In March 1940 Guernsey was an idyllic island, its flower industry flourishing, with regular shipments to England still taking place, as seen in this article in the Manchester Guardian (21 March, 1940: p. 4), which goes on to focus less on the impending invasion than on the weather conditions.
Only three months later the situation was very different, with a hasty evacuation under way. John Ireland was on one of the chartered ships leaving the island. The SS Antwerp
was one of many vessels sent from England to the Channel Islands to evacuate the civilian population. It arrived in St Peter Port at 9am on 20 June and left an hour later with 1154 schoolchildren, teachers and helpers. The ship’s second and final trip to and from Guernsey was on 22 June, carrying around 2000 evacuees to Weymouth. There is no passenger list record, but it is known for certain that Ireland was on this ship, along with two former composition pupils, John Longmire (1902–86) and Percy Turnbull (1902–76). Other boats leaving that day carrying evacuees were the Biarritz, Malines, Patricia, Princess Astrid, Royal Daffodil and Rye. Ireland wrote several letters in which he described the traumatic experience and the appalling conditions, these observations corroborated by other sources, including this letter quoted in a House of Commons debate concerning the plight of the Channel Islands:
‘The evacuation arrangements, such as they were, were deplorable. I came over on the ‘Antwerp,’ a troopship licensed to carry (and lifebelts provided for) 700, and there were 2,000 men, women and children aboard, to be chased by a submarine halfway across. We reached Weymouth at 5 p.m. and came alongside at 9.30 p.m., and there we were left without food or drink until 2a.m. next day, when people started fainting in all directions and officialdom woke up at last’.
A few days after the evacuation, on 30 June 1940, this article appeared in the Observer (p. 8)
Ireland was thus very fortunate to leave Guernsey on the SS Antwerp, as Saturday 22 June was the last day of embarkation on these evacuation boats.
Read, Brian Ahier. No Cause for Panic: Channel Islands Refugees 1940–45. St Helier: Seaflower, 1995.
House of Commons debate, 31 July 1940. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1940-07-31a.1349.1