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On the evening of Wednesday, November 9, Brian Devlin, of The Children's War Museum, gave a presentation on the theme of Children in Wars.
This involved explanation, archive film, and a number of readings, many by members of the audience, who dealt effectively with previously unseen text.
Not a great deal is known about children’s experiences in the First World War, though Richard Van Emden has thrown some light on boy soldiers.
Then there were children who lost their father when very young and later wondered about him, a loss seldom talked about.
Savage fighting in Guernica brought about the evacuation of 4,500 children to Britain – Unions, Quakers, the Salvation Army and wealthy individuals providing succour, while the Government, anxious to preserve its neutrality, stayed out of it. While most only stayed for a year or two, some families were never reunited.
About 10,000 children were sent to Russia and others to Mexico. While there was much sadness, children could find the togetherness elating.
We were reminded that the talk was being given on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which brought home to Jews the immediacy of the Nazi threat and the urgent need to evacuate their children.
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Some 10,000 reached Britain. Some were housed in a camp at Dover Court, and in a BBC recording, recalled in detail the mundane routine of life there, surely because a reassuring normality had replaced earlier terrors. At least one participant was startled by knife fights between Germans and Austrians. Few of their parents survived the war.
Perhaps best known, and most written about, is the evacuation of 1939, on the outbreak of the Second World War. The movement of so many children in so short a space of time was a logistical success, though some areas, such as Berkshire, had to accommodate twice as many as notified.
Children had often to endure a selection process, with people being asked to ‘pick your refugee’, leaving some with the idea they were not wanted. Fears of death, their own and others’ alienation in a strange land, uncertainty and unhappiness, and the yearning to see their parents again, were common experiences.
Children in the Warsaw Ghetto, though, faced a grimmer prospect, being perpetually on the run and sensing ‘death coming close’ if their hiding place was found.
The hysterical relief among captive children in Japan at the arrival of American rescue showed the depth of the pent up emotion.