- Contributed by
- Yvonne Devereux
- People in story:
- Nigel, Tony & Diana Devereux
- Location of story:
- Canada & Hampshire, England.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 May 2005
Canadian War Guests. Doing their bit for Canadaian scouts. Diana Devereux and her sons, Tony and Nigel 1940-1944.
Evacuated to Canada 1940-1944.
In the beginning.
I was born in New Milton, Hampshire, where my doctor father had his General Practice. The summer of 1939 was glorious and many of our relations came to New Milton for their holidays. A beach hut was taken at Barton and my brother, Tony, and I and lots of cousins had wonderful seaside days swimming and playing with ancient fossils found among the pebbles.
When war was declared my Aunt Kathleen, who lived in Lowestoft, was sent down to the 'safety' of New Milton to await the birth of her baby.
Alarm in Belgium.
Over in Belgium where my Uncle Donald, was Chaplain to the British Embassy and Vicar of Christ Church in Brussels, things were becoming increasingly uncertain, so his three daughters were sent back home to us in England.
The week before the Germans reached Brussels my uncle and aunt were offered a seat in a car going to France. They chose instead to take the last boat leaving Belgium for England. For a week nothing was heard of them or the boat. We waited anxiously for news until at last they arrived safely at Dover before going on to Macclesfield..
1940 - Refugees to Canada.
As the Germans advanced into Belgium and France the threat of an invasion of England seemed very likely and the south coast appeared particularly vulnerable, especially after a huge explosion off the coast woke us all up one night and we beat a hasty retreat to the shelter in our garden.
My father was on call to go into the Army and was very worried about our safety as my mother's family were of Jewish origins. On a visit to Macclesfield to return his nieces to their parents he decided to see if it was possible to get a berth on a ship going from Liverpool to Canada. He was in luck. There was room on a ship leaving in three days time, but we needed a Sponsor before we could be accepted. Again he was fortunate to know a Maternity Nurse whose connections in Canada would sponsor us.
My parents then had just three days for the return trip to New Milton and to pack everything we might need before catching the boat, 'The Duchess of Atholl', though we didn't know her name at the time.
My mother always remembered our departure. My father was only allowed to come as far as the beginning of the gangway on to the ship. There was a long covered passage to the bottom of it and she remembers turning when she got to the top and looking back at him down below and wondering if she would ever see him again. .
The Duchess of Atholl.
We sailed the next morning in company with another cruise ship and two destroyers. A third cruise liner accompanied us a short way and then turned to take a different route while the 'Duchess of Atholl' rounded the north coast of Ireland and into the Atlantic. The Captain set a northerly course to avoid submarines, but this route brought us into iceberg territory. For twenty-four hours the ship remained stationary in the middle of a sea of icebergs; a sight which even at five years old I never forgot. It took eleven days in all for the ship to make the crossing.
With some eight hundred children on board, many unaccompanied, it was bedlam at times. The Captain ordered a lifeboat drill, but, as they did not have enough life jackets for everyone, and the cork life belts proved too heavy for the younger children to manage - I couldn't stand up in mine - he didn't call another. My mother was sure that he realised that if we were hit by anything there would be no chance to save anyone, so it was pointless to create even more havoc with lifeboat drills.
The loss of such another ship bearing refugees shortly after this voyage, meant the end of the evacuation abroad.
Eventually we arrived safely at Montreal which my mother found hot and dirty. We stayed at a vicarage in the heart of the city, where they had a little maid to look after us. The Canadians were very kind and as helpful as they knew how. However, my mother was advised not to mention her Jewish blood and to remember that we were Canadian 'guests' rather than refugees.
We moved on to Kitchener to stay with our sponsors, the Spurgeons. Because she was a doctor's wife, the medical profession in Kitchener/Waterloo, took an interest in her. At a party to which they had invited her she began to enquire if there was someone who could look after me while she got a job. She needed one because, as no allowances could be forwarded from England at that time, money was becoming quite a problem.
The doctors came up trumps. They found her a small flat in Park Street, Waterloo and gave her a small allowance to live on. Their wives held a 'shower party' and provided her with many things she needed for our new home. So in the autumn of 1940 we were able to be together again in our own home and that winter we began our Canadian education at Alexandra School.
