Saturday, June 20, 2009


The following article appeared in this Boston paper on June 20 2009:

Man recounts his evacuation from England during World War II

Former Milton resident Michael Henderson, the author of “See You After the Duration: The Story of British Evacuees To North America in World War II” recounts the experiences that shaped that book.

During World War II, I was one of 3,000 children evacuated from England to the United States for safekeeping. Today, at age 77, I have returned to Milton Academy for a reunion of the Class of 1949 with the boys and girls with whom I shared the fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

In the anniversary of the 70 years since World War II, little is known of the generosity of the American foster families of that time who took in British evacuees. My brother and I were two of them, at ages 6 and 8.

Only decades later, when my own daughter was 8, did I realize how dire the situation was for parents to be willing to send their children across the dangerous waters of the Atlantic.

In 1939, over a million children had been evacuated out of English cities into the countryside through a fear of bombings. But in 1940, with the collapse of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk, there was a very real prospect of German troops landing on our beaches, and so overseas evacuation was considered.

My mother had a particular reason to get us out of the war zone. Our family had lived for hundreds of years in Ireland – Protestants in a largely Catholic country. She lived through the “troubles” in the early 1920s, and her father was told “to leave the country by the end of the week or be shot.” That is why I am English.

During the World War II evacuation my brother and I were on an ocean liner, The Duchess of York, bound for North America, in a convoy escorted by the battleship HMS Revenge and five destroyers. Inside we sat on our bunks playing “battleships,” oblivious to what was going on in the waters around us. We returned five years later in an aircraft carrier. It’s no wonder that for many of us, it was a great adventure rather than a traumatic event. For parents, it was far more upsetting because in some cases it was weeks before they knew their children had arrived safely. For instance, 77 children were killed in the sinking of The City of Benares.

Our host family lived in Milton. Walter Hinchman was a teacher at Milton Academy and enrolled us in the junior school (Thacher School). We were quickly introduced to co-education, baseball, basketball, American football and ice hockey. I can still sing the college and military songs we learned around the summer campfires in New Hampshire. After Pearl Harbor, our war efforts to support U.S. involvement included collecting scrap metal, saving for war bonds and spotting for planes from the top of the chapel at the academy.

I can still list all the American presidents up to Grover Cleveland, but I can’t get beyond him, because in 1945 the war ended and we returned to England. I was 13 years old.

The return trip was probably far harder for us as we were more aware of the world around us. The principle fear on our part was that we wouldn’t recognize our parents from whom we had been separated for five years. In fact, we walked past our mother at the train station without recognizing her.

Back home we sometimes had to contend with criticism of our American accents or not having shared the rigors of the war. Our father, who had been in the War Office, probably expected quicker obedience than we gave him. Our parents’ admonitions were often met with “We don’t do it that way in America. We don’t do this. We don’t do that.” Pretty soon America became known in our family as “We Land.” This exposure to American life has led me to my life’s work of building bridges of understanding between people as a journalist and author.

Today I am still in touch with descendants of the family I lived with. I recently stayed with a grandson, Walter Hinchman, Jr. He is now a grandfather, which makes me feel particularly old.

In 1940, Dr. Vivian T. Pomeroy, a Milton church minister, predicted, “The children who would come from Britain would go back with a great love of America in their hearts, a deep and grateful feeling for the people who saved them, and thereby, they will become a strong ingredient of a better understanding of America among the English people.” So now nearly 70 years later, I can guarantee that his aspirations are fact.

by Suzette Martinez Standring
For The Patriot Ledger

Michael Henderson is also the author of “No Enemy To Conquer – Forgiveness In An Unforgiving World.” A member of Initiatives of Change International, he’s worked for more than 50 years for peace and understanding in 25 countries. He was awarded three George Washington Honor Medals from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He lives in Westward Ho! England. Visit

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