[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
BY the summer of 1916, when the Emergency Committee was registered by the London County Council as a War Charity in good standing, we had by degrees established one Sub-Committee after another till we had at least ten, and had developed each department in accordance with its special needs. Thus we had not only the Sub-Committees on Camps and on Camp-Cases, already referred to, and two for our regular cases, but also one for dealing with specially difficult cases, one for the Baby Cases, one for the Children, one for the Mothers' Rest Home, one for the Clothing, and one which was called the Business Committee. All these were ACTIVE-holding frequent meetings and doing their utmost to keep pace with the pressing needs of the work. There were also a few departments which worked without the aid of a Sub-Committee, e.g., The Employment Bureau, The Visitation Department, the Pawnshop and Luggage Department, and last, but not least, the Travelling Department ; nor must the heart of the the whole structure be omitted, for where should we have been without our cashier and our book-keeper and our staff of typists ?
We had long had about forty daily workers in the office, but had we had no outside help we should not have been able to carry out a tenth part of the work. There were, besides, about two hundred visitors in the London area alone who were, after all, the active agents in carrying out the decisions of the Committees. By no means all of these were members of the Society of Friends. Just as we had members of our Executive Committee who gave their help because of a hatred for war, or through the sympathy of a common humanity, so these in their turn enlisted the interests of others, like-minded, of their acquaintance. Thus the circle widened.
Our aim was to have every family which was being helped visited at least once a month, and generally speaking, no grant of milk, coals or clothing was given or renewed without a visitor's report upon the case. These reports were given in writing and were attached to the case card-the case card which had been made out upon the first application for relief and which contained all available information upon that special case. Our regular Case Committees I. and II., were each composed of about eight members. The rule was that four members constituteda quorum, and each case Committee sat three times a week, often for three or four consecutive hours. There were two interviewing rooms in each of which one member of the respective Case Committee reigned supreme. The decisions were written down in red ink on the card at the time they were made and also in duplicate in the minute book. Thus a glance at the card of any applicant would show the position of that case in regard to the Committee : what the latest visitor's report had been, and what was the latest decision. Many other things the card could tell and woe be to an applicant who endeavoured to impose upon some experienced worker. The worker would mildly remark: " We had better have a look at your card," and the imposture was at once laid bare.
Any relief actually handed over or sent by post or given out to be administered, had to be entered on the card, and a signed receipt from the recipient was also required by the Treasurer. All these were small matters but we found it necessary to observe them carefully and I do not think that they detracted from the spontaneous and loving character of the work. The cards were of uniform size and were kept in open boxes, and at each fifty a higher blue card bearing in large figures the number was inserted. There was, of course, an alphabetical card index, and a lady sat all day by the card tables to find the cards required. We also had a box called for some reason " The Glory Hole," to which all cards when done with were consigned, to be sorted and returned to their places later, by the properly constituted authority.
Our two hundred visitors were of all sorts and conditions, from the humble Bible woman and the social worker to the author and the College professor. Some had titles to their names and moved in the higher walks of life. One lady had her own brother interned in Ruhleben, and her step-father and step-brother in Knockaloe camp in the Isle of Man, whilst her English mother was now technically an alien enemy through her second marriage to a
German. Another English lady was a most indefatigable and splendid visitor. Quite twenty families in Whitechapel were on her list, and when she brought in her reports, it usually required at least an hour to talk them over and get them properly attached to the cases. I have selected a few typical cases from the reports made at the time and from the résumés of the war-time history of their cases, which have been specially written out for this book by some of the visitors. The first may be called
and is described by the pen of Olaf Baker. He writes
" Latterly the word 'reprisal' has been much with us. To most of us it conveys a distinct idea of dropping bombs on German towns by means of aircraft, in return for the bombs they have dropped on us. I have looked it out in the dictionary. My dictionary is disappointing. It doesn't say anything about aeroplanes! It doesn't even mention Germans! It just says ` Forcible seizure of foreign subjects' persons or property in retaliation ; act of retaliation ; letters of reprisal; official warrant, authorising this,'-not the slightest hint, you observe, as to dropping bombs. I have always felt that the dictionary was lamentable deficient.
