1942 there were some 1,500 W.V.S. issuing depots in the country helping to supply the needs of evacuees, refugees and homeless people. The value of clothing and footwear stock was then estimated at £5,000,000 much
as it having organised by gift from the American and Canadian Red Cross Societies and other voluntary sources.20
While most parents who were financially able to do so rarely failed to provide their evacuated children with the clothes they needed there was a minority who, for one reason or another, needed help.21 The chief reason—and this was one of the social problems provoked by evacuation—was the economic difficulty of maintaining a higher standard of clothing than the parents had been accustomed to provide. The Government’s clothing scheme set out in the autumn of 1940 to bridge the gap, and by the middle of 1941 it had succeeded in doing so in most reception areas. As civilian shortages increased in later years, and something akin to a famine developed in children’s shoes, the scheme became even more necessary. It also began to replace, for many poor parents of evacuated children, the supplies of cheap clothes previously obtained from secondhand dealers, clothing clubs and jumble sales, for by the end of the war these sources had virtually dried up in most areas of the country. The scheme cost more money than the Ministry of Health and the Treasury had in 1939 expected; by June 1943, for instances, the London County Council had received £178,000 from the Government, of which only thirty-six percent was collected in repayments from parents.22 Nevertheless, it was one of the most successful of the new welfare services which grew out of the evacuation scheme.
This brief record of the development of many new forms of social care—from clubs for evacuated mothers to clothing for children—tells little of the part played by the voluntary worker. It would be difficult to disentangle the respective contributions of the three partners in the growth of these enterprises: the volunteers—whether acting independently or as members of one of the great national organisation; the staffs of local authorities; the officials from central departments. Sometimes it was the servant of Whitehall who supplied the stimulus; sometimes the voluntary worker. Sometimes the local official or elected councillor bore down the obstacles and drove some new venture through to success. But once a welfare service had been established it was predominantly the volunteer—whether teacher, church worker, member of the Women’s Institute or some other organisation—who kept it going. Volunteers were the essential sustaining force in the towns and villages of the country.
Under the spur of these new opportunities for social work many voluntary organisation branched out into fresh activities. Sometimes they supplemented or shared in official welfare schemes; sometimes they filled in gaps by taking on work in certain areas which government agencies could not provide on a national scale. There were—as in peacetime—instances of overlapping and confusion in the social aids provided by voluntary bodies, and occasionally some bitterness when one organisation was thought to have trespassed into the field of activity which another considered its own particular preserve.23 It was not an unusual event for the Ministry of Health to intervene in such disputes for the sake of peace. Amity was generally restored whenever the Ministry could find a way of accepting blame for what had occurred. The department had learnt, from long experience of local government, that this diplomatic device was a most fruitful way of bringing together two disputing authorities. It was a small price to pay for the better functioning of the social services.
One of the most valuable contributions by voluntary agencies to the evacuation scheme was the provision of residential accommodation for some of the social casualties of the war. The majority of the residential nurseries for young children whose mothers were ill or otherwise unable to provide proper care were, for instance, in the hands of organisations like the Waifs and Strays Society who established and managed them for the Ministry of Health.24 During the first two or three years of the war the cost of these nurseries was met chiefly by voluntary donations and gifts from abroad;25 thereafter they were sustained by the Exchequer. From first to last, some 30,000 to 40,000 children aged under five passed through the residential nurseries in the reception areas of Britain.
Work of a pioneering character was also accomplished by local associations who established ‘rest and recuperation’ hostels and convalescent homes in country districts for mothers and children who had
suffered in the raids.26 There were a number of such quiet and unobtrusive efforts by voluntary bodies which supported the policy of evacuation and also mitigated some of the distresses of the time. The Oxford House Settlement in Bethnal Green set up two residential schools in Wales for children whose behaviour made them difficult to billet.27 The Invalid Children’s Aid Association ran homes for sick and physically handicapped children who needed both convalescent treatment and evacuation from London and other areas.28 The Children’s Country Holiday Fund sent away from the bombed cities about 2,200 children of an average age of four years and placed them in specially selected billets with householders who had offered to care for young children. In these and other ways, too many and too varied for detailed account, voluntary organisations maintained their traditional function of supplementing and extending the services provided by the State.
All these developments in the provision by local authorities and voluntary organisations of special welfare services for evacuated mothers and children were driven forward during 1941 by the need to prevent a return to the cities. Equally important as a motive was the need to ease the burden which householders had assumed in billeting mothers and children. This need was stressed by the Shakespeare committee of inquiry into conditions in the reception areas when it reported in January 1941.29 The committee particularly asked for more children’s hostels to be provided so as to relieve the pressure on billets, and for more social workers to be appointed to deal with individual and personal problems arising in the reception areas.
(ii) Children’s Hostels and Social Workers
The provision of hostels originally came about, not as a long considered act of policy, but chiefly because of all that was learnt in the autumn of 1939 concerning the physical condition of a proportion of evacuated children. When, in the spring of 1940, fresh plans were made for another measure for evacuation, it was decided to start
establishing hostels. The Treasury was persuaded to lift the ban on this more expensive form of accommodation for child evacuees. Fears that the arrangements for medically examining and cleansing the children before departure might break down if the raids began led to this important chance in policy. The Government was most anxious to avoid another angry wave of protests from householders in the reception areas.30
This was the reason for the development of a hostel service. And because the original intention was to place in the hostels newly arrived evacuees found to be bedwetters or dirty or otherwise difficult to billet, the district councils—the billeting authorities—were charged with administrative responsibility. This led to trouble. During the winter of 1940–1 many hostels were hurriedly organised, generally in makeshift premises with makeshift staff, and any child in the council’s care judged unbilletable was placed in the council’s hostel. The area of these authorities was usually too small, and resources too limited, to allow of special hostels for special needs. The desirability of classifying and grouping the children according to age, the need for treatment and other characteristics was, therefore, ruled out. Many of the hostels thus became dumps for all kinds of rejected children; a convenience for local officials and householders who wished to dispose of evacuees without much fuss or bother. There the children tended to remain along with others who, on arrival in the district, were temporarily accommodated until such time as a billet could be found. But once there new arrivals had been placed in a hostel the need for a billet and family life was sometimes forgotten.
