During the Second World War
, the British government made a sustained effort to remove civilians—especially children
—from areas of the country that were likely to be bombed; although the common wisdom is that the government "overestimated" the potential number of casualties, more recent research suggests that the mass evacuations saved enough lives to make the original estimates seem inaccurate. The result was that large numbers of children (over a million at some points during the war — at least one writer claims that over 3.5 million people were evacuated in total) were sent from urban settings into the country or to Canada, to live with distant relatives or complete strangers.
Fictionally, a standard way to achieve Parental Abandonment
(especially in British works) is to use some of these evacuees as protagonists. This is a gold mine for writers; some standard plots that can result are:
- The child who's known nothing but the city suddenly has the opportunity to experience the beauties of nature, with little adult involvement.
- The protagonist is taken from a happy family to a wretched or even abusive home.
- The inverse: the protagonist is originally from an abusive home, and finds happiness for the first time with their hosts.
- A subversion: the protagonist is sent to work on a farm and is forced to grow up early, but is neither violently abused nor loved.
- The evacuee's host family or their surroundings are in some way magical, and the plot consists of their discovery and exploration of this magic.
One that almost never crops up in fiction is the evacuee who returns home to find that their parents have been killed in air raids or have just upped and left. 40,000 children went unclaimed at the end of the war. Also rarely mentioned are the children
who, having reached adulthood overseas, never returned themselves.
The limitation of the plot device is, of course, that you're tied to a WWII-era setting, although similar stories can be written about refugees from more recent wars and political skirmishes in Europe, Asia, and Africa, especially children sent without parents. A variation occurs when the evacuees are sent out of the country, allowing for a Fish out of Water
story when they arrive (or return
). In fictional depictions they'll often be shown going to America or Australia
, but in Real Life
most overseas evacuees were sent to Canada (America not being in the war yet and taking pains to appear neutral
, and Australia being too far away and in danger itself).
Evacuees, at least at the early stages, will be seen with labels around their necks. These were to allow for identification if the trains were bombed. At the time, everyone was told it was to stop them getting lost.
Subtrope of War Refugees
For Real Life
stories of the evacuees, see No Time to Wave Goodbye
and The Day They Took the Children
by Canadian author Ben Wicks, an evacuee himself.
- In Barefoot Gen, Japanese children are sent off to the countryside so they won't be threatened by bombing. Akira, the only one of the Nakaoka children selected for evacuation, decides to sneak back to Hiroshima, and his family has trouble persuading him to return to where the food is no better and other irritations are worse. For all their hardships, at least the children sent away survive the war; many of their relatives don't.
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks uses the "host family is magic" example to start the plot. Three kids orphaned in the Blitz are sent to the country, and find out they're living with a witch in training.
- In Nanny McPhee Returns, the cousins sent to live on the farm are refugees from London during World War I.
- Discussed in Battle of Britain, where one pilot, reading mail from home, is irritated to learn that, after going though considerable trouble to get his family moved into the country, his wife is writing to complain that she's bored, and wishes to return to London.
- Memoirs of a Geisha Sayuri was evacuated to the country side from Tokyo due to the American bombings.
- Kit Pearson's trilogy (The Sky is Falling, Looking at the Moon, and The Lights Go On Again) deals with the fish out of water concept as siblings Norah and Gavin are shipped from London to Toronto, Canada. The first two books feature Norah's resentment of Canada, while the third is Gavin's unwillingness to go home especially after his parents die in a bombing before they head back
- Carrie's War by Nina Bawden is about two children evacuated to Wales.
- Lord of the Flies very cruelly combines the first two types. While being evacuated from World War Three, the kids' plane crashes and the pilot dies, leaving them to explore an island paradise without adults. Most of them learn to like the island so much they don't care about being rescued, but by the end of the book, they've done a lot of damage to the island anyway.
- In A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones, Vivian is sent to the country to live with her cousin, but is abducted by time travelers after she gets off the train.
- The Pevensie children in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe go to live with a professor they've never met; his mansion contains the wardrobe that they discover leads to Narnia.
- The novel (by Michelle Magorian) and TV film Goodnight Mister Tom is a type 2 where crusty old geezer Mister Tom is forced to look after a shy boy evacuated from London, and gradually grows to like him. Then the boy is called back home by his abusive mother, but Tom goes to London to rescue him.
- Also by Michelle Magorian is Back Home, about an evacuee girl's experiences when she returns to her family. (This one was made into a movie too.) As she was evacuated to America, to a very 'modern' family she experiences a lot of fish out of water on her return, having to adjust to a very different, and much poorer culture.
- Michelle Magorian's third drawing from this well is A Little Love Song/Not a Swan, which is about 17-year-old Rose and her big sister Diana. They are sent to the English countryside in 1943, and end up living alone in a cottage outside a village.
- The protagonists of Mary Norton's Bedknob and Broomstick, and as a result its Disney adaptation (see above).
- In Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair, evacuee Betty Kane was orphaned during the Blitz and remained with the family who took her in, who were Doting Fosterparents. Unfortunately she turned out to be a case of Like Mother Like Daughter, and eventually slandered the lawyer protagonist's clients to cover up some of her activities.
- In Evelyn Waugh's novel Put Out More Flags, the protagonist makes money off of an abominable group of urchins by leaving them with different families and then blackmailing the families into removing them from their home.
