A REMARKABLE EVACUEE REUNION

Posted: December 2, 2010 in 1. Articles, 2. 70th ANNIVERSARY REUNION

JFS_Mousehole_Reunion,_arrival

On 13 June 2010, the 70th anniversary of the original evacuation, eight former evacuees returned to Mousehole, where they were once again warmly welcomed. These events are recorded in the article below, which originally appeared in The Jewish News on 2 September 2010.

In September 1939, at the beginning of World War Two, thousands of children were evacuated to the countryside, but many returned home in the following months during the period of the Phoney War. However, as the bombing started, a second evacuation took place. In June 1940, 28,200 children were evacuated to Cornwall, among them about 100 Jewish children, pupils at Jews’ Free School (JFS) in London’s East End. The JFS group was bussed to Mousehole, a remote fishing village on the tip of Cornwall, where the children were billeted with the villagers, and Jews’ Free School, Mousehole, was established in the premises of Mousehole School. Arrangements were made for synagogue services to be held in a nearby church hall, while many of the evacuees also attended chapel with their foster families, most of whom were strong Methodists. Remarkably, most children quickly integrated into village life. They were introduced to swimming, sailing, sculling, fishing, and mending nets, and spent hours playing on the beach or walking along the spectacular coastal paths. The extraordinary coming together of these two vastly different communities was a life-changing experience for many involved on both sides.

I was fortunate enough to be able to record these events in my recently published book, From East End to Land’s End, after conducting extensive interviews. The book resulted in many renewed contacts between evacuees and villagers, and it was therefore decided to re-enact the event on 13th June 2010, the 70th anniversary. Eight former evacuees, accompanied by members of their families, once again undertook the long train journey from Paddington to Penzance. Here we were met by a welcoming party from the local Jewish community, who kindly offered to transport us to Mousehole. One lady said to sisters, Betty and Esther Posner, “I’ll take you two” and they were delighted to have been “picked” just as they were in 1940!

JFS_Mousehole_Reunion,_Mousehole_SchoolJFS_Mousehole_Reunion,_Mousehole_Male_Voice_Choir_entertain_the_evacuees

A full programme followed, including a welcome by the Mayor of Penzance, and a performance by the renowned Mousehole Male Voice Choir in the spectacular setting of the Old Coastguard Hotel, where we stayed. The most poignant event was a reception held at St Clements’ Sunday School, for which the elderly ladies of the village had spent days preparing a delicious spread. Many villagers arrived with photographs retrieved from lofts and shared childhood memories with their visitors of those unforgettable days. One villager arrived an hour early to speak with Pamela Fields, whom he had known as a very small child. Another presented Mildred Moore with a large hand-painted photo of her sister Frances, evacuated with her, but who sadly died just six days before the book was published. For many evacuees, the highlight was a visit to Mousehole School, where they had been pupils, and a plaque was presented to the school to commemorate the establishment of JFS Mousehole on the premises in 1940. The present-day pupils gave their visitors a conducted tour of the school. As she was walking across the playground, Mildred Moore remembered the precise spot where, seventy years earlier, she had felt abandoned and alone when her two sisters were chosen without her, but where a lovely man immediately came over to her and said, “I’ll take you, love.”

Finally, I gave a talk at Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance, where an exhibition about the JFS evacuation was on display from March to June. The occasion generated a lively discussion and was described by one member of Penlee House as “the most remarkable event we have ever hosted.”

After returning home, Esther Posner commented, “It was such a special, nostalgic visit. The interest, the love, the kindness shown throughout our short time there will be moments to cherish forever.”

Pamela Fields, born in Cornwall, and daughter of JFS teacher, Ralph Barnes, said “I have just spent the most heart-warming and extraordinary experience of my life. It was a privilege to be a part of it and I shall treasure the experience forever.”

Leila Ward, niece of JFS teacher, Miss Haffner, wrote: “The whole reunion was simply electric, amazing. We have been to many gatherings, but have never experienced an atmosphere of such warmth as we did in Mousehole.

To thank the people of Mousehole for the love and generosity shown to them 70 years ago, former evacuees have donated an inscribed menorah, to be placed in the Chapel.

JFS_Mousehole_reunion,_plaque_presented_to_Mousehole_School

The menorah displayed in St. Clements's Chapel

BENCH GIFT FROM WARTIME EVACUEES

Following the 70th anniversary reunion held in June 2010, a further reunion was held on Wednesday 11 May 2011. The plaque donated the previous year was unveiled at Mousehole School, and the former evacuees also donated a bench to the school. The bench was carved by Jewish Mousehole resident David Hearle. The following article appeared in The Cornishman on Thursday May 19 2011

YOUNGSTERS in Mousehole have a new bench for their just-finished grassy play area, thanks to Jewish residents living hundreds of miles away.

Former evacuees from the Jews’ Free School in the East End of London who spent time in the port during the Second World War have funded the bench.

They also unveiled a plaque last Wednesday as a gesture of thanks to both the school and the village for their hospitality 70 years ago.

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After a visit last year to mark the anniversary of the evacuation in June 1940, several of those involved returned to Mousehole last week.

Pamela Fields, whose mother was pregnant with her when they made the journey from London, spent five years growing up in West Penwith. She told The Cornishman returning was always a moving experience.

“I get very emotional; after a long gap, coming back last year was amazing. We were so welcomed by the villagers and the school. I can say hand on heart this whole village was lovely and accepting. People just integrated and got on with it.”

She said the tale of those families, made into a book called From East End to Land’s End, by Susan Soyinka, was a very special one.

“This is a unique story of evacuation – it was a whole village that absorbed 100 children,” she said.

During the war the infants’ school at Mousehole was transformed into the Jews’ Free School, and synagogue services were held in the church hall at Paul.

Resident Myra Ellis, 80, recalled how her parents would observe Saturday as a day of rest in accordance with the Jewish Sabbath while they hosted young Jewish children.

Another, 82-year-old Bertha Waters, remembers the buses arriving in Mousehole and disgorging their loads of little ones, who were picked out by villagers.

The circular bench, made with stones from Mousehole and encircling a flowering cherry tree, was made by local resident David Hearle, a member of Kehillat Kernow, the Jewish Community in Cornwall. His wife Anne, who helped organise the visit along with Mrs Soyinka, gave a speech of thanks to the school, which the couple’s three children attended.

The menorah (a seven-branched candelabra) presented to the village last year was also given a formal blessing.

Mousehole School card 1.2

From East End to Land’s End was first published by DB Publishing in 2010. It was republished by Eliora Books in March 2013.

Susan Soyinka

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