Distant Sanctuary


As the Luftwaffe threatened to blast Britain into submission, there was a scramble to send children on a harrowing journey to the relative safety of Canada, writes Alex Bowers

Six-year-old Tim Willis watched as the London Docks blazed. The sky, turning blood red before his eyes, reminded him of a sunset. Ushered into a shelter alongside his family, the young boy sat, frightened, while his father read aloud to calm him. “He never missed a word,” Tim recalled later... nor did he let on to what was happening above them.

Stella Marion Pickering – also six – felt similarly when her mother woke her up in the middle of the night. She found herself beneath the dining table, cotton wool in her ears, as the noise of anti-aircraft fire became deafening. Her baby brother lay beside her, strapped in a body-sized gas mask; everyone took turns to keep the air pumping into the capsule. Meanwhile, beneath a leaky corrugated steel arch in Middlesbrough, Margaret Burt Hamilton, just turned 13, listened to the sirens wailing outside. It was amid the clamour that her mother made an announcement: She would be sent away, where the bombs couldn’t get her, where she would be safe and cared for.

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