Wednesday, May 18, 2005


The following article appeared in The Oregonian on May 18, 2005 under the headline "Words of gratitude for U.S. care of British children in wartime"
by Michael Henderson:

In Britain’s public life there is a community of several thousand men and women who have their own special relationship with the United States. They include former cabinet ministers and members of parliament and at least a dozen well-known writers. During World War II they were evacuated, as I was, to the United States and spent anything from two to six years living with American families.

If there is a common outlook as a result it is a deep sense of gratitude for American generosity and an appreciation of the United States at its best. Some may disagree at times with US policies but they would not indulge in crass anti-Americanism.

In the spring of 1940 when England expected an invasion by Hitler offers of sanctuary for children flowed into Britain from the Dominions, and American companies and universities and schools threw open their doors to welcome British children. The UK government launched a program to ensure that the option was also available for those who could not afford the passage. More than 200,000 children were signed up.

That only 3,000 children came to the United States was due to the fact that in September 1940 the City of Benares was sunk, 77 children died, and the overseas evacuation ceased.

Some evacuees had memorable encounters. One was taught to swim by Ronald Reagan, another was in the same school soccer team as George Bush, another was helped in her math homework by Albert Einstein, yet another went trick or treating on Halloween and was given a silver dollar by Orville Wright. Our Boston host had captained the American cricket team at the turn of the century.

For most of us life was like that of every other young person, with school and work and exams and sports, new sports of course like ice hockey, baseball, basketball, American football. I went like many to summer camp and can still sing the college and patriotic and traditional songs we learned round the campfire.

Sixty years ago this week I returned with other children to England on a little escort carrier. Adventure had triumphed over trauma and patriotism had sustained us throughout. The challenge of reintegrating into family life turned out for many to be harder than the earlier parting.

The presence of British children in the United States in 1940 helped bring home to Americans the reality of the war in Europe . The friendships established then persist to this day. Wendy Best, a granddaughter of the family I lived with, now from Parkdale (OR), recently stayed with us in Devon . Such friendships have helped on both sides of the Atlantic to provide a window into the heart of our two nations and to make the wartime years, as was stated in the final report of the American evacuation committee, ‘an applied lesson in international understanding’.

My book See You After the Duration is an expression of that gratitude we all feel for the generosity of the American people.