[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
AT the outset of our work the cases of expectant mothers were so numerous that we set apart a special sub-committee to deal with them. Malcolm Quin in " Friends and Enemies " says of these cases :
" It is perhaps not easy to imagine any sufferers from the war, outside the immediate area of slaughter and devastation, whose consciousness of trouble and helplessness could be deeper. These poor women had to bring forth their children in unaccustomed poverty and anxiety, depressed by the illwill of a hostile society, and there can have been no circumstances in which the humane and spiritual ministrations of the Friends' Emergency Committee were more welcome and precious."
It may be said, too, that no branch of our work called forth more sympathy than did these little " innocent alien enemies." There was even a little girl of seven who wrote to us from California and sent two dollars which she and a little schoolfellow had earned, to be used for one of the " baby enemies."
In the first four months our Baby Case Sub-Committee ministered to no less than forty-six of these cases. I will describe a few from the notebooks of the visitors
Amongst our maternity cases we had several pairs of twins. Mrs. " W. " was an English wife living with her German husband, at Dover, where he was employed in the principal hotel and she kept a lodging house. They were superior people with firstclass references and had two young children and a nicely furnished house. Dover, being a fortress, was placed under strict military rule, and Mr. W. had been promptly interned. His wife, an expectant mother, was in great trouble. The Committee, with some difficulty, persuaded Mrs. W.'s mother, who lived at Liverpool, to take temporary charge of the little grandchildren; and it was well they did so for almost immediately came the order for Mrs. W. to leave Dover within forty-eight hours.
Our Friends, the C.'s, had already interested themselves in the case. They too were leaving Dover, and they now offered to see to the packing of Mrs. W.'s goods and to have them sent to London with their own furniture. Mrs. W., in a very nervous state, was seen off by train, and met in London by one of our workers, who took her to a Friend's house where hospitality had been offered, until she should go to the Hospital, where four days later the twins, a fine little boy and girl, were born.
On leaving the Hospital, Mrs. W. was sent with her babies to the Adult School " Mothers' Rest Home " at Hampstead Garden-Suburb, and after a fortnight there, she settled into rooms with her own furniture, and her other children came to be with her. The Committee allowed milk for the babies, and the husband got some work in Camp and was able to send some money home to his wife; she also obtained a good Government allowance and so got along comfortably for a time. But the months dragged on and Mrs. W. became sadly run down and depressed, so the Committee sent her again to the Rest Home where she regained her strength.
In a horrid little street off Tottenham Court Road, lived Bertha and Friedrich, she English, he German, a ship's cook, who had never been long enough on shore to become a naturalised Englishman. Bertha was a servant for many years before she married and had collected many precious possessions, and they had a comfortable home with plenty of furniture and full of all the useless and hideous knicknacks which apparently make so many people happy. Friedrich had lost his job through the war and most of their things had "had to go," i.e., to the pawnshop. When first they applied to the Committee they were living in a basement room where rats ran riot and where our visitors never found a fire.
" We are not people wot feel the cold like some, Miss," they told her, " and the room's so small it likely wouldn't be 'ealthy to 'ave a fire all day," so the bit of washing used to hang on a string for days and days before it dried, and they did their cooking on a small gas ring. They took it in turns to stay in bed, " for it's warmer there and you don't seem to feel so hungry in bed as when you're up."
They were paying 6s. for rent and trying to save something out of the 6s. 6d. that remained, for the time when Bertha would have to go to the Hospital and to buy the clothes that her little babe would need, when it arrived. The Committee supplied flannel and wool for the little clothes and after that a shilling a week could be spent on coals.
He was Austrian and she Irish, and they had five children, the eldest six years old. They lived in two rooms, for which they paid 8s: 6d. a week. He had been a waiter for thirteen years in a well-known London Restaurant, and his master had told him many times he would take him back if only the public or the newspapers would let him.
