15th December 1945
Alderney’s evacuees return to their island
Alderney was evacuated during the Second World War. On 23 June 1940, the church bells rang to notify residents that the six Royal Navy ships that would take 1500 of them to the mainland were approaching Braye Harbour. They had an hour to gather their belongings and assemble, with no way of knowing for sure whether they would ever see the island again.
The Alderney residents were landed at Weymouth, from which most took trains north to Glasgow where they waited out the war. Unfortunately this didn’t put them out of reach of the Luftwaffe, which bombed the city extensively in 1941.
Evacuation wasn’t compulsory – at least at first – and 12 Alderney residents chose to stay behind. However, when the Germans arrived 10 days after the evacuation had begun, those who remained had no choice in the matter. They were shipped across to Guernsey and Alderney became a prison island.
Return to Alderney
Not everyone chose to return to Alderney but the first 80 of those who did travelled overnight from Southampton on a vehicle transporter that had been used during the war. They stepped ashore on 15 December – five years after they’d been sent away and seven months after liberation – and found an island very different to the one they remembered.
Many buildings had been destroyed, and four concentration camps had been built in their place. Although the camps had been demolished before the end of the war, evidence of their existence was still clear. The island was so damaged by the ravages of the conflict that for two years after its residents returned, its only chance of survival was to be run as a communal farm.
Since 2005, December 15th has been an annual public holiday on Alderney, to mark what’s now known as Homecoming Day.