Scenes from my life
As told to
HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
I want to thank Paul Marsden for all his kindness and encouragement, his work and his suggestions, his time and his patience. Thanks are also due to Malcolm Thomas of Quaker Library, Friends House, London for his research.
The story is for Daisy Swanton, who checked more dates in her mother's diary, and Elsa Peile, in grateful memory of their mother, Lucy 0. Kingston, in appreciation of all their help.
© 1999 Annelies Becker
Chapter One - Beginnings
During the First World War, a young woman had a baby in a hospital in Bonn. She was delighted when it was a little girl and she immediately wanted to send a telegram to her husband who was in the war to inform him of the safe arrival. However, it was not permitted to send telegrams to fathers of girls only to fathers of boys. When she wanted to have the baby registered, the official told her the name she had chosen did not exist and she couldn't call it that so he gave the baby a name. She was very disappointed and annoyed and had to leave Bonn and go back to Siegburg, the town from which she had come. She lived in a double house consisting of consulting rooms for her husband - the doctor, a shop, and two dwelling houses all built in one building. The building gave on one side to the Market place and on the other to a small sub-section of gardens belonging to the Market place. Her name was Irene Becker and she was my mother.
It was very spacious house indeed. However, at the end of the war it was taken over by the Occupation and in half the house, where we lived, there were Canadian soldiers and in the other half there were French soldiers. The other half belonged to my Grandmother and she was delighted to have the baby in the house anytime she could. But, it happened that before the war had finished she got notice that her son, my father, had died. My mother was suddenly widowed and she continued to live in the house. That was why my Grandmother was delighted to have me in the house, as I was all that she had left of her son. My father was buried in the local graveyard. Every afternoon, my mother took me for a walk to visit my Father in Heaven and we went to the graveyard. The grave was covered with ivy and every now and then we put a flower down to liven things up. I understood that there was also a God Father in Heaven and both Fathers in Heaven were appealed to for help when in dire need. I remember being terrified several times by a large yellow dog barking loudly in the market place. Neither of the Fathers in Heaven could remove it when appealed to. It had to be mother who faced the fierce animal to rescue me. Whenever anything untoward happened, mother had to cope. I was disappointed in the Fathers in Heaven.
When I first went to school I learned about the saints. I was willing and eager to follow in their footsteps. St Martin rode on a white horse and when he met a beggar he cut his cloak in half with his sword and gave the other half to the beggar. I could well imagine what my mother would say if I cut my coat in half and gave it to Mary who lived in the cottages! Every year St Martin came on his white horse and all the children followed with the lanterns. Those who had fathers had the most elaborate of home-made lanterns and won a prize. I asked the Fathers in Heaven for a lantern but it appeared they did not go in for help of this sort. I was disappointed always to be the one who couldn't win. Still, there were other saints to model yourself on. St Damien kissed the lepers' sores. However, there were no lepers around, so I could not do that. St Elizabeth gave baskets of food to the poor even though her husband had forbidden her. Once when he saw her with a basket he demanded to know what was in it. It was, of course, food but Elizabeth said it was roses so he insisted on taking off the lid of the basket and lo - it was roses!
To me the 'poor' was Mary from the cottages. Mary had parents and ten brothers and sisters. We were both in the same class in school and one day Mary told me that they were having a new baby. I asked: 'Have you seen the angel?'. 'What angel?', Mary replied. I was modelling it all on the story of the Annunciation. I thought that in overcrowded accommodation like Mary's cottage, no one could have missed spotting the angel! If Mary knew of a baby coming then the angel must have been there to announce its arrival. But Mary denied seeing him.
Soon Christmas was approaching. I had a celluloid doll I loved so much I bit into the celluloid hand, leaving the marks of tiny teeth. I got another doll from the Christ Child - a porcelain one with real hair and I played with it all over the holidays but when I wanted the old doll back I searched everywhere but I could not find it. When the holidays were over, school started again and on my way I passed Mary's cottage. I heard a baby crying and pressed my nose to the lower window to see the baby. I couldn't see the baby through the window but, instead, there sat my celluloid doll! I knew it was she by the teeth mark on the hand and I felt the collapse of faith there and then. Fancy the Christ Child not knowing how much I loved that doll and giving it to someone else. I was no longer interested in the porcelain doll with the real hair. I asked the Fathers in Heaven to give me back my beloved doll but they didn't do that either. I was devastated. I told mother and she reminded me that I had wanted to fol low in the footsteps of St Elizabeth but I was inconsolable and, right then, gave up following in the footsteps of the saints.
