[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
OUR First Report bears the date, September, 1914, and is headed:
" EMERGENCY COMMITTEE
ASSISTANCE OF GERMANS, AUSTRIANS AND HUNGARIANS IN DISTRESS.
(Convened by the religious Society of Friends to aid innocent Alien enemies in Great Britain rendered destitute by the war.)
Then follows a list of influential people who had expressed sympathy and who gave their names in support of our Appeal. The Archbishop of Canterbury heads the list, and is followed by the Bishops of Winchester, Lincoln and Lichfield ; Viscount Bryce and Viscount Haldane ; Lord Justice Phillimore,* Lord Parmoor ; J. Allen Baker,t W. H. Dickenson, Aneurin Williams~ and Sir W. E. Goschen ; Dr. John Clifford and Dr. J. Estlin Carpenter ; Lady Barlow, Lady Courtney of Penwith, Mrs. Creighton and Mrs. Herbert Tritton.~
The Report continues :
" A Committee was convened on August 7th., three days after the outbreak of war, by the Executive of the Society of Friends, and after a meeting had been held to which some of those likely to co-operate were invited, the work of relief was commenced as speedily as possible.
" The need we are trying to meet is two-fold. Our common Christianity demanded that special succour should be accorded to the helplessness of the innocent Alien enemies, cut off suddenly from home and means of livelihood, and without the protection of their own Embassy or Consulate.
" It was felt too, that, with a view to the settlement after the war, an organised effort should be made, at once, to bind up some of the wounds which the present disaster is inflicting upon the nations, however unpopular that task might be.
" Happily, we have had, from the start, the full approval and co-operation of the Home Office, as well as the sympathy of the American Embassy, and are working in touch with other bodies who are helping all aliens, irrespective of nationality.
" The National Peace Council is largely represented on our Committee, and is giving us a generous hospitality in a portion of their offices. Here a band of volunteer workers, both men and women, have given tireless and faithful service, interviewing the applicants, visiting their homes, investigating their references and carrying on the manifold duties of the office, in a spirit of Christian love and sympathy.
" The first Appeal issued, the initial cost of which was borne by the Meeting for Sufferings (the permanent executive body of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain), revealed and focussed from a most unexpected number of sources, a marvellous amount of British sympathy for the alien outcast, and the Committee gratefully acknowledges the generous financial response, amounting on November 28th, 1914, to over £5,570.
" Over and above monetary assistance, our warmest thanks are due to those who have given hospitality or employment, or rendered help in many other ways. .
" Over 2,800 cases have so far (November, 1914) been dealt with. The applicants have been of all sorts and conditions, from an invalid German Baron to a little Hungarian dwarf on the Music Hall stage who has been sent back to the German frontier, whence he hopes to earn money to take him to his home. Appeals come to us by letter from many parts of the country ; these we carefully investigate ; often by the help of local friends, and assistance is given, where possible. . .
As stated above, it was through the kindness of the National Peace Council that the Committee obtained a foothold in the commodious pile of office buildings known as St . Stephens House, upon the Westminster Embankment and close to Scotland Yard. Big Ben (the giant clock) and the Houses of Parliament may be said to cast their shadow over it and the Government Offices are close by, in Whitehall. It is worthy of note that although St. Stephens House was the headquarters of various patriotic institutions, such as the House of Commons Recruiting Committee, and although our destitute aliens often overflowed into the passages and stairways, yet we met with much courtesy and sympathy from the occupants of the other offices, and very very rarely with any opposition. As the work increased more rooms were added, until we had ten and were still sadly crowded. I do not think we bought much furniture. Some necessary things were lent by our friends and helpers. A few mottoes and texts (mostly in German) painted for us by one of our " cases " adorned the walls. We nearly always had flowers on our tables and in general an air of friendliness and home rather than of official dignity pervaded our rooms which was in keeping with our ideals and with the whole spirit of our work.
Here then, in St. Stephens House, on about the 18th day of August, 1914, the work began, and here through three terrible years there was always an oasis of brightness and comfort for thousands of trembling outcasts whose pre-war world had crumbled into dust under their feet. No wonder that St. Stephens became as a household name to them, a name that clung, even when later the office was moved to other quarters ; a name that came to mean, generically as it were, the kind of organisation that cares for the alien outcast, so that a wife was known to write to her repatriated husband of our kindred German Committee:
" Go to St. Stephens House in Berlin. They will help you there."
Besides those appointed by the Meeting for Sufferings, our Executive Committee comprised several members of the National Peace Council, who gave us throughout their earnest co-operation. Our first Chairman was Stephen Hobhouse, to whose concern the Committee owed its beginning.*
* S. H. says that the suggestion of a Committee for helping Alien enemies was first made to him by Sophia Sturge, of Birmingham.
