21st June 1940
Guernsey’s school children were evacuated
Guernsey’s wartime evacuation hadn’t been a surprise. The island’s teachers had been warned on 18th June that the evacuation of their pupils was a possibility. France had fallen, and the Channel Islands were next in line – yet things still moved more quickly than they might have expected.
The islands had already been demilitarised. All British soldiers stationed on Guernsey had been shipped out, along with their equipment by the 18th. Nobody in the British government informed Germany of this fact, leading to a German bombing operation on the harbour in advance of invasion. This decision may have been made to give the Channel Islands’ children time to leave.
The day after the warning, parents were told to register their children, and informed that a full-scale evacuation would begin on the 20th.
Pupils and teachers first
The pupils and their teachers were to be a priority, with 5000 pupils and 500 teachers shipped out at once. Evacuation continued the following day, 21st June, with the same number departing on ships. A further 7000 were transported to relative safety over the next few days.
It wasn’t only schoolchildren, but women and men of serving age who were also now given the chance to leave. In total 17,000 inhabitants left the island before the Germans’ arrival. A similar evacuation exercise in Jersey led to 23,000 heading for the mainland to wait out the war. On neither island was evacuation compulsory for either children or adults, and many stayed behind throughout the occupation.
As far as possible, the evacuated students were kept together so that they could continue their education among colleagues they already knew. Some went to Cheshire, some to Lancashire, and others to Wales.
It would be five years before they returned to their island home. In the interim, many lost their ability to speak Guernsey’s native language, Guernesiais, which has never fully recovered.