Nancy Powell’s Escape Diary

  1. Prologue
  2. 14th - 16th June
  3. 17th - 18th June
  4. 19th - 22nd June
  5. 23rd - 24th June
  6. Exode / Escape 1988

Wednesday, 19th June

In the early hours, on the radio, we heared General de Gaulle’s first broadcast to the Free French to keep the Tricolore flying.

After a most uneventful crossing we reached Falmouth Bay early in the afternoon. We found many boats in the Bay – two Dutch liners and a variety of small boats.

A customs launch came alongside in the afternoon and the officer on board said we would be taken off as soon as possible. He asked if we wished to communicate with our families as he could transmit telegrams for us. Needless to say we all availed ourselves of this offer, paid him our dues, and he went off carrying a request for bread which was brought out to us later that evening. By now the crew were sharing their stores with us.

Thursday, 20th June

This day came and went and we waited to be taken off but realised that many others were likewise waiting.

Trivial events became important – washing – cooking. The Skipper and his crew had given up most of their quarters to us and were too helpful. The older ones in our group made use of their bunks and for some of us it was just paillasses on the floor.

Friday, 21st June

No move yet – getting short of antiseptic for my Father’s medical treatment. I raided the boat’s First Aid box. More bread and corned beef was delivered to us.

The weather since our departure from France had remained fine.

Every time we heared the sound of aircraft we imagined it might be enemy planes. With so many boats in the Bay (400 I was told later) we felt we were a sitting target.

Saturday, 22nd June

Quiet morning. About 12.30pm a lighter came alongside and advised us that we would be taken off in about an hour. Rushed to pack back into our suitcases the items taken out, collect washing – one of the group left her “smalls” drying on deck – we had been living on a collier for four days.

We said goodbye to the Skipper and crew with our ever grateful thanks. They were going on to Barry to return to base the coal they had first unloaded at Brest and then told to get it back on to the collier.

We drew alongside the jetty at Falmouth. A policeman immediately came on board asking that any dog on the boat be handed over to him – for even at a time like this safety precautions for rabies were still being observed.

The policeman then asked whether anyone was in need of medical help and Father was encouraged to go forward and was taken up by the policeman to the St. John Ambulance member on duty at the barrier on the jetty. An hour or so later, as we were still on the boat and were not sure where Father had gone to, the policeman on duty allowed me to go up to the barrier to see whether I could gain any information about Father’s whereabouts. It so happened that the St. John man who had dealt with my Father was back at the barrier. He told me that the refugees were being given shelter in the three cinemas of the town and that the one my Father had been taken to was fast filling up. He had a word with the policeman on duty and it was decided to let Mother and myself go out of turn rather than we should get sent to different cinemas, but we had to leave our suitcases on the jetty. Father alone had been allowed to take his suitcase containing medical equipment. It had been raining steadily since early afternoon and the thought of leaving our few possessions was not reassuring.

We found Father in the foyer of the cinema. He had already inquired of the medical staff on duty there of the possibility of a hospital or nursing home bed but had been told that hospital and nursing homes were already overflowing and beds were only available for emergencies as they came in. It was not possible for Father to sit in the cinema all night. The solution came from a local pork butcher on duty in the foyer who offered Father a bedroom in his home down the road. Father surrendered his passport to the powers that be in the foyer and the business man took over responsibility for him.

Mother and I spent the night in the company of many others, dozing off, having cups of tea and corned beef sandwiches, alternatively lying on the floor and sitting in the cinema armchairs.

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