A survey of forty-eight hostels in England and Wales in July 1943 showed that half contained both boys and girls; that the majority spanned an age range of about ten years, and that stealing, bed-wetting, running away, anxiety, speech defect and staying out late were given as reasons for admission.31 It did not help the children (or the parents) when district councils called these places ‘hostels for problem children’; the implication that these young people were, in any legal sense, delinquents when they entered a hostel was improper. The Ministry of Health’s welfare officers and psychiatric social workers from the Mental Health Emergency Committee condemned this practice of fixing labels on children. But it was not until after it
was learnt that some children, in writing to American families (who had sent toys to Britain) were heading their letters ‘Hostel for Problem Children …’, that the Ministry of Health asked its regional officers in March 1942 to discourage firmly local authorities from using the name.
In matters of staff the hostels were not well served. This was the most important of all the practical questions affecting the welfare of the children. The majority of the hostels were in the hands of local authorities with little or no experience of such work; there were no clearly defined qualifications for responsible staff, and no source of supply to which authorities could look for experienced workers.32 The consequences was that all kinds of people, shading from the very good to the very bad, were appointed as wardens and matrons. An acute shortage of domestic staff added to the general difficulties in increasing measure as the war went on. The men and women who were somehow or other scraped together to run the hostels were, as a result, overborne with household drudgery. The children suffered too; in ten to fifteen percent of the forty-eight hostels surveyed in 1943 all meals were taken in silence, and in only twenty-five percent did the staff have their meals with the children.33
The breathing-space that followed the raids of 1941 gave time for the Ministry of Health to realise that many of these hostels had become dumps.34 ‘A hostel should not normally be regarded as a permanent billet but as a place where a child obtains sympathetic handling and, if need be, treatment, and is rendered fit for billeting as soon as possible.35 This was the Ministry’s policy and, towards the end of 1941, the first attempts were made to classify the hostels and sort out the children. The processs was generally helped when district councils were persuaded to pool hostel resources or transfer them to county councils. Gradually, the children were more suitably grouped; some hostels were classified as ‘short-stay’ or ‘buffer’, others as long-stay institutions receiving children some of whom needed psychiatric treatment.
The reorganisation of the hostel service continued throughout 1942 and 1943.36 It was stimulated and pushed forward by the Ministry’s
welfare officers, by social workers appointed by some of the county councils, and by the staff of the Mental Health Emergency Committee and its constituent bodies. The energetic efforts of these voluntary societies helped to raise the standard of care of ‘difficult’ children in hostels and promoted a better appreciation of mental health work in general. By the end of 1942, thirty-two psychiatric social workers had been appointed by local authorities,37 largely as a result of the educational activities of the Mental Health Emergency Committee. This organisation continued to press the Ministry of Health for support and financial aid, and indeed sometimes embarrassed the Department by its enthusiastic campaign for extensions in psychiatric work to many branches of the social services.38
Broadly, there were two clear-cut phases in the development of a hostel service for evacuated children. During the first, which ended about the middle of 1941, quantity was provided. Some 660 hostels were hastily improvised and filled with about 10,000 children. Thereafter, while the number of hostels and children remained about the same,39 greater attention was paid to quality; to the grouping and classification of the children and the hostels, to the training of staff, to the provision of psychiatric advice and treatment, to a more constructive and individual approach to the children who needed help in overcoming their difficulties, and to a general improvement in hostel administration.
In August 1943 the Ministry of Health inquired into the state of
the service. The reports that flowed in showed that much reorganisation had been accomplished despite the shortage of staff. In all, there were 619 hostels in England and Wales, thirty-eight of which were empty and held in reserve for future emergencies. Under the supervision of the Board of Education ninety-four were provided for children from secondary, central and technical schools who were most in need of facilities for homework and study. This group of hostels had expanded from five in July 1940. Hostels for children presenting problems of behaviour—the so-called dull, backward and difficult children—totalled 233 in August 1943. At about sixty of these hostels psychiatric treatment was provided, and at a further eighty-five arrangements had been made whereby psychiatric advice or treatment service. In addition to these hostels, there were nine hostels for children who were convalescing from illness, seven for children who had left residential nurseries at the age of five and could not return home or be billeted in private houses, 207 short-stay or buffer hostels containing an assortment of children needing temporary accommodation, and a varied group of thirty-one others, some of which had not been classified.
The hostel service, like other special welfare schemes, arose in response to the stresses of evacuation. In no sense was it founded on an explicit theory of children’s needs; it did not, for instance, initially set out to provide facilities for the treatment of behaviour considered, in the light of contemporary value, to be anti-social. There was no inquiry into the reasons why householders rejected some children and not others; no study of ‘problem’ parents or ‘difficult’ foster-parents, their modes of life, their ages and occupations, and all the other characteristics which decide the quality of a home. There was little time during the war for such investigations. The hostels often received children whose behaviour could be traced to clashes of temperament with foster-parents. Were they then ‘problem’ children? Did evacuation uncover certain serious maladjustments formerly hidden away in the privacies of domestic strife? Or were the unhappy circumstances of these children part of the payment for war? Breaking windows, stealing food, smashing furniture, and wetting mattresses may simply have been ways of expressing desires for affection and security which children need above all else. If this were so, it did not help to label them ‘social problems’, and thereby to encourage the assertively naughty to live up to a reputation bestowed by an adult and short-sighted world. Labels may be fashionable in a century of science, but when they attach and imply hypothetical inferiorities—of race, religion, ‘intelligence’ or behaviour—they are fundamentally undemocratic and—in the present writer’s view—harmful.
