Sunday, May 16, 2010

Recently, the women of the American Women's Club in London were fortunate to have as a speaker, Michael Henderson, the author of See You After The Duration. He shared with us the details of a part of British history that was new to me. A little background information first. As Britain stood on the brink of invasion by the Germans in WWII, almost 2 million children were evacuated from several large cities, primarily London, along with 100,000 teachers as their guardians, to the countryside to live in order to avoid the danger of bombings. The endeavor was called Operation Pied Piper. At the government's encouragement, parents, for the most part, allowed their children to board the trains to their new temporary homes while they stayed home and worked to support the war efforts. None of them knew at which point they would be reunited.

Mr. Henderson tells another side of the story in his book. He, along with 14,000 other British children were actually sent overseas in the summer of 1940 to foreign locations, including America, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia as the fear of a German invasion evolved. At the age of 8, along with his brother George, aged 6, the two of them were among 3,000 children who were transported to the US to live with American families who welcomed them into their homes.

SS Duchess of York All summer long, children were moved to other countries. Michael and his brother were transported across the submarine infested waters in an ocean liner, called the Duchess of York, accompanied by a battleship and 5 destroyers. The risk was significant; indeed 77 children died on another occasion in the sinking of The City of Benares. The trip for the boys, however, was exciting--an adventure of sorts, and their new life in Milton, near Boston, introduced them to American ways and hospitality. Little did they know when they told their parents good bye and told them, "See you after the duration," that it would be 5 years later before they would be returned home safely on an air carrier.

There is so much more to the story that I think you would enjoy knowing--the human side of the facts: the parents' fears, the children's emotions, and the generosity of Americans who were looking to give the kids a safe haven from danger. More of the story can be found of course, in Mr. Henderson's book See You After the Duration or his website with short articles written by Michael himself. A fascinating slice of life in perilous times.

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