Many members of the Committee attended regularly at the weekly Meetings of the Executive, and, as they were able, gave voluntary work at St. Stephens or in the home visitation of our cases. As the work increased our office staff multiplied; and when we were fully organised we had forty people constantly there, most of them giving their services without remuneration.
A large part of the success achieved by the Committee is due to the special qualifications which some of those who were not themselves members of the Society of Friends brought to the work. It is certain that the Camp work, for instance, depended largely upon the power of dealing with men and things which W. R. Hughes had acquired in his Settlement work ; in this department also Mrs. Garrett Smiths business experience and knowledge of other countries were invaluable ; whilst it was acknowledged on all hands that no one without Mrs. Bridgwaters expert training and experience in social intercourse and organisation could have successfully carried through the difficult adjustments with government officials and others, involved in any travelling arrangements in wartime.
Mention is made of these special workers because they filled places of peculiar responsibility and devoted a great deal of their time to the work during long periods ; but there were many more Friends and others, who gladly gave untiring support, and several of our first workers toiled on steadily and faithfully during the whole six~ years of the Committees existence.
The work upon which the Committee was engaged pro-yoked, as will be seen in the next chapter, considerable criticism, and it is open to question whether it was not contrary to the existing law of the land a relic of a past and less enlightened age.* But our lengthy title, though cumbrous, printed at the head of our notepaper and all documents we issued, fully disclosed our purpose and tended to disarm criticism, and we are glad to record that not only were we allowed to carry on our labours of love, but we won the approval of the Home Office and subsequently of other authorities4
* By the Treason Acts 1351 , commonly called the " Statute of Treasons," passed in the reign of Edward III., which still remains upon the Statute Book, it is declared that it is " treason " to " be adherent to the kings enemies in his realm, giving to them aid and comfort, in the realm or elsewhere."
1~ See page 144.
Still, it happened that while we were thus openly working, several amongst us were called on to endure hardship and suffer imprisonment for conscience sake.
By the Military Service Acts, which first introduced conscription in 1916, every man between certain ages was " deemed to be a soldier." Stephen Hobhouse, our Chairman, could take no part or lot therein and was on 12th October, 1916, sentenced by Court Martial, first to six months hard labour, and subsequently, upon the conclusion of that sentence, to two years imprisonment with hard labour, but was released on the ground of ill health on 11th December, 1917.
Two other members of our Executive Committee suffered imprisonment Robert 0. Mennell, who was sentenced to four periods of imprisonment totalling three years and 112 days, but had not completed the last sentence of two years when all conscientious objectors were released, and Ernest B. Ludlam, who, at one time a Camp visitor for us and holding a War Office permit, was twice sentenced to periods of six months and nine months respectively.
On the other hand some Tribunals recognised our work as being of " national importance " and sent men to us as a form of " alternative service," and we were glad indeed to receive through the instrumentality of the Friends Ambulance Unit many helpers, and thus feel we were linked up with those who were, in the same spirit as ourselves, bringing loving service and succour to those upon the actual field of battle.
This serves to illustrate the varying attitude taken towards our work by different Tribunals an attitude depending on the personality of the members, some of whom regarded the assistance as help given to " the enemy " whilst others acknowledged it to be necessary and even important.
Thus we began the work, or rather it pressed in upon us. From the first day, before any plans for methodical organisation had been made or carried out, the distressed aliens began to arrive, and we at once began to render such emergency aid as was possible under the circumstances. These were indeed Emergency Cases; they were mostly sent us by the Home Office, with which we were already in close touch, and many of them were extraordinally~Y interesting and pathetic. I will cite a few of these:
There was a group of Bohemian students who had been attending a Summer School in the North of England. They were fine young fellows, frank and boyish in their manner, but with very little English, and with no resources to meet this sudden blow. For weeks they haunted our offices, but were finally interned in the Prisoners of War Camp, at Douglas, Isle of Man. When Christmas came a card signed by five of these students was received by our Secretary. It showed the barbed wire, the armed sentry, the sad Prisoner of War in his canvas hut. Outside, the Christmas tree with its star of hope, the tailless Manx cat, the Christmas bells. On the other side they had written
" Isle of Man. 20/12/14.
" Dear Madam!
" We allow us to wish you our most hearthily gretting to Christmas and New Year.
" Yours respectfullies
" Prisoners of War,
U Iwan Safr, Karel Machinor, Farova Einisch, Francois Iselkovisch, Waldemar Harnac."
