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

Sunday, 23rd June

Father returned. The exit doors were opened to get some fresh air. The weather had improved after yesterday’s downpour which had lasted from early afternoon until nightfall. All the stores in the centre of Falmouth were open this Sunday morning in order to help the hundreds of refugees coming in daily. We were allowed to walk up and down the small car park (in small numbers) attached to the cinema. The entrance to this and the other exit doors were guarded by armed soldiers.

People from the other side of the barrier at the entrance of the car park kindly asked if they could shop for us. Fresh fruit seemed to be in greatest demand.

About 12.30pm an announcement was made to the effect that British passport holders would be taken by coach to a centre for the issuing of ration cards, identity cards and the collection of suitcases left on the quayside and which had been moved up to the centre. So this is how we made the acquaintance of Falmouth Drill Hall. We took our places in the queue, were given a number and told to be seated. In due course our turn came and, at a first desk, we were given a document to enable us to obtain a ration card when we reached our destination. At the next desk on the stage of our passports were scrutinised and we were supplied with the required Identity Card. Then out onto a grassed area (no doubt a bowling green) with a covered area at one end and there the search started for our three suitcases amongst some two thousand items (so I was told later) which had been brought up from the quayside. One presumed that an organised routine had been established to deal with the refugees’ luggage as they landed off the boats. I was fortunate enough to find our cases fairly rapidly: but even now, over forty years later, I can remember the sodden cardboard boxes with refugees’ precious possessions adrift and how sad I felt about it. Our fairly stout suitcases withstood the test of the downpour.

Once our luggage retrieved, the Customs Officer present asked for the cases to be opened – seeking for anything that might appear suspicious – had my camera had a film in it, it would have been confiscated. I still remember this very young Customs Officer being apologetic about having to search the cases in such circumstances as these and I telling him that I knew how necessary it was to check for “fifth column infiltration”.

From here we were taken, still by coach, to another hall, the Weslyan Church Hall, where the disposal of the refugees was being organised.

There were three options:-

1) Billeting in Falmouth until contact could be made with relatives or other arrangements could be made.

2) A travel warrant to anywhere in England.

3) Paid accommodation in Falmouth. Possible in our case for all three of us had a few pounds in hand, and Mother and Father badly needed a rest. We were directed to a Guest House where we paid a very nominal fee for high tea, bed and breakfast. The greatest joy of that evening was a hot bath – we had spent five days on a collier!

Alas we lost sight of those who had been our companions for the crossing. We’d moved off the boat before the others because of Father, the cinema had filled up and they had obviously been directed to another cinema.

Monday, 24th June

Refreshed after a good night’s rest we set off into town at 9am with the hope of changing some French money into English currency. We had been told that, as a concession for refugees, banks were exchanging small amounts of francs for immediate needs – for us it was to buy our rail tickets for Basingstoke – but alas, this facility had been withdrawn that very morning. We could have returned to the Weslyan Hall to ask for railway warrants but instead we returned to the Guest House where the proprietress was quite prepared to give us cash against a Lloyds Bank, Basingstoke, cheque. Mother had brought away her English cheque book. All we needed was £5.00. The amount seems small in the 1980′s but represented then more than a week’s stay for one person at the Guest House.

We then proceeded to the station and caught a train at about 11am to Truro, transferring there to the main London line, reaching Reading at about 6pm.

Our next train from there to Basingstoke was at 7.30pm and it was from the call box on Reading platform that we made our first phone call to the family at Basingstoke. Phone calls from Falmouth had not been possible. Having received our telegram from Falmouth sent the previous Wednesday, 6 days past, when our boat had reached the Bay and with no further communication, they had been wondering what had happened to us, half imagining we had gone on to the United States or Canada.

Here ends the tale of our escape, for I have no recollection whatsoever of the arrival at Basingstoke station, nor of getting a taxi, nor of the welcome by the family (Granny, Auntie Ethel, Geoffrey and Miss Rush) at Fairholme, Cliddesden Road. It would seem that having reached the haven of Basingstoke and the family home after a very stressful eleven days, nothing mattered any more.

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