Posted: 08 May 2015

VE Day: Protecting children during World War Two

Today is Victory in Europe Day, better known as VE Day, 70 years since the end of the Second World War in Europe.

In 1945, our supporter magazine reflected on what our organisation achieved during those long, hard years from 1939-45.

Our magazine wrote: 'It is a great task, but one undertaken in a spirit of thankfulness. Thankfulness not only that we ourselves have come through safely, without harm to any of our homes or children, but that the great war-time tasks with which we have been entrusted have been successfully achieved and that we have stood up to every test. Our great war-time work was the war nurseries...they sheltered many thousands of children from the bombing and desolation of war and brought them amongst friends and into happy places.'

several children at the doorway of our war nursery in yorkshire

Children at the door of our war nursery in Yorkshire

Our 127 war nurseries protected 6,788 children

Make no mistake – the war nurseries were a remarkable achievement and are something to be celebrated 70 years later.

Our charity played a major role in the war by looking after 6,788 children in 127 war nurseries. These children had lost parents, were displaced or had been evacuated from bomb damaged homes and cities.

'Real homes where love abounded and where children mattered a very great deal as individuals'

The development of this network of nurseries that looked after children aged up to five years was one of our great contributions to the national war effort. From 1940 onwards the nurseries were set up with great speed and as a result of gifts of money, furniture and buildings generosity donated by the public and local communities. As the 1945 supporter magazine put it:

'You can imagine what a task it was...to start one nursery after another under blitz conditions! Headquarters was under air attack, transport was sometimes chaotic, and equipment and supplies of all sorts had to be assembled in a matter of hours to go perhaps hundreds of miles to isolated and sometimes hastily chosen houses.'

four children wearing gas masks during World War II

Children in gas masks in one of our war nurseries in 1940

It was an extensive programme, requiring the recruitment of 1,200 new staff, and assistance from the Ministry of Health and the Women’s Volunteer Service (WVS). Numerous other organisations and individuals gave financial and practical help, including the Junior American and Canadian Red Cross branches, and the Canadian Lions Club. Even the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, allowed us to set up a war nursery in the mansion he lived in during his exile in Britain.

Yet against this incredible backdrop, we continued our wider work of looking after older children, aged 5 to 14, in our homes during the war. Many of these homes in cities were also evacuated to safer rural locations to avoid bombing raids. (See our archives site Hidden Lives for more information about our work during World War Two and since our founding in 1881.)

As our supporter magazine suggested in 1945, the last word of celebration on this 70th anniversary of VE Day should go all of our work during these most difficult of years, providing 'real homes where love abounded and where children mattered a very great deal as individuals'.

A parcel from the Canadian Red Cross arrives at our Adborough Manor war nursery

A parcel from the Canadian Red Cross arrives at our Adborough Manor war nursery

By Ian Wakeling - Research team
more...

Read more

Unexplored Riches in Medical History project

Posted: 19 December 2014

more...

Read more

Use our timeline to look at our history in the West Midlands

Posted: 2 April 2014

more...

Read more

Use our timeline to look at our history in Greater Manchester

Posted: 19 November 2013