[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
THE provincial cases amounted in all to several thousands (you will notice that one of the Camp cases quoted is numbered 7926) and they contributed largely to swell the constant stream of " Travellers " who all through the war were claiming the sympathy and help of the London Office, and we have given some account in Chapter III. of our work in this direction.
This stream of travellers included invalided prisoners of war who were exchanged or else sent to Holland under a mutual agreement which was entered into about the third year of the war. Our responsibilities in regard to these were confined to an arrangement which we made for providing substantial sandwiches for them at Tilbury, as otherwise they would have had to pass eighteen or twenty hours without food.
But the travellers with whom we were most concerned were the wives and children who, as soon as their husbands and fathers had gone, were generally anxious to join them. For one thing, their Government allowances had stopped and they were more destitute than ever. Besides, most of the women were so loyal to their German husbands that they were ready to brave the unknown perils of an enemy country in war time for the sake of being with them once more. Their difficulties, of course, included far more than the ordinary difficulties involved in the removal of a little family from one country to another in time of peace. For our aliens (amongst others) there were the wartime difficulties of transport-seas dark with the hidden dangers of lurking submarines and deadly mines-only one line of travel available and on that line one steamer perhaps in a fortnight, and that steamer only carrying fifty passengers; hence long delays and endless problems; one of these was the problem of housing the alien family which, after closing up its home in some distant provincial town, Glasgow, perhaps, or Newcastle, arrived in London in touching ignorance of the difficulties ahead.
Where could they go ? Three, four, sometimes six or seven young children and with such terribly foreign names ! And so little money! And no steamer for a week ! And that one full already ! What was the perplexed secretary of our travelling department to do ? There they sat-babies and ex-babies and worried mothers, all trustfully looking to her for help and guidance. " My husband wrote to me to be sure to come here and you would tell me what to do." " Yes, my good woman, but you ought to have written to me before you came-what can I do with you now? And all these children! And all our lodgings full! And the boat _full, and no other for a fortnight ! " Such problems as these taxed our resources to the utmost. And Mrs. Bridgwater put on her sternest face and gave the alien mother a good rating which did not always, I fear, produce the wished for result ; it was too much like locking the stable door after the horse had been stolen. But Mrs. Bridgwater's heart was soft towards the children ; she could not bear to see them suffer, so she always managed somehow,-none but herself and Mr. Bridgwater know at what outlay of personal effortto find a way out of these difficulties.
One thing that we were faced with as a positive necessity was the provision of a place to house these temporary invaders. Under the most favourable circumstances, i.e., when the case had been under the care of a local committee and in close correspondence with the London Office from the outset-even then one or two nights' lodging must be found whilst permits were obtained and passports viséd.
There was one of our London cases who had kept a boarding house in happier days and for a year or more her home became a place of refuge. When that failed, the Committee established a hostel in two large adjoining houses in the Camden Road. They had been the homes of two well-known Friends' families, but now Rachel B. Braithwaite and Catherine L. Braithwaite alone remained there. They, happily, had been from the first interested heart and soul in the work and were willing to rent both houses to the Committee, only reserving a few rooms for their family use.
Mrs. H., the " case " aforesaid, moved her furniture into the empty house and undertook the duties of cook and purchaser of stores for the large and ever varying family. We always had a " Friend " giving voluntary help, acting as matron and general housekeeper whilst R. B. and C. L. Braithwaite themselves were ready when called upon to give advice and sympathy.
Under such care the atmosphere was much more that of a loving Christian Home than of a Hostel, the daily morning Bible readings with the whole family being specially prized.
The travellers arrived at all hours of the day and night, especially the night ; and it was wonderful to see how not merely an open door but a real welcome always awaited them. It was an immense boon to many an anxious mother to be able to spend her last days in England amongst sympathetic people who did their best to help her through all the puzzling details that must be attended to before she could actually start. She had to go first to the police station to register her arrival-that was half a mile off in one direction, then to Chancery Lane to Mrs. Bridgwater, then to the Permit office in Whitehall. Generally she was a stranger in London, unused to its bustling ways. Nearly always she had from one to seven young children to cumber her goings, but at the hostel there was always a guide to show her the way and someone to look after the children whilst she attended to the necessary business.
