Alan and Graham in the War: Evacuation to America (1940-45)


Figure 1.-- This is a photo courtesy of the Archivist at Wellesley College showing some of us in the Common Room of Beebe Hall. You can tell we have just arrived because we are still wearing out tags. I am the small fair haired guy at the back right. I would meet up with the boy at the right (my left) with the accordian in happier times back in England after the War. He also turned up at summer camp while I was in America, but we had no contact otherwise. He was fostered with a family in Brookline, Massachusetts, and my brother and I were in Swapscott about 15 miles away. Our foster families didn't know one another either. Click on the image to see the two of us together at our public school.

A few years after the 1936 peaceful scene in our back garden later London was targeted by the Luftwaffe. My brother and I were evacuated to America. It must have been a terribly difficulkt decesion for our parents, but they did not let on how wooried they were. Our little sister was deemed to young to accompany us. My brother and I were evacuated to the USA in August 1940. This was only days before the first raids on London. We went by train to London to Liverpool. We were in a group called the 'Transcriptors'. The name was given as we were sponsored by the Boston Transcript Newspaper. Our welfare was under the supervision of the American Committe for the Evacuation of Children. We were taken in by a wonderful family in Masschusetts who laster took us with them to Vermont. Stragely I did not ger homesick. I was toon busy with school and sports. I loved baseball and leaned to ski when we moved to Vermont, I had really good teachers and was put in advanced classes. There were two glorious summers in a Maine boys camp. When I arrived I still did not comprehend what was happening, but as I got older began to follow the War. I turned my room into a mini-war room with maps and pins all over the wall. We listen to the radio for war news and also for the wonderful programs. Charlry McCartht became a real favorite. Mother wrote comforting letters assuring us that they were all safe. After the War I learned it was not as safe as she led us to believe.

Munich (September 1938)

My first childhood inkling of the developing European crisis occured during our summer holiday in Cliftonville. As the Sudeten crisis worsened, our holiday was cut short. There was a bit of a panic getting trains back to London. I have one childhood anecdote relating to my feeling about the War. I think it must have been around the time of the Munich crisis. My piano teacher, who was a family friend and my Godfather arrived to give me my Weekly lesson. I was at the front door with my mother who had answered it. Uncle Eric said, "I am afraid it looks like War." I went outside to have a look. I remember seeing black clouds (there was an approaching thunder storm.) I made a mental note that has lasted 70 years. "So that is what War looks like."

World War II (1939-40)

After the German invasion of Poland, Beitain and France declared war (September 1939). The Government ordered a mass evacuation of children from the major cities. No children were evacuated from our area in 1939, as we were some 10 miles from the centre of London. Most of the children sent to the country were the inner city children, especially those in the East End of London where the docks were. My cousin was a teacher in Dagenham, Essex, where the Ford works were. She and her whole school were sent to Ispswich. This seems and extraordinary decision as that was a port and closer to Germany. They were eventually sent to Wales. Then when it seemed likely that there would be no invasion, they drifted back to their homes in Dagenham. I knew something was wrong when Dunkirk happened. From what I remember our parents told us that our soldiers were coming home from France. I don't think I really understood the significance until I saw the film "Mrs. Minver" when we were in the states. That would have been about 1943. I think I grew up very quickly in my first 2 years in America. I think that being with children at school (who were also my playmates) 2 years older than I was, had a big influence. I was surrounded by adults in my new home. My foster parents were about ten years older than mine and they had two teen age daughters, one at college and one in her last year at High School.

Parents

World War II was a terribly distressing time for parents. Of course I was totally unaware of this as a boy. I was young and carefree and I am sure our parents did their best to spare us from theid c oncerns. Graham was aittle more serious and a bit older and probably understood a bot more. When the War began, every expected Luftwaffe bombing raids. When that did not occur, most people breathed a sigh of relief. Nut then Francecfell abd we were on the front line. And this time the German bombers did come, although at first they focused on military targets. Many people thought that Britain could not hold out. So our parents like other British parents had momentous decesions to make.

Our Evacuation (August 1940)

