Operation Pied Piper

By Catherine Hall

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

Congratulations to the W & M winners of this book:

Serena, Urbano, and Patty


  1. librarypat says

    I have read some interesting accounts of this time program. There have been some interesting fictional stories written of children caught in these events (BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS and C. S. Lewis’ work included.). It is hard to imagine children being placed with strangers for such a long time through no fault of their own or their parents. The orphan trains in the U.S. midwest were similar in nature, but the English children had homes and families. This should be a most interesting book.

  2. says

    I’ve always been fascinated by this event in British history. I can’t imagine the heartache for both parents and children – and what about the host families who came to love the children in their care and then had to give them up. What a complicated mess war makes of our lives. I’d love to read this book – thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  3. says

    I’ve read a few children’s books about WWII evacuations (We Go by Sea, We Go By Land by P.L. Travers is a favorite), but never one meant for adults (if that makes sense). I’d love to win a copy and have the chance to read it!

  4. says

    I think the only time I’ve read about this event is in the Chronicles of Narnia–I’d love to learn more about it in this book!

  5. Audra says

    I’ve always been curious about the lives of these children, after they grew up, and I’m saddened (and unsurprised) that so many were damaged. I’d love to be entered in the drawing for this book. Thanks!

  6. Urbano says

    I knew that this had happened but wasn’t aware that the host families chose children randomly. Imagine, on top of all the other trauma, if you were the last one chosen. I’m not sure how anyone would ever recover from that. Please enter me in the draw.

  7. Serena P says

    You have the most interesting books!
    My parents were foster parents while I was growing up and we had “brothers” and “sisters” coming in and out of the home my entire childhood. It was difficult on the foster children, being placed in strange homes (and for us as well when they would leave), but the children in this book were being shipped away from loving families and their communities to random homes. As an adult, I can’t imagine putting my child on a train to some unknown location to be cared for by strangers.
    Please enter me in the drawing.

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