It was no uncommon thing to have twenty or thirty children at one time in the two houses, with-say-five or six mothers between them, and when the parties were setting out there was need for much active help in packing their varied belongings and convoying all in safety to the terminus.
The hostel is now closed, in fact the houses themselves have been sold, and there is no one any more to give the helping hand to the puzzled alien mother.
There was clothing, too, to be supplied, for we made it a rule to see that children and mothers were properly fitted out for the journey. In later days we knew well how difficult the problem of clothing was becoming in Germany and Austria, and how necessary it was that the families should be properly provided at the outset. During 1918 for instance, the Committee spent more than £2,000 on boots, whilst £2,400 was spent during the same period in clothing materials and from twenty-six to thirty-six women were constantly employed in making up garments. So the clothing rooms were still kept busy and even now when more than a year has passed since the signing of peace, they have scarcely wound up their beneficent activities.
When the war ended the work of the Emergency Committee was by no means finished. Something has been already said as to the heart-breaking delays that occurred in the release of the prisoners and closing up of the internment camps. This of course, re-acted on the wives and children. Many a poor soul already exhausted by her long struggle against misfortune, lost hope altogether when she found that the wished for peace had brought no release from misery ! She was no longer " an alien enemy " certainly, yet she was still under police restrictions and she still found her German or Austrian name an obstacle in obtaining work.
So the Office was kept very busy as the following from our Seventh and last Report, printed October, 1919, will show:" The three Case Committees have continued to sit through this, the fifth year of their labours. The total number of families that are being helped has diminished, as wives and children follow the repatriated men to the countries of Central Europe. The number of families that have gone from the London area alone is 1,134. The new London cases dealt with this year are 257 against 331 in 1917-18 ; this brings the total number of Metropolitan cases on our Card Index (reckoned from the beginning) to 6,800. As time has gone on, children have in many instances become old enough to earn, or the mother, being more free, has been able to find work; families have thus become self-supporting, or independent except for the Government grant, so that the number of cases with which we are still in touch is actually not more than about 2,000. Of these, loo are receiving grants of food or clothing, or such relief as spectacles, sets of teeth or medical appliances, convalescence, etc. We have noticed of late that the same cases come up in Committee again and again, try as we will to set them on their feet ; for the fact is that whole families have their health undermined as a consequence of underfeeding or from the effects of the general strain which these women and children, too often treated as pariahs by hostile neighbours, have undergone during the past years. Hence, although we are helping fewer people, our work does not seem materially to diminish. Last autumn, attention was drawn to the fact that a considerable number of our families were unable to obtain sufficient nourishment to keep them in bare health. It was, therefore, decided to find out the amount of family incomes exactly; and where the rest of the incomings after the rent and 1s. 6d. for fuel had been deducted, did not reach to 6s. a head per week for food, light, soap, etc., to make up the balance to that standard by means of milk and grocery grants. This has accordingly been done, and the assistance has proved of the greatest help to families which, with the present high prices, are even then not far from the brink of real want. One of our helpers, whose business it is to deal with Boards of Guardians, has, by means of wise representations, induced them in many instances to raise the grant, as allowed by the Local Government Board Order of 5th July, 1918, in cases where, owing to illness or special circumstances, the need is really pressing. The average increase of grant amounts to 4s. a week for each family for whom it has been obtained. Our co-operation with Guardians in the work of their alien departments has been well received, and, as a rule, there has been willingness to meet our suggestions whenever the facts furnished by us gave convincing proof of real want.
