I am a social historian of the 1930s and 1940s and have published 3 history books, now writing 4th. I run a community group for evacuees who came from Guernsey to Northern England and did not return home. My books are at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gillian-Mawson/e/B008MWQ0IE/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1485954968&sr=1-1
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During the Second World War, many child evacuees were lucky enough to be invited to parties in their local communities. The image below shows Guernsey evacuees enjoying a Christmas meal in Cheadle Hulme, near Stockport, Cheshire.
The image below shows evacuees from Great Yarmouth enjoying their Christmas Party.
Evacuees from Portsmouth who had been evacuated to the Isle of Wight received a letter from the Mayor of Portsmouth – the letter below was provided by George Osborn – his sister received a letter but George did not – see his comment below.
I originally wrote this piece in 2012 but due to the recent death of many of the mothers that I interviewed, I have decided to share their stories once again. Since 2010 I have also interviewed evacuated mothers and teachers from the British mainland, in order to to preserve and share their stories. I have included stories from evacuated mothers (from the Channel Islands, England, Wales and Scotland) in my new book ‘Britain’s Evacuees’ which was published in December 2016. amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1848324413?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creativeASIN=1848324413&linkCode=xm2&tag=guerevacoralh-21… … …
“Since 2008 I have been interviewing evacuees who left Guernsey between 20 and 28 June 1940, just prior to the German occupation of their island for five years. 17,000 evacuees left the island that month (almost half the population). The first to leave were 5,000 children who were evacuated with their school teachers, leaving their parents behind. Hundreds of mothers also left with their infants, together with a number of families, which often contained an English-born parent. Thousands of men also left to join the British forces at Weymouth. The evacuees expected to be in England for a few weeks, but due to the German occupation of their island on 30th June 1940, this turned into five years of family separation.
I spent a great deal of time interviewing surviving women evacuees – now in their 90’s – who left Guernsey in June 1940 and settled in northern England. Some travelled as ‘helpers’ with the evacuated Guernsey schools, whilst others left Guernsey with their own infants to take them to safety. Many of their husbands joined the forces, whilst others remained in Guernsey to protect their homes and businesses in the event of German invasion. The stories of evacuee children are frequently heard, but less attention has been focused on the women evacuated within Britain during WW2. Even during the war, evacuee women were rarely interviewed by reporters, and usually stood in the background, or out of shot, when groups of child evacuees were photographed.
Their personal stories are filled with emotion and courage. Most had never left their island before and they arrived in the unfamiliar landscape of Northern England, practically penniless and with very few possessions. Mrs Eva Le Page, for example, left Guernsey with just the clothes she was wearing, her infant son, and a bag containing baby clothes and feeding bottles. Winnie Digard was pregnant when she boarded a ship with her young children, and recalled;
Whilst I was waiting for the bus to take us down to the ship, my baby quickened, and I fainted. Someone tied a ribbon around my arm to let people know that I was expecting. My suitcase was full and heavy with clothing for my children and a layette that my Mother had bought for the new baby to wear when it was born.
The evacuees arrived at Weymouth where they were bundled onto steam trains – the first they had ever seen – and sent to the industrial areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire. Few evacuees were given any idea of their final destinations, despite the efforts of the women and teachers to obtain information. Beryl Merrien recalled:
‘We had no idea where we were going. All the stations had their names removed so we kept calling out of the window ‘where are we?’ but no one on the platform would tell us’.
The sight of industrial towns was a shock to these rural women, who recall their first glimpses of smoking chimneys, double-decker buses, terraced houses and factories.
One arrived in Oldham and saw ‘tripe in a butchers window, but the clogs and shawls and mills were very unfamiliar and different. The people were very friendly but everywhere seemed so noisy after living on a quiet island‘. Some women also endured prejudice from people who had no idea that the islanders were actually British.
Winifred West recalls being approached by French interpreters, ‘They didn’t think we could speak English! Another person said ‘We thought you’d all be in grass skirts’ and that upset us all, I can tell you!’.
