Forced evacuations

Faced with a very rapid German advance during the first days of the campaign in France, between 8 and 10 million civilians left within a few weeks for the South of France. Coming from the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France, these refugees faced appalling dangers on their way and were often the victims of the German air force which dive-bombed and machine-gunned some convoys. Dive-bombing Stukas and their strident sirens often left indelible marks in the minds of the refugees.

These crowds of people that had not been anticipated and were sometimes discouraged by the authorities, posed serious health and hygiene problems. They even sometimes got in the way of the fighting troops. Some refugees, trying to survive, pillaged shops and houses.

By September most were being repatriated on the orders of the Vichy government and Article 16 of the Armistice. Germany wanted all workers and farmers to return to their posts to help with the war effort. Some had nowhere to go and were obliged to return only to find their homes destroyed. Great Britain had prepared an evacuation plan in 1938 and it was put in place from 1st September 1939, on the declaration of war. Almost four million civilians were evacuated from the large cities to the country to evacuation centres or families who could house them. Sometimes children were separated from their parents. After the fall of France, 100,000 further children were evacuated to the country in anticipation of the Battle of Britain.

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