The new baby was a fragile little thing and the doctor had told Marie she must have plenty of milk every day, but of course there was no money for that. Ludwig, being an Austrian, was not yet interned, and as he was out of work they were at the end of their resources. The Committee gave a daily grant of milk and Marie and her babe are growing strong and well again.
In the top storey of a high block of buildings in the Chalk Farm Road lived another young Austrian, with his wife and four little children including the new baby. They had both been tailors' assistants in a good West End firm, and had got a nice little home together when the war broke out. Then one by one their belongings had to go for food, until nothing was left but the bed, a packing case, a frying pan, a figure of the Virgin and a few cups and plates. The visitor says, " The room was so poor, so bare, but all so clean and tidy, We used to sit in a row on the bed, on three sheets of newspaper, for fear of soiling the quilt, which was one of the few remains of their better days and the pride of poor Hedwig's heart."
Then the Committee began to help them and after a while two chairs were bought for 2s. 9d., and though one has to sit on them very carefully and on no account to lean against their backs, still they are chairs, and we no longer sit on the bed.
A little sympathy and a few odds and ends from the " Clothing Room " at St. Stephen's House, and some necessary food, gave them fresh hope and courage, and they are looking forward now to the day when they " will be able to repay a little of all you have done for us."
Another very touching case was that of a young Hungarian and his wife. A few weeks before the war he went over to Hungary and brought this " little Barbara " back to England with him to be his wife. She, poor child, was only eighteen, and now he was taken away to be interned and she left alone in a strange city and country away from all her friends.
A kind neighbour (a woman almost as poor as herself), found this little stranger and took her to her own home and fed and cared for her for three or four months, and then came to us to ask us to help too. " Since then," says the visitor, " our Committee has tried to make life a little happier for her, she has been learning English and a little son has come to her, and now she lives for him and in the hope of better days to come.
" Her little Josef lives in a banana crate, lined with striped pink flannel and covered by an odd assortment of rugs and quilts from the Old Clothes Room at St. Stephen's House.
" One day I took a pretty little white frock and two warm vests for the baby, and left the poor `little mother ' kneeling by the bed with tears running down her cheeks, and saying inher broken English, `Baby, dear, do you know how many people love you ? They do not all hate us, baby, and we must always remember, you and I, that God is very good.' ' Now abideth Faith, Hope, Love, and the greatest of these is LOVE.' "
As the war went on we found that many of the children were suffering from want of proper nourishment. This was true, of course, of others besides the alien children, but there was an all important difference. . . . The alien mother, when she saw her children without necessary food or was unable to procure medical attention for them, had no pride and patriotism to sustain her. Her part, from beginning to end, was simply to endure; and the worst part was to see the suffering of her children. Most of the fathers were either shut up in internment camps or deprived of their ordinary means of livelihood, and the children had to endure severe hardships; no new clothes, no boots, no coal; and only the barest sustenance of bread and margarine with a few vegetables, could be bought at the existing prices, for the threepence a day allowed for each child by the Government.
About the midole of 1917 we were able to purchase a large quantity of a food preparation known as " Biomalz," which, owing to prejudice arising from its German origin, was practically unsaleable through the customary channels.
This substance, containing a large percentage of sugar, was found very useful for under-nourished children as well as invalid adults and it stood us in good stead right down to the close of our work.* [* A certain amount still (December, 1920) remains to be disposed of.]
As a consequence of insufficient food the children became especially susceptible to infectious diseases, and, when convalescent, it was impossible for them to obtain the diet and attention they needed. One form of trouble brought on another which in turn increased the first. The Committee decided that an attempt must be made to send such children away for a time, a plan which would serve the double purpose of giving the children themselves a chance of restoration to health and at the same time would relieve the mothers from a painful and distressing anxiety.
