The 1940 Evacuation of St. Peter Port, Guernsey, to England

Captain James Bridson pictured with four evacuees on board the SS Viking, June 1940

Captain James Bridson pictured with four evacuees on board the SS Viking, June 1940

In May 1940, as Germany invaded France, fears arose in Guernsey that a German invasion might take place. The closeness of Guernsey to Cherbourg left it wide open to attack by both sea and air. On 11 June, the British War Cabinet considered that Hitler might occupy the Channel Islands to “strike a blow at our prestige by the temporary occupation of British territory”.[1] After some deliberation, the Cabinet decided;

“The Channel Islands are not of major strategic importance either to ourselves or the enemy … we recommend immediate consideration be given for the evacuation of all women and children on a voluntary and free basis.”[2]

On 18 June, Guernsey’s Education Council informed teachers that the evacuation of schoolchildren was a real possibility.[3] That same evening, Elizabeth College’s Principal wrote;

“We could hear explosions from Cherbourg … parents were getting very anxious and my telephone went day and night.”[4]

On 19 June parents were told that they must register their children for evacuation that very evening. Mothers with infants and men of military age also had the option to leave the island.[5] Parents had to make a crucial decision – whether or not to send their children to England the next morning. There was widespread panic, people rushed to buy suitcases, buried valuables in their gardens and tried to draw their money out of the bank. Some farmers slaughtered their cattle and thousands drove to the local veterinary surgery to have their dogs and cats put to sleep.[6]  Mr Godfray, recalled  “at the last moment, my friend, who was coming with us, drove off home to shoot his dog”.[7]

Between 20 and 28 June, 17,000 people, (almost 50% of the population), were evacuated from St Peter Port’s harbour, but first to leave were 5,000 children with their teachers and 500 adult helpers. As Winifred West waited to embark, she noticed “evacuees were upset because there were posters up saying ‘Don’t be Yellow, stay at home!’”[8]  The Captain of the SS Whistable wrote later,

“Alarm at Guernsey appeared rather acute, and people were presenting themselves faster than they could be embarked.”[9]

On 28 June three German aircraft attacked Guernsey, dropping bombs on the town and machine-gunning the harbour, apparently assuming that the tomato lorries contained ammunition.  Many drivers had crawled under their vehicles for shelter, and when the lorries were hit, they were trapped underneath.[10] The only defence the island had was a Lewis gun on the Isle of Sark mail boat, which had recently arrived to take evacuees to England. One passenger, Mrs Trotter, recalled,

“We had just boarded when we heard terrific explosions! 50 minutes of terror followed!  I stayed with the children whilst my husband went up top to offer assistance with the Lewis gun.”[11]

The raid continued until 8pm, at which point the Isle of Sark’s Captain asked those around the jetty if they wished to board his boat. He sailed at 10pm with 647 passengers, 200 more than he had originally planned to carry.[12]  No more ships were sent to Guernsey, and when Germany invaded the island on 30 June, 17,000 evacuees were cut off from their families for five years.

 

References

[1] “War Cabinet Report,” The National Archives, CAB/66/8/27, 11June 1940, 4.

[2]  “Cabinet War Room Memorandum,” The National Archives, CAB/66/8/27, 11 June 1940.

[3] Paul Le Pelley, “The Evacuation of Guernsey School children,” Channel Islands Occupation Review, (1988), 25.

[4] “An Account by Reverend W H Milnes”, Elizabeth College Archive; Guernsey, August 1940, 1.

[5] Guernsey Star, 19 June 1940, 1

[6] Brian Ahier Reade, “No Cause for Panic: Channel Islands Refugees 1940-45,” (Guernsey; Seaflower Books, 1995), 18.

[7] Charles P. Godfray, “How we escaped from the Nazis,” The Keighlian Magazine, (1940), 6.

[8] Interview with Winifred Le Page (nee West), Second World War Experience Centre, (2006).

[9] Reade,No Cause for Panic”, 30.

[10] Martin J. Le Page, “A Boy Messenger’s War: Memories of Guernsey and Herm 1938-1945,” (Birmingham: Kingate, 1995), 16.

[11] An account by Mrs M Trotter, Imperial War Museum, P338, 7.

[12] Reade, “No Cause for Panic”, 26.

