[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
WE have seen what a large place the pawnshop played in the life of the hard-pressed alien. In hundreds of cases they never applied to the Committee until everything pawnable had been parted with, even the blankets and the bedding and the children's clothes.
We had one faithful worker-an artist-who devoted practically his whole time for years to the pawnshop cases and to procuring the redemption and restoration of luggage left behind by persons returning to Germany or going to internment camps. One pawnshop, near the centre of London, had evidently been well-known and favourably regarded throughout a large district, and kindly feeling was always shown there. Once, when going in to claim some much needed clothes, the visitor was greeted with, "So you've come again on your errand of mercy! " There was satisfaction in being able to get a badly wanted suit for a very few shillings and send it off to the owner in one of " they consecration camps."
At other times the visitor would set out with an envelope full of tickets, to carry out the directions of a Case Committee, which had decided to cheer up the departure for Germany or Austria of some family. Later in the day he would knock at the door of that same family with bulging brown paper parcels containing a variety of useful and valued articles, ranging from blankets to a wedding ring.
The Committee was generally unwilling to get things out of pawn, unless the applicant was prepared to pay-or at any rate to contribute to the cost. We occasionally redeemed things and sold some to pay for the others and we made a point of getting wedding rings out of pawn for people returning to Germany. We also felt it important to redeem cooking utensils, and, in the case of men in Camp, such articles as razors or tools which would enable barbers or carpenters to earn something for their families whilst interned.
Many requests came from the interned men for assistance in recovering belongings which had had to be left behind when going to camp. These requests were often accompanied by a letter from the Commandant. Sometimes the required luggage was found in a dark basement room, hidden under a pile of dustcovered boxes and parcels which the landlady hardly knew what to do with. Sometimes it was necessary to call in a neighbour to interpret in Yiddish or Slavish before anything could be arranged. . . The departure of so many single men to camp had been a serious loss to many landladies, especially in quarters much frequented by aliens, and it was no wonder that when a huge trunk had resided in the small landing or passage for many months, the demand for some payment for storage should be urged. Sometimes the lodger had been taken suddenly by the police and had left with debts unpaid. Indeed, this branch of the work required much tact and patience, but we felt well repaid by the gratitude of the recipients.
Another important department of our work was the Business Committee. Our Fifth Report, under date June 3oth, 1917, says: - ` It is able to advise many helpless people in their difficulties. Complications arising in the cases of interned prisoners and their wives are manifold, varying from questions connected with insurance, mortgages, house property, furniture, debts, to points of domestic relationship. The workers on the Committee are gradually acquiring considerable expert knowledge and generally manage to settle matters amicably without calling in the law, but two friendly firms of solicitors give much help and never grudge time or trouble where it is a question of protecting the interests of those who have a good cause."
A Prisoners' Committee writes from one of the camps:It It is wonderful how war conditions complicate the simplest business matter, and without your kind help we should frequently not know how to get the cases arranged. We very much appreciate your kindness in giving so much time and such careful consideration to this good work."
A prisoner, writing direct, says: " I am informed by my daughters of your very generous and kindly help given to my family in these dark and worrying times. It is, too, such a relief to know that there is someone who will take an interest in the affairs of my dear ones whilst I am interned."
The total trading capital of the " Business Committee " has not exceeded X354 iis. up to June 30th, 1917. Debts owing to Prisoners of War or their wives, generally for goods, or services rendered before the war amounting to X570 5s. 8d. have been recovered. The sums are usually small and have varied from a few shillings to o70. The refusal to pay was usually due to real or pretended ignorance of the law. Many a poor woman has been helped and made happy by getting a few pounds from old debts which she had considered a total loss.
As the family tragedies caused by the war unroll themselves one by one before our eyes, we feel how little the great world outside realises this part of the terrible havoc of war " behind the lines " or understands the patiently borne suffering of these humble folk. We are often touched by their heroism and their unfaltering loyalty and self-sacrificing spirit, and rejoice in the opportunity granted us of helping them.
