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”. 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.”
On 18 June, Guernsey’s Education Council informed teachers that the evacuation of schoolchildren was a real possibility. 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.”
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. 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. Mr Godfray, recalled “at the last moment, my friend, who was coming with us, drove off home to shoot his dog”.
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!’” 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.”
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. 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.”
The raid continued until 8pm, at which point the Isle ofSark’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. 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.
 “War Cabinet Report,” The National Archives, CAB/66/8/27, 11June 1940, 4.
 “Cabinet War Room Memorandum,” The National Archives, CAB/66/8/27, 11 June 1940.
 Paul Le Pelley, “The Evacuation of Guernsey School children,” Channel Islands Occupation Review, (1988), 25.
 “An Account by Reverend W H Milnes”, Elizabeth College Archive; Guernsey, August 1940, 1.
 Guernsey Star, 19 June 1940, 1
 Brian Ahier Reade, “No Cause for Panic: Channel Islands Refugees 1940-45,” (Guernsey; Seaflower Books, 1995), 18.
 Charles P. Godfray, “How we escaped from the Nazis,” The Keighlian Magazine, (1940), 6.
 Interview with Winifred Le Page (nee West), Second World War Experience Centre, (2006).
 Reade, “No Cause for Panic”, 30.
 Martin J. Le Page, “A Boy Messenger’s War: Memories of Guernsey and Herm 1938-1945,” (Birmingham: Kingate, 1995), 16.
 An account by Mrs M Trotter, Imperial War Museum, P338, 7.
 Reade, “No Cause for Panic”, 26.
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