" The other day, however, I came across an instance of reprisal absolutely accordant with the dictionary definition I had been sent to a remote southern suburb to visit a case for the Friends' Emergency Committee. After some difficulty I arrived at a small house, in a small depressing street. Here I made inquiries for one Mrs. G. It took some time to produce her, as she had to be summoned loudly from the upper part of the dwelling. She was a smallish woman, delicate and manifestly underfed. In her arms she carried a little girl. When I had explained the object of my visit she invited me up to her room. It was what is known as a bed-sitting room, the sort of room where there is more accommodation for going to bed than for sitting. Even the sofa, on which, in true German fashion, I was invited to take a seat, did duty at night as a bed for her thirteen year old boy, the little girl, it appeared, being the property of a neighbour. The room, moreover, combined the offices of kitchen, scullery and bathroom ; in spite of being such an allembracing apartment it was clean and tidy. So, for the matter of that, was the occupant, notwithstanding the hard strugggle to provide food for herself and her boy out of 8s. a week. Her story I extracted from her bit by bit. She told me apologetically that she was of German birth. As I bore this momentous piece of information without flinching, she further confessed that she had been born in Berlin, she pronounced it ` Bairleen,' lowering her voice perceptibly.
" ' When there is a raid,' she added 'it makes it worse, my coming from Bairleen.'
` Seeing that I received this frightful disclosure as calmly as if she had said ' Balham,' her manner became less timid, and I learnt about the reprisal.
" Next door, it appeared, there lived a policeman, who had befriended her on several occasions, the father of the little girl she was now looking after. When the raid began, his wife and child were out in the street. Being subject to fits, the mother, owing to the shock, had an immediate attack. Here was the German woman's chance. Rushing out, she seized the child, and, while the mother was being attended to, bore her off to her own room, where she calmed and comforted the little creature thus by 'forcible seizure of persons or property in retaliation ' -fulfilling to the letter the dictionary definition. What she culpably omitted to do was to wait until she had received ` official warrant authorising the action.'
" As is the case with reprisals, the action reproduced itself, for the policeman, in return for the care bestowed upon his little girl, himself retaliated by giving Mrs. G's boy a treat and taking him to the Zoo. What a film for the Cinemato graph ! Hostile aeroplanes over London, dropping bombs. A German woman rushing out to take care of a little English girl. Subsequently an English Policeman hand-in-hand with a little German boy at the Zoo. One is tempted to think of that account of the millennium where the lion and the lamb behave with such picturesque propriety, leaving it to the reader to decide which animal was represented by the Policeman, or whether indeed he combined in himself the nobler qualities of both."
The next case is interesting as the case of :
who was never interned. Its history is told by Mrs. V., its untiring visitor.
" Joseph S., pipe case-maker, Ukrainian from Przemysl, formerly an Austrian subject, now a citizen of the Polish Republic. Highly skilled workman, long settled in England, thirteen years with one firm; sober, steady, very intelligent, reads four languages. Wife English, formerly lady's maid; excellent needlewoman and manager. Both are persons of much refinement and devoted parents of four children.
" On the outbreak of war he was dismissed at one day's notice, and was unable to obtain work for about ten months on account of his nationality. Exempted from internment as an `Unwilling Alien Enemy' of good character. The third child was born December, 1914, when the parents were already starving, their savings being exhausted. They were too proud to ask for help, and the child is mentally afflicted in consequence of tubercular meningitis from pre-natal starvation, partially imbecile and subject to frightful fits. The other children are very intelligent, and the doctor can find no other cause.
" They first applied in March, 1915, when threatened with eviction from a miserable and insanitary dwelling. I called to investigate. No money, no baby-clothes, almost no food or furniture; mother trying to suckle, milk dried up, baby emaciated and screaming, rolled in rags, quite clean.
" The man ultimately got work for an east-end firm, 25s. less fares. Set to teach men receiving double his wages. When he complained he was told 'You're an alien enemy, it's charity to take you at all.' (This is a typical example of the petty persecution suffered by many families during the war.) The wife tried to make ends meet by sitting up at night to do cheap dressmaking, but the neighbours threw stones; foreigners sitting up at 2 a.m. must be signalling to air-craft or in other mischief.
" The fourth child, the only boy, was born in March, 1917. The mother after much persuasion reluctantly accepted extra nourishment during pregnancy. 'Can't bear to be always taking! ' Child all right, but there has been incessant illness in the family throughout the whole war ; diphtheria, scarletfever, influenza, dilation of heart, congestion of lungs, nervous affections, etc., etc. The doctors attribute all to misery and worry. House unfit for habitation, drains defective, for three years no repairs ; landlord hostile. Eldest child very excitable and with weak heart, for some months was always in disgrace at school and crying at night. Then some neighbour's children came to warn the mother that the class-mistress had said she ' would not have a Hun child in her class ' and ' is always down on Rosie.' After investigation, this was stopped by the school authorities.
"This family is now recovering with the exception of the afflicted child whose case is hopeless. The man has been helped to start business in a small way, and is now making 25 a week, and has excellent prospects. They are already beginning to make a home again."
