The Children's Home during the Occupation

17th November 2015

From the Guernsey Evening Press, October 19, 1945. 'Exiled children made a mansion their home.' The evacuation of the children to Bury and the fate of the Home itself under occupation.

They found a real Fairy Godmother there

Last Monday afternoon, at the invitation of the Children Board, the Bailiff, Mr Victor G Carey, accompanied by Mrs Fanshawe-Swete, and Jurats John Leale and Sir Abraham Lainé, visited the Children's Home at the Castel to hear reports on the working of the Home—in the island and overseas—during the past five years, and also to inspect the premises, which have recently been rehabilitated.

Mr H Brown, Master of the Home, presented the report on the Home during its exile. He recalled how 51 children from five to fourteen years of age, boarded the SS Viking at the White Rock on June 21, 1940, and after a pleasant and uneventful journey (apart from most of the children being sick) arrived at Weymouth at about 2 p.m.

Arrival at Bury

After being medically examined and taken to a café for tea, the party left at midnight by train for 'an unknown destination.' During the morning a halt was made at Derby and refreshments were served by members of the Women's Voluntary Service. At noon the children arrived at Bury (Lancashire) and were met by the Mayor, Mayoress and Corporation officials. 'A short distance on foot brought us to the Palais de Danse, gaily decorated and with orchestra playing,' continued Mr Brown, 'and a hot meal was ready for everyone.' It was decided that a large mansion, 'Danesmoor,' situated in its own grounds on the outskirts of the town, be placed at their disposal, and 32 hours after leaving Guernsey, the children moved into their new home.

Great benefactress

The owner of the premises, Mrs P K Whitehead, was away when the party arrived, but, returning to Bury the same evening, she made the children welcome.

Mr Brown paid eloquent tribute to the wonderful way in which Mrs Whitehead had never forgotten a child's birthday, provided 'stockings' at Christmas, and an annual visit to Belle Vue, the show-place of Manchester. 'She was a real fairy godmother,' added the Master.

Nine babies were evacuated on June 22 under the care of Head Nurse Davies and staff were located in Manchester and arrangements were made to transfer them to Bury. To cope with this increase, the Bury Corporation placed another house at the disposal of the Home and where the babies and seven staff were housed.

Within four weeks a number of the nurses resigned and the babies were transferred to 'Danesmoor,' to be under the personal supervision of the Matron. Thirty boys were accommodated in another building. Two swings, a see-saw and a sand-pit were erected on one of the lawns at 'Danesmoor,' and later a prefabricated hut for use as an outdoor playroom.

Banking accounts

During the five years 70 children have been admitted to the Home. Of these, 59 were Guernsey children; 2 from Jersey; 2 evacuated children from London while their mother was in hospital; and 2 from Czechoslovakia, the mother being in hospital. Thirty-seven children, on attaining the age of 14, were found employment, and two joined the Services. All held banking accounts, the highest amounting to over £100.

Periodically they were visited by a Ministry of Health official or Mr Brown himself. The health of the children had been very good, said the Master. Thirty-nine cases of measles were treated in hospital, and 29 cases of mumps, while five of chicken pox received attention at home. Operations for tonsillitis and other ailments were carried out on 26 occasions.

Bomb suspense

A number of air raids were experienced at 'Danesmoor,' and one night the children were called from their beds seven times. 'On two occasions,' said Mr Brown, 'we had all the lower windows blasted by bombs falling near, but the greatest piece of good fortune was when a bomb fell some 200 yards from the house and failed to explode.

'After nearly five months it was located by the Bomb Disposal Squad and measured over seven feet in length and 26ins in diameter. It had penetrated to a distance of 35 feet. No casualties were suffered in any raid.'

Mr Brown commented on the holidays and free cinema shows that had been given. He also referred to the farewell parties that had been organised and concluded by paying a tribute to the staff, who had worked long hours with little time for relaxation, and to the people of Bury for their many kindnesses.