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24 Responses to The 1940 Evacuation of St. Peter Port, Guernsey, to England

  1. Angela May 21, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    fascinated by your blog. My daughter’s godmother (sadly deceased) lived on Guernsey at this time. To the best of my recollection she was not evacuated and I wonder what was life like for those who stayed, for whatever reason,perhaps necessity. I cannot clearly remember her maiden name..is there a list of evacuees anywhere ?

    • Louise Moon
      Louise Moon May 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

      Hi Angela,

      Thank you for stopping by the website and glad you enjoyed the blog post. We’ve passed your message onto Gillian and sure she will be able to advise you.

      Louise

    • GILLIAN MAWSON May 27, 2015 at 10:28 am #

      Hello Angela, unfortunately there is no surviving list of the evacuees’ names in Guernsey. I have interviewed several hundred evacuees since 2008 so if you had any idea whatsoever of your daughter’s godmother’s name I could check my records for you. There are some good books about those who remained behind during the Occupation which can be found on amazon. Two I particularly enjoyed are Occupied Guernsey by Herbert Winterflood, and any of the books by Molly Bihet. I hope this helps. Do take a look at my website at https://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/evacuation/ – and you can also contact me through the comment box at the foot of each web page. Gillian Mawson

      • Shirley ashton March 4, 2017 at 5:38 pm #

        I am trying to find more information regarding a reta may cohu who was a Guernsey refugee living in Halifax Yorkshire in 1944. She died in childbirth approx aged 21. Would it be likely she was evacuated aged 17 in 1940 ?

  2. John Salmon August 1, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    My grandad and his brother and two sisters were evacuated from Guernsey . He is now 90 and still going strong . He ended up in cornwall eventually and met my nan and never went home . Although all his siblings did . His name is Arthur Jenner

    • GILLIAN MAWSON August 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

      Hello John thank you so much for your comment. If your granded would like to share his story with me, please contact me via my blog at https://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/ – you can send me a private message via a comments box on that page. Gill

  3. Mark Leah August 12, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

    Hi
    My mother and Uncle were evacuees and sailed on the SS Viking, my mother now 89 who has lived in Cheshire since being evacuated, whilst my uncle is still in Guernsey, my mother recalls all the stories like it was yesterday, sadly she is slipping away now, she has had a tough life but always retained Guensey Grit all through her life an amazing woman, I have so much respect for all the people who suffered being taken from their parents at such a young age. My mother and uncles names are Phyllis Ferbrache and Fred Ferbrache from Vazon area. My mother has your book and many more with regard to the evacuation of Guernsey. I spent ot of my childhood there and class it as my roots. If you have any Information with regard to either my mother or uncle please do let me know

    Best regards
    Mark Leah

    • GILLIAN MAWSON August 14, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

      Hello Mark, thank you very much indeed for your comment on this page and the information about your family evacuation. I will check my various records for you over the next few weeks to see if I can find any mention of your family’s names (lots of these are on paper so take time to search through). If I find anything I will contact you again at once. With my very best wishes to you and your Mum. Gill Mawson

    • Louise Moon
      Louise Moon October 15, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      Hi Mark,

      Gillian has asked if you could let us know which school your mother was evacuated with to help with her search for information for you? You can email us the details at ptuc@port.ac.uk

      Best Regards,

      Louise

    • Mark Leah November 19, 2015 at 10:02 am #

      Hi
      My mother who has now unfortunately passed away aged 89 attended Castel school as did my Uncle.
      She was finally laid to rest at Castel church on 17th November 2015 back home

      Regards
      Mark

      • Gillian Mawson November 20, 2015 at 10:43 am #

        Dear Mark I am so very sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. My sincere condolences. I could not find her name in my records anywhere after your first comment on the PTUC website. I asked for her school in the hope that another evacuee from that school might be able to help or the local records office. Gill

        • Mark Leah November 21, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

          Thank you for your efforts Gill much appreciated keep up the good work

          Regards
          Mark

  4. Jenny Head January 22, 2016 at 8:44 pm #

    I am very interested to find this site. I am looking for any information about Dorothy and Marjorie Falla, who were both Headteachers on Guernsey when they were evacuated with their schools. They both died in 1965 and were clearly much appreciated and respected by the island community. They both trained to teach at Salisbury Training College and I am working at present on the link between the Channel Islands and Salisbury. I am the co author of a book about the college ( see website) and we have included details of the occupation years, as told by former students.
    Many thanks!

