Thinking about war always makes me think of my father. He was eight when the second world war was on. He lived on the island of Guernsey which was occupied by Germany. It was decided that all the children on the island would be evacuated to England where they would be put with foster families for the course of the war. Of course England turned out to be a very grim place to be during the war anyway. He has written a few memories of the war down and this is his memory of the evacuation.
I still remember vividly September 3rd, 1939. We were sitting in the big room, my mother and father, myself and a couple of friends. We heard on the radio, not such a good radio in those days, Neville Chamberlain, who said that Hitler had not given an undertaking to pull his ships out of Poland and consequently we were at war with Germany. The adults were very very serious and I felt the gravity of the situation. We didn’t know then the nasty things that lay ahead of us.
We went back to Guernsey and my Dad started working again as normal. The island functioned more or less normally until around about April, 1940, when we could hear the guns in France as the german troops advanced. The french refugees started arriving and settling down by the harbour. They were a pathetic lot really with just a few belongings on wheelbarrows and things like that. It was a very miserable time for them. There was tension on the island. My mother was hoarding food, tinned food.
The tension was now mounting and in May 1940 children were evacuated. I think just about all the island children went. Our parents had three hours to get us ready. We all walked down to the harbour one day and we stood there from early in the morning in the hot sun. We were wearing winter overcoats because we were going to the north of England.( We weren’t told then where we were going.) It was pretty hard and some kids did faint. The SS Viking came in, the old steamship that was to take us to England. It wasn’t very big and they embarked two thousand children on board. They had us packed into every nook and cranny. They had some of us in the hulls, some in cabins and some on deck. Just about any place they could wedge us. Someone came around and gave us a spoonful of condensed milk from a tin. There were people trying to help us, give us something to eat. A farmer brought down a churn of milk so he could give us a drink. We eventually sailed. It was a very harrowing experience. We arrived at Southhampton a day and a half later. As we disembarked there were crowds on the harbourside cheering us.
We were put onto trains and then we were sent to the north of England. We went to Manchester where we were put into this large shed. We slept on the floor on blankets and we used our little school ports for pillows. My neck has given me trouble ever since. Strapped to my port was a copy of Winnie the Pooh that my father had put there. We were allowed to take one article with us, a toy or a book. My father strapped that down and I have it to this day.
We stood around this shed the next morning and people came from all around who had offered to take someone and look after us for a while. We stood there with labels around our necks and we were inspected. Our teachers who had come with us would say that we were well behaved and had come from a good family etc. Luckily I got a good report and I was taken home by a Mr and Mrs Taylor and I lived with them for several months. One day I was living happily at home with my parents and the next I was somewhere else, with strangers. You don’t know whats going on, your mind goes into a sort of blank. My parents caught up with me after that. Walking into the lounge room and seeing them standing there was an incredible experience. I had thought that I would never see them again. There was no news, no contact. No one knew what was happening in Guernsey. There was no news at all so I was told nothing.
They spent the remainder of the war in England until they were allowed back home.