The impact of war is, of course, devastating to all aspects of life in the affected areas, and the normal course of life is impossible during wartime.
We tend to forget that the evils of war are not just eerie for the soldiers, widows, and adults, but for the children who sadly can’t have a normal and carefree childhood.
We found a chronicle of the impact WWII had on the school children in Britain.
Take a look!
First Mass Evacuation (1939)
During World War II, approximately 3 million British children were evacuated from their homes and sent to the countryside. The first mass evacuation took place in September 1939, thousands of children were carrying boxes with gas masks, a paper label attached to each child identified who they were and their journey details. While in the country, the children continued their education in settings ranging from church halls to pubs – basically, wherever there was room.
Gas Test (1941)
Although no chemical weapons were actually used against the British on home territory during World War II, children were well prepared in case of a chemical attack. Sylvia Kaye, who was 16 at the start of the war, said that wearing a gas mask was incredibly uncomfortable. She recalled, “It was awful, it was stifling, it was all rubber with a sort of plastic front piece for the eyes and you wore it right over your face and it was unbearable.” These children in Kingston, Greater London can be seen filing out of their school during a practice gas test. A canister of tear gas was set off so that the students could test their reactions, put on their gas masks and leave the premises.
Outside an Air Raid Shelter (1939)
Air raids could happen at any time of the day or night so schools had to provide shelter for their pupils. In Gresford, near Wrexham, a purpose-built shelter in the school field served the pupils, which was paid for by Sir Alfred Mc Alpine, of Marchwiel Hall. Here we see the children leaving the shelter after an air raid exercise.
These children from Moorside Road School in Grove Park, London can be seen sketching the damage caused to their school – including missing roof tiles, broken windowpanes and concrete reduced to rubble. The students carried their gas masks when they walked around the school. And the children still used the playground, despite the fact that it had been severely damaged by falling bombs.
Farringdon School-Turned-Feeding Center (1941)
Life In the Shelter (1941)
Schooling was disrupted not only by the evacuations and frequent moves, but also by the threat of bombs. Here, students and teachers from a school in Bermondsey in South London strive for a sense of normalcy. Roger Taylor, a chemistry professor at Sussex University, was a child during World War II. He traveled extensively with his mother and sister during the war, often moving from one place to the next and from school to school. In fact, Taylor reports that he attended seven different elementary schools and at times didn’t attend any school at all. However, he claimed that seeing “a wide variety of lifestyles and accommodation was a very valuable experience. Surviving the traumatic events of the time made one recognize that every new day was a bonus, a feeling that has never gone away.”
Nursery School Students Evacuated from Kentish Town (circa 1939)
In some cases, teachers were evacuated along with their students, and some were even responsible for finding the children a place to stay once they got to their destination. Gwenllian Ruth Parris (now Clarke), a teacher from Islington, London, was sent with her school to Bedford in the east of England. “We didn’t know where we were going and eventually we arrived at Bedford,” she said. Parris taught cookery and soccer and even worked as a waitress at one point. She added: “There was quite a lot of rivalry between the Bedford teachers and the London teachers. Not personal rivalry but between the two sort of authorities.” Parris ended up sharing responsibilities with local teachers and teaching classes made up of both local children and evacuees.
Playtime at the Nursery (circa 1940)
Wearing a gas mask was a routine for the children during the war, gas mask drills were a common part of the school day for all. Even toddlers are reported to have learned how to put the masks on themselves, often making childish sport of it, irritating their parents by blowing through the rubber and making strange noises. All the same, everyone was taught to keep their gas masks with them at all times and to put them on immediately if they heard the warning sound of the air raid rattle.
Taking Cover During An Air Raid Drill (1940)
These London schoolchildren are in the midst of an air raid drill ordered by the London Board of Education as a precaution in case an air raid comes too fast to give the youngsters a chance to leave the building for special shelters, on July 20, 1940. They were ordered to go to the middle of the room, away from windows and hold their hands over the backs of their neck
A Makeshift Bomb Shelter (circa 1940-1941)
The children pictured above are crouching in a crude makeshift air raid shelter in the middle of World War II. Looks of shock and fear mingle with a kind of awe as they gaze towards the heavens. Many schoolchildren experienced close brushes with death during the war. Professor Roger Taylor had his first encounter with the Luftwaffe while living in Torquay. Taylor, his sister, and a friend were heading home from a playground when the siren sounded. With 400 yards to go and about 30 seconds before the planes hit, Taylor lay down in the gutter. He said, “The planes… were so low that I could see the pilots clearly. Machine gun bullets were spraying all around.” In the face of such drama and hardship, the disruption of his schooling was, as he puts it, “inconsequential.”