    • Gillian Mawson January 25, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

      Hi Jenny, could you please let me know which school your two head teachers were evacuated with from Guernsey and also give me the link to your website? Please do this by sending me a message via my own evacuee blog which can be found at the following link:

      https://evacueesofworldwartwo.wordpress.com/

      I can then check whether I have any information on them in my files

      With thanks,
      Gillian Mawson

      • Anonymous January 25, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

        Dear Gillian

        Thanks so much for your reply. Unfortunately we have no record of the schools at which Dorothy and Marjorie Falla were the Heads. It’s possible though that they were in the St Peter Port area as I have seen one of their home addresses and their funerals were both at the Parish Church. This may be insufficient info I realise, but it would be great if something turns up.

        In our book (website http://www.inspiredtoteach.co.uk) we have included the rather moving account of Jonny Guille who was on the last boat out, was evacuated to the north of England and then came to train to teach in Salisbury. Her father was the Rector of St Peter Port and both parents felt it their duty to stay on the island during the occupation.

        i am looking forward to reading your book very much – it may arrive tomorrow!

        Thanks so much

        Jenny Head

        • Gillian Mawson January 27, 2016 at 10:49 am #

          Hello again Jenny
          I just checked Brian Reade’s book NO CAUSE FOR PANIC about the Channel Islands evacuation. He has a list of some of the evacuated schools near the back of the book and says that a Miss M Falla was in charge of 44 infants from the Hautes Capelles School which evacuated to Spurstow Council School in Tarporley, Cheshire. The school no longer exists. I have not had any contact from evacuees from Hautes Capelles so far but will keep an eye open for any future ones and contact you. Gill

          • Jenny Head January 30, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

            Thank you so much for taking the trouble to do this. We really are grateful and will get in touch again if we find anything else that would interest you. Jenny

  5. Tony Duke January 31, 2016 at 8:40 pm #

    Gillian

    My mother, Margaret Jeanette Tanquerel, is an evacuee from Guernsey (1940), A lone girl of 14. The family know very little of that period in her life – until she arrived in North Curry in Somerset to live with a family that owned the local bakery.

    My mother resides in Taunton Somerset.

    If you are up for interviews my mother (89) is still bright and breezy, albeit not as mobile as she once was. She is very good company and I am sure once the ice was broken she would open up. She remains very bitter about the whole episode.

    WE would love to learn more

    Tony Duke

    Tony Duke

    • Gillian Mawson February 5, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      Hello Tony and thank you for your message. I have sent you two emails and look forward to hearing from you
      GIll Mawson

  6. Audrey Mansell August 9, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    My father Captain James Bridson was master of the Viking, the ship on which so many children were evacuated from Guernsey. He was great family man, loved children and often said “there is no such thing as a bad child”
    My father served in WWI as a young sailor and was on the HMS Malaya at the battle of Jutland. It was unusual for a WW! veteran to be still in service in WW2. and for this reason, he was interviewed by, I think, the Daily Express. He was asked what was his most memorable / frightening experience. Expecting to hear Jutland, or Russian convoys he was surprised when father said “The evacuation of the children of Guernsey, I had more than 2000 children on my ship and we had to cross the Channel with enemy planes overhead”

    • kei amos April 13, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      hes my great grandfather my nan has a pic of him in a picture frame

      • Audrey Mansell July 25, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

        Captain Bridson, was my father so your nan must be related to me, what is her name ? Perhaps she would like to get in touch

        Audrey Mansell

  7. Sasha October 25, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    Hey my name is sasha. My nana was from guernsy and was evacuated her and her 11 siblings were separated from each other coming over and my nana has a copy of the newspaper clipping of when they all reunited after they arrived she was the youngest of the family and there last name was FOZZARD her name is Joan her brothers name is Bert i cant remember any others off the top of my head but i was just wondering if you had anything in your records about them at all thanks again i really enjoyed your article and plan to buy your book for my nana she will really love it im sure! Thanks again Sasha.

  8. Carole frosdick February 13, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

    Do you have any record of a margaret proctor who was evacuated at 11 years old?

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