Friday, July 1, 2011

The Children's War by Ruth Inglis

During WWII heavy bombing in England caused three major migrations of children from the city to the country. Ruth Inglis writes compelllingly of each exodus in her book,The Children's War. The first migration began on September 1st, 1939 just days before Britain declared war on the Axis powers. The second was in August of 1940 with the onset of the Battle of Britain and the third was in September of 1944.

Half of the children in London were evacuated on E-Day (the first evacuation day).But since German bombers did not appear in earnest until the spring of 1940, two-thirds of the evacuees had returned home by January of 1940. Although the first evacuation seemed a farce, it was, in reality, a practice run for the two subsequent evacuations which were necessary when the Germans blitzed all major cities.

You can imagine the distress of having to decide between parting with one’s children for their physical safety or keeping them home for their emotional well-being. Some parents refused to send their children away even though the government strongly encouraged it. Interestingly, Churchill refused to make it mandatory.

Anna Freud (daughter to Sigmund) and her co-worker, Dorothy Burlingham, directed a war nursery from December 1940 to February 1942. The experience of caring for over a hundred children who had lost one or both parents in the war, led them to conclude that the separation of a child from his or her parent or parents was far more distressing to them than the bombs from which they were being protected. (p. 155) 

On the other hand, Bernard Kops, a child of twelve in 1940, recounts the horrors of staying in London: “We went underground to get away from the sirens and the bombs. Yet they followed me and I heard sirens until the world became a siren. One endless cry of torture. It penetrated right into the core of my being, night and day was one long night, one long nightmare, one long siren, one long wail of despair… It was the beginning of an era of utter terror, of fear, of horror. I stopped being a child and came face to face with the new reality of the world.” (p. 84)

The choice was not an easy one. Some who held out (by keeping their children at home) gave in during the 2nd and 3rd migrations, particularly the last one when the Germans unleashed a new weapon, the V1 bomb. This terror producing weapon was designed to crush the morale of the British and, truly, it caused many to reach their breaking point. Inglis writes, "It has been said that many housewives confused the sounds of their own vacuum cleaners with the spluttering and buzzing of the V-1s. Gurgling faucets and the sound of frying sausages could also mimic their noise. As a consequence, many women lived in a state of daily auditory hell. (p. 140)… Motorcycles were not popular in 1944 with their spluttering, back-firing machines. It was a war of acoustics and jangled nerves." (p. 142)

One of the most famous books that mentions evacuee children is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. D.E. Stevenson’s book, Shoulder the Sky, mentions a mother and her children who left London during the war never to return. Goodnight Mr. Tom tells the sad story of an evacuee from a miserable home who finds a true father in his foster home. Connie Willis touches on the subject in her time travel book Blackout. Does you know of other fictional works that deal with this subject?


Corey P. said...

Awesome review! I'd never heard of this book before now, but it looks like something I'll have to check out sometime.

Sherry said...

Not exactly evacuees, but Connie Willis's new book (two volumes but really just one book) Blackout and All Clear are set in mostly London during the blitz. The novel, which also includes time travel and some action set in the English countryside is one of the best books I've read this year.

My review:

Nicola said...

Excellent review. I would recommend Saplings by Noel Streatfeild (republished by Persephone Books) and Carrie's war by Nina Bawden.

Anna said...

I've read quite a few books about child evacuees from various countries during WWII. Such a sad time. This book sounds fascinating, and I've linked to your review on War Through the Generations.