Evacuation to Canada

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Second World War 1939-1945

Download: Lesson pack

How much care was really taken?

During the Second World War, children and those at risk were taken to places of safety to protect them from bombs and war damage. Often when we think of evacuation we think of people evacuated from London to the countryside. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Some children were evacuated to other British Dominions (countries that were part of the British Empire) such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

In this exercise you will find out what happened to a number of children who were evacuated to Canada. Your task is to use primary source evidence to see how much care was taken over these children. Britain was at war, so were the children just put on a ship and sent to Canada, or were their cases carefully looked after? Once they were there, were they abandoned, or were they monitored? How much care was taken? Examine the official government documents and records to find out.


1. Read Source 1. This is an excerpt from a radio address given by Dr RC Wallace (chairman of the National Committee for Children from Overseas).

  • Examine the ‘author’ of the source. Why is this source useful to historians studying evacuation overseas in 1940?
  • What is C.O.R.B.?
  • Looking through the source carefully, arrange the events below in the correct order:
    • Provincial authorities took charge
    • Transported to provincial clearing centres
    • Children classified, transport arranged
    • Applications received
    • Received by Department of Immigration
    • CORB set up
    • Children placed in carefully selected homes
    • Same agencies could sort out any problem

2. Read Source 2. Excerpt from a radio address given by Dr RC Wallace.

  • Apart from the British government plan, how else were children evacuated from Britain?
  • Why does the speaker say, ‘What we can do for these young people is small indeed when weighed against what their parents are doing for us’?
  • Why do you think this radio address was broadcast to Canadians?

3. Read Source 3. This is part of George Parr’s record.

  • How old was George when this form was completed?
  • Where had he lived before evacuation?
  • What had George requested?
  • Find four things from the report that show how George is distinctive from other boys at his school

4. Read Source 4. This is an official memo relating to the placement of the Parr children.

  • What is the problem?
  • Remembering what George Parr wanted (Source 3), suggest three reasons why the ‘consideration’ is sensible
  • What is the final result?

5. Read Source 5. These are just two of many sources relating to George Parr and his two sisters.

Further evidence includes a psychiatrist report, special health survey, visitor’s report on their foster home, application form from their foster parents, together with many official letters. One letter from Mr Blois (Director the Department of the Public Health Nova Scotia) to Mr Reagh (George’s foster father) includes a request:

  • What do you think the large number of documents shows about the standard of care for these evacuated children?
  • What does the request from Mr Blois show?

6. Read Source 6. Letter from the Office of High Commissioner for the UK, Ottawa, Canada to the Director General of C.O.R.B.

  • What does the author of the letter mean by the words ‘top drawer’?
  • Why do you think the author asked that the homes should not be especially selected from the ‘top drawer’?

7. Read Source 7. This is another section from the letter seen in Source 6:

  • Why could Celia, mentioned in this source, be described as somewhat big-headed?
  • According to this source, how good was the choice of her foster-parents?
  • Why was the careful choice of foster-parents so important? (Try to use words from the source in your explanation)
  • Would this case be a good example to show parents in Britain worried about evacuating their child?

8. Read Source 8. This is more of the letter seen in Sources 6 and 7.

  • Where had these children come from?
  • Find three examples of evidence to suggest that they were enjoying their foster home
  • Is there any evidence to suggest that their foster father (Mr Kelly) was also enjoying looking after them? Explain your answer
  • Look back to your answer for Source 2c. Compare the broadcast with the report in Source 8 – why would this have been unsuitable to broadcast to Canadians?

9. Read Source 9. Near the end of the letter, the author writes, ‘I found it difficult to credit that these…households were not “show pieces”‘. Why do you think he wrote this?

10. Using all the source evidence you have examined, together with your previous answers, write a paragraph explaining your answer to: ‘How much care was really taken over Canadian evacuation?’

In your answer, make sure you:

  • Explain your opinion backed up with evidence
  • Identify whether real care was taken – or were official forms just completed?
  • Suggest whether this shows the whole picture – is there any suggestion that there might be different examples of care? Do you have all the evidence you need?


Soon after Hitler came to power, Britain secretly made plans for evacuation – moving infants, schoolchildren and some adults to the countryside. In September 1939, several days before war was officially declared, the plan was put into action. Many evacuees returned home by early 1940 as the expected heavy air raids hadn’t taken place. With the Blitz later that same year, evacuation hurriedly begun again.

The original plans were just to evacuate people to places of safety in Britain, not overseas. As the Second World War progressed and an invasion of Britain became increasing likely, offers from British dominions and other countries were taken seriously. Many felt it would a sensible option, meaning children and others could be kept safe, far away from the war whilst also reducing the demand for limited food and resources in Britain.

Evacuation overseas began on a small scale and those featured in this lesson are examples of children send to Canada. The number of evacuees sent overseas was never to reach huge proportions though. Passenger ships that had been used to transport evacuees were soon needed for more important duties, such as movement of troops and prisoners. Once this began, any remaining passenger ships that could be used for evacuation became an even more obvious target for German U-boats.

In August 1940 the SS Volendam, carrying British children, was torpedoed, but thankfully all passengers were rescued. In September 1940, the SS City of Benares travelling from Liverpool to Canada was sunk with the loss of 77 children and over 200 adults. The British government immediately stopped the overseas evacuation scheme.

In total some 3,000 children were evacuated under the government scheme, with around 10,000 evacuated privately. This was a small proportion when compared with those evacuated within Britain. Nevertheless, as this lesson illustrates, the part played by British dominions in offering a place of safety and security for those in danger during the Second World War should not be overlooked.

Teachers' notes

This lesson asks pupils to develop their understanding of evacuation beyond the basic ‘sent from London to the countryside’. Through primary source analysis it examines the fate of evacuees sent to Canada. Pupils investigate the organisation and bureaucracy behind evacuation, before looking at details of individual evacuees. From this, pupils may then develop their knowledge and understanding of evacuation in general – why did Britain take so much trouble and care when the war was on? This lesson helps pupils understand the differing experiences of evacuation as well as developing their ability to use source evidence to question and challenge existing beliefs.

It is worth making note that although the record for George Parr shows he was attending a school for the blind, this was only as a temporary placement when he reached Canada, and none of the Parr children had any problems with their sight.

This lesson can form part of studies for key stage 1 and 2 Scheme of Work Unit 9 and key stage 3 Scheme of Work Unit 18.


Image : Photograph of Betty, George and Doris Parr at their ‘foster home’ in Canada – DO 131/47

Source 1 and 2 : excerpt from a radio address given by Dr R.C. Wallace (chairman of the National Committee for Children from Overseas) on 3 November 1940 – DO 131/45

Source 3 : History and record of George Parr from the Department of the Public Health Nova Scotia (Canada), 9 August 1940 – DO 131/47

Source 4 : Official memo relating to the placement of the Parr children – DO 131/47

Source 5 : excerpt from a letter from Mr Blois (Director of the Department of Public Health Nova Scotia) to Mr Reagh (George’s foster father) – DO 131/47

Sources 6 – 9 : letter from the Office of High Commissioner for the UK, Ottawa, Canada to the Director General of C.O.R.B., London, 23 September 1940 – DO 131/45

External links

Children and the Second World War
An online resource with information and first-hand accounts of the lives of children and their evacuation during World War II.

Information about the North Shields Air Raid in 1941, including personal stories and photographs.

Back to top

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Second World War 1939-1945

Download: Lesson pack

Related resources

The Home Front

How did people prepare for the war at home?