Source B is a photograph taken in 1939 at the time of the first round of evacuation in London. It is therefore a primary source. It shows children seemingly from an inner-city part of London on their initial journey to the train station. From here they would be transported to their pre-determined designations. The source portrays an atmospheric positivity amongst the children, mainly those at the front of the line who are waving and smiling. They are all walking in unison down a path in an orderly fashion, accompanied by a group of teachers. There is a definite significant level of organisation within the group, indicated by the tidy line in which they walk.
This organisation was possible as they had practised this walk to the train station in the summer term of 1939. You can see that the teachers in the photograph have somewhat varied emotions. This mixture of emotion could perhaps be because they are aware that some of these evacuees will never again see their parents, as are the children, and it is the sensitive women who try to lift the mood by acting significantly happier than the male teachers. In contrast to the jolly children at the front, the evacuees travelling at the rear seem somewhat less excited and calm. Generally, throughout history, the more confident children take their place at the front of a queue or line, while the quieter worriers remain at the back.
This shows the confident children could be masking their fear and worries while the quieter members of the group allow their ‘true colours’ to shine through. Despite this, some of the seemingly happy children could genuinely be just that. Some of the children saw this as an adventure, a heroic voyage, an exploration of the world. The speed at which the people in the picture walk (indicated by their stride size) also gives a very good illustration as to the mood and atmosphere of their walk to the train station.
The man in the bottom – right of the picture is separated, physically and emotionally, from the corresponding group of people – thus suggesting that he could be a billeting officer. This is also indicated by his formal clothing and carriage of a pipe or pen. As for the children’s carriage, there is substantial evidence that suggests they are going away for a long time. They’re all carrying big bags, rather than the usual ruck-sack-type school bag. However, because of the sheer scale of the evacuation operation, luggage was indeed limited. Obviously they couldn’t take anything other than the essentials and bare necessities.
There are many aspects of evacuation that aren’t portrayed in this picture. Firstly, the footer states that the source is ‘a photograph…’ It doesn’t state any particular purpose for taking it, and it could have been government propaganda. The photographer is at the front of the line of children, which is rather elongated. If the photo is staged, and it probably is, the cameraperson/photographer would have waved to his models – encouraging them to wave back. This idea is further supported by the fact that the children at the back aren’t waving, either because of their unawareness of the photographer or acute unhappiness.
Additionally, this waving at the front is out of context to their pace of walking – thus – artificial emotions. And on that note, this source would have been much more useful to an impartial historian if it was accompanied by corresponding interviews with the evacuees. It is because of this and a lack of sound that we cannot gather accurate, or even sufficient, evidence of the individual feelings and emotions present within the children.
These are working class children from the ‘inner city’ of London, and because of the general mood of working class people in the 30s and 40s, this unprecedented positivity is again out of context and wholly unusual. For many of the children this is a first, they may never have been out of their district and are going away for the very first time. This would have been a very traumatic experience. Furthermore, there was an almost intimate closeness within these working class communities, not just geographically, but also emotionally, and the upheaval of all the children and some female adults would have caused great disruption in the community. In addition to this, the lack of sound means we cannot hear crying or any emotive noises projected by the young crowd.
For some, evacuation was a big adventure. For others, it’s a traumatic experience having never left the protection of their home or parents. Another observation is that they are carrying gas masks. It doesn’t matter who you are, this can only inspire sheer fright with the possibility of an unstoppable noxious gas attacking your alveoli, diffusing into your bloodstream and corroding you – inside out. Finally, this is a photograph – a hundredth of a second in time (depending on the exposure) – and there is no indication as to previous events within the community or that of an advance in time.
Source C is an interview with a teacher of the time of evacuation. It was held in 1988, 49 years after evacuation took place. It is therefore a secondary source, unlike Source B which is primary. This source (C) shows a more realistic view towards the general feeling of teachers and children towards evacuation. Our own knowledge tells us that evacuation was a traumatic experience. This source tends to agree with this view: ‘…the children were too afraid to talk.’ The interviewee claims that there was only the sound of ‘feet of the children a kind of murmur.’
This gives an insight into this more realistic mood among children: a low hum of whispering children while most of the party remains silent. The very fact that you could hear the walking shows just how quiet it was. Along with the mood of the children are the moods of their mothers, who can only be upset. Their children have just been taken away from them, which is bad enough in itself, but under such circumstances can only be traumatic.
As the teacher says, the mothers weren’t allowed to go with them and they ‘pressed against the iron gates calling ‘good bye darling.” This creates that stereotypical picturing your mind of a conservatively dressed, young, thin, pretty woman calling after her ‘beloved’. The teacher also says, ‘we hadn’t the slightest idea were we were going’. This shows problems in the level of organisation with the first stage of evacuation. They simply ‘put the children on the train’, and hoped for the best. This was probably due to the incompetence of the billeting officers or simply that they didn’t care, as many evacuees were not found hosts before their initial journeys.
On the other hand, there is a lot this source has against it. Firstly, the fact that it was 49 years after the event, making it a secondary source. Because cause of this the interviewee at the time of the interview must have been at least 72 years old. It’s possible, but not definite, that the teacher could have simply forgot about some of the details. She could also have been influenced in her memories by how the media (films…etc…) portrays evacuation. If you are told something a sufficient amount of times, you will believe it. As a result of the media’s influence, she could have subconsciously adapted her memories to fit the on-going media portrayal.
Also, the header and footer fails to state what the interview was in aid of and who the interviewer was a representative of. If it was simply for a budding historian to gather evidence, he/she would have used all of the details provided, rather than omitting any single part, thus giving the most accurate account and being the most useful to the historian. In addition, it could have been a newspaper or magazine representative who would have used only the interesting parts or parts that sustain the stereotypical view of evacuation.
More probable is the latter, and the stereotypical view is in many cases the most realistic. Other sources and our own background knowledge support this source, so we tend not to doubt it’s reliability. To conclude, I believe Source C to be more useful as evidence about the start of evacuation. Source B, on the other hand, could be useful when dealing with organisation, for example. Despite this, in answer to the question, Source C is an account from a person who was there and so is, in this case, more useful as the required evidence.