A small Y.W.C.A. Hostel was obtained at Willesden, and the first experiment was made. Then Mr. and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence lent us their lovely cottage at Holmwood, in Surrey, and the way also opened to send a few children at a time to the care of a motherly woman at Letchworth. Others were sent to the seaside, at Clacton and Ramsgate, and for two years, until air-raid alarms obliged us to close it, a house at Margate was kept filled with those children who were threatened with tuberculosis. The need seemed continually to increase and one summer, I think it was 1917, we had four different homes in operation, besides sundry special children cared for separately.
The children usually went for about a month, but, in addition to all this, a member of our Committee set apart a whole floor of his beautiful country home and received twelve little children under school age and cared for them for three months at a time, or even longer when the circumstances seemed to require it. During two years of the time his own wife and daughter acted as caretakers.
All this work naturally involved a great outlay of money and personal service. The children sent were all below par, requiring special care. When brought to the office for medical examination before going away it was not unusual for a fourth or even a third of the number to be turned down by our lady doctor as being too poorly to go. They suffered from all the diseases of underfed humanity; rickets, swollen glands, incipient tuberculosis, skin diseases, weak hearts, nervous troubles. The ladies who took charge of the homes were generally voluntary workers who gave their services freely and did not hesitate to perform the most menial work in the care of the children.
Do you wonder that after observing the effects of underfeeding for so long upon our London children, I shrink from the thought that the blockade enforced by the Allies should have produced similar and even worse ravages in the enemy countries ? I certainly never want to see any more under-fed children, be they who they may.
The days when parties of children were to start for their stay in the country or were coming back, were times of even greater activity and excitement than usual, for the workers at St. Stephen's House. The little ones had first to be provided with their outfits from the clothing room, and were then gathered together by their mothers in twos or threes until all the holiday troop were collected. Then one or two of the workers would escort the small procession to the station and accompany them to their place of destination.
The return day was even more exciting. Sometimes the mothers were out working and were unable to meet the children at the station. Under these circumstances they were taken to the office, and there, with their rosy or sunburnt faces, and perhaps with bunches of flowers in their hands, they waited with such patience as was possible until their mothers came to claim them.
In one instance a mother going to the station to meet her little boy was unable to discover him in the crowd of healthy looking children. When he went away he was pale and puny, and he was now so grown and strong that for the moment she failed to recognise him.
Up to 1917 no fewer than seven hundred children had in this way been sent by the Committee to the country or the seaside. In the summer of that year there were about ninety away at a time in various places, and in the course of the twelve months 485 had a holiday.
Young as they were, these children had come to understand that they were " aliens " in the land, and they were not t00 young to appreciate words and deeds 0f kindness. One little girl, whose parents had suffered, both in home and business during the riots which followed on the sinking 0f the Lusitania, after telling a helper how her mother's friends had all forsaken her, added with a smile, " But Mummy found friends where she didn't expect to." These friends had the somewhat ponderous name of an " Emergency Committee," but probably the hundreds of little children who amidst the troubles and gloom of the war were led by protecting hands to regain health and happy spirits at the seaside or in the country were not much concerned with committees 0r their names.
Our last report says: "During the year ending 30th June, 1919, 509 children were given holidays ranging from two weeks t0 several months in length, the usual period being one month. At present, our numbers are only limited by the lack of accommodation, as we have felt that we should not be justified in undertaking the responsibility of an extra seaside home this summer. A lady doctor has attended our improvised clinic once a week, with few exceptions, and has made nearly 400 examinations. Most of the children have been found to be under-nourished, with marked tendencies to nervous disease."
IT was very delightful t0 open the door and see the happy faces round the table. I knew one 0r two 0f them; the others I had seen at St. Stephen's before they went into the country; but they all gave me such a welcome. We had tea, then cleared the table away for games.
The children are always keen for new games, but there are heaps of fun to be had from " musical chairs," " hunt the thimble " and other old favourites. The house boasts of a piano, which is a great asset. Only experienced children are allowed to play, but it is very sweet to see them singing their nursery rhymes to their own accompaniments on the piano lid. Thus they are perfectly happy, and can amuse themselves for a long time on a wet day.