The uncertainties of the last months have specially tried both our women and the friends who have their welfare much at heart. Oh ! what a flood of joyful letters came to hand when the Armistice was signed ! Peace had come at least, their husbands would be set free then and there and they would see the end of all their anxieties and trials ! But husbands were not released as they expected, and suspense weighed down the women more than all that they had endured in the past had done. Later, as the repatriation of interned men was accelerated, many more of our acquaintances had to face a dreadful dilemma-should they join their husbands in lands where food was terribly scarce, where, even if the man had work and was earning well, household effects were unobtainable, or only to be bought at prohibitive cost ? Or, if they delayed the family re-union and remained in Britain, what would they live on when the special grants ceased ? Must they become paupers ? Would delay possibly lead to permanent separation ? It speaks volumes for the courage and devotion of these women that numbers of them never hesitated, but were only too anxious to start off at once for a strange country so that they might be with their husbands at the earliest moment possible. Those who find it most difficult to come to a decision are English-born wives with older children settled in employment here, or with sons serving in the British Army. They have to face the fact that, if they join their husbands abroad, these children are left behind them; so, naturally, they are strongly drawn both ways at once. Such terrible problems as these are often put before the visitors who have become very valued friends to many desolate women. Indeed our visitors form a most important personal link between committees and their cases in all manner of vicissitudes, and a wonderful work has been done by them in ministering to moral and spiritual needs, in addition to physical wants. When, in consequence of talks with some of the mothers who were going to rejoin their husbands, it was realised how greatly they dreaded the plunge into the unknown which they were yet determined to make, a series of teas, with talks from helpers who knew Germany were arranged in the office. At these, Mrs. Schmidt, shall we say, a native of East London, gleaned some details of such mythical places as Hanover or Berlin, and of everyday life there. Classes for simple conversational German were also arranged, so that the women should be able, on arrival in their new homes, at least to ask for the necessaries of life. Expressions of gratitude from the women we have helped grow more frequent, as they realise what benefits they receive from "St. Stephen's " friends. Words like the following appear constantly in their letters: " I can never thank the Committee enough for all they have done for me, all I can say is, I shall never forget what kind friends they have been to me and my children during these terrible years. Sometimes the struggle has seemed impossible and I am sure, without your kind help, I should never have got through."
The Report concludes:
"We have felt great consolation all through these terrible years in performing the tasks committed to us and we rejoice that fresh opportunities for service still open out before us. We are deeply thankful-and, in saying this, we associate ourselves with all our numerous helpers, past and present, with all our kind-hearted supporters, far and near, thankful that, we have been deemed worthy to attempt what is surely a work of reconciliation, thankful that we have all along worked together with the Committee in Berlin in demonstrating our common belief in the close ties which unite humanity-thankful that whilst despair and hatred were so loudly proclaimed, we yet might sound forth through deeds of kindness tidings of hope and of love."
In regard to the work in England which is now concluded, but one other notable incident remains to be chronicled. This was the party held at Westminster Meeting House in December, 1919, to which a large number of the newly released prisoners of war were invited with their wives. They were a fine group of men. And how proud and happy the wives were as they introduced their husbands! And how they all enjoyed the substantial sit-down tea in the school room, and the social time afterwards in the outer hall, and then the meeting when various members of the Emergency Committee addressed them, speaking in sympathetic, homely fashion of the various difficulties which we foresaw they had to face in their newly found freedom. The only regret we heard expressed afterwards was that the men were given no chance to speak. " They were just bursting," one of the wives said. It was inevitable, for we could not have the time taken up with votes of thanks which no doubt it was in their hearts to give. We had had an abundant reward already but more was to follow later for it shortly became apparent that the effect of the work in Germany had been far more marked than we supposed.
Already in the early months of rgig, another field of work was opening before us and in the same Seventh Report its beginnings are thus described:
" And now we come to the fresh department of our work, the great venture on which the Committee has been privileged to embark. From last autumn onwards, many of our number felt very keenly anxious to do something to relieve the terrible want so prevalent in the German and Austrian dominions. It was only natural that great difficulties should lie in the way of sending food and clothing out there. Then again, the need so far surpassed any help which the Committee were at all likely to be able to provide that the temptation was present to leave the work of relief to other and more powerful organisations. We are thankful that in the end we were allowed to undertake this work, the need for which had loomed so large before us and pressed so heavily on our consciences. The first appeal on behalf of the above fund was sent out in January. The Woman's International League had obtained permission to send india-rubber teats for babies' bottles, and we were allowed to supplement their efforts. At the end of that month the Supreme Economic Council of Supply and Relief in Paris granted us permission to send food, clothing and medicaments to Germany for infants and nursing mothers. Many obstacles were encountered, but by the end of March they were all overcome, and on April 13th, the head of the British Red Cross in Berlin (to whom the goods were consigned) wrote acknowledging the receipt of the first bales. By the kind arrangement of this officer, all our goods are handed over to Dr. Rotten and her helpers for distribution. They most willingly undertook this additional task, which indeed has been a source of great delight to them; and in the same loving spirit of service in which they formerly ministered to those who were foreigners, prisoners, and aliens in Germany, they now distribute the gifts sent as tokens of sympathy and of fellow-feeling from men and women of good will in England. They forward them to Lying-in Hospitals, Children's Clinics, and to other similar institutions, apportioning them to different places according to well thought-out plans.
