Operation Pied Piper: Lessons from History on Childhood Trauma and Resilience | Josie Holford | 13 Min Read

September 7, 2023

The disruption to schooling in the early months of the pandemic led me to 1939, Operation Pied Piper, and the work of pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. Under Operation Pied Piper, close to a million children living in cities were separated from their parents and evacuated to safer areas. An evacuation on such a large scale was unprecedented. Britain was preparing for the worst.

On Thursday, August 31st—three days before Britain declared war—evacuation was ordered for the next day. Families prepared their children and—to the best of their ability—supplied them with the required items of clothing and food for the journey.  On Friday, September 1st, children began assembling in their schools, and parents said goodbye. Operation Pied Piper was launched. 

It was a huge logistical enterprise. In London alone, there were 1589 assembly points. Trains steamed out of the city’s main terminal stations every nine minutes for nine hours. It involved teachers, rail workers, officials from the local authorities, and 17,000 members of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) who did the practical work of looking after the children and providing refreshments. In the first three days, 1.5 million people were evacuated including 673,000 unaccompanied children from…

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Josie Holford

Josie Holford is an educator from a family of educators who has taught in London, New York City, and New York State. She has taught every level from 4th grade to freshman college and has served as middle and high school division director, head of school, and trustee. She maintains a blog, Rattlebag and Rhurbarb, where she writes on a wide range of topics related to culture, society, and learning.