The games ended at 7 o'clock, when preparations began for getting them all to bed. Those to be bathed that night came last.
To hear these children say their prayers, tuck them up and mother them generally, is a very pleasant form of " war-work."
The next morning one was awakened by the children singing lustily overhead. In a very short time we were all up and ready for breakfast. Basins of porridge disappeared like magic, and the same applied to the heaped-up plates of bread and butter.
After breakfast they learned their verse of a Psalm for that day.
That morning the weather was bright and cold, so we all went a long walk over the heath. It was good to see pale cheeks become rosy, and to hear children say, " I am s0 hungry, I could eat a house." There was plenty of mud about, but that did not concern us at all, and we all enjoyed our ramble.
When we arrived home again, the first thing was to see that no one kept a damp boot or stocking on. Some of them had queer notions as to what is exactly meant by " dry feet."
A well-cooked substantial dinner was very welcome. The children did eat ! Not a morsel was left! After dinner, they went upstairs to rest for an hour, during which speaking was forbidden. Some of them, even the big boys, used to sleep during this hour. Following this they went out again until tea-time.
That evening instead of games there was the serious business 0f letter-writing. It is astonishing how long this takes. They all tell their mothers " not to worry ; " they are " all right " and " have plenty to eat."
These children are all very happy, and when the time comes to go, do not want to leave the country and return to" stuffy buildings " or crowded streets. They say they would like to see mother and brothers and sisters and then come back.
It is marvellous what a change a few weeks' good food and air makes in these children. The mothers have told me that they have never seen their children looking s0 well as when they came home after such a holiday. When one realises this, one feels more than rewarded for any trouble taken t0 make the children well and happy.
That the parents were grateful for what was done for their children was abundantly evident. One mother wrote: "They have been back a fortnight and they haven't finished yet telling me all they did." And another, " I feel that I should like to thank you very much for your kindness to my two boys. I never saw such an alteration in a child as there is in Gusty. He eats much better and is different in every way; and Monty is quite full of his holidays and all the nice time he had. Trusting that you will believe me to be more than grateful.-Yours sincerely, E.P."
" I want to thank you very much for all the kindness you have shown them," wrote one mother to the lady-in-charge of the home where her children had been staying. " I wish you had big children such as myself, wouldn't I just like a nice holiday there."
" Thank you all very, very much," writes another. " He looks just splendid, and I really feel immensely proud of his lovely limbs and build. Surely you too see your reward in him, and I will do my very utmost to keep him in like condition." " I would like you to know how delighted my husband was to see Joey looking so well after his holiday," wrote the young mother of a small boy,
" We both appreciate your kindness, and Auntie's (the helpers at the homes are all 'Aunties' to the children). Money could never repay what you have all done for me since my husband was interned. There always seems such a lot of love with everything you all do."
An interned father, writing from the Camp quaintly expressed his thanks
" To the Ladys and Gentlemen who is acting on behaf of the Children's welfare and pleasure-May I ask if you would kindly accept my hearty thanks for your kindly act you have taken on behalf of hopeless children of which I consider a great act of humanity."
Another important undertaking developed naturally out of our work for the Children. This was the Mother's Rest Home, for which two of our friends lent us their own beautiful former residence at Highgate. The Seventh Report gives a résumé of its work.-" The Mother's Rest Home was closed on June 7th, igrg, after being carried on for two and a-quarter years. One-hundred-and-fifty-four women have stayed there during the period that this delightful house was lent by the kind owners to the Committee.
It often happened that visitors reported that the mother of a family had really arrived at the end of her tether, under the exceptional strain to which she was subjected as an "enemy alien." Some, who much needed rest and kindlier surroundings, were too apathetic, or too tired, to wish to leave the monotonous, but friendly groove. Some who went were too ill to profit fully, but by far the greater number found their stay (averaging four weeks) most beneficial and enjoyable. Expressions of gratitude have been warm indeed concerning the joy of the time spent there, and the sympathetic kindness shown by the head of the Home, as also for the renewed courage and strength which resulted from the pleasure and the love bestowed.
