- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs. Anne Misselke nee Alexandre, Mr. Jim and Mrs. Ruth Alexandre, Mr. Alexandre Snr., Mrs. Gert Rowe, Mr. Cyril Sackett, Mr. Arthur and Mrs. Elsie Langmead
- Location of story:
- Stockport, Cheshire, Rochdale, Lancashire, Biberach, Germany
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 January 2006
View of the reservoirs to Clywd Avenue, Stockport where the Alexandre family lived with Mrs. Gert Rowe.
Part five of an edited oral history interview with Mrs. Anne Misselke (née Alexandre) conducted by Jenny Ford for Bedford Museum.
“So we packed all our things and off we went to Stockport with our bags. The day we got to the house, we loved the house. It was in a little road, Clywd Avenue, I don’t know how many houses, not many and at the end there was a carpenters yard and at the back was a reservoir. Then there was a little walkway and there was another reservoir and then there was a road and then there was another reservoir then there was a paper mill - that was what the water was for. They weren’t high up reservoirs because there were swans on them, we could look out of our window and we could pretend it was the sea. You couldn’t walk around the reservoirs in those days. We loved it and so we had the upstairs. We had the room at the back that was going to be our living room and one room at the front which was a bedroom and so my mum and dad and I were going to sleep there and then Gene would be there in the holidays. My grandpa had the little bedroom over the front door and auntie Gert had the downstairs living room and what would have been the front room for her bedroom and a little kitchen. But there were cellars, there were two cellars and there was a lavatory down in the cellar. At the bottom of the cellar steps was a big and all the way along there was a big marble slab so they divided it in half and they could their cold goods, their margarine or butter, cold milk and everything down there. The back cellar, it was the best fortified cellar in Stockport because the builder who had built this little road of houses in the Twenties I think, he had lived in this house and he had fortified it. But he had died and his wife had moved off somewhere else, the family still owned it but they rented it to us. So there were all these lovely thick wooden posts and there was a big old fire with a range and there was sink where they would do their washing and they would heat up the fire. We could play down there, we children, if it was raining so it was a lovely cellar and then there was a coal cellar as well. We loved it!
We were unpacking our things and auntie Gert had managed to find one bed, one table and she’d got a gas cooker fixed and I think she’d found one chair. In what was going to be our living room there was a built-in cupboard in that room and one in the front bedroom so my dad had said, ‘Oh, I’ll be able to put some shelves up in this one in the living room for cups and things.’ I think she had managed to find an orange box so we stood that in there for things. While we were unpacking, my dad had gone off to try to get some wood and nails and things to make the shelves in the cupboard. So we were unpacking in the bedroom and putting stuff in the drawers, there were two drawers under the wardrobe in the bedroom, Auntie Gert shouted, ‘There’s a visitor for you Ruth!’ And up the stairs came Cyril, the cousin that I’d stayed with and he had some flowers because my mum had written and said that we were moving in. He was chatting there and looking round and then he said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to a meeting at the Town Hall at half past two. I’ll be back before I go back to Manchester, I’ll come back and see you.’ So we said, ‘OK, we’ll see you later then.’ But of course he hadn’t got to go to a meeting at the Town Hall because about three quarters of an hour later he came back staggering under the weight of a great big box. In it there were cups, saucers, plates, pudding plates, teapot, milk jug, sugar basin, knives, forks and spoons and a vase! He’d got all this for us because he could see that we’d got nothing at all you see. So it was lovely! We’d brought our tea and everything with us so we could make him a cup of tea in the lovely new cups before he went back and put his flowers in the vase and that was really lovely, very kind.
So after he’d gone, auntie Gert said, ‘Come on, Ruth there’s a little second hand shop round the corner where I’ve got a lot of stuff, we’ll go there and see if he’s got anything. He delivers even if it’s late at night.’ So they went round, I can you show the list of what they bought, it’s all on the same receipt, my mum kept it. They spent a grand total of £2 19s 6d and they bought a bed, dressing table and something else. So that was the start. A lot of the people of Stockport were very good. The lady next door the next morning she said, ‘Would you like a chair?’ So we said, ‘Oh, yes please!’ And she passed it over, we wished we’d brought it back to Guernsey with us, a beautiful little Victorian chair, the cover wasn’t very nice but my mum bought some Rexene later on and recovered it. It was a lovely little lady’s Victorian chair. And then somebody else gave us a rocking chair and then the little second hand shop man he’d got a nice chaise longue thing and we gradually got it very nice. In late 1941 I went to Rochdale to the school, it’s now called the Grammar School but in those days it was called the States Intermediate School for Girls. I took the scholarship but of course with all the trauma of everything I didn’t pass the scholarship but my mum paid for me to go there and I was billeted with a family in Rochdale.
But before, in the May of 1941 the Channel Island Society in Stockport decided that there were so many of them in the Society they would all have their photographs taken on the steps of the Art Gallery with the Mayor and Mayoress, so I’ve got that photograph. When you went to the meetings people were always asking, have you heard anything from so and so - do you know where so and so is and so on so they decided that they would publish this newsletter called the ‘Stockport and District Channel Island Society’s Monthly Review’. Edition One was May 1941 and the last edition was August 1945 because everybody had gone back home then.
Then in 1942 we could get Red Cross messages. We could only send 25 words at the beginning and then several months later you would get the reply but you couldn’t just send them anytime you were only allowed to send so many in a year. For the first message it was terribly difficult. I can remember my mum and auntie Gert wondering how they were going to put down what they wanted to say to their loved ones in the first message, 25 words is not very much! So my mum sent her first message to her dad, my grandfather, the School Attendance Officer and several months later we had a reply from him and of course my grandma had sent him messages as well and so we sent messages.
