Skip to the main content

The Evacuation Story of Ada Dian Ashton (English evacuee child)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Creative Commons: 
Accession Number: 

Story Text: 

It was 1940 and Great Britain had been at war for almost a year. France had fallen. It was thought that an invasion of England was imminent and that the children must be saved.

My sister and I, then aged nine and ten, lived in Hebburn on the south bank of the river Tyne. It was a shipbuilding town and our father worked in the shipyards.

One day, my sister and I thought that we were going to live where the ‘cowboys and Indians’ were. What an adventure that would be!

Eventually the time came to leave home. It was early August 1940 when we set off on our great journey, boarding a train at Newcastle Central Station, each of us having a label on our coats showing our name and particulars. We carried our gas masks and a few items of clothes.

Two ladies from the Salvation Army were waiting to take us on the train to go to Glasgow – an adventure in itself and further from home than we had ever travelled before. Many more evacuee children joined us. We stayed overnight sleeping on the floor of a hall on a palliasse; a straw-filled makeshift mattress. From Glasgow we were taken to the port of Greenock where we would get on board the ship – the Duchess of York – that would take us to Canada.

Of course, we were used to seeing big ships on the Tyne but we were still very impressed by the sight of our liner.

We sailed down the river Clyde singing, “We’ll Meet Again” to the crowds that had gathered on the shore. Other ships joined us as we formed a convoy.

We had never seen so much food as there was for us on the ship. Unfortunately, I was sea-sick for the first few days. I just wanted my mam and dad.

In mid-Atlantic our naval escorts left us. Duchess of York was left to out-run any submarine that thought of attacking us. Fortunately none tried.

After ten days at sea, we arrived in Halifax. We arrived in darkness but the shoreline was all lit up and looked quite spectacular. It was such a change from the ‘blackout’ rules in England.

Once ashore, it was time to take the train to Toronto. It was a three-day journey, crossing first into the State of Maine in the USA before returning to Canada. At Toronto, we left the train and the children prepared to go their separate ways to the various places where they would be staying.

My sister and I were taken to Sudbury, Ontario where we met the people who were to look after us; Mr. Grant Baker and his wife Elaine, who from that day were known to us as Uncle and Auntie, and their daughter, Isabell. We were treated as minor celebrities and the Press came to interview us.

Auntie and Uncle lived in a small nickel-mining community at Levack, about 35 miles from Sudbury. Uncle worked in the mine.

Their house was small, painted white and with a brick-built basement. It was like the “Little House on the Prairie”. The lavatory was down the garden as was the pump for the water.

We were made most welcome and settled in.

I recall being offered sweet corn at our first meal. Sylvia said that she wasn’t going to eat it as that was something we would feet to the animals. She did eat it and over time we discovered other foods that were new to us.

We were taken to many places by car. Travelling in a car was something else that was new to us.

The weather was very different from that at home in England – very hot in summer and very cold in winter with deep, deep snow.

After living in Levack for three years, we all moved into Sudbury. I attended the High School there. Amongst my many memories was the day I was presented to HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and the Vice-Regal Consort. I have a photograph of the occasion with me in my Girl Guides uniform.

Eventually, following the end of the war, the time came to leave Canada and return home to England and our parents. We retraced our steps, leaving from Halifax.

My final school report from High School recommended that I continue my education once I returned to England, but that was not to be. My father said that he could not afford to keep me in school and I was to go out to work. Within weeks I was employed in the offices of a large engineering company in my home town. My father also said that I would meet a boy and get married. That was indeed true. I met my late-husband when I was 16 and we married when I was 20, remaining together throughout his life.

We continued our relationship with Auntie and Uncle throughout their lives. They visited us in England and we visited them in Canada. Sylvia and I remain in regular contact with our foster-sister Isabell exchanging visits when we can.

The story of the children evacuated to Canada was told in a film made in the 1980s and shown on television in the UK, “The Young Ambassadors”. Not all the children whose stories were told in that film had been as fortunate as we had been but, for our part, we were cared for in Canada by wonderfully kind people who took in these two little kids from across the Atlantic Ocean.

Thank you to them and to Canada.

Dian Cape (nee Ashton)