Guernsey occupation As we mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings this week, researcher and writer Gillian Mawson looks back to the second world war. In June 1940, 17,000 people fled Guernsey to England, just days before German forces occupied the island for five years. Gillian spent time talking to them – and says they all praised the lifeline given by the British Red Cross. Read more in her blog.

Many residents left Guernsey during the early stages of the second world war, seeking safety on mainland Britain.

These people were mostly sent to industrial areas of northern England. They were shocked to see the huge factory chimneys, pouring smoke into the sky, and row upon row of terraced houses.

Thousands of those evacuees were children: many with their schoolteachers, leaving parents behind. Many others were expectant women or mothers with their infants, parting from their husbands still in Guernsey.

It all felt very different to home.

Getting the message across

There was no mail service between England and Guernsey during those five years of war. But evacuees and islanders could send Red Cross messages, of 25 words, to their families.

Anne Le Noury explained how important and precious these letters were to everyone involved.

“The rare occasion when mum received a Red Cross letter was like the biggest event ever. The few censored words meant that my dad and the family in Guernsey were still alive.”

I heard lots of emotional stories like this.

On 3 August 1943, Percy Rowlands sent a message to his mother, announcing that his wife, Muriel, had just given birth to a baby boy.

"Dear Mum, Muriel has a Baby Boy. Born early hours August 2nd. Named Richard Malcolm. Both doing fine. Am very excited. Best love, Percy."

“Dear Mum, Muriel has a Baby Boy. Born early hours August 2nd. Named Richard Malcolm. Both doing fine. Am very excited. Best love, Percy.”

He had to squeeze this life-changing moment into the tight word count: “Both doing fine. Am very excited.”

In October 1941, Hazel Hall reunited with her brothers, Ken and Rex (below), for a few hours in Bury, Lancashire. One brother was in the army while the other was living in Cheshire.

Hazel Hall reunited with her brothers, Ken and Rex

Hazel Hall reunited with her brothers, Ken and Rex

Hazel’s message through the Red Cross meant she could tell her parents about this brief but happy reunion – and in time for Christmas, too.

"Dear all. Well and happy. Hope you are. Happy Christmas. With kind people. Seen Ken and Rex. Received message. God bless you all. Love Hazel."

“Dear all. Well and happy. Hope you are. Happy Christmas. With kind people. Seen Ken and Rex. Received message. God bless you all. Love Hazel.”

Treasured possessions

As shown by the images above, many Guernsey evacuees have kept hold of their treasured Red Cross messages.

They will never forget how important the organisation was to them, during those dark days of war.

 

  • Find out more about the Guernsey evacuation in Gillian Mawson’s book, Guernsey Evacuees: the forgotten evacuees of the second world war (History Press, 2012), or visit her website.
  • Listen to our podcast: islanders remember the occupation during the second world war.
  • Find out about our work sending messages between families today.