I can remember the Christmas of 1942 because we had a wonderful school choir and we sang at the BBC in Manchester. They broadcast it and so that they hoped that the Channel Islanders would hear. My mum in her message to auntie Eva, Gene’s mother and father, she wrote and she thought they would understand it, she wrote ‘Girls singing ‘grande papillon chorus.’ Grande papillon is a big butterfly, they thought they would translate that — oh, ‘BBC’, the girls are singing on the BBC. Girls singing ‘grande papillon chorus’ on Christmas day. Of course they didn’t twig it and they didn’t listen and they missed it. They thought it was a thing that we were going to be singing somewhere, in a church or somewhere on Christmas Day. We also sang — we had a big concert at Belle Vue — that was a big place in Manchester, we sang in the boxing ring at Belle Vue! It was a big, huge Channel Island reunion — Channel Islanders from all over the country went to this great big reunion at Belle Vue that Christmas and our school sang in it. The boy’s school choir — they sang there as well. Then 1943 Christmas we also sang again at the BBC and then we had a big, big concert at the Champness Hall in Rochdale that was where Gracie Fields used to sing. But I was beginning to get very, very ill then and my mother said I looked terrible, I looked like a sheet. I stood on the end of my line and she thought I was going to pass out at any time because I kept going like this and I was like this and I began to get very ill over the Christmas. I developed these huge, big abscesses on my eyelids and the whole of my face would swell up. Then one week they would here and then they would be in another place, I was always at the Doctors. I was ill really and I couldn’t back to school in the January, the Doctor wouldn't allow me to do anything. I had to just get up and get dressed and then lie on this little chaise longue thing and have my lunch, I didn’t really want to eat much so of course I got thinner and thinner. So at the end of May I began to feel a little bit better and my mum said, ‘You’ll have to go back to school’ and I said, ‘I don’t want to go back to school’ because I was very unhappy where I was billeted.
In the meantime back on Guernsey Inspector Langmead and his wife were sent to Germany along with some other policemen because they had been trying to get supplies to the locals without the Germans knowing. I think at the end of 1942 they were sent to a camp called Biberach in Germany and they could write long airmail letters when they got there instead of the 25 words. Because two of the boys, we used to have them for Sundays, they were billeted in a village near us, they were the two younger boys who had evacuated with my school, we used to have them over. The eldest boy had just started an apprenticeship so he stayed in Guernsey and the other boy his school was evacuted to Wales so he was quite a long way a way. So they used to write to my mother. I mean we were very friendly with them before the war. I always used to play with the boys. So he was writing letters to my mum and one day in 1943 she got this letter and she thought well Arthur is telling me something here. Because he said, ‘Big Bertha lives at the Houge now.’ Well she knew that Big Bertha - there used to be a big gun called Big Bertha in the First World War and we’ve got Baubigny opposite us. Now Baubigny was an arsenal where the soldiers for the Napoleonic wars were billeted and where they had all their stores of ammunition. All sorts of things like that and ‘your sister’s Jim would easily get jobs now in St.Andrews but it would be underground.’ Because my father’s two sisters were nurses before they married. One was the Matron of the Country Hospital and the other was the Sister-in-Charge of the Town or the other way round. All sorts of things like that and at the end of it he said, ‘Now don’t forget to tell my friends Mr. and Mrs. Blue.’ So she knew that he wanted her to go to the Police and leave it from there. So off she went to the main Police Station and she said, ‘My friend’ — told them who he was and that he was in this camp and this is what he was telling her and she knew that he wanted her to pass this information on. They said, ‘Alright Mrs. Alexandre, leave it with us and you’ll be hearing from somebody.’ So a couple of days later an Army Staff car drew up and an Officer got out and he said, ‘Would you come with us please to Manchester and then you can point out where all this is.’ So off she went in this car to Manchester and then to a big office. Her letter was blown up and beside it was a great big blown up map of Guernsey and a pointer. She had to explain, this is here and this here, this is here and so on. Also Arthur had said that the Napoleonic things around the coast which were where they always had been — had down stairs now and they also had a bigger upstairs sort of thing. So she was able to say that the Germans were obviously building an underground hospital, there was an ammunition dump opposite our houses, there was a big gun out that way and these things were there. They said, ‘Thank you very much.’ They said, ‘Now then Mrs. Alexandre we can’t give you all your letter back we can only give you the bit back that says about the children. You mustn’t breathe a word to anybody about this for fifty years because it’s Top Secret but you have helped us a lot.’ So nobody knew anything about until I started giving these talks about my wartime experiences and I’ve got the little bit of the letter that they gave her back!
The people who were sent to Germany — there were a lot of people who were born in England or some of them whose parents were born in England — they were sent to camps in Germany. Those who were not true Guernsey people were sent. Because my mother’s cousin Sidney, who had been born in England but his parents had come over to Guernsey when he was a little boy, he was sent together with his wife, who was an English lady. They were in the same camp as Arthur and Elsie Langmead at Biberach. Some of the other Policemen were sent to another camp and they were treated very badly and they were made to march and some of them died on the march. I did work at one time with one of these Policemen who had been on this long march. I can’t remember the name of the camp where they were but it wasn’t very a nice camp but nobody was gassed. They were regarded as aliens because they weren’t Guernsey born. They were freed in 1944 because the Americans had freed that camp when they’d crossed and they came and stayed with us, Arthur and Elsie Langmead, when they first came out. They stayed with us a week or two so they could see their younger boys and then they went down to stay with Elsie’s sister in Salisbury then until the end of the war when we all went back home.”
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