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Operation Pied Piper

An Oral History of London's Evacuees

Operation Pied Piper was the name of the plan designed to evacuate children from areas at risk from bombing and invasion.

On 31st August 1939, three days before war broke out, an evacuation order was given for the next day and what followed was a massive logistical operation to move people to areas of safety. In the following three days an estimated 1.5 million people were moved on trains, buses and boats.

The initial idea was to establish camps for children run by teachers but the government decided instead to use private homes as billets to host the evacuees. It was compulsory to receive evacuees and hosts would receive a weekly payment for taking children. Hosts were assessed on the basis of accommodation rather than suitability to look after children. It tended to be children from poor families who went to strangers as wealthier families were more likely to have friends and family in safe zones with whom their children could stay for the duration of the war. Evacuees also included young people aged 14-15 who became known as "Bevan boys and girls" who worked on the land and in coalmines.

Evacuation was not compulsory but there was a huge government public information campaign to encourage those within designated areas to move to safety. Families did not wish to separate but the desire to keep loved ones close was countered by a desire to keep them safe.

This documentary film is part of a wider Oral History Project made by Furzedown and St Thomas's Primary Schools with digital:works.

We are grateful to RBK&C's City Living, Local Life Golborne Ward Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund for financially supporting this project.

Visit the project website

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