Again, the case of Mrs. D. is in many points very typical of the sorrowful experiences of these poor English-German women. But for the constant sympathy of her visitor, this woman would in all probability have gone under. She was English, an excellent mother, very clean, capable and thrifty. Husband, a German waiter, interned from 1914 to 1919- Six children at the outbreak of war ; the youngest died (pneumonia and poverty) during the war. Woman, half-starved and badly overworked, has managed to keep the others alive, but her own health is injured by the long strain of hunger, cold, anxiety, over-work and loneliness, and all the children are showing signs of malnutrition. These children according to the head-master did excellently at school as long as they were allowed the school dinners, but could not keep their places at the top of the class after it was decided that the children of alien enemies were not eligible for free dinners. They are admirably brought up and very refined and well-behaved. The eldest boy should do well if he can get a chance to start, as he is intelligent, industrious and very steady. For a long time the woman lived under perpetual terror, being called before the Guardians every few weeks to show cause why her Government grant should not be stopped, as an able-bodied woman should be able to go out to work. She made all the children's clothes, mended their boots, kept them clean and tidy and, whenever possible, took in washing in a cold basement with a fire only when the children were in, and in spite of successive attacks of pleurisy. She used at one time to have hysterical attacks after being cross-examined by the Guardians (though they never actually stopped the grant), and suffered much from a special form of nightmare, counting farthings in her sleep.
A letter dated from a Workhouse Infirmary gives a little glimpse of the comfort which our visitors were able to carry by their sympathetic ministrations. Mrs. H., as a child, had had a garden of her own from which to pick flowers and she says
" I lived all day in my garden and confided all my little sorrows to the flowers and they were my best friends."
The letter : " I distinctly feel that the message of thanks which I sent you through the very kind lady who called on me this morning, is totally inadequate to express my real feeling of gratitude to you for the most acceptable gifts that you have sent me. The eggs have been so good and nourishing for me, and the roses have been a constant solace to me. The two pink blossoms that the lady brought me some fortnight ago, retained their exquisite perfume for six days and I kept them on a chair by my bedside, so that I could be always inhaling their scent. These that have been brought me to-day are simply perfect and oh ! such a number of different kinds of roses that I have never seen before."
" MRS. B., is a Scotchwoman, and long ago was a housemaid in Lord --'s house. Such a good housemaid she must have been-and there she met Mr. B., who was the valet. They married and lived happily-yes, it would have been `ever afterwards' if the war hadn't come and separated Mr. B. from his six children, and left his poor wife alone to struggle to keep the home together, to find food for the children, and, harder still, to find clothes for their bodies and boots and shoes for those twelve little feet.
" I first knew them about 1915, when already Mrs. B. had ` parted' with many things and the flat in Walworth where they lived-though very clean-was very bare and shabby.
" I visited them weekly for nearly three years and grew to love them more and more, while poor Mrs. B. grew thinner and a tiresome cough became more troublesome. She was Roman Catholic, but began to find it difficult to understand religion in whose name such hard and cruel things were done.
" She told me her husband said to her one day when she visited him at the Camp that the war had made him lose all the faith in God he had ever had, and he had done with religion for ever. She expostulated with him and reminded him of the love and kindness she and his children had found among the workers at 'St. Stephen's' and he said: ` Oh, but those people are Friends-and they are not religious.'
" Mrs. B. tried so hard to keep her family tidy and mended and turned-cut up and re-made those children's clothes till there was little left to sew. Then the remains were pieced together and one day I found a new chair cover of many colours and composed of endless sorts and kinds of bits. The B.'s lived in a flat, four storeys up, and the only place to dry the clothes was in the yard below, and the clothes and sheets were too shabby to be dried in public, so whenever I called I always had to duck and thread my way in and out of clothes all down the dark passage. How well I remember the damp smell of drying clothes that always met me but which could never damp the welcome those six children and their mother gave me. They were often very sensitive about their clothes, specially the two eldest, Freddie and Rosie, for they could remember better days. One day, Freddie had a hole in his trousers-where holes generally come-and his mother was too busy to mend them and a new pair was of course an impossibility. So he found a piece of stuff which didn't match but was near enough and patched them himself.
" The difficulty was the cotton, for there was no black and only white to be found, and Freddies' trousers were blue. He found a way out of the difficulty by dipping the white thread in the ink and when I saw the patching it was really beautifully done-but there was no disguising of the cotton. I told the story to the Committee and in a few days Freddy was the proud possessor of a brand new pair of trousers from the clothes room at St. Stephen's. Boots were the nightmare of poor Mrs. B.'s life, for those twelve feet were always finding their way through the soles and she and I used to wish the children could go barefoot in the summer. In a letter from Germany where she now is, she writes : ` Do you remember how you used to wish the children could give up wearing shoes and stockings ? here they may do so and they are so happy without them.'
