to return to Jersey
after the war ended
This whole process, and the numbers involved, is shrouded in mystery, and raises a number of questions. Most histories of the Occupation stop abruptly on 9 May 1945, save perhaps for a brief mention of a difficult atmosphere as people came to terms with what had happened in the previous five years.
Those who stayed inevitably viewed events from a different perspective from those who left and were returning. This gets a brief mention in some histories, notably those written by non-islanders, but history is silent on the process which led to the return of the evacuees.
The questions raised by the process of completing applications to return are:
- Why were applications required?
- Who decided that this should happen? There are application cards dating back as far as 1943, so the States cannot have been the instigators. They had no contact with UK authorities until the war ended.
- How were the evacuees who might or might not have wanted to return identified, located and invited to complete forms? Who organised this?
- Who collated the applications and took them to Jersey? Did anything happen to them when they reached the hands of Jersey officials, or were they simply filed away? Today they are stored with Jersey Archive.
- What happened when the mailboats and air services restarted? Were those arriving at the Harbour and Airport checked against a list of former evacuees who had asked to return? What happened if somebody turned up on a boat with their family having not filled in a form? Perhaps having known nothing about the formalities.
- Why does the number of applications to return exceed the number said to have evacuated in 1940? This number is usually put at 6,000. Even allowing for children born in England to evacuee families, the confirmed figure of 6,400 applications to return is surprising. There must have been many deaths among evacuees in their five-year absence from the island, and many others will have chosen not to return.
We are attempting to find answers to these questions, and in the meantime we have created an A-Z index of the names of those who completed applications to return, or had them completed on their behalf. There were hundreds of children who returned with their parentswho were not born at the time of the evacuation.
Not everybody returned, of course. Those who owned property in the island and had businesses to resurrect or jobs to return to would mostly have gone back. Those whose lives had moved on and had good jobs and new homes in the UK were less likely to wish to live again in Jersey.
There were many children who had been sent away by their parents to the safety of the north of England, and been taken into their homes by people there, who would not have wanted to return to parents they scarcely knew, abandoning their much-loved foster families and friends.
The choice was not theirs. If their parents in the island insisted, they had to return. Small wonder that many took the first opportunity to leave again when they were old enough to do so. The relationship between those who remained in Jersey throughout the Occupation, and those who returned after five years absence, or longer in the case of those who left months before the threat of Occupation led to mass evacuation, was a difficult one.
Those who evacuated were subject to harsh criticism in 1940 by some States Members and ordinary islanders, likened to rats leaving a sinking ship. They were not likely to be welcomed back warmly by all those who had endured the hardship and deprivations of occupation.
And those who returned, probably understanding little of what those who stayed had had to endure, were dismayed to find their homes stripped bare of the furniture and effects they had left behind, and accusations flew back and forth about who had been responsible for this and what was to be done about it.
Returning families who hoped to return to their previous jobs found that they had were being given to those who had remained, and with the exception of returning servicemen, who, it was understood, should be rewarded for the service they had given to King and Country, many found it very difficult to get work.
The more they complained, the more they were shunned by those who had endured the years of Occupation, and thought the returning evacuees should be more understanding about the recent past and the situation the island found itself in during the weeks and months after the war's end.
This led to some deciding that their future lay away from their previous island home and it was not long before they were on a boat crossing back over the Channel again.
Individual families also faced difficulties. Husbands who had left to serve in the Forces and had no contact with wives and families for five years or more, save for an occasional Red Cross letter, found it difficult to fit back into their previous relationships; so did women who had been sent to safety with their children by men who remained in essential posts. Inevitably the lives of some who remained had move on to such an extent that they did not want returning partners back in their lives.
At a personal level and through the community at large, it would be some time before tensions eased, wounds healed and relationships settled down to some semblance of normality.
A 1945 travel permit allowing Laura Lawford, nee Ahier, to return to Jersey
Index to evacuees' applications to return to Jersey
This is an index, listing only the name of the applicant and the Jersey Archive index number. Further details can be found on the Jersey Heritage website, subscribers to which have access to images of the application forms.