Whether hostel life benefited or harmed the 15,000 to 20,000 children who passed through these institutions during the war;40 whether it was better or worse than a billet or return to a home in a dangerous area, are questions which cannot be answered here. The crucial test of hostel life, or, for that matter, of life in an institution of any kind, is reached when the child leaves. Only at the point would it be possible to investigate the effects of separation from home and of the attempts made in some of the hostels to help the children in a constructive and sympathetic way to overcome their difficulties. This is a matter of applied research which lies outside the responsibilities and resources of the present study.
At no period of the war were hostels important in the sense of contributing substantially to the problem of finding hose-room for evacuated children. Early in 1941 hostels and camps were accommodating about three percent of the unaccompanied children. From then on, as billeting in private homes became increasingly difficult to arrange, the proportion rose steadily to twelve percent in March 1944. It cannot, however, be assumed that the number of naughty children in the reception areas increased in like proportion.
While, therefore, the hostel service played only a minor role in the scheme of evacuation, it has been described partly because it was one of a small number of new developments in policy after 1939, partly to show how diversity and specialisation inevitably followed from a more constructive approach to the problem of children’s needs. A better service meant, in fact, a more varied service. As more attention was paid to the individual child, different types of services came into being offering special kinds of help to special groups with special needs.
What was true of hostels for children was also true, in greater or less degree, of homes for expectant mothers, children under the age of five and other groups. Practically all these services had two things in common; they were forced by the sheer pressure of events to grow up too rapidly, and they were faced with other difficulties due to the need for specialisation and to the multiplicity of local government and voluntary bodies concerned with the jigsaw of welfare in the reception areas of the country.
The situation in Wales in 1943 may be cited to illustrate the range and diversity of welfare provision and to show, incidentally, how progress had led the social services into forms of bewildering complexity. Including hostels, there were, in all, 103 institutions of various kinds catering for about 2,800 evacuated children needing different
types of care; children who were difficult to billet (including the dullards and the bedwetters), the physically handicapped, the deaf and the dumb and the mentally defective. The hostels served not only children who presented problems of behaviour but other classes also—children who were waiting for billets, secondary schoolchildren, children who had just left residential nurseries and children who were convalescing. A variety of residential and day nurseries and evacuated poor law children’s homes catered for other categories and brought the total of institutions for evacuated children up to 103.
The running of these 103 institutions involved no less than eighty-one different local authorities.41 Practically every institution had different wants in terms of trained staff, equipment, clothing and medical, dental and specialist provision. With few exceptions, all these groups of children were housed in premises which had not been built for the purposes to which they were put; alterations to lighting, heating, water and sewage systems were necessary; inspections and surveys were constantly required, while the unravelling of the finances involved multiplied the work of accountants and clerical officers. The rules under which children from many and various evacuation areas in England and Wales obtained admittance to these places were extraordinarily complicated; rules which, once mastered by the conscientious social worker, were soon out of date; for they changed as quickly as the climate of Wales itself.
The variegated arrangement of emergency social services was superimposed, throughout England and Wales, on a set of peacetime services already intricate in form and function, and administered by many local authorities of varying type, size and competence. Some thing has been said elsewhere about the way in which the difficulties created by local boundaries and divided financial responsibilities created by local boundaries and divided financial responsibilities prevented some people from getting all the help they need from the ‘normal’ or peacetime services.42 It was these services which often showed up badly when evacuated mothers and children wanted help; they were more often inadequate (e.g. the district medical service), and made fewer advances during 1941–5 than the new or emergency welfare schemes specially provided for mothers and children from the bombed cities.
The reality of these complexities in all services—new and old, statutory and voluntary—was one of the reasons why the Ministry of Health encouraged the employment of experienced social workers. It was the function of these workers (known as welfare officers) to stimulate, advise and give practical assistance to local authorities on the
development of welfare provision for evacuees and homeless people. They were expected to advocate the pooling of services, spread knowledge of better standards, assist with the recruitment of welfare staff, inspect hostels and other institutions, deal with individual needs and difficulties and, above all, help to match the special need with the special provision. A thorough, almost encyclopaedic, knowledge of all the health and social services in an area well beyond the confines of a single authority was, therefore, an essential part of the equipment of a good welfare officer.43 Without this knowledge, effective social help was seldom possible.
An analysis of the work in 1942 of welfare officers appointed by county councils showed that individual instances of the needs of evacuated mothers, children and old people, dependants of Servicemen and transferred war workers, were referred to these officers from a great many sources.44 Behind these inquiries throbbed a bewilderment of personal worries, vaguely expressed and pathetically introduced: ‘I’m worried about Tommy (truanting, bedwetting, food fads, short of clothes, job when he leaves school, ear trouble, can’t get into a technical school)—about my husband (seems low in his mind, isn’t writing to me, hasn’t got his pension through, going after other women, keeps me short, wants an allotment, paying too much rent, won’t see a doctor about his ulcer).’45 Personal difficulties of this kind and many others showed that the gulf between administrative provision and the actual and effective implementation and use of such provision needed constant bridging; it was the job of the social worker to build the bridges. In June 1940 the Ministry of Health added the first social workers to the staff of the evacuation services. This decision, and the increasing use of such workers during the following year, have already been described in connection with the schemes for helping the victims of air raids.46 As the pressure of events forced closer together the evacuation and post-raid services, the interests and duties of these welfare officers broadened to cover a wider area of the social services.
The report of the Shakespeare Committee on the reception services supplied a further stimulus, and confirmed the value of these officers in the field.47 Three months later, a chief officer was added for the first time in its history to the Ministry of Health’s headquarters staff, more regional office appointments were approved, and by August 1941 twenty-eight officers were on duty. In Scotland, the Department of Health recruited to its staff two officers to encourage the growth of welfare facilities for evacuated and homeless people.
