IN SEPTEMBER 1944, when the Unit's work in Italy was already established but the Balkans teams were standing by in the hot and sandy dreariness of Maadi, the first Unit civilian relief workers followed No. 12 Field Surgical Unit and S.I.84155 into North-West Europe. The negotiations in London and the dispatch of twenty-three members in two transport teams under the auspices of the British Red Cross have already been described. During the evening of 6th September the two teams were put ashore with their eight vehicles from a tank landing craft on the beach of Arromanches in Normandy.
On the face of it, the work for which they had been requested required ambulance drivers with a knowledge of French. But the teams had been selected not only for the immediate job in hand but with a view to enlarging the scope of the work and finding openings for many more sections. For the Unit had always acted in the belief that openings for new work were more quickly discerned by those already in the field than in committee rooms in London.
And for its entry into North-West Europe the Unit had waited and prepared for many months. The countries in which it was to operate, unlike most territories in the Mediterranean area and the Far East in which it worked, had under normal conditions little or nothing to learn from British social services or relief methods. But the dislocation and misery caused by the greatest invasion in history, added to the sufferings of six years of war, were likely to keep occupied for many months, even at the stage of improvised first-aid relief, as many members as the Unit could hope to muster.
Moreover, it was through this door that access would be gained to Germany. In that country many members saw for themselves as pacifists, though with great misgivings, a special challenge. There would be found the point of greatest tension, the scene of the greatest bitterness, the not unnatural severity of the conqueror and burning resentment of the conquered. The event showed how difficult, perhaps impossible, it was in the first flush of victory and in the humiliation of defeat to maintain a sense of balance and right thinking; it showed too that if some members did manage in certain situations to establish right relationships with individuals, they had no monopoly in this compared with many in the fighting services. But in prospect the challenge was there. Nor was it forgotten that the Unit, as the first bearer of the Quaker name to go in, would be the first to re-establish contact with German Friends after six years of silence which had rarely been penetrated.
That was all in the realm of hope and speculation. The work was to start in Normandy.
But in Normandy the immediate crisis was past. When the teams, attached to the Red Cross Civilian Relief Hospital, arrived at the Chateau Versainville near Falaise, they found that through the delays of negotiation in England they were two months late for what was to have been their first job. The Civilian Relief Hospital and its ambulance teams would have been invaluable while the battle was raging; but by the beginning of September the armies had left the Falaise battlefield far behind.
The aftermath, however, was serious enough. Communications had been shattered ; motor and rail transport was at a standstill. In Calvados 435 out of 715 villages were completely destroyed. Emergency hospitals, thoroughly unsuitable for the purpose, were over-filled with lightly wounded who no longer needed hospital treatment but who continued to overcrowd the more serious cases because they could not be conveyed away. Warehouses were filled with British and American relief supplies for which there was little or no means of distribution.
There was plenty to be done, but first of all it was of paramount importance to establish a working relationship with the Army's Civil Affairs Staff. The question had arisen in Italy and was to arise in the Balkans, for wherever a voluntary society served in Europe at the earliest stages of relief, its work was not and could not be an independent effort. In North-West Europe it was an instrument of the Civil Affairs Branch, which directed its operations and provided for it the means of existence and of work. For purposes of planning the Red Cross was an intermediary between the Unit and the Army, although sections in the field quickly established their own relationships. Once a voluntary society team had proved its reliability, and especially its willingness to work through proper Army channels, a Civil Affairs Detachment was only too glad to make use of it. Its members rapidly found themselves responsible for much of the executive work, leaving the Detachment free to attend to its own internal 'administration, liaison with higher Army formations, travelling to and from Corps H.Q., reconnoitring accommodation and contesting it with other units, accounting for relief stores, and all the other pursuits which occupied the four or five officers so fully that the actual operation of a refugee centre was largely in the hands of the Unit section, with local help from the "resistance".
The Unit's Section 2, led by Len Darling, was the first to be accepted in this position. In mid-September it was called forward from Falaise to Belgium, and attached to a Refugee Detachment in a camp at Bourg Leopold, just captured. Only a few hundred people used the camp whilst the section was there: mostly Russians who had been put to work by the Germans in the Belgian mines. But the section disposed itself throughout the camp in a way which became the pattern for future work.
"Under the Section Leader's general supervision from a central office, individual members controlled the reception point to which Army transport brought refugees, the registration room in which personal details were recorded, the disinfesting room in which anti-louse powder was sprayed up the sleeves, down the neck and the trouser-legs, the departure enclosure from which Army lorries took the refugees to camps farther away from the front, and, also the camp stores. At the section's next location, the catering and sleeping arrangements were added to its list. And the ambulances were manned whenever they were needed."
It was with refugees in transit that this Detachment was specifically concerned. With the least possible delay such refugees were taken from the transit camps to assembly centres established by Civil Affairs in more securely liberated territory. In these centres there were perhaps greater opportunities of more thorough welfare work ; but local workers were available there. Most of the Unit's time was spent in transit camps so long as hostilities lasted.
"Dealing with lorry-loads of frightened families, often in the middle of the night, and always under conditions of great haste, was an almost inhuman job. Few of the refugees stayed more than one or two nights, and apart from the occasional lone soul who was willing to remain as part of the temporary staff, it was impossible for members to get to know those for whom they were working. Speed was often so important that members found themselves dealing with families as if they were little more than awkward forms of merchandise---unloaded from lorries, dumped in a mass until the 'processing' could begin, then docketed, powdered, medically inspected fed, laid down for the night in close-packed rows, and then loaded again. Anxious pleas and questions especially from those who had been evacuated against their will, had often to go unregarded or half-answered. But sections were able to use their close teamwork as a means of steering the various camp departments mid-way between rigidity and chaos, and avoiding some of the bottle-necks and uncertainties which would have made the procedure doubly unpleasant."
Towards the end of September Section 2, moving through Holland just after the Arnhem landings, hastily set up various camps before eventually settling in a theological college just outside Nijmegen. After the fighting around Arnhem, the German Command was expected at any moment to flood the "island" formed by the rivers Waal and Lek. Civil Affairs therefore undertook its evacuation, using the theological college as the transit camp. During October some ten thousand refugees, with household goods and often with livestock, passed through the camp. Len Darling himself was in charge of all camp departments ; the section had the assistance of a Dutch team.
Meanwhile Section 1, under the leadership of Richard Wainwright, was left in Normandy. Normandy had already become a backwater, and depended on its own resources. The section was unlikely to remain more than a few weeks, and only through a new team being sent from England specifically for France could work be maintained there during the approaching winter. But some work could be started which would show the authorities, British and French, the value of volunteer transport teams. Contact was quickly made in Bayeux with the national welfare organization, Entr'aide Française; with the Bayeux emergency hospital administration ; and with an emergency committee for the distribution of chemists' supplies. Nothing seemed more important than to distribute the stocks of clothing, footwear and medicines to the devastated villages before winter set in, and also to clear the hospitals. With as many vehicles as possible transferred from the main Red Cross base at Falaise to the control of an F.A.U. office in Bayeux, the section set to work. For live weeks the small trucks and one ambulance plied throughout Calvados and into the Manche and Orne, moving patients and materials and linking one regional relief headquarters with another, in lieu of the precarious post and telegraph services. With so much French manpower still in German labour-camps and in the Maquis, British personnel were almost as essential as British vehicles.
In mid-October the move came. The section, ordered into Holland, was attached to the 12th Corps Refugee Detachment. In a sector from which few refugees were trekking, it was moved from one dreary location to another---furniture factory, nunnery, concentration camp---with nothing more than small and short-lived jobs of work. Enforced idleness was particularly wearing in a forward area where it was usually impracticable even to undertake the transport of relief supplies, which became the stock standby for sections stationed farther back.
But there was almost always a need for the ambulances. After moving into a new area, sections would inform the military and civilian authorities that they were available for the transport of civilian cases. Sometimes a small advance party would work with a Spearhead Detachment of Civil Affairs. When towns that lay in the path of an attack were evacuated, there would usually turn out to he several cases of diphtheria, and some of childbirth, which could not be moved in open trucks. Farmers who evaded the official evacuation in order to guard their property would sometimes be injured. There was usually something that required an ambulance.
And sometimes larger jobs of an unexpected kind would arise.
In the small Dutch town of Heusden some 200 citizens were told by the German forces to take shelter from British shells by crowding into the Town Hall. In the early hours of the morning the retreating Germans exploded a charge under the hall. Nearly all the shelterers were entombed, and the local people were only able to dig out about fifteen living people.
