My protagonist Nora is twelve years old when she’s evacuated from London to rural Kent. World War II is about to break out, and Britain’s government is urging parents to send their children to the safety of the countryside.
Operation Pied Piper began on 1st September 1939. In the next four days, two million children, some aged just 2 or 3, left major cities by train. Luggage labels tied around their necks gave their names – all they carried were their gas masks, a change of clothes and a stamped addressed envelope to send to their parents to tell them where they’d ended up.
When they arrived they were chosen by host families – ‘I’ll take that one!’ – and taken to live with them. Some would be away from home for nearly six years.
The impact of evacuation was enormous, both on the evacuees and on their host families, not to mention the parents who were left behind. Many hosts weren’t prepared for living with children from very different, often very poor backgrounds and most evacuees had never left the city.
Some evacuees came to see the war as the best years of their lives, loving the freedom of the countryside. Others suffered terrible homesickness, feelings of abandonment and, sadly, mental or physical abuse from their hosts. Some of them found it impossible to get over the trauma of separation from their parents, never again managing to form close relationships. Their lives had been saved, but the psychological damage was enormous.
Catherine Hall was born in the Lake District in 1973. Now based in London, she worked in documentary film production before becoming a freelance writer and editor for a range of organizations specializing in human rights and development. Days of Grace is her first novel.
IMAGE: Young WW II evacuees, courtesy of the Viking Adult and the Imperial War Museum
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