Evacuees Reunited

Monday, 15 December 2008, 5:00PM – 6:00PM on ITV1

During World War Two, three and a half million people – mostly children – were uprooted and sent away from their families. None of them knew where they were going, or for how long. The aim was to save them from becoming victims of the German bombing campaign, but few could have foreseen the emotional upheaval these journeys would provoke.

Presenter Michael Aspel spent several years as an evacuee in the Somerset town of Chard during the war. During the series he meets many former evacuees and returns to the scenes of his own evacuation and enjoys a reunion with childhood friends.

During the week we will meet 15 evacuees and follow them as they try to reunite with old friends and return to the places that changed their lives.

Michael Aspel, says: “In 1940, at the age of seven, I was evacuated from Wandsworth in London to Chard in Somerset, and spent the next four and a half years in the care of my foster parents, “Auntie” Rose and “Uncle” Cyril Grabham. They allowed me to roam free, and I did most of that roaming with my two closest pals and fellow evacuees, Ronnie Bronstein and Albie Mallows. In the 1940s we were known as ‘The Three Musketeers’ and got into many a scrape.”

“The idea of us all going back to Chard, to meet up again sixty-eight years after we’d been evacuated was slightly scary. Would we find we still had anything in common? Would we shuffle our feet, trying to find things to say?”

“In the event, once we had finished complimenting each other on how well we’d survived the ravages of time, we found a lot to talk about. The years fell away, the seven-year-olds I’d first met reappeared, and Albie’s smile was as wide as I remembered. To be united once more with both Ronnie and Albie, to re-establish that bond, was – to use our favourite word – ‘smashing’.”

In the first programme, evacuee James Roffey tells the programme how his life was affected. James, and his brother and sister were evacuated in 1939. As the eldest, his sister was told by their parents to make sure they all stayed together. However no one could take in all three of them and their brother John was sent to a different billet. James says his sister cried for days after this. James was later sent to a different billet from his sister, which increased his feelings of isolation which stayed with him for years.

Many years later he saw a group of schoolchildren and reveals how this changed his life. He says: “They were all carrying little bags and they had luggage labels on. I thought I had suddenly gone into a time warp and was back in 1939 and they were evacuees. I thought if that had such an affect on me, it must have on a lot of other evacuees.”

That experience led James to set up the Evacuees Reunion Association in 1996, which has helped many evacuees to share their experiences and reunite with their host families and friends.

The evacuees have very different stories to tell, of happy loving times with families that took them in and treated them as their own, but there are others who recall an unhappy time that affected the rest of their lives.

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