Gillian Mawson Tells WWII Stories of Guernsey Evacuees

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Those who think the World War Two story has been told have not met Gillian Mawson. Little known but hauntingly personal stories from war evacuees gripped the former University administrator/researcher. She felt compelled to retell the stories of Guernsey Island residents ripped from their families and beloved island ahead of the Nazi occupation. Her book, titled Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War will be released on 1 November. She describes the lead up to the evacuation, the journey across the Channel and the resettlement of the refugees. They juggled financial struggles and integration into a new community while maintaining Guernsey schools and Channel Island Societies in England. The stories spring to life as Gillian weaves “quotes from evacuees throughout the book, together with 102 images”.

In early 2008 while researching the Manchester Blitz of December 1940 she discovered a June 1940 newspaper description of the arrival of thousands of Guernsey evacuees in England. 2,000 settled in her home town of Stockport, Cheshire yet she knew nothing about them. Little information was available.

guernsey evacueesShe located and interviewed almost 200 surviving Guernsey evacuees, many of whom remained in England after Liberation Day. To record their stories before it was too late she resigned her full time position. During the interviews, emotions that had been suppressed for over 70 years erupted.  She said, “I have interviewed evacuated mothers (now in their 90s) who left Guernsey for the first time in 1940. Many fled their beloved home island with an infant in their arms, no money, and few possessions. They arrived in England to make a new life and wait out the war. They were separated from their husbands in Guernsey for five years until the Nazis left the island”.

Besides the interviews, Gillian reviewed endless formal and informal documents. Some of the official documents were lost or destroyed but many personal documents were made available to her. She appreciates the support she received from those who understood that the urgency of her work due to the advanced ages of the evacuees. 

The unique and emotion laden stories intrigued Gillian. Some stories involved an international element. Americans gave through the Foster Parent Plan for Children Affected by War, Canadians sent funds, clothing and medical supplies. Eleanor Roosevelt financially supported a Guernsey girl evacuated to England.  And nationally, Mr Fletcher, from Lancashire raised funds throughout the war to provide Christmas gifts to evacuated children whose parents remained in Guernsey. The British welcomed and assisted many Guernsey mothers arriving with their infants.

As a girl Gillian continually scribbled stories but lacked the confidence to submit her works. Writing the book impacted Gillian in many ways; notably it gave her confidence. It drew her into the history of the island of Guernsey. She rediscovered the astounding contribution the evacuees made to the British war effort and the story of the British Second World War Home Front. She stated, while she came to writing later than most, “there is no stopping me now.”

In 2010 Gillian organized an evacuee reunion in Stockport. Hundreds of evacuees, their friends and local residents attended. She set up a community group for the evacuees for mutual support and the sharing of their wartime experiences with the local community. They share their stories with school children thereby bringing the generations together.

Eva Le Page in 2011, former evacuee

To review a brief video of her work see this page on the BBC

Gillian’s articles are published in the BBC History Magazine and in heritage magazines on local history with pieces in Guernsey and Manchester newspapers on WW2 Evacuation. Her article in 'Americans in WWII' magazine about Eleanor Roosevelt's relationship with a Guernsey evacuee girl in England will be published in October 2012. She is writing an article for 'Family History Monthly' magazine, showcasing how her research has strayed into the realms of 'family history'.  She has informed Guernsey residents about the experiences of their parents and grandparents in England during the war.

She wrote, The Forgotten Women Evacuees of the Second World War.

She reported on a day in 2010 which she spent with surviving boys who evacuated to England with Guernsey’s Elizabeth College.

She has produced two documentary films, one with the BBC about Eleanor Roosevelt and the Guernsey evacuee – see and another about Guernsey Evacuees in Lancashire, England, made with colleagues from Bury Archive Service. Copies of the DVD are sold via her website to raise funds for her evacuee community group.

She wrote the book to lead readers into discovering the rarely told stories for themselves. She hopes they will share the emotional experiences of the children, mothers and teachers uprooted from a quiet rural isle and and transplanted to the shocking landscape of English industrial towns. She honors the thousands of Guernsey families torn apart by the Nazi occupation of their island. Many did not recover from the trauma.

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