[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
As we went forward in our work many special difficulties arose. There was primarily the fact that we were dealing with the U Kings enemies " and we had to be most careful not in any way to aid or abet disloyalty. We met this difficulty squarely, for from the outset we were in touch with the Government and had its approval of our plans. Also our proximity to the police station at Scotland Yard, enabled it to keep us under close supervision. The constables came in in plain clothes to ask for particulars regarding some special alien " case " ;indeed, for anything we knew, any fresh " case " might in reality be a secret service man, and we had reason to believe that the Government knew all it desired to about our doings. We had its approval ; but not that of that large section of the British public who read The Daily Mail, The Evening News, and John Bull, and we could fully endorse our office poet when he wrote:
Beware the Jingo-Wock my son,
The lips that sneer, the lies that catch,
Beware the John-Bull-bird and shun
The frumious Northcliffe batch!
So we were subjected to a certain amount of annoyance by anonymous letters or scurrilous threats written upon the parcels that came to our clothing room, and once or twice patriotic citizens came to the office and raved against us. Once a letter threatening to shoot our Secretary " at sight " was received, but on the whole these attacks were surprisingly few, and I think they practically ceased after the first year. I see now that England was in a much more difficult situation than the other belligerents. The armies of France and Germany were conscripted and their peoples were so accustomed to military discipline that they needed but little incentive to submit to the will of their rulers in the matter of the war. In England it was otherwise. The Government had to face the colossal task of creating and equipping an enormous army, and of conscripting practically the whole nation for military purposes ; in order to do this, the rulers had first and all the time to persuade our free-born Englishman that this was the right thing to do. If in the process of persuading him that every German was a fiend whom it was his duty to destroy, some lies were told and some innocent victims suffered, that was inevitable. I had always believed that England was superior to all such doings and every fresh instance of injustice or untruth was a painful shock, but I see now that really it was only an inevitable part of the war.
Some of the early difficulties arose from the other relief agencies alluded to in the extracts already quoted from our first Report. These societies were of two classes : first, the Foreign ones : The German Benevolentthe Frauen-VereinThe Schroder Committeethe Austrian Franz-Josef Societythe Hungarian Society and the Polish Society. All of these did good work in helping their fellow countrymen, but in the nature of the case none of these was in a position to carry the message of reconciliation from England to the belligerent countries.
Secondly, the English Societies which were willing to relieve Foreigners. Of these there were two, the S.F.F.D. short for " The Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress," and the Womens International League. The Womens International was very kind in helping single women and girls, especially those who wished to return to Germany in the early days. The S.F.F.D. had been started over a hundred years ago, during the Napoleonic Wars (members of the Society of Friends being among its founders), for the aid of distressed foreigners. When the immediate need caused by the French wars ceased, there was a sum of money remaining, and the Society continued to support an office and secretary, and to spend its yearly income in accordance with the terms of its foundation. This somewhat quiet and staid society found its offices beseiged by numbers of needy and distracted " enemy aliens", besides a quarter of a million Belgian refugees who were crowding into England and presenting even stronger claims from the patriotic standpoint. Representatives of most of these relief societies attended the first meeting alluded to in our report and their attitude towards us was not encouraging. The S.F.F.D. in particular urged us strongly to change our name so as to embrace all aliens in our work ; in fact they invited us to become a section of their own organisation. They pointed out that we could thus escape the odium of working for the enemy whilst, if we chose, we could in practice give preference to enemy cases. It seemed to us that such an action would have defeated the very object for which our Committee was formed, and for a time the position we took was a sore trial to the S.F.F.D. The Government authorities were affected by the prejudice created against us, but in the end the need proved so widespread that the Home Office once more turned to us for help as they had at the beginning, especially as we showed ourselves competent to deal efficiently with, at any rate, some of the distressing cases. Thus we became recognised as a regular war relief agency in good standing, and in due course, were registered by the London County Council under the War Charities Act, 1916. I am glad to say that, by means of an exchange registration which we established very early on, we were able to avoid overlapping and to obviate friction with the other societies and so to work together with mutual profit throughout the war.
Orders were given very early on that every alien must be registered. It often fell to our lot to insist upon this with our cases. The foreign-born aliens did not always know of the law. Many a poor wretch who could speak no English and had been hiding herself from unkind neighbours, and so had remained in total ignorance on this subject, has been taken by one of our workers to the police station after the time limit had expired, and on due explanation has been allowed to register. On the other hand, the English wives of aliens did not at first understand that they, too, must register ; indeed, it was not at first required, but when the men were interned a new law obliging the wives to register was passed and some of them were in the same case as the foreigners, and needed the same sort of help. Aliens, whether British born or foreign, who neglected to comply with the law were imprisoned and fined. Registration was almost as strange and difficult to our English police as to the~ aliens. Many a blunder they made before they mastered its intricacies, and sometimes they would appeal to us for information as to the requirements of the law.
Registration placed the aliens under certain disabilities, e.g., they must never go more than five miles from home without a permit. They must not sleep away from home nor enter a prohibited area without special permit. Prohibited areas continually varied and one had to keep careful watch on them. Aliens in general were ejected from them though not always immediately. Some very hard cases occurred as a result of this regulation.
