Baths & Wash House – Experience of Guernsey Evacuees in 1940

Gillian MawsonContribution from Gillian Mawson author of Guernsey Evacuees The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second Wold War History Press 2012 and Evacuees: Children’s Lives on the World War 2 Home Front Pen & Sword Books September 2014.

In June 1940, over 17,000 evacuees from Guernsey arrived in northern England and remained here for five years until their island was liberated from German occupation. When they first arrived in England and Scotland, many recall visiting public baths and wash houses. They had been travelling for two days, by boat, train and bus, in the same clothes they had left home in with little opportunity for a wash.

One girl arrived in Wigan and recalled “the next morning we were all taken as a group to the Public Baths – it was quite hilarious getting the children bathed in the big white baths – though we were supervised, perhaps in case any of us were ‘spies.’ We were even congratulated on the quality of our spoken English. In those days in England, the whereabouts of the Channel Islands was not well known.”

On 22 June 1940, Frank Le Messurier arrived in Oldham with his school and on the 24th he wrote a letter to his Mother. He never received a reply as Guernsey was occupied by German forces on 30th. In the letter he wrote “After we arrived we had some dinner and then went to a place where we could have a bath or go bathing in a pool, so I had a bath.”

John Brun arrived in Stockport where his group were sent to the Town Hall. The large ballroom had been turned into a reception centre and was filled with camp beds. John recalls that all the children in his group, together with teachers and mothers who had accompanied them to England, walked from Stockport Town Hall to the public baths on St Petersgate. During this walk “we got our first real look at the industrial landscape of Stockport, which differed so much to our island home.”

Bann Street Washhouse StockportSeveral Guernsey mothers recall taking their washing to the Bann Street washhouse, in Stockport. One recalled, “It was easy getting to the wash house, as you walked down hill with your pram full of washing. However, coming back with your clean load, the journey was uphill!” Over 100 Guernsey children, teachers and mothers were sent to a reception centre in Stockport’s Masonic Guildhall. Within a few days, the kind people of Stockport donated hundreds of items of clothing to the evacuees. Miss Muriel Parsons, who had travelled with the Guernsey school as a helper, recalls walking to Bann Street wash house, and helping to hand scrub the soiled clothing of over 100 children.

Some of the evacuees were sent to a reception centre in a church in Pollocksheilds near Glasgow. Miss Grace Fry, one of their teachers recalled, “I was told I could take the children to the baths so I bundled them all into a bus. We had free passes and went into the big corporation baths, but they were so big that I put two little children into each bath at the same time. So two little boys together, then after that, two little girls together. It was hard work, fishing them out again and making sure that nobody tried to drown anyone else! They enjoyed it and it kept them clean. I was also asked if the mothers could do their washing at the wash house nearby. All the underclothes had to be done daily. Then one day a local lady who lived near our evacuee reception centre said that we could go to her house and use her washing machine. That helped us very much.”

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