[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
OUR first report says " perhaps the most permanently satisfactory work is that of assisting applicants to pay their passages to America, or, in cases where permits are granted, to return to Germany. Advice and hospitality for travellers have been given in many cases where actual money help was not needed. One of our helpers, a lady doctor and an American by birth, was able to escort two parties of German women, over one hundred in all, across Holland into German territory. We know that these women, for some of whom kind friends had been meanwhile providing hospitality, are taking back into their Fatherland warm feelings of gratitude towards the English who have helped them."
Among these early travellers were a good number of ladies, teachers or students, who had been attending a Summer School for teachers at Oxford when the war broke out. Their resources were quickly exhausted, but they were kindly cared for by Friends in Birmingham until permits could be obtained for them to return to their homes. There were other foreign born women ; some whose husbands were being interned and who wished to place their families in safety with their own relatives ; others, like the teachers, young girls without funds or friends in England. All Were much afraid of the journey, for nothing was certainly known about it and all sorts of rumours were current as to difficulties in the way. They had been told that the railway at the frontier had been destroyed, that travellers might be turned out in the fields to find their way on foot as best they could across eight miles of country, that agents of the white slave traffic infested the trains in Holland and that young girls disappeared and were heard from no more. Indeed, at one time a very objectionable person was sending out typed letters to German girls stating that their fathers had commissioned him to bring them home, and to receive £10 for so doing. Some of these letters were brought to the Dffice by girls who suspected their genuineness, and, of course, we advised them to have nothing to do with the man, who was, at best, trying to exploit them and making a big overcharge for his services, as the fare to the frontier at that time was only 30S. Amongst the German mothers were several almost too ill to travel especially with their babies and tiny children. I remember one poor thing, Mrs. R., who came to St. Stephens House about four in the afternoon of one of our busy days. She looked ready to drop and said she had been very ill. Her husband was to be interned next day, and was most anxious to send her and the four little children to her mother in Germany. She still had to go to the Home Office for her travelling permit, so we sent one of our men workers with her, and then got her some food as she was almost starving. She had been having hæmorrhages and was clearly very ill. That night one of our maids was sent to help her pack, and next morning, the husband having already been taken off to camp by the policea taxi took her and the children to the station. The party that day was fortunately under the care of a doctor, so the risk seemed not quite so dreadful. We supplied provisions for the journey and helped as much as we could with the children and the baby. The party reached Folkestone, but as there was some delay about the examinations which were being continually made more strict, about half of them were left behind when the steamer sailed. They were told they must not leave the pier as Folkestone was full of Belgian refugees. They would have to spend the night in waiting rooms there and it was raining hard. Mrs. R. was tired and sick and another hæmorrhage began. The doctor in charge telegraphed to the office to ask what he should do. One of our London helpers who had just looked in offered to go down to Folkestone to take some money to them. He did so and reported that he had been able to persuade the Captain of the mail-boat to allow the forlorn group of aliens to spend the night on the boat which was to sail next morning, and that when he had last seen Mrs. R., she was comfortably in bed in a cabin with her children. He had been able to purchase a good supper for the whole refugee party.
To meet some of these difficulties the Womens International League and the Friends Emergency Committee joined in arranging for the convoying of several parties of women and girls by neutrals, generally American ladies. One of these, the late Dr. Henrietta M. Thomas, was keenly interested in our work and made no less than six journeys into Germany to convoy our cases. Once she went on to Vienna to bring back some English girls who had been studying music there, and once at the request of the American Embassy in Berlin, she took a sick " English" girl to Nice where her mother was believed to be. The girl had angina and was brought to the station in Berlin on a stretcher. She was very ill several times on the journey, but after some adventures and delays they at length reached Nice in safety, only to find that the mother had, in the meantime, gone to Corsica!