At about the same time, local authorities in England and Wales were being persuaded by the Ministry of Health to add social workers to their staffs.48 Not only were these workers needed for the contribution they could make to the development of welfare activities, but it was hoped thereby to stimulate some of the county councils to take a greater interest in the evacuation scheme. The councils had nothing to pay, for the Ministry met the cost so long as these officers were dealing with matters affecting the special wartime services.49 By May 1941 thirty-two major authorities had recruited welfare officers; two years later the number had risen to fifty-five, and by the end of the war it stood at seventy. The smaller authorities followed suit; but owing to an increasing shortage of trained workers many were compelled to appoint officers without the recommended qualifications.
The more important features of Government action in the field of welfare services under the evacuation scheme during 1941–5 have now been described. The introduction of social workers, the growth of hostel and residential nursery provision for children, and the development of the clothing scheme all illustrated the new accent on welfare. They also reflected, in their different ways, the increasing attention paid to the needs of the individual evacuee and the individual victim of air raids. They grew out of the cruder manifestations of social policy in 1939.
The fundamental purpose of these new and expanded services was to help to maintain the evacuation scheme and so prevent mothers and children from returning to the cities. It is impossible to say what success attended these efforts. The cessation of heavy bombing in the middle of 1941 led many evacuees to return home and, moreover, the maintenance of the scheme depended, more than any other factor in
the reception areas, on the continued willingness of householders to accept children (and to a lesser extent mothers) into their homes. More welfare facilities, an efficient clothing scheme, more school feeding; all these things helped to sustain goodwill. So, too, did more institutional provision in the form of hostels and camps for children and adapted houses for family groups. Nevertheless, billeting in private houses remained throughout the war the keystone of the evacuation arch. But as the years of war dragged slowly by, it became increasingly difficult to persuade householders to give up so much of their freedom and so much of their time to caring for other people’s children.
(iii) Social and Economic Aspects of Billeting
The Government’s policy of relying, for over five years, on private billets as the main source of accommodation for evacuees was attacked on many occasions and from many quarters. What the critics generally suggested as an alternative was a great number of specially built camps in the reception areas.50 This was the cry, first heard in 1938, which was renewed after the heavy raids of 1941 had ceased. It arose again and again as a sense of frustration, born of military setbacks and an accumulating shortage of consumer goods, troubled the nation during 1942–3. It was heard once more when flying-bombs assaulted London in 1944; the Economist, for instance, censured the Government for depending so largely on private houses for the accommodation of evacuees.51
Those who criticised the Government were justified in the sympathy they expressed for householders in the reception areas. But in certain respects their approach was unrealistic, for once the country was committed to war, and committed thereby to an immense programme of new factories, aerodromes and other constructional work, there was little to spare in the form of men and materials for the evacuation scheme. If, between 1942 and 1944, the nation had not expended as much effort as it did in providing accommodation and other resources for several million American troops, it might have built camps for evacuated children in preparation for future air attacks. But even if the nation had waged a less austere war, and had
built such camps and kindred institutions, it would still have been beyond the wit of any planner to have found the staff, and especially the domestic staff, to run them.
But perhaps the most important consideration overlooked by many critics was the emotional need of every child for family life. This was precisely the need which the Government’s policy of private billeting did take into account. It was, of course, only second-best, and when the selection of billets was bad the children suffered in consequence. Nevertheless, the situation of these evacuated children in private households was immensely better, when viewed as a whole, than that of the 80,000 or so children who, deprived of a normal home life, were being brought up in the coldly isolated world of charitable ‘homes’ and poor law institutions.52
The corollary of a billeting policy, at once more humane, more practical and in the widest economic sense much cheaper, was a willingness on the part of householders in the reception areas to accept responsibilities and make sacrifices in the national interest. It is not easy to generalise about the manner in which these responsibilities were discharged, and it is impossible to discuss in detail all that was involved in caring for other people’s children. No records were kept of householders and evacuees who met each other in a spirit of tolerance and overcame the difficulties of living together. No facts remain to measure the patience extended to unruly, spoilt, neglected, noisy and dirty children. Domestic successes were not talked about, publicised or reported; the misfits and the disharmonies were. Occasionally and by exception there came into the official records examples of householders who in the later war years were still caring for the children they had received in 1939.53 But the great majority of householders who cooperated with the authorities could not help regarding the reception of evacuees as an invasion of fundamental rights, an interference with their comings and goings, a violation of the intimacies and ease of domestic life. For the authorities to impose—and to maintain for almost five years—a policy of billeting in private homes was a severe test of the better side of human nature. It was a formidable—to some an intolerable—burden for any Government to place on a section of its people. A community less kindly, less self-controlled, less essentially Christian in behaviour, would not have acquiesced to the same extent and for such a long time as this one did.
Of course, simply caring for other people’s children or sharing a kitchen and living room with a stranger from London or Liverpool was, by commonly accepted standards, a small sacrifice compared with the risks of injury and death which other men and women were compelled to face during the war. But it was a monotonous and humdrum burden that for many seemed unconnected with the wider national purpose. It was, too, a task that earned little social prestige, and unlike work in factory or shop it offered no material rewards and none of the comforts and satisfactions of group activity. The housewife remained isolated from the general stream of the war effort, but had always to contend with the perpetual wartime household difficulties. It meant for many a harder life; more meals to be prepared, more shopping to be done, more clothes to be washed, ironed and mended, and fewer evenings out of children were not to be left alone in the house. And for many who accepted and cared for children there was in time the pain of separation, often made worse by the thoughtless ingratitude of a mother fearful of having lost her child’s affection.