Ruth Alexandre wrote in her diary ‘I told the girls at the Co-Op that we were from Guernsey, and was surprised to hear them say “Fancy! And you speak perfect English too!‘.
Agnes Scott recalls moving into an empty house in Manchester;
Word must have got around, because our new neighbours knocked at the door with all kinds of household equipment which were most useful, as we had nothing. A coal man came with two bags of coal ‘With compliments from Mr and Mrs Milligan’, they were an elderly couple, who lived across the road. I will never forget the so many kindnesses we received.
Many of the women aided the British war effort by working in factories, producing aircraft, weapons and clothing for the forces. They also endured the bombing raids along with their neighbours and some did not survive. After the war, some of the women decided not to return to Guernsey at all, but to remain in the English communities in which they had settled. Some of those who did return home to Guernsey in 1945 found it very difficult to re-adjust to life on a small island. Others encountered difficulty bonding with their husbands after five years apart. One wife returned home to discover that her husband had formed a relationship with another woman and no longer wanted his wife and children in his home.
I have also been given access to wartime diaries, Red Cross letters and photographs from mothers who are sadly no longer with us. Many contain notes, poems, photographs and newspaper cuttings between their pages, which paint a picture of the lives that these women created for themselves in England between 1940 and 1945.
My Second World War publications can be found here:
I contributed a chapter entitled ‘Guernsey Mothers: The Forgotten Evacuees’ which appears in the book ‘The Home Front in Britain: Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences 1914-2014’ (Palgrave MacMillan, November 2014)
You can also view an Evacuated Mother’s diary online here on my blog:
In May 1945, countless evacuees prepared to return to their own families. Yet many children had come to truly love their wartime ‘foster families’ and did not want to leave. Having had little contact with their own parents during the war, they now viewed them as ‘strangers.’ Others had become accustomed to the new environment with many urban children living in the country.A study of newspaper reports from 1945 reveals countless scenes at railway stations where child evacuees clung to their foster parents, clearly unwilling to leave them to return to parents they had not seen for over 5 years. Many had also come accustomed to their new environment and made firm friends during the war.
Rita Roberts told me, “As an evacuee living in the country, I did not want to go back home to the town life.”
One Cheshire man told me, ‘Our neighbours had cared for a little girl from Guernsey during the war. After five years, the day came for her to return home, but she had completely forgotten what her parents looked like and really loved her wartime parents, brothers and sisters. On the day she had to go home, she was actually dragged out of their house, kicking and screaming. It was very distressing for everyone concerned.”
LILY DWYER told me:
“Memories of my home and family faded, then one day, my wartime foster mother, Mrs Bee, came to me and said, ‘Your Mummy is coming to collect you.’ Mrs Bee had just bought me a bicycle and I went into the garden, got on the bike and rode round and round, I wanted to scream because I was leaving Mrs Bee and going back home.
Mum collected me and I wanted to scream as it happened. Mum was expecting her fifth child and I think she needed me to help with the younger children. I hated leaving Mr and Mrs Bee and their daughter, Mary. Mum took a large suitcase away with us so I assume that the lovely clothes that Mrs Bee had made for me were in there. I never saw those clothes again, perhaps Mum had to sell them because she was so hard up?
I was back to poverty and the house I had left in 1939 had been bombed out so we had moved into a place over a fish shop. I didn’t remember my sisters either. The first night I got home I had to get into bed with two sisters in ONE bed who I didn’t know at all. One of them was crying, saying ‘This girl is kicking me!’ – as she didn’t know me either. I became a sort of housekeeper for Mum.
RICHARD SINGLETON was evacuated from Liverpool to Wales where he truly grew to love Mrs Liz Morgan and Mr Moses Morgan who cared for him in a very loving way. Richard did not want to leave his new ‘auntie and uncle’ when the war ended. He was very emotional when he told me his wartime story three years ago:
The photograph below shows Auntie Liz (on the right), with Richard standing at the front of the photograph – together with two members of his own family during a rare wartime visit.
