Yesterday was our friend Joan’s 94th birthday, and since she’s British by birth Mark and I took her to the King's Head, our favorite British pub here in Santa Monica.     

Joan is one of the many children evacuated from St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey in June of 1940 just days before the Germans invaded the island. Nothing was planned out, announcements were made in the newspaper and on the local radio that school-age children were being evacuated with their classes, and mothers with infants were told to arrange to leave as soon as possible. That and nothing more but scores of children were sent to the harbor.  

Just ten years old, Joan was sent with her classmates across the channel on ships sent by the British to Weymouth, then to Blantyre, in Scotland where she stayed, living with a volunteer family until her mother could join her. She isn’t sure how long she was there but her mother sent for Joan to join them in Stockport, in the county of Cheshire in England.  

Joan’s father, a market gardener, stayed on the island which was occupied by the Germans for the rest of the war.  Occupiers and citizens alike suffered from tremendous food shortages. 
Joan says they never returned to the island to live and her mother, who’d been in service, and her father divorced. Details are hard to come by from this proud and private woman but I do know that memories of her real father have been wiped away with the years, her stepfather, once a professional footballer, completely erasing him in her mind.

I'd love to go to Guernsey someday. To see Victor Hugo’s home, to see the island where our friend spent her childhood. I’m embarrassed to say most of what I know about Guernsey comes from the novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. And the movie which starred Lily James and Michael Huisman. 

Joan isn’t a sentimentalist like I am, she sent most of her pictures to the dumpster when she moved out of her home into an apartment a dozen years ago. What she didn’t toss out is her indomitable spirit. Fiercely independent, Joan is loathe to ask for help or sympathy. I suppose that’s what comes from having to be very brave in the face of real danger, of having to rely on strangers as a young girl. 

She survived the war, she survived the passing of her life partner, she survived cancer. She’s had quite a life, traveling in her twenties with her sister to South Africa—the boat trip taking weeks—where she worked in what was then, Cape Town’s most elegant department store, Stuttafords, called “the Harrods of Africa.” Later, she was vetted in the UK and sent to Los Angeles where she worked as a nanny for one of the city’s most important families. The kind of family that has its name carved into  stone on buildings. Lots of buildings. 

She’s lived in Los Angeles since 1963 and never learned to drive. How did she manage? Trust me, she did. She does. 

Happy Birthday, Joan. We are honored to call you friend. 


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