It was not surprising that as the war dragged on after 1941 there were protests from the reception areas. The complains took various forms. It was said that many of the newly arrived children were in a poor physical condition and difficult to control It was also said that parents were deliberately using the evacuation scheme as a means of ridding themselves of responsibility for their children in order to earn money in factories. (These allegations are examined in the next chapter.) Stronger criticisms were directed at the Government’s billeting policy on the grounds that the allowances were inadequate, and that inequality of sacrifice was growing because many householders with room to spare were not taking evacuees. These, and the absence of heavy raids on London and other cities, were the chief factors making for restiveness in the reception areas after 1941.
On the other hand, certain developments in the character of the evacuation scheme were making for stability. The expansion in the provision of welfare services was one of the most important. Others, more directly affecting householders, concerned the methods of placing children in billets, and the change in Government policy in 1940 which had led many children to be sent away under the ‘assisted private’ schemes instead of in organised parties. The rest of this chapter is devoted to an examination of a number of these factors, favourable and otherwise, which affected the position of the householder and the welfare of the evacuated child.
In the early days of the war, billeting had meant to the average billeting officer little more than a simple business of linking numbers of evacuated children to the available rooms in the district. Clashes of temperament and culture inevitable followed such rough and ready methods. Good billeting, an intelligent matching of guest and host,
needed time and an appreciation of the personality of the child and of the kind of home appropriate to it. When these principles replaced a process of passing children from billet to billet until some sort of permanence was achieved, or they were sent to a hostel or fetched home by their parents, the results were more satisfactory, especially with children suffering from personal difficulties. ‘A backward child could get encouragement and help in reading from an elderly couple in the secure atmosphere of a quiet home; a foster-mother’s patience could improve a child’s dirty habits and strengthen its self-confidence; the excitable and the aggressive could be placed with childless couples; the sensitive in families where they could received tactful handling.’ Dr Grünhut, the author of an instructive study of children in billets, noted many instances where a child met in its foster-family a combination of firmness and warmth, so indispensable for wholesome upbringing, for the first time in its life.54
The change from the 1939 evacuation ‘in the mass’ to the ‘trickle’ arrangements of 1940–2 gave more time for better billeting. The reception authorities were no longer swamped by numbers. An even more important reason for the lessening of friction in the reception areas was the great decline in the number of children sent out in organised parties.55 This meant that, from September 1940 onwards, there were far fewer children imposed on householders; for many parents were themselves making, under the popular ‘assisted schemes’, their own private arrangements for billeting their children.56 Even when the original system of billeting still operated, its effects were generally better. Much experience had been gained by 1941 in the placing of children with sympathetic billeting officers had been weeded-out; increasing use could be made of hostels and social workers. All these things helped to mitigate the difficulties of reception throughout the period 1941–4.
Moreover, during this period more emphasis was placed by the Ministry of Health on the need to supervise the welfare of billeted children.57 In March 1941, local authorities were advised that children
should be seen not less than once a month,58 and it was suggested that the advisory welfare committees should help with the work.59 Billeting officers, evacuation helpers,60 teachers, social workers and volunteers were all used as friendly visitors. It is impossible to say whether the arrangements for supervision were satisfactory, as no comprehensive investigations were made by the Ministry of Health during the war. A few instances of cruelty to foster-children which came to light in 1944–5, certain reports of children contracting tuberculosis as a result of their being billeted with other children suffering from the disease,61 and the report of the Curtis committee on children boarded-out and living in institutions, suggested that some local authorities did not take all their normal welfare responsibilities very seriously.62
Billeting officers, anxious as some of them were to keep a watchful eye on the welfare of the children they had found homes for, were handicapped by being local residents.63 They did not want to appear
inquisitive or critical. They did not want to be accused of favouring the ‘well-to-do’ on the one hand or the ‘working-class’ home on the other, or of letting their friends off lightly by billeting obstreperous children on the people they were supposed to dislike. For these reasons it became, after 1941, much harder to obtain good billeting officers. Ministers, teachers and tradespeople, in particular, were more than ever unwilling to incur the odium which billeting duties involved. The tasks these officers had to perform were loaded with situations in which passions could be aroused in the village shop or pub, council chamber or school. Favouritism, in these circumstances, was bound to occur in some of the thousand and more reception areas of Britain. The best that the Government could expect was that inequalities in the sacrifice of house-room among different social groups would, in the end, cancel each other out over the country as a whole.
For a variety of reasons they did not do so. As the months of evacuation dragged wearily by, a tendency for the larger houses to be spared at the expense of the smaller ones became more pronounced. Many scattered and disconnected pieces of evidence, slowly accumulating in the files of central and local government, pointed to the fact that a number of people with room to spare were not accepting into their homes their due proportion of evacuees and war-workers.
Reports about these matters frequently reached different division of the Ministry of Health from different sources. The Production Departments complained that the Ministry did not adopt a sufficiently firm attitude to those local authorities who used their billeting powers weakly and inequitable. ‘With regard to the allegation that a great many houses of the middle classes and larger types are not being used for the accommodation of war-workers, I feel certain from my own experience that there is much truth in this’, wrote a senior official of the Ministry in April 1941. A local of cooperation from ‘better off’ districts was remarked by the Ministry of Labour, and attention was drawn to the number of medical certificates which immediately followed the delivery of billeting notices.
Similar allegations concerning house-room for evacuees were just as pointed, though few were backed with convincing statistics. Circulars from the Ministry of Health in the autumn of 1940 specifically asked for billeting ‘without fear or favour’, and regional officials were told to investigate complaints about local authorities who refrained from exercising their powers against the owners of large houses.64 Many reports from welfare officers and social workers to the Ministries of Health and Labour in subsequent years mentioned instances
of the larger houses in residential areas not being used for the accommodation of evacuees.65 The billeting officer of a university town summed up his experience in a statement to the writer in May 1943 that he could plaster the town hall with medical certificates from people anxious to the excused from taking evacuees. The Ministry of Health’s senior officer of one of the larger reception regions of England unhesitatingly concluded in October 1941—after two years’ work on evacuation—that ‘the real hard core is in the upper middle classes’.
