Thursday, 21 August 2014


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 via the comments box at the foot of this page. 


Thursday, 7 August 2014


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?


Thursday, 17 July 2014


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


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

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


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:

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 

                                      This injured soldier received a very special visitor - his horse

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


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

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:

Monday, 12 May 2014


I was very pleased to be invited to join the Writer’s Blog Tour recently by my Twitter friend Marc Mordey at
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

Marc Mordey invited the writers Helen Carey, Stewart Bartlam and myself, Gillian Mawson, 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:

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: and

Sunday, 11 May 2014

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

I  recently returned from a wonderful visit to Guernsey during their Liberation Week. Their Liberation Day is on the 9th of May and 2015 marks 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  during May 2014.

You can find out more about the Guernsey Evacuees on my blog at:

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.

Today, Whaley Bridge's War Memorial was Re-Dedicated

Today, members of my family and many others from our village, of all ages, attended a service to re-dedicate our War Memorial in Whaley Bridge Memorial Park.

 The rain poured heavily throughout the service, but we heartily sang 'Onward Christian Soldiers' and 'Jerusalem'. The downpour ceased momentarily when The Last Post was sounded. It was a very emotional service for all.

Friday, 2 May 2014


Today I re-read the evacuation account of child evacuee Margaret Le Poidevin who arrived in Stockport, Cheshire, from Guernsey, with her mother, in June 1940.

I was starkly reminded of the plight of many of the Channel Island mothers who, when they were released from the Evacuee reception centres,  discovered that they were not allowed to rent property unless their husbands were in the Forces.

As a result, many of the mothers whose husbands were trapped in occupied Guernsey shared houses with Guernsey mothers whose husbands were in the Forces. In one Stockport house, four mothers, with two or more children each, were crammed into a four bedroomed house for several years.

Margaret Le Poidevin and her mother shared a home (an empty corner shop building) with Mrs Tippett and her children. Their home is shown below.

In addition, some mothers were told by local officials "You cannot possibly care for your children on your own, without your husband. You should consider letting them live with local families until the war ends." To mothers who had left their homes and possessions behind in Guernsey, this really was the last straw.They refused to hand their children over. They were all that they had left!

You can find out more about this evacuee ‘homesharing’ in my ‘Diary of an Evacuee’ page on my Guernsey Evacuation website:-

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


December 1914, in the trenches, France

It was Christmas and we were shouting across to the Germans, no firing that day. We were given whale oil to rub our feet to stop frost bite, then we got a week's rest as a battle was in the offing. We were not allowed to smoke or to make any noise, and lived on biscuit and bully beef, nobody was to know we were there. When we left there, we were put onto some big buses to go a long way. They were old buses open at the top and we expected them to turn over any minute, they came from London.

The next trenches were a lot better built and very close to the Germans – we could hear them talking. It was very safe as both sides were afraid of hitting their own soldiers. Up there were some locks and a river … the boys went bathing, it was ten feet deep. I could not swim and they threw me in, I never went near it again. There was nowhere to sleep and we made holes inside the trench bottom. After digging for two hours we made room for three to sleep in. Up came a boy and he jumped in, saying 'this is my place'. All the other lads jumped on top of him and it fell in. We were half an hour getting him out, he was almost gone.

             The Sherwood Forresters Military Band in Ashbourne, Derbyshire

Thomas Beswick was born in Flagg, Derbyshire in 1894.
This diary extract is reproduced courtesy of the Beswick family.

All of my history books can be viewed here:

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Friday, 28 March 2014


Today I would like to share an item with you which I received from Bury Library in Lancashire (@BuryLibrary on twitter)

It is an extract from a letter received from a Burnley man who was serving in the First World War trenches. 

He had previously written home to ask for a piece of salmon to be sent to him.  The salmon arrived some weeks later and led to the writing of this letter. Enjoy!

Friday, 21 March 2014


This poem was written by Joan Ozanne, a child evacuee who fled Guernsey to England in June 1940. When Germany invaded Guernsey a week later, Joan lived in London for five years, amongst the terrors of the Blitz. In Summer 1945 she returned to Guernsey where she still resides. I love the poem so much that I placed it at the front of my book 'Guernsey Evacuees':

My childhood was left inside.
when I closed my bedroom door.
In the hall, distraught, father waits, mother weeps.
The dog unaware, wags his tail
and licks the tears from my face.

Reluctantly we speed to the harbour.
The smell of tobacco smoke on
father’s jacket will remain with me.
On the ship we say goodbye, perhaps forever.
I feel empty like a shell

You can read the first part of 'Guernsey Evacuees; The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War' for free at this Amazon link - just click on the book's cover:

Update: June 2014: I am completing a book of 100 British evacuation stories, with wartime family photographs, to be published in September 2014 by Pen and Sword Books.  All of the evacuees featured spent all or part of the war on the British mainland.
To find out more and preview some of the stories and wartime photographs, see:

Friday, 14 March 2014



In November 2011, I interviewed a lovely lady, Violet Hatton, in Guernsey.  In June 1940, she was evacuated from Guernsey with her sisters, mother and her 6 month old son, Brian. She left her husband Elijah behind. Violet really enjoyed sharing her family story with me. She is the oldest evacuee that I have interviewed as she was 99 years old at the time. It was a fascinating interview and segments of her story feature in my book 'Guernsey Evacuees'. Violet celebrates her 101st birthday tomorrow, March 15th 2014. Below is a recent photograph of Violet and Brian.

