Joan Zilva

Text Box: An  account of a 14 year old’s WW2 overseas evacuation based on her letters home



Chapter Three part 3

Text Box: This “refugee ship” was the City of Benares, which was torpedoed and sunk on September 17th, 1940.  77 children and 248 adult passengers  died. No more children were sent out afterwards.  With the help of hindsight I feel more sympathy for the captain. I now know that he was Heinrich Bleichrodt. He had no idea that it was carrying non-combatants let alone children. When he found out, he suffered such severe depression, that he lost his command. [ Many thanks to Grant Rogers of the Imperial War Museum for this information.] .
Text Box: As will be seen later, he did not fully understand - but then I didn’t mention Mr Hay’s activities.  Child sexual abuse was not recognised then, so he did not dig further: now I would have an army of counsellors swarming over me. At that time I was considered to be the problem. 
Text Box: I was frantically seeking for someone to understand my dilemma. I was extremely unhappy and also felt guilty. There was nobody to turn to who understood—not even my parents. I think this marked me forever. Nowadays teenagers are excused for many things just because it is a difficult time of life. I was having to deal with extra traumas but was made to feel that I was a fault.
Text Box: They had had twins who died at birth. It seems odd to try and replace them with an unknown teenager. Mrs. Hay wanted a pretty little girl to dress up.
Text Box: This was my last letter from the Hays. However one other event sticks in my mind which I did not mention in letters home. When the day came for me to move to the Bartletts, whom I had not yet met, I panicked and got diarrhoea and nausea. I thought I might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I said I couldn’t go that day. Mrs. Hay had obviously arranged a party to celebrate my departure. I was banished to the attic. Only Marion came to talk to me and bring me leftovers. I was desperate—though I can see Mrs. Hay’s problem.
On the next day I got up courage! I never regretted it, nor, I imagine, did the Hays.
Text Box: “Hannah’s room” was the name we had for a the room designed for a maid. As we never had a live-in maid, when I was young I used it for a doll called “Hannah.” The name stuck. The room had a flat roof (the one on which I grew beans, and was turned into an air-raid shelter.)
Text Box: The winter of 1939/40 was very cold and I broke my ankle when skating (for the first time in my life) on our local pond. Hence references to my swollen ankle—probably in response to queries from home.
Text Box: I was sorry about art, but the other two were a relief! I could never sing in tune, and music at school meant singing not appreciation, which I would have liked.
Text Box: At least she tried. It must have been confusing for her.
Text Box: THE CARD!
Text Box: I think he knew another reason than my dislike of Mrs. Hay. That is why he was so angry. It might have come out.
Text Box: I remember this well. It sounds Dickensian.
Text Box: I hit it  on the head. It seems bizarre to put a teenager with a couple with a rocky marriage, with no experience of children.