Many of the teachers working in reception areas saw what this problem of house-room meant to their pupils. Inquiries sent to headmasters of evacuated secondary schools by the London County Council during 1941–2 produced evidence of inequitable billeting in a variety of residential districts.66 Of seventeen heads replying, two complained that offending households were represented by all social classes, while fifteen said that the better-off households were not operating. Again, there was much report of medical certificates easily obtained from doctors.67 From evacuated grammar schools and other headmasters and mistresses came evidence that ‘the more well-to-do people, the superior artisan and clerk class, have tended to shirk their responsibilities’.68
Yet, despite the reports that billets were increasingly hard to come by, the housing situation in some of the areas untouched by air attack was not as serious as the protests suggested. Many local authorities persistently asserted that their districts were acutely overcrowded, but conclusive evidence was not always forthcoming. In one instance (the only one known to the writer) the Ministry of Health sent its own officials to investigate, as the authority in question had been obstructive for sometime. It had refused to take any more evacuees or war-workers, and it had refused to carry out an accommodation survey. Such a survey, it was said, was unnecessary as the town (containing
about 8,000 private houses) was completely full. The Ministry’s investigators found, on the basis of one person per habitable room,69 that there were 7,900 spare rooms in the town in July 1941. One-half of this spare accommodation was in houses with three or more surplus rooms. An analysis of the circumstances of different wards showed that the ‘working-class’ areas were full (there were 4,000 houses with no spare rooms at all), much of the surplus accommodation being in the ‘better-class’ districts. Of twenty-eight councillors, seventeen lived in houses with seven or more habitable rooms and eleven in somewhat smaller houses. Twenty-three councillors had, between them, seventy-six habitable rooms to spare. Only five councillors had no surplus accommodation. A few months before this survey was made by the Ministry of Health the council had refused to find billets for 300 war-workers.
The reasons why an unknown proportion of people in various reception areas of the country did not, in time of need, share their surplus house-room with others may not all be ascribed to selfishness. While the billeting money may have offered a definite inducement to poorer people to let rooms, those who were better off probably viewed the question in quite different ways. They may also have been elderly or ill, they may have been doing more housework in large houses because of the loss of domestic staff, or they may have been busy on work of national importance. Moreover, the sensible plea of the evacuated mothers ‘I can’t eat like them, although it’s very kind I’d give anything to be put with my own class’70 explained a good deal.
The preference of like for like, as well as the desirability of minimising social class differences, were important influences leading to the concentration of a large proportion of evacuees in the homes of poorer people. There was, indeed, much to be said for putting children into the kind of homes in which they had been brought up.71 Fewer mental and emotional adjustments were needed; the mode of life was comparable and, consequently, there was less strain. A greater likelihood of there being children in the same house going to the same school (or type of school) was, too, another advantage. As the evacuation scheme pursued its troubled course, these considerations were increasingly recognised in a more careful selection of billets for children.
The Ministry of Health was often criticised, whenever this question of accommodation for evacuees was discussed, for not advocating a vigorous policy of compulsory billeting. But this was not the answer when children had to be billeted, for the effects of invoking compulsion could easily be harmful. Householders found it quite simple to ‘freeze-out’ young children. Among adults, who did not have to be provided with meals, it was perhaps a different matter.72 Goodwill could not, however, be enforced by law. If householders were not prepared, willingly and sympathetically, to take children then there was little that could be done about it. Compulsion was, in fact, very rarely used throughout the war in the billeting of evacuated children. But the weakness in this situation was, as one official report put it, ‘the poorer and congested parts of the town are talked into acceptance, while the richer and roomier parts are left undisturbed’.
As Chapter XVIII has shown, wartime population movements, the needs of industrial workers and other groups for accommodation, the fact that no new houses were being built and a variety of other factors caused a steady worsening of the total housing situation in the reception areas from 1941 onwards. The situation was aggravated by the persistent tendency of some social groups to take proportionately fewer evacuees and war-workers than other groups. The administrative device of simply relating the number of habitable rooms in an area to the resident population thus became a less useful guide in deciding where to send new batches of evacuees. The average—in terms of the number of rooms divided by the number of persons—had less meaning than before. This was particularly true of those areas containing a high proportion of well-to-do households. The insufficiency of accommodation in general, together with the greater difficulties of finding billets in certain areas, affected Government policy on a a number of important social questions.
One example among many—the question of arranging for London scholarship winners to join schools of their parents’ choice—shows some of the unfortunate consequences of this shortage of billets. A large number of the parents of boys and girls who won junior county scholarships in London during 1941–3 wanted them to study at certain schools which had been moved to the reception areas. There were two difficulties to be surmounted before this could be arranged. The first was to get the children evacuated and billeted as a Government charge if the parents were not to be put to a great deal of extra expense. But the Ministry of Health had stipulated that unless the
children were living in an evacuation area they had no title to be billeted near the chosen school.73 It was argued that the Government’s evacuation scheme should not be used as a means of meeting the education needs of scholarship winners. Billets were already so hard to get that the scheme could not be widened to recognise such needs. The children of London parents whose temporary addresses during 1941–3 were in neutral or reception areas could not, therefore, be transferred to billets near the secondary schools in question. Consequently, if the parents could not pay for boards and lodging, the scholarship would have to be relinquished or another school attended. Many families were confronted with this dilemma, for nearly fifty percent of the homes of the 3,000 or so London children who received awards in 1941 had been destroyed or damaged by enemy action, and a considerable proportion of the families had been forced to move (for these and other reasons) to districts not classified as evacuation areas. The children, therefore, lost the right to be labelled evacuees and the opportunity the attend evacuated schools with Government help in billeting and board and lodging.
