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Saturday, 12 May 2018

Tragedy on Guernsey - the Island of Dreams.

A Red Cross message belonging to my late grandmother, similar to the one that was to bring the devastating news

One day in the summer of 1943, 42-year -old Edith Emily Brown (nee Ruaux) received a Red Cross message that would change her life forever. Her son had died of meningitis, a very long way from home. Edith and her husband, James, were trapped in the Channel Island of Guernsey, occupied by the Nazis who had  already stolen their freedom and requisitioned their home.

Three years earlier in June 1940 the couple, my late grandparents, had waved  goodbye to  David, aged ten,  and fourteen-year-old Harold as they took  the last boat to Britain, along with hundreds of other schoolchildren evacuated to Britain for their  own safety. 'Look after your little brother' were the last words  my granny uttered, too overcome to say anything else.

That fateful Red Cross message revealed  that  one of their children had died of meningitis, but tragically gave no name. Edith collapsed  in shock, but it was another six months before my grandparents knew that they had lost their younger son. My father, Harold, was billeted in Oldham with distant relatives,  unable to share the grief for his 13-year-old brother with his heartbroken mum and dad.

When Harold arrived back on the island he was  a grown man, an RAF navigator recently married to my mother, an  18-year-old Lancashire girl who worked in the wages department of a  local munitions factory. I was one of their three daughters born  over the next seven years.  My childhood was idyllic, which is why I call Guernsey my Island of Dreams, and I hope that the love given and received helped, in some small way, to ease the pain of the family's loss.

Sadly, my family were just some of many Guernsey residents who lost loved ones during the Second World War. More than thirty islander were killed outright when the Germans bombed the tomato lorries on the White Rock (the local name for the quayside) on June 28 1940. Other  extraordinarily brave dissenters died in German concentration camps  simply for breaking the Occupiers' rules. They, along with David,  will never be forgotten.

This week Guernsey celebrated the 73rd anniversary of the island's liberation on May 9 1945. The celebrations, as always, held a  note of defiance and tinge of sadness for  those who never returned.

NB  My second  novel, Occupying Love, is based on the memories of  Edith and James along with others those who lived through the Occupation of Guernsey. To find out more follow the link here