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Channel Islands evacuees invited to Stockport

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A CHURCH service in Stockport this summer will honour Channel Islanders evacuated to towns in Lancashire in the days before the start of the German Occupation.

Evacuees, including former Guernsey Bailiff Sir Geoffrey Rowland, at St Mary's Church Stockport in 2010 (27243408)

Author Gillian Mawson, who has written extensively about Second World War evacuees, is organising a special event to mark the 80th anniversary of the arrival of trains from Weymouth carrying hundreds of Channel Islanders, an event she says is still overlooked by many.

‘So many people I meet still don’t know about the children, mothers and teachers from the Channel Islands who arrived during the war and their experiences, so my real objective in organising the event is to try to change that,’ she said.

Mrs Mawson has researched the arrival of the evacuees who were sent to towns – including Bury, Stockport, Wigan, Burnley and Oldham – which had sufficient accommodation to deal with large numbers of people arriving at short notice.

‘However, the sight of huge factories, with their smoking chimneys, wide roads and streets of terraced houses was a real shock to evacuees who had come from small rural islands where everyone lived ten minutes from the sea,’ she added.

Five-hundred evacuees from across the Channel Islands arrived at Bury’s Bolton Street Station to be sent to reception centres in churches and schools before being allocated new homes. The Bury Times of 26 June 1940 wrote: ‘They came at noon on Saturday, not a collection of sodden-eyed evacuees who have had to leave their homes because of the dangers that have threatened them as a result of Germany’s occupation of a great part of Northern France, but smiling folk who found time even in the face of the greatest inconvenience they have ever experienced, to be happy.’

According to Mrs Mawson, records in Bury archives show the extent of the kindness of local people, who donated household items, including furniture, to the evacuees.

One evacuee from Guernsey, Irene Moss, recalled that they would be stopped in the street and asked whether they were evacuees.

‘When we said “yes”, they gave us pennies for sweets. They said that they had read all about us in the newspapers. They were so very kind to us. I will never forget that,’ Ms Moss said.

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The local cinemas offered Channel Island children free entry every Saturday, local firms sent gifts of food and fruit, and employees at the Bury Felt Manufacturing Company made 60 free mattresses for orphans from Guernsey.

In 2016 Mrs Mawson published ‘Britain’s Wartime Evacuees’, which includes extensive detail on the story of the evacuation of the Channel Islands.

Such was the frenzy of activity in the days leading up to the Occupation that accurate numbers of evacuees are not available, but it is thought that about 6,000 people left Jersey for the UK towards the end of June 1940. Almost three times that number left from Guernsey, where official advice recommended that Islanders with young children should leave before the occupiers arrived.

Not all of the evacuees were to return at the end of the war. Researching her book, Mrs Mawson has spoken to many descendants of families who remained.

She said: ‘Many got good jobs and might have thought that they could see a future with better prospects and opportunities by remaining, while others went back briefly but then returned when they saw how things had changed.’

Ten years after holding a similar service in Stockport, evacuees and their families are being invited to return to St Mary’s in the Market Place Parish Church on 28 June from 2.30pm. Those wishing to attend or find out more about the event can email Mrs Mawson for further details: whaleybridgewriter@gmail.com.

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