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: 

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