This article appeared in the Boston Herald on December 26 2010.

Fleeing Britain for U.S. during WWII was adventure of a lifetime

Seventy years ago my brother Gerald and I, along with hundreds of other English children, found ourselves celebrating our first American Christmas.

Gerald was 6 and I was 8. Our lives had been turned upside down when we were sent across the Atlantic in a convoy escorted by a battleship and five destroyers.

At Britain’s lowest moment when she expected to be invaded by the Germans, American families had offered sanctuary to British children.

That Christmas our host families did all they could to make up for our separation from our parents. Our hosts were the Walter Hinchmans in Milton. For many like them, that open-hearted invitation to a Britain under attack from German bombs was a five-year commitment - and a demonstration of American hospitality and generosity that has stayed with us a lifetime.

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The November 2010 issue of Reform, the monthly of the United Reformed Church in the UK, carries a profile of Michael Henderson written by Mike Smith.

During a lifetime spent exploring and promoting the power of reconciliation and forgiveness following conflict and war, British journalist and author Michael Henderson has become known as an ‘optimistic realist’. He is the product of a Protestant Irish family who were expelled from Ireland upon its independence in 1922 and was one of thousands of children evacuated overseas from Britain during World War II. By Michael Smith

Seventy years ago, on 10 August 1940, during the darkest days of World War II, the Duchess of York weighed anchor in Greenock, on the Clyde, to make the perilous journey across the north Atlantic. On board were hundreds of young British children being evacuated to the United States and Canada. Among them were Michael Henderson, aged eight, and his younger brother Gerald, six. They were to remain in the US for five years.

During the war, over a million British children were moved out of cities, to safer places around the UK. But of these, the experience of thousands who were sent abroad, privately and under a government scheme, to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the USA, due to the threat of a German invasion – are less well documented.

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This is an extract from the November 2010 issue of


Under the headline USA evacuation changed my life, Gerald Henderson tells the story of his and his brother Michael's evacuation from England to the USA as young boys during World War II. The article appears in The Liverpool Echo, 11 September 2010.

Liverpool Hope University honorary fellow Gerald Henderson recalls how being evacuated to the USA changed his life

Gerald Henderson and his brother Michael were evacuated to the USA 70 years ago. Here he recounts the experience

As a six-year-old, comforted by my koala bear and accompanied by my older brother, Michael, eight, I set off in 1940 on a journey that was to change our lives. We were two of the thousands of young British who were evacuated overseas.

The internal evacuation to escape the German bombing is better known than the overseas evacuation that was precipitated by the threat of a German invasion. But it, too, had become officially sanctioned when complaints were aired that refuge in the United States and elsewhere should not be just for those who could afford it or had company or university links. Our father was at that point in the army working with Movement Control in the docks at Birkenhead.

Our mother had grown up as a child in Dublin during the Irish civil war. She did not want us to experience the dangers that she had lived through. We had cheerfully waved goodbye, little knowing that we would be separated from our parents for five years. They held back their tears, yet conscious that they might not see us again. Only years later did we realise that, as a friend wrote us when our mother died, ‘She was terribly brave.’

As we left with others we were filled with excitement of what seemed to us to be an adventure.

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An article by Michael Henderson, Across the Atlantic to safety, appeared in The Novascotian on September 5 2010.

For a short time in 1940, thousands of British children were sent to North America by parents fearful of a German invasion. Halifax was a common landing point.

'Coming into Halifax was like coming into fairyland. We sighted silver sands on the Nova Scotian coast and after three or four hours, we saw the harbour mouth, a beautiful place surrounded by forest-clad hills rather like a bristly doormat at the gates of a new land. The nicest part of all was to see the millions of unshielded harbour lights that night.’

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The following article appeared in the North Devon Journal (UK) on August 12 2010

Life was never the same again

SEVENTY years ago this month, as an 8-year-old, along with my 6-year-old brother Gerald, I set out on a journey across the submarine-infested wartime Atlantic that was to transform our lives.

With hundreds of other young children we were in a liner, the Duchess of York bound for North America.

Gillian Heal, from Appledore, and her brother were on the same ship. We 'seavacs' were in a convoy with five other liners escorted by a battleship, an armed cruiser and five destroyers. We used to sit on our bunks playing Battleships and were too young to appreciate the irony or the danger.

But, even if some of us on our ship were too young to appreciate the danger, most parents did, though they were reassured by the government releases that promised that children would be well protected. The father of four girls who were on the same ship as I, wrote in his diary the day we left Glasgow: "I feel as if I had committed some horrible crime. There are mines strewn across the oceans, submarines lying in wait to torpedo them, aircraft searching for them to blow them to pieces. Yet I cannot but believe that the crime of exposing them to these dangers is less than the crime of keeping them at home to be the possible victims of an invading army.