Dr. Thomas had other interesting experiences. On one journey when there were eighty girls and women in the travelling party, the steamer was so delayed by the strictness of the examinations that night fell before they reached the Dutch coast. As all coast lights had been extinguished, they were obliged to anchor off shore and await the morning. There was a girl amongst the travellers who had just been discharged from hospital suffering from appendicitis. The surgeons had gone to the war, and the hospital authorities advised her to go to Germany for an operation. The sea was very rough. The whole party was sea-sick (including the lady doctor). She could obtain no bed but sat all night beside her patient applying cold compresses as she had no other suitable medical appliances. The girl was very ill and became hysterical, but dozed off towards morning. Then Dr. Thomas heard shouts and hurrying feet and went on deck to reconnoitre. There, in the dim light of a November morning was the coast so near they seemed almost among the breakers, and she learned that in the storm they had dragged anchor and only the coming of the dawn had saved them from disaster. It was owing to this that the S.S.. Co. decided to leave some passengers behind next time rather than to run such risks again. The party travelled on to the German frontier, but were told they must walk over a mile into the town to the Mayors office to obtain their free passes. The sick girl and two of the mothers with young babies could not do this, so Dr. Thomas went forward with them to another town where they were able to get their tickets at the station. Then she passed the night on a cot in the station at Goch, and next day returned through Holland to England. One of the members of this party, the English wife of a German who had been sent by her husband to the care of his parents in Bavaria, had a strange experience later. She stayed with them a few weeks and they were good to her, but some of the neighbours were disagreeable, and at last her father-in-law concluded that she had better return to England. A month later, we got a letter from the husband in camp, begging us to intercede on behalf of his wife who had been spending her time on shipboard between Folkestone and Flushing, not allowed to land in either country.
On another journey Dr. Thomas took charge of a young German girl whose story was peculiarly sad. She was in England for purposes of study when the war broke out, and applied for a permit to return home. There was considerable delay in granting it. Her money gave out, and she became insane through worry and anxiety, and had for many months been in an insane asylum. A fellow student, who was her friend, came and told us that she was now better and was still most anxious to get home, and the doctor said if she could travel under the care of a mental nurse or a doctor, she might go. It was a trying journey. The girl became much exhausted and greatly excited, and the doctor decided that they must stop and rest. In the hotel at Leipzig, Miss N. screamed continually, and it was only by taking her in her arms that Dr. Thomas could quiet her terror. At last, at five in the morning, the cries ceased and the patient slumbered in the doctors arms. After a few hours sleep she awakened more reasonable and they continued their journey, and finally reached Dresden, where they were warmly welcomed by the sick girls family. All "Huns " were not barbarians. These proved to be refined and grateful. The brother was a doctor and he wanted to pay Dr. T. generously for bringing his sister, or, at any rate, to send money by her to the Emergency Committee. This could not be accepted as the law forbade the export of money from Germany.
I must close this very brief account of Dr. Thomass experiences in Germany, with a sketch written by me, her mother, at the time of her last trip, in the autumn of 1915 . I had had the pleasure of accompanying the travelling party to the port of embarkation, which in this instance was Tilbury.
" Fenchurch Street Station, at 7 p.m. last Monday was humming with the customary confused bustle of the departure of the boat train for Tilbury. In one of the waiting rooms the central point of interest was a beautiful baby boy of two months old, who was working away at his bottle in a business-like manner in the arms of his foster mother. He looked four months old at least, and was exquisitely cared for, as were also the wee girl of eighteen months, the bigger one not quite three and a sturdy boy, still under four years old. One half-ticket sufficed to carry these four small persons back to Germany, but the interest they awakened lay in the tragical result which the war had produced on their young lives. A year ago they had a pleasant, comfortable home, but the war had destroyed their fathers business and finally he was interned in the Isle of Man. The mother, worn out with trouble, gave up the struggle and died when the latest little " innocent enemy " was only two weeks old, since which time the four had been cared for by a stranger, a kindhearted English woman.
" Yes, poor chap, hes had hard luck, said the soldier who brought Mr. S. to our office. He was in Knockaloe Camp, in the Isle of Man, when they sent for him to come to his dying wife. The commandant started him at once, but he got here ten minutes too lateshe was dead. Mr. S. explained that he had no relations in England, and had come to ask if we could help in sending his motherless children to his home in Brunswick.