Hundreds of discharged waiters flocked to us begging for work. Many of them had excellent references showing years of service in the best London hotels. Now in response to popular clamour they were destitute. Many had lost not only their jobs but their lodgings too, and were sleeping in the parks. Fortunately, August of 1914 was fine and warm, but soon the autumn rains of an exceptionally wet winter set in, and these poor people suffered. We arranged a soup kitchen for them and strove to help them in other ways. Eventually they were all interned.
Mr. and Mrs. B.home address, Dresdenhe, German, a newspaper manshe, English, married twelve years, were on a visit to her people in Essex, and had left their three little ones in Dresden under the care of servants. Their own resources exhausted, they had stayed on with the wifes relations (working people) until warned by the police to leave the district which had been made a " prohibited area." No word had come from their children and they were ready to despair. This hard case was met by the generous kindness of an English journalist who invited them to his home and entertained them there for many weeks. In the end the arrangement proved mutually advantageous for the Bs. were delightful people, fond of children and very helpful.
Their host, accompanied by his wife, went on a long business journey, leaving their three little ones in the safe care of these " alien enemies." Their confidence was not misplaced.
Baron " X " and his wife were also on a visit to England. They knew scarcely any English. He was in wretched health and had been advised by his doctor to seek change of air and scene before commencing a new course of treatment . The money they had brought with them was soon exhausted, for they had expensive tastes and were unfitted to endure hardships. On the outbreak of war the English Government very properly arrested all suspicious foreigners, and placed about 300 of them in temporary quarters in " Olympia." Baron " X " was one of these suspects.* A fortnight earlier he had visited Olympia and had played with some amusing monkeys in a large cage. Now he found himself given a rug and told to sleep on the (unwashed) floor of the same cage ! His wife, meanwhile was in great anxiety, not knowing what had become of her sick husband. After two days he was released from Olympia and came back to her raving wildly against England. When they came to us he was quieter, but they knew not where to turn. They had just been refused permission to return to Germany. These people we maintained in a private boarding house, and afterwards in the " German hotel," in Finsbury Pavement. The Baroness softened greatly as time went on. From a self-centred woman of the world she became humble and thoughtful and considerate for others. The weeks dragged on. We learned that all her four brothers had been killed in the war. Her sick mother wrote imploring her to return to Germany, her husband was becoming more and more of a confirmed invalid, but still the longed-for permit was delayed. At last in a police raid on the German hotel the Baron was again arrested, and with others spent the night in the police cells. His few remaining wits gave way and a fit of mania seized him. He was taken to the County Asylum where a few days later he died. The day before he died the permit for them to return to Germany arrived with an official apology stating that the suspicions against him had been due to a mistake as to his identity. The Baroness had the consolation of taking her husbands body back to his ancestral burying place. This seemed to give her immense comfort.
* He was treated as such by the Government for many months though they admitted they had no proof of any wrong action on his part, and it eventually turned out that their suspicions referred to a man of the same name belonging to another branch of his family.A.B.T.
There was a German ship, the Kronprinzessin Cecilia, which was captured early in August, and taken as a prize of war to Falmouth. She had on board a party of Ruthenian peasants returning to their homes after a season of berry picking in Maryland. The men of military age were taken on landing to the Isle of Man . Thirteen womenfive babies and one old man were interned in the Falmouth Workhouse. None of them understood English, and only one could speak a little broken German. Three months later a letter from the master of the workhouse came to the Emergency Committee enclosing a pathetic, but almost illegible epistle from this woman in which she begged on behalf of them all C that we may go to our children." The Austrian Embassy (still carried on under the aegis of the U.S.A.) told us that they would, if convinced that these poor people were really Austrians, pay their travelling expenses, but they must see them first. So our helpers set to work. With great difficulty they found places where the " alien enemies " could stay whilst getting their passports, etc. Then the whole party travelled up by a night train from Falmouth. Four of our workers met the pitiful group at Padding-ton at half-past six on a dark, rainy, winter morning. The women with their babies and their bundles and their scared, sad faces were pathetic. They must all be taken first to the various lodgings, then to the Police Station to be registered, then to the Embassy to see the Austrian Consul. The bus held fourteen inside, but as the rain still poured in torrents, the whole twenty-three human souls crowded inside. Arrived at the Embassy the bus discharged its load, and passers-by stood still in the rain to see the strange-looking figures. The Consul was quite kind. He said they were Austrian subjects and that if the Emergency Committee would make all arrangements he would pay the bills. He told us they came from different villages and spoke a variety of dialects so that most likely they could not even understand each other ! Our faithful helpers watched over them and helped in getting the necessary papers, and when the day of departure came four were at the station to see them off. There they stood in a helpless group. The station porters, helpless too, were trying to induce them to part with their precious bundles for examination before starting. At last all was settled and they were actually in the train and supplied with food for the journey, etc. Then the German speaking woman asked " Does this train go all the way ? Shall we get home tonight ? " Poor things, poor innocent victims of the plots and ambitions of statesmen ! The train steamed out, and no word has ever come out of the darkness to tell us whether they reached their homes in far off Ruthenia or whether, if they did, they found their villages standing. We learned that the Russian armies had just passed that way, and that it was very doubtful whether any homes remained. Such is war.
