The Lightning War: Operation Pied Piper

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1. Lucy evacuates her siblings to the countryside.

My grandmother was evacuated to the countryside during World War Two when she was just a baby. I can only imagine what it's like being separated from your parents for six years. Everyday I count my lucky stars that I didn't have to live through a war like this.

FACT: the evacuation program was mandatory in Britain during 1939-45 due to German air raids on major cities e.g. London, Coventry, Bath, Swansea, Cardiff etc. Nearly 2,000 people were killed or injured in the first night of the raid (7th September 1940). Because of this, mass evacuations were carried out all over the country. It was called Operation Pied Piper, hence the name.

One of the most ferocious raids on London took place on the night of December 29, when a total of 136 bombers rained down 127 tonnes of high explosives along with 22,000 incendiaries, causing a huge firestorm.

The Lightning War: Operation Pied Piper


December, 1940

London, England.

"Be a brave boy now,"

Lucy gathered her little brother into a hug to console him. She could tell that Jack was trying no to cry, trying to be brave like she told him. Just like his father.

"Look after Ruth," she whispered into his ear.

Jack nodded, sniffling. He was man of the house now, Dad had said. He had to be strong for Ruth. It was his job to look after him.

Lucy tried to hold back the tears as she bundled him onto the train. Ruth blinked her large blue eyes innocently as Jack guided her up the steps.

"Where Daddy?" she asked.

Lucy's heart squeezed painfully, like it was wrapped in an iron vice and someone would tightening it gradually. Ruth was too young to understand where her Daddy was, let alone the evacuation.

She knelt down to face her little sister and plastered on a big smile. "Daddy has gone away for a while," she said in a cheerful voice. "Just like you! You and Jack are going on a holiday!"

"Daddy on holiday?" Ruth asked.

"That's right, sweetie," Lucy replied, trying her hardest not to choke. She saw Jack hastily wipe at his eyes. All around them mothers and children were crying as they boarded the train.

"Why Lucy no come?" Ruth asked, looking upset.

"It's a holiday for children!" Lucy said enthusiastically, even though she felt like bawling her eyes out. "You'll have a wonderful time. There'll be cows, pigs, horses-"

Ruth's eyes lit up. "Horsey!" she squealed.

Lucy planted a kiss on her forehead and lifted her into the carriage before handing them their suitcases. "All aboard!" The conductor cried. The train hissed to life as he closed the doors.

By now, Jack's face was streaming with tears.

"Be a good girl for your brother, Ruthie!" Lucy yelled over the noise. Jack waved as the train began to pull away from the station. "I love you both!"

"Bye, bye!" Ruth yelled, waving her chubby hand. "Bye, bye!

Jack waved back, furiously wiping at his face. It took all Lucy had not to run after the train so that she could kiss them one last time. She would give anything to have them stay...

...But Lucy knew that it was for the best.

When father left to fight in France, he reluctantly left his 18 year-old daughter, Lucy, with her two younger siblings and a pub to run. It's not like either of them had a choice.

Like her father, she had a responsibility.

Either endanger two innocent children whilst London was being bombed to smithereens, or send them to safety in the countryside where they had a chance to live fairly normal lives.

But it was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do.

It broke her heart to send them away; who knows when she'd see them again? What if something happened to her? What if Jack and Ruth didn't have a home to return to?

What if they didn't remember her when they came back?

Surely this war couldn't last forever?

Lucy watched the train retreat until it was finally out of sight. All around her tearful mothers began making their back, forlornly, to empty homes. Sighing, she thought she'd better go home too.

It was just as well that Jack and Ruth were evacuated.

Because that night, as the city burned around her, she thought about Jack and Ruth, and how they were finally safe. That thought alone was enough to help her make it through the relentless raid.

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