The Second World War brought many changes to the lives of children in Britain. For some, the war was a time of fear and confusion that meant separation from families, the destruction of a home or even the loss of a parent. However, for others, these years were the most exciting and happiest time of their lives.
Evacuation was the biggest cause of disruption to children’s lives. The government’s voluntary evacuation scheme saw millions of children in Britain sent to places of safety for fear of German bombing. Many families made their own arrangements to evacuate their children to friends and family in the country or overseas. The short-lived Children’s Overseas Reception Board also organised the evacuation of children to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Open-air sewing class
Girls from St George's Church of England School in Battersea, London, take part in an open-air sewing class whilst evacuees in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1940. During the war, many school buildings were either damaged or requisitioned for war use, causing a shortage of suitable places to conduct school lessons. Lessons were held in unusual places such as chapels, pubs and church crypts. During the warmer months lessons could even be held outdoors.
Children’s education suffered during the war. One in five of the country’s schools were damaged by bombing and many others were requisitioned by the government. Children were crammed into large classes and stationery and books were often in short supply. Young male teachers were called up to the forces and older teachers brought out of retirement to replace them. After the war a significant number of children failed to reach the required levels of literacy and numeracy.
Children of all ages could get involved in the war effort. Older boys and girls joined the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. They supported Air Raid Precautions by acting as messengers or fire-watchers. Younger children helped salvage war materials, raised money for munitions or knitted comforts for troops.