THIS week marks 80 years since hundreds of evacuees from the Channel Islands arrived in Bury during some of the darkest days of the Second World War.

These children, mothers with infants and teachers were among a contingent of some 30,000 people sent from the islands 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.

Among those to arrive in the borough in 1940 was 10-year-old Noelle Mignot who had travelled from Guernsey with her sisters, Nell, aged five and seven-year-old Marguerite.

During and after the war Noelle wrote a series of diary articles for the Bury Times and The Guernsey Star newspapers, detailing her experiences.

Speaking to the Bury Times this week she recalled how the days before the evacuation still remain very clear in her mind.

At the time she and her family lived near to the Guernsey capital, St Peter Port.

Her father, Harry had been assiduously tracking the war with little flags pinned to a world map on the dinning room wall, and would regularly debate the conflict with her grandfather.

On one occasion her grandfather predicated: “The Germans will never land here Harry, they didn’t in the last war and won’t now.”

This confidence would be soon prove to be tragically misplaced.

Bury Times: Noelle Bigwood née Mignot with her sister Marguerite, father and grandfather in Guernsey in 1938 or 1939Noelle Bigwood née Mignot with her sister Marguerite, father and grandfather in Guernsey in 1938 or 1939

On June 19, 1940 Noelle, together with her mother and sisters, had been playing on the Fort Field near their home when her father came dashing up the road and shouted to his wife.

As he thrust a newspaper notice in her hand she knew she had no time to lose.

Bundling the girls up, the family hurried home, with Harry taking his youngest daughter on his bicycle

On their frantic journey they passed neighbours on the street in floods of tears, as anxiety of an impending attack reigned.

They crossed the girl’s aunt on the way, who told them to assemble at the Notre Dame school at 7pm.

In her article for The Guernsey Star, Noelle recalled: “When we got home we just had a cup of tea and my mother put the baby to bed.

“I wish now that I had looked at her longer because it was the last time I saw her.”

Ahead of the appointed time the family made their way to the school rendezvous and joined the flood of parents and children desperate to find out what they could do.

“My mother was told that parents were advised to send their children away but were not compelled to do so,” Noelle later wrote in The Star.

“My mother did not know what to do. At last she decided that we would go.”

Bury Times:

At 4am the following morning Noelle and her sisters were roused from their beds and walked back to the school where coaches were lined up ready to take the children away.

Nuns from the Notre Dame school hastily organised the children onto the vehicles and Noelle and her sisters said their heartbreaking goodbyes to their parents.

It was the last time they would see them for five long years.

The convoy of coaches took the school children to the quayside at St Peter Port harbour.

There they were met by a bakers van, who gave the children cakes and pastries to eat in the morning sunshine, dockers who gave them tinned corned beef and boat biscuits, and a raft of tomato lorry drivers, who gave them crates for their belongings.

When the German attack came 10 days later, many of these same lorry drivers would die as they took shelter from the falling bombs under their vehicles.

After a period of waiting the evacuees and their nun guardians boarded the Haslemere cargo boat and set sail for Weymouth.

Many of the children were seasick on the journey, souring the last joys of their quayside picnic.

Before the ship could dock in England it was forced to wait in the harbour as an air raid raged overhead.

Noelle recalled how she and other children watched as a plane flew above them, while out at sea a ship sunk after striking a mine and its crews struggled back to shore in little boats.

When they could finally set foot on dry land the children were examined by doctors in a cinema and had labels tied to their coats.

They were then taken to a school where a group of ladies passed out bread and jam and cups of milk.

After three days Noelle and her sisters were told to grab their luggage and were bussed to the train station to embark on the next stage of their journeys to the North West of England.

Bury Times: Evacuees from the Channel Islands at Hollymount, Tottington, during the Second World WarEvacuees from the Channel Islands at Hollymount, Tottington, during the Second World War

Back on Guernsey Noelle’s family were facing their own ordeal as they were forced to decide whether to stay or leave the island ­— then under threat of immanent Nazi invasion.

Noelle’s mother was severely deaf and had never left the island save to visit family in France.

Her father had spent 10 years in the British Army, but was coming up to almost 40 at the time, while her grandfather was a widower in his 60s.

Eventually Noelle’s mother and father decided they would go to England with their youngest child, two-year-old Rose, but her grandfather decided to stay.

However, fate was decided against them. As the German aerial bombardment of the islands intensified, evacuations were stopped, and on June 30 the Nazis invaded and seized the islands before they could get away.

Noelle recalled: “My mother who at 38 had beautiful black hair ­— six months later had gone completely white.”

Meanwhile, after a two day train journey, Noelle and her sisters arrived in Burnley.

There they were housed in a large school and slept on camp beds in “black and sooty rooms”.

During their time in Burnley, Noelle and the other children would play out in the fine weather, or stay on their classroom beds and read when it rained.

