This page features quotes from real evacuees who spent all or part of the war years on the British mainland. As at September 2016, I have interviewed over 500 evacuees from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Gibraltar and the Channel Islands. These interviews have been incorporated into my Evacuation books which can be viewed on Amazon at:
Some time ago I was given a wartime report, written by Mr Rose, a Guernsey teacher, in Summer 1940. He and his pupils were evacuated to Lancashire. He wrote his report after visiting his pupils’ billets in Oldham, Lancashire. I have taken part of that report and retyped it, removing the names and addresses the for reasons of confidentiality. Sadly, some parts are upsetting, such as “Boy subject to terrifying nightmares. Goes to open window and shrieks.” Lest we forget!
THE POETRY OF EVACUATION
My interviews with Second World War evacuees reveal an interesting aspect that was important to them during the war – the writing of emotional poetry and songs.
One poem gave a detailed account of the total evacuation of the island of Alderney to Weymouth, just prior to the arrival of occupying German forces. The feelings of the Alderney people on board three evacuation ships are made clear in the final section of the poem:
As the ships speed through the foam,
One hundred and twenty minutes were given
For all to say ‘Yes or ‘No’
And the answer came unflinchingly,
“We’d rather leave all, and go.
Shall we stop and work for the Boche?
Grow food or farm for our foe?”
The Momentous Question was answered –
And the Northern Isle said – “NO!”
Peter Hopper, a Grimsby evacuee, described his fears as he waited to be chosen by a family in Skegness:
What had I been thinking in the park?
Will I be alone when it gets dark?
Some children are leaving, is it my turn?
To have a new mummy, I wish, I yearn.
At last, she’s here, can I take her hand?
Can we walk together and play with sand?
In a week I will know I am leaving her home
To be passed to another, I will not be alone.
“MY DAD DID NOT EVACUATE TO ENGLAND WITH US .. BECAUSE OF HIS HORSE….”
Between 20 and 28 June 1940, 17,000 Guernsey evacuees (almost half the population) fled to England, just prior to the Nazi occupation of their island. This included 5,000 school children who evacuated with their teachers, and thousands of men who joined the British Forces. Thousands of pets and farm animals were put to sleep during this time as the evacuees did not want their animals to starve to death.
Evacuee Muriel Parsons recalled chasing her cat, ‘Nippy’, around the house and garden so that her parents could take it to the vets. Another evacuee recalled he and his father taking their dog to the vets. Neither of these children realised that the animals were actually going to be destroyed. The boy told me “When we drove away from the vets office, my Father was in tears. It was not until years later that I understood why.” Mr Godfray recalled “My friend, who was coming on the boat with us to England, told me sadly “I am just going home to shoot my dog.”
When the evacuees had crossed the English Channel, they arrived in Weymouth where they were given a health check and registered. Mrs Gladys Merrien and her children decided to wait there for Mr Merrien to join them. Gladys’ daughter Beryl told me about their farm horse:
“Mum was waiting for our dad (Jack) who had promised that he would follow us to England
on the next ship. However when another boat-load of Guernsey evacuees arrived, a neighbour left the ship and saw us. She said that my Dad had decided to stay in Guernsey for the moment, to stick it out, and that he would get on a boat to England if things got
really bad. He said that he wanted to keep a close eye on our house and farm, but
the main reason was that, at the time, lots of evacuees were destroying their
animals before they left. Well, my Dad really loved our farm horse, Laddie, and he
was reluctant to leave Laddie as he would have to shoot him. So Mum decided we
should all get on the next train out of Weymouth. Dad did not manage to get away
from Guernsey before the Nazis occupied the island on 30th June. It was 15
months before we heard from Dad again through a 25 word Red Cross letter.”
A TERRIBLE DECISION FOR AN EVACUATED MOTHER
I interviewed Mrs Ruth Berry – now aged 104 – who was evacuated from Guernsey to Weymouth with her 3 young children in 1940. She told me that, during the journey she considered that the evacuation ship might be attacked and sunk on the Channel. She decided that, if this happened, she would save her two older children and let go of the baby as ‘the baby would not know anything about it’ What a decision to have to consider!
LISTEN TO MY INTERVIEW WITH CHICK HISTORY ABOUT MRS EVA LE PAGE AND HER JOURNEY
FROM GUERNSEY TO ENGLAND, AND HER LIFE THERE FOR FIVE LONG YEARS
THE WARTIME FOOD THAT REMINDED GUERNSEY EVACUEES, EXILED TO ENGLAND, OF HOME
It was important to the evacuees that some aspects of their own culture and identity were kept alive in England, in preparation for the return home to Guernsey. An important element of Guernsey’s culture was its food, and evacuees continued to use Guernsey recipes during the war. Such dishes included ‘Guernsey Gache’ – a yeast cake with dried fruit, ‘Gache Melee’, an apple cake, Thick Pea Soup, and Guernsey Cabbage Soup.
Ruth Alexandre wrote in her wartime diary, ‘Tonight I made Guernsey Bean Jar, and Guernsey Gache again.’ Evacuees remember their mother cooking Guernsey Soup, or ‘Bean Jar’, in England. Rose Short recalled ‘Mum used to make our dish from home, Guernsey Bean Jar. She slow cooked it in our oven. She also made us Gache Melee when we could get hold of enough apples’.
Guernsey Headmaster Percy Martel wrote in his school log book ‘If we had school dinners here at the Parish Hall, we could give the children a Guernsey Soup dinner to which they have always been accustomed, and which would mean so much to them.’ When he finally obtained permission to commence a school dinner scheme in 1941, the menus included Pea Soup and Guernsey Soup. He wanted to provide more Guernsey dishes, but rationing made this extremely difficult. The report of a Channel Islands Christmas tea party in 1942 stated that ‘the most attractive part of the tea for the Islanders was the cakes – the Guernsey Gache and Jersey Wonders’.
- Guernsey Bean Jar recipe (with thanks to Liz Walton)
You need roughly equal amounts of dried haricot and butter beans, a large onion and a piece of belly pork plus salt and pepper to taste. Soak the beans overnight then throw away the water. Cover the beans in water and bring to the boil – and again throw away the water. Tip the beans into a slow cooker on the low setting or a heavyweight casserole in a very slow oven, add the onion, roughly chopped and the sliced belly pork.
Add water to just cover and sprinkle with a little pepper. Leave to cook all day- 8-12 hours -stirring occasionally to help break it up and check it doesn’t stick. Before serving, remove the fatty bits of belly pork and season to taste. Serve in a bowl with fresh bread and Guernsey butter on the side.
The full story of the Guernsey Evacuation can be found in my book ‘Guernsey Evcuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War’
MY SECOND BOOK, WHICH CONTAINS 100 BRITISH EVACUATION STORIES (INCLUDING A HANDFUL FROM THE CHANNEL ISLANDS) WILL BE PUBLISHED ON 30 SEPTEMBER 30TH 2014 BY PEN AND SWORD BOOKS. PLEASE CLICK ON MY ‘BRITISH EVACUEES’ PAGE TO PREVIEW SOME OF THE STORIES AND FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS. https://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/britains-evacuees/