Private Lives and Public Policy: Evacuation, Memory, and the Second World War

In September 1939, around 1.5m children and adults were evacuated from the cities to the countryside in Britain in the ‘official’ Government evacuation scheme. Another 2m children were evacuated privately. In this Special Subject you will explore such questions as how did children and parents cope with the long periods apart? What happened if brothers and sisters were separated? How did the children feel when they finally went home? And what impact did the evacuation have on ideas about poverty, state intervention, the scope of health and welfare services, and British society more generally?

Taught by the leading authority on the evacuation, this module makes particular use of primary sources such as diaries, novels, newspapers, articles in journals, Parliamentary debates, official reports, social surveys, and memoirs. Evacuation has been the subject of important debates between historians in recent years. Whereas earlier accounts argued that the evacuation had a significant impact on British society, more recent revisionist interpretations have stressed how its influence has been exaggerated. In all of this, the effect of evacuation on the children themselves has been relatively neglected. The underlying themes of the module are those of the parallel histories of public policy, and private lives.