Displaced People

The concept of displaced people is used here to include: evacuees, moved away from their homes to safety in rural areas; prisoners of war, displaced and detained in a foreign land; those who found themselves without a home, resorting to acts of squatting in the immediate post-war period.


In the early days of the Second World War a large scale evacuation programme was set in place in anticipation of bombing raids on the nation’s cities and industrial centres. A massive government operation was put into place to move vulnerable groups to locations where they were felt to be in less danger from air attacks. Over one and a half million people - mainly children, along with many mothers, teachers, the elderly and disabled were displaced, mostly being relocated to rural areas. Film of Malton shows evacuated children arriving in this rural Yorkshire town from the city of Hull. The children are filmed at the railway station, settling into a new family home, taking part in school games and enjoying a Christmas party put on for evacuees.

Films of evacuees largely show the positive side of the process, often picturing organised groups at railway stations, and smiling children being provided with hot meals or toys. In some of the films however, a sense of apprehension and confusion felt by the children can be glimpsed.

After several months of what came to be known as the ‘phoney war’ in late 1939 and early 1940, when the threatened full-scale bomb raids did not occur, many early evacuees returned home. Many had found it hard to adjust to life away from their families, whilst ‘reception’ families and communities had to deal with new arrivals who often had different values and lifestyles from their own. However, with the beginning of intense ‘Blitz’ bombings from 1940 onwards and the arrival of the V1 and V2 bombs in 1944, children were again sent away from danger in fresh waves of evacuation.

The Pathé newsreel Front Line London (1944) shows evacuations in the wake of V1 bombings. It provides is an up-beat take on the story, and talks of how lessons have been learned from previous evacuations. In the film, large groups of children are filmed traveling by trains, nicknamed the ‘Doodlebug Express’, and groups of smiling and waving children eat lunch at an evacuee ‘rest centre’.


Where evacuation had been a voluntary process and within in their own country, prisoners-of-war from other countries were displaced by being detained in prison camps across the UK. The British camps, for the most part, held prisoners in accordance with the Geneva convention and provided the prisoners with adequate conditions, sometimes said to be better than those experienced by British servicemen on active duty. Many were put to work in agricultural or labouring roles, filling some of the labour shortage created by British men fighting overseas. Film from Yorkshire shows two German prisoners-of-war taking on agricultural duties on a farm in Sheriff Hutton. In the film the prisoners are shown in a positive light, apparently enjoying driving a tractor and taking a lunch break.


In the immediate post-war period, a housing crisis developed when, after years of war, no new housing had been built, bombings had depleted existing accommodation and servicemen were returning from the front needing decent accommodation. This led to many finding themselves living in either extremely poor housing conditions or displaced through homelessness.

There were many films made at the time illustrating the introduction of new prefabricated houses and model flats being planned and built. But in 1946, in response to the dire need for homes, some people took the extreme action of squatting in former military accommodation as well as in empty civilian buildings. The Pathé newsreels Home Front Squatters and Pathé Opinion Poll, both from 1946, illustrate the degree to which the housing problem had become both a pressing concern for many individuals a hot political issue of the time. The films show squatters in London being confronted by the police and investigate the degree of public sympathy towards the squatters.