This is a story set in a time of turmoil for Europe, when the lives of millions of people were in danger from the threat of Hitler’s Third Reich. Tens of thousands of refugees, mainly Jews, fled to England.
After the outbreak of war, it was the remote seaside towns of Westward Ho! and Ilfracombe in North Devon that became a refuge for over 3,000 Jews. Here they settled for a time; most of them refugees in British army uniform, training for the army’s Pioneer Corps. They brought with them a uniquely continental intellect and culture. Later in the war, many of these refugees transferred to fighting regiments and were involved in secret missions behind enemy lines or the D-Day landings, intelligence duties and the invasion of Germany. Others came as youngsters and worked the land in kibbutz-style communities in requisitioned country houses. North Devon became a temporary refuge, their ‘garden of Eden’. After the war, many received British nationality and made a significant contribution to British society in science, business, music, the Arts and film industry.
Ilfracombe became the British Army’s Pioneer Corps training centre for around 3,000 German and Austrian refugees who left internment camps to join-up. In their spare time they formed an orchestra, hosted theatre performances and organised a mini-university offering lectures to refugee-soldiers locally.
It had some interesting “celebrities” in the seaside resort of Ilfracombe in the war, including evacuee Joan Collins and Peter Sellers; also Martin Freud (Sigmund’s eldest son), Robert Maxwell (in the Czech Pioneer Corps), and Coco the Clown (in the army of refugees there and led the entertainment section).
Jews in North Devon has received widespread critial acclaim, amongst it’s praise it has been:
Awarded “Devon Book of the Year 2005”
Made into a documentary for BBC South-West “Inside Out” called “The King’s Loyal Enemy Aliens” (circa 2006)
Featured in double-page articles about the book in The Jewish Chronicle, The North Devon Journal and Western Morning News.