Some parents arranged at their own expense for their children to live near the chosen school; in some other instances, where there was special hardship or distress, the authorities closed their eyes to irregularities. Nevertheless, many scholarship winners and other pupils requiring secondary education were severely handicapped: how large the proportion was it would be impossible to say without extensive research.74 And even when such children had a title to official billeting, there still remained the difficulty of finding accommodation for them near the school in question. It became progressively harder to do so as the war went on. By 1944, many parents were being forced to make extra payments to householders as supplements to the Government’s billeting allowance in order to keep their children at these schools.75
This problem of the scholarship winner has been deliberately introduced as one illustration of the social consequences which followed from a shortage of billets in the reception areas. If the shortage had not been so acute, if some householders had been more cooperate, the Ministry of Health could have taken a more generous view of the educational needs of children.
Something has already been said, in reviewing the general billeting situation, about the personal sacrifices which so many householders made in taking children and other evacuees into their homes. These sacrifices of time, convenience and privacy, were accepted for many reasons; compassion, love of children and the example of neighbours, were three that were important. There was, also, the question of money; the amount paid by the Government in the form of billeting and lodging allowances. This, to some people, was, in the long-run, one of the decisive considerations. It need not be supposed that the minds of householders in the reception areas were dominated by material thoughts; but in a war of housekeeping shortages, coupons, rationing and rising prices, the level of billeting allowances was a matter which few could ignore.
It was inevitable that the amount of the allowance should be regarded in a different light by different social groups at different periods of the war. What was accepted as adequate by one householder, perhaps the wife of a coal miner or agricultural worker, was often rejected by others higher in the income scale. If these people, with heavier rents or housing charges, were to give to the evacuated child the same standard of living as the rest of the household then a financial sacrifice often had to be made. The following analysis of the changes in the various forms of allowances paid by the Government during the war suggests one reason why an increasing proportion of evacuated children were billeted in the homes of poorer people.
The empirical way in which the original billeting allowance for unaccompanied children of 10s. 6d. a week76 was fixed before the war, and the increases that were authorised up to June 1940 have been described in earlier chapters.77 Despite vigorous complaints from many quarters, no further changes were made for two years. On 1st May 1942, an extra 6d. a week was given to householders billeting children aged ten to twelve and fourteen to seventeen and over.78 More than another two years passed before a further advance was sanctioned by the Treasury. On 1st July 1944 an extra 1s. a week was added to each rate.79 These rates remained in force thereafter.
The increases that were given during this period of nearly five years, that is, between the outbreak of war and 1st July 1944, chiefly
benefited householders billeting older children. Nothing extra was allowed during these five years for children aged five to ten, and only 6d. more a week for children aged ten to twelve. At higher ages, the increases were on an ascending scale.80 Unlike the position in September 1939, when the allowance was the same for children of all ages, the changes subsequently made did recognise the needs of older children. But as the vast majority of evacuated children were under fifteen ages of age, the additional allowances did not involve a great deal of money.
While it might be assumed that the rates fixed in 1939 were generally adequate—an assumption that was hotly contested by many householder81—it cannot be said that the subsequent increases for children aged up to sixteen kept pace with the rise in the official cost of living index. Practically the whole of the rise in this index between 1939 and 1944 took place before the end of 1941.82 By then, the cost of food had risen by twenty-two percent, and fuel and light by twenty-five percent. The addition for all items in the index was twenty-eight percent. Between 1941 and 1944 another two percent only was added for all items. When these changes are set alongside the changes in the billeting rates, it becomes clear that the burden of additional cost was not recognised at all for householders taking children under two years of age until July 1944, and then only to a very limited extent. As regard older children—those aged over fourteen for instance—the percentage increase in the rates paid was higher than the cost of living increase. But here also recognition came belatedly, for there was a considerable time-lag between the rise in the cost of living and the rise in the billeting rates. Most of the changes in the rates were, in fact, made after large numbers of children had gone home, and when the number still billeted in the reception areas was relatively small.
For long periods of the war, therefore, something akin to hardship must have been experienced by many householders, especially by those caring for children aged under twelve. Complaints circled and grew as the accumulating stringencies of total war made life more difficult for housewives.83 A diminishing trickle of clothes and household materials, allied to the presence of evacuees, emphasised the
increasing importance of wear and tear of equipment—particularly bedding. The Ministry of Health was convinced by December 1941 that something ought to be done about the problem of wear and tear. But not until October 1943 did the department convince the Treasury. The attitude of the Treasury—particularly to the question of raising billeting allowances—was influenced at all stages by the importance of avoiding any avoidable increase in the amount of money in circulation at a time when the supply of goods was diminishing. This important consideration had to be balanced against arguments in favour of giving more money to householders in the reception areas. Eventually, a scheme for the free issue of sheets to deserving householders who had billeted children for not less than two years was agreed to, but it was so hedged round by secrecy and reservations that it failed to achieve very much.84
Dissatisfaction among householders with the Government’s billeting allowances must have placed a proportion of the parents of evacuated children in an embarrassing position. Some parents, able to afford the money, made additional payments to those who were looking after their children. It is impossible to say how widespread this practice was during 1942–4. The fact that the Government did not attempt to collect any more money from parents—although billeting rates were increased—allowed the better-off to supplement the official allowances. The scales laid down in 1939 for the recovery of allowances from parents were maintained unaltered throughout the war.85 Consequently, those parents who could afford to pay the Government 6s. a week (the amount asked for) benefited increasingly as both wages and the cost of living rose and they continued to pay 6s. a week for an evacuated child. On the other hand, those who could not find 6s. a week were increasingly penalised, for they were still means-tested on an assessment scale devised in 1939 and never altered.86
The defects in this scale, though they grew more marked with the passage of time and because of changes in the value of money, did not attract much public criticism. The same might be said of other economic weaknesses of the evacuation scheme. There were reasons for this and some of them were deeply rooted in traditional views concerning the respective roles of solider and civilian in time of war. While members of Parliament, representing different political faiths, worked hard to achieve repute as the ‘Serviceman’s member’ by studying and voicing questions of Service conditions, defects in the evacuation scheme remained unnoticed and unremedied. Moreover, in a country where parliamentary and public criticism of the detail of governmental work is customary, central departments and local authorities can easily slip into an attitude of waiting upon events; of allowing anomalies and inequities to remain until they are exposed in the House of Commons, the council chamber or elsewhere. So long as there is strong dependence on and sensitiveness to public scrutiny, then public opinion must actively inquire into the corners as well as the core of public policy and its practical implementation.