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The following article appeared in the Lakeville Journal, Western Connecticut, on July 29 2010

A time to remember
Guest Commentary — Michael Henderson

As an Englishman, it was a joy for me to attend the Fourth of July celebrations at the Town Grove in Lakeville this year. Particularly as the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the “Washington Post March” played by the Salisbury Town Band, the hot dogs and hamburgers and the fireworks carried me back in gratitude to the years of World War II.

I was one of some 3,000 young Brits who were sent for safety to the United States at that time. Many readers may know that more than a million British children were sent to the countryside to get away from German bombing. Not so well known is that thousands of British children were also sent overseas to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the United States to escape the threat of a German invasion.

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An article by Debi Kirksey, See You After the Duration, appeared in her blogspot A Tale of Two Cities on May 6 2010.

See You After the Duration

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.

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The following article appeared in the Daily Telegraph (UK) on September 2 2009:

WW2: Former evacuees look back

To mark the 70th anniversary of evacuation, hundreds of people gathered at a service in St Paul's cathedral yesterday. To some, it had been an adventure; to others, a lonely and fearful separation. In these moving testimonies, former evacuees recall the day when their lives were altered for ever.

Michael Henderson
My life was turned upside down by evacuation, not in 1939 but in 1940. My horizons were narrow, just those of a patriotic young boy at a boarding school in Surrey. Then suddenly a voyage on an ocean liner over the Atlantic in a convoy with other ships, guarded by a battleship and five destroyers and being received by an unknown American family. We were some of the 3,000 British children who enjoyed the amazing generosity freely given by American families.

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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.

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The following article appeared in The Pomfret Times in Connecticut in June 2008 by Michael Henderson:

It is little known nowadays that during World War II American families hosted several thousand British children threatened by bombing and invasion. It was a generosity that is remembered today with great gratitude by those who spent anything from two to six years in this country.

My brother Gerald, then aged six, and I aged 8, were two of them. I have written a book, See You After the Duration, that conveys a sense of the adventure and heartache of those wartime years. The book expresses to Americans our continuing sense of gratitude to those families and will, I hope, introduce to British readers the generous heart of America which we encountered at that young age.

There is a strong Pomfret connection in the book and I devote a whole chapter to it. First of all the American family that took us in were the Walter Hinchmans of Milton, Massachusetts. In May their grandson, Walter, was our host in Pomfret where he taught for many years at Pomfret School.

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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.

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An article by Michael Henderson on 'The evacuation of British children to North America in World War II' appeared in December 2005

Autumn 2006 issue of This England
by Michael Henderson

Like the Narnia evacuee children I had a magic wardrobe. Opening its doors, however, did not transport me to a make-believe land inhabited by Aslan and the other denizens of the wood. Rather I was carried into the very real world of the British lion and the trappings of empire. My wardrobe was not in the New Forest but in New England .

My brother, Gerald, and I were two of the some ten thousand young British who were evacuated to Canada and the United States in World War II and the ‘wardrobe' was a huge cupboard in which my American hosts stored back numbers of the Illustrated London News and The Boy's Own Annual . Their enthralling pages contained stories of bravery under fire, portraits of the Royal family, cross sections of Royal Naval ships and much more which fed my pride in country and helped to sustain me in five years of separation from my parents.

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An article by Michael Henderson on ‘The role of patriotism in sustaining the evacuees to North America in World War II’ appeared in December 2006


The following commentary was sent out to the American press by Religion News Service (New York) in May 2005, by Michael Henderson

As we mark the 60th anniversary of the ending of World War II, may I, as an Englishman, express gratitude to the American people. Not only for what you did to preserve freedom in the world but for a less well recognized example of American generosity.

Sixty years ago this month (May) my brother Gerald and I returned to Britain after having spent five years with a family in Boston unknown to us when the war started. We were two of some 3,000 Brits who, in 1940, when it looked as if Britain was going to be invaded by Hitler, were offered refuge in the United States "for the duration of the war." A poll at the time indicated that several million American families were willing to take British children. Thousands more children were signed up to come. The sinking of The City of Benares, with 77 children killed, however, brought the evacuation to an end.

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The following article appeared in Mature Times on 21 May 2005:

Many children found that evacuation to a safer place in the war meant travelling thousands of miles to another continent. Michael Henderson’s has written the moving story of British Evacuees who went to North America in World War II in his book “See you after the duration”.

In 1940 when it looked as if Britain was going to be invaded thousands of American families – and Canadian families too - offered refuge to British children for the duration of the war.

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