Children of the Blitz  

 

The Story - an overview

The focus of The Children of the Blitz is firmly on the experiences of the children themselves. The adults who feature within the piece tend to be distant figures of authority - teachers, officials, air raid wardens and community leaders.

The play follows the children through the lead up to the war. As the rapidly unfolding series of events develops, the novelty of trooping down to the railway station soon wears thin. However in 1939, there comes a day when a train is waiting at the station to take them to the safety of the countryside. Captured

 

as a  frozen image, the departure of the uncomfortable mix of middle class North London children and the rougher EastEnd kids from the station, is a mixture of excitement, fear and confusion. Although the children discuss their parents, no parents actually appear in the piece. We see the tearful goodbyes solely from the viewpoint of the children.

Meanwhile another group of children await their arrival, nervously setting out a welcoming reception in their village hall. They too are anxious, not knowing what the strangers who are to be thrust into their homes will be like. Some are curious, some hoping for new friends and others are openly hostile.

After an exhausting journey, the two groups are brought to an uneasy meeting. The comes the intimidation of the selection process as locals arrive to pick the children to billet with them. The big lads go quickly - they'll make good workers on the farm - as do the "nice" children. One by one they are taken off until just two remain. Helen Fisher who is waiting to be reunited with her sister, June, and Eric - a lonely EastEnd orphan better known at school by his nickname of Gas Mask.

Helen - a middle classs evacuee who ages from 11 to 15 over the course of the play - is  a central linking figure in the piece. Left until last, Helen, June and Gas Mask are compulsorily billeted with Mr Holden - a bitter, aggressive farmer with a bedridden wife who resents the evacuees thrust upon him and his family. There, they encounter his bullying son Arthur and his bright but timid and careworn daughter, Anne.

The prospect of war itself seems the least of the children's concerns as they reflect on their luck - or lack of it - in terms of where they billeted and a series of monlogues highlights their discomfort with some aspects of rural life.

We then shift to the local vicar urging his community to reach out to and welcome the strangers into their homes and hearts. As his sermon finishes, we hear the speech of Neville Chamberlain and the declaration of war. As the air raid sirens sound, the so called "phoney war" is over and the real war begins in earnest as act one closes.