Thursday, 21 August 2014

HOW CANADA HELPED THOUSANDS OF BRITISH WW2 EVACUEES

Interviews with Second World War evacuees, together with surviving wartime records, show there were certain individuals and organisations that made a huge difference to the lives of these penniless evacuees, not just financially, but also emotionally. Amongst these were the Canadian Channel Islander Societies who helped thousands of British evacuees.

When news of the Channel Islands evacuation and occupation reached Channel Islanders living in the Vancouver area of Canada, a sense of shock swept through the community. They quickly realised that the evacuees, who had been sent to the British mainland, would need clothing, shoes, cash and medical supplies. The Channel Islands – Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Herm and Sark are 70 miles away from England but around 30 miles from the French coast.

Channel Island evacuee children in Stockport Town Hall receive toys donated by the local people




In June 1940, 17,000 children and adults left Guernsey, arriving in England with just the clothes on their backs. Whole schools were evacuated with their teachers, and some reopened in England during the war as 'Guernsey schools' so that the evacuated teachers and pupils could remain together. One school was financially supported by Americans, with one child being sponsored by the President's wife, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt. The only communication between England and Guernsey was through 25 word Red Cross letters.

Interviews with the evacuees, together with surviving wartime records, show there were certain individuals and organisations that made a huge difference to the lives of these penniless evacuees, not just financially, but also emotionally. Amongst these were the Canadian Channel Islander's Societies. When news of the Channel Islands evacuation and occupation reached the 500 Channel Islanders living in the Vancouver area, a sense of shock swept through the community. They quickly realised that the evacuees would need clothing, shoes, cash and medical supplies, and a writer, Philippe William Luce, formed the Vancouver Channel Islanders Society. A handful of their newsletters have survived, and the society noted at one meeting,

Thousands of old folks, women and children urgently need help, and every dollar counts. It costs about $1000 a week for shoe repairs and dental attention alone. Every letter from the kiddies to their parents in the Islands costs one shilling and families building homes in England need stoves, furniture, bedding etc”

Channel Island mothers, teachers and children arrive in Cheshire


The society's newsletters give details of the fund raising efforts they made. They sold Christmas cards and Jersey seed potatoes, and held raffles – with one prize being a prize Jersey calf which raised $3,000. Local people donated clothing, shoes, socks, quilts and books to the society, which were sent to Victory Hall, 535 Homer Street, Vancouver, for packaging on Thursday afternoons. The society organised lunches for which admission was $25 per person, together with musical evenings, concerts, film shows and picnics. In October 1941 the Vancouver Lion's Club donated all the proceeds of its annual charity concert to the society, which featured an appearance by Lansing Hatfield, a star of the New York Opera. By February 1942, the Vancouver society had sent $3,254 to London for the evacuees together with 119 crates of clothing, and letters of thanks began to arrive from Channel Island evacuees in England,

More and more letters of thanks are coming from the recipients; some exceedingly touching scribblings from little children”

Some of the Canadians who donated clothing to the society placed little notes in the pockets of coats and jackets. A Guernsey evacuee at the Forest School in Cheshire found the following  little note in the pocket of his coat,




“To the little boy who receives this parcel. Please write to me
at the above address and let me know how you like it. May
God Bless you, and keep you safe from harm. Sincerely yours,
Mrs C J Collett”


It is not known if the boy contacted Mrs Collett at the time.  Another society was established in Victoria,Vancouver Island, containing around 100 members. At their first meeting in August 1941, the committee decided to arrange a Channel Islands Arts and Crafts event, to arouse interest in the islands, and between 1941 and 1945, the Victoria society raised $4,992 for the evacuees. They used the Women's Institute rooms on Fort Street for the collection and packaging of clothing, before sending the crates to the Vancouver society, or directly to London.

It is not known exactly how many more Channel Islanders in Canada carried out this wonderful work, but their efforts clearly went a long way in helping hundreds of unfortunate evacuees in England who had been torn from their homes.


If anyone in Canada can help provide me with more information about the Canadian Channel Islanders societies, I would love to hear from you. 

I would also love to contact the family of Mrs C J Collett whose note is displayed in this article.

Please contact me by email at: whaleybridgewriter@gmail.com





Thursday, 7 August 2014

WORLD WAR ONE COMMEMORATIONS IN WHALEY BRIDGE, DERBYSHIRE

On Monday evening, my family and many others, of all ages, gathered around the war memorial in Whaley Bridge Memorial Park, with candles, for the 'Lights out' vigil, to mark the outbreak of the First World War, one hundred years ago.

It was very moving indeed, and after a period of silence, wartime songs were sung, poems and diary entries were read out, and a real sense of community filled the air. Clearly those who lost their lives during that conflict have not been forgotten and hopefully never will be.