"The route to the town was impassable in darkness, but at first light an F.A.U. party, with ambulance-car, light truck, and motor cycle, set out for the scene. A brief investigation of the massive ruins (which blocked the centre of the town) showed that all the 150 entombed persons were certain to be dead ; the local architect explained that every room and corridor had caved in, leaving an almost solid pile of masonry and beams. The local people were still looking dazedly at the grotesque appearance of those corpses that were visible."
Civil Affairs cooking stoves were brought in, a temporary kitchen set up and hot soup prepared. The immediate task was to salvage the equipment of the central kitchen which had been feeding about 900 people during the bombardment. It was dragged out and reassembled ;
"by evening life was visibly returning to the town: virtually all the able-bodied had been kept busy at one task or another, and they felt that they had been helping themselves and each other . . . . A smaller party returned the next day: the town's arrangements for its own self-help were completed . . . . The appearance of a very slender amount of assistance from outside had helped to restore self-confidence."
Early in November the Civil Affairs Director, 21st Army Group, having received reports from his Corps H.Q.s on the work of the two sections in Holland, made a direct approach to Gerald Gardiner for five more sections, in order to provide each Army Corps in the Group with similar assistance. Gerald returned at once to England to supervise the assembly of these reinforcements.
Meanwhile the Unit had to think more closely about its administration in N.W.E. With only two sections in the field, the Unit had not needed any Headquarters of its own ; but with a group four times as large, a settled base would be needed. In December, therefore, the Unit's Overseas Relief Officer, Robin Whitworth, was sent out to Brussels. He arrived at a time when Civil Affairs, faced with responsibility for a large part of North and West Holland, and the approaching problem of Displaced Persons in Germany, had drawn up a programme of relief involving a request for about a thousand British voluntary society personnel. At his suggestion, based on his knowledge of Unit experience in the Middle East and the Balkans, an elaborate schedule of specialized relief units was converted into a request for general purpose teams, with the emphasis on versatility rather than professional qualifications.
On 31st December 1944, Gerald Gardiner returned to the Continent with fifty-five members---the largest single group which the Unit ever sent overseas. The front was on the whole quiet; armies were waiting for campaigning weather in order to start their thrusts into Germany. Meanwhile Antwerp, the Allies' main base port, had become a target for German rockets and flying-bombs. Richard Wainwright had moved there with a small party during the week before Christmas, and had arranged for three of the new sections to work as an ambulance service with the Antwerp Fire Force and A.R.P. Service. The other two new sections were allocated to Refugee Detachments.
For the work in Antwerp the three sections joined forces very happily with a small group of Belgian nurses who had escaped to England during the war. During January, though by no means overworked, they carried between them nearly five hundred casualties and other patients. Apart from the Unit's vehicles, Antwerp was virtually devoid of ambulances for Civil Defence purposes. During February the attacks became much less frequent, though one of the sections remained in the city until the end of March.
During this period of hard weather, when Allied forces were finally preparing for the assault on the Rhineland, several of the sections were busy with refugees and with ambulance work in the sector between Roermond and Maastricht. Whilst collecting a sick woman from a village near Echt, Islwyn Lake and a Dutch colleague were captured by German troops. They remained prisoners-of-war until they were able to escape on the eve of the German surrender. Other sections, not so far forward, were able to transport relief supplies on a considerable scale for the Netherlands Red Cross, and to collect nutritional statistics from Belgian schools, on behalf of an official British investigator.
Meanwhile in Brussels Gerald Gardiner, with Richard Wainwright brought in as his second-in-command, had set up Headquarters for the Unit in North-West Europe, under what was called the" umbrella" of the British Red Cross, which still remained the sole official authority in relation to Civil Affairs. But the senior F.A.U. officers and also the C.B.S.R.A. representative were recognized as Staff Officers to the Red Cross Deputy Commissioner who was in charge of the relief work. From this time onwards the collaboration of the Red Cross, the F.A.U., and the other voluntary organizations, under the Deputy Commissioner, Lt.-Col. K. M. Agnew, who arrived on the continent during January 1945, became increasingly happy and effective.
EARLY IN FEBRUARY final and massive preparations began for the assault on Germany. In the Nijmegen area, three Unit sections, two of them from Antwerp, found themselves caught up in an immense concentration of troops waiting for the attack upon the Reichswald Forest. As soon as ground had been gained and the town of Cleves captured, a section led by Graham Wood established itself in one of the few half-habitable houses and began to search for any injured or stranded civilians who might still be left amongst the ruins and the heavy floods. The following day a spacious colony at Bedburg for the care of about 4,000 lunatics and epileptics was captured, and on 15th February Len Darling's section moved in with its Detachment.
"The place was chaotic when we arrived; troops occupying buildings, in the cellars of which were sheltering some 3,000 refugees. German troops were 300 yards away and these civilians had planted themselves in the numerous cellars during the fighting overhead. Of the establishment itself there remained some 1,000 mental patients, 300 staff and 800 staff families.
"No light was functioning, and water for half an hour a day only; the refugees had been existing on whatever small stocks they had first taken to ground with them. Fighting going on overhead restricted their movement and when we came the situation was one glorious hotch-potch of disorder. To add to this, new refugees started coming in on our first day here, amongst whom were several hundreds of Displaced Persons. We could only start coping with the new arrivals, who, in the first three days, numbered some 3,000. The original 3,000 had fended for themselves somehow before we arrived, and so we left them to fend further and concentrated our efforts on the newcomers. . ."
The Bedburg Refugee Centre, extended by a large acreage of tents, eventually housed over 25,000 people; an F.A.U. section remained there (the only element of continuity) until virtually all the German civilians had been dispersed again at the end of April.
Farther south from Cleves the removal of civilians was not carried out so completely, but most of the essential services had broken down, and the problems which at Bedburg were concentrated within a few acres were, in the Kevelaer district, scattered widely over disrupted countryside. A series of sections stationed in Kevelaer took up this work.
"The first task of Graham Wood's section (to which two doctors were attached) was to re-establish hospital facilities for the sick and wounded amongst the civilian population of the district, which included a number of other small towns, and many isolated farms. The hospital in Kevelaer was already occupied by an R.A.M.C. unit; a German surgeon and thirty-six nuns, together with a handful of patients, were still taking refuge in its cellars. To them the F.A.U. explained that the section had come to help re-establish the hospital, and that everyone's help would be needed to restore, as quickly as possible, the essential services of the town. The surgeon recommended the use of a small hotel as an emergency hospital; the section took over this building and put up appropriate sign-boards. The Burgermeister was asked to provide local helpers for cleaning the building; and soon one room was available as a ward. F.A.U. transport brought in beds and bedding from abandoned premises, surgical equipment was transferred from a hopelessly damaged hospital in another town, and a chemist's stock was protected and partly transferred. Other members of the section arranged for Military Government passes to be issued to essential German medical personnel, so that they could circulate more freely; and living accommodation was found for them.
"In the course of a fortnight, further buildings were taken over, additional stores of drugs and equipment were located and transported, and regular deliveries of food ensured. After consultation with the Mother Superior, more members of her Order were brought into Kevelaer from the villages, until a staff of fifty-five had been assembled and a good number of patients could be accommodated in the various hospitals."
Three further F.A.U. sections in turn followed the original one into Kevelaer. On 23rd March British troops forced a crossing of the Rhine in this sector. Two days later Stanley Hancock's section moved across and helped to establish a Transit Centre for Displaced Persons in Bislich on the eastern bank of the river. Apart from Section 4, under George Greenwood, which was busy with refugees on the Dutch front during the final stages of Holland's liberation, all the Unit sections moved across the Rhine during the following three weeks. The D.P. work, which was to be the chief occupation of the next few months, began.
The care of all Displaced Persons in Germany was to be U.N.R.R.A.'s responsibility, but for a variety of reasons U.N.R.R.A. was not ready to take the field. And the job was urgent. Not only were transit camps necessary at every short stage of the advance, but it was also important to establish a complete barrier of camps along the Rhine and the Ijssel, so that every west-bound D.P. would have to pass through a system of medical and security examinations before being repatriated. The military framework of the plan was there. Transport, food stocks and anti-louse powder were all produced. But the U.NR.R.A. teams were not there, and the provision of staff for setting up and controlling camps was an acute problem. To supplement the few Refugee Detachments of Military Government (as Civil Affairs had become), small groups of Army officers were formed up as Displaced Persons Assembly Centre Staffs ; and the six F.A.U. sections, often split into smaller groups, were used to the full. Each, following its own Corps, helped to set up dozens of camps between the Rhine and the Baltic.
