WHEN five hundred Channel Islanders stepped out from their carriages and on to the platform at Bury’s Bolton Street Station in June 1940 they were greeted by a world altogether alien to them.

The exhausted yet cheery huddles of children, mothers with infants and teachers were among a contingent of some 30,000 evacuees hastily sent from Guernsey and Jersey in the face of looming Nazi conquest and occupation.

The long-feared German invasion came days after their arrival, cutting evacuees off from their families, and ensuring that they would remain in Bury for almost five years.

Shortly ahead of their arrival, Bury officials had been warned hundreds of evacuees were coming and preparations were hurriedly made for volunteers to greet them with soup, tea, coffee and blankets.

Bury Times: Guernsey evacuees John Helyer, Hazel Hall and June le Page leaving Bury in 1945. (Photo courtesy of John Helyer)Guernsey evacuees John Helyer, Hazel Hall and June le Page leaving Bury in 1945. (Photo courtesy of John Helyer)

Despite the Channel Islanders having travelled for hundreds of miles, without a break, the Bury Times of June 26, 1940 reported: “They came at noon on Saturday, not a collection of sodden eyed evacuees who have had to leave their homes because of the dangers that have threatened them as a result of Germany’s occupation of a great part of Northern France, but smiling folk who found time even in the face of the greatest inconvenience they have ever experienced, to be happy.”

On arrival, evacuees were taken to churches and schools converted into makeshift reception centres.

Most were then sent on to stay with Bury families ­— however 60 small boys from the Guernsey orphanage were taken to Danesmoor House in Chesham and another 80 to live on the newly completed Chesham Fold estate.

But industrial Lancashire was a far cry from the islanders' bucolic homes.

“These children had come from such a different area,” Gillian Mawson, a historian who has studied the evacuations of the Second World War, told the Bury Times.

“They lived on beautiful, very rural, very small islands and most had never left them or even gone on a boat or train before. Most of them had been protected from what was going on in Europe and they thought they were just going on holiday to England for a few days. It was such a shock coming to a place like Bury with all its factories and crowded houses ­— it was like another world.”

Such was the prevailing, innocent ignorance, Ms Mawson added, translators were often arranged to be present at ports and stations to interpret for the Channel Islanders, who it was expected might not speak English.

Bury Times: Evacuee Len Roberts with his friends John and Ronnie at the home of Mr John Whitehead, the Mayor of Bury. Evacuee Len Roberts with his friends John and Ronnie at the home of Mr John Whitehead, the Mayor of Bury.

But while their new environment may have been entirely foreign and bewildering, the welcome they received was warm and generous. Residents donated numerous household items and furniture, slippers and sandals, while 60 free mattresses were made for orphans by Bury Felt Manufacturing Company, and the Hippodrome and Odeon cinemas offered children free entry on Saturdays.

One man, John W Fletcher, a 72-year-old retired commercial traveller, went above and beyond to become Father Christmas to evacuees ­— holding yearly Christmas parties and giving out hundreds of presents.

The evacuees remained in Bury for five years until the islands were liberated in May 1945.

After the war some evacuees actually decided to stay in Bury and other parts of Lancashire, especially after seeing the horrors visited upon their home islands; and many more stayed in touch with the friends they had made.

To repay the kindness showed to them by the people of Bury and other towns children carried banners bearing thank you messages each year during a special Liberation Day parade in Guernsey.

Bury Times: Guernsey Liberation Day parade in 1946Guernsey Liberation Day parade in 1946

This summer, to mark 80 years since the evacuees arrival in Lancashire, a special service is to be held.

The service will take place at St Mary's in the Market Place Parish Church, Stockport, from 2.30pm on June 28.

It is open to Channel Island evacuees, their families and anyone who knew them during the war, as anyone who was evacuated during the Second World War.

Refreshments will be available after the service so attendees will have chance to chat to one another.

If you would like to attend or for more details email whaleybridgewriter@gmail.com.