" About a year ago Mrs. B. and her flock went out to join her husband in Frankfurt and she writes so happily about their being together again. `However bad things are out here, and they are very bad' she says, `being with my dear husband makes up for all.'
" As soon as it was allowed I sent her a little tea, and she told me, as soon as she got it, she cried a little at first and then she invited some German women and felt so proud to be able to offer them a cup of English tea. She says, 'We could not understand much we said to each other, but we laughed and enjoyed our tea and when Frederic came in, he told them where the tea had come from and a lot of things about you all at St. Stephen's.'
" She never gumbles and always had made and always will make the best of things whether at Walworth or in Germany. They have all been through a dreadful time and been very, very hungry, but now, I hope, the cloud is lifting, for Mr. B. has work. " He was waiting in a Restaurant and heard two men talking at a table, of felt slippers. Now Mr. B. knew all about felt slippers for he made them in the Camp at Alexandra Palace, so he pricked up his ears and took his courage in both hands and asked the men if he could be of any use to them. The result was a partnership between one of them and Mr. B., and I hope it may mean better times for him and for his family for they do well deserve it.
IN A LONELY PLACE.
Another British wife, whose husband has been repatriated without her having been able to see him, after four year's separation, is making a brave struggle to keep herself and her children. Her visitor writes: " The caravan where she lives is a long way from the town, in a very lonely place, but people were very good in directing us to it. Mrs. J. is a very nice young woman, and not at all the sort who would impose on you. She owns the caravan and a little strip of land, on which she herself has erected fowlhouses and a goat house. In the summer she makes a good living with selling fowls, eggs, goats (which she breeds), and goats' milk, but now none of these ways of earning is possible, and she has only the Us. weekly Government grant. We saw her two little boys of nine and seven, both looking very delicate after influenza. The little girl of six is staying with an aunt. They badly need clothes; but her wants were only revealed reluctantly, and she was anxious to assure us she could do well in summer; it was just now the pinch was so hard. We took some buns for the children, and their eyes did shine at sight of the bag ! I think people have spoken unkindly to her so she likes to be in this lonely place. We were most favourably impressed by Mrs. J.; she is capable and naturally of an independent spirit, but just needing some extra help to get her through the winter." Committee sent clothing and a grant of milk to last several weeks, besides helping her to pay her baker's bill.
AN OLD MUSICIAN.
A German musician, age about seventy, four nationalities in his family: wife Dutch, son-in-law Austrian, child British subject as twenty years in England; good clarionetist-had played in Opera. A very comfortable home, spotlessly kept. Dismissed from the orchestra on outbreak of war, got a post in another. The first week two young men in the audience knocked him down, shouting " No Huns here." (He wears glasses and looks very German.) He was kicked and badly bruised, and the next day he was dismissed by the manager. He tramped from London to Portsmouth to take a post, but on arrival was refused on account of his German appearance, pawned all his things and struggled along, half-starved till the spring of 1915, and then applied to the F. E. C. The visitor found the poor old people had been creeping out at night to pick up any scraps they could find in the road; they had no debts, and floor and everything were spotless. The old woman wept bitterly at the thought of having to give up the home. So our Committee made them a grant and got them some odd jobs-washing, lodgers, wood-chopping, gardening, etc. They had an allotment and kept fowls; they are now independent and comfortable, working hard and quite content.
IN ALIENS' HOMES.
HOW A GERMAN FELT ABOUT THE LUSITANIA. Amongst our cases was an elderly Englishwoman, whose German husband had died in an asylum from melancholia after internment, his delusion being that he had sunk the Lusitania and burnt the Cathedrals and Churches and so brought disgrace upon his wife. He used to sit weeping for the burned churches. His only son was in the British Army out in Egypt. The neighbours poisoned the old man's pet animals to express their " patriotic fervour "
DYING OF CANCER.
Mrs. B., half English, half Japanese ; dying of cancer, German husband interned. She used to keep his old clothes hanging by her bed so that she might touch them for comfort. Once when the doctor thought the end was near, a special request was made for him to come and see her. He was brought by two guards who had orders not to leave the room for an instant ;
she told our visitors afterwards that they were very kind and stood with their backs turned and looked out of window so that the husband might kiss her before he left.
