Interview with Gillian Mawson
Gillian Mawson was born in Stockport in Cheshire and now lives in Derbyshire. She is married and has two cats. Gillian’s new book is out today and she kindly took the time to answer some questions.
Your new book sounds absolutely fascinating. Can you tell me a bit about it please?
The book is ‘Evacuees: Children’s Lives on the World War Two Home Front’. It is published by History Press on Tuesday 30th September in hardback format.
I have a passionate interest in social history and during 2013 I collected personal stories from 100 people who spent the war years as evacuees in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. My new book, ‘Evacuees: Children’s Lives on the World War Two Home Front’ contains memorable extracts from these stories. They are accompanied by family photographs, many of which have been rescued from old suitcases and attics. The book also includes the memories of adults who travelled with the evacuated school children.
Prior to this, I spent four years interviewing evacuees for my first book, ‘Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War.’ 17,000 people fled Guernsey to England in June 1940, just weeks before the occupation of their island by Germany. Sadly, many of the people I interviewed have since died. I feel it is vital that the memories of Second World War evacuees are recorded now before they are lost for ever.
My new book contains stories from those who were evacuated within Britain as part of ‘Operation Pied Piper’. Others come from those who sought sanctuary in Britain from France, Belgium, the Ukraine and Spain or from persecution in Germany. I also include memories from evacuees who fled from British territories such as Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Gibraltar.
How long did it take you to write?
I began to collect the stories and family photographs in January 2013 and had to edit some of the stories. Some evacuees sent me a few paragraphs whilst others sent me 20 pages of memories. Because 100 stories are in the book, I had to edit the stories and select a memorable extract from each one. This was difficult as you can imagine. In addition some evacuees did not have access to a camera during the war, so I contacted local history societies and local newspapers. They kindly provided photographs to accompany these stories which delighted the evacuees.
How do you go about doing your research?
I often place letters in regional newspapers and on websites, asking for evacuees to come forward and share their stories. I also make great use of my own evacuation websites, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Even if an evacuee is not online or using social media, one of their children or grandchildren is.
Do you find the evacuees stories emotional at times?
I find them very emotional indeed. I interviewed 200 evacuees for my ‘Guernsey Evacuees’ book between 2008 and 2012, and the book was published in November 2012. I pick it up now and then and read a chapter and am still very moved indeed. The stories I have gathered for my new book have the same effect on me. Sometimes whilst interviewing evacuees they are moved to tears by their memories and I am too. When I read the final proof of my new book a month ago, I wept quite a few times.
I also run a community group for Guernsey evacuees who live in the Manchester area – they did not return home after the war. We organise events in order to share their stories with schools and museums. The evacuees’ memories still have the power to move me to tears especially when I hear them sharing them with members of the public.
How long have you been a social historian for?
I have loved history since I was a child and always reading about the lives of ordinary people who lived through extraordinary times. I began to study for my history degrees at the University of Manchester when I was 40 years old whilst I was working full time in an office. In 2004 I began to write various history articles for magazines and newspapers, and in 2008 I began to interview Guernsey evacuees, both in the UK and in Guernsey. I wanted to find out about their wartime experiences on the UK mainland. It taught me a great deal about evacuation and also about the British Home Front during the Second World War.
Is this something you always wanted to do?
I enjoyed writing stories when I was a teenager, so I was very happy when I was offered a contract to write my first history book in 2012. Since writing that book, many of the evacuees have died. I feel it is vital that I interview as many evacuees as I can, while they are still with us, to record and preserve their memories for future generations.
Have you got anymore books planned?
I have 5 more book proposals in mind but I don’t want to give too much away at this stage. Four of them relate to the subject of the Second World War. – not just evacuation. The fifth is on a completely different historical subject – however, it does include interviews with people!
Describe a day in your life.
I have a part time office job, but on the remaining days I work on various matters including organising events for my evacuee community group, trying to obtain funding for the group and interviewing more evacuees. I send emails or letters to many of the evacuees I have interviewed as we have become good friends. I write down my ideas for future books and write articles for magazines and newspapers.
I have started to share my Guernsey evacuation archive online as much as possible so am in constant contact with museums and websites to ensure that this information is shared digitally. I receive emails from evacuees who wish to be reunited with wartime friends and I try to help them as much as I can. I have reunited a number of evacuees and this is very moving and makes me very happy indeed.
I am frequently contacted by people whose parents or grandparents (now deceased) were evacuees. They want to find out more about their relatives’ experiences during the war. I help as much as I can. Authors and television documentary companies contact me to obtain accurate historical information for their wartime novels and programmes. I also give talks to schools, history groups and museums about wartime evacuation and speak on the radio about my research. There is not much time for relaxation but I am very happy in what I do.
You can find out more about Gillian’s new book on her blog:-
Gillian’s books can be purchased on Amazon:-
Gillian’s blog on the Guernsey evacuation can be found here:-