There was the curious case of Herr P. He was an elderly man with a still more elderly wife. Very German in his accent and way of speaking, he had, nevertheless, lived in England from a boy and had earned his living by giving popular lectures on various abstruse subjects. He had besides supported and educated three orphan grandchildren. At the outbreak of war he and his wife were living with one of these grandsons, now married and doing well in a home of his own. Unfortunately this was at Cardiff, a prohibited area, and the Cardiff police soon hunted out Herr P. and ejected him and his wife from the district. Finding themselves homeless and helpless in their old age, they appealed to us. We re-established them in their former home hoping they might manage somehow to get along there among their old neighbours. In the course of our investigation into the case, however, we discovered that Herr P. had never properly been an " Alien" at all, as he had been born in Heligoland at a time when that island belonged to Great Britain. Here was a dilemma. Herr P., not being an alien was no case for us. The other societies for helping aliens would not help him for the same reason. British societies refused because he was too GermanGerman societies refused help because he was English. At first they did a little for him, but soon the poor man was left stranded. We stated his case in the Friend, and a small fund was raised, but it was soon exhausted. We tried his grandchildren, but all of them were in difficulties by this time,away at the front or killed or otherwise unable to help. His case-card became abnormally thick with all the correspondence that had to be attached. We decided again and again to have no more to do with him, and then someone would write describing his pitiful case and begging us to do something. We said he must go into the workhouse. Another visitor went to see him and wrote that " this was not a case for the workhouse." His wife had a stroke and was taken to the Infirmary, but he still hung on, and eventually we found means through private charity to supply him with a weekly grant.
Mrs. K. was an old German dressmaker. She had lived for over thirty years in a seaside village, where she was much respected and had plenty of work even after the outbreak of war . She got on all right for a time, but the press could not leave her alone and the police were forced to take up the case and evict her from the prohibited area. She came up to London and we tried to help her to find a new home. She had failed to obey the first police order to depart, and had been handed over to the military, so that any room she rented had to be approved by the War Office. She could not move without their permission. She was old and poor, but the supervision was no less strict. Of course, in London, no one knew her and she found it very difficult to get work. When the war ended, however, we were able to help her to return to her home, and her old customers were again willing to employ her.
Mrs. F., and her husband had lived for several years at E. He was head waiter in the principal hotel,a kind husband and father and a very superior man. The English wife was in very poor health. There were two daughters, one of thirteen, the other younger and very delicate. The father was interned and the others were told to leave E., immediately. In this case a Friends family also living at E., to whose care our Committee had corn-mended the F.s, proved most kind in helping Mrs. F., with her packing and arranging for her things to be brought up to London. After various vicissitudes we got this family settled in two rooms and they struggled on through the dreary years of the war on the pitiful government allowance. Mrs. F., is still living, a fact which seems almost a miracle when we remember how ill she has been for so long, and she has now rejoined her husband in Germany.
Lucia B., at the outbreak of war was acting as companion to an aged bedridden lady at I., a town in a prohibited area. She was about twenty-eight, a quiet, very capable, valuable young woman, an orphan who had been in England since her childhood, and had been brought up by an uncle and aunt of German birth, but naturalised British subjects, also living at I. Lucia was not naturalised, and the police presently ordered her to leave I., and finding that she had no home in England outside a prohibited area, they advised her to return to Germany. After some vain attempts to get work elsewhere she did so, but was refused admission at the frontier because she had lost her German citizenship through non-residence, and had no relatives to go to. She found refuge with the Friends War Victims workers in Holland, and eventually they decided to send her back to England. We got a letter one morning telling us she was coming, and the same afternoon a War Victims worker telephoned from Tilbury that he had just landed with Lucia in charge, but the police were refusing permission for her to land and unless we could arrange matters she would be sent back. Our travelling secretary immediately telephoned the War Office, and with considerable difficulty persuaded them to allow us to become responsible for her. She must on no account go to her aunt and she had no one else. My sister agreed to give her temporary shelter, and our travelling secretary set off at once to Tilbury, where, after more telephoning, she at last obtained possession of Lucia, and brought her up to my sisters at midnight. She had to be kept under very strict surveillanceand must never be allowed to go out alone. Eventually we obtained a situation for her where she still is and has proved herself an invaluable sewing maid.
These are a few samples of the many difficult cases due to the " prohibited areas."
The machinery through which the grants to the English wives of Aliens were administered, i.e., the Local Boards of Guardians, was another constant source of difficulty, but it will be best to speak of this later as it properly belongs to the wartime story of the alien homes.
Most embarrassing of all our difficulties was the constant change in the regulations. No sooner had we mastered one rule and impressed it upon our workers and their protégées than it was altered, and had to be learnt anew. These changes were especially frequent and trying in the regulations for registration and for the payment of government grants. Also the travelling regulations changed continuallythe port of embarkationthe times of startingthe rules as to luggage and things travellers were permitted to take. Changes in the port of embarkation were undoubtedly made necessary for safety against submarines.
Government policy towards the aliens also varied, and appeared to be largely controlled by the outcries of the Jingo Press, not a very safe guide one would have thought.
So there were many difficulties but at least we had the comfort of feeling that it was just these very things which made the help we had to offer so important ; in other words it was precisely to meet and overcome such difficulties that the Emergency Committee had been constituted.