On our arrival in Brixham in 1940, the authorities sent all the boats to Weymouth to disembark the women and children and then sent us on by train to London. There, in Alexander Palace, they gave us a war ID number, a gas mask and arranged to evacuate us with English families. The boats were then sent on to Dartmouth and our men were ordered to go back to France to help with the evacuation there*, but they refused.
I must ask you to try to see things from their point of view. Most of these men were born before World War 1 and came from the sea coast of Belgium. Some of them had experienced the attacks at Zeebrugge and the blockade of Ostend by HMS Vindictive in the 1st World War*. And now we had escaped under bombardment at Calais and Dieppe, which had been terrible. I myself can't ever forget diving below deck for shelter and escaping the mine-strewn harbour of Dieppe. I understand why they refused - they remembered that moment and were frightened and that feeling takes years to heal. Those same men were to sail five long years, risking their lives between German planes and motor launches in the Penzance zone to keep the food distribution chain open. All were decorated for their work and I still have the medal my father received.
Back to our arrivel. We stayed in Paddington for a month and when my father found a house, we came to Brixham. My future wife was not so lucky - she and her mother and younger brother arrived in London and her father was a soldier back in Belgium, They had to stay more than six months in London and were there during the whole blitz, sleeping every night in the Underground Station. By luck, the night they did not go there, it was hit and flooded, killing many people. Once they went to church on a Sunday and during the Mass, the air raid alarm sounded and the priest told them to stay in the church. A bomb fell in the doorway and did not explode, so they had to leave the church, passing the bomb. My wife remembers it was bigger than she was.
One day, standing in a queue, a lady asked them what they were doing in London because most of the children there had been evacuated. Her mother (my future mother-in-law explained in French that she had no husband in England so was alone. The lady had compassion for them and arranged for them to be evacuated. They were sent to Auckley Hurst near Petersfield in Hampshire where they stayed with other London boys in a Manor house - she still speaks of the Castle there. They stayed there for a year and then came to Brixham where her sister was.
*The so-called "Small ships" evacuation
- see the previous page
**HMS Vindictive, was sunk as a blockship at the entrance to Ostend Portduring the night of 9/10 May in 1918. She had been badly damaged during the attempt to blockade Zeebrugge and limped on to Ostend where, coming under heavy fire, she grounded and was sunk at the harbour entrance, blocking one third of the channel. The mission was only a partial success as German submarines were able to go on using the port but it served to raise British morale at home.