OPERATION PIED PIPER – Guest Post by Alix Rickloff

OPERATION PIED PIPER                

WWII was declared on September 1st 1939, and by the end of that month over 800,000 London school children had been evacuated to the countryside ahead of the expected German bombardment.

Planning for Operation Pied Piper, as it was known, began years earlier. The bombing casualties sustained during WWI had frightened the British government badly. Taking into account advances in technology, they were certain that should war break out with a remilitarized Germany, any bombing campaign would result in catastrophic loss of civilian life.

As war grew closer, the government divided the country into zones of “evacuation” “neutral” or “reception”, compiled lists of available housing, and began an all-out crusade to convince the public of the necessity of evacuation. Posters and pamphlets were used successfully to persuade parents that their children would be safest far from the inner cities, especially London. Teachers, local authorities, railway staff, and over 17,000 WVS (Womens’ Volunteer Service) volunteers were brought on board to assist with the planning and implementation.


To prepare for evacuation, parents were given a list of items each child needed to take with them which included a gas mask, sandwiches for the journey, and a small bag containing such essentials as a change of underclothes, pajamas, slippers, toothbrush, comb, washcloth, and a warm coat. Yardly Jones recalls preparing before his evacuation:

“We went down Wavertree Road and bought an enamel cup, a knife, fork, and spoon from a list we had. I guess we bought clothing as well, I don’t remember, but I do know I was a little upset since I knew we weren’t that well off and I knew my mother couldn’t afford to go out and buy these things.”

The day of departure, children assembled at their local school where labels were attached to their collars with name, home address, school, and destination. After tearful farewells, teachers and volunteers marched the children to the station where trains waited to take them to such far-flung destinations as Devon, Cornwall, and Wales. Teacher L.A.M. Brech recalls:

“All you could hear was the feet of the children and a kind of murmur because the children were too afraid to talk. Mothers weren’t allowed with us but they came along behind. When we got to the station we knew which platform to go to, the train was ready, we hadn’t the slightest idea where we were going and we put the children on the train and the gates closed behind us. The mothers pressed against the iron gates calling, ‘Goodbye darling.’ I never see those gates at Waterloo that I don’t get a lump in my throat.”


Upon arrival, billeting officers arranged for housing. In many instances, this meant nothing more than lining the children up against a wall and allowing families to choose as Beryl Hewitson recounts:

“I noticed boys of about 12 went very quickly—perhaps to help on the farm? Eventually only my friend Nancy and myself were left—two plain, straight-haired little girls wearing glasses, now rather tearful.”

And Irene Brownhill remembers her own arrival in the country:

“…next to us a little thin girl sobbing and very upset and wanting her mother. I put her in the middle of my sister and me and she stopped crying. The people coming around to choose kept saying they would take my sister and me but they did not want three girls only two…”

It was common for the young evacuees to have trouble adjusting to country life. Some had never seen a farm animal before or eaten a fresh vegetable. Others were bored by the lack of entertainments outside of the city. Jean Chartrand remembers two boys billeted with her relatives:

“…one boy had put the pail under the cow’s udders and was holding it there whilst the other boy was using the cow’s tail like a pump handle…”

Evacuee John Wills said his biggest shock was the fresh air: “Nearly knocked us off our feet.” Later he and a friend decided to return to London. “We walked home on the thumb with the odd lift. I much preferred to take my chances in the air raids.”

Host families could be equally surprised by the children they were housing. Because the majority of children came from the poorer sections of cities, there was an idea that they would be undisciplined and dirty. And while this was sometimes the case, more often than not their fears were founded on bias and preconceived notions.

“How I wish the prevalent view of evacuees could be changed. We were not all raised on a diet of fish and chips eaten from newspaper and many of us are quite familiar with the origins of milk. It was just as traumatic for a clean and fairly well educated child to find itself in a grubby semi-slum as vice versa,” Jean McCulloch explained.

By the end of 1939 when the expected bombing didn’t materialize, parents were quick to bring their children back home. And by January of 1940, nearly half of those children sent away in the first weeks had returned to their families. But these were to be short-term homecomings. When France fell in June 1940 and again in the fall of 1940 at the start of the London Blitz, additional evacuations were set in motion. And this time, children would not see their families again until the end of the war almost five years later.

The lasting effects of the evacuation ran the gamut. Some had idyllic experiences with caring families who maintained close ties long after the war ended like Michael Clark:

“We could not understand these strange people who for some reason we were sent to live with, but as the years have gone by I realize just what diamonds they were”

Others, like Gloria McNeill, homesick and unhappy, recall the forced separation and sometimes squalid and violent conditions these children found themselves in.

