Since 2008 I have interviewed around 300 Guernsey evacuees about their wartime experiences and many confirmed that regular church worship sustained them through the dark days of the war.
In June 1940, over 17,000 people fled Guernsey to England, just days before Germany occupied the Channel Islands. Whole Guernsey schools were evacuated with teachers and mothers who acted as helpers and most of the evacuees were sent to northern England. My interviews with hundreds of evacuees show that their faith provided great comfort during the war.
Mr Reta Batiste wrote: “It was not long before we found a place where we were not ‘strangers in a strange land’ – the local Methodist church.” The Reverend George Whiteley had been Superintendent of the Guernsey Methodist Circuit, and in England he was appointed to assist the evacuees from a church office in Westminster. In one month he visited evacuees in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Oldham and Croydon. In Derbyshire, he advised the boys of Guernsey’s Elizabeth College, “Remember that the Channel Islanders will be judged in this country by their behaviour. You must not let the islands down.” At Tiviot Dale Church in Stockport, the Revd Mark Lund became the evacuees’ chaplain for the whole war. So close was their relationship, that when many of the evacuees returned to Guernsey in 1945, he decided to go with them.
Special church services were arranged for the evacuees and in one month alone, services were held in Horsforth, St Helens, Stockport, Barnsley and Halifax. In January 1943 hundreds flocked to a service at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, which was led by the Archbishop of York. The hymns were particularly relevant to the plight of the evacuees’ families in occupied Guernsey. One stated ‘Keep our loved ones, now far distant, Neath thy care.” Thousands attended a service at Westminster Abbey in April 1944. The Dean of Westminster told the crowd “It was a day of tragedy indeed, not only for you, but also for England when the Germans landed and took possession of your towns and villages. Your islands are the oldest possession of the British Crown. By your spirit of indomitable hope, you have made a real contribution to our national morale. May God hasten the day when you shall return to your homes.”
Evacuated Catholic schools organised their own private services. Paulette Le Mescam was evacuated with her school to Moseley Hall, Knutsford where each pupil was financially supported by an American through the Foster Parent Plan for War Children. Paulette was supported by the wife of the American President, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt and they exchanged letters. Paulette told Mrs Roosevelt, “Here we have Mass every morning, and Holy Communion whenever we want it.”
When the boys of Guernsey’s Elizabeth College moved into Whitehall, near Buxton, they discovered a neglected chapel, which they quickly renovated. The college principal wrote, ‘This chapel has become a vital centre for the whole communal life. One of the boys made a simple wooden cross for the altar. Each day until the end of the war we had prayers, and a service each Sunday.”
To this day, the college proudly displays the wooden cross in the entrance hall in Guernsey.
The Parish Church in Disley still flies the Guernsey flag around 9 May each year (Liberation Day in Guernsey) to pay tribute to the Guernsey children the village cared for during the war.
Find out more about the Guernsey evacuation and my British evacuation books by clicking the following link: