MY OLDEST EVACUEE!! VIOLET HATTON IS 101 YRS OLD TOMORROW!
In November 2011, I interviewed a lovely lady, Violet Hatton, in Guernsey. In June 1940, she was evacuated from Guernsey with her sisters, mother and her 6 month old son, Brian. She left her husband Elijah behind. Violet really enjoyed sharing her family story with me. She is the oldest evacuee that I have interviewed as she was 99 years old at the time. It was a fascinating interview and segments of her story feature in my book 'Guernsey Evacuees'. Violet celebrates her 101st birthday tomorrow, March 15th 2014. Below is a recent photograph of Violet and Brian.
Violet had very strong memories of her arrival at Weymouth in June 1940 and told me, “There were French interpreters there, who thought we spoke a foreign language and wore grass skirts! One of them even showed us how to use an electric light! They said 'Do you know about electricity?' We told them we were British citizens and that we had everything in the Channel Islands.”
Violet and her relatives were sent by steam train (they had never seen one before) to Stockport in Cheshire where they were welcomed by the locals. “We liked Stockport, everyone was so friendly and kind. Brian and I eventually moved in with a Mrs Bowler on Ash Grove. She could not do enough for us and all the ladies on our street gave us bedding, furniture and clothing – we had arrived with nothing you see, we had to leave all our possessions behind.”
Violet was very surprised when one day, her husband Elijah turned up at the door. He had left Guernsey a few days after Violet and somehow managed to trace her in Stockport. She told me “He had tickets for Guernsey in his hand, and I told him “We can't go back to Guernsey my dear, it has just been occupied by the Germans!” It was such a shock for him and he immediately joined the British Forces. He went to France first but later he was a Prisoner of War in Japan.”
Over 20,000 Channel Island evacuees were scattered throughout Britain and they formed Channel Island Societies so that they could meet up regularly. They organised fund raising events to buy clothing and furniture as they had all arrived with practically nothing. The meetings also gave the evacuees the chance to sit and talk about the friends and family they had left behind in Guernsey. Violet remembers these meetings: “Every Sunday we went to Tiviot Dale Church for our meetings, we talked about the Red Cross letters that had come from home – it was the only way you could contact Guernsey, just 25 words but they meant such a lot to us. Now and again we organised trips to Belle Vue Fairground and Zoo. Brian and I really loved the rides on the bumper cars! ” The evacuees also held rallies at Belle Vue, and in June 1943, over 6,000 evacuees met up there. The Stockport Society also printed a monthly evacuee magazine, the 'Channel Islands Monthly Review', which was bought by evacuees throughout Britain, and sent to Channel Islanders who were serving in the Forces abroad. A ticket to the 1943 Belle Vue evacuee rally is shown below.
When Guernsey was liberated by the British, on 9 May 1945, Violet could not make plans to return to Guernsey. Elijah was still a Prisoner of War. He had been freed in August 1945 and sent to Rangoon, so Violet had to wait for the letter that would announce his return home. “Every time the postman came to my door, I would ask if there was a letter from my husband and he would sadly reply 'No'. One day, in December 1945, the postman came to the door and before I could speak, he said 'Here is the letter that you have been waiting for!' I read it and it said 'I am OK, I will see you soon.' He came back just in time for Christmas but only weighed 6 stone, he didn't talk about it much but he had been forced to build the Burma railway and been beaten with bamboo canes.”
In April 1946, Violet, Elijah and Brian returned to Guernsey in time for the first Liberation Day celebration. “It was lovely to meet up with the rest of our family! During the war our house had been occupied by German troops so we went to live with my Mum, then later found a cottage.” Elijah found work as a porter at Elizabeth College and the family remained in touch with Mrs Bowler who had been so kind to them in Stockport. Violet told me “She visited Guernsey several times and it was lovely to show her around the island. In 1959 my son Brian returned to Stockport where he got married to a local girl, Beryl, and in 2009 they celebrated fifty years of marriage.”
The photograph below shows Brian, aged 18 months, with his teddy bear. Because he was only 6 months old when Violet brought him to England, he has no memory of those events. He is a member of my Guernsey Evacuee Community Group, and shares his family's evacuation story by taking part in our community events. Find out more at: http://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/community-project/
You can read the opening pages of my first book, 'Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten evacuees of the Second World War here, free: