Extracts from A Child's War
Copyright © Molly Bihet 1985
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Evacuation. Yes or No?
From Chapter 1
...all the children were expected to leave the island as the German Enemy Forces had moved on into France. I remember all the talk to friends and relations "are you going?" or "are you going to stay?", "what are we going to do? - the phone kept ringing and Mum and Dad were very worried as to what was going to happen to us all. If parents wanted their children to go to England with the school, special arrangements had been made and they had to report at their school at a given time and be prepared ready to join the ships and leave. At Burnt Lane and St Joseph's Schools, all had to assemble at St Joseph's School - my husband Andre, who was twelve at the time, remembers going with his mother very early (around 4-5am) in the morning to the school,saying good-bye there, then walking down with teachers to the harbour. He remembers being lined up like all the other children in particular school groups, being checked, then getting on board.
I can well remember leaving home around 6am with gas masks around our necks, some small carrier bags with small items of clothing and some cash carefully hidden - sewn inside our vests. "Just in case", said Mum, but three times we returned home as my mother was not allowed to travel with the school teachers and children. If Mum had permitted us to leave without her, she must have felt in her heart that Joyce and I would have had to separate as we were attending different schools at the time. She must have kept hoping that the next time could see us being allowed to travel together. Yet again we tried, each time I was crying wanting to stay with my father, my sister was crying wanting to go on the big boat and my mother I'm sure was very concerned and confused. No wonder my mother did not want to be parted from us, we were only 6 and 8 years old. Nevertheless, after the 4th attempt the decision was made for us! We just had to stay and the evacuation came to a complete stop.
In a Tight Spot
from Chapter 5
The only other time when Germans came to look over the house must have been during the early part of the Occupation. I remember it very well as I was at home alone with my mother. With this incident we were very fortunate to be allowed to stay in our home for the duration as it was only the very quick thinking of my mother that did it. The German officers arrived at the door and wanted to look over the house. We knew why they wanted to look it over. Les Canichers, where we live, was a very busy street, there always being plenty of activity with German soldiers. it was also very important to live near the Harbour, also the Royal Hotel and one house eventually later on, just opposite, was a departure centre or Depot for many young soldiers being sent to Russia to fight. All these happenings were around us and Mum and I guessed that our home could well be in line for Officers to live in. So, on this day when we spotted the Officers coming up the path, Mum just knew what the outcome could be. With the road being so busy and with several of the larger houses taken over by Officers, it just had to be! They started with the top floor with us walking behind them and dreading with every step what the outcome would be, we knew with 6 bedrooms (sea-views as well!) everything would be 'Prima'. We knew this word well and they kept repeating it to each other! Coming down a flight of stairs and on to the first landing, my mother gave me a nudge and a wink, and started groaning and moaning! She fell on to the floor and as I leaned over and muttered 'What's wrong Mum?' she whispered 'Shh you fool - ooh, ahh', the moaning seemed so real. The Germans looked concerned and asked 'Was ist laus?' 'Was ist laus?' I answered and said Mum was sick, with that they must have believed it - they took a look at my face and my mother's and that must have been enough as off they went and we never saw them again. Quick thinking by my mother and what a blessing, as with all the rooms 'prima' our family would probably have had two or three hours to move out with just a few personal belongings.
The 'Finigan Sisters'
From Chapter 6
Joyce and I were dancing together as an act, in variety shows, during the shows of 1943 and up to June 1944.
from Chapter 8
Now every day was one less to tolerate under the German rule. Rumours were still going round as they had been all through the years, but after waiting and praying for so long, our 'day' was soon to come. The heading on the front page of the 'Guernsey Press' told us we could 'fly our Flags' at 3pm May 8th. At last, what excitement and relief to Mum, Dad and everyone. Upstairs, Mum told us to get the flags out, ready to fly them across the street. With a radio getting an airing at long last, neighbours and the family got together in the street to listen to our dear Winston Churchill giving his famous speech. We did not worry if Germans were around us or whether they were passing by, the radio was in an upstairs bedroom window and we were gathered together in the road. I remember him loud and clear, "Our dear Channel Islands will be free".
May 9th 1945 was to be our day. I don't think anyone could really sleep well that previous night, we all had so much to look forward to. I remember Joyce and I wakening early around 6am, our first thought was to look out of the window. We soon woke the household as clearly we could see the ships in the distance. My mother, sister and myself soon got dressed an dashed off down towards the harbour. At the Weighbridge islanders were gathering, but seeing we were down early, we were just behind the gates and the constables who were to keep us off the harbour! The harbour being out of bounds and heavily mined! Our eyes were glued to the road as we could not see if the boats had come into the harbour. We all wanted that first glimpse of British soldiers. By this time an hour seemed ages, but we all waited patiently until that smart party coming up the Harbour got bigger and closer and we just could not hold back our excitement any longer. They looked wonderfully smart with bayonets held high - we all ran as fast as we could and I was among the first persons to greet them. We were hugging them, kissing them, laughing and crying at the same time. Even the soldiers were overcome too and I am sure they had never seen or felt anything like it before. Everyone was overwhelmed with relief. The soldiers had their hats and bayonets flying in all directions, it was a wonderful moment and if I live to be 100 I shall never forget it. All day, May 9th 1945, was a wonderful day! My sister, mother and myself never saw each other again that day until about 8pm when we decided to go home. Although our home was only five minutes walk away from the town, it never occurred to me to go home at all during the day. My father was also lost in the crowd and in the excitement. All Guernsey must have been out and there were tears, singing and laughter everywhere. it is difficult for me to put into words the happiness I felt, as young as I was, I felt such deep gratitude. I never dreamt I could feel such happiness and exhilaration.
Letter of Pride
From Chapter 9
After the celebration of Liberation Day had died down a little, my father suggested I should write to the man we felt we owed so much to, Winston Churchill. Every islander felt so thankful he had given us our freedom and we were full of gratitude towards him. I sat down and wrote, little expecting a reply, but was so thrilled when an envelope arrived with the '10 Downing Street', Whitehall and PRIME MINISTER stamped on it. I was so proud. To this day, I have treasured this letter from the man 'Our Hero' at the time to whom the islanders owed so much and to whom we all felt and still feel great affection for now.
Copyright © Molly Bihet 1985
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