Posted: December 10, 2010 in 1. Articles, 5. THE NAME OF MOUSEHOLE

The following article, which expresses the feelings of several of those involved in the evacuation and/or the reunion, appeared in the Jewish News on 9 December 2010, under the title: Evacuation story has evoked so many moving recollections.

Last September, Jewish News published an article about the evacuation of JFS from the East End of London to Mousehole in Cornwall during World War Two, a story told in my book, From East End to Land’s End. The article also described a reunion held in Mousehole in June 2010 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the event. The evacuation story and the reunion sparked much interest, even among people not directly involved.

Frank Rose, retired headteacher and former JFS pupil, was evacuated with JFS Central to Soham in 1939, but had never heard of the Mousehole evacuation until he read my book. He became so fascinated that he contacted me and subsequently decided to participate in the reunion. He later wrote to me:

I was not one of the Mousehole evacuees yet I felt deeply moved by your evocative book and wanted to participate.  I knew nobody, none of my pre-War contemporaries having turned up, yet from the outset I felt welcomed and comfortable.  The atmosphere was warm and delightful.  The pleasure for me was meeting people I had never seen before but whom I felt I “knew” from your book: Pamela, whose father had taught me before the War; the splendid Mrs Jeanne Harris; other villagers and evacuees.  When Mildred told me that her sister, Frances, had died I felt a pang of genuine grief though I had never met Frances.  Somehow it all seemed to matter to me.

Something you said to me struck me as being profoundly important: that the events meant a great deal to the villagers as well as to the elderly visitors.  I am very glad about that.  We are talking about some truly lovely and generous people. Finally, may I say that I was not without a feeling of envy at times, not only of the wonderful experience those children had in magical Mousehole, so graphically described in your book, but also of the reunion and all that it meant to everyone involved. Very sincerely, Frank

The feelings expressed by Frank are representative of everyone who participated in the reunion. Indeed, to thank the people of Mousehole, former evacuees, and others, donated a Menorah inscribed with the Hebrew words found on a plaque originally belonging to Penzance Synagogue, which closed 100 years ago. The Menorah has been placed in St Clement’s Chapel, Mousehole, and was presented to the congregation by Reverend Julyan Drew who delivered a moving sermon, in which he quoted the Chief Rabbi. Mrs Jeanne Harris (who was responsible for organising a magnificent reception for the returning evacuees) has written an open letter to the Jewish Community to thank them for this gift:

On August 29th 2010, in the Methodist Church in Mousehole, Cornwall, a very special service was held, as our minister officially accepted on our behalf the wonderful gift of a 7 branch Menorah from former pupils of Jews’ Free School, evacuees who had been welcomed into our village 70 years earlier, and more recently, on the 70th reunion. It is a beautiful, unexpected gift which we shall treasure, and on behalf of the villagers of Mousehole I wish to thank all those who so kindly contributed towards it, some of whom we have never met.

In addition to Methodists present, we welcomed four Anglican ministers and their families, and several members of the Jewish community – a truly ecumenical occasion. Our choir sang “Jublilate Deo” and it was a most special, wonderfully happy morning. The Menorah is in a prominent position where it will be a constant reminder of your generosity and your association with our village. Just 15 years old when you came in 1940, I have very personal, vivid memories of your arrival, and how you so quickly integrated into village life. Please accept our warmest thanks and good wishes. Yours sincerely, Jeanne Harris

Following press coverage of the reunion, I was contacted by several more former evacuees. Without exception, they spoke about their Mousehole experience with the same enthusiasm and warmth as the evacuees interviewed for the book. One of them, Jack Joseph, told me that, having never seen a cow, he and his friend, David Rosenband, had to milk the cows and deliver milk before going to school!

Another person who contacted me after reading the book was Dr Melvyn Brooks, of Israel. Though not an evacuee, he was originally from the East End, and followed the story with keen interest. When I sent him a copy of the sermon delivered by Reverend Drew, his response was to write a remarkable letter of thanks to the villagers, in which he expressed the views, I am sure, of the JFS Mousehole evacuees. His letter included these words:

The name of Mousehole will be etched in the folk memory of Jews and shall not be forgotten.

Susan Soyinka

November 2010


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