" The matter took some weeks to arrange, and, in the mean-time other motherless children, similarly circumstanced, were brought to our notice. Some of the fathers were already interned and the police were waiting to take others till the children had been arianged for. We were able to despatch some under the care of other returning aliens, but no one came to take charge of the four tiny ones, and finally Dr. Henrietta Thomas volunteered to take charge of these four and nine others for whom we had been unable to make arrangements, and who were also going to relations in Germany. After much preliminary work in obtaining permits, collecting birth certificates, thermos bottles and other necessaries, the whole party was at last assembled at Fenchurch Street, as afrresaid. Seven or eight of the children were under six, but in on~ family there was a delicate looking motherly child of thirteen, caring for her four little brothers and sisters, whilst the other group of three boys under ten were apparently well used to riinding themselves.
" Dr. Thomas was very glad of the help of several German ltdies who were travelling with her as far as Flushing, and she had dso the young daughter of an old friend of ours, returning to her lome in Berlin, who had kindly planned to go by the same train, md who proved most efficient with the babies. So at last we got them all packed into the train and soon the heavy eyelids drooped and most of the tiny ones were sleeping soundly while a faithful lady helper from St. Stephens House sorted and verified all the tickets and birthnotes and permit papers. No child, not even the youngest may leave England nowadays unless its papers are in proper order. Arrived at Tilbury, the sleepers were carried down the long platform to the examining rooms, where the officials kindly gave precedence to our party, and we soon had the fourteen installed in a circle on the waiting room benches with the examining official seated at his table in the midst. One of our helpers, Mrs. Bridgwater, journeys to Tilbury several times a week with our poor alien travellers, so she is well known to the officials. It is she who has suggested and carried through some excellent plans for the comfort of the refugees, i.e., the restaurant keeps open two hours later and makes speáial cheap rates for them, milk is pro-vided free (at the expense of our Committee) for all alien children, and water also, a boon which is greatly appreciated. She told me that nineteen glasses were called for one evening whilst she waited with a party at the barriers. There was no waiting, however, for the fourteen orphan children. Mrs. B. had prepared theirway beforehand, and now the station master and the other officials pressed in to see the little ones of whom she had told them. All were most kind and the examinations were proceeded with as expeditiously as possible. When the cups of milk were brought on a tray our tinies were awake, perched on a table amongst the piles of luggage. I held a cup to the lips of the eighteen months baby. She took one thirsty drink, then pointed to her little s:ster and would take no more till she too had a cup. Those children were all good. The three little V.s whose father was a rough drinking fellow, had needed the kind services of a volunteer from St. Stephens to pack their bundles and bring them to the stalion. Some friend had given them newspaper parcels of food, and each boy was seen munching cold pudding and thick slices of bread and meat. Then on the way to the train, the four year olds parcel broke open and tears threatened, till meat and pudding were gathered up from the platform, and little Franz, grasping a friendly hand, trudged on quite satisfied. Another tragely happened at Tilbury when Lizzie, aged seven, who had been asleep, was lifted out and a handkerchief which she had been holding on to, fell from her hands scattering lovely pink, blue and white stars, crescents and half-moons over the platform. Down plunged Lizzie in the midst of the hurrying passengers, and it was clear that no further progress was possible till those precious sweets were recovered. Twice over they had to be gathered up, but we persevered and at last they were safely knotted into the handkerchief and little Lizzie was happy again.
" The friendly officials allowed our party to go on board before the rest of the passengers were admitted to the examining rooms, and now the good-byes must be said, Mrs. Bridgwater only being permitted as a special favour to go with them to the tender. She, with the baby in her arms, disappeared first down the subway, the others, laden with babies and bundles and the older children holding hand in hand, passed through the gate, and I turned back filled with panic fears that this or that, or the other essential had been forgotten. Too latethey were gone and one could only hope for the best. Mrs. Bridgwater told us next morning that she was allowed to go on board the steamer (which is most unusual) and stayed with them until the children were all in bedin fact till midnight ; the tender making a special trip to bring her on shore. They spent the night at Tilbury, sailing at eight next morning. We have a post card written in the train to Goch:
" All alive and well, though all except Miss G. were ill on the steamer."
" Mrs. G. met her daughter at the frontier. Ten of the children were taken in charge there by the German Red Cross ladies, but Dr. Thomas was allowed to keep the four little ones and take them herself to their new home in Brunswick. There was a warm welcome for them from their uncle who kept a pastry cooks shop. He said he had had many offers to adopt one of them but had made up his mind that the four should not be separated till their father could come and claim them. He loaded the ladies who had brought them with his best cakes and was most grateful. Mrs. G. kindly took Dr. Thomas to her own home in Berlin and kept her till the next week, when the monthly party of foreigners was returning to England. In it the wife and four little children of an English friend of ours interned in Ruhleben were to travel and Dr. T. had promised to help them on the return journey."
