By Joe Dalton & Ben Lugg
A surviving WWII overseas evacuee is invited to attend the opening ceremony of the Imperial War Museum North’s upcoming ‘Ocean’s Apart’ display on Saturday.
The display, at the Salford Quays based museum, marks the 70th anniversary of the peak of wartime evacuations.
It features personal accounts, letters and photographs revealing the story of children who were sent to stay with families overseas.
Donald Mitchell, 83, of Colne, Lancashire, was one of the first children sent overseas in September 1940. At just 13 years old he was sent on an eight week journey to Australia with 18 other boys by cargo ship.
Upon arriving in Australia the group were separated out between several families and Donald was taken in by a family in Sydney where he spent his first year.
Donald quickly embraced his new life joining both the Scouts and the local cadet force. Despite his upheaval at such a young age, Donald loved his time in Australia.
He fondly recalled: “I had the opportunity to do a great many things I simply wouldn’t have done back home. I went hiking in the bush, learnt to swim and took up a lot of outdoor activities – it was a wonderful adventure.”
The downside for Donald was the separation from his family and occasionally feeling some discomfort at staying in someone else’s home: “I wrote letters to my family in Lancashire though they would sometimes take up to 12 weeks to be received.”
Donald stayed in Australia for four years during which time he lived in five different homes. In 1944, at the age of 17, Donald decided he wanted to leave in order to avoid being conscripted to the Australian army.
The British government shipped the children home after the war though leaving in 1944 meant Donald had to make his own way home. He worked his passage back from Melbourne as a galley boy on a Norwegian vessel chartered by the Willhelmsen shipping line.
Alex Knight, press spokesman for the Imperial War Museum North, said: “It is important to remember this aspect of the war. Whether to send your child abroad in wartime was an incredible human dilemma.”
He added: “It will be a very family friendly, engaging display.”