An old man and his wife, both German-born, who had lived over forty years in England, but never were naturalised, had brought up their family of three sons and two daughters most respectably and had eight or ten grandchildren, all Englishborn. The grandfather was an expert cabinet maker, skilled in inlaying and had worked for first-class firms. They had a comfortable home, but as soon as the war broke out, he lost his employment. They struggled along for several months and felt very bitter against the English ; parting with furniture till nearly all worth anything had gone, except their cherished piano ; and the grandmother now hired herself out to do washing, though enfeebled with rheumatism. At last, in despair, she applied to the Emergency Committee which obtained work for the old man and gave them both some much needed clothing. We soon learned however, that the old man had been put to work in a cellar underground, almost without ventilation and nearly dark, and had to stand all day in about a foot of water that oozed through from a public lavatory. Here he managed to survive for nine or ten months, then his health gave way and he had to leave. They were most uncomplaining people and very grateful for all that was done for them. The Committee granted them 10s. a week to supplement the man's uncertain earnings and to enable the old woman to remain at home. He was never interned, as the Police reported a long-standing record of good conduct and respectability. One morning the local visitor was surprised to receive a call from the old woman and feared she had come to tell of some further trouble, but after a moment or two she produced from under the cover of her coat a small parcel and " apologising for the great liberty she was taking " said:-" My husband and I feel we would like to give you a little token of our gratitude for all you have done for us; he has made you a tea-caddy (a beautiful inlaid oak caddy with lock and key) and I have brought you some cups and saucers (real German stone-china, hand-painted) that I brought with me when we first came over to England after we were married-if you will accept them." She presented them with tears in her eyes.
THE SPECIAL CASE COMMITTEE.
WE had of course some cases that were very difficult, and the Case Committee occasionally felt obliged to discontinue help even whilst recognising that help was badly needed. One of our workers was not satisfied with such an admission of failure and obtained leave from the Executive to constitute a small " Special Case Committee " whose duty it should be to deal with difficult cases passed on to it by the other Committees. I will next describe two such cases.
CAse 4033, MRS. E.
English woman, bad health, very thin, hysterical and unbalanced, affectionate mother, five children, youngest not weaned at outbreak of war. Husband, elderly German waiter, went to Libury Hall, first winter of war, as they were starving. Remained in internment till the beginning of 1917, when he was removed to the German hospital, dying of cancer. I first saw this family in Lusitania week. They were starving in a frightful Lambeth slum, woman half-distracted and on verge of suicide, refusing to accept any help, defiant and quite desperate. Children frightened and depressed, neighbours hostile ; almost no furniture. Altogether a terrible case, even worse after the husband's death. The woman scrubbed theatre floors all day, returning quite exhausted ; house-work not done ; two babies, one an invalid, left entirely to the care of a highly sensitive little girl of seven, herself half-starved, verminous and failing in health, according to the doctor " from nothing but sheer misery, physical and mental." A very bad air-raid (1917) made matters worse. This child was then adopted and is now well, happy and very intelligent. The latest news about her is dated July
3rd, 1g2o, and is from the visitor. She writes: " You will, I know, be glad to learn that Winnie E., whom I adopted nearly three years ago, has just passed her entrance examination for the T. Higher School, and that the doctor whom I asked to examine her physically and mentally before she starts her new life pronounces her exceptionally intelligent, in very good bodily condition and " as sound as a bell." The elder boys are earning, though at hopeless blind-alley occupations and the mother is more sane and less unhappy, though the home conditions are still extremely undesirable.
" W." Father English, interned Ruhleben during war. Mother half German, half Italian, partially insane; deported to England by German Government in or about 1916, with four German-born children. She spent her time in a succession of lodgings, from which she was always expelled for violent scenes, and from time to time was brought before the magistrates and remanded for an enquiry into the state of her mind. I saw her
in an observation ward. The doctor said she was " unfortunately just not mad enough to certify as yet."
The younger children were helped by the Prince of Wales's Fund and boarded out, as the mother was not fit to look after them. The eldest boy, Eric, was fourteen when I saw him in 1918. He appears to have had two years of ill-usage in Germany (10-12) because he was English, and then two years of illusage in England (12-14) because he was German. I found him in a boys' home where he was almost the youngest of about thirty-five boys. The superintendent on his own showing had told them Eric was a Hun. When I suggested that " W." is not a German name and that the father was in Ruhleben, he replied :- ` Oh, that's their slyness ; I don't suppose it's really
'W.' Didn't you see a case in John Bull . . . ? etc."
The boy was going utterly to the bad. He was removed to the Wallingford Colony and reported as " doing well." I do not know the later history of this case.
| Any comments, errors
or omissions gratefully received The
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