One day, Noelle recalled: “We went to the local baths in Burnley for a bath as we all had problems keeping clean.

“I remember being children and being inquisitive and nosy to see what the Sisters look like without their headdresses.

“Looking back I am filled with admiration for these five nuns, having been thrown into that awful situation.

“Only one was British, having been born in Guernsey, and had trained as a teacher in England, but the four others were French, and all of them just junior school teachers.

“They had been used to looking after children as teachers for a few hours each day and used to solitude and time for praying quietly, and here they were looking after 50 children 24 hours a day in a strange country and completely dependent on the unknown.

“They must’ve been sorely tried and had their faith tested.”

The children stayed in Burnley for just two weeks before they were relocated to Greenmount in Bury and began the next stage of their adventure.

Bury Times: Damage in Chapel Street, Tottington, following a German V-bomb attack on Christmas Eve, 1944. Eight people were killed.Damage in Chapel Street, Tottington, following a German V-bomb attack on Christmas Eve, 1944. Eight people were killed.

On arrival, Noelle and her sisters were taken to Greenmount village school where the schoolrooms were filled with children and local residents who we were willing to take in evacuees.

Five nuns took 35 of the children to the nearby Hollymount convent, including Noelle's sisters Nell and Marguerite ­— but not Noelle herself.

This was unusual as families were typically kept together, and the separation left Noelle "devastated".

She was instead asked to go with a Mrs Sheldon and her "lovely Airedale dog".

It was at this point, Noelle recalled, that for the first time since she had started her journey, she began to cry.

"All I could think of was that I had my sisters clothes in my haversack and what would they do without them where were they going," she said. "I was utterly devastated.

"I was assured that they weren’t very far away, but I was inconsolable with them going.

"And that was when the whole enormity of the situation hit me and I felt so, so, alone."

Despite her anxieties, however, Mr and Mrs Sheldon were "so kind", Noelle said, and it was not long before she had settled in.

The evacuees were educated at the village school which was run by nuns and had two classrooms ­— one for five to 10-year-olds and another for 10 to 14-year-olds.

During the war the school suffered from a lack of books and had few writing materials. Noelle even recalled being taught geometry by using chalk symbols on the school playground.

But the children also enjoyed many concerts, learnt poetry and took nature walks by nearby fields and streams ­— where they dug for pignuts and picked beechnuts.

In the summer holidays the children would take walks with a packed lunch in the Pennine Hills, led by an elderly villager named Mr Rooney.

They would also take day trips to a disused mansion in Bolton by Bowland and holidayed at Parkgate on the Dee.

At wintertime the children would play in the snow in their clogs and for one Christmas the nuns made all the girls a dolly from scraps.

However, life was not always easy for the evacuees.

Over the years many of the boys sent to Greenmount attempted to run away, but were thankfully always returned safe and sound.

There were also the always ever present dangers of the war, as the North West was a prime target for German air raids.

Noelle said: "Us children who were billeted in the village below the convent would walk home across the golf course and down on Long Lane, and were always told that if we heard an aircraft overhead to immediately lay down on the ground.

"The most vivid air raid in my mind was the one near Christmas in the early years of the war of the 1941 or 1942 and it was over Manchester.

"Where I lived in Station Road the siren sounded at night we go across the road to Mr and Mrs Scholes who had bunk beds put into the cellar and we would sleep in them until the all clear was given.

"We could see the Manchester sky in the distance about 12 miles away. I could hear the hundreds of aircraft flying overhead. It was a sight and sound I can recall clearly."

Bury Times: Women and children wearing gas masks as they carry on their shopping at Bury Market in a gas test during the Second World WarWomen and children wearing gas masks as they carry on their shopping at Bury Market in a gas test during the Second World War

At Christmas 1943 Noelle turned 14 and had to leave school and go to work.

She was sent to work at the Savoy Cafe and bakery in Bury, and took the train to and from Greenmount every day until she had saved up enough tips to buy a bike.

"One advantage of working was that despite having to give something towards my keep I was still able to save a little and used to take Marguerite and Nell to visit Bury, usually by tram from Tottington," Noelle recalled.

Bury Market was one of the girls' favourite stop-offs, where they would treat themselves to oatmeal cakes, cooked black peas, Bury black pudding and honeycombed tripe with salt pepper and vinegar.

Noelle and her sisters remained in Bury until the Channel Island's liberation in 1945 and returned home "with great excitement" in June of that year ­— almost five years to the day since their arrival.

Although Noelle still remembers her "awesome experience" and the kindness she received in Bury with the greatest fondness, the realities of being a Second World War evacuee were beautifully encapsulated in one of her anecdotes.

One day while in Greenmount Noelle had been walking back from the dentist when her sister had asked her if they had passed Guernsey.

She recalled how she had had to tell her sister "no", but later wrote in her diary article: "One day we really will be going to Guernsey and I will be taking my sisters with me.

""North, East, South or West, Home is best.""