Upon our return home that evening, my husband reached for a notepad and began to scribble the following poem. This is totally uncharacteristic of him. He has not written a poem since he left school quite a few years ago! Clearly the 'Lights Out' vigil moved him a great deal.

I like it very much and, with his tentative permission I have reproduced it below in case it is of interest to you.

They stood in the water
They stood in the mud
They stood in the gore
the filth and the blood

They fell in the water
They fell in the mud
They fell in the gore
in the filth and the blood

The mud it did claim them
Many never were found
Those that were buried
live forever in foreign ground

Though time it has passed
We remember them still
Killed by common men
who bore them no ill will

Sent to their deaths
by Kaiser and Kings
When will man learn
to stop doing these things?

PRAYER SERVICE HELD BEFORE THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME


Thursday, 17 July 2014


THE PRISONER OF WAR WHO HELPED THE GERMANS TO LOAD A PIG

I found a fantastic story in a one of the newsletters which was produced by Channel Island evacuees in Stockport, Cheshire, during the Second World War.

Born in Guernsey, Corporal Leslie Sarchet, R.E. joined up during the early days of the war. After training in England he ended up fighting in Tobruk where he was taken prisoner.

He was sent to an Italian prisoner of war camp at Ancona from which he managed to escape. He discarded his battle dress for civilian clothing and in 51 days he walked over 400 miles. During this time he met friendly rebels in the mountains who gave him food and helped him on his way. On one occasion he actually helped two German soldiers to load a pig into a cart! They mistook him for an Italian, as he spoke the language.

Bombed for two days by British planes, he managed with great difficulty to get through the German lines to reach the British. There he received a great welcome and plenty of food. Finally, the newsletter states that (in February 1944) Corporal Sarchet was spending some time on leave in England but was was keen to return overseas for more service.

The newsletter also contained a photograph of some of the Guernsey civilians who had been deported to a camp at Laufen. It included a letter written by Mr A J Sherwill who told his daughter “We are very full here with a large influx, but not from the Channel Islands. It is 11 November tomorrow (Armistice Day) and I have arrange to place lovely flowers on the graves in Laufen Cemetary. We will observe the two minutes silence by the gravesides. Our Christmas parcels arrived today. We are wonderfully well provided for by our fairy godmother, the British Red Cross.”





Monday, 30 June 2014

WELL DRESSING IN DERBYSHIRE COMMEMORATES CENTENARY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR

I took a photograph of this year's Well Dressing picture, in Whaley Bridge, which was unveiled on Saturday 28 June 2014. I think it is wonderful and thought I would share it on my blog.

As you can see (although I am not the best of photographers!) it has the Whaley Bridge memorial cross at its centre, surrounded by an aeroplane, soldiers in the trenches under fire, the regimental badge of the Sherwood Forresters, a field of poppies, and a horse.The members of the Well Dressing group spent countless hours delicately placing petals and leaves into clay to create this. It was a marvel to watch.

I hope you like it and I would be very happy to pass on any comments to my friend Rosemary, who created the design, and to the members of the Well Dressing Group.




Friday, 6 June 2014

Evacuee memories of D Day


Many British evacuees recall the build up to D Day, and their feelings on D Day itself. The following memoirs have been obtained through my interviews with evacuees or from the pages of wartime letters and diaries held in my archive.

Erica Ninnim:
I was born in Whitby, Yorkshire, in 1932, then my family moved to Guernsey. However, when the threat of German occupation of the Channel Islands arose, my family, with thousands of others, were evacuated to England. We went straight to Whitby where we had some relatives. My father immediately joined the RAF and was soon posted to Oxford, so we went with him. The day after we left Whitby, my school was bombed so I was very lucky indeed.

Father dealt with explosives and supervised the loading of bombs onto the aircraft which was very dangerous. On one occasion, a bomb fell out of the aeroplane as it was being loaded, and he told me “You have never seen so many people move so fast in all your life!” We then moved to Sutton Mandeville where father was involved in the preparations for D Day. One day he drove up to our house in a jeep, wearing battle dress and shouted “I have come to say goodbye! Would you like a ride in my jeep before I leave Erica?” I had a quick ride around with him then said goodbye to him as he left with the rest of the troops. Luckily my father survived the war.


Vernon Renier:
My school was evacuated to Lochearnhead, Scotland, which was extensively used for the training of Allied forces. We would meet all manner of different nationalities, such as Canadians, French, Norwegian and British. In the months leading up to D Day, the place was absolutely heaving with troops. Vehicle convoys would extend bumper to bumper, for seven miles either side of the loch, not to mention all the troops trains we saw passing through laden with ammunition and vehicles. At the time we did not know what it was all for, but the 6th June 1944 provided the answer. (Vernon is pictured below with his sister Jenny, before the evacuation)





John Fletcher, a resident of Bury:
I have spent the past four years collecting funds to buy Christmas gifts for the Channel Island evacuees who came to live in Bury in June 1940. They are so excited by the news of the D Day landings, and I am delighted for them too. Now they can look forward to being reunited with their parents in Guernsey.