More than once in the air-raid days it happened that a warning was given just as Mrs. Bridgwater was setting out from her home for she always made a point of accompanying her flock to the port of embarkation.
Did she turn back to the shelter of home ? No, indeed. She knew they must goair-raid or no air-raidand in the event of trouble her friendly help would be all the more needed. Indeed, on the nights of departure our men were on duty too. Far into the night they would be travelling hither and thither, collecting travellers from different outlying sections in the London area, so that none of those whose permits had been dated for that night should fail at the rendezvous.
One family, living at Tottenham, had long been on the books of the Commitee for, of the five children, three were cripples and they had needed much and continued help. Now on the very night when they were to start for Germany, a bad air-raid occurred. " How ever will Mr. B. get to the station ? " said Mrs. Bridgwater, and dispatched E.L. from the office to help them. With difficulty he reached Tottenham, and found the B. family sitting in their dismantled home with their bundles around them all dressed and ready to start, but with no way of getting to Fenchurch Street. Anti-aircraft guns were booming and bombs were falling, and the lame children could not possibly walk. E.L. did not lose hope. Careless of danger he scoured the neighbourhood for a taxi,found one and persuaded the driver to undertake the job, and actually managed to turn up at the station with his charges and their luggage in time for the last train to Tilbury. We must allow Mrs. Bridgwater herself to tell us of the actual start.
* This account was written in 1917.
" Our adventures on that short journey between London and Tilbury would run into many volumes if told in detailthe things we lose or think we lose and find again, from cloak straps to babies are too numerous to mention!
" In the busy season of repatriation it was a common occurrence for the travel workers head to be seen projecting from the train as it moved out of the station, asking for various forgotten articles to be sent on by the next train, and they were always sent ! We took the precaution of going by an early train to allow for this.
" The Committee always arranged for refreshment to be pro-vided at Tilbury for the travellers before starting on their long journey for so often many of the mothers had spent the whole of the previous day and night packing up or parting with their various home belongings without thought of any food. These simple refreshments provided gratis were greatly appreciated by the travellers.
" Our party was always privileged by the Railway Company to enter direct into the Examination Rooms at Tilbury instead of waiting their turn in the crowds.
" In the train on the way down the lady worker takes the precaution to arrange all the travellers papers in order to save as much time and trouble as possible, and carefully destroys all letters which exacting friends have asked to be taken and posted across the channel to friends and relations in Germany or Austria. This, of course, was a punishable offence, and it was important that members of our parties should avoid everything that might cause trouble. The official examination over (a fairly large and long process) we next proceed to " find our luggage," and throughout the whole of this business, the travel workers assist-ance is greatly valued, for she generally takes possession of the babies to the great relief of the anxious tired mothers.
" Twins, to-night, nurse ! " comes from a cheery official. " My ! arent they beauties ! " " A pity to see them go !
"Might I trouble you to move, nurse," comes from another polite official, and " Nurse," with a baby on each arm and a small child on each side and others round, finds that she is sitting on a package that has to be examined. The courtesy and kindness of the officials whether at the War Office, Scotland Yard, or Railway Stations, should be specially mentioned, for it was unfailing. It is of course forbidden to anyone to converse or come in contact with the aliens after they have passed through the examination rooms."
" One memorable night (the parties always went at night) when all was in order, with dark blinds and lowered lights, etc., we had in our party a partially paralysed man who had to be carried in an invalids chair, a very tiresome family of children and an invalid wife. Arrived at Tilbury the order came through, " All lights outZeppelins passing over." The station hail was covered with a glass roof and there were a good many people in the station. Our party was collected together in one of the waiting rooms, and by the help of an electric torch, we packed the children on to the sofas to go to sleep, and the rest of us sat in pitch dark-ness, waiting for the bombs to drop. However, happily these did not come ! Presently there was a thud ! An electric torch surreptitiously shone out. To our relief it was not a bomb, only a child who had fallen off his perch on to the floor. So he was soon picked up and hushed off to sleep again. The hours passed wearily to the watchers when the order came for half lights and the examinations to proceed. This went on apace, and luggage was being examined when news came that Zeppelins were three miles off, so out went the lights again and there was another weary wait, till finally we finished in the early hours of the morning.
