Churchill's Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain by John Welshman

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Churchill's Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain by John Welshman

Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: An interesting account of WW2's evacuation, with political and social analysis alongside of personal stories from both children and adults involved in the process.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2010
Publisher: OUP
ISBN: 978-0199574414

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As a little girl I was fascinated by stories from the second world war. My Nan would tell me tales of her work doing welding, my mum's uncle had exciting adventure stories from his years in the RAF, and the book Carrie's War was one I returned to again and again. So I was intrigued by this title which looks at the stories of thirteen children and adults through World War Two, from the first wave of evacuations through to the end of the war.

There's a lot of material within this book, and I found it an interesting read. I don't think I had realised previously that the evacuation occurred in waves, so it wasn't just one movement and then everything was done. I also hadn't actually thought about how this process simply wouldn't happen nowadays, with millions of children being put on trains and sent to families who they didn't know at all, and who, more importantly, weren't vetted or checked. When you think about the hoops people have to jump through now in order to do any kind of work or care relating to children it's inconceivable that so many were sent off to basically anybody who was able to house them.

There is a lot of interesting discussion of British society during the war years, and the changes that began to take place due to the war and the evacuation. For example it brought to light the problems amongst the poor, city families with lice and scabies, their lack of personal hygiene and dietary issues too. Some adults were evacuated too along with the children, such as the mothers of younger babies and toddlers, and it was interesting to read of issues that arose from seemingly 'dirty' city mothers moving into houses with 'clean' town and countryside families, and the very different lifestyles they all had to adjust to.

I wasn't entirely comfortable with the book's structure at times. It follows along the time line of the war, but I found that that led to a lot of repetition of issues, and no feeling of flow to the stories being told. Perhaps it's my own reading bias but I was much more interested in the personal accounts of events than in the analysis of government organisations, policies and rethirteen had been dealt with one at a time you could follow their story more closely. But then perhaps there wasn't enough material to do that for each of them, and that would've created its own repetitions.

There's a good balance of differing personal accounts however. One is from a Jewish teacher who moved her London school out to a little village and had to struggle without proper facilities, as well as with settling her Jewish pupils into non-Jewish family homes and helping both parties adjust to the very different lifestyles. There were some very sad and moving stories of little children being stuck in houses where they were being abused, but there were equally tales of children who became incredibly close to their host families and stayed in touch with them for the rest of their lives.

Overall this probably isn't something you'd want to read and re-read which is why I made it a 'maybe' to buy, but it's certainly an interesting and thought-provoking look at the evacuations and is worth a read by anyone who is interested in this period of what is, really, our very recent history.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For further reading on this period in history you might also like The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies and Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by Sandra Koa Wing.

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Buy Churchill's Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain by John Welshman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Churchill's Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain by John Welshman at


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David Vintner said:

There are those of us that are old and will appreciate the memories that 'John Welshman' brings back as we remember WW2. There are those of middle years, who have at last had the time to study almost forgotten events told to them by their older relatives. Now the young can enjoy,and if necessary, study ,a great read, John Welshman has skilfully combined many first hand accounts by those involved in the 1940s. With the educational, and political organisation of teachers, the many volunteers, from the local councillors,and to those actually taking the great numbers of town children into their usually unprepared ,country households. There were of course the good ,the bad, and the indifferent. Many children came with a history of great poverty, moderate education,poor clothes, and inadequate footwear. And very many with 'nits' and other health problems. Some country households were technically very poor, but on occasions could serve up pheasant, and regularly wood pigeon or rabbit.Together with home grown vegetables. [ I have direct personal experience of eating at my grandmothers, more a feast than a meal,and she a farmworker's wife.]. For some children it was the best of times, returning to their city homes grown up, mature, and skilled, but often distant from their real parents. Others were badly treated, and hated the whole experience .Being both lonely and puzzled at being expected to undertake hard boring work. But though the war was a nasty viscous period, changing everyone forever,we must ask. Did it speed up the post war changes,eventually leading to the Butler Education Act, and the National Health Service? We must draw our own conclusions. Great thanks however will go to John Welshman for providing new,very readable evidence,of the great wartime, mainly successful, operation of 'evacuation'!