Marion's story

I am evacuated to America

After World War II began in l939, my brother and I with all the other children in the neighborhood schools, were evacuated to the country to be away from the heavily industrial Birmingham/Coventry area close to Smethwick. My brother, age 7, was in elementary school and I, age l2, had just started at Holly Lodge High School for Girls, in the 3rd form.

We were sent to Wellington, Shropshire, to separate homes, rather losing track of each other for a while. I don't remember how we traveled there. It was overwhelming to be leaving home in the first place, and more so when I found myself being placed in first one home and then another. I finally was settled, with a schoolmate, in a very small house located on Watling Street, the old Roman road that skirted the town. It was only in retrospect that I realized the enormity of the sacrifice our hosts, a young couple with a small child - giving up their bedroom for our use and taking care of us while they struggled with the horrors of wartime. Their name was Mr. & Mrs. Smart and I recall this serious young husband trying to be a figure of authority but tempered with great kindness - how difficult it must have been to take on such a responsibility! My brother was on the other side of town and I rarely saw him.

It was not until many years later that I learned of my father's concerted efforts during this time to arrange through my mother's brother and sister to get us out of England to the U.S for the duration of the war. He had voluntarily re-enlisted in the Merchant Navy (where he had served as an l8-year old in the last year of World War I) and was most concerned about the ceaseless bombing of adjacent Coventry, together with his decidedly uncertain future. I will always remember his leaving, watching him walking down the road and out of sight, and we never saw him again. After endless efforts on the part of the U.S. relatives who had emigrated to the States in about l923 or so, permission was granted for us to leave, with my mother's sister and husband assuming full financial responsibility for us for an indefinite period of time. Then my brother and I came home to Smethwick in l940, I back to Holly Lodge and Max to his school. My mother didn't tell us we were about to embark on this truly amazing journey until a few days before we were to leave. I was not doing well at school, to the extent of being summoned to the head mistress's office (an awesome event)! What a relief to gasp out that I was actually leaving the country in a few days…

And so our second evacuation came to pass. This was, I believe, the last officially evacuated group of children to leave. We somehow reached Liverpool and boarded the ship, actually sleeping through a couple of nights of the worst bombings the city suffered. We then left as part of a very large convoy. In addition to the group of British children, about 25 plus their mothers, our ship had a contingent of Dutch sailors on board (for what reason I don't know) but thank goodness they were there as they took charge of us, marching me round and round the deck, holding my head while I vomited continuously - usually over the side - and looked out for my brother.

The convoy was huge and inevitably it was attacked by U-boats. Two ships went down while we watched - it seemed so unreal. But being assembled at our lifeboat stations waiting to abandon ship seemed quite real, and my mother deciding to run back to our cabin for some vital papers nearly gave me a heart attack! The convoy then dispersed and we continued on our own. The crossing took 15 days as we zigzagged our way across, landing in Boston about September l, l940. Together with family from New Jersey, which is just across the Hudson River from New York City, we were met by what seemed to be hundreds of reporters all talking furiously and incomprehensibly. I was unable to walk, suffering from an infected toe and quite debilitated from so many days of seasickness. I lay on the back seat of my uncle's car, which was new and therefore could not be driven over 40 mph until it was "broken in". It takes about 3-l/2 to 4 hours today to drive from New Jersey to Boston, so one can imagine what an interminable journey that was! My mother and brother traveled in her brother-in-law's car, he fuming at the slow pace. We finally reached our destination - I to bed and a doctor called in, my brother and mother holding up well.

The next day brought several irate phone calls to my poor mother, accusing her of talking too freely to the newspaper reporters, giving away classified information, including the startling news that my father was captain of one of the ships in our convoy - which was quite untrue.

My father died in l944 as a result of exposure caused by his ship being torpedoed three times. His granddaughter, Jane, tracked through the internet records maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the Perry Bar Crematorium, Birmingham. There I found handwritten entries in huge old tomes recording details of his death. On the wall of a building on the grounds was a scroll commemorating Merchant Navy personnel, and Second Radio Officer George Charles Walter Hunt of the S.S. Congolian was there. It was a very moving moment for me.

I married, had two daughters, living in New Jersey and New York. Today I am retired, frequently visiting family and friends in England and enjoying my daughters, granddaughter and two great-grandchildren. What could be nicer?

Marion Hunt
September 2004

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