Another Guernsey evacuee’s story

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Le Poidevin evacuees in 1940


Margaret Le Poidevin, aged five

From WW2 People’s War – An archive of World War Two memories, written by the public, gathered by the BBC

Margaret Parkyn wrote this account for her niece, Helen Walton, in the early 1990s. Helen was a pupil at Ladies' College and they had been asked to find out about the war from family members who had lived through it.

"We were evacuated to England in June 1940 and I had my fifth birthday in August. I can't remember how I found out that the war had started but I do know that it certainly affected my life. I was living with an aunt and uncle at the time as I had been ill and needed nursing and my sister was younger and needed to be with our mother.
"My parents came to collect me and my clothes, my newest doll and a story book. We went back home overnight and the next day mother took my sister and me plus a large suitcase to the White Rock where we boarded a ship for England. I can remember it being very crowded and noisy and smelly. All the passengers were either schoolchildren travelling with their teachers or mothers with children under five plus some older people. My father had come to see us off and was to have come on the next boat with the men who were not going into the armed forces and other people who had not got on the first ship. He was at the White Rock when it was bombed and so the second ship never came.


"When we got to Weymouth I can remember there being so many people I was frightened. We went to the railway station and it was there that my mother met up with a cousin whom she hadn't seen for some time. They decided to stay together. Cousin Edna had six children between eight and eighteen months with her and her widowed mother was also travelling with them. We were on the station for hours and when trains came in, we were terrified as we had never seen or heard anything like them. Finally, we were put on board a train and set off on a journey having no idea where it would end. We had sandwiches and drinks brought round to us in our seats.
"I have no idea how long we were travelling but we eventually arrived at Stockport in Cheshire. We were taken along with hundreds of other families to places like the Town Hall, Church Rooms and schools. We spent three to four days at the Town Hall. We slept on mattresses on the floor and meals were dished out from Emergency Kitchens. After the first few days, we were moved to a school hall. The arrangements were still the same for eating and sleeping but the children had the chance to get outside into the playground.
"Shortly afterwards we were given somewhere to live. In actual fact, it was mum's cousin who was able to rent the house as her husband was in the army. Mum couldn't rent as my father was not in the Forces and as we had no contact with the island we were classed as refugees. We all moved in together into a house which had an old shop beside it. It was on the corner of two streets. The household consisted of eight children, two mothers and the grandmother and we stayed together right through the war.
"We lived in a quiet residential area where there were mostly women and children. The only men around were either elderly or unfit for the services. Most of the women went to work in the munitions factories or in the woollen mills. The area we lived in was called Edgely. There were a few shops like corner shops and we could walk up to the main shopping street in about ten minutes. It was from here that we could get the trams down into Mersey square which is Stockport's town centre. In Edgely, we had two parks where we could go to play when we were not playing in the streets. We seemed to always have things to do and places to go.
"Food of course was rationed and you had what you were given. The three of us had three different ration books. Mum had a beige adult one, I had a green child's one and Kath, my sister, had a blue junior one. The different types meant that you got different allowances. Adults could get a tea ration, the others couldn't. Juniors got orange juice occasionally. Everyone had a ration of butter, margarine, sugar, cheese and other things. Eggs were just occasional treats. After you got them home you used them as soon as possible, as you had no idea how old they were. You never boiled them — you opened them and either poached or scrambled them. If they were "off" when cracked into a basin, I had to take them back to the shop to claim another one. We had so few you couldn't just let it go. We used to have dried egg which you mixed with water and either cooked it as scrambled egg or made it into an omelette.
"In the summer season, we had plenty of fresh fruit as it came in from the countryside in Cheshire. Apples, pears and plums were plentiful. On Sunday mornings in early summer the older children including me would walk what seemed like miles but was probably about half a mile to some allotments where we would buy a selection of vegetables and things like rhubarb and gooseberries which would be in season. In the winter, a man came round with a horse and van selling vegetables.
"We used to have our school dinners every day during term time and even in the long summer holidays, we would have to walk to a central school where children from all over the area could have "free dinners" during that time. School dinners were delivered to the school in large metal containers. The caretaker's wife and one or two other ladies used to dish up. Every day we had meat, potatoes, one or two vegetables and a pudding afterwards. There was also milk which came in third of a pint bottles. We didn't always appreciate the food but were told how lucky we were to have such treats as rice pudding with raisins or tapioca with red jam in the middle.
"I found Stockport very different from Guernsey especially as I had lived at Grandes Rocques and then at Torteval Stores. Grandes Rocques was close to the beach and with walks to Saumarez Park and Torteval out in the country with only about half as many houses as it has now. Edgely and Stockport were a bit of a shock to start with but I soon got used to it as I started school in the September after arriving there. Also, I wasn't used to being with other children as I had been brought up as an only child, but I soon got used to being one of the eight in the house.