Another very necessary department of our work was carried on in the Clothing Room. There was no money in the Government grant for clothes, and children unfortunately are not like older people ; they will wear out their clothes and especially their boots ; and even if the clothes are not actually worn out, they are outgrown and new ones must be found from somewhere. This was true quite early on in the war when there were still some stores to fall back upon and careful mothers were cutting up their own clothes and " Daddy's " cast off suits and piecing and mending to keep the children tidy for school. But as the years dragged on and all the remnants of better days had long ago been used, the calls on our Clothing Room grew heavier. I should say, our rooms, for we had three. There was an inner room ! Here we kept our stores-the lovely garments that came all ready for wear from the Local Committees in the provinces, fruit of some sewing meeting that had been working for our aliens, or perhaps the girls of one of our Friends' Boarding Schools had been knitting boys' jerseys in their playtime for us. And these splendid gifts of clothing kept coming the stream never dried up (though of course we often had to supplement it by purchases), and this surely meant a large amount of faithful loving thought on the part of countless hidden workers. So the store was there, clothes for mothers and children, for boys and girls and, in a special place, the little outfits that some of our friends took such pleasure in preparing for the baby alien enemies.
Yes, boots too, they were our greatest trouble. They would wear out. At first they were good, strong, serviceable boots, and one of our generous friends who had a boot factory in the west, sent us whole boxes filled with most admirable ones. You may be sure we hid them carefully in the inner room; but even these were soon gone for the demand was constant. Neither clothing nor boots were given without a written order, and a written order meant a Case-Committee decision, and that again was seldom made except upon the report of the visitor who knew the special circumstances of the family in question. In spite of all this care, boots went fast ; often as much as eighty pounds per week was thus spent, and when leather became scarcer the question of providing our children with wooden clogs or letting them go barefoot was seriously discussed in Committee.
What our Clothing Room meant to burdened mothers in their brave struggle will be realised from a few specimens from the letters of thanks we were constantly receiving.
From Mrs. H. who was herself so poorly that the Committee granted money to pay a woman to do the washing for her. " Ethel " the little girl, was ill with a very bad heart. The doctor had ordered milk. New boots, too, were needed and sent.
" Mrs. S. has forwarded the boots on to me which you have kindly supplied me with for Ethel, and both Ethel and myself wish to thank you very much. You have been extremely kind tome all the time my husband has been away and also dear Mrs. S. (the visitor). She is quite a big ray of sunshine in my life just now, and I also want to thank you for the renewal of the milk and the washing. I am sure sometimes I don't know how I should get on without it, it has been a great help to Ethel and myself."
May 13th, 1918.
" Dear Miss B.,
" I went to the clothing department on Friday, and come away `gloriously happy,' with material enough for combinations for Walter and Cyril, and some splendid material for overalls for both of them. . .
I am very pleased with them, dear Miss B., and I thank you ever so much for your kindness and also the Committee for their kind thoughts and deeds.
" I saw a picture once of a `good Samaritan' helping a poor broken creature, and underneath it said `The White Comrade 'never lets a friend go under, but says, 'Lo, I am with you awway.' Behind them both was the shadow of our Lord, and whenever I want to thank the Committee for their kindness that picture always comes to my mind. If it had not been for the help of the Committee I might have gone under and I expect a few more hundreds would have done the same, the Committee and all their helpers are indeed `White Comrades '."
The visitor writes about the next case:
" Sometimes in visiting cases which are all more or less sad, I find myself thinking; surely, this is the limit, there can be nothing more sad, but as time goes along the sadness is much intensified. The case of Mrs. S. is certainly one of the saddest cases I have come across and appeals strongly for help. The husband is German, over twenty-five years in England, a foreman baker, the wife English, the children all dead. Government grant its. 6d.
" To the Secretary,
" The Emergency Committee.
" In writing to thank you for the parcel of clothing, forwarded on to me on the 18th of June, from you ; words cannot express the gratitude I feel, especially must I mention nightgowns, dressing gown and stockings of which I was in the greatest need ; also petticoats and under-wear; Now I thank you for your great kindness to me.
" My lady visitor you sent came like a ray of sunshine in my dark life. Since the war commenced, like many more, I was badly treated when my husband was taken from me. We were all in all to each other, he was always a good man."