“Every time I hear Vera Lynn sing “Goodnight children everywhere’ I see a forlorn 11-year old curled up in a corner of a strange bedroom, hiding tears behind the pages of The Blue Fairy Book.”

Operation Pied Piper officially ended in 1946 bringing to a close one of the largest organized movements of civilian population during wartime and one of the most heartbreaking and inspiring chapters of British history.


Dwight Jon Zimmerman. “Operation Pied Piper: The Evacuation of English Children During World War II.” www.DefenseMediaNetwork.com

Laura Clouting. “The Evacuated Children of the Second World War.” www.iwm.org.uk

“Primary History World War 2: Evacuation” www.bbc.uk

Ben Wicks. No Time to Wave Goodbye (Stoddart Publishing, 1988)


From the author of Secrets of Nanreath Hall comes this gripping, beautifully written historical fiction novel set during World War II—the unforgettable story of a young woman who must leave Singapore and forge a new life in England.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever. 

Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.

Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore.

Now Lucy will be forced to finally confront the choices she has made if she ever hopes to have the future she yearns for.


Author Bio:

Critically acclaimed author of historical and paranormal romance, Alix Rickloff’s family tree includes a knight who fought during the Wars of the Roses (his brass rubbing hangs in her dining room) and a soldier who sided with Charles I during the English Civil War (hence the family’s hasty emigration to America). With inspiration like that, what else could she do but start writing her own stories? She lives in Maryland in a house that’s seen its own share of history so when she’s not writing, she can usually be found trying to keep it from falling down.



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James Boswell by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1785


James Boswell is best known as the biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson, but he was also 9th Laird of Auchinleck, in Scotland, with the family seat being Auchinleck House, in Ayershire, below, since it was built circa 1760. Boswell visited often and he and Dr. Johnson stayed here together in 1773 during their return from the Hebrides. As it turns out, a small group of lucky travelers will be staying here and we’ll have the entire estate to ourselves during Number One London’s 2018 Scottish Writer’s Retreat in September. Can there be a more perfect location for a writer’s retreat than the home of the author commonly said to have written the greatest biography in the English language – or the man who spent nine years working on The Dictionary of the English Language?

In light of my upcoming stay, I thought it would only be fitting for me to brush up on my Boswell/Johnson knowledge by re-reading Boswell’s Journals and Christopher Hibbert’s excellent biography, The Personal History of Samuel Johnson.

Samuel Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds, circa 1772

Also on my reading list is Adam Sisman’s book, Bowell’s Presumptuous Task, which garnered this review by Bibliomane01 on Amazon:

“In this magnificent work Mr Sisman describes the making of that greatest of all biographies, Boswell’s Life of Dr Johnson. To his contemporaries the task that Boswell had taken on was presumptuous indeed – to record the life of the greatest literary man of his age, while being dismissed himself as a frivolous and reprobate dilettante incapable of any serious activity. Well, the world knows that Bozzy succeeded in confounding his critics, but the tragic irony of his predicament was that he succeeded too well. While hailing the book as a masterpiece, the current and future literary establishment dismissed Boswell’s own role as little more than that of a stenographer. Macaulay’s damning essay on Boswell formed the opinion held by too many people for far too long. The true story of Boswell’s genius became well known to scholars in the 20th century; with this book, Mr. Sisman brings the story to a wider audience. It is a remarkable portrait of Boswell’s love for Johnson and the great struggles he endured to bring his hero to life in the pages of his biography. Battling drink, debauchery, depression and his own self-destructive nature, Boswell managed to pull off the one great sustained piece of effort of his life. In his book Johnson was brought to life once again, an image so convincing that it took over 150 years for people to discern the art behind the apparent ingenuousness of Boswell’s technique. Sisman does a good job of showing how the Johnson of the Life was as much a product of Boswell’s gift as the historical record (although I think readers would have benefited from a few examples of textual analysis to illustrate this). His final chapter on the gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers provides an exciting ending and his writing is clear and compelling. “Boswell’s Presumptuous Task” is nothing short of a triumph.”

The “gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers” mentioned above refers to a cache of Boswell’s private papers and journals found at Malahide Castle just outside of Dublin in the 1920’s. Boswell’s great-great-grandson, Lord Talbot de Malahide sold the papers to American collector Ralph Isham and they now form part of the collection at Yale University. Having only just visited Malahide Castle in September, I’m looking forward to reading Sisman’s book soon.

