Evacuees' applications to return

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Evacuees' applications
to return to Jersey
after the war ended


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The evacuation of thousands of people from Jersey to the UK in the months leading up to the German Occupation is well documented, but much less has been written about their return after the Liberation in May 1945.

Of course, not all who left were able, or wanted to return, but there were 6,400 requests to do so. Applicants were required to complete a card giving their family status, address and employment in the UK, and previous address and employment in Jersey.

The discovery of this notice in a Channel Island Refugee Committee newsletter from 1943 throws new light on the applications to return to Jersey. It appears that this was not an initiative of the UK Government but rather of the body set up under the chairmanship of Jerseyman Lord du Parcq to co-ordinate activities relating to evacuee families during the course of the war. It appears that the objective was to establish the number of refugee families in the UK and identify those wishing to return to the island when the war ended.

This whole process, and the numbers involved, was shrouded in mystery, and raises a number of questions. Most histories of the Occupation stop abruptly on 9 May 1945, save perhaps for a brief mention of a difficult atmosphere as people came to terms with what had happened in the previous five years.

Those who stayed inevitably viewed events from a different perspective from those who left and were returning. This gets a brief mention in some histories, notably those written by non-islanders, but history is silent on the process which led to the return of the evacuees.

Many evacuees from Jersey spent the war in the north of England, as did these children from Alderney
Waiting at Waterloo in 1945 for the boat train on the first leg back to Jersey

Questions

The questions raised by the process of completing applications to return, together with the answers we are gradually being able to piece together, are:

  • Why were applications required? They were part of a census to establish a comprehensive register of evacuees in the UK and establishing who wanted to return when the war ended
  • Who decided that this should happen? There are application cards dating back as far as 1943, so the States cannot have been the instigators. They had no contact with UK authorities until the war ended. It was not a Government initiative, but an operation conceived and co-ordinated by the Channel Island Refugee Committee together with the numerous Channel Island societies established throughout the country to help evacuee families
  • How were the evacuees who might or might not have wanted to return identified, located and invited to complete forms? Who organised this? It was co-ordinated by the CI societies
  • Who collated the applications and took them to Jersey? Did anything happen to them when they reached the hands of Jersey officials, or were they simply filed away? Today they are stored with Jersey Archive. This question remains unanswered. It is probable that the application forms were not actually used after the war ended, but that those wishing to return had to make an application to the UK authorities. Those returning have spoken of the 'red tape' they encountered at ports of departure, and contrasted that with the welcome they received on arrival in Jersey. The application forms were presumably retained by the Refugee Committee and at some point after the end of the war they were sent in bulk to Jersey
  • What happened when the mailboats and air services restarted? Were those arriving at the Harbour and Airport checked against a list of former evacuees who had asked to return? What happened if somebody turned up on a boat with their family having not filled in a form? Perhaps having known nothing about the formalities. There were numerous reports of those arriving at south coast ports without written permission to travel being turned away and forced to commence a lengthy process of obtaining a permit. The actual process of obtaining a permit is shrouded in mystery and the documents pictured at the bottom of this page suggest that various forms of permit were issued by different authorities
  • Why does the number of applications to return exceed the number said to have evacuated in 1940? This number is usually put at 6,000. Even allowing for children born in England to evacuee families, the confirmed figure of 6,400 applications to return is surprising. There must have been many deaths among evacuees in their five-year absence from the island, and many others will have chosen not to return. It is possible that the figure of 6,400 includes returning servicemen, although they would not have been in a position to complete application forms while the war was still at its height and would have been expected to receive permission to travel from the Military authorities. The figure is also unlikely to include those deported to German internment camps during the Occupation, who were in transit in the UK in the summer of 1945 after their release, because they would also have been unable to complete applications in 1943, which is the date on the great majority of forms

New index

While searching for answers to these questions we created an A-Z index of the names of those who completed applications to return, or had them completed on their behalf. There were hundreds of children who were not born at the time of the evacuation and returned with their parents.

Not everybody returned, of course. Those who owned property in the island and had businesses to resurrect or jobs to return to would mostly have gone back. Those whose lives had moved on and had good jobs and new homes in the UK were less likely to wish to live again in Jersey.

There were many children who had been sent away by their parents to the safety of the north of England, and been taken into their homes by people there, who would not have wanted to return to parents they scarcely knew, abandoning their much-loved foster families and friends.

The choice was not theirs. If their parents in the island insisted, they had to return. Small wonder that many took the first opportunity to leave again when they were old enough to do so. The relationship between those who remained in Jersey throughout the Occupation, and those who returned after five years absence, or longer in the case of those who left months before the threat of Occupation led to mass evacuation, was a difficult one.

Before they returned home to the Channel Islands from Stockport, Lancashire, these evacuees attended a special church service

Those who evacuated were subject to harsh criticism in 1940 by some States Members and ordinary islanders, likened to rats leaving a sinking ship. They were not likely to be welcomed back warmly by all those who had endured the hardship and deprivations of occupation.

And those who returned, probably understanding little of what those who stayed had had to endure, were dismayed to find their homes stripped bare of the furniture and effects they had left behind, and accusations flew back and forth about who had been responsible for this and what was to be done about it.

Returning families who hoped to return to their previous jobs found that they were being given to those who had remained, and with the exception of returning servicemen, who, it was understood, should be rewarded for the service they had given to King and Country, many found it very difficult to get work.

The more they complained, the more they were shunned by those who had endured the years of Occupation, and thought the returning evacuees should be more understanding about the recent past and the situation the island found itself in during the weeks and months after the war's end.

This led to some deciding that their future lay away from their previous island home and it was not long before they were on a boat crossing back over the Channel again.

Individual families also faced difficulties. Husbands who had left to serve in the Forces and had no contact with wives and families for five years or more, save for an occasional Red Cross letter, found it difficult to fit back into their previous relationships; so did women who had been sent to safety with their children by men who remained in essential posts. Inevitably the lives of some who remained had move on to such an extent that they did not want returning partners back in their lives.

At a personal level and through the community at large, it would be some time before tensions eased, wounds healed and relationships settled down to some semblance of normality.

Travel permits

A 1945 travel permit allowing Laura Lawford, nee Ahier, to return to Jersey

Others were simply issued with a letter of instructions before their return
A letter to the Bailiff regarding arrangements for travel to and from Jersey in October 1945. This appears to apply to those wishing to travel to the island for short stays rather than returning evacuees

Index to evacuees' applications to return to Jersey

This is an index, listing only the name of the applicant and the Jersey Archive index number. Further details can be found on the Jersey Heritage website, subscribers to which have access to images of the application forms.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - L', La, Le - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - Y - Z -

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