The children as well as the mothers rejoiced when they visited our clothing room. It must have seemed like a fairy palace to them. Often they went in neatly mended and patched, but oh, so shabby, and came out after a long interview with kind Mrs. H. and Mrs. B., looking like altogether different children and with such radiant faces. Some of them were even moved to write poetry about us of which I will give two specimens. The idea of the superior efficiency of St. Stephen's House to the angels in matters of food and clothing is lovely
St. Stephen's House, Oh, band of Quakers,
Helping the desolate and poor,
May God reward you for your kindness
To an outcast of the war!
St. Stephen's House, Oh! Doctors of ill ones
Fighting for those the war would sorely rob!
Clothing the naked, and hungry children feeding
While angels stand around and only sob!
St. Stephen's House! Oh, band of Quakers!
Dost thou not know, we outcasts love thee well ?
I hope, one day, that we may meet in Heaven,
There is no room for such as you in hell
Lines by an alien boy:
TO ST. STEPHEN'S HOUSE.
When I'm a man, now just you see.
I'll take my boy upon my knee
And tell him all you've done for me
Oh, band of gentle Quakers!
My " Boys' Own Annual " I'll keep
And when my children are asleep
I'll take it out and o'er it weep
Oh, band of gentle Quakers
I have grown strong, and big and well
And others also I've heard tell
Because war's hatred you did quell
Oh, band of gentle Quakers.
You give us food and clothes and boots
You heed not though the whole world hoots
Or a bomb drops, or big gun shoots,
Oh, band of gentle Quakers
I sometimes cry all this about
For from the troupe they turned me out
But I can be " God's little Scout "
Oh, band of gentle Quakers
In our second clothing room another form of activity was carried on. Its method of working is told in the Friend of May 24th, 1915, as follows:
" `No, I wouldn't allow any German to do a thing,' she was saying. `Our own people find it hard enough in this war time. Whenever you give work to a German you are taking bread out of the mouth of an Englishman. Let the Germans suffer I say. They got us into the war.'
As she spoke there was a knock at the door (we were talking at the Office of the Relief Committee at St. Stephen's House), and a middle aged man with kind, honest eyes, entered and came rather timidly forward. He held out two letters ; one was from the Chief Constable of his district. The bearer, J. P., was expelled from R by the Aliens' Act. His character was so good that the Chief Constable greatly regretted that he could not help him, and recommended him to the help of others. The other letter, from a firm of tailors at R-, certified that J. P. had served them faithfully for fourteen years. They only parted with him under absolute constraint and promised to take him back after the war. Then he told how he had walked London Streets for days, going to every tailoring establishment, but all in vain. No one would give him a job. And he must find work. `Have you a family? ' ` Yes.' He drew out a photograph, a fine boy in scout's dress and two lovely little girls. 'My boy spent his summer holiday in helping as a scout,' he said proudly. ` And your wife ? Have you no savings to go on? ' 'My wife, she is English, she is an invalid,-bedridden,' - he said. 'It is expensive, I had not much put by. I left D 10s. with her; they must live.' Again he repeated, ' I must find work.'
" I looked at my patriotic friend. She was clearly puzzled and only repeated, 'Yes, you must find work.' I hinted that with such credentials his friends in R would help. 'No,' he said, ' I don't want charity. I want work.' The man was utterly used up, faint for food probably, a kind word brought the tears to his eyes, of which however he seemed much ashamed.
" It was the tailor problem again. There are many tailors, some of them first-rate hands who have worked long for leading firms-almost all married and with dependent families; no work in their own line to be had anywhere. Lately a way has opened through the kindness of Arthur Crosfield, of Liverpool, to employ some of them in making boys' clothing for the War Victims' Committee where it was badly needed. Rolls of good material have been bought at a low rate through the help of another Friend. Amongst our tailors we found an expert cutter, and soon, under the supervision of one of our lady workers, in a room lent us by the War Victims' Committee at New Street Square, he began his task.
" There were difficulties to be overcome. Some of the tailors had pawned their tools, others had only been accustomed to ladies' work, but our helpers went steadily forward. We decided to pay the usual rate in the trade for piece-work, and to give full time work to those employed, adding to the numbers as money and the need warranted. Already fifty suits are finished, and fifty more are in course of making. These are all for the War Victims' Committee and we take care that our tailors shall know that they are working for the poor French refugees made destitute by the war. At present we have about ten tailors employed, and as some money has been given for our own aliens it is to be used in the same way in making clothes for them. They, too, are destitute. There is no margin in their scanty weekly allowances for new clothes and we sometimes feel that their need is almost as great as the need in France.