"Superficially, the task of registration, de-lousing, catering and camp management resembled the refugee work. But instead of the frightened and dispirited families which had filled the refugee centres, D.P. camps were thronged with newly liberated forced workers, mostly young, many of them heeding nobody in their determination to secure what spoils there were, and to avenge themselves on the German population. There was also a mixture of innumerable nationalities; and the work was complicated by the administrative necessity of segregating east-bound from west-bound people, and by the practical necessity of separating Poles from Russians, and Italians from both. Military Government usually did its best to suppress looting and vagabondage; but it was almost impossible to abolish the main excuse for lawlessness, which was the unattractiveness of the camps. Built by the Germans as prisoner-of-war compounds, concentration camps, or quarters for the forced workers themselves, most of them, when thoroughly overcrowded, offered only the bare essentials of life ; for instance, no matter how high the calorific value of the diet, the fact that almost everything had to be served as soup or stew, no other form of cooking being possible on the German camp stoves, gave constant ground for bitter complaint. And the D.P. resented having to live in the same sort of camp as he had been placed in by the Germans."
The only solution to the many problems was the quickest possible despatch to their own countries of all who were willing to go; and this transport was arranged by the Army with impressive speed. It was the Army that was directly responsible for the main repatriation of the millions of D.P.s whom the advance into Germany uncovered.
The grimmest job undertaken during this hectic period by the Unit was in the Concentration Camp at Sandbostel, north of the Bremen-Hamburg autobahn. Apart from the smaller numbers involved, this was a replica of Belsen. At the end of April, the Allied advance revealed a camp of fifteen thousand prisoners-of-war and eight thousand political prisoners of almost all nationalities, including German. The Unit's main job on its arrival was the rapid organization of a meal for the political prisoners, who were literally starving ; this developed into responsibility for their feeding over a period.
It was at this point, when the world was horrified by the disclosures of the Concentration Camps, that the Unit offered to Military Government the services of twenty hospital-trained members for typhus nursing or other work in such camps as Sandbostel, for a period of three months. They were to come out from England as quickly as possible, but even so they did not arrive in Germany before the end of May, and by that time the camps were said to be adequately staffed. The new party, which brought the Unit's strength in Germany to 109, was therefore split amongst some of the other sections. Early in June two more complete sections arrived, including, for the first time in North-West Europe, women members.
Up to June 1945 the Unit had provided all-male teams. The British Army, usually most reluctant to use women's services in forward areas, had found the Unit's seven all-male sections more widely available during the fighting period than the mixed teams of other organizations. By June, however, the war was over and the need for women workers became paramount when camp populations became more static and needed welfare work and occupational schemes. It was at this point that most of the other voluntary societies' teams which had been at work in Holland moved into Germany for D.P. work, and considerable reinforcements arrived from England, bringing the total numbers during the summer to around eight hundred. In June the British Red Cross Civilian Relief H.Q. followed the Unit H.Q. to Vlotho, a small town on the Weser in Westphalia, close to H.Q. British Army of the Rhine. The sections began to settle down. to a less nomadic life.
The period of rapid movement was over, and the change to more static conditions was reflected in the dissolution of the 2nd British Army. When this took place, the retiring senior Military Government Officer of 2nd Army issued a message in which he singled out the F.A.U. teams and added, "if we had to repeat the Normandy landing I would ask for more and land them earlier".
In this new stage, sections of the Unit, like teams of other voluntary societies, were allotted responsibility for groups of camps, or for towns where D.P.s were still living in lodgings, or for entire villages which had become temporary D.P. settlements. On the physical level the essentials of life were available---food in greater measure than for the German population, clothing often from levies on the Germans, fuel and medical supplies. But that did not mean that the lot of the D.P.s was an easy one. Life in large communities with inadequate occupation; uncertainty about the fate of parents or children, husbands or wives, in some distant part of Europe ; the sense of insecurity and bewilderment about their own future---these and other factors often brought out qualities in the D.P.s which were easy to criticize but less easy to understand and to handle with sympathy and patience.
Apart from day-to-day administration, the chief need in the camps was for communal activities---gardening, sewing, dramatics, schooling for the children, scouting, to mention only a few. Some members, especially the women, took them up with enthusiasm; but many found it difficult to adapt themselves to the change. The acute shortage of supplies and the frequent lack of interest and co-operation among those who most needed help made it particularly frustrating. Some members began to ask whether they were justified in staying on.
Repatriation of D.P.s by the Army was constantly taking place, and it was likely that numbers in the camps would soon be down to some half a million, mainly Poles, who would not or could not be repatriated before the winter months.
The situation was carefully considered at an N.W.E. Staff Meeting in July. It was then generally agreed that the Unit, having won its way into an enemy country so full of distress, should not begin to reduce its strength before exploring every possible opportunity of meeting other emergency needs (in the bombed towns, for example). It was also realized that, although Unit sections might very naturally feel themselves unqualified, there were few, if any, expert welfare workers available to replace them. U.N.R.R.A. teams in the British Zone numbered about a hundred at that stage, but most of them were as yet untried, and Military Government regarded the shortage of competent camp staffs as so grave that it continued to ignore a S.H.A.E.F. Directive which specifically designated U.N.R.R.A as the sole civilian agency empowered to deal with D.P.s in Germany. N.W.E. Staff Meeting eventually agreed on a policy of continuing D.P. work for the time being, whilst pressing for permission to undertake relief work amongst the German population.
Early in August Gerald Gardiner visited Berlin, a sector of which had just been occupied by British troops. The city was a natural collecting point for D.P.s in the Russian Zone who wanted to return to Western or Southern Europe, and although the British D.P. Transit Centre was already admirably organized, Military Government agreed that an F.A.U. or similar section would be useful. During the same month, two more Unit sections arrived from England, and one of these was posted to Berlin. Gerald Gardiner, in August, had been the first Englishman to renew contact with Berlin Friends: he covered two hundred miles in the city in two days in his attempt to trace them.
The Unit now had eleven sections in Germany, with close on 150 members; these were spread out widely over the British zone of occupation. Sections were at work in Berlin ; Hamburg; Oldenburg; Celle; Lüneburg; Husum, near the Danish border; Hesslingen, the town of the People's Car Factory near the Anglo-Russian boundary, which had one of the last remaining Transit Camps---for D.P.s moving over the Anglo-Russian zonal boundary; Dünsen, near Harpstedt; Wentorf, near Hamburg; Einbeck; and at the Hermann Goering works near Watenstedt, from which hospitals and medical supplies were controlled throughout an area which housed about twenty-five thousand D.P.s. At Vlotho, sharing the mess of the British Red Cross Civilian Relief Commission, was a Headquarters' staff of seven, at the head of which, in the autumn, Gerald Gardiner was succeeded by Michael Rowntree.
As the work in the camps settled down, sections were able to go farther afield. Already the Unit had been called upon by the British Red Cross to send an expedition from Germany into France for a fortnight's hurried investigation into the condition of British subjects throughout that country. Guided by the information collected, the Red Cross established, with its own personnel, a comprehensive service for the regular delivery of food parcels to those in need. The section at Husum was able to enter Denmark and meet Danish Friends; George Thorne and others from Flesslingen accompanied Swiss D.P.s to Switzerland for short visits. Early in October, Section 6, with Basil Smith in charge, was transferred into the Russian Zone to assist in the repatriation of Polish D.P.s from the west. "Operation Eagle" as it was called, provided for British trucks to carry Poles from Lüneberg in the British Zone, at the rate of about three thousand each day, to Stettin, where Polish authorities took charge. There was one strictly prescribed route through the Russian Zone, with a half-way point in the small village of Dessow, near Wusterhausen. There, in the out-buildings of a large brewery, the section helped to organize a transit camp in which each convoy spent one night; it also undertook the transport to Stettin of any who were unlikely to be able to stand the rest of the journey by ordinary truck. After the first week's work a routine was established and the system was largely operated by a Polish staff. Nevertheless the Army wished the section to remain, and they lived for several months in Dessow, camp-bound by a rigid Russian cordon, and much depressed by the triangle of hatred between Germans, Russians and Poles.
By the late summer, numbers were dwindling in the D.P. camps; other workers, including U.N.R.R.A. personnel, were becoming more numerous, and consequently many Unit members, and especially those newly installed in Berlin, were able to investigate the condition of the German population itself. Sections were, for the most part, no longer living with military units; they had their own quarters and were, in practice, free to make what contacts they wished and glean what they could. Two main features dominated their reports. First were the immediate threats to conditions of life in Western Germany, the most dangerous of which seemed to be the mass expulsion of Germans from territory ceded to Poland east of the Oder and the Neisse. Second was the urgency and difficulty of rehabilitating socially conscious individuals and the voluntary welfare organizations, both severely repressed since 1933. In the first matter the only part the Unit could play was to elicit the facts from the best possible sources and let them speak for themselves in the right quarters.