Former guests have been invited to re-unions at Christmas or other holiday times, and have been delighted to return to the friendly atmosphere of the Rest Home.
THE war had lasted for three long years. Everybody's strength and spirits had felt the terrible strain-the darkened streetsthe horrors of the air-raids-the food scarcity-the growing bitterness of public feeling-the ever-increasing poverty and sickness. Amongst our aliens, all these things combined to depress and discourage the workers at St. Stephen's House, and still, in spite of it all, the words contained in our third report, then two years old, still remained true. It said
" A word may be added here as to the atmosphere of quiet cheerfulness and hope that has prevailed in the office at St. Stephen's House, even on the most crowded and difficult days. We believe that this has not been without its effect on the hundreds of sad and despairin g souls who have come to us for help, and that not only in the short daily mid-day pause for worship, but in many a quiet talk and friendly greeting, has a fresh vision of brotherhood, human and divine, been shared."
But now we received notice that St. Stephen's House was to be taken for Government Offices and time had to be spent in finding new rooms, no easy matter, for our unpopular work. We moved first to 14, Great Smith Street, Westminster, but had scarcely got settled there when again the fiat went forth, and this time it seemed best to move away from the charmed circle of Westminster, for the Government Offices were multiplying so fast that no one was safe. We were fortunate in finding suitable rooms at 27, Chancery Lane, but the old name still clung to us and I think to our alien friends we still are and always shall be " St. Stephen's."
IT was during this summer that some of our indefatigable fellowworkers suggested that an effort should be made to relieve the sad monotony of life for our poor people. It was agreed that, whilst nothing fresh could be undertaken at the Central Office, if any of our visitors chose to organise little outings for their cases, money would be furnished for car fares, etc. By this means a good many very enjoyable little excursions were made in which two or three or more families shared. A few ladies also invited parties of women and children to tea and games in their gardens. So the summer passed and with October came the terrible air-raid week and then we settled down to the darkening days, the cruel shortage of necessary foodstuffs, in short, to another winter of war. Again the question was asked, " Can we do anything for Christmas this year ? "
Now on each preceding Christmas, attempts had been made to carry the message of goodwill into the alien homes. In twenty different centres in the London area, many of them at Meeting Houses of the Society of Friends, but some of them at Settlement Houses or private homes, Christmas parties had been held to which the alien families resident in the neighbourhood had been invited. The Friends of the Meeting usually conducted the entertainment, whilst our already crowded office became for the time being a regular depot of toys sent by kind friends from all parts of England, and willing hands toiled early and late, sorting, packing, selecting, according to carefully prepared lists, e.g., " Presents for twenty mothers, for thirty older girls, twenty older boys, fifty younger children, boys and girls, and ten babies, for the Peckham Party; and r2o bars of chocolate and twenty Christmas greetings to be packed and ready by three o'clock, when and will call for them." And so on and so on. There were, besides, parcels of toys and groceries to be made ready for some of the families who, from sickness or other causes, could not take part in the general gatherings and for isolated alien families in the provinces.* These must be dispatched by post or taken by special messengers to their destinations. It was a great task. The lists contained the names of thousands of persons, and but for the loving co-operation of numbers of people outside our regular office staff, the thing could not have been done. Yet all who had a hand in the doing of it felt that it was well worth while; and so would you, my reader, if you could have attended one of those Christmas parties and seen the little faces light up, and could have talked to those sad mothers and heard their words of gratitude that any English people cared about making a happy Christmas for their children.
" To think that we should have been thought of, and have a party just on purpose for us! " exclaimed the mother of five little ones, whose Austrian husband was interned, and whose two English brothers were fighting at the front for England.