" A number of people, who could pay all their own expenses, came to St . Stephens House for advice about their final arrange-ments, and in some cases contributed to our funds out of gratitude. One lady asked us whether soldiers with fixed bayonets would accompany them on their journey ! She was greatly relieved to find that the harmless Travel worker from St. Stephens House would be their only " guard."
" On one occasion a lady, whose German husband had been exchanged as an invalid, had left her own coat and that of her little girl hanging on the door ~ in her agitation and now had nothing to protect them from the cold. As it was too far and too late to return for them, two kindly workers took off their own wraps and coats to cover the travellers.
" We cannot close these " memories " without a word of appreciation of the never-failing courtesy and kindness of the Refreshment department at Tilbury. The manageress and her staff waited upon us as if we were valuable customers instead of quite unprofitable ones, and never did a request from us remain unfulfilled. No matter how many babies bottles had to be filled, or what other queer demands came to hand, all was done for us most willingly. In cases of illness the manageress frequently offered her private room for the use of the sufferer.
" We trust we may be able to continue the " Travellers Aid Department to the end of or even after the war,* for it is so much appreciated by those who from circumstances beyond their own control are forced to take these journeys so strange and difficult to them."
* This hope has been fulfilled. As late as August, 1920, a year after the signing of the Peace Treaty did Mrs. Bridgwater escort a travelling party to Tilbury.
On one of her early journeys Dr. Thomas found in Berlin a committee of Germans similar to our Emergency Committee working for Germanys alien enemies. Of this Committee, Dr. Elizabeth Rotten was honorary secretary. Their activities were on the lines of those of the English Committee, and henceforth a constant correspondence was maintained and each committee strove by all means in its power to help and supplement the work of the other.
This Berlin Committee, like our own, had a somewhat unwieldy name : " The Committee for the Advice and Assist-ance of Germans abroad and Foreigners in Germany," and it continued its beneficent ministrations throughout the war. As time went on we learnt how families of foreigners in trouble of any kind were turning to them for help ; how they were sending Christmas parcels to wounded and lonely prisoners of war in Germany who had received none from home ; how they were caring for the families of interned civilians and arranging for the entertainment of those who came from a distance to visit their husbands in Ruhleben ; how perseveringly they laboured to find employment for their " Alien Enemies," and to provide convalescent treatment for ailing children, and how they had made arrangements for the repatriation of thousands of little ones from Belgium and Northern France who had been separated from their parents by the outbreak of war. Dr. Rotten and her helpers travelled many thousands of miles on these errands of mercy and engaged in endless correspondence in the effort to trace the families of the lost children. They had the joy of returning numbers to their parents, and where this proved impossible they found foster-parents for them and watched over the orphans with constant care.
The great concern of this Committee of Germans was, as they themselves expressed it in one of their reports, " To bring nearer the goal that now seems so far off, everlasting Peace, grounded in respect and mutual understanding."
The beautiful Christian spirit which pervaded their work became a constant cheer and encouragement to us, and the active co-operation between the two committees was one of the pleasantest features of our work.
In many cases what the travellers asked for was assistance in emigrating to America, and this the Committee was glad to give wherever possible, for we felt that it was far the most likely way of placing them in a position of independence. But this emigration was only possible for a few months after the outbreak of war.
Some of these American cases were interesting. A " very nice " German haunted the office for several weeks. He had gained his living by means of a troupe of ten performing dogs. He wanted us to provide tickets for the dogs as well to the States, but we did not feel that the funds entrusted to us could be used for dogs, however intelligent. Yet if we sent the man without the dogs he would have no means of livelihood. It seemed a hard case. We consulted the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They were willing to chloroform the dogs but could not help with their tickets. Our travelling secretary became much interested, and eventually she succeeded in collecting enough to pay for five dogs. The man was most grateful. He brought the five selected dogs to take leave of us at the office. They were beauties. Some weeks later we received a grateful letter from New York telling of his safe arrival, and that he had already obtained an engagement . The letter closed with a Bible reference Matt. xxv. 40 !