By means of reports which tried to confine themselves to the immediate facts observed at first hand (one such report from the Berlin section was quoted in a debate in the House of Commons) the Unit in London supported the protests which were made in the autumn of 1945 and which the British Government also endorsed. A few weeks afterwards, the influx into Berlin dwindled and throughout the winter the major threat was postponed. How far British protests contributed to the alleviation can only be conjectured.
The rehabilitation of German voluntary organizations, and of those who had suffered oppression, offered the Unit more direct scope. On the level of principle, Military Government agreed at an early stage that valuable independent elements which had been discouraged by the Nazis should be reinstated. But on the practical level the obstacles were serious. In the case of an organization like the Workers' Welfare, which had been deliberately suppressed, the old structure had largely disappeared. Nor was a new start easy, for most of the younger generation had not been brought up to take an active interest in such activities. Military Government was preoccupied with the re-building of the official services, and it was clear that without specific assistance from outside most of the voluntary bodies would make little recovery at the very time when they were needed most. It was along such lines that the Red Cross Commission and the interested societies explored the chances of being able to undertake German relief.
Negotiations lasted three months. Meanwhile the sections came to know a considerable number of German religious leaders, social service workers and educationists, and also nearly all the members of the Germany Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, in the British Zone and in Berlin. Almost every Sunday members of the Unit from H.Q. were able to worship at Bad Pyrmont with German Friends. Vlotho was also within easy reach of Petzen, the parish of Pastor Wilhelm Mensching. One of the leading German pacifists, Wilhelm Mensching was Secretary of the German branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which had to suspend all formal activity during the war. Members of the Unit brought him news from the International F.o.R. and helped him to begin to re-establish the Fellowship again in Germany.
It was a great relief when the non-fraternization order was largely rescinded. The Unit had tried to refrain from any action which would embarrass the authorities. But members were not willing to allow the order to prevent their meeting German people, many of whom had suffered more at the hands of the Nazis than the majority of English people. Any claim for official exemption from the order would have been fruitless; but the Unit made its attitude quite clear to the Red Cross and to those Army officers under whose general auspices the work was being done. The matter was treated by them on a practical rather than a legalistic basis, and consequently no serious difficulty arose.
Towards the end of October the question whether the Unit should be transferred from D.P. camps to German work had become an issue between the Public Health and German Welfare Officers of the Control Commission on the one side and those responsible for D.P. camps on the other. The Public Health Branch, being responsible for a vital part of what came to be called the "Battle of the Winter ", had begun to press for F.A.U. and other sections to work in the ruined towns; and it had been supposed that U.N.R.R.A. teams would be able to replace them in the D.P. camps. Only in two places, however, did this method of replacement prove feasible. Fortunately some of the other British voluntary societies had sections available for D.P. work, and with their help most of the F.A.U. sections were released, from mid-November onwards. By January 1946 the disposition of the Unit had been greatly changed. Only two sections (at the Hesslingen Transit Camp and the Hermann Goering works) remained on D.P. work. The others, in Berlin, Hanover, Aachen, Oberhausen, Essen, Duisburg, Dortmund, Bochum and Gelsenkirchen were all under the auspices of the Public Health and German Welfare Branch, the last six being closely grouped together in the devastated Ruhr.
Usually guided at first by a Liaison Officer in the Province (Graham Wood had been appointed to this work in North Rhine Province and Donald Ratcliffe was later installed in Hanover), each section made a survey of the voluntary and municipal welfare organizations, and of the state of medical services, youth movements, refugee traffic, communal feeding, and other aspects of the town's social services. Information was obtained from official departments, from independent authorities and, where possible, from the "man in the street". Most members had acquired a fair German vocabulary by this time, and several in each section were fluent. It was not difficulties of language so much as the prevalent disorganization, hysteria and breakdown of communications which hampered the surveys.
After a fortnight or three weeks a section usually gained a rough picture of the state of things. Occasionally Military Government officers asked for some specific problem to be tackled; the history and home background of typhoid cases to be traced in order to try to find the source of an outbreak; or the actual dimensions of the refugee population at the main railway stations and the possibilities of improving its condition. More often the sections made their own plans, keeping Military Government posted with reports, and calling in official help when needed. So the work developed largely into personal liaison between British Military Government and the German social welfare organizations
If the Workers' Welfare, the Caritas Verband or the Innere Mission showed real enthusiasm for some particular scheme. converting a large Bunker into a Youth Club, organizing a de-lousing team for refugee shelters, aiding those who had survived the Concentration Camps---the section would help to win the support of Military Government, and also provide transport and other equipment in order to give some impetus, without establishing a relation of dependency. A far-reaching scheme of supplementary feeding for schoolchildren, which arose from the suggestion of a specialist sent out by the C.B.S.R.A., was supervised by the sections, whose assurances that the feeding was being properly done supplied Military Government with the guarantees they needed. As British civilians, members of the Unit were continually in demand for work which could only be expedited by British sponsorship, but which, on the other hand, could more suitably be done by a civilian than by an Army officer.
Early in 1946 Swiss and Swedish relief organizations began to send substantial help for German children. British Red Cross Civilian Relief was asked to assume general responsibility for the work of the Swiss and Swedish teams. These worked in the same areas as the Unit, which made many of the preliminary arrangements for their infant-feeding and other projects.
Thus in the winter and spring of 1945-46 the Unit had become concerned with work among the German population, mainly in the shattered cities of the Ruhr. As the winter wore on, the food situation became increasingly critical, and most of the work was affected by it. Not that any voluntary society could from its own resources do anything effective in combating starvation when the problem was one for international action in ensuring a fair allocation of the world's supplies. But at this time the Unit's Relief Fund, hitherto a small affair for the purchase of isolated items of equipment, was swollen by the transfer of thousands of pounds to be spent on special food made available for export to Germany by the Ministry of Food. The food was used by the sections to supplement the child feeding schemes which they were encouraging.
The end of the war and the decision to bring the Unit's wartime work to an end in June 1946 meant that in Germany, as elsewhere, arrangements had to be made in the spring of that year for handing over.
The Unit's most distinctive contribution in Germany had been made in the hectic days in the spring and early summer of 1945, when rapidity of movement and a flexible organization were of vital importance in the first stages of relief. As the war came to an end, other societies joined them on D.P. work under the Red Cross "umbrella ". One of these was Friends Relief Service, the official relief committee of the Society of Friends. By the end of February 1946 F.R.S. had four complete sections in Germany, and one special transport section made up of F.R.S. and F.A.U. personnel. Apart from their Quaker grey battledress, and a much higher proportion of women members, the F.R.S. sections were similar to those of the Unit, and their work was indistinguishable.
The work of F.A.U. and F.R.S. had converged in Germany as that of F.A.U. and F.W.V.R.C. had converged in Britain in 1941-42. The Unit was coming to an end, and in any case there seemed no longer to be good reason for having in Germany two British societies bearing the name of Friends. As the result of discussions in London and of a conference called by F.R.S. at Bad Pyrmont in mid-February, it was agreed that those members of the F.A.U. who wished to carry on in Germany should be taken over by F.R.S., which would in future sponsor such of the Unit's projects, as well as its own, as merited continuation or development. The transference of work and personnel continued through the spring and was completed in the summer, when the Unit ceased to have administrative control of any work in Germany.
The Unit's purpose in Germany had been three-fold: to devote all its available resources and experience to the urgent task of emergency relief; to demonstrate to the authorities, many of whom were at first sceptical, the value of voluntary effort in filling obvious gaps in official plans ; and to pave the way for the later activities of the Society of Friends. In the three directions it had achieved some measure of success.
IN SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 1944 one of the two original N.W.E. sections had spent some weeks on transport and distribution work in the department of Calvados in Normandy. In mid-October they were moved into Holland. The needs of Germany were more spectacular, but there was some danger, particularly for pacifists concerned with reconciliation, in concentrating on Germany to the neglect of the other countries of Europe which had been victims not only of the actual devastation of war but of the German occupation. When the team moved forward from Normandy it felt that it was leaving its work unfinished.
When Robin Whitworth, as the Unit's Overseas Relief Officer, visited Brussels in the winter of 1944, he returned home through Paris, where he continued negotiations previously initiated in London with officers of Entr'Aide Française, the co-ordinating body for French relief, for further Unit members to undertake transport work in France. For transport was in France, as in the rest of Europe, the urgent need. These discussions were in the best traditions of the Entente Cordiale, but the French are not the best at converting enthusiastic compliments into action. And entry into France through the barricades of visas and special permits needed in those days was not easy.
The immediate occasion for a move came in January 1945. Six four-ton kitchen vehicles for emergency feeding had been presented earlier in the war by the Canadian Red Cross to the Fire Service in London. In London the need was over and they were to be transferred to Entr'Aide Française. Drivers were needed to deliver these and three other vehicles in Paris, and possibly to operate them after arrival. The Unit was asked to provide the men, and in mid-January a section of ten, with Michael Cadbury in charge, crossed the channel. Through frost and snow the vehicles, with their loads of relief supplies, were duly delivered.
The section's commission had been simply the transport of the vehicles. But the Unit regarded it as a way of getting a body of men into France, and they had been instructed to look around and make their own job where they found the greatest need. The hope was that they would find it possible to return to Normandy.
Entr'Aide Française, which in Paris consisted of a central office co-ordinating the efforts of local committees throughout the country, continued to be cordial but vague. And in any case for most of the country the day of kitchen cars was over; their value lay in providing simple emergency meals when all normal facilities were dislocated by air-raids or the passage of war. As soon as the first emergency was over static feeding centres were more to the point.
There followed for the section some unsatisfactory days and weeks. Indecision about the work, difficulties over rations and accommodation brought violent reaction from the first flush of enthusiasm. For the section was no one's responsibility; it had nothing to do with S.H.A.E.F. or the British Army on which the other sections in N.W.E. depended. But in practice considerable assistance was obtained through British Army channels after innumerable interviews had been held in Paris with everyone whose interest in the section could be enlisted.
At last two of the kitchen cars left for Mulhouse with three members in charge. There they were needed; six or seven hundred meals a day were provided for the population returning to the villages destroyed by the retreating Germans. The local Entr'Aide Committee was enthusiastic and asked for more vehicles urgently; but the Paris Headquarters of the organization still delayed.
Meanwhile the rest of the section had been filling in time with Secours Quaker, the relief committee of France Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Secours Quaker had been at work in France throughout the occupation, mainly among political prisoners. Members of S.I.84155 when they entered Paris on the day of its capture had made contact with its leaders, and now it was developing a programme of relief through delegations in various parts of France, with the help of British and American Friends. For the few weeks during which help was given to Secours Quaker five members worked in the office on transport administration or in the garage as drivers and mechanics. But there was still no work that would occupy the section as a whole.
And then American Relief for France came along. A.R.F. had been organized in the United States by friends of France to provide on a large scale supplies of food and clothing and transport; under the National War Fund it became the officially recognized channel for all American voluntary aid to France. Its supplies were already beginning to pile up at the French ports, but no American personnel had arrived to handle the distribution. Paul Anderson, who had come over for a short period from the States to get the work under way, readily agreed to accept the Unit's offer of help, and thus began the Unit's main job in France.
Michael Cadbury became Technical Director of A.R.F. to help build up its work; the Unit was to provide the field workers. The section had already found a satisfactory home for itself in the Rue de la Pompe, with an office provided by the International Y.M.C.A. It later began to organize its work from the palatial European offices of the Rockefeller Foundation in the Rue de la Baume. When George W. Bakeman arrived to take over the Directorship in May 1945, his anxiety to continue the work as an Anglo-American project, with America providing the supplies and Britain the personnel, was such that when reinforcements were needed they were drawn, apart from four American specialists and French officer workers, exclusively from the Unit in England. Gradually numbers grew to over thirty. Such was the co-operation shown by the Director and all the Americans with whom the section came into contact that, in addition to what benefits accrued to the needy and distressed in France, the work developed into a highly successful and congenial Anglo-American enterprise.
The first A.R.F. team of four left Paris for work in St. Dié and Gerardmer in the Vosges in mid-April. The hill towns and villages of the Vosges had been the scene of bitter fighting and gratuitous destruction by the retreating Germans, and had been chosen as the first centre for the distribution of forty-five tons of clothes and shoes to the sinistrés (bombed out, destitute) of the region. A fortnight later a second team of four went west to the Manche.
The aim of each team was to make itself as useful as possible with its transport in the life of the community, and, sometimes with the help of a local committee, to supervise the fair distribution of A.R.F. supplies to those who were in greatest need. Both at the centre in Paris and in the provinces close collaboration with Entr'Aide was essential.
This is how one member describes St. Die:
"St. Dié at the beginning of November 1944 was getting restless. The inhabitants, as well as the Germans, knew that the American forces were only a few miles over on the other side of the valley.
"On the morning of the 9th the thirteen thousand inhabitants on the right bank of the river were ordered to leave their homes at 7 a.m. and remain on the other side. At 9 a.m. the homes of thirteen thousand, three-quarters of the town, were empty---only German soldiers patrolling the empty streets, while lorries pulled up at the houses to load their loot of furniture, bedding, clothes, utensils, and make off for Germany.
"On the evening of the 13th, the overcrowded population on the left bank of the river saw smoke and then flame rising from house after house---St. Dié was being put on fire. All through that night, all through the next, three days and nights, the town blazed as house after house was systematically razed by groups of soldiers moving through the rooms with a petrol-spraying igniter.
"On the 18th of November the last German troops pulled out of what remained of the town, blew the bridges behind them and left three-quarters of the town, including its cathedral, its museum, its hospital and seven schools devastated by fire. Over ten thousand people were without a home, without spare clothing, without a hospital. Over ten thousand people at the beginning of winter had to crowd in somehow to the homes of those living in the remaining quarter of the town on the other side of the river.
"But, in mid-spring 1945, railway wagons loaded with A.R.F. clothing pulled into St. Die along the newly-repaired rail tracks. That clothing now is sorted, docketed, and arranged in an empty warehouse. The local Sinistrés Committee have the figures of all the distressed families, and personal distribution has begun."
Some months later another member wrote of the Manche:
"Before the war the Manche, roughly eighty-five miles long and twenty-eight miles wide, included a population of 438,000. Of these nearly 200,000 have suffered through bombardment, fire and pillage---losing houses, clothes, furniture, linen, household utensils, agricultural implements, etc. Thirty thousand houses have been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable..
"During the last twelve months a fair amount has been done to ameliorate the situation. The American Red Cross, the Entr'Aide Française, American Relief for France and other bodies have effected distributions of not inconsiderable importance. This work, however, has done little more than touch the fringe, and the return of some eighteen thousand prisoners and refugees has rendered the position once again extremely critical.
"Let us consider one of a number of villages where an A.R.F. distribution is taking place. The village was the scene of bitter hand-to-hand fighting, in addition to a preliminary 'softening-up' by our own artillery . . . . As we approach a building in the corner of the square, we see a little knot of people. They look at us a little curiously, but on the whole their faces wear that passive, blank look of those who have had to undergo prolonged privation and suffering.
"As we mount the steps the mayor comes out to meet us. We shake hands and enter, to be introduced to the various village worthies who helped in arranging the distribution . . . . All, including the mayor, a leader in the resistance movement, are people who have suffered themselves.
"Introductions having been effected, the mayor makes his little speech. To us, Anglo-Saxons, it seems a little too eloquent and flowery, and we feel embarrassed. But it is sincere and there are tears in his eyes as he speaks. He tells us of the sufferings of the people, of their gratitude for their liberation, of the severe shortage of clothing, and of the appropriateness of the gifts.
"We try to find a suitable reply. We have already remarked the efficient way the little piles have been laid round the room against the wall and numbered. One of us has glanced at the card-index whereby each person has the gift filled in against his name, so that at a later distribution, duplication will be avoided. We thank him for his part in the organization and for the efficiency with which he has carried it out. We assure him that we had hoped for supplies on a far greater scale but the exigencies of war had very much hindered our getting the stuff over here. . ."
The work in the Manche was based on Coutances ; there, after a period of work for the Ministère des Prisonniers de Guerre, Déportés et Réfugiés in the re-establishment of prisoners and refugees, more general use was found for the transport in moving household goods and families into their reconditioned houses or wooden hutments that were being erected as temporary homes, or in collecting food and wood.
In one devastated town the Unit had a sentimental interest. That was Dunkirk, for in the sheds on the quay at Dunkirk the F.A.U. had started its work among wounded French soldiers in 1914, and at the adjoining town of Malo les Bains had its headquarters. There were still some in the town who remembered it when the Unit returned thirty-one years later.