Turned out by Germans

Following this report from the Master of the Home in exile came the statement from Mr D K Waterman, Secretary to the Children Board.

Opening with a brief résumé of the evacuation period, Mr Waterman continued:

Bedding and clothing at the Home was laundered and placed in store and all foodstuffs transferred to the Country Hospital. The health of the children has been good. Only a small proportion had to be found alternative accommodation, the majority of them having been in the care of the same foster-parents from 1940 up to date.

Notification of the occupation of the Home by enemy forces was received in June 1941. Unfortunately, all the beds and the bulk of the furniture had to be left in the building, but clothing, bedding, and a small amount of furniture were removed and stored at the Town Hospital.

It was later decided by the Board to dispose of all the woollen clothing to the Children's Aid Bureau and the footwear to the Essential Commodities Committee for distribution to the children in the island.

Five motherless waifs

The admission of five children whose mother had been sentenced to imprisonment by the Germans, continued Mr Waterman, meant that ten children were accommodated in the Town Hospital at the end of 1944. It was realised that they placed a great strain on the inadequate nursing staff of the Institution and the Controlling Committee were approached with a view to opening a small home for these children. Owing to the difficult circumstances at the time the matter was deferred.

With the admission of large numbers of malnutrition cases to the Town Hospital in the first months of 1945, it was considered preferable to remove the children from the Hospital. A house in the Ivy Gates was furnished and equipped and the children transferred.

After Liberation it was found that while no great structural damage had been done to the original Children's Home, all the furniture was missing, and four men were employed cleansing the Home of the dirty condition in which it had been left by the Germans.

British Army's aid

Seventy-five complete beds, with bedding, were placed at the disposal of the Board by the British military authorities, and in a loft at the Home a number of beds and mattresses were discovered. As a result of a consultation with Mr R Harwood, of the Ministry of Health in London, on the re-equipping of the Home, a comprehensive quantity of goods amounting in value to £600 was ordered from the Ministry of Works.

'The amount of work performed by such a small amount of people in so short a time was truly remarkable,' said Mr Waterman, 'and the fact that the Home, while leaving much to be desired, was in a condition to receive the children, reflects the greatest credit on those concerned. Much has still to be done before the Home returns to its pre-War state, but the great assistance given by Mr Harwood and the Guernsey Purchasing Committee will ensure that the children will be adequately housed and clothed.'

Mementoes for staff

The Bailiff expressed his gratitude to Mr and Mrs Brown and the staff for the way they had cared for the children while in England. The reception given the evacuees by people in various parts of Britain was really touching, he added, and the island owes a great debt of gratitude to them.

He congratulated the Board on the manner in which they had looked after the children that had remained on the island, and hoped that the future of the Home would be assured and its history more peaceful than during the past five years.

On behalf of the Board, the Bailiff presented an illuminated address to Mr and Mrs Brown and others to Miss L Le Poidevin (Head Nurse), Mrs Brouard and Miss Hantonne as an expression of appreciation for their services during the past five years.

The Bailiff and party then toured the Home, and, on leaving, Mr Carey gave a donation to the Children's Christmas Fund.

Channel Island Monthly Review, 7 (3), September 1944, the Bury Channel Island Society 3rd Annual General Meeting. President: the Mayor of Bury; vice-presidents, Mr E Malet de Carteret and Mr John Troy; chairman, Mr W E Danforth; vice-chairman, Mr A S Barter; hon., treasurer, Mr J Lane; hon. secretary. Mr L E Torode, 134 Ferngrove, Bury; committee, Mesdames Barter, Roussel, Carpenter, Torode, Messrs J Falla, C Hingston, J Roche, E Belhomme. For the Vale School in Cheshire: Channel Island Monthly Review, 5 (3), September 1943, 'With the children,' in the Library. Ibid., May 1943, for children training in farming at 'an international colony in Lincolnshire.'