The need for inquiry was clearly demonstrated in the actual working of two provisions of the special scheme for the evacuation of expectant mothers to maternity homes in the reception areas. This scheme was predominantly used, after the heavy raids had ceased in 1941, not because mothers waned to leave London and other cities for reasons of safety from air attack, but because of an acute shortage of maternity provision in the evacuation areas. These mothers were, in point of fact, compelled to have their babies in institutions long distant from their homes and families. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Health refused to pay the return fares. The cost, ranging from a few shillings to thirty shillings or so for places as far afield from London as Derbyshire and Yorkshire, could not, it was argued, be debited to an account called ‘evacuation’. It would, too, be contrary to public policy to encourage mothers to return home with their babies by paying their fares.
As early as September 1941 the Ministry had admitted that the 10,000 or more expectant mothers evacuated yearly from London were seeking a bed, not safely. They had not intention of remaining in the country with their babies—even if billets could be obtained. A proposal to take mothers back to London in the coaches returning empty from outward journeys was rejected because it involved some extra consumption of petrol.87 The evacuation account remained unsullied until in February 1943 a parliamentary question led to stories
of mothers with their babies hitch-hiking home, and of unmarried mothers and babies stranded, penniless, in the country.88 Within a month, permission was given for return fares to be paid in part or in full where hardship was involved.89
The second example of the general lack of public concern about the detailed working of the evacuation scheme relates to the billeting allowance paid to householders for accommodating expectant mothers. Before these mothers were confined they had to be provided with board and lodging, often for several weeks,90 in private homes or ante-natal hostels. Owing to a shortage of hostels, billeting was necessary for most of the mothers. A billeting allowance of 21s a week was paid by the Government to householders for board and lodging, the local authority being responsible for collecting 16s. (or as much of this sum as possible) from the mothers.91 To many mothers, this meant additional expense for several weeks until the baby arrived. Their position was not unlike that of other mothers who, in booking a bed at certain voluntary hospitals, were charged so much for each ‘waiting’ day—a practice corresponding to the demurrage fee collected by railway companies for unemptied wagons.
Many of the householders billeting these mothers found that the sum of 21s. a week was insufficient to cover lodging and three good meals a day. It also became known that the allowance was lower than that for any other adult group. Members of the A.T.S. were rated at 28s. to 29s. a week, war-workers and ‘Bevin boys’ at 30s. to 35s., while 21s. covered lodging only for Army and Air Force officers.92 A rate of 21s was also paid for civil servants, nurses and other people provided with lodging and two meals a day. Thus, of all adult groups included in Government billeting arrangements, expectant mothers fared the worst. Yet, according to scientific ascertainment, their nutritional needs in terms protein, calcium, iron and certain vitamins were highest of all.93
Dissatisfaction with this rate of 21s. was occasionally expressed in letters and reports to the Ministry of Health; but no powerful voice was raised in protest. Not until nearly four years had passed, and billets for expectant mothers had become extremely hard to find, was
the rate increased to 25s. a week,94 By this time, however, discontent among householders in the reception areas about many of the billeting and lodging rates was fairly general. In addition to the anomalies already described, the lodging allowances of 5s. a week for an adult and 3s. for a child had remained unchanged since 1939. They were not, subsequently, increased; for the restiveness that prevailed was quickly stilled by a fresh wave of sympathy which swept over the country in the summer of 1944 for refugees from the flying-bombs.
Consideration has now been given to most of the important social problems which arose in the reception areas because of the need to provide shelter and care for evacuated mothers and children. These needs were, in all essential things, quite simple to formulate; but the organisation required to meet them was complicated and elaborate. By moving people, or helping them to move out of the dangerous areas, the Government was obliged to accept responsibility for satisfying an immense span of human needs expressed in widely different circumstances by a population ranging from new born babies to old age pensioners. Once a child was separated from its parents as a result of evacuation its welfare became the concern of a great many people working through the complex machinery of central and local government. All these needs of mothers, children and other refugees from air attack resolved themselves into hundreds of detailed and technical problems for which solutions had to be thought out on a national scale and simultaneously applied by officials of local authorities and voluntary bodies of varying degrees of skill and experience. They were not the kind of problems which pre-war Governments knew much about; civil servants and local officials had not been expected to understand such things and to know so much about human needs. They included such varied questions as the design of cots for young children, the durability of mackintosh overlays, and the manufacture of contraceptive appliances. Yet to all—these questions the Government sought to find answers.
In this chapter an attempt has been made to describe, from the perspective of the householder in the reception area, the achievements and the failings of the new policies of social care originating from the principle of Government sponsored evacuation. There were more successes than failures, but all was relative, for there was no abundance of resources. The fighting services and the production departments had first claim on manpower, materials and money. Those responsible for solving the social problems arising from evacuation had to be content with the little that was left. And out of the residue new welfare services had to be built; residential nurseries, maternity
homes and hostels, children’s hostels, communal meal centres, clothing schemes, sick-bays and mothers’ clubs. The history of the care of evacuees in the reception areas of Britain is partly a history of how gaps were filled and needs were somehow met by untrained people, voluntary workers and part-time helpers. In all other respects, it is a history of the forbearance of housewives in sharing their homes with strangers from the towns. Without this forbearance, the Government’s aim of saving the lives of mothers and children would have crumbled to nothing by the end of 1940.