There were other victims of the war who fared scarcely less badly. Dora K. was a young woman who had been living in America where she was doing well. News came from her German home that her mother was very ill and wanted her. She gave up her j job, sewed up her savings in her corsets and sailed in a North German Lloyd steamer, for Hamburg. The steamer was captured at sea and brought to London. The women passengers were kept for some time at the docks, but were finally discharged, and this girl went with another to a lodging near Tottenham Court Road, where she had an experience that almost crazed her. Then someone told her about our Committee and brought her to us. She tried to tell us her story, but became hysterical and could not finish. Our workers did all they could to soothe her and promised to help her in getting her a permit to continue her journey. Was her mother still alive ? We could not tell. At first it seemed that she was too ill herself to travel but a mental nurse was procured and she was moved to a quiet respectable lodging. She became more composed, and the doctor said if she could go under suitable escort she might try the journey. A nurse was found who was going in the next travelling party and who kindly undertook the charge. Through all her troubles Dora had kept her money and the thing that helped and cheered her most was being taken in a cab to buy a shawl for her mother. She seemed then to realise that she really was to go to her. We saw them off but never heard the outcome. At that time no letters ever came from those who went. They simply disappeared.
Another sad case was that of a man hurrying from America to his dying wife. He was captured at sea and being of military age could obtain no permit. He was interned and later heard that his wife was dead.
Whole families came to us also, father, mother and little children. Sometimes they were faint for want of food, for many would not ask for help whilst they had. a crust remaining. We saw people in the pangs of hungerpeople who fainted away whilst being interviewedpeople who looked at us with sad despairing eyes and burst into tears at the first kindly word. Careful arrangements were made for investigating the truth of their stories and we required at least two reputable references before giving anything beyond an emergency grant. To meet the first needs we were able to obtain a considerable number of offers of hospitality, and many Friends and others entertained these distressed people for days, weeks or even months at a time. Two furnished houses were allowed to be used by the Committee as hostels, and a lady furnished a roomy garage as a temporary shelter for some of the cases when delayed in London waiting for their travelling permits.
Perhaps just here I should say something more as to the underlying motives of our work. With most of us, I think, there was a distinct determination to work for peace in the midst of war. Like the noble youths who sacrificed their careers and often life itself in the fighting line, we, too, longed to destroy German militarism, and it was because we honestly thought that Christs method for doing it would prove the most efficient, that we entered upon this work. It seemed the readiest and simplest way of carrying out the command to " love our enemies " and " to do good " to those that hated us. Beginning with this motive we found the desperate human need called out our sympathy; indeed the work was most engrossing. Some who looked in out of curiosity, lingered and came againsome who offered a little temporary help gradually became absorbed in it. People came early and worked often till nine or ten oclock. Others, who told us frankly at the outset that they were anti-German in feeling, would become interested in some individual case and would give themselves endless trouble in striving to help. One lady wrote after her name in our book " the viper," because she did not share our views on war and was strongly anti-German yet she freely gave time and labour and money to help the poor Ruthenians and other pitiful cases. Indeed, the work though unpopular and beset with difficulty was its own reward. The people helped were so grateful and, on the whole, so deserving, it was a joy to do anything for them. It became quite a joke in the office to find written in a visitors report " This is a specially nice
case." Of course, we had a percentage of unsatisfactory cases and as the war progressed there was a deplorable loss of independence and lowering of the whole moral tone. Under the circumstances, it was unavoidable, and we strove by keeping continually before them the thought of God and of His love to counteract this. One method which we adopted, and which was much appreciated by our " cases " was the noontide pause for silent or vocal prayer which was regularly observed in our two " interviewing rooms." Many a time our burdened hearts were lifted above the sorrows of earth and we were made sensible of the nearness of the divine Helper in those quiet moments. I think it was largely this spiritual atmosphere that called out the remark from more than one of our cases " It is like a bit of heaven here." And this in spite of the fact that they sometimes had been kept waiting for hours.
. Now Lord Phillimore of Shiplake.
t Member of Parliament for East Division of Finsbury, from June, 1905, to his death.
~ Member of Parliament for Plymouth, from 1910 to 1914, and then for North West Durham, and subsequently for the Consett Division.
§ Mrs. Herbert Tritton died in ~ The following additional names appear on the front page of the Seventh Report : His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Mrs. Bramwell Booth, and Dr. Rendell Harris.