If you’d like to join us on The Scottish Writer’s Retreat, you will find complete details herethere are only two places remaining!

Dickens: Bicentenary of his birth

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), painted by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870)

Victoria here, reporting on my latest encounters with a favorite author of mine, Charles Dickens.  My local PBS station is rerunning the presentation of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations they first showed last winter.  I hope you have a chance to see them too.

Oliver Twist, played by William Miller

The PBS website, here, has lots of details about the BBC-Masterpiece production of Oliver Twist, including a synopsis, cast information and a Dickens timeline.

You can buy this DVD, as well as many other classics here.

I have to admit I remember the story from several of the dozens of films and television series rather than from the book, which I probably read in high school.  There have been many stage versions as well, including the very popular London production of Oliver, the Musical in 1960.

The musical also ran on Broadway for a long time, and has been successfully revived in Britain and the U.S. several times.  The film version won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1969.

I think the reason for the enduring popularity of the story is mainly attributable to the wonderful characters, the innocent young Oliver, the unforgettable Fagin, Artful Dodger, Nancy, and Bill Sikes — and the family that ultimately rescues Oliver and brings a happy ending.  As in all of Dickens, the details of the London scene are unmatched.

Personally, I prefer Oliver Twist to Great Expectations, probably because Miss Havisham meets such a tragic ending in the latter.  But nevertheless I will watch it. Again and again.  Like Oliver Twist’s, Pip’s story has been filmed many times, from silent movies to current miniseries, and has been adapted for stage as well.

One of the book groups I participate in is reading A Tale of Two Cities, another Dickens novel that has been often adapted. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” has to be one of the most famous opening lines in English literature. 

A Tale of Two Cities, published 1859
And to top off my Year of Dickens, I am reading Claire Tomalin’s biography Charles Dickens, published in 2011.  Like her previous biographies of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and others, this account is eminently readable.  She deals with complex personalities in a realistic and engaging way.

I hope you are having your own Dickens Year in 2012…if not, you still have time!

Shakespeare's Sisters: Women Writers 1500-1700

At the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D. C., I recently visited a fascinating exhibition entitled Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voice of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700. The exhibition website is here.

The exhibition began with a famous passage from Virginia Woolf’s 1929 volume A Room of One’s Own: “(W)hat would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say…it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered…that she must have lost her health and sanity.”

In Woolf’s day, little was known about women who might have written — and even published — in Shakespeare’s day.  But recent scholarship has brought to light a number of such writers and some of their work is shown in this exhibition. 

Georgette de Montenay, Emblemes ou devises Chrestiennes, 1619
Folger Shakespeare Library Collection

Obviously, due to the age and fragility of the books shown, photographs of them were not allowed, and due to the low light level, my photographs of the text panels are sometimes rather dim.  Sorry about that, but I thought you’d rather see them as is than not.  Refer to the website for the texts.

The exhibition is divided into several sections covering such subjects as Religious Writing, Love and Romance, and Families and Salons.  Below, a panel celebrating poetry.  In the center is Veronica Franco (1546-1591), a Venetian poet and courtesan.

The portrait of Franco is said to be by Tintoretto.  A biography, The Honest Courtesan, by Margaret F. Rosenthal, was the basis of a film about Franco’s life.

The film, titled in the U.S. Dangerous Beauty (1998) starred Catherine McCormick as Franco, Jacqueline Bisset and Rufus Sewell.  I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the film’s story, but it does emphasize Franco’s writing talents as well as giving sumptuous views of 16th century Venice and its inhabitants.
To my knowledge, no one has filmed a life of Lady Anne Clifford, but her life would be good material for a creative screen writer and director. 
A reproduction of a triptych (attributed to Jan van Belcamp) showing Lady Anne Clifford on either side; in the center panel is Margaret Russell, Countess of Cumberland, and George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, with their two sons, is on display.
Here is a closer view of Lady Anne Clifford at age sixteen.
Lady Anne Clifford was raised in the Court of Elizabeth I; she married the Earl of Dorset and later of Pembroke.  Not only is she well known for her letters and diaries, she was also a dedicated patron of the arts and literature. She fought for her legal rights to the family estates for almost forty years before she gained success.  She was truly a Renaissance woman. Below, Lady Anne at age 56.


Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) wrote about Lady Anne in her study of her family and its great estate, Knole and the Sackvilles, published in 1922, and in introducing her works.
Vita Sackville-West
Sackville-West, close friend and colleague of Virginia Woolf, also wrote a biography of another of the exhibition’s subjects, Aphra Behn (1640-1689).  Best known as a playwright, Behn also wrote novels and poetry.  Her plays were very popular in the Restoration era theatre in England.
Aphra Behn by Mary Beale
Gravestone of Aphra Behn, in the Cloister of Westminster Abbey, London
The inscription: Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be 
Defense enough against Mortality

I recommend spending time on the exhibition’s website, Shakespeare’s Sisters, for many further insights into this fascinating topic: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700.

Below, the Folger Shop.

I would be remiss if I did not give the website of the Folger Shop which has wonderful books, catalogues, cards, and assorted items relating to the Woman Writers exhibition as well as to Shakespeare and his era.  I highly recommend a visit to the Folger when you come to Washington, D.C.  And what’s more: admission is free!

The Folger Shakespeare Library

Near the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.,  stands the Folger Library, repository of 82 Shakespeare First Folios — the largest collection in the world by far of these precious volumes.

The Folger Library, 201 Capitol St. SE, was the gift to the United States of  Henry Clay Folger (1857-1930) and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger (1858-1936).  Mr. Folger and his wife were lifelong lovers of Shakespeare and collectors of his works, including First Folios, Quartos, artwork, mementos of performances, and additional material related to the Elizabethan Era and the theatre.

They planned the library as a repository of their collections and as a permanent institution in the U.S. for the scholarly study of Shakespeare and his era and the continuing appreciation of reading and performing his works.  Built at a cost of $2 million, the library opened in 1932 with an original endowment of $10 million. The Folger is administered by the Trustees of Amherst College in Massachusetts, alma mater of H. C. Folger.
On the day I visited in March, students were performing snippets of the Bard’s plays and having a hilarious time doing so, under the direction of a professional actress in Elizabethan costume, and before an audience of fellow students, parents and teachers.
Below, a view of the Folger’s theatre, without the gleeful group, but showing all its timbered glory.  The theatre is also used for fully staged productions, literary and theatrical awards ceremonies, performances of the Folger Consort, and other activities.
Folger Shakespeare Library, Elizabethan Theatre

The Folger presents many special exhibitions.  The one I visited, Shakespeare’s Sisters, was enlightening. I will blog about it soon.

Central to the Folger’s mission is scholarship.  Imagine how privileged one would be to receive a reader’s card and be able to conduct research here in the Reading Room.  When I visited, we were allowed only a peek at the premises, which are reserved for serious studies.  At the end of the room is the immense window depicting the Seven Ages of Man (from As You Like It).
The window, designed especially for the Folger, was executed by the Philadelphia stained glass studio of Nicola D’Ascenzo (1871-1954) in 1932.
Emily Jordan Folger by Frank O. Salisbury, 1927
Henry Clay Folger, by Frank O. Salisbury, 1927
On the exterior of the building, scenes from Shakespeare’s favorite plays are captured in white marble bas relief sculptures.  Above, a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Below, Richard III.
Though the Folger’s mission focuses on a writer from hundreds of yeara go and his world, the library’s resources and  techniques are decidedly up-to-date.  Their website (here) is excellent, worth hours of browsing.  Many parts of the collection are available digitally, as described here.  Hamnet is their free on-line catalogue.   The Folger has blogs, facebook pages, and can be found on itunes, youtube and twitter, among other sites.  The Conservation Lab is in the forefront of preserving fragile and delicate materials.
First Folio, Folger Shakespeare Library
In 2011, the Folger sponsored an exhibition “Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio,”   which told many stories of the creation, acquisition, sales and losses of these precious documents. Since the Folger has the world’s largest collection of First Folios (82 at present), it was the perfect venue to explore the topic.  First Folios, in case you have forgotten your college Shakespeare facts, are editions of the Bard’s plays published in 1623, which contained many plays never before published. In the world today, just over 230 First Folios are known to exist. 
One of many representations of Shakespeare at the Folger
 The Founder’s Room
Portrait of Elizabeth I, the “Sieve” portrait
by George Gower, 1579
in the Folger Collection
The above costume replicating the Elizabethan gown in the portrait was worn by actress Michael Learned in the 2003 Folger Theatre production of Elizabeth the Queen by Maxwell Adnerson (1888-1959).  Ms. Learned required the assistance of a dresser to put on the costume which weighed more than twenty pounds.
Washington’s warm March weather favored growth in the library’s Elizabethan Garden
Watch for our report on Shakespeare’s Sisters:
Voices of English and European Women Writers,
1500-1700, on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library to May 20, 2012