I do not know much about the decision our parents made. They simply announced to us that we were going to America. Our little sister was deemed to young to accompany us. After the announcement, it was all done in a bit of a hurry. I remeber Dad telling us we were going, and both my brother and I were very excited. We did not know much about America, but we were avid cinema fans. And Hollywood had us well briefed. We were sure we were going to see cowboys and Indians. I think the excitement acted to keep our minds off leaving the family. We were in a group called the 'Transcriptors'. The name was given as we were sponsored by the Boston Transcript newspaper. Our welfare was under the supervision of the American Committe for the Evacuation of Children. A lot of behind the scenes activity was needed to put the scheme in motion in the first place. My brother and I were evacuated to the USA in August 1940. This was only days before the first Luftwaffe raids on London. For our departure, we were mustered at Grosvenor House Hotel. I was very excited and totally unaware of the anguish that my parents must have felt. We rather thought we were off to a kind of summer camp adventure for a short period. Of course at the time many adults thought that the Germans were soon be coming down Whitehall. Thus our parents had no idea if they would ever see us again. We sailed from Liverpool to Montreal. We went to Montral because America was not yet in the War and the Atalntic convoys were organized from Canadian ports. I have since read that there were big problems in allocating the woefully few Royal Navy escorts at this time. The American Navy was not yet escorting convoys and the Canadian Navy virtually did not exist. Our ship was the Duchess of Atholl. Initially we were escorted by a destroyer and accompanied by another liner. We were left on our own in Mid-Atlantic. We had a circuitous journey to avoid the German U-boats. The weather was very rough for most of the crossing and I think most of us were sea sick at some point. Going through the icebergs was very exciting, especially when we saw a polar bear.

America (1940-45)

After arriving in Montreal we were taken by train to Boston. We arrived in Boston on August 24, 1940. We were billetted at Wellesley College until allocated to local families (figure 1). Wellesley College is a one of the best knon women's liberal arts college in America, one of the notable Seven Sisters. Many of the students returned early to College to look after us. Local children also used to come and play with us. I learned to ride a bike round the quad at Wellesley thanks to one boy. We couldn't have been made more welcome. We lived with a family in Swampscott, Mass. I am still in touch with the last survivor who lives in a community for the elderly in Hanover N.H. I had wonderful teachers in America. Integration was a bit difficult. I was nine, nearly ten when I went to American School. I was put in the 6th grade, so the rest of my class were two years older. I started school in UK when I was nearly four so I had a head start. Socially it made life difficult, but my classmates were tolerant. I was used to having an older brother and so having twenty-five older 'brothers' and 'sisters' was not the challenge that my brother had. He started in the 8th grade and he was only eleven, and still in short pants! I think that only lasted a few days before our guardians took pity on him and bought him some long trousers. I wore my prep school suit for a few weeks until the weather turned cold and I went into longs. A few boys wore knickers but only one in the 7th Grade. One of the characteristic of America I probably did not appreciate at the time but do now, is their generosity. We evacuees were hosted in a variety of ways, one of which was Summer Camp. It was decided that we should go to summer camp, a standard experience for American boys. My brother and I and several other boys were sent to Camp O-At-Ka on the shores of Lake Sebago, near Portland, Maine. Two years ago I found that all our wefare records are archived in York University, and I obtained photo copies. I was amazed at the constant welfare reports that my parents received from The American Committee. I remember a woman called Miss Hooper who used to visit us, but had no idea she reported back to my parents following each visit. She became known as 'Hooper the Snooper' to the family, but she was really quite nice.

Our Family during the War (1940-45)

After Graham and I left for America, we no longer knew what was happening at home. Our parents of course wrote, but they did not want to worry us with details about the Blitz. Thus most of what transpired at hime we found out after we had left. Father before we left installed a Morrison shelter and the Battle of Britain had just begun (July 1940), but London was at first off limits for the Luftwaffe which at first focused on the Channel ports and RAF. London was not targeted until later (September 1940). The RAF proved so effective against the Luftwaffe bombers thst the Germans shifted to night bombing. This continued fir several months, but finally tailed off in 1941 as the Germans shifted the Luftwaffe east tgo prepare for Barbarossa (June 1941). After American entered the War (December 1941), the air defenses over Britain became so effective, that German bombing became very rate. This changed after D-Day (June 1944) when the Germans began the V-1 attacks. The primary target was Londoin. This was also the case with the V-2s. I think our home was fortunately just outside the zone of greatest danger. Wood Green is some 5-6 miles from Docklands, and probably regarded then as the 'leafy suburbs'.

Return to England (1945)

In my welfare folder is correspondence about arrangement for our return. Dad had made provisional arrangements for us to go to a public School in North London on our return. He wanted us to return as soon as our American school term had finished and hostilites ceased. The War in Europe ended in May and our American school term in early June. The situation was the same for the thousand or so other Brit children. There were two ways of getting home. One was by passenger liner, the other by 'Special Transport'. The former would not be sailing until hostilities ceased, the latter was hit and miss as it meant going on a warship. They would be sailing first, and in fact Dad paid 10 excess for us to come that way. In the event the liner came first and we went home on the Samaria, a Cunard ship. This had been converted to a troopship so there was a lot of accommodation on board. Going home presented problems. You can imagine that after 5 years each child had collected a lot of clobber, and wanted to take it all home. We were allowed a bit more than the one suitcase rule applied the same as it had when we left England. My brother and I had the one suitcase and a duffle bag. The limit was 186 pounds of luggage. That is why the Book was left behind.








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Created: 5:50 PM 12/21/2009 Last updated: 1:13 AM 7/11/2010