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The Evacuated Children of 1940 - an Editorial Review of "Treason"

Book Blurb:

A thrilling story of children in wartime

In the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of children were evacuated from British cities and sent to areas of the country where it was regarded that they would be safer from bombing.

This Government operation was named "Pied Piper". The first evacuations were in 1939 and the second wave in 1940, at the time of the Blitz.

Children went to stay with complete strangers, who had been deemed by the authorities to have spare space in their homes. The hosts were obliged to take the children. Many were unenthusiastic about having a young guest staying with them for an unspecified length of time and there were incidences of unkindness and even cruelty.

"Treason" is a story about two such city children. Judith is a twelve-year-old girl from London, an only child from a very privileged background. She finds herself billeted in a farm on the Isle of Wight. The farm is run by Mrs Orton, a widow, who lives with her twelve-year-old son, Jimmy, and her handicapped brother-in-law. They are joined by another evacuee guest, Alfie, an eleven-year-old boy from a working class family in Portsmouth.

Author Bio:

Michael Wills was born on the Isle of Wight, UK, and educated at the Priory Boys School and Carisbrooke Grammar School. He trained as a teacher at St Peter's College, Saltley, Birmingham, before working at a Secondary school in Kent for two years.

After re-training to become a teacher of English as a Foreign Language he worked in Sweden for thirteen years. During this period he wrote several English language teaching books. His teaching career has included time working in rural Sweden, a sojourn that first sparked his now enduring interest in Scandinavian history and culture - an interest that after many years of research, both academic and in the field, led him to write Finn's Fate and the sequel novel, Three Kings, One Throne.

It was on a visit to New York in 2012 that Michael developed an interest in the American War of Independence. Subsequent research in Canada and USA led him to write The Wessex Turncoat, a novel about the life of a common soldier in the British Army of 1777, an army charged by the British monarch to retain the 13 American colonies for Britain.

With a background in teaching he has always been interested in providing reading opportunities for children. With his in mind, Michael embarked on writing a quartet of Viking adventures for young readers. The series is called "Children of the Chieftain". The first book, "Betrayed", was published in June 2015 and was long listed for the Historical Novel Society Indie Literature Competition 2016. The second book, "Banished" was published in December 2015. Bounty in 2017 and Bound For Home in 2019.

At the request of young grandchildren, Michael wrote a Viking story for children aged 5 to 9. Sven and the Purse of Silver was published in 2019. The book won a winner's medal in the 2020 "Wishing Shelf Awards".

In 2021 Michael published a story called "Izar, The Amesbury Archer". It is based on the discovery of the skeleton of a man who lived 4,500 years ago. His grave and the items in it, together with clues about his life from the features of the skeleton inspired a tale about a man who died over a thousand miles from his birthplace even though he had a severe handicap.

Moving from the Stone Age to the Second World War, in 2022, the author published two children's books about young people who had been evacuated from big cities, to protect them from bombing. A boy and two girls swap city life for that of young farmers, but in so doing, they get involved in thrilling adventures.

Although a lot of his spare time is spent with grandchildren, he also has a wide range of interests including researching for future books, writing, playing the guitar, and electronics.

Editorial Review:

Treason by Michael Wills is specifically geared towards a pre-teen or young adult audience with the intention of providing useful historical background and information in an entertaining way.

Very early on in the book, you are introduced to several children, Judith Neville and Alfie Field, both coming from vastly different backgrounds but two of the 800,000 children packed onto trains in September 1939 and sent from London to live with strangers in the English countryside, far away from the bombings during WW2.

Known as Operation Pied Piper, millions of people, most of them children, were shipped to rural areas in Britain as well as overseas to Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The government evacuated almost 3 million people during the first four days of the operation, making it the biggest and most concentrated population movement in British history. This separation of children from their parents was extremely traumatic, the trauma lasting for years, and the author does a good job in showing the anxiety many children experienced, especially with the selection process by host families, some who ended up being less than ideal hosts.

Judith, from the outset, is a spoiled little rich girl whose only worry is if she will miss her riding lesson or if she can wear her cardigan her mother bought from Selfridges... and that the talk of her going on some kind of holiday is a mere inconvenience.

Alfie, on the other hand, a fighter who is suppose to take care of his sister on the journey, is separated from her and finds himself alone after all of the other children are chosen by families after arriving in the far off town of Ventnor. Finally, he ends up in the same house with Judith, who is placed with the Orton family consisting of a mom and her son, Jimmy, and wheel-chair bound uncle, and a strange farm hand named Merve.

Life at the Orton’s is quite different than either of them have ever known and they have to learn, especially Judith, the ins-and-outs of running a farm; not to mention, the challenge each of the children have in getting to know each other.

But the resilient children adapt quickly, and during the day to day activities, they form a bond while listening to the Children’s Hour each evening and riding horses near the beach. But one of their other pastimes leads to a mysterious occurrence while listening to Jimmy’s wireless in his room. Without a doubt, they hear the dots and dashes of morse code tapping out across the air waves. Not sure what it all means after translating the code, all three are pulled into a mystery right there near the Orten’s farm.

In addition to the suspicious code, Judith sees a flashing light out her window in the direction of Merve’s cottage and the guest house. Enter the sinister figure of Roisin O’Rourke, the older unmarried lady living in the guest house – a woman with a dark secret, and a war widow from the first world war.

The children team together to solve this mystery, and in true Hardy Boys style, their lives are on the line before solving this unexpected case. While their parents sought to send them away from the dangers in London, they unwittingly sent them straight into the German plan to invade Britain by occupying the Isle of Wight.

This is an easy story for children to learn about this tragic time in history, without hearing about the horrors of war, but still what children their own age had to endure during a time which changed everyone’s lives. Also, the author uses a clever technique of inserting ‘historical titbits’ into the storyline, sort of an educational snack for a young person to chew on while following what happens with these three children. And since the book is short in length, the narrative maintains the attention span of a youngster in an interesting way, using phrasing and words more in line with the target audience.


“Treason” by Michael E. Wills receives 4 stars from The Historical Fiction Company.


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