- The backstory to The Mousetrap has something like the Doctor Who example below, with an abusive rural family.
- In Aunt Dimity Digs In, several of the current residents of Finch are revealed to have first come to the village as these during WWII, and they return there to live later in their lives because of the pleasant memories and the feeling of sanctuary the place gave them.
- The children's fantasy novel Drift House gives this a modern upgrade; instead of being sent from London during WWII, the Kid Heroes come from New York City directly post 9/11. Their parents sent them to live in the countryside with their uncle after fearing that NYC is no longer safe.
- Terry Pratchett's Johnny and the Bomb features one, who's having trouble adapting to small-town life and complains (erroneously, of course) about the fact that the milk there seems to "come out of a cow's bum."
- That's Truth in Television, based on real stories about London evacuees knowing nothing about where meat and milk come from (so unlike now, obviously).
- Johnny was able to effectively disguise himself as one; the others, not so much...
- The Molly line of American Girl books features Emily Bennet, an evacuee sent to live with Molly's family in the U.S. They bonded over their mutual admiration of the English princesses and Emily helped Molly put on a proper tea for her birthday party. In The Film of the Book she is given a much more prominent role.
- Connie Willis uses this periodically.
- Her SF novel Light Raid stars an evacuee protagonist. Running away from her evacuee home, dodging evac wardens and rescuing her fellow evacuees from a spy are big parts of the plot. Oh, and finding something to wear.
- One of the time-traveling protagonists of her novel Blackout goes to the past in order to study evacuees.
- Thirteen Never Changes by Budge Wilson deals with this trope. However the story is told from the point of view of a Canadian girl who has to adjust to an English girl living with her family as well as the many other children who have also arrived (including a rich girl her best friend immediately bonds with, the rich girl's handsome cousin and a snotty younger girl).
- Averted in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures, with Fitz Kreiner. He was four years old at the beginning of World War II, but, well, note the surname - his father was German. His parents sensibly realized the second variant of this trope was almost inevitable, so he stayed in London. Unfortunately, there were still more than enough other kids left in London to see to it he still got a pretty awful time of it.
- "My Family For The War" has an odd version. The evacuee in question was already an evacuee with Kindertransport. Her first foster family was a wonderful family, though surprised at having accidentally taken in a Christian child (both sets of grandparents had converted long before she was born), but the second set was awful and got on her case for being German, of all things! Happily, she is able to return to her first foster family before too long. Unhappily, her actual father dies and she is never really able to reconcile with her mother after the war.
- Doctor Who has used this a few times.
- In the original series, the Seventh Doctor story "The Curse of Fenric" features several evacuees actually in the countryside.
- The episodes "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" feature a gang of homeless children living in London during the Blitz. At least some of them are evacuees who then ran away from their host families (though others may be orphans). Abuse is implied.
- The 2011 Christmas Special, "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" features a mum and her two kids getting sent out to an old mansion, where the Doctor plays caretaker.
- Also seen on Foyle's War. One episode plays with version two; the young evacuee is unhappy, but more because he's been separated from his family and the life he's known and familiar, and not because of any abuse; the mother and father of the family who have taken him in aren't exactly welcoming, but they aren't actually abusive either, and the daughter tries hard to make him feel welcome and cared for without success (partly because she herself is lonely, trapped and miserable in this family, and thought — erroneously — that the experience would be something like version three). Then the father blows the evacuee up so that he won't tell anyone that the father, a judge, has been accepting bribes to exempt people from military service. Ouch.
- Torchwood has an elderly man with a London accent living in Wales: he was sent there during the Second World War and when his family died his Welsh foster home adopted him.
- The BBC reality television programme Evacuation was all about this, taking a group of modern day children and putting them into the situation the evacuees faced.
- Mrs. Slocumbe of Are You Being Served? continually mentions having been a "Land Girl" during the war. However, she's always very vague about exactly how old she was when it happened. Her experience is elaborated upon when the cast retire to the country in "Grace And Favour".
- Call the Midwife references this from time to time. Since it's set in the mid-1950s in East London, it's never directly shown, but some Poplar residents reference being evacuated.
- Mulberry, a BBC fantasy series, featured Bert and Alice Finch who had come to the manor that is the setting decades ago as a pair of evacuated cockney children and ended up settling in for life and marrying each other.
- In the World War II song "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover", one of the promises about tomorrow is the return of one such evacuee: "Jimmy will go to sleep in his own little room again."
- In The Lost Crown, two of the ghosts Nigel encounters are brother and sister evacuees, who died young and can't rest because they're still waiting for their father to return from the war.
- Averted by the Royal Family. Despite constant pleas from Winston Churchill's cabinet to send her daughters to Canada to escape the blitz, Queen Elizabeth (the consort of George VI) stoically replied "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave."
- Overlapped with Limey Goes to Hollywood for Roddy McDowall, Liz Taylor (who was born in England to American parents) and some other British child actors of the era.
- The town of Stockport in Cheshire has an association with the Channel Islands: refugees who escaped the Islands, especially of Jersey, just before the German occupation, were relocated here for the duration of the war. Many of the evacuees were children sent off the Island rather than allow them to fall into German hands. At least one remained there after the war, and several generations of boys were taught (Channel Island) French by him at a local grammar school.