Author: Edward Stokes
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Sydney), 1994
Format: Hardback and softback, 230mm x 180mm, 248pp.
ISBN: 1-86373-657-3 (HB) 1-86373-529-1 (SB)
This book tells the saga of the Children’s Overseas Reception Board. Established by the British government in mid-1940, soon after Dunkirk, the overseas evacuation scheme was a response to the dire threats facing Britain. Yet the scheme was fundamentally flawed. And, despite some benefits and happiness, it led to much personal and family sadness.
In mid-1940, Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany. Responding to heartfelt offers of assistance from the Dominions, the Children’s Overseas Reception Board was hastily set up. Its aim was to evacuate children to presumed safety in the then Dominions: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada.
Innocents Abroad tells the moving story of the children who sailed to Australia: their homesickness, their fears, U-boat threats and losses, the children’s courage, their adventures. Based on Edward Stokes’ extensive interviews with 48 adult evacuees, the book recounts new lives in strange cities – and, for some evacuees, country life. For many children there were wonderful loving homes. For some, however, there were bitter years of neglect and exploitation.
As Mum and Dad faded into the distance I remember often thinking, “I wonder whether I will ever see them again”.
As the war dragged on, family bonds were stretched or broken. When conflict finally ended, many of the children felt more Australian than British. The book explores the psychological troubles this caused. For some evacuees, there were happy homecomings in postwar Britain. For others, their affections and opportunities had shifted to Australia – and many returned there.
Edward Stokes’ Innocents Abroad oral history recordings are held by the Australian War Memorial. The interviews can be heard via the AWM website. The AWM is linked on this site’s With Thanks page.
After the war, all the evacuees were sent back to Britain. But many soon after – or sometime later – returned to Australia. Some, like this couple, married there.