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18 June 2014
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Legacies - North East Wales

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Immigration and Emigration
Your Story: The Kaleidoscope of Youth

My introduction to Wales, where I have subsequently lived for over 30 years, came about indirectly as a result of the export of Welsh coal. We were afloat in the Bay of Biscay in a small fishing boat. Although the storm had not abated the boat had to take out to sea by noon, when the French surrender came into force. To have stayed would have meant being captured by the Germans. There were other boats ahead of us. As the French army disintegrated, Polish units fought their way through France to the Spanish border. Those that made it to Saint Jean de Luz regrouped and were ordered by Polish officers in command to embark on anything that could sail and make their way to England.

Danusia Trotman-Dickenson, 1939, before leaving Poland.
The last photo of Danusia taken before World War II
© Danusia Trotman-Dickenson
Families were soon left behind. My father said goodbye to us. Mother and I stood on the water’s edge and watched the boats go off. There were few people left on the shore. The remaining boats were ready to weigh anchor when someone shouted to us that they still had some space. We waded out and were wedged in. One of the soldiers took me on his knees and this gave a bit more room for the others. So there we were, tossed about, getting very wet, the waves creating a big-dipper effect except that this was not the fun of a fair. I glanced at my mother: she was very white but ten most of the others in the boat looked seasick too. I hoped that nobody would actually start being sick. The others were bound to follow and we would have a horrible mess. I was rapidly loosing my enthusiasm for a sea voyage, when a British coal ship rescued us. Having unloaded its cargo of Welsh coal somewhere in Africa, it was heading home. Heavy seas made it difficult for our boat to come alongside the cargo vessel. No sooner did we get close then we were swept away. Sailors threw ropes overboard. Someone tied one round my waist and I was hauled up.

The next few days and nights we sat on deck and watched the sea. It was very crowded on board and in any case there was nothing else to do. We zig-zagged across the Atlantic to escape a German U-boat that had been reported to be hunting in the area. It must have spotted us. The word went round that it was following, but if it was, then its attention must have been diverted by a more worthwhile prey. The U-boat disappeared and we reached Plymouth. It was June 1940.

Words: Lady Danusia Trotman-Dickenson

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History Day at our School 2003
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Welsh Women's Press
–Publishing Literature by Women from Wales
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