Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Tristan da Cunha islanders remember life at Calshot

Joyce Hagan
Image caption Joyce Hagan eventually returned to Tristan da Cunha

Fifty years ago a village in Hampshire forged an unlikely link with one of the most isolated communities on earth.

In October 1961 the isolation of the few hundred residents of Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic was shattered when the volcano which dominates the island threatened to erupt.

As citizens of the British Overseas Territory of St Helena, they were evacuated to England and ended up living at the former RAF flying boats base at Calshot on the shores of Southampton Water.

The tiny island of Tristan da Cunha is 1,743 miles (2,805km) from the nearest mainland - South Africa's west coast - but the ties between the two communities have proved enduring.

When the skies were darkened and the ground began to shake in 1961, the entire population of 268 people was evacuated by sea to Cape Town, South Africa, and then to the UK on the Southampton-based Union Castle Line.

Joyce Hagan, 71, was a 21-year-old newlywed when she had to leave her home to experience the culture shock of 1960s England.

Image caption All the island's inhabitants were evacuated to the UK by sea in 1961

She said: "We were scared, we were told there were Teddy Boys in England and we wouldn't be able to go out. But when we got there there were no Teddy Boys, I wasn't frightened."

Like many of the islanders, Ms Hagan got a job making electric blankets at the Dreamland factory in nearby Hythe.

Calshot proved to be a haven after they had been put up in temporary military accommodation at Pendell Camp in Surrey and they were welcomed by the mayoress of Southampton.

Ernie Repetto, 85, said: "Well it seemed quite nice - the houses were nice and I was able to grow potatoes. I remember catching the bus to Southampton to see the ships in the docks. They were nice people there."

Image caption Dora Tarrant is the only islander to remain in Calshot

Although Hampshire provided a temporary sanctuary, life in England did not agree with many of the Tristan exiles.

They were unused to the glare of press publicity and were prone to picking up flu infections in the UK they had not been exposed to on the isolated island.

Mr Repetto said: "In England if you ain't got money, you can't live. In Tristan you can kill a sheep, catch a fish or grow potatoes and still have a happy life."

Most returned to the south Atlantic within two years once the volcano was declared safe but the street in the village of Calshot where they were housed is still called Tristan Close.

However Mr Repetto's sister Dora met and married a Surrey man, Keith Tarrant. The couple still live in Tristan Close.

Mrs Tarrant, 83, remembers leaving the island. She said: "It was very frightening but someone said we were saved. We were just amazed when we saw cars for the first time."

The island is now home to about 80 families and the economy now revolves around a lobster processing plant.

For visitors to the island who brave the choppy south Atlantic seas, there is a sign of the safehaven which Hampshire provided 50 years ago as the new harbour on Tristan da Cunha has been named Calshot Harbour.

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