Monday, July 21, 2008

The Churchill Series - July 21, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

The Great London Blitz began on September 7, 1940 and did not end until May 11, 1941 a night when a very heavy raid killed over 3,000 Londoners.

The Blitz presented Churchill and The Government with enormous and complex problems. One had to do with evacuating children. The Government was initially in favor or that. But where were they to go and with whom would they stay?

Families in rural areas were volunteered to take in children, but would they be suitable families? Was a family prepared to take in six brothers and sister ranging in age from 2 to 14, two of whom were what were then called "problem children?"

What about parents who refused to send their children to the countryside?

Then there was the problem of how to keep public morale high under the extreme duress of daily bombing? How do you convince people that when the "all clear" is sounded, they must not go to their homes to see if they are still standing and their families and neighbors all right, but instead stay at their jobs until their shifts ended?

Fighting the fires. Treating the wounded. Identifying and arranging burial for the dead. Clearing debris which blocked roadways. Getting safe water to areas of the city where water mains were broken.

All those problems and many more including the one Churchill felt compelled to deal with on Sept. 18, almost two weeks after the start of the German bombing:


Prime Minister to Postmaster-General,

There are considerable complaints about the Post Office service during air raids. Prehaps you will give me a report on what you are doing.
I’ve been accused of making up that memo, but you can find it in Churchill’s Their Finest Hour, vol. 2, pg 671 (Houghton Mifflin, 1949)

As for what was done with the children, initially plans were made and orders given for their evacuation. Some children even came to the States and Canada where they lived out the war or most of it. Churchill's official biographer Sir Martin Gilbert was one of them.

There was much resistance from many parents to evacuating the children as well as all the problems of settling the children in new locations. The Government soon adopted a “Whatever the parents thinks best; HM's government will help provide options” policy that it followed until the war's end.