"Worth Saving?" New Book by local historian reveals hidden chapter in British Second World War history
A new book by local historian Dr. Sue Wheatcroft reveals that when it came to evacuating the children of Britain in wartime britain, some children were more equal than others.
Worth Saving - Disabled Children During the Second World War' offers a new and interesting perspective on evacuation during WWII, written by Dr. Sue Wheatcroft, a Historian at the University of Leicester.
The evacuation of British children during the Second World War remains a subject close to the heart and memories of many. As a 1938 government scheme which was implemented on the first of September the following year, by the Ministry of Health, the initiative was designed to save urban civilians in Britain, particularly children, from the risk of aerial bombing. The scheme saw around 1.5 million children evacuated.
When we think about the unique circumstances of this time in history, many of us are filled with respect and admiration for the government's work in protecting the more vulnerable members of society, and rightly so. Inevitably, without evacuation, unimaginable numbers of children in urban areas would have been killed or severely injured. Leicestershire itself, a reasonably safe haven compared to the heavily blitzed London and Manchester, was regarded as a place of sanctuary and around 30,000 children were evacuated to the area within the first few weeks of the war alone.
In the study outlined by her book, Dr. Sue Wheatcroft offers something of a paradox to this admirable portrait of 1940's Britain. The phrase “Worth Saving” comes from a letter written by a government official and sent to a board of education regarding an accommodation shortage, questioning whether disabled people should be evacuated. In 1939 there were around 8,000 disabled children in London, and yet only 3,200 were registered for evacuation, demonstrating the intolerance and prejudice of WWII Britain.
When speaking to Dr Wheatcroft however, she was keen to stress that this rather cruel and inhumane attitude was only shared by a minority of civil servants. “It is not true that all disabled children were neglected in the evacuation process. For those who were evacuated the government did their best, and much depended on the teachers and nurses. The children who were let down were the seriously physically disabled who were excluded from the evacuation.”
The book, Worth Saving – Disabled Children during the Second World War, was published on 13th April 2013 and is available to buy from amazon.co.uk if you would like to find out more about Dr Wheatcroft's study.
Sue Wheatcroft, ‘Cured by Kindness?’: Child Guidance Services in the Second World War’ in Anne Borsay and Pamela Dale (eds), Disabled Children: Contested Caring, c.1850-1979, Pickering & Chatto, 2012