BY JAMES TWOMEY
A Second World War evacuee who set up an association which has reunited hundreds of war child over the past 20 years received an MBE on Tuesday.
Sidney James Roffey, known as James, was evacuated from Camberwell in September 1939 at the age of eight and taken with his sister Jean, and brother John, to Pulborough in West Sussex where he lived for four years.
After retirement, James realised there was no association for evacuees to share experiences, and in 1996 formed the Evacuees Reunion Association, which later became the British Evacuee Association.
In a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, James was made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to Second World War evacuees and their families.
James said: “It was a surprise to receive the award, I didn’t expect to get anything.”
As an evacuee James travelled from South London on an ancient “no corridor” train that was packed to capacity with young children, and their destination was kept secret from them and their parents.
He also did not know how long he would be away from home or who would be looking after them.
West Sussex was far from being the haven that was first expected, especially during the early years of the war.
James said he remembers walking to school and the Messerschmitts flying over them so low that you could see the pilots’ faces. They would use their machine guns and the bullets would rattle along the road.
“If a plane with a plume of smoke headed due south you knew it was a German,” said James. “Trying to make for France but often failing to make it over the South Downs and it would crash and we could see the plumes of black smoke.”
At the age of 65, James began to think about his life as an evacuee, and after attending the 50th
anniversary of the end of the Second World War, he was asked by a volunteer from the Women’s Voluntary Service why there was no evacuees association.
James said when he explained that there was no such organisation, she replied “Well don’t just stand there, man. Get on and do it.”
James said he replied “why me?” And she answered back “it’s obvious. If you don’t, no one else will.”
Karen Follows, manager of the British Evacuees Association, said: “It is great that the work James has done for evacuees has at last been recognised.
“The British Evacuees Association and the work that it does ensures that the experiences of the
evacuees are not forgotten by future generations.
“More than 3.5 million people, the majority of which were children, were taken from their families and homes to escape the horrors of the Second World War.
“Some children had happy experiences, some did not, many are still feeling the effects today.
“The evacuees themselves are the last link to the Second World War and were part of the evacuation process which is known as the biggest social upheaval in British history.”
The British Evacuees Association now has more than 1,300 members worldwide across eight countries.