The British Connection

News stories about William and Kate bring to mind all things British… including the excellent but nearly forgotten story of young World War II refugees safely shipped here from their homes near London to escape the Blitzkrieg.

The drama began in late spring of 1940. Hitler had invaded Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France. Britain was next, and frightened parents rushed to move their children to safety. A pair of families with Wake Forest connections sent cables here, and the town responded. Compassionate residents promised to accept a number of English children, even contacting the U.S. State Department to clarify immigration law before proceeding with their plans.

Although it’s not clear how many children finally reached North Carolina, the large image (from the News & Observer) shows the first to arrive. Mrs. L.D. Smart is seen with her ward, 10-year-old Susan Oatfield. Mr. Don Johnston, head of the Royall Cotton Mill, cared for 14-year-old John Oatfield.

The children stayed only for the summer. They would not return to dangerous London and the bomb attacks, but to English boarding schools in the safer countryside. And they carried memories of Wake Forest with them.

(The two remaining images were taken in Wake Forest during the war.)

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