" It is proving a most satisfactory method of giving help, and any increase in the means at our disposal would enable us to extend our work."
" Thus " says Malcolm Quin, " the German tailors were now employed by one of the enemies of Germany in rendering service to another enemy so that the singular and moving spectacle was afforded of three combatant countries which were at that moment carrying on awful enterprises of slaughter and destruction one against another, co-operating in a work of goodwill and succour. While throughout Europe, the statesman, the soldier, the religious minister and the journalist were for the most part either organising an orgy of hatred and devastation or giving it open sanction and applause, the spirit of Christ and humanity was quietly at work in the minds of a few men and women and bringing Englishman, German and Frenchman into an active concord of love and right reason."
The work which was begun in March continued and developed. Soon as many as seventeen tailors were employed, although almost all of them were eventually sent to the internment camps by the authorities. During the following April, May and June, three hundred and ten suits were made, and it was reported from France that the French boys and their mothers were eager to possess the garments that were thus sent to them. A certain number of women were also occupied in making the little smocks or overalls which are so commonly worn by French children.
From the beginning of the work, in March, 1915, to June, 1916, the following garments were sent to the Friends' Committee for the Relief of War Victims:
2647 pairs of trousers.
1034 boys' suits.
42 boys' overcoats.
17 pairs of boys' knickers.
5230 garments for women and children.
The making of these gave employment to about ninety women and helped to some extent to keep them above starvation level. In this connection it may be mentioned that in some of the detention camps men were employed in knitting stockings for the children. It is almost unnecessary to say that the continuance of these particular forms of remedial service demanded not only efficient organisation and a watchful attention, but large money contributions. These fortunately were always forthcoming. A substantial sum was sent by a French pacifist-pacifism being apparently the new name for the old love of peace, and this contribution was none the less welcome when it was found that the broad-minded donor had given a similar amount to the Berlin Committee for Foreigners in Germany. An even more acceptable donation came from a German highly placed in the business world of his own country, who sent with it a cordial letter of sympathy and appreciation. In that letter he said that he had paid a special visit to the Berlin Committee in order to consult about the best way of promoting both its own work and the similar work in England. He " prayed urgently " he wrote " that the spirit of Christianity shown by both organisations might lead to a better understanding between the fighting nations, and contribute to moderate the sufferings of the terrible war."
There is still one of our departments of which we must speak ; it was from some points of view one of the most important, and was for years under the care of a faithful and indefatigable English lady, whose long residence in Germany had given her a special power of sympathy with the unfortunate aliens. Our Fourth Report says:-" With regard to employment, owing to the fact that most of our petitioners do not ask for charity, but work, there is ample opportunity for our efforts. Some of the hardest and saddest cases are of German women who from long residence abroad have no friends in Germany, and no work in England. For those who have no home ties, and who can go into domestic service, places are easily found; but for those who have children and only want daily posts, places are not only harder to find, but harder to fill; the tired women having to provide for their little ones both before and after their day's work, as well as to arrange for their care during their own absence. A more difficult problem is to find employment for elderly men-piano repairers, cabinet makers, builders, waiters, and the like; and perhaps most difficult of all, for educated women, such as typists, clerks, and teachers of languages and music."
In spite of difficulties, our Employment Secretary did succeed in finding work for a good percentage of these various classes. Sometimes the jobs were only casual and temporary; often the workers failed from sickness or some other cause beyond their own control; but she still renewed her efforts with a cheerful courage which no disappointment could daunt, and even when unsuccessful, it was something for these hard-pressed men and women to feel that there was some one who was trying to help them.
With the release of the men from the internment camps, the question of finding work for those allowed to remain in this country at once became acute and, quite naturally, many turned to the Committee for help in this matter.
We accordingly expanded and re-formed our Employment Department for the purpose of registering the capabilities of these men and bringing them into touch with likely employers.
But the way was strewn with difficulties, and unreasoning prejudice barred our efforts and provoked ill will. Often an employer would be quite ready to take on a former worker, whom he had known and valued in the past, but felt obliged to refuse for fear of what the other employees might say or do.
However, we persevered steadily, and in the end work was found for almost all.
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