“I will never forget the day my mother suddenly arrived at my Welsh billet. She had come to take me and my brother, Ron, home to Liverpool but we had been happily living with Aunty Liz for 4 years by this time.
I told her I didn’t want to go home. Ron, Aunty Liz and I were crying, so in the end Mum just took Ron and said she would be back for me. I was still crying when Ron left, and I really missed him.
When Mam came to visit again it was just like the last for me, crying and not wanting to go. Aunty gave me a pen and pencil set, plus the New Testament that she had given me when we first arrived. Mam wanted me home because I was coming to the age of leaving school, fourteen, so I could go out to work and earn money.
I cannot remember leaving Auntie Liz – I was too upset to think of leaving Tancwarel and never seeing Aunty Liz and Uncle Moses and everything that I loved on the farm. I was being taken somewhere that I never wanted to go!”
My third book, Britain’s Wartime Evacuees, is published on 30 November 2016 by Frontline Books. It contains testimony, wartime photographs and documents from around 500 child and adult evacuees who spent the war years in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Testimony is also included from evacuees who were sent to the British mainland from The Channel Islands and Gibraltar. This blog will be updated in Summer 2016 with more information about the book’s contents. My books can be found at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gillian-Mawson/e/B008MWQ0IE/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1434899867&sr=8-1
I am so proud to have taken part in a podcast project by ‘Discover Buxton’ heritage group in sharing a truly wonderful story of kindness to evacuees and refugees arriving in Buxton. You can listen to the podcast ‘Buxton, A Place of Hope’ and view some wartime evacuee images at this link:
To find out more about the Channel Island evacuees’ lives in England and Scotland, see my latest book ‘Britain’s Wartime Evacuees’ – see below and click:
A VERY REVEALING WARTIME BILLETING REPORT
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!
Lovely piece in the Lowestoft Journal about my new book:-
Some sad news… and some good news – November 2016
This past week has brought some very sad news but also, thankfully, some good news about the Second World War evacuees I have interviewed – and those who cared for them during the war.
I am very sorry to report that the lovely Mrs Ruth Harrison has passed away. She and her parents cared for Win De La Mare, an evacuee child from Guernsey, between 1940 and 1945 in Stockport. Ruth and Win practically became sisters during the war and were heartbroken when Win had to return to her parents in Guernsey in 1945. However they remained in constant touch through letters and visits across the Channel. (Win told me that she never really settled into Guernsey life after the war.) Below is a photograph of Ruth and Win, in England, which I took a few years ago. Also pictured are Ruth’s son, Phil, and Win’s Guernsey friend, Rose, who was also evacuated to Stockport in 1940. Rest in Peace Ruth. You will be missed by all who knew and loved you.
Thankfully I have some pleasant news to report. Evacuee mother, Mrs Ruth Berry, who was evacuated from Guernsey to St Helens in 1940, will celebrate her 107th birthday on Saturday 19 November. The photograph below was taken at her 105th birthday party in 2014.
Check out my recent article on the emotional wartime letters sent by child evacuees to their parents – and still treasured by their families: click the link below
My third book, ‘Evacuation in the Second World War told through Newspaper reports, Official documents and the Accounts of those who were there’ will be published on 30 November 2016 by Frontline Books. It contains testimony, wartime photographs and documents from hundreds of British evacuees who spent the war years in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Testimony is also included from evacuees who were sent to the British mainland from The Channel Islands and Gibraltar. The chapters cover themes such as: Plans for Evacuation, The Parents’ Decision, Finding Homes for evacuees, Wartime Letters Home, Evacuated adults and teachers, The kindness of strangers, The return home and the Aftermath of evacuation. The tragic aspect of evacuation is also covered, such as children who suffered at the hands of their foster parents or died within days of being evacuated to supposedly ‘safe areas.’