Some portion of the things are handed on from schools and institutions to mothers and children individually. The following, taken from a letter of thanks written by a young teacher, shows the effects these gifts produce. After describing the children's joy at the unaccustomed good smell and taste of cocoa, made and given them at the Kindergarten School, she says that both mothers and children are very grateful for the food. She continues :
" Many mothers who got things to take home had tears in their eyes. ! heard other mothers saying: `Then there are good people there too ! ' "
Further, she says, of a mother with a two-days-old baby:" Suddenly baby clothes were brought to her. You can imagine her joy! "
The homely touch of the young teacher may be balanced by quoting this dignified message sent by the Professor at the head of a large Women's Clinic in Berlin :
" In the name of the German mothers and babies to whom the gifts were distributed and for whom they were used, I wish to express my heartiest thanks at once."
" Before the end of June, 1919, the following consignments had been dispatched and received. Eleven railway waggons (each holding ten tons) of goods for Berlin, four waggons for Vienna, and £5,000 worth of goods for Cologne. At that time three other shipments were also on the way."
In the month of May, 1919, some five months after the signing of the Armistice, we were beginning to feel that the time was drawing nigh when we might rightly bring our labours in England to a close, when a wonderful thing happened.
As the war cloud which had obscured the true state of things in the countries of Central Europe began to lift and reveal the horrible lack of food and necessaries existing there, many persons in this country, who had relatives and friends in Germany or Austria were eager to obtain permission from the Government personally to send over food and other things and they pressed for facilities to do so.
This pressure grew in strength and the authorities realised that something must be done, but felt control and regulation to be necessary in the unsettled condition of (transport and kindred arrangements. And so it came to pass that the Board of Trade (War Trade Department) approached us and asked that we should undertake the task of issuing vouchers for parcels of specified foods and other things to be sent over in accordance with rules and regulations laid down by the Board, as well as to arrange shipping and transport on the same lines as with the consignments we were already sending.
The joy and thankfulness that this recognition of usefulness should come to our Committee cannot be described in words, and in humility and gladness our faithful workers prepared to shoulder this new burden. And burden indeed it was, for hardly had the announcement been made in official quarters than crowds of applicants for vouchers began to find their way to our offices on the top floor at 27, Chancery Lane.
Though the judgment of our weary lift boy when at the end of a busy day with applicants he laconically remarked that " he'd taken up millions of 'em " cannot be regarded as arithmetically accurate, yet the work involved the immediate creation of a new department of some twenty or thirty workers.
Delay and disappointment were however inevitable, and owing to difficulties of transport, and difficulties of warehousing, customs, and distribution in Germany, it was months before many of the parcels were received. Only those who have some knowledge of the meaning of a hunger blockade can have any idea of the weary waiting for the hoped-for parcel and the intense joy of opening it. Considering the emergency character of the work and the enormous difficulties, we were thankful that only a small percentage of the parcels ultimately failed to arrive.
It was in connection with the difficulties that were occurring in Germany with the transport and distribution of the parcels that permission was, at our special request, granted for us to send over representatives to investigate the state of affairs and smooth matters out.
And thus it was that immediately upon the signing of the Peace Treaty, four English Friends, two of them members of our Committee, obtained permits to visit Germany, and left London on July 3rd, igig. Their visit was a time of wonderful joy and fellowship when we were almost overwhelmed by the discovery of how much the work at St. Stephen's House had done to open the door for further work.
" In view," says our Report, " of the many links subsisting between this Committee and the Berlin Committee during the last years, and the amount of mutual help the one has rendered the other in the care of all the unfortunate people stranded as prisoners or aliens on this side or on that, we feel it to be a splendid thing that our envoys should be among the first to come in personal touch with the groups of people in Germany who have all along preserved a consciousness of human fellowship and acted in a spirit of love and helpfulness, in spite of the powerful separating influences which war necessarily brings in its train."
