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/

Monday, 12 May 2014

THE WRITER'S BLOG TOUR - IT IS MY TURN!

I was very pleased to be invited to join the Writer’s Blog Tour recently by my Twitter friend Marc Mordey at http://themarcistagenda.wordpress.com/
I hope you’ll enjoy your visit, and will go on to sample the blogs of other writers, highlighted below. We are part of a growing international community of writers, working to introduce each other’s blog to a wider audience. Christine Findlay, Chair of Bookmark Blair, (Blairgowrie Rattray and The Glens Book Festival) in Perthshire, Scotland, invited us to take part. (see www.cfindlay.blogspot.com).

Marc Mordey invited the writers Helen Carey http://helencareybooks.wordpress.com, Stewart Bartlam http://helencareybooks.wordpress.com and myself, Gillian Mawson, http://whaleybridgewriter.blogspot.co.uk/ to follow him on the tour.


So, now it’s my turn and there are 4 questions for me to answer :

1. What am I working on?
I have just completed the text and images for a new book 'Evacuees: Children's Lives on the WW2 Home Front' (Pen and Sword, September 2014). It contains the personal stories of 100 evacuees - not just children but from mothers and teachers who accompanied them - who spent the war in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I also include evacuees from the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, France, Spain, the Ukraine and Belgium. You can read extracts from the stories, and see wartime photographs, here: 100 EVACUATION STORIES FROM THE SECOND WORLD WAR 
 
My previous book, 'Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War' (History Press) told the overlooked true story of 17,000 evacuees who fled Guernsey to England in June 1940, just days before it was occupied by Germany for five years - see :GUERNSEY EVACUEES: AN OVERLOOKED STORY


2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That is a difficult question to answer as others write about Second World War evacuation. I can only say that I have a real passion for interviewing evacuees to find out what their experiences were during the war. I feel truly honoured to listen to their stories and admire their resilience during such a difficult time in our history. I love sharing their stories, wartime photographs and documents with the public via books, talks, newspapers and my blogs. I also reunite evacuees with wartime friends, create workshops for schools, organise public events and create displays for museums. Due to the advanced age of Second World War evacuees, it is vital that their stories are recorded now before it is too late. 

At my most recent event, evacuee Mary Luxton showed children this teddy bear which she took with her,  from Guernsey  to England,  in June 1940 (See more about this event in the following blog)

3. Why do I write what I do?
I think I have partly answered this question in the one above. I began to interview evacuees in 2008 and have not stopped since! The total interviewed to date is 450 from all over Britain and Europe. I continue to interview an evacuee every week or two, and to search through archives for related wartime documents. I have ideas for several more evacuation books.


4. How does my writing process work?
I usually begin with interviews, then examine wartime archives in the area in which the evacuee was billeted. Once I have gathered enough interviews, photographs and archive material together, I sit down to work out the format of the book, then proceed to write. For my first book, 'Guernsey Evacuees', I was able to write during the day, so would sit at my desk from 10am to 5pm every weekday, constructing chapters. My new book 'Evacuees' was constructed differently. I have a part time job and care for an elderly relative, so fitted the work in whenever I had some spare time. 

In 1939, Dr Maxwell sent this letter from Lancashire to Germany, promising that he would care for Dr Plessner's refugee son, Wolfgang
 
And finally, I want to introduce you to 3 friends whose work is wonderful – please visit their blogs to find out more. These talented folks will be offering their answers to the same 4 questions on Monday 26 May. And anything you can do to help us all share our words and ideas through your own networks would be much appreciated. Thank you

Anne Allen:
Anne Allen lives in Devon, by her beloved sea. Her restless spirit has meant a number of moves, which included Guernsey, where she lived for nearly fourteen years after falling in love with the island. She contrived to leave one son behind to ensure a valid reason for frequent returns. By profession Anne is a psychotherapist, but recently took up her pen to write novels, set on Guernsey. Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother are published and a third is incubating