READ AN EXTRACT FROM THE 1940 DIARY OF AN EVACUATED MOTHER, AFTER A DISAGREEMENT WITH A LADY FROM THE WOMEN’S VOLUNTARY SERVICE (WVS)
“I was so upset yesterday. So far we have had such wonderful dealings with the local WVS ladies – they have been kindness itself and so very understanding of our position. However a woman from the WVS Head Office in Manchester called round to our home yesterday. She said that she was checking evacuees’ homes to ensure that we had everything we needed, but then started criticising the way that Mrs Batisse and I were looking after our children and the way we had organised our home. She then primly stated “I don’t agree that you should both be going out to work and leaving the children”. We explained that we needed the money and that one of us was always with the children when the other was working. She wrote some notes on her clipboard and said primly “Well I have said my piece, I will leave you now to think about what I have said”, to which I replied “And we have said our piece, so thank you and goodbye!” She looked quite shocked and left. She was a very ‘well to do’ woman so I expect she thought we were rather below her in ‘class’ and wanted to put us in our place. If she calls again, Mrs Batisse and I will not allow her over the threshold!”
CAN YOU HELP ME TO FIND THE EVACUEE TWINS???
I have received a photograph dated AUGUST 1939 shown below. It was taken when London school children took part in an ‘Evacuation Practice’ just a few days before millions of children were actually evacuated. It includes young twin boys with curly blonde hair, at the back of the group. I would like to find them and I have a little information about them from the back of the photograph.
They were possibly born in the Bermondsey district of London and their names were George and Albert Davies. Their nickname was ‘The Coronation Twins’ because they were born on the day that King George 6th was crowned.
If you recognise them or have any suggestions that could help me, please contact me via the comments box below. Please share this blog post too, if you can.
You can read some of the stories from my Second book of 100 Evacuation Stories here:
I just wanted to advise that on Saturday 10 October 2015 (1030am to 12.30pm) there will be a little evacuee get together at St Marys Church in Stockport. (on Churchgate, next to the Market Place)
This event is for ANYONE AT ALL who was evacuated during the war so that they can share their stories, photos and letters with other evacuees. ALSO invited are those whose families cared for wartime evacuees.
Please share this message with friends and relatives. The church cafe is open all morning in any case, so it will all be very informal.
Parking is sometimes difficult as it is market day so it is best if elderly people arriving by car are dropped off at the small car park next to the church. They can then walk along the accessible path into the church. Parking then can take place in the much larger car park lower down the hill, just below the church, on Newbridge Lane. Go to this link to see a map of the church and car park
There is also a free bus, the number 300, which leaves Stockport bus statoin and rail station every 15 mins or so, which stops outside St Marys. Please do share this message if you can. Thank you very much.
To mark the 70th Anniversary of the August 1945 ‘Return home’ of thousands of Channel Island Evacuees from Stockport, there will be a Service of Commemoration and ‘Evacuee Get-together’ on 23 August 2015. We extend a welcome to anyone who was evacuated during the Second World War. and readers of this post are warmly invited to attend and to bring family and friends.
The event takes place at St Mary’s Parish Church, Churchgate, Stockport, SK1 1YG – on Sunday 23 August 2015 at 10.30am. There will be coffee and biscuits available after the service, so that attendees can sit down and chat, and share their wartime experiences. Children can learn about evacuation directly from those involved.
Channel Island evacuees (who did not return home) and who are living throughout Greater Manchester are attending. People who knew them during the war will also be attending. Some evacuees will be flying over from Guernsey to attend on the day. Mayors from Stockport, Oldham, East Cheshire and High Peak are attending as their boroughs took in Channel Island evacuees during the war. Guernsey’s Minister for Culture and Leisure, Deputy Mike O’Hara, is also attending the event. There will also be a small exhibition on Channel Islands Evacuation in the church.
There is a very small pay and display car park next to the church, and a larger one two minutes drive away on Newbridge Lane. It is suggested that those with mobility issues are dropped off at the side of the small car park where they can walk along a flat, accessible path straight into the church. Please click here to see map showing location of St Mary’s Church and the Newbridge Lane Pay and Display car park.