We always agreed that the children were specially wellmannered and easy to amuse at these parties; while the mothers, who had taken great pains to turn them out nicely for the occasion, would sit contentedly with the youngest ones in their laps, watching the games and chatting with the helpers, What pleased and touched them most was the fact of being specially remembered at a time when even old friends had turned the cold shoulder on them.
On one of the Christmases J6o in money had been specially sent to be expended on Christmas dinners. After much consideration we decided to send postal orders to the families on a sliding scale from 2s. up to 3s. 6d., according to the size of the family. Such a tiny sum, yet the gratitude expressed for it was quite embarrassing.
1. "Thank you very much for the gift you sent on Christmas morning. It was such a pleasant surprise. I thought we were not going to have a very bright Christmas; but when I opened your letter, and saw the present and kind greetings, I said, Thank God we have not been forgotten."
2. " I can assure you it is a great struggle for me with my little family. I asked God to help me and He answered my prayer, and I shall ever remember your kindness in being so good to me."
* Friends at Street, Bath, Kendal, etc., cared for thirty or forty such families by sending beautiful parcels direct.
3. "The courtesy and consideration we have received from St. Stephen's House has been the one bright spot in these trying times. . ." 4. " How kind you have been during this dreadful time. I am sure God never forsakes us. I don't know what I should have done if it had not been for your help. . ."
5. " I think it was very kind of you to think of us in the way you did ; as there are not many people who think any good of us wives and children of Aliens ; although my husband's mother was an English woman. . . "
6. " I cannot express my thanks to you for sending the 2s. 6d,, it seemed like a message from heaven as I was awfully short that week! " . " I was feeling so lonely and friendless when your generous gift arrived in quite a ` fairy godmother'way; nobody else had remembered my little girlie and me. . ."
8. " These few lines seem very poor thanks, but Christ Who knows all and reads our hearts, knows how very grateful I am for all your kindness, and I hope, as soon as my husband is free to work again to pay back the money you are helping me with. It will be the least I can do!
. . ."
9. " A little kindness from strangers, it makes you believe inhuman feeling again ! . . ."
to. "Life has brought joys and sadness, but the last year has broken all my courage. But I do beg you to believe that never has a gift touched me as your kind thought this Yuletide did ; and I beg to acknowledge the 3s.with all thanks my heart is capable of. `May God bless those Friends '-I am sure are the words of thousands placed as I am!
i r. " Thank you for the 2s. and for all the loving help you have given me since my husband has been in camp. May God bless you all for the time and trouble you have taken to make many hearts and homes brighter during this great trouble.
12. " I thank you very much for your great kindness in helping me to buy a nice Christmas dinner for my dear little ones. It was nice, and we did not forget to thank God for that in our prayer. It was a great surprise to all and a pleasure to think that we have some kind friends who think of you. This struggle is hard and trying, but I manage somehow, and, thank God, I have no debts. . ."
13. " I am writing to wish you and all the workers a very Happy Christmas; and to thank you for your loving kindness. You must indeed be very happy, knowing the hearts you have gladdened. What would have become of us women without your help I cannot think; and I am sure it makes us think and understand that love is stronger than hate; that God is a God of Love! "
So when in those last winters of the war, aye, and after the war, when so-called peace had come again, the old question was asked once more, " Can we do anything for our cases this Christmas ? "-the answer still was, " Yes, we must try to do what we can, they still need it, poor things 1 " There might be fewer toys ; the beneficent givers of the thousand packets of chocolate that were such a boon in 1916 could not repeat their gift ; no oranges to be had; no cake that was worth the name, but still we must do something; and loving hearts still found a way to express the Christmas message of peace on earth to men of goodwill. I think the little English-born children who have gone now to far off Vienna and Berlin, if they live to grow up will still remember those bright Christmas parties, lighting up the dark shadows of war-time days in England.
| Any comments, errors
or omissions gratefully received The
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2007