It was while we were on holiday at Bayfield on Lake Huron in the summer of 1941 that we heard a familiar voice on the radio. Troops stationed overseas could record messages for broadcasting to their families at home and mother was told we would receive a message, but not which day. So, every Sunday we all had to listen very carefully until one fine day we heard Dad's voice loud and clear.
In return we made a record to send to him which reached him safely and even survived the war to be played again for several years afterwards until the supply of needles ran out.
In 1942 mother found herself a job in a dress shop in Erb Street and later was able to rent a vacant flat next door to it. We continued to attend Alexandra School, where I distinguished myself by winning first prize in a school quiz. We both joined the 5th Waterloo Cubs whose Akela was a Scot of the Stuart Clan and wore the Royal Stuart tartan which was also used for the Cub scarves.
Mother meanwhile had become involved with the Brownies. This was at the command - she was given no choice in the matter - of our first hostess, Mrs Heather, who was the Brownie Commissioner, and who told mother she would be the Brown Owl of the 10th Kitchener pack. My mother thoroughly enjoyed her time with them.
Summer Camps and singsongs.
In the summer of 1942, my brother went off to his first summer camp at Kilcoo and the next summer I was allowed to go too. Unlike the popular record 'Hullo Mother, Hullo Father' Kilcoo was well organised, the Counsellors were 'marvellous' and the 'natives' friendly. Tony learned to sail and when I could swim fifty yards, I learned to row.
There was a real Indian programme. The camp was divided into Indian tribes and I was a Blackfoot. A real live Red Indian Chief visited us and showed us how the Red Man made fire. Unfortunately the wood shavings were damp so he didn't.
In the evenings the whole camp assembled beneath the flagpole for the 'flag down' ceremony. In the glorious setting of lakes and forests, to the tune 'Finlandia' we sang the camp song.
By 1943 things were getting difficult in Canada as they were elsewhere and her employer in the dress shop had to dispense with mother's services. Fortunately by this time she was getting an allowance from England, but another job would make things much easier. It was hard to find, and when she did find it she made us boys keep quiet about it. It was night work in a factory sticking Mosquito aeroplane wings together. The work force were not the sort of company she was used to and their language was a bit 'choice'. She did not think that the Spurgeons would be very keen on her working there, but she needed to do something and could make the best of it. We found out later that they did know, but respected her efforts to be independent and said nothing. She worked there for six months.
Mother's cousin, Commander Eric Mount Haes R.N., had been 'lent' to the Canadian Navy and was Second in Command at H.M.S.Cornwallis, Training Base, Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia. He had his own house on the base and we went to visit him. Eric's arrival in Canada was very opportune because it was through him that we were able to get back home to England before the end of the war.
In the spring of 1944 all danger of an invasion seemed to have passed and wives and children of Navy personnel were being repatriated. It took the merest stroke of a pen to turn mother from a cousin to a sister and a passage was made available for us. Mother wanted to get home before Dad so that she could have the house ready for him. If we didn't take the opportunity Eric offered we would have had to wait at least another year before we could leave. So we packed up and said our farewells to all our Canadian friends. The doctors who had funded her refused to be repaid. The Canadians had been more than generous to their English 'guests'.
We were to sail aboard 'H.M.S. Ruler' leaving from New York on the 24th April 1944, but we had to keep very quiet about it because of the restriction on who might be a passenger. We arrived in New York the day before its departure and duly embarked upon the 'gift from the American people', a newly built aircraft carrier. It was so new and was entirely made of metal that it seemed like setting sail in a tin can. Mother thought the whole thing seemed rather 'blown together' with everything metal, including the furniture, so that if you knocked anything it rattled and altogether it was a very noisy experience.
There were no portholes and for the first day we had to keep off the flight deck and remain below decks. Mother shared a cabin with Hilda Wedmore; her son, Keith, Tony and I shared a cabin with three other boys.
Hilda and Keith had gone out to America with Mr. Wedmore, an Electrical officer, in 1941 having been all through the Blitz. They were now returning home only to find themselves in time for the buzz bombs and the V.2s.
