After war was declared, people expected that the Luftwaffe would bomb Britain and that civilian casualties would be enormous.
The Department of Health in Scotland spent the early months of 1939 preparing details for the evacuation of unaccompanied children, mothers with children under school age, blind people and invalids from vulnerable areas. Areas affected were Edinburgh, Rosyth, Glasgow, Clydebank, Dundee, Inverkeithing and Queensferry – and from May 1941, after the Clydeside air-raids, Greenock, Port Glasgow and Dumbarton were added.
Evacuation was voluntary. Some had made private arrangements but when the order came at 11.07 on 31 August 1939 to ‘Evacuate Forthwith’, nearly 176,000 children assembled; 120,000 leaving Glasgow within three days.
Children mustered at their local primary school, carrying their gas-mask, toothbrush, change of underclothes and label. They walked to the nearest railway station, to be evacuated to secret destinations – Glaswegians to Perthshire, Kintyre and Rothesay; Edinburgh children to the Borders or the Highlands.
It was a logistical nightmare to process the evacuees on arrival and allocate accommodation. For some children it was a great adventure, for others it completely dislocated family life. By Christmas 1939, the feared German blitzkrieg hadn’t happened and three-quarters of the evacuees had returned home.