Rita Roberts:
At the beginning of World War 2, Rita was evacuated from her school in Birmingham, England. She remembers being frightened and terrified, having to wear a gas mask and not knowing where she was going. However, she was billeted with a good family who treated her well – she was one of the lucky evacuees. She was given nice clothes to wear and treated to a holiday once a year. The lady was understanding but strict. Rita became an archaeologist later in life and has written her autobiography, 'Toffee Apples & Togas'. She is now studying the Minoan linear B ancient Language. BLOG: http://ritaroberts.wordpress.com/


Michelle Higgs:
Based in the West Midlands, Michelle is a freelance writer and author specialising in history and heritage. She is the author of seven social history books, most of which are about the Victorian era. As a writer, she is always keen to root out the seemingly insignificant details which help to bring history to life. Her latest book A Visitor’s Guide to Victorian England (Pen & Sword) was published in February. BLOG: http://visitvictorianengland.blogspot.co.uk/ and www.michellehiggs.co.uk





Sunday, 11 May 2014

See the toys taken to England by Guernsey evacuees in June 1940

I have just returned from a wonderful visit to Guernsey during their Liberation Week. Their Liberation Day is on the 9th of May and next year, 2015, will mark 70 years of Liberation from German occupation (and 75 years since the Evacuation of the island).

On Wednesday 7th May 2014 I organised a special Evacuation event in the Tourist Information Centre's gallery. We displayed some of the actual items that Guernsey’s evacuees took with them to England when they fled their island in June 1940.  The children were only supposed to take essential clothing with them on the evacuation ships, due to lack of space. However,  many managed to get a favourite toy into their small suitcase, bag, basket or pillowcase. The photograph below was taken in June 1940 as some of the Guernsey children, teachers and mothers arrived in England. It clearly shows how little they were able to carry

Photograph reproduced courtesy of the Bolton News (click to enlarge)
                                     
I was able to find a number of evacuees who still possess toys, and other items, which they took with them to England in June 1940.  Some of the evacuees live in Guernsey, others live in northern England (many did not return to Guernsey in 1945.)  These precious items were displayed at my Evacuee event, and Guernsey residents and visitors were invited to view them and to gently handle them.

(click to enlarge the photograph)


We had a large number of visitors, of all ages, including Guernsey residents and visitors to the island.   Children were encouraged to choose their favourite items and some were photographed with their chosen toy. Above are some of the items that were brought along on the day by evacuees:  a school cap and scarf, tiny evacuation suitcase, gas mask, 'Peter Pan' book, ration book, wooden toy soldiers, cigarette cards, wooden toy car, two dolls and a little dress. We also had a teddy bear, family photographs, another evacuation suitcase, a pencil case and evacuee's identity labels.

Some of the Guernsey Evacuees at the event, alongside my display of the Evacuation story


Mary Luxton with her teddy bear 'Nelson'
Julia Madden chose this doll



This child was rather unwilling to part with Joan Ozanne's wartime doll
                           
This little boy could not decide on an item for some time



Hazel Gould (nee Hall) with her 1940 suitcase












This boy chose a hand made wooden toy car

Joan Ozanne and John Helyer shared their wartime stories


 The children and their parents also had an opportunity to speak directly to the evacuees who had brought these precious items to the event.


I provided displays on the walls of the gallery which told the evacuation story in great detail. This included wartime photographs, newspaper articles, archive documents and Red Cross letters


Erica Ninnim (evacuated to Whitby during the war) could not attend the event but I visited her home, later, to photograph her with 81 year old toy rabbit Wilfie:
Erica with Wilfie (Wilfred) the 81 year old toy rabbit

More of the photographs that I took at my event will be uploaded onto http://www.guernseyliberationday.com  during May 2014.

You can find out more about the Guernsey Evacuees on my blog at:
http://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/evacuation/

I would be glad to receive your comments at the foot of this page, or via my Guernsey blog above.

My thanks to Guernsey's Liberation Committee for providing the event facilities at the Tourist Information Centre.