There were ten women and thirty boys altogether on board, but the ladies were able to have a 'wonderful rest'. This was due to the sterling efforts of a Lieutenant and an Able Seaman, who was nicknamed 'Muscles', who took entire charge of the boys. They were given lectures on such fascinating subjects as magnetic mines by a retired Rear Admiral. He told them a story about a ship which had a cable coiled inside it to deflect mines. Unfortunately, when visiting ladies went aboard the magnetism in the cable attracted all their hairpins which promptly fell out. Young Keith Wedmore,a thin boy who wore glasses, nicknamed 'The Professor', because he was a clever chap and looked like a 'boffin', then saw fit to explain to the Rear Admiral why this could not be so. The R.A. 'blew a fuse'.
Adventure tales and high jinks.
In the meantime Able Seaman Muscles told us boys about his life on the 'Rodney' and the part he played in the sinking of the 'Bismark' . We were given a tour of the Bridge and shown the Radar when it wasn't working, of course, because it too was very 'hush-hush'.
The ship was part of a mixed convoy and the trip across the Atlantic was a quiet one. There was only one night alarm when mother said that she never moved so fast in all her life. She was above deck raced below to collect life jackets and any treasures. The accompanying Destroyers went off chasing something, possibly a submarine. Another day there was a gunnery practice and although mother wasn't too impressed by their performance, we boys thought it was good noisy fun.
The high spot of the voyage was the storm off the coast of Ireland when the waves were as high as the Flight Deck. Everything that wasn't lashed down was sliding about including Tony and the boys who discovered that sitting on chairs sliding from one end of the cabin to the other as the ship rolled was the greatest fun.
At last we arrived safely at Liverpool where we were met by a Petty officer and escorted to a hostel whereupon Tony uttered the immortal phrase - 'Gee Mom! Isn't the grass green?' Not a view usually observed by the inhabitants of central Liverpool.
Next day we took the train across England to stay with Granny Haes at Oulton Broad, but, because they were still getting air-raids in Lowestoft we went on to Worksop to stay with other relatives.
Leaving Tony in a very quiet and soldier free Worksop, mother and I went down to New Milton to see about getting our house back. We had to have a special pass allow us to travel to the south of England, but we were unaware of the reason for this at the time. We stayed with friends who had a small dairy farm at Bashley, just outside New Milton and lived in a delightful 17th century cottage with a thatched roof.
Early the next morning the milk girl told us that Christchurch Bay was full of ships. When we went in to New Milton later in the day we saw all the lanes and side roads full of lorries and soldiers - waiting to take part in the D-Day Operation.
Having arranged for the tenants in our house to move out, we settled back in our own home at last. In 1945, when my mother became ill, my father, then still serving in southern Italy, was allowed compassionate leave and came home. He arrived on the day before V.E.Day, just in time to help us hang out the flags and join in the celebrations.
Not quite the end.
This was not the end of my memories of the war though because in 1947 Gudrun, a Danish friend of my mother's, invited us to visit her in Copenhagen. While there she took us to see all the famous sights including the place where a certain air raid had occurred. The Germans had stored a lot of prisoner's records in a large building in the centre of Copenhagen. On the top floor of this building they had also imprisoned a number of captured Danish Resistance Fighters in the belief that the British would not dare to bomb them. In this belief they were rather mistaken. The British mounted a carefully planned and daring attack with a Mosquito Squadron using aerial torpedoes. They were successful enough to allow the Danes to escape in the surprise and confusion of the attack.
Gudrun told us that everybody was hanging out of their windows waving flags and shouting encouragement to the planes. She did not tell me about the plane which was shot down and landed on a nearby school, killing many children.
At the end of the holiday we set off home on the Nord Express, which went through north west Germany stopping at Cologne. The train was packed with people and soldiers all very tired and dejected and it was a journey through devastated country. I particularly remember the sight of Cologne Cathedral standing by itself like a lighthouse in a sea of rubble.
Passing through Hamburg we saw people living in half houses with curtains, or blankets covering gaps in the walls. Everywhere the people looked grey, shabby and dejected. The ruined towns and the sight of such demoralised people really brought it home to us what the war had done to Germany and was something neither my mother, nor I, ever forgot.
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