Reel History of Britain

Britain's Wartime Evacuees

Series 1 - Episode 1 Britain's Wartime Evacuees



Melvyn Bragg gets on board a 1967 custom-built mobile cinema in order to screen rare footage of 20th-century daily life taken from the British Film Institute’s and regional archives to those who experienced it at the time.

This episode takes a heartrending look at evacuation during the early days of the Second World War, captured here in grainy footage of children happily waving from train carriage windows, labels pinned to coats and boxes containing gas masks hung around necks.

But in a lot of cases, their smiles masked anguish: Bunty from Old Coulsdon in Surrey who, along with her sister, ran away back to her parents’ house remembers thinking, “If my mother and father were going to be killed, I wanted to be killed too.”

It’s no surprise that Operation Pied Piper (as the largest mass movement of people in British history was known) had a profound effect on all those involved and many of the stories revealed prove to be equally affecting. But despite the trauma, there are happy recollections: Gordon’s journey from city boy in Battersea to farmer’s son in Devon proved to be one that would leave him with an unbreakable bond to the countryside.


Melvyn Bragg travels across the UK accompanied by a vintage mobile cinema to explore the UK's past through footage preserved by the British Film Institute and other archives. The first edition looks back to the wartime evacuation of the 1940s. Bunty Tait describes her adventure as an evacuee, former EastEnders actor Derek Martin recalls the Blitz, and Derek Capel recounts his experience of a torpedo attack.