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The British Guest Children of World War II

Walter Cornwall owns the mysterious “Dragon Door.” You would have met him in this blog. As you can see, it's a real door and led to some of the inspiration for this story.

Walter is also one of the British Guest Children evacuated to Canada during World War II. This is an historical fact from World War II. According to this website: As early as 1933, with Hitler’s rise to power, the British government began to plan for war with Germany. Many Britons were concerned, not only with the bombing of cities, but with the threat of military invasion and occupation by the German army. The fear of invasion elevated concern for the safety and freedom of the children of Britain. By 1935, a plan to evacuate children from large cities, such as London and Liverpool, to the countryside had been developed by government officials. When Britain formally declared war on Germany in 1939, after the fall of most of continental Europe, the danger of invasion seemed imminent.

C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe detailed British children relocating to the English countryside. British children were relocated overseas as well. Canada was one of a few countries which accepted children, hosting as many as 5,118 “British Guest Children.” These children were evacuated on ships between 1939 and 1942. German U-boats prowling the Atlantic attacked some of these vessels. Seventy-seven children were lost when one ship was torpedoed, bringing an end to the evacuation to Canada. Still, over 50,000 Canadians offered to take in children. Many, as in Walter’s case, formed life-long relationships and chose to remain following the war.

Sisterhood of the Sword is not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but it is its own story, and it tells of another British Guest Child. It is a story of equal mystery and magic. A couple excerpts from the book will follow in a moment.

This week we're beginning an end-of-year tour of Nova Scotia. The Dartmouth Book Exchange is just the first stop. Other opportunities are available to meet the author.

You can also purchase any of the Jamie Poole Books directly from the author. Arrangements can be made by emailing:

In working with Hal-Con there can be arrangements for drop off within Halifax as we are a virtual vendor. Additionally two preferred vendors can also assist you in getting the books any time of year:

From Sisterhood of the Sword:

When he was a kid, his friends always wanted to explore his attic. His was the biggest and oldest house on the street. His daddy had served in the navy during the war and had all kinds of souvenirs from different ports. There were assorted military uniforms and clothes he’d bought Mamma. Or so he’d been told. Daddy died when Walter was twenty-two. After that even Mamma didn’t go in the attic and didn’t speak about what was there. It had been sealed up like a tomb and never talked about. Just like Daddy.

Well enough of that! Walter wanted to see what was there. He’d stolen the key to the attic last night while Mamma slept. The skeleton key that opened every other door hadn’t worked. It had required reconnaissance work, but he’d finally figured out where she hid the attic key.

He headed for the stairway at the back of the house. He climbed to the landing and paused as the stairs turned ninety degrees. Above him loomed the coveted door whose threshold he had never crossed. For a mere attic door, the craftsmanship was impressive. The door’s center had been removed, and leaded glass, like a church’s stained-glass window, had been inserted, and a light from within backlit it. The light, which remained on day and night, illuminated—animated—two Chinese-style dragons. The beasts writhed around each other, roaring silently like guardians, and he would have to pass them. Of them Walter wasn’t afraid. He wondered more about who maintained the light that made these dragons appear alive. It wasn’t Mamma, and of that someone he definitely was afraid.

He approached the door and slid the old-fashioned key into the lock. It turned easily. Someone oiled it for Mamma. Who oiled it? Who maintained the light? The door swung inward on well-oiled hinges. He shivered at the ease. A haze of dust hung in the still air and overpowered him. He coughed and pinched his nose to hold back a sneeze. Mamma would hear him if he sneezed. She might not be as deaf as she pretended…

There is definitely something spooky, scary going on behind that Dragon Door, and so begins Sisterhood of the Sword. Had Walter Cornwall been a young person today he would have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. This developmental disorder has become a common diagnosis only in recent decades. People Walter’s age would have gone undiagnosed.

Further, Walter Cornwall is the adopted son of “Mama,” better known as Mrs. Hibbert Borden, the widow of Hibbert Borden who descended from Harrison Borden, who fought in the Anglo-Turkish War. Check back to this blog to find out more about him as it ties into Sisterhood of the Sword.

Further, from Sisterhood of the Sword as we take a look back at Walter’s younger years when he first arrived in Canada:

In the early days of World War II the British government had evacuated children from England. Most people knew about the children who went to live with relatives in the country outside London. Others were shipped to Dominion countries, including Canada. Walter had been one of the 1,532 children sent to Canada before the Germans realized what was happening. The evacuation stopped when a German U-boat bombed a ship loaded with children and sank it. Fortunately for Walter, he had arrived safely. Hibbert and his wife Hazel had just lost their son, Wallace, to illness, so they’d signed up to receive a Guest Child. They got Walter. He had been a terrible disappointment to Hibbert. That had been clear without either of his new parents saying a word.

They’d let him have Wallace’s room, still filled with all Wallace’s things. Walter had been the same size, so his clothing became his. His toys had become his too. He had many miniature military men, but Walter had shown no interest in playing with them. Instead he’d played with a chess set he’d brought from England. It had been a wooden one his real father had carved and given him before he’d boarded the ship. It had filled the many hours of boredom.

His new parents’ faces told him something was wrong beyond the loss of their son and his woeful failure at filling the hole in their lives. They gave him odd looks. Many people gave him odd looks. He didn’t behave like other children. Other children made fun of him and wouldn’t play with him. Walter spent as much time as he could in Wallace’s room. It wasn’t his room. He was simply a guest. When this war was over, he’d return to England and his mother and father.

Only, he hadn’t.

When the war ended in 1945, Walter and the other Guest Children had lived in Canada for six years. It had become home. They’d grown bonds with their new families. Even Hazel Borden had grown fond of her odd, new son and had allowed him to call her Mamma…

Walter’s life wasn’t perfect. Despite any challenges he faced due to Asperger Syndrome, Walter lived a familiar life for many of the Guest Children. Many struggled to fit in. And, once they did, many decided to stay, leaving behind their former lives and former families and adopting their new lives in Canada. These Guest Children and their families still live throughout this country today.


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