Mr Percy Martel:
Along with several thousand other Guernsey evacuees, Mr Percy Martel was evacuated to Stockport, Cheshire in June 1940. This was just 9 days before Guernsey was occupied by Germany. Percy, a Headmaster, had brought 134 of his pupils, plus teachers and mothers with infants, to England with him. He obtained permission to re open his Guernsey school in a parish hall in Cheadle Hulme, Stockport. As the news of the D Day landings broke, Percy celebrated with the other evacuees, as the invasion gave them all hope that Guernsey would soon be liberated from German occupation:

News of the invasion of Normandy, after weeks of tensionand patient waiting, 
came as a universal thrill, tempered  by some degree of anxiety. To us all it
heralds the great day of liberation. (Below is a photograph of Percy's pupils and staff in Stockport)






Muriel Parsons, a young woman who had accompanied Percy's school to England, wrote in her diary:

D Day! At last, the day we have all waited for! We went mad of course, for an hour,

but afterwards, I, for one, had a good weep. What must the home folks in Guernsey feel like?



Some evacuees even wrote letters for their families, assuming that they would soon be able to post them to Guernsey. Prior to this their only contact had been through the occasional 25 word British Red Cross letter. Percy Martel wrote a long letter to Guernsey on D Day, a copy of which still remains within the pages of his diary. It includes the words:

Sincerest greetings and best wishes from the Staff, scholars, mothers and our
many friends in Cheadle Hulme. We are proud of your endurance and fortitude,
we are all fit and well and longing to see you all again!

However, Guernsey was not liberated until the day after VE Day, so these letters were not posted to Guernsey until mid May 1945

To find out more about British Red Cross letters, click here:

 I write books about the experiences of Second World War evacuees in Britain

You can read the start of my first book here free: 'Guernsey Evacuees' (History Press, 2012) 

My book of 100 Evacuation stories with family photographs 'Evacuees: Children's Lives on the WW2 Home Front' will be published in September 2014 by Pen and Sword Books, you can  preview some of the stories and photographs here:


I have also written a chapter on Evacuated Mothers for a book entitled 'The Home Front in Britain: Myths and Forgotten Experiences, 1914-2014. This will be published in November 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan. More information here: 





Friday, 30 May 2014

THIS WW1 POSTER SOUGHT FUNDS FOR SICK & WOUNDED HORSES

The RSPCA magazine 'Animal Life' recently featured this very moving wartime poster. Produced in August 1915 in The Times newspaper, it advertised the RSPCA's Fund for Sick and Wounded Horses and sought £20,000 to build more veterinary hospitals for injured horses.

As well as being a very moving poster, the detail and artwork is extraordinary:



You can also read an extract from the trench diary of a Derbyshire soldier, Thomas Beswick, here:

http://whaleybridgewriter.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/an-extract-from-world-war-one-diary-of.html


You can also take a look at my friend Julian's website which details the stories of First World War soldiers from Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire. It includes details of their lives, their war service and contains some wonderful family photographs. Work on this website is ongoing, so do revisit the site now and then to check on progress. If you have information that Julian might add to his website, please contact him via his site

http://whaleybridgefirstwar.co.uk/. 

                                      This injured soldier received a very special visitor - his horse



Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A NEW FLAG FLEW IN GUERNSEY DURING LIBERATION WEEK

A new Liberation flag flew on top of The Mast for the first time during this year’s (2014) Liberation Celebrations. I was fortunate enough to be visiting Guernsey on Thursday 8th May to see the flag being raised  (in the pouring rain) by Tony Browning from the Guernsey Sea Cadets. It remained on the Mast until Friday 16 May.



The new flag carries the slogan, “Remember and Celebrate” along with “The Day of Liberation” in Guernsey French. Deputy Mike O’Hara, Minister for Culture and Leisure said, “The dates for the new flag to fly are a significant part of Guernsey’s cultural history."

On 8th May 1945 War in Europe officially ended
On 9th May the German garrison in Guernsey surrendered on HMS Bulldog and the German garrison in Jersey surrenders on HMS Beagle

This was followed on 10th May by the Liberation of Sark, on 12th May the Liberation of Herm and finally on 16th May 1945, the Liberation of Alderney which fully ended German occupation of the Channel
Islands.

Deputy Mike O'Hara added “We feel these important dates are remembered by all future generations and by flying this flag during these dates, we hope that the significance of Liberation Celebrations will help be remembered forever.”


Find out more about the occupation and evacuation of Guernsey in 1940 here:
http://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/evacuation/