Violet had very strong memories of her arrival at Weymouth in June 1940 and told me, “There were French interpreters there, who thought we spoke a foreign language and wore grass skirts! One of them even showed us how to use an electric light! They said 'Do you know about electricity?' We told them we were British citizens and that we had everything in the Channel Islands.”

Violet and her relatives were sent by steam train (they had never seen one before) to Stockport in Cheshire where they were welcomed by the locals. “We liked Stockport, everyone was so friendly and kind. Brian and I eventually moved in with a Mrs Bowler on Ash Grove. She could not do enough for us and all the ladies on our street gave us bedding, furniture and clothing – we had arrived with nothing you see, we had to leave all our possessions behind.”

Violet was very surprised when one day, her husband Elijah turned up at the door. He had left Guernsey a few days after Violet and somehow managed to trace her in Stockport. She told me “He had tickets for Guernsey in his hand, and I told him “We can't go back to Guernsey my dear, it has just been occupied by the Germans!” It was such a shock for him and he immediately joined the British Forces. He went to France first but later he was a Prisoner of War in Japan.”

Over 20,000 Channel Island evacuees were scattered throughout Britain and they formed Channel Island Societies so that they could meet up regularly. They organised fund raising events to buy clothing and furniture as they had all arrived with practically nothing. The meetings also gave the evacuees the chance to sit and talk about the friends and family they had left behind in Guernsey. Violet remembers these meetings: “Every Sunday we went to Tiviot Dale Church for our meetings, we talked about the Red Cross letters that had come from home – it was the only way you could contact Guernsey, just 25 words but they meant such a lot to us. Now and again we organised trips to Belle Vue Fairground and Zoo. Brian and I really loved the rides on the bumper cars! ” The evacuees also held rallies at Belle Vue, and in June 1943, over 6,000 evacuees met up there. The Stockport Society also printed a monthly evacuee magazine, the 'Channel Islands Monthly Review', which was bought by evacuees throughout Britain, and sent to Channel Islanders who were serving in the Forces abroad.  A ticket to the 1943 Belle Vue evacuee rally is shown below.

 When Guernsey was liberated by the British, on 9 May 1945, Violet could not make plans to return to Guernsey. Elijah was still a Prisoner of War. He had been freed in August 1945 and sent to Rangoon, so Violet had to wait for the letter that would announce his return home. “Every time the postman came to my door, I would ask if there was a letter from my husband and he would sadly reply 'No'. One day, in December 1945, the postman came to the door and before I could speak, he said 'Here is the letter that you have been waiting for!' I read it and it said 'I am OK, I will see you soon.' He came back just in time for Christmas but only weighed 6 stone, he didn't talk about it much but he had been forced to build the Burma railway and been beaten with bamboo canes.”

In April 1946, Violet, Elijah and Brian returned to Guernsey in time for the first Liberation Day celebration. “It was lovely to meet up with the rest of our family! During the war our house had been occupied by German troops so we went to live with my Mum, then later found a cottage.” Elijah found work as a porter at Elizabeth College and the family remained in touch with Mrs Bowler who had been so kind to them in Stockport. Violet told me “She visited Guernsey several times and it was lovely to show her around the island. In 1959 my son Brian returned to Stockport where he got married to a local girl, Beryl, and in 2009 they celebrated fifty years of marriage.” 

The photograph below shows Brian, aged 18 months, with his teddy bear. Because he was only 6 months old when Violet brought him to England, he has no memory of those events. He is a member of my Guernsey Evacuee Community Group, and shares his family's evacuation story by taking part in our community events. Find out more at:

You can read the opening pages of my first book, 'Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten evacuees of the Second World War here, free:

Friday, 17 January 2014


I have always had a passionate interest in social history, and during 2013 I collected stories from all over Britain for a new book on the experiences of Second World War evacuees. It will contain extracts from the personal stories of 100 evacuees - not just from children but also from the evacuated mothers and teachers who accompanied them - who spent the war in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These moving stories are accompanied by wartime photographs, many of which have been rescued from evacuees’ attics.

Prior to commencing work on this new book, I spent four years interviewing 200 evacuees for my first book, Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War (published in 2012 by History Press). Over 17,000 evacuees fled the Channel Island of Guernsey to England in June 1940, just weeks before their island was occupied by Germany for five years. Sadly, many of these evacuees have died since my book was published, so I feel that it is vital that the personal memories of Second World War evacuees are recorded now before they are lost for ever.

For my new book I have also interviewed children and adults who found refuge on the British mainland from places such as the Channel Islands and Gibraltar (British territories) many of whom were not send to the safety of the British countryside.