Another " nice case " was a baker who showed us such excellent references from former employers that at last I smilingly said to him, " Youll be bringing us one from the King next." With great seriousness he replied : " Certainly, madam, if you wish I will bring it to-morrow," and next day, sure enough, he brought a certificate from the steward of the royal household stating that had supplied His Majesty with bread for so long and had given full satisfaction.
Our later experiences with travellers and Mrs. Bridgwaters long and manifold labours in their service will be recorded in Chapter XI.
There was one experience of our travelling department which must not be passed over in silence. It is one of the things which rankle in the minds of Christian people in Germany ; a thing which passed almost unnoticed in England, as it was scarcely mentioned in the papers, but which awakened surprise and a keen sense of injury in Germany. It began quite early on in the war when a "native army " led by English officers invaded the German colonies in East Africa. This was in August, 1914. I believe there was no resistance and the German residents, including the missionaries, were seized and marched off as they were, in many cases actually in their night clothes and slippers, at five minutes notice, from their homes. Three months later the wife of the German Pastor Scholten told us that a number of their missionaries had arrived in London, and that the ladies of the German Church had been called on to supply them with clothing. Next day the Baroness " X " (see p. 17) brought a lady to the office whom she introduced to me as the wife of the German Supervisor of Customs, from East Africa. It seemed that she too, had been taken away at five minutes notice, and forced, like the missionaries, to make the voyage to England. We at once provided the supervisors wife with a suitable outfit from our clothing room ; and learning that the male missionaries and others had been taken to an internment camp almost as scantily clad as their wives, we promptly dispatched thirty warm suits to that camp for their use. To our disappointment the clothes were as promptly returned, and we heard no more till the following February, when a letter came from the Commandant telling us that he had a number of prisoners of war from the tropics very scantily clad, and asking us to send thirty suits of clothes for them. No question was asked in Parliament about it but the clothes were sent.
Other instalments of missionaries from Africa, India, and elsewhere followed, more than a thousand in all. I do not think any of the later African ones were taken in such a destitute condition, but most of them lost practically all their goods and had to march on foot to the coast. Some were kept there for a year, exposed to fever and malaria. Some of them had little children with them all by the time they reached England were almost in rags and bore evident marks of suffering. Two very sweet Christian women, each with a baby and one with a little girl of three as well, were cared for for six or eight weeks in my sisters home before it was used as a hostel. The husbands had been sent to an internment camp. The story of the babys mother was especially sad. She was actually already in labour when the English army arrived. Her husband and all the other people were taken away. On the earnest protest of her husband the officers consented to leave one missionary lady with Mrs. G., but two days later she, too, was obliged to follow with the rest.
Mrs. G. herself was visited by the English officer, who brutally said to her : " Come, maam, we cant have you lying here. You can manage now, I should think, or anyhow, in a couple of days you must be ready to go to the coast." Poor woman, the treatment she met with hindered her recovery and not only she but her infant also had suffered badly. When they reached my sisters home, the contrast from the former treatment to ordinary human kindness quite overcame these innocent outcasts of the war.
The German missionaries were of various denominations, including Roman Catholics, and from many different lands. Some even from Labrador Moravians who were brought to England in the old mission ship, the Harmony, which some of us had known in happier days. Many had been trained at the well-known missionary Institute, at Basle, or at the Krieschona. The families were all separated, the men being sent to the camps and the women and children, who were also considered " Prisoners of War," being placed under the care of the Friends Emergency Committee. Our duty was to keep them safe and isolated, and to arrange for their journey back to Germany. The separation from their husbands was of course a very painful part of their experiences, and so were many of the (almost incredible) things that had happened to them in Africa, India, or wherever they had come from. As for the men, the ordained ministers were repatriated after being kept from one to four months in camp. The industrial missionaries were detained till the close of the war.
All of these details are now well known in Germany, and very naturally the Germans ask why English people who feel such horror at German acts of cruelty, have uttered no protest against the bad treatment of the missionaries. The excuse, of course, is that English people were kept in ignorance of these things, but now that the war is over it seems to be right that we should admit the facts and express our sorrow for them.
Some account of the Hostel in Camden Road and the assistance it was to the working of our travelling arrangements is set out in Chapter XI.