"Baraques are going up, to last probably ten years; we inhabit one ourselves. It is heartening, when we have been able to provide transport for déménagements, to see how happy the Dunkerquois are to get back home again, after sometimes five years away, even though 'home' be one of these huts. There is hardly a family that cannot claim to have been more or less sinistré and every other man seems to have been at least three years a prisoner of war."
Work consisted of the distribution of furniture and clothes; transport of vegetables from a considerable distance, as the land around Dunkirk was flooded in 1944; and among many other activities the haulage of milk in Calais.
"Calais has for the second time had the loan of one of our trucks and drivers ; there appeared a tribute in the Calais local paper to the bonne grace remarquable with which le service bien connu des Quakers stationnés à Dunkerque came to the rescue of the municipality. The first time, before our driver and truck arrived, there was a desperate situation in which the town's only ambulance was used for the milk collection and distribution, during which time an acute appendicitis had to be rushed to the hospital in a wheel-chair."
From St. Die a new centre was opened at La Bresse, and late in 1945 a section began work at Bitsch, in the Moselle Department. In Paris itself there were men always on call for special transport jobs for Entr'Aide Française, Secours Quaker and other relief organizations. And so the work continued well into 1946.
"Most people in the Unit at home think of French relief as a back number; the French can help themselves now, and if they can't it's time they could. There are several things to say about this line of thought. First, if the French authorities fail in some particular sphere to do their own relief work, whether through bad organization, dishonesty, or---much more often---sheer lack of matériel, it is not the relief authorities so much as the ordinary people who suffer. Secondly, though France has suffered physically less than most European countries, it is well known that the psychological damage has been very great, and any sign of help being given to France by England or America, without a cash return being expected, is a tiny drop in the bucket of goodwill that could restore French morale to normal. Thirdly, on a more practical level, one great advantage of F.A.U. transport work on behalf of American Relief for France is that, not being attached to any particular French relief organization, we can help out any one of them that is in need."
Such was the work with A.R.F. Meanwhile another small section under different auspices had also been at work in France. The support given by Friends Relief Service to Secours Quaker has already been mentioned; such support was given in personnel and material. To make up the quota of drivers and mechanics required, a section of Unit men was early in 1945 seconded to F.R.S. for work with Secours Quaker. They were attached to the delegation at Caen, where they served for a year until a few of them were moved to do similar transport work in Germany. In the south, Ted Randall who had been attached to the American Friends Service Committee in Algiers, was transferred to Marseilles; he too worked with a Secours Quaker delegation.
To complete the picture of North-West Europe, there was the "Ferry Service" undertaken primarily for Entr'Aide Française; vehicles bought in England by Entr'Aide needed drivers to deliver them in Paris, as had been the case with the original kitchen cars. These drivers the Unit produced, and for most of 1945 and well into 1946 a regular service was organized between London and Paris for the purpose. Six more drivers were sent out towards the end of 1945 for the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees ---two each for the British, American and French Zones of Germany---to provide transport for the Committee's representatives.
AUSTRIA WAS THE LAST country entered by the Unit for relief work; in some ways it formed a bridge between the two main theatres of work---the Mediterranean and North-West Europe. The work showed obvious kinship with that in Germany, and contacts with the sections in Germany were soon established; but the first workers had followed the armies north from Italy, and almost to the end the Austria section was administered through the Rome office. The British Zone of Austria came within the purview of the Central Mediterranean Force, so that all communications led south; contact between Austria and Germany was difficult and infrequent.
The British Eighth Army moved into the province of Kärnten (Carinthia) to a peaceful occupation in the middle of May 1945. Kärnten lies in Southern Austria, east of the Tyrol. Its capital is Klagenfurt, and next in importance is the town of Villach, situated at the junction of the roads into Italy and Jugoslavia. The British zone of occupation comprised at first Kärnten and a strip of Steiermark (Styria) to the east ; later the whole of Steiermark was taken over.
Close on the heels of the occupying forces a joint team of British Red Cross and F.A.U. members, under the direction of B.R.C. Civilian Relief, Austria, entered the country from Italy; they were at work in the territory some days before Military Government. The Unit's share in the team was roughly half---twenty-four men, drawn from the pool of workers in Italy which had been enlarged by the recent release of men from the 93rd General Hospital and from the surplus teams intended for Jugoslavia. David Pearson, leader of the F.A.U. party, acted as one of three Staff Officers under Mr. Selby-Bigge, the B.R.C. Assistant Commissioner who was in charge of the whole group.
The immediate problem in Austria as in Germany was that of the Displaced Persons. And there was the same jumble of nationalities---Russians (Red and White), Poles, Hungarians, Jugoslavs (Partisan and Chetnik), Italians, Greeks, Czechs, Letts, and others---either struggling back towards their homes or living in constant terror of being forcibly sent home to a country in which they did not know what fate might await them.
"The Unit discovered many camps housing Displaced Persons, Todt workers, ex-internees, ex-P.o.W.s, etc., who lived in conditions which varied considerably and in some cases were quite appalling.
"Last and worst of these camps was the so-called Reichsbahn Lager in Villach containing about five hundred foreign workers who had been employed on the railway. This was the foulest place I've ever seen. The wooden huts were rotten and leaking everywhere, and the squalor inside was unspeakable. A huge trench latrine a few yards from the huts was filled up until it was above the ground level and the ground was a marsh of sewage. Next to it was a great concrete pit filled with refuse of every kind, and black with flies. Old bones had been spread on the roof of a coal-shed next to the kitchen. People were sleeping in holes and corners like animals and the barracks were alive with bugs. These people had lived there with little or no supervision for two years.
"The situation was not made easier by the presence of the Jugoslav Army of National Liberation who at that time were claiming Kàrnten, and, as was to be expected, a good deal of confusion reigned. Nor was the confusion helped by the presence of a Cossack Army which had been fighting for the Germans, and a horse-drawn Hungarian Army of some fifty thousand carrying with it wives and children, manservants and maidservants, asses and oxen and a thoroughly Biblical paraphernalia."
Based on Klagenfurt and Villach, the joint team set to work. A system of control camps was established by the army, with a number of sub-camps grouped round each. Members of the Unit were deployed, some to take charge of sub-camps, some to help staff a large camp at Spittal; one was attached to the D.P. Medical officer for the Villach area to help with medical inspections, another was given charge of the Displaced Persons Record Bureau in Klagenfurt. And then there was work on Red Cross stores---which consisted largely of recaptured Red Cross parcels and dumps of German supplies allocated to the Red Cross---and on Information and Registration. An unexpected job arose from the discovery in the mountain village of Silberegg of a vast underground store of confiscated Jewish property; it seemed to contain the entire household belongings of several hundred Jewish families, who could never be traced. The store was handed over to the B.R.C.S. for use among the D.P.s.
from schoolboys and schoolgirls everywhere else"
After the first feverish assessment of the problem and sorting of the population in the camps, it soon became obvious that the numbers of Displaced Persons involved did not bear comparison with those in the British Zone in Germany. Very soon large scale repatriations by the Army brought the number down from about 120,000 to 20,000, mainly Poles and Jugoslavs and Hungarians concerning whose repatriation the usual political difficulties arose. In the early days of confusion the Red Cross and the Unit had been able to supply evidence which resulted in prompt and effective action in preventing forcible repatriation and the transfer of sick persons who were not fit to travel.
In Austria, unlike Germany, there was from the start no ban on welfare work for the native Austrians, although the classification of Austria at the Yalta Conference as an "enemy" rather than a "liberated" nation meant that no Allied supplies could be provided for them. But from the start work was done in assessing the local needs of hospitals, the necessity for feeding schemes for mothers and young children, and other welfare activities. Later some members were able to assist in a nutrition survey carried out by the Nutrition Expert for the Allied Control Commission.
Soon the Displaced Persons work settled down to a limited programme. Teams were not required as in Germany; many of the camps, particularly the Polish ones, became almost completely self-sufficient in their administration. The need was for welfare workers, individuals or small groups whose function was to stimulate occupations and to show considerable initiative and even cunning in collecting material from official and unofficial sources.
"Our experience in the Middle East and in Italy has repeated itself, in that some of the older members of the section find the work the most satisfying they have ever done, while others tend to feel out of their depth and are anxious to resume a more normal Unit job where their responsibilities can be shared."
