Press Releases

University of Reading celebrates anniversary of the war-time Evacuation of children: 'Operation Pied Piper' – University of Reading

Release Date : 27 August 2009

The University of Reading is pleased to announce it will be playing a major part in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Evacuation of children.

From the 1st to the 4th September 1939 1.5 million evacuees, mostly children, were taken from the potential danger areas in Britain to areas of relative safety to protect them from the expected air attacks

Visitors to the University's Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) during the Autumn will witness a fascinating exhibition, examining the impact evacuated children had on the countryside and the effect their new homes had on them. As well as a series of stunning and emotive photographs, nine evacuees tell their personal stories through audio points and video images.

Dr Martin Parsons, Director of the University's Research Centre for Evacuees and War Child Studies (ResCEW) and curator of the Exhibition, said: "Evacuees had a major impact on rural communities. The idea of all the evacuees being taken in by the middle-classes in the countryside is something of a myth.

"The majority were taken in by agricultural labouring families, so living in a cottage with an earth floor, no electric or hot water and a privy in the garden was a shock to many of the children. In addition, for some of them it was also hard work. Unfortunately, as a result of this, a few children were abused and overworked. Some evacuees were simply used as unpaid farm labourers and suffered as a consequence."

The exhibition at MERL is aimed specifically at schools, and the Museum will be offering free schools sessions based on the display and evacuee archive.

Becky Moran, MERL Learning Officer said: "We are delighted that our main Autumn exhibition focuses on the impact of war-children, in what is such an important year for those involved in the Evacuation. As it was children who were most affected by the evacuation schemes, it is fitting that we are running a programme of special events for schools during the Autumn term. These free sessions will offer pupils an intriguing glimpse into the life of an evacuee through video and interviews recorded for the exhibition and personal conversations with ex-evacuees."

The effects of war child separation are felt as much today than ever before, resulting from past wars and current conflicts. ResCEW is hosting a major international conference which aims to increase the awareness of the importance of war child studies.

Over 60 delegates including academics, students and interested parties from around the world are expected to attend the 3-day event. They will hear from experts on war child studies, including the world's leading authority in the field of war-related trauma in children, Dr Peter Heinl, who will be giving the key-note address. Some of those speaking and attending are ex-war children.

Dr Martin Parsons continued: "The University of Reading is a world leader in the research on war-child studies, aiming to inform present and future governments on the treatment and welfare of children in war zones. This is the third international conference relating to the study of war children and evacuees, and will bring together colleagues and students in the fields of History, Psychology, Psychiatry and Literature as well as ex war children and evacuees.

"Important issues being highlighted include the long-term effects of war-child separation. Several of the contributors and audience members suffered the trauma of evacuation as a child, and, from previous experience, the latter find attending these conferences to be a cathartic experience."

Children, The Invisible Victims of War is being held at the Bob Kayley Studio, Bulmershe Court, University of Reading on 9th-11th September 2009.

Day tickets are available at £25 per person which includes refreshments and lunch. For further information please contact either Dr Martin Parsons email or Dr Carol Fuller, email

The exhibition, Children's war: evacuees in the countryside 1939-45, runs from 8 September to 22 December, 2009. For more details visit or call Alison Hilton, MERL Marketing Officer on 0118 3785626.


For all media enquiries please contact James Barr, University of Reading Press Officer on 0118 378 7115 or by email on

Notes for Editors:

The University's Research Centre for Evacuees and War Child Studies aims to be the pivotal hub of cross-discipline War Child research in the World. The collaborative work presently being carried out by Dr Parsons and his team is to inform present and future governments on the treatment and welfare of children in war zones.

The Museum of English Rural Life, in Redlands Road, Reading, was founded by the University of Reading in 1951 to reflect and record the changing face of farming and the countryside. It houses designated collections of national importance that span the full range of objects, archives, photographs, film and books. Today, it forms part of the University's Museums and Collections Service. The Museum operates as a major resource and research centre for the history of food, farming and the countryside with links into the School of History and other academic departments at the University.


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