Spotlight on the NUT donation: “Billeting in brief: the care of children in time of war” by F. Mander and J. G. Browne

Last winter we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which included 380 archive boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

Over the last year, we have checked and sorted these resources, discovering many interesting publications during the process. Among these, we have picked a few ‘gems’ and decided to share what we have learnt about each one.

Today is the turn of Billeting in brief: the care of children in time of war, written by Frederick Mander and J. G. Browne and jointly published by the NUT and the Save the Children Fund in 1939.

Billeting in brief

The booklet was produced with the aim of providing guidance on all aspects of children’s evacuation (also referred to as ‘billeting’) from the cities (deemed to be particularly vulnerable in case of bombing) to rural locations, from transport and household allocation to payments to the hosting families, food suggestions and much more.

It is significant that at a time when war had still not been declared (Germany would invade Poland, an event which marked the beginning of the hostilities, roughly two months after this booklet was written, with Great Britain joining in the conflict a few days later), the possibility that the country might find itself being attacked by the Germans already seemed possible and efforts were being made to prepare for it.

This point is discussed in the booklet’s introduction, where the authors explain that their decision to discuss this controversial topic at that particular time is not motivated by a belief that war is inevitable, but due to the fact that (and here they quote the 1924’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child) it is “mankind’s duty to assure to all children, without distinction of race, nationality, or creed, the best that we have to give”.

In fact, the evacuation of thousands of British children (as well as some groups of adults) became a reality in September 1939, with two more waves of ‘migrations’ in 1940 and 1944. Parents were not forced to send their kids away, but this was encouraged by the Government.

The booklet is composed of three main sections: preparations before moving the children to the countryside, arrangements for when they arrived at destination and finally plans to ensure that their lives away from home, including their education, were organised appropriately.

The first section covers a range of recommendations, such as the things that children needed to carry with them. And so we find out, for example, that a gas mask and a packet of food for the journey were considered essential items, while a change of underwear or a toothbrush were not.

The move to the assigned destinations was facilitated by teachers, who, unlike the parents, travelled with their pupils. The hosting families needed to declare in advance how much space, including number of beds, they could offer, and were responsible for feeding the children (for which they received regular payments), but not for providing them with clothes or medicines should they fall ill; overall, efforts were made to keep disruption in the household to a minimum.

Teachers played a very important role at all stages of the evacuation and continued to educate their own students once they were in the countryside, using suitable buildings that were made available for this purpose and sometimes improvising outdoor classes if the weather allowed it. However, as the only adults that children knew from their previous life in the city, they were also responsible for ensuring pupils’ smooth transition to their new homes and encouraged to participate in a variety of extra-extracurricular activities. Although these would be considered a ‘labour of love’ (p. 11) as no formal remuneration was expected, the NUT was confident, at the time the booklet was written, that most teachers would happily take part.

Mander and Browne aim to be comprehensive in their guidance, also talking about physically and/or mentally disabled children as well those under the age of five; for all of them, suitable arrangements needed to be made, including, for example, giving them the possibility of being accompanied by their mothers.

Finally, the booklet’s three appendices offer food suggestions and ideas for meals depending on the age of the children, going into quite a bit of detail: the thickness of a slice of bread, for example, is discussed. This section is particularly useful to rediscover various foods that have now gone out of fashion, such as suet pudding, sago, bread and dripping and Parrish’s food, an iron-based supplement used in combination with cod liver oil to increase the child’s appetite.

Children’s evacuations during the Second World War directly affected millions of people, who were involved in the process in different ways. At the time, a Committee on Evacuation was created to ensure smooth operations and both the Ministry of Education and the Board of Education produced guidance in the form of circulars and memoranda, many of which are available in our Official Publications Collection. Our Curriculum Resources also comprise numerous publications on this topic, including novels set in that period. Poignant footage of the events of those years is also available online.

Billeting in brief: the care of children in time of war, like all the other items included in the NUT donation, is currently uncatalogued, although this will be the next step in our project. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the contents of the donation, please check our LibGuide.

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