A disposition list of August 1945 showed thirteen members working in ten camps, of which the largest were at Lienz and Spittal. From Lienz came the report:
"Perhaps the school is the most remarkable activity in the camp for which the F.A.U. is responsible; there is compulsory education from 4 to 14, and 120 children attend the kindergarten and 350 the elementary school---Slovene, Serb and Croat. The secondary school is to date the only one for any nationality operating in Carinthia, and it caters for the children from all the camps in which there are Slovenes (five in all) as well as for children from some families not living in camps. Over 200 children attend, and a comprehensive curriculum is taught, including Latin, Greek, German, Italian and music. The former headmaster of the senior secondary school in Lubljana is director and he has a fully qualified team of teachers. In addition, a domestic science school is attended by 130 girls, and an agricultural school by 40 boys. The main difficulty is, of course, text-books, but the F.A.U. has managed to help in finding some, and the rest have had to be covered by duplicating texts. Some books have been smuggled out of Jugoslavia via Italy by men carrying them in rucksacks on foot over the mountains. In the school there is also a clinic, staffed by a doctor and nurses, which undertakes regular examinations of the children."
Another achievement in the educational field was the conclusion of arrangements for D.P. students to start or continue their education at Graz University.
In the autumn there were two further developments; U.N.R.R.A. came in and gradually took over almost all the Allied D.P. camps, and entry into Vienna became possible, a sector of the city, as in Berlin, passing under British administration. So in the D.P. camps the Unit found itself working among ex-enemy D.P.s, who constituted a serious relief problem and even came to outnumber the Allied D.P.s. They were largely people who had been expelled from their homes in Berlin, the Sudetenland and Silesia. In February 1946 there were still seven members working amongst D.P.s;
"the work was reminiscent of pioneering days, particularly that in the vast new camps at Kellerberg, and in the wilds of Eisenerz where the camps opened up from scratch at a late stage in the winter ".
Not only were the D.P.s in need of help; the need was growing among the native Austrian population, and from the beginning, as already stated, the Unit had been able to engage in "Bezirk" Welfare. During the autumn of 1945 and the winter this work was developed; it came to occupy a third of the section of nearly forty men, and afforded endless opportunities for valuable relief in the midst of growing distress. Members were spread out over the whole of the British Zone.
A scheme of supplementary food distribution was devised for certain categories of the population---children under fourteen, pregnant and nursing mothers and the aged and infirm---the food being derived from bulk stores of prisoner-of-war parcels made available by the British Red Cross for distribution in Austria. In practice fair distribution was far from easy ; indeed, the necessity to prevent corruption and to avoid interference from political parties made it an extremely complex scheme to administer.
As always in such conditions, there was a considerable amount of individual case-work to be done. Not only food, but clothing and footwear were in extremely short supply, and personal investigation of need was essential. One member reported the discovery of a family of eight in which six children had been in bed for six weeks because they had no shoes, and the excessive cold had made it impossible for them to walk around in their unheated home. And there were other pieces of work. For instance, in the devastated Hartberg area of North-East Steiermark Harold Wright had to cope with a typhoid epidemic which reached considerable proportions. Much needed supplies were rushed into the area from B.R.C./F.A.U. sources in the early stages and the situation was brought under control. Norman Barns reported on conditions in Wolfsberg Internment Camp and representations were made to the appropriate authorities requesting an amelioration of the "Concentration Camp" conditions. Ted Bryant was the prime mover in efforts to release a credit of ten million lire placed in Italy by the German Government for the purchase of wine supplies for Kärnten. It involved a visit to Northern Italy to investigate the possibilities of buying useful supplies.
General relief involved, as it always involves, an endless variety of duties.
In Vienna John Whiteman represented the Unit and became responsible for General Welfare in the British Zone in co-operation with the Public Health authorities, Through its relief work and the establishment of a Quaker Centre the Society of Friends had built up a strong tradition in Vienna, and when John entered the city news of his first contacts with Viennese Friends was eagerly awaited. Their Centre in the Singerstrasse had been closed by the Gestapo in 1942, but occasional news of individuals had continued to come through. Now the Unit was able to co-operate closely with them, to carry on case-work, help with nutritional surveys, and through its small and unofficial "Searcher Service", as in Germany and elsewhere, to secure news of individuals for the benefit of their friends in England who might not have heard from them for many years. It was clear to the Unit that the Society of Friends in England should send out official representatives as soon as possible, and in due course this was done. And when in the summer of 1946 the F.A.U. withdrew from Austria, Friends Relief Service sponsored some of the members who remained.
On the Hungarian border the Unit became associated with a scheme for running transit camps for horse-drawn convoys of Hungarians who were on their way back to their homes. Dyfnallt Morgan established excellent relations with the Russians on the frontier and he was present each morning to ease the passage of the convoys.
"The long convoys of covered wagons wending their way along snow-carpeted roads are a dramatic scene, reminding one of the great treks in warmer climes. About 150 people, 50 wagons and 100 horses have been passing over daily into the Great Unknown. A suitable present to the Russians at Christmastime was well received and the Russians reciprocated with some schnapps and a bowl of cooked meat in gravy which Dyfnallt was forced to consume with apparent relish shortly after his English-style breakfast."
B.R.C. stores work occupied three F.A.U. members who experienced a period of considerable stress in handling the large supplies of B.R.C. parcels and clothing which arrived just in time for the real winter. Small quantities of valuable supplies were also received from International Red Cross and F.A.U. sources.
The main body of members in Austria was thus engaged upon playing its part in alleviating the distress of the civilian population and of ex-enemy Displaced Persons still confined to camps; in addition there was the special problem of D.P.s outside the camps, of whom there were during the winter over 100,000 in the British Zone alone. Not the least effective part of the work---because in the long run it touched the lives of far more people than could be reached by direct relief---was the production of reports an suggestions to the Control Commission to bring about general improvements.
The lot of the relief worker in Europe in the winter of 1945-46 became an increasingly unhappy and depressing one if his main concern was the alleviation of physical distress; he could do so little to meet so vast a need. And beyond the material problem lay the urgent necessity to build up anew the moral life of Europe, to restore to a demoralized continent a sense of values and a faith. This was infinitely the greater task.
So there can be no more fitting close to the story of the F.A.U., not only in Austria, but in Europe, than an account of the K.L.V.---the Kinderlandverschickung, or Children's Evacuation Camps. Work in the camps involved not only the palliation of physical conditions, but an attempt to re-educate minds that had been perverted and warped by Nazi doctrines.
In Germany, as in England, there existed during the war a scheme of planned evacuation for schoolchildren. It was on a voluntary basis and designed originally as an evacuation of school classes with teachers for a six months' period. The prolonged bombing of German cities resulted in the original voluntary scheme being compulsorily extended to the end of the war. The German scheme, unlike the British, made little provision for private billeting; instead, the children were accommodated in small camps or hotels in some of the most beautiful parts of Austria.
"In this province of Kärnten there are forty-four camps, tucked away in the most inaccessible and beautiful of the Tyrolean valleys; a single circuit of them involves a journey of almost five hundred miles. There are large camps of three hundred, complete with staff of teachers, cooks and helpers; and small ones of twenty or so living in the village Gasthaus with the headmaster and his wife. In all there are 2,010 children, boys and girls mostly between the ages of 11 and 14, looked after by a staff of 270 teachers and helpers.
"I wondered what sort of reception the Engländer would be given. The first camp was not encouraging. They were having lunch; when I appeared they stood up as if on parade; replies to my ' 'Morgen' and 'Wiedersehen' were staccato and strictly together; in their bedrooms the mugs were dressed by the right, and the toothbrushes lay across the top perfectly parallel.
"But happily this one proved an exception; the attitude of the children varies enormously with the political sympathies of their leader. These camps are ordinary middle and high schools evacuated from Vienna, Berlin and the Ruhr when the bombing started; and when they moved out into the country, the central organization of the Hitler Jugend in Berlin attached to each a young man or woman, in their late 'teens or early twenties, to be responsible for the specifically Nazi part of their education-military history, field days, and such like. Where the headmaster was of Nazi leanings he worked together with this individual, but more frequently there was a continual tension between the two. One teacher yesterday described the various ruses by which he forced successive Lagermannschaftsführer to return to H.Q. in Berlin almost as soon as they had been "issued".
"Except where politically undesirable, the original teachers have been left with the children: Germans in charge of the Germans, and Austrians looking after the Vienna schools.
"It will be some months before they will be able to return to their parents . . . . But there is a lot we can do in the meantime. Most of this month (July) has been spent in trying to guarantee adequate rations, and ensuring that camps are not turned out of their buildings by the occupying authorities. It is an uphill task; the British Army is settling in for the winter, and there is a severe shortage of billets---but worse still, there has been grave underfeeding in several instances. There is very little food in the country, and the ration scale for Austrian and German civilians is set at a bare minimum, children not excepted. The difficulties of obtaining supplies for a large German children's camp, stranded at the back of beyond without transport, and furthermore procuring them from Austrian sources when the Austrians themselves are very short, can be well imagined.
