The Arrival of Guernsey Evacuees in Weymouth, June 1940

In June 1940, 17,000 people were evacuated from Guernsey, to Weymouth, just days before their island was occupied by Germany – see http://porttowns.port.ac.uk/1940-evacuation-st-peter-port-guernsey-england/

The evacuation ships reached Weymouth where the evacuees sat for hours, waiting for permission to disembark. As Winifred Le Page stepped onto dry land, she was approached by French interpreters, “They didn’t think we could speak English. hAZEL hALLS EVAC SUITCASE, PURSE AND ID LABELSOne person said ‘We thought you’d all be in grass skirts’, and that upset us all, I can tell you!”[1] The evacuees were led into the Pavilion Theatre where they registered their details, received refreshments and underwent a medical inspection. Gavin Dorey recalled, “Goodness knows what they were trying to detect, but perhaps, as refugees from a distant land we were under automatic suspicion of having exotic diseases like leprosy or beri beri.[2] Hazel Hall still possesses her medical label which stated ‘NAD’ – Nothing abnormal detected.[3]

Miss Grace Fry travelled as a helper with Vauvert School, and as her group registered, an air raid began, “The children and I were pushed out of the building onto a bus, then to my horror, the driver locked the door and disappeared. We were there for about an hour, I had given up. Then the driver unlocked the door and said ‘Out!’ I had to feel with my foot under the seats in the dark to check whether I had all the children or not.”[4] Gladys Merrien was searching for her husband who had promised to follow her.  Her daughter Beryl recalls, “Someone told Mum that Dad was staying in Guernsey to look after our house and business. Also, many animals in the islands were being shot at that time. So Dad was reluctant to leave his horse, Laddie, as he would have to shoot it.”[5] Guernsey men of military age were dealt with separately.  Between eight and ten thousand islanders joined the British Forces, athough it was not compulsory for them to do so.[6]

Disevacsarriv cropped reducedBecause the South coast was experiencing air raids the evacuees were quickly moved away from Weymouth, by train, to Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire where accommodation could be provided. Miss Grace Fry recalled, “Soldiers began to push the children onto a train which started to move. One soldier grabbed my hand and said ‘Can you run?’ A steward appeared in at the open train door, the soldier pushed me into his arms, then off we went. We had no idea where we were going.”[7] On 28 June, news that Germany had bombed Guernsey’s habour reached England and no more ships were sent to collect evacuees. On 30 June, Guernsey was occupied by Germany and thousands of people’s lives were changed forever.

20 June 2015 marks the 75th anniversary of the Guernsey Evacuation

https://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/evacuation/

 

Notes

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

[2]       Testimony of Gavin Dorey, The Evacuation, Dorey family papers, 4.

[3]       Interview with Hazel Hall, January 2010, 5.

[4]       Guernsey Retired Teachers Association, Interview with Miss Grace Fry.

[5]       Interview with Beryl Linehan (nee Merrien), May 2010, 2.

[6]       Richard Allisette, Islanders in Kitbags, (Guernsey Press: Guernsey, 1985), foreward.

[7]       Guernsey Retired Teachers Association, Interview with Miss Grace Fry.

 

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3 Responses to The Arrival of Guernsey Evacuees in Weymouth, June 1940

  1. Elizabeth Bass November 25, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    I may have corresponded with you before on this subject a few years ago, but I was interested in the mention of Grace Fry. My father’s cousin, Constance Rees, also taught at Vauvert School and was involved in the evacuation exactly as you describe. Her daughter Janice (who died in 2009) left a school notebook describing her experiences – Connie(a widow) had three children and insisted they stay with her rather than go with their own school in Vale. They were on the Felixstowe, and after the delays and medical examination in Weymouth, they boarded a train which went via Abergavenny and Preston and eventually to Glasgow. Jan’s account is very vivid (she was aged 11) and I have transcribed it and used it in connection with a book club reading of the Potato Peel Pie book – members said it brought the whole thing very close.
    If you are interested in receiving a copy of the text I could send it. (Sorry if I have said this before – it’s a few years ago and my memory is not what it was!)
    Elizabeth Bass

    • Gillian Mawson November 27, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

      hi Elizabeth I would love a copy of Jan’s account. However I just emailed you via the email address that showed up on the website and it bounced straight back. Pls can you send another comment with your email address again. thanks so much. Gill 🙂

  2. Nicola Wales July 30, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    Hi Gillian

    My late mother, Margaret Earl (neé Hudson) was evacuated by boat along with her younger sister Joan. I think I remember her saying that when they arrived in Weymouth, they slept overnight in St John’s church before they were boarded on the train north. When they got on the train, it was very crowded. One of the girls was asthmatic, so she was hoisted up on to the net luggage rack above the train seats to make the journey. The teachers (nuns) were travelling north with them. My mother and her sister were split up when they arrived in Lancs, billeted with different families. My aunt’s experience was a happier one than my mother’s. The first thing that happened to my Mum was that her billeting family decided to call her Peggy, as their own daughter was called Margaret.

    Mum’s parents remained in Guernsey during the occupation. They were tomato growers.

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