I was astounded. I knew that the Channel Islands had been occupied during the Second World War but had no idea that almost half the population had fled their homes to England. I could not imagine how those rural islanders must have felt when they arrived in the industrial towns of England, penniless and friendless. Whole schools were evacuated from Guernsey and thousands of young mothers fled their homes with their infants. I immediately began to search for surviving evacuees to ask them about their experiences in England during the war, and five years later, I am still collecting their stories.
The interviews were very emotional as many of the evacuees had never shared their stories before, and the separation from their families in Guernsey for five whole years was still traumatic for them to recall. Child evacuees who had left home under 5 years of age told me that, by 1945, they had forgotten what their own parents looked like and had become attached to the English families who cared for them. Others told me that their Guernsey teachers had re-opened their schools in England, so that they could care for their pupils during the war. I was amazed at how much responsibility these teachers had taken on. One of the Guernsey schools was financially supported by kind Americans, and one child, Paulette, was actually supported by Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt. For quite some time, Paulette had no idea who Mrs Roosevelt was, and she wrote letters simply addressed to 'Aunty Eleanor'.
Some evacuees were killed in air raids and thousands joined the British forces as soon as they were old enough to leave school. Others worked in ammunition factories or built aircraft. The evacuated mothers' stories were particularly emotional, as they described the kindness of their neighbours who gave them, not just clothing and household items, but friendship.
When Guernsey was liberated on 9 May 1945 (a day after VE Day), many evacuees began to plan their return home, although some decided to remain in the communities in which they had settled. Sadly, many of those who returned to Guernsey faced criticism from those who had remained behind. One mother told me, "People in my street said that I was a coward and that I had run away from the Germans. To this day it makes me want to weep." Almost every evacuee I have interviewed wished to thank the kind people of England for the help they gave them during the war.
My interviews, together with a hundred wartime images, were incorporated into my first book 'Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War'
At the present time, I am collecting evacuation stories from all over Britain for a new book, which will be published in September 2014. Already the stories differ greatly: some reveal the excitement of living in a new area and making new friends, others reveal sadness and
issues regarding family separation.
Every time I listen to a new wartime evacuation story, I am amazed at the resilience of children. How many parents today could send their children away to live with total strangers, for years on end? It is vital that the memories from the Second World War are collected and preserved now, otherwise they will be lost for ever.
To read more about Gillian Mawson's Evacuees project, click HERE
To read Gillian Mawson's blog, click HERE
GUEST WRITER'S BIO: Gillian Mawson was an administrator at the University of Manchester until December 2010 when she took voluntary redundancy in order to devote a whole year to interviewing evacuees and sharing their story with the public. She obtained a postgraduate research degree in Social History in 2011, and now works part time in an office close to home, which give her the time to undertake her research. In 2010 she organised reunions for Guernsey evacuees in both England and Guernsey. Following this, she set up a community group so that Guernsey evacuees who live in the Manchester area can meet to share their wartime memories with each other and and with the public. She has two blogs, one on Guernsey evacuees, the other concentrates on family history and local history.
US readers may purchase the book HERE
UK readers may purchase the book HERE
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