"On the education side I am responsible to the Director of Education, who himself has not the time or the staff to supervise these schools in addition to his other work. At first sight, education might seem easily disposed of, as official policy forbids all formal instruction. Until the teachers have been properly sorted out, it is thought preferable that nothing be taught, rather than that they continue to be taught by the wrong people. Even English, French and arithmetic can be presented in a Nazi way.
"So alternative occupations have to be found; handicrafts (but there is no equipment, tools or supplies); helping the farmers with the harvest (but they come home hungry, and there is not enough food, and dirty, and they have had no soap for three months) ; knitting for the girls (but there was no wool until we got some released on condition that they knitted baby-clothes for the refugees).
"In nearly every case the children are quite indistinguishable from schoolboys and schoolgirls everywhere else . . . . In some instances there are superficial differences, such as those deadly toothmugs, but I am convinced that a year or so's sensible education is all that is required. They are too young to have had their minds really tainted; and as the strict Nazi regimen is slackened, there is already evidence of healthy reaction from this unnatural discipline. It is the Lagermannschaftsführer and other such ardent Nazis in their later 'teens that present the real educational problem."
That was the first account of the camps by Ian Robinson, who soon after the Unit had entered Austria was given responsibility for them.
It was uphill work. Unsuitable accommodation, shortage of food and equipment, added to the fact that in the chaotic weeks after the downfall of Germany the children had run wild, aggravated the difficulties. Nor was it easy to discover what official policy concerning the children was to be, nor whose responsibility they were.
But gradually the Unit established itself among them. One of the first tasks was the return to their families of as many as possible, attractive though the prospect might be of two thousand children assembled in Austrian valleys ripe for re-education. After protracted negotiations, complicated by the zonal system of occupation, some thirteen hundred children were over the next few months returned to their homes in Gelsenkirchen, Essen and Vienna. The despatch of the Gelsenkirchen children in two coaches, which were tacked on to the end of an American train, was precipitated by the arrival in Austria of a number of hysterical parents who had travelled hundreds of miles in search of them and had been imprisoned on the Austrian border by the Americans on a charge of vagrancy. The party for Essen was received by the F.A.U. section which had recently moved into that town.
Seven hundred children were eventually left whose parents could not be traced or who for one reason or another could not return before the winter. Meanwhile constant pressure on the authorities had its effect ; early in October it was decided that the Public Health and Welfare Branch of the Allied Commission should take official responsibility for the physical maintenance of the camps. They had been concentrated into larger units to facilitate adequate supervision and grouped around five centres up the valleys between Villach and Lienz, and for each centre a supervisor from the F.A.U. was appointed, specially selected for previous teaching experience and fluent German.
The ultimate aim of the supervisors was educational, but the immediate pre-occupation was still with food and shoes and accommodation and fuel before the winter snows arrived. In November Ian Robinson, now stationed at Headquarters to supervise the camps, was able to report
"Supply problems resolve themselves into petty scroungings. The main essentials have been met; bedding and clothing, if and when we have the transport for re-distribution, should be adequate; the meagre soap ration has been augmented; school stationery has been acquired by local scrounging; a liberal allocation of P.o.W. parcels should allow a permanent increase in food value to the tune of 200 calories a day all round. A windfall of twenty-five tons of coke, worth its weight in gold, has made a real difference to our fuel position . . . and girls and boys from the camps have worked wonders in laying up wood supplies."
Gradually an educational programme was evolved ; a satisfactory curriculum was not easy in view of the limited stock of textbooks. Mathematics, English, German grammar, nature study, drawing and music were taught; history gave an opportunity to introduce the children to the traditions of Western democracy and the responsibility of the individual not only for his own conduct but for that of the community. With the help of Lutheran pastors religious instruction was given for the first time for many years.
Democracy was not simply taught in the classroom ; it was practised in the camps. And it was necessary.
"The boys I have encountered . . . seem to me to need special attention, because their former world has vanished so completely that now they cannot even kick a football unless one goes to great lengths to arrange it."
The cult of the führer principle, of accepting without question and without discussion all instructions, died hard.
There were frequent disappointments, with children and staff alike. Often when things seemed to be going well there would be a major set-back, a sudden revelation of how far they still had to travel before the taint of Nazism was removed. And the staff were often as difficult as the children.
"There is a growing feeling among F.A.U. camp supervisors that we can ill afford to concentrate on the children to the neglect of the. teachers. Their lack of unity, often amounting to open feuds in front of the children, has focused our attention on this problem of personal relationships. Politics tend to exaggerate what would normally be attributed to differences of temperament. They too are having to face a complete re-orientation of ideas and values . . . ."
The work went on throughout the winter. In the spring of 1946 further arrangements were made for the return of children to their homes. In February Ian Robinson and Colin Prior visited Berlin, where a Unit section was still at work, to trace as many parents as possible; they addressed a meeting of parents and gave them first-hand news of their children. The visit paved the way for the return of the children in the summer; they reached their homes in Berlin on 30th June, the day on which the F.A.U. came to an end. Meanwhile work in the camps continued. There was no facile and spectacular success, nor could it be expected. But it was work that was intensely worthwhile, because if Europe were to produce a saner and more peaceful generation, re-education was the only way. .
In all the camps Christmas 1945 was a season of celebration. And symbolic of all the hopes that men of good-will had for the future of Europe and the world was the Nativity play at the camp of Mittewald. The story is told by Jack Eglon.
"We sent out invitation programmes in German and English, and about 250 people came---about thirty children from Rubland and Obermillstatt, many people from the neighbouring farms, a group of about a hundred German soldiers and officers from a camp some miles distant, various Austrian officials, B.R.C.S. and F.A.U.
"All these came through the main entrance where we had hung a large star made by some German soldiers, with figures painted by myself and cut out by the children. In the great hall we had built a stage with a white proscenium and scarlet curtains, with a great Christmas tree on each side.
"After some music, the speech chorus prologue began in complete darkness. In German, a single voice called through the darkness: 'Thus saith the Lord,' and the chorus of about fifty voices came in, 'The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; where is the house that ye build unto me, and where is the place of my rest?' From this a theme was developed in words taken from Isaiah, Revelation and the Psalms, to convey the idea of light breaking in on darkness. Sometimes single voices answered each other, sometimes the whole chorus; chiefly in German but with occasional verses in English. Towards the end a small white star lit up in the top of the proscenium with great effect in the large dark hail, and the prologue came to an end with 'And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.'
"The stage lighting behind the scarlet curtains came on, the curtains rose, and while one of the senior girls---out of sight---began reading in German the narrative from Luke, the Annunciation scene was played.
"At the end of the first scene, Gabriel, a fair-haired German boy in white with a blue cloak, came down the wide central aisle to the back of the hall. Then Mary, in German plaits, and white and darker blue and orange kerchief, also came, as another voice began reciting the Magnificat.
"For the stable scene, Mary . . . sat beside a rough wooden manger which the Austrian soldiers had made, in which lay a baby-like doll on the straw. Joseph, with the Syrian Arab headdress, a dark red cloak over his striped robe, and a staff, stood beside her. When the shepherds came-nine boys and girls---they played on recorders as they knelt at the crib.
"Lastly, the story changed to Matthew's account of the visit of the Wise Men . . . . During rehearsals, I had talked to the children about the symbolism of the story and how, to stress this, we were following the old legends in our festival and making the Wise Men three kings---white, brown and black. I had brought the richest clothes I could find for the costumes, and had had incense brought from Rome, and had borrowed a censer from the priest farther up the mountain. So, attended by servants with lighted candles, and trainbearers, the three tall kings came up through the hail to leave their gifts at the crib. As I watched the return procession marking the satisfactory conclusion of this attempt to present the Christmas story in a memorable fashion, I got a good deal of pleasure from listing in my mind some of the assorted details of the situation. The talents of these German children, their striking speech chorus which I had used, the costumes from curtains which they did not know were former Jewish property looted by the Nazis, their surprising singing of carols which had always helped to make Christmas in England, the seats so readily loaned me by British troops, and, occupying so many of them, the tough Nazi soldiers I never expected to entertain by the hundred at a Nativity play---all these made an extraordinary impression.
"In carefully prepared German I closed the first part of the programme by saying that we had tried to tell the story of the first Christmas, and because it was a beautiful story we had dressed it in bright colours and added our music. But all that we had tried to show had a deep significance, as much for our world as for the world of Caesar Augustus. I said I was glad that after the long bitter years of war this Christmas had brought Germans, Austrians and British together at the crib, and wished that the light of Bethlehem might lead us all through the darkness of our times."
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