Monday, March 26, 2012

All the Children Were Sent Away by Sheila Garrigue

It is the summer of 1940 and the war has finally found its way to the home front.  Air raids in London are becoming more and more frequent and bombs are beginning to fall.  And so when her uncle in Vancouver, BC writes to her parents in London and suggests that they send 9 year old daughter Sara Warren to Canada for the duration, they also think this would be a good idea.
They decide to place Sara in the care of Lady Drume, who is making the same trip for war related reasons. Sara has some reservations about meeting Lady Drume, but her mother reassures that it will be fine, though she does admit that Lady Drume is a funny old thing.
And that turns out to be an understatement.  Lady Drume immediately begins to order Sara around, before Mrs. Warren has even said good-bye, and once on the ship, she demands “implicit  obedience” from Sara.  This means staying in their cabin and never wandering around the ship alone.  But when the friendly old sailor Wilfrid Horace Mickleby a/k/a/ Sparky invites up on deck to watch the ship weigh anchor, Sara commits her first infraction of Lady Drume many rules. 
Luckily, Sara sits next to the friendly ship doctor for meals, who later takes her to the lounge to meet the other children being evacuated from the East End of London, including siblings Ernie and Maggie.  Sara immediately likes them, but Lady Drume tells her she may not hang out with “guttersnipes” while under her care.
Lady Drume is, to say the least, a dictatorial snob.  Not only does Lady Drume avoid all the other people on the ship except the Captain, she refuses to attend the lifeboat drills should the ship be attacked and decides that she doesn’t need to wear her life jacket even though it is mandatory.  
When the ship is attacked and sustains damage, it is "guttersnipe" Ernie who leads Lady Drume and Sara to safety.  Sara hopes that now maybe things will change.    
Yet, nothing really changes.  The day after the attack, Sara is told to fetch a book for Lady Drume, and she decides to bring an apple to the doctor on her way.  Sara gets delayed helping out in sick bay, and once again, finds herself in trouble.  Lady Drume had focused on Sara’s hair from the beginning.  Sara had been desperately trying to grow her fine limp hair so she could wear braids like all the other girls she knew.  In a rage over forgetting her book,  Lady Drume commits the unthinkable, Sara doesn’t think she will ever be able to forgive her.  But Lady Drume isn’t done with Sara yet and there is still so much traveling time left.
Sheila Garrigue was evacuated to Canada at 7 years old, and it is clear much of her shipboard experience in the U-boat infested Atlantic Ocean during the war made its way into this novel.  This was a somewhat unique adventure since overseas evacuations didn’t last long when ships, like the one here, were hit by torpedoes and sunk, killing some of the evacuees.  
This novel is not really wonderful, though.  The characters fall a little short of being authentic, and often feel very stereotypical.  Lady Drume’s refusal to acknowledge the war and its dangers seemed odd given that she was going to Canada to organize a war relief drive and than back to England because “my country needs me.”  Sara, for all she didn’t like Lady Drume, continued to inadvertently get into trouble and then allowed herself to become a timid victim.  Neither character ever seems to learn how to operate in the situation in which she finds herself.    
Oh, and as for the end of the story - let’s just say not very likely!
This book is recommended for readers age 10 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.
For more information on the Overseas Evacuation of Children, see visit The Second World War Experience Centre 

All the Children Were Sent Away
Sheila Garrigue
170 Pages


  1. I read the first part of your review thinking I would be adding 'all the Children' to my must-read list but having got to the end I’ve changed my mind. I was certain that Sara would find her ‘inner tough guy’ and Lady Drum would turn out to be a sweet old lady. What a shame.

    1. I kept waiting for her inner tough guy to show up, too and was very disappointed, especially considering some of the things that Lady Drume said and did to Sara. There is a sequel which I may read one of these days, anyway, about her life in Canada during the war called The Eteranl Spring of Mr. Ito. Maybe it will be a better book.

  2. I would have picked up this book just based on the wonderful title.

    My grandmother has been sent from her home in Latvia to Palestine during WWII. Her mother wanted her back before the war ended but her uncle in Palestine refused to send her back ("there is a war" he said). When the Nazis pulled out the massacred all the Jews they could find and my great-grandmother was one of them. I always remember that my grandmother's greatest regret was not spending more time with her mother.

  3. That is an incredible story, Zohar. But think about what would have happened if your grandmother had stayed in Latvia. They stopped allowing people to immigrate to Palestine before the war, which is one of the things that ultimately led to the Final Solution. I would have had the same regret and would have been sorry not to have spent time with my mother, too. What a double edged sword for your grandmother.

  4. I mentor young adults and recently worked with a high school senior on a project involving her grandfather. He was a refuge, one of 11 children, who was German and put into internment camps in Russia. He survived and now tours to local schools telling his story. The teen I was working with was taking an oral history. (Can I say how important oral histories are for the WWII generation?) Anyway, the point of me saying all of this; It's so important that the younger generations gain knowledge of the experiences of older generations. My favorite way to learn is via historical fiction books or documentaries. I appreciate your blog and often learn something here too.

  5. I'm surprised that a few people commented disappointment that the young girl didn't 'stand up' to the older woman in charge. At that time, especially, children were more respectful than today, so it doesn't surprise me nor does it bother me.

    I thought this was a GREAT book, and loved it when I read it multiple times in my pre-teen and even earliest teen years. I plan to re-read it soon.