Strong memories

"I can remember things that were not always happy things. Like going to school on the morning after an air raid and the headmaster telling us in Assembly that a certain family would not be coming in as their house had been hit by a bomb. Walking home from school, turning a corner into a street you walked through every day and seeing all the houses down. I can clearly see one place which I will never forget. It was the last house in a terrace and everything was down, all that was left was the bath hanging by the pipes from the adjoining wall.
"The clothes we wore were very different from what we wore in Guernsey as the weather was much colder in the winter although I remember hot summer holidays. Summer clothes I think were much the same as in Guernsey but in winter we had much warmer things. Thick skirts and jumpers and long black or brown woollen stockings with heavy shoes or ankle boots. This wasn't fashion, it was a necessity. Some of the children still wore wooden clogs in the winter. Clothes were rationed by means of clothing coupons and you only had a certain number of coupons a year. When you bought clothes or shoes, you had to give coupons as well as money. Even if you were relatively wealthy, you still couldn't buy if you ran out of coupons. As evacuees/refugees we were given a docket to go to the Clothing Centre once a year where my mother could get an outfit each for the three of us, including a pair of black lace-up shoes which I hated. Even at seven or eight years of age, I felt as if everyone knew when I was wearing these "free" clothes.
"Most of my spare time was spent reading or drawing. My cousin Jean who is the same age as me and was in the same class at school and I were both avid readers and even during the holidays we had special tickets to borrow two or three books a week. We also went to the parks to play and played. Things like hop-scotch on the pavements and spinning tops and skipping ropes were favourites. We didn't have a lot of toys but didn't seem to miss them. The last doll I had was before I went away and my toys were still kept for me when I returned five years later. We couldn't always stay out playing in the evenings as there was always the "black out" time. After dusk when people would put their house lights on you had to draw the curtains and also put a black light-proof curtain or blind. If there was even a hairline crack of light the Air raid Wardens who used to patrol the streets at night would bang on the door and shout "Put that light out".
"We had a lot of air raids round our way because we were within a few miles of Fairey's Aviation Works which was near Manchester. This meant we had bombs that were supposed to be for them. Most of the raids were at night. We would hear the sirens go and get out of bed. We never went to one of the big shelters as they were quite a long way away. We had a small Anderson shelter in the back garden but seldom used that. Most of the time we went down into the cellar and all sat there waiting for the next big bang. It was frightening when it was close enough for you to hear them. It was worse towards the end of the war because they had Doodle Bugs. These were bombs which had a motor in them. You could hear them coming as they made a droning noise. It was when the motor stopped that you started to worry because that was when they started to fall. Sometimes there would be a raid when we were in school. This would mean we had to leave our classrooms and go to the school shelter. Our school was a Church of England School next to the church and the shelter was between the two. When we went in, we used to carry on with our lessons or read. My mother taught me to knit during air raids as we sat in the cellar by candle light.
"I don't think I was affected in any bad ways by the war. Maybe I was too young. I know it made me very independent. As my mother had to work (in a cinema) at the weekends and during holidays, her aunt who lived with us kept an eye on all the children in the house but I was responsible for my sister. I also did all the grocery shopping and went to the butcher. It was easy as there wasn't any choice. You took what you were given. That never put me off. I still like shopping.
"We were in England from June 1940 until 17th October 1945. The islands were liberated in May 1945 but we had to wait to get back. I know there were lots of papers to be signed and mother had to have a passport photo taken.
"Then we had to wait until we were given a date as only so many people were allowed back at a time. We travelled down to Weymouth by train, my mother, my sister and I. It seemed much the same as the journey five years before only this time the train was full of soldiers. We got to Weymouth and then on to the boat. It was crowded and the journey seemed endless. I had books to read and a drawing book and pencil. We travelled overnight and it was a bright sunny morning when we docked. There was a crush as everyone rushed to get off the ship. I could see hundreds of people on the quay all waving and shouting to their families. I saw my father whom I recognised from a photo which he had sent with a letter as soon as the island was in contact with the mainland again.
"It was very difficult especially for me to settle back into the family life in Guernsey. In England, I had been just one in an extended family of eight children who were looked after by three women. Now I was in a family which consisted of my father whom I didn't know, my mother and sister of course and my aunt and uncle with whom I'd lived earlier, and also my paternal grandparents whom I didn't know at all.
"When we first arrived back on the island, there were lots of German bunkers, cars, tanks and much more military stuff around. You couldn't go out for cliff walks as there were still mines out there. There was barbed wire in laces around the coast and some of the German batteries still had their guns. Some of the bunkers were still furnished — kitchens, dormitories a hospital and I even saw a room with a bandstand with the music stands and instruments still there.
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