Other members of the Committee and persons in sympathy with them followed in the footsteps of these first envoys and the work of relief through the distribution of " Liebesgaben " was actively pushed both in Germany and Austria in close co-operation with the local relief agencies ; and in the Spring of 1920, our Industrial Adviser at Knockaloe, made a four months' visit to Germany in company with another member of the Emergency Committee. Everywhere they were received with an eager welcome. Old Knockaloe friends met them on every hand and countless were the opportunities of giving the message of goodwill.
A few extracts from their letters home may be of interest. These extracts rather than others have been chosen because they bring out the present difficulties of the " Refugees," as those who have recently returned from England are called in Germany, or because they illustrate the effect of the work during the war in preparing the way for what we trust may prove the still more fruitful service of the future.
. . . Before leaving for Crefeld, I was glad to meet an old Knockaloe ex-Prisoner of War, who was in the special Compound there, and was an attender at our Adult School. He is a j ockey and a trainer of race horses, and had to rush to see me without staying to get his lunch; he desires to be kept in touch with Friends' literature and he told me how at a recent meeting of some society to which he belongs, when several speakers had talked rather bitterly of their treatment in England and elsewhere, he felt he had to get up and tell what Quakers had done for them in their internment. He said he was thinking a good deal about what we used to say in our Adult School meetings, of service, not dominance, of love and not bitterness, and felt how futile was the present resort to violence.
" So the seed is sown in faith, and who knoweth what the harvest may be when the Spirit of God moves with vivifying power ? " Barmen and Elberfeld, April 29th, 3oth, ig2o.
" Warm greetings awaited my arrival at Barmen where the President of the Bund der Ausland Deutschen, Herr N., and Herr J. W., both refugees from London, gave us a welcome and made all necessary arrangements.
" We visited Herr N.'s little factory which has been closed since January last, through shortage of raw materials. He insisted on our having a cup of tea at his home situated in a small flat. Here I witnessed a sad scene of grief on the part of the wife at the idea of their household furniture, etc., being sold by the
Public Trustee (in England) ; one realised how after years of home-making, the things of the home mean almost everything to the housewife. Sentiment makes up a great part of the good side of our lives.
" I know of another woman and her daughter here who received unexpectedly, (through the F.E.C.) a box of a few odds and ends from their household goods-they were of little monetary value, -aprons, brushes, table cover, and even a duster, but mother and daughter were discovered in tears over the open boat, so overjoyed at possessing again articles associated with happier days.
" I feel strongly we should do whatever we can to secure these peoples' personal belongings against the possibility of being sold by the Public Trustee ; surely satisfaction can be taken from the German Government in other ways not so nearly touching personal feelings, particularly those of people who have suffered as badly as most during the war.
"The man interned and repatriated; business or occupation lost ; savings confiscated, separated from family four or five years; family forced to leave England and home, to come to a strange place ; surely they have been innocent victims of the ruck of war without England taking their personal belongings. It is little use talking to them about getting compensation for this from the German Government, first, no compensation can adequately represent the value to these people of their treasures, and second, they have little faith in getting such compensation, and if at all, only after a very long time and possibly only part value."
From another old Camp Visitor, now in Austria:
"Vienna, June 4th, rg2o. You will be pleased to know that a number of old camp cases have called here to see me and recall with grateful hearts our Emergency Committee work at St. Stephen's House. One of our workers went to see Mrs. B., in Linz (she used to live in Baylam Street, Camden Town), at my request and found her and her children in a very bad way and from my private fund help was given. The children now have all tubercular tendencies and long to return to England. They are living in wretched rooms and most unsuitable but the husband's money is so bad. I have asked our representative to keep in touch with the family, so feel I am not leaving them friendless. It is just splendid to see the results of our work at St. Stephen's House and Chancery Lane, and what it meant in those days and still means in memory to these families."
The old Emergency Committee of St. Stephen's House will soon be no more, but its " Foreign Fund," now amalgamated with the " Friends' War Victims' Relief Committee," still carries on its ministry of love. Centres have already been established in Berlin and Frankfurt, in Vienna and Linz and Buda-Pesth. Already hundreds of war-weary hearts are responding to the message, and
THE END IS NOT YET.
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