I also have stories from those who arrived in Britain from France, Spain, the Ukraine and Belgium. One French child, Paulette, was sent to Guernsey, then evacuated again with her Guernsey Catholic school to England where she was financially supported by Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the American President. I also have the memories of Jewish children who fled Nazi Germany to England and Scotland. Kurt Gutmann stated years later "When I arrived in Scotland and was cared for by a very kind family, it was the first time in months, that I actually felt like a human being."

                                    Paulette was  financially supported bt Eleanor Roosevelt

Some children have very strong memories of leaving home and arriving at their new destinations whilst to others it was just a blur.

In July 1940, Lourdes Galliano was evacuated from Gibraltar to London, and recalls "My mother, my two sisters and I were taken to the Empress Hall in Earl's Court, a skating rink that had been converted into an evacuee reception centre. The rows of tiered seats in the hall had been closed and folding camp beds had been jammed into the gaps – there were 750 of us! As we lay on our camp beds we could see that the domed ceiling was entirely made of glass. Not very reassuring had we known what was to come – the London Blitz!"
                                                                   Lourdes Galliano

Peter St John Dawe recalled "On arrival in Leighton Buzzard, nobody knew what to do with me. So I ate my bun and chocolate, and spent the night in the station waiting room. The next morning, I broke my piggy bank and bought a sandwich at the station buffet.

Some stories are very positive, with evacuees being extremely happy, gaining new experiences and making new friends. Indeed, many formed a lasting bond with the families they were billeted with. Adelaide Harris was evacuated from Hull to Lincolnshire then billeted with the Wright family and their children Arthur and Renee. She grew to love them all and told me, "When I eventually returned home, I cried for days which wasn't nice at all for her Mum and Dad. I also missed Arthur and Renee very badly."

Doreen Holden was evacuated to Matlock in Derbyshire and told me, "A nice couple took me in because my name was Doreen, the same as their little girl's! They treated me very well, bought me dolls and made me jelly and custard because I hated rice pudding! Their house was opposite Riber Castle and at night I sat in my bedroom watching the castle in the moonlight. It was magical and felt like Fairyland!"

Jim Marshall was evacuated from Rochford to Gloucestershire and told me, "My brother Dick and I were very lucky as we were chosen, along with 5 other boys, by Mrs Percival who lived at a huge manor house, Priors Lodge. The following morning, we looked out of the window with disbelief to see a huge long drive which seemed to disappear for miles into the distance!"

I have also gathered stories from mothers and teachers who travelled with the groups of evacuated school children, and who took on a huge amount of responsibility. Jessie Robertson recalled arriving in Bishop Auckland with her pupils and comparing that area with their home town of Gateshead, "Saturday was spent seeing that the children were settling in. They had all come from a new housing estate where every house had an indoor toilet and bathroom and most were housed in homes without either – as I was. Once a week, on a Friday evening, I was invited by the lady next door to use her bathroom. I think that it was the only one in that terraced street."

Headmaster Philip Godfray brought children from his school to England from the island of Alderney, in the Channel Islands. Because of fears that the islands would be invaded by Germany (and they were just a few days later) Philip left at very short notice. As a result, he did not have the chance to pack his teaching certificates, so was unable to continue teaching his children in England.


Agnes Camp left Guernsey with her son Dennis, arriving in Stockport with no money or possessions. Dennis told me, "Mum moved us into a cottage which only had half a roof and the landlord, Mr Murdoch, knocked on the door saying 'This place is condemned Mrs Camp!' Mum replied 'Well, I have nowhere else to go.' and he had replied 'Well, for your pluck, I will have the roof done!"  
                                                                   Mrs Agnes Camp

Some children - teachers and adults - never returned home to their families after the war, others were physically or mentally abused, and some died during their time away from home. George Osborn, and his sister were evacuated from Portsmouth to Wootton on the Isle of Wight. George told me, “Brenda and I were placed in separate billets. I was very badly treated in mine, but with Brenda's help, I was moved into her billet. However, on 28 December 1941 I was on my own again when Brenda died of blood poisoning. This was caused by an infection after an inoculation against diphtheria, which was given, ironically, to immunize us against a killer disease of the time.”
                                       George and Brenda Osborn - just before they were evacuated

I have also collected stories from people who took evacuees into their homes during the war, or who offered assistance to evacuees when they arrived in their towns and cities. Judy Fox's family cared for two evacuees from Gosport and recalls "They lived in the house with my Uncle and Aunt, Mum, me and four cousins, so there was quite a crowd of us! In addition we had no running water, gas or electricity! Roger and Ruth went to school with my cousins, and they were treated exactly the same way as we were, as a part of the family." Another moving account comes from a Lancashire man, John Fletcher, who felt so sorry for the hundreds of evacuee children who arrived in his home town, Bury, without their parents, that he tirelessly raised funds throughout the war so that they could have a Christmas present and a party every year.

There is so much more to the evacuation story than groups of children arriving at railway stations with labels tied their coats. Hopefully this book, with the help of the family photographs, will paint a picture of how the British people opened up their homes to evacuated children and adults during the dark days of the war.

Photographs kindly provided by the evacuees and their families.

My book Evacuees: Children's Lives on the World War Two Home Front will be published on 30 September 2014 by Pen & Sword Books.