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War time evacuee's visit

30th June 2009 @ 7:07am – by Mike Waldon
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Mike Walden was a welcome visitor to Audlem over the weekend. He was in the village after travelling from his home in Guernsey for a family wedding.

Mike has sent a number of fine articles to Audlem Online over the past few years. Accordingly, he was formally made official Guernsey correspondent for Audlem Online yesterday, a position that also brings the onerous responsibility of managing the website's off-shore banking and corporate taxation arrangements!

In 2007, Mike wrote a moving article on his experiences as a young child when he was evacuated to Audlem, Hankelow and Buerton as Guernsey was occupied by German troops in June 1940. This is what he had to say – it is an article worthy of a 'repeat':

Having joined the ranks of web browsers in my retirement, I was delighted to find Audlem sporting such an attractive and informative web-site.

My interest in and, may I say, my attachment to Audlem goes back over many years: more than 60 in fact. I was introduced to Audlem in the summer of 1940 when, as a six year old school boy, together with my twin brother, I was evacuated from the Channel Island of Guernsey when it was occupied by the German Army in June 1940.

It was five long years before Guernsey was liberated and my twin and I were able to return to our parents in July 1945. But even though being separated from my parents proved hard to bear at times I can only recall the five years spent in the Audlem, Buerton and the Hankelow area as being some of the happiest of my life.

My attachment to Audlem has been on-going over the past 60 years and more, during most of which I have been a regular visitor. That attachment was strengthened when, soon after the War, one of my older brothers married an Audlem girl and he still lives in the Village. It is against this background that I have been presumptuous enough to consider that my fellow browsers may like to learn a little more about my nostalgic view of Audlem.

War startsI was 5 years old when the second World War broke out on the 3rd September 1939 and was living there with my parents, my twin brother and two older brothers when war was declared.

In June 1940, after Hitler's armies had conquered France and the Low Countries, the British Government decided to withdraw its forces stationed in the Island and not to defend it against the Germans because it was feared that to do so would lead to heavy civilian casualties. In effect Guernsey was declared an " Open Island ". Despite this the Germans did bomb the harbour of St.Peter Port when more than 30 civilians were killed and many more wounded.

Children evacuatedBefore this tragedy occurred the island government, with a German invasion threatened, issued a proclamation stating that it was prepared to evacuate children of school age to England if their parents wished them to go. Eventually, the parents of more than half of the school children in the Island, decided that their children should be evacuated. Many did so in the belief that the war would not last very long and that they would be reunited with their children very soon.

It was a very difficult decision for my parents, particularly since my twin brother and I were so young, but after much heart ache they decided that their four sons would be safer in England in the event that the Germans occupied the Island. In the end about half the school children of the island were evacuated.

My eldest brother, who attended a different school, was the first of our family to leave when his school was evacuated en bloc to Buxton in Derbyshire. Soon afterwards, on the 20th June 1940, my twin and I together with our other brother had to go to our school at 4 o'clock in the morning to get ready for the evacuation. I recall waving to my parents who were standing by the school gates as we went past in the coach taking us to the harbour where a ship was waiting to take us to Weymouth in England. Little did we realise that it would be 5 long years before we would see our parents again.

Weymouth to WiganFrom Weymouth we were taken by train to Wigan in Lancashire where we stayed for about two weeks. While we were there my parents ( who had been told " the twins were fretting " ) tried to leave the Island to join us but, while they turned the key in the door and left home for the harbour to catch one of the last boats to leave for England, they had to turn back as this was the day that the German air force bombed the Island. Two days later, on the 30th of June, the Germans occupied Guernsey and did not surrender to the British army until the 9th May 1945.

Following our two weeks stay in Wigan most of our school moved to Cheshire and my twin and I, together with one of our older brothers', were included in a group that was sent to the district of Nantwich.

Arrival in AudlemAt this particular time my twin and I were placed with different families. My twin and our older brother were " billeted " with Mr & Mrs Austin at Longhill and I, together with a cousin of mine went to live with the Pearce family also at Longhill. After a few weeks my cousin left us to join an older sister in Devon and I moved from the Pearces to join my brothers at the Austins.

The Austins, who had no children of their own, made us most welcome and looked after us very well in their small house. Of the memories I have of our stay with them, the most vivid were of those occasions when the air raid siren sounded and we were woken up to go into the air raid shelter which had been built underground in the garden.

My twin and I looked forward to having to go to the shelter where we slept in bunks, were given cups of tea and biscuits and were able to listen to the grown-ups talking about the war.

After some months we left the Austin's home and went to live on a large farm at Town House, the home of the Bonnel family, situated half way between Longhill and Buerton and which would be the permanent home of my twin and me for the remainder of the war. Here again we were welcomed and well looked after.

Stays with local familiesOn a number of occasions during the school holidays we spent short " holidays " with a number of other families in the area. These included the Parkers at Glenworth, the Hankeys at Bunsley Bank and the Vernons at Chapel End. All of these occasions bring back memories of generous people who welcomed us into their home.

Buerton SchoolAlong with my twin brother I attended Buerton school from September 1940 to May 1945. I have only happy memories of the school and was sorry to learn that it has been closed down despite the valiant efforts of the parents in their campaign to keep it open. In the spring of 2006 when I was staying in Audlem I took one of my grand children to see my wartime school; while we were standing outside the lady caretaker who lives opposite came across and, on hearing why we were there, very kindly invited us to go inside.

Many changes, of course, from the time I was there: no black stove on the back wall, no large screen partitioning the two classrooms, no two-seater desks uniformly set out in straight rows and, very noticeable, no primitive toilets! The playground remains as I remember it except for the high fencing which is now in place. What now appears to be a kitchen was a cloakroom in my day where, when necessary, corporal punishment was meted out by, the then Headmaster, Capt. Wyche. Those were the days!

VisitsVisits to Audlem meant swimming in the canal, visits to Beaman's sweet shop, (still going I see), attending the Audlem Show, where I recall the Shire horses from Town House competing in the various trials and races which were part of the Show and going to see the annual pantomime.

Visits to Nantwich, while less frequent, often involved going to the Cattle Market (no longer there I understand) and to the Regal Cinema, again no longer in existence. A visit to Crewe was a rare event but I do recall being taken to the Crewe Alex football ground to watch Crewe play against a Combined Forces team which included Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter and other England stars of that time.

No direct contactMy twin and I had no direct contact with our parents throughout the war. We were allowed to write a letter to them once every 6 months, if I remember correctly. These letters were sent to them through the Red Cross and one was only allowed to use a maximum of 25 words per letter. It was necessary to be careful what you wrote as the letters were read by the Germans before being passed on to our parents.

You could not mention where you were living or what was happening in the war for instance, or if there had been a bombing raid in your area, which happened on occasions. It was only when we were reunited with our parents in June 1945 that they learnt about our years spent as evacuees in Cheshire and of how well we had been looked after.

Audlem thoughtsOver the years I have visited Audlem since 1945 I have, of course, seen many changes take place but, for me, what does not change is the evidence that it is a village which cares about its environment, is conscious of its history and has a population which still offers a friendly welcome to those who come to stay awhile. I hope that in the years to come I will have many more opportunities to indulge my nostalgic relationship with Audlem. Guernsey. February 2007.

This article is from our news archive. As a result pictures or videos originally associated with it may have been removed and some of the content may no longer be accurate or relevant.

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