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Evacuation - Why were some British Children evacuated to countries overseas? Main page

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Moving large numbers of children to overseas countries was not part of the government's evacuation plan although, early in the war, some overseas countries offered to receive children from Britain.

When France was defeated and occupied by the German armed forces in June 1940, the British government feared that the bombing of towns and cities would be followed by a German invasion of the island. Offers to take children were made by the British Dominions - Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. The United States of America offered to take up to 200,000 children.

Public support for overseas evacuation grew and, at first, the government accepted the idea. It was believed that children moved overseas would be safer. Also it was thought that moving children would reduce the numbers to be fed in Britain, which was now an "island fortress" under siege. A limited amount of overseas evacuation began.

The government changed its view as it realised that passenger ships were needed to move troops, internees and prisoners. And warships could not be spared for escort duties, as they were required to defend Britain's seas and shores against invasion. The government began to discourage support for overseas evacuation.


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A German U-boat torpedoed one ship carrying British children, the SS Volendam, on 30 August 1940; fortunately, all passengers were rescued. When a U-boat sank the City of Benares on 17 September 1940, 77 children and over 200 adults perished, and the government suspended the overseas evacuation scheme (although it allowed private overseas evacuation to continue).

During the war, approximately 3,000 children were officially evacuated overseas. Parents sent some 10,000 other children overseas privately. This is a very small figure when compared to the huge numbers of children evacuated to the countryside within Britain.