Surrey

Tristan da Cunha refugees recall evacuation to Surrey

Tristan da Cunha man holding baby
Image caption Islanders from Tristan da Cunha arrived in Surrey in 1961

Fifty years ago a disused army camp in Surrey became home for a group of refugees fleeing from one of the remotest communities on Earth.

They came from the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, escaping a volcano that had begun to erupt in 1961.

It was the first taste of life outside of the island for most of its 268 inhabitants.

Initially forced to live in wooden huts at the disused Pendell Army Camp, in Mertsham, they were eventually moved to permanent homes in Hampshire.

But life in England proved hard for some of the islanders.

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Media captionJoyce Hagan, 71, said islanders were frightened when they first came to live in Pendell Army Camp, Surrey.

Tristan da Cunha is 1,500 miles from its nearest neighbour St Helena and 1,750 miles from the nearest airport in Cape Town, South Africa.

It is a British Overseas Territory and has the Queen as its head of state.

Islander Joyce Hagan, 71, said the refugees had been frightened when they came to England and feared dreaded "Teddy Boy" gangs.

She also said four or five of the older islanders had died "of broken hearts" when they were forced to leave.

'Better place'

In 1963 the island was deemed safe enough for the islanders to return. But not all did.

Dora Tarrant met and fell in love with her husband Keith, from Surrey.

She said: "I found the people [in England] very nice. They were all kind to me anyway.

"I think I wanted to stay here because it's a better place."

Her husband said he had never heard of the island until the evacuation was mentioned on BBC News.

"They next thing we knew they were coming to Pendell Camp, in Mertsham," he said.

"There was a pub near the camp where I used to drink as a young lad and I met Dora's father there."

The island's population has remained constant since the resettlement and currently stands at 263 people.

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