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Alderney to mark day of homecoming

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ALDERNEY is set to mark Homecoming Day this weekend.

Beda Thompson as a young woman. (26665388)

It marks the return of the first islanders to the northern island after the Second World War on 15 December 1945.

The island was devastated during the war, with St Anne’s church used as an ammunition store, its six bells stolen. Braye Street was in smoking ruins. Homes had been vandalised, picked clean of wood and slate, cherished possessions vanished, mothers and fathers bowed under the strain of having to start all over again.

Among those remembering those dark days will be Beda Sebire. She was 12 when she, her younger sister Hira and their mother and father, Miriam and George, left. They ended up in a village near Bury in Lancashire. But Beda longed for the day when she could return to the fresh air, endless horizons and wild landscape of her home. She was a few months shy of 18 when she and her family returned on the Autocarrier on 22 December.

Now aged 94, she is reflecting on her own Homecoming.

‘You think about the journey and what it was like when you went back and saw the houses,’ she said.

‘Thank goodness we were able to live in ours. The main thing was getting back home. There was a gale so we came back hugging the coast of France – I hadn’t seen Alderney from the sea before. I saw Mannez lighthouse first and, being the sort of curious person I was, I wanted to have a good look at it.

‘My father had to hold me under my arms to steady me as I leaned out. We were coming round Fort Albert when one of the crew members said, do you know we are going over a minefield. I didn’t know he was joking and it had already been cleared.

‘I could see the jetty – I thought, surely we haven’t come all this way just to be blown up? But we reached it safely and I was home. That’s what I thought: ‘‘home’’.’

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The scale of the destruction was apparent as soon as they disembarked.

‘Braye Street was really devastated,’ she said.

‘All that was left was walls, really. All the German concrete made it dreary and dull, everywhere you went. You hardly recognised some places. My grandfather used to work at Mannez quarry and he went out to see what it was like. He came back and laughed.

‘I never thought there’d ever be a day when I got lost on Alderney,’ he told us.

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After a few days at the Grand Hotel they returned home to 1, the Huret, in St Anne.

‘Our house had been used as a canteen by the Germans,’ said Beda.

‘All the wooden banisters had been removed. My mother, Miriam, had always loved to collect anything that had a willow pattern design on it – crockery, sheets, anything like that. They were all gone.

‘Later, when we were preparing the garden to plant vegetables, we found them all smashed up and buried.’

Her father, previously a farmer, later worked on the communal farm.

For Beda there was a silver lining to Alderney’s wartime story. Barely a week after returning home she met a British soldier called George Thompson, who earlier had helped liberate Jersey. He had been tasked with getting them home safely after a party staged for homecomers at Chateau Le Tocq. He was instantly captivated by Beda and, when he left to serve in Trieste, Italy, they wrote to each other.

They married in 1947 and were the first couple to get married in St Anne’s Church since the end of the war.

Beda said she had mixed feelings about Homecoming Day. ‘I was very happy to come back but sad to see the state the island was in,’ she said. ‘Some people saw it and turned round and never came back. So it’s a bit of both.’

Juliet Pouteaux

By Juliet Pouteaux
News reporter

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