In May 1940 the threat to the United Kingdom from German air attacks grew and the possibility of invasion heightened, leading to spontaneous offers of hospitality and refuge for British children from overseas governments. These began with Canada on 31 May, where the government forwarded offers from private households to the United Kingdom government. In a few days similar offers were received from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.
To co-ordinate the British response to these offers, an interdepartmental committee was established, chaired by the Parliamentary under-secretary of State for the Dominions, Geoffrey Shakespeare, and including representatives from the Ministries of Health, Labour, and Pensions, the Dominions, Home, Foreign and Scottish Offices, the Treasury and the Board of Education.
The committee established a Children's Overseas Reception Board. Its terms of reference were:- 'To consider offers from overseas to house and care for children, whether accompanied, from the European war zone, residing in Great Britain, including children orphaned by the war and to make recommendations thereon'.
An Advisory Council consisting of representatives of various societies interested in migration and Youth Organisations was also appointed by the Chairman of the Board to advise him on the various aspects of selection, welfare and reception overseas.
A special Board for Scotland with its own Advisory Council was also set up. It followed the policy laid down by the Board in London, and a Scottish Liaison Officer was appointed to keep the Scottish Board informed of the daily decisions and progress.
The Boards dealt with applications for settlement (both for British children and those resettled in Britain from occupied Europe, North Africa and Asia), sorting, selecting and approving the children, contacting the parents, arranging parties at the ports, and seeing them off, and also corresponding with the Dominions authorities about reception and care overseas and the eventual return of the children after the war.
The boards, and their advisory councils, were disbanded in 1944 once the perceived threat from German aggression had diminished.