In our house, as I have said, we had Canadian occupation in our part and my grandmother had French. The French had a Black servant. My grandmother was not allowed to go into the kitchen anymore as he was working in it. My grandmother was devastated and couldn't bear to be kept out so she kept peeping in every so often. She saw that the servant had boiled the potatoes and threw them in the sink to drain and picked them up again with his black hands. She got her dinner and then she started to cry. I said to her: 'Gran, you needn't cry, the black didn't come off his hands', but she couldn't stop crying and I didn't know why.
In our own part of the house I was not allowed to go into the kitchen. Most little girls play in the kitchen but I was not allowed because there were soldiers there, cooking, and my mother would not let me go down. The soldiers, however, were very kind to me. One of them gave me what I thought was an apple and I bit into it but it was an orange. I was very disappointed. I threw it away and started to cry. But we all managed to get along all right until the Occupation was over.
I felt thoroughly at home in the market place. Everybody knew me there. When I went out shopping with my grandmother and she wore her huge fur lined cape, I used to creep under it like a chicken under a hen! Everybody gave me bits of fruit for free and I felt I was very highly thought of. Everybody knew me as being my father's (that is, the doctor's) daughter and everybody knew that he had died. I felt safe in that community and I felt that I had a place there. When I went to school, Aunt Clara was the infant teacher and I felt perfectly at home with her. My mother did not allow me to take First Communion like the other children, but I was allowed to go to Confession. I was very anxious about that. I wasn't sure what the various sins were but, just for safety, I always put a hundred. 'I have done a hundred times this and a hundred times that and the priest always asked what it consisted of and I couldn't think what I had stolen so I said: 'Threads out of mother's sewing basket!'. Muc h later on, when my mother remarried, the priest asked her if she would bring me up as a Catholic and she said she wouldn't. So I was excommunicated at the age of ten, but that is another story!
My mother took a teaching job again in a different town and took me with her. I was very proud to be able to sit in the infant's class even though I was not yet of school-going age. Whatever she was teaching at that time has always remained in my memory. Eventually, of course, I was in school in my own right and very proud of this. My mother had been transferred, once or twice, to different towns and villages and we were in the town of Krefeld at the time when the people called Quakers were feeding schoolchildren. I never got anything because I was always plump and was not considered in need, but my mother, as a teacher was involved with the doling out of the food. She was very interested in this group of people who would feed their ex-enemies and sooner or later she got to meet some of them. There were not many real Quakers in Germany because there hadn't been a group before the war and, in our area, my future stepfather was the only one to be a Quaker. His name was Paul Helbeck and he lived in wha t was then called Elberfeld. He often came over to Krefeld to discuss the outings and the feeding schemes with my mother. He usually brought some little sweeties for me and I was much enamoured of him, as he was a very kind man. He never brought his children because they didn't want to come. He was a widower and had two sons. His wife had been an Englishwoman and, I often thought, she must have had great difficulty during the war. The boys did not want to come and meet us because, I didn't know it then, their mother was only dead for one year and they were very disapproving of their father going out with somebody again.
In due course, I was informed that my mother was going to marry Paul Helbeck and I was delighted to think that I was going to live in a different town and that I was going to have two brothers. I had read a lot of stories about families where the children played with one another and had a lovely time together and that is what I was expecting too.
So, they had a Quaker wedding and went on a honeymoon. I was kept with a neighbour and waited till they came back. We then all moved to Elberfeld.
Chapter Two - Learning to be a StepchiId
In those days Elberfeld and Barmen were - two separate cities before they were united into Wuppertal. The river Wupper went through the valley, which was in a rather mountainous part, and over the river there was a hanging railway which went the whole way from Vohwinkel to Oberbarmen. It was a railway that had a great attraction for young people because you could see everything that was happening in the city. There were a lot of factories backing onto the Wupper which were dyeing silk materials so that the Wupper appeared a different and very startling colour from one train stop to the next. My stepfather had a factory backing on to the Wupper which he shared with his brother. His brother stayed in the factory and my stepfather was travelled around selling the goods - ladies underwear.
He had two sons. Paul was nineteen and married already to an older American woman and not living at home. Rolf was still at school and he was five years older than I and he was the one I regarded as the perfect brother before I got to know him. He, of course, was not at all keen on having a sister especially since, he thought, his father had married too quickly after the death of his mother. He was therefore in great rebellion. That, of course, affected me more than anybody. He did not want to have anything to do with me and if we were alone in the house he spent his time torturing me in one way or another. I had imagined a fairytale family with everyone being friendly and helpful to one another but it was nothing like that. The boys wouldn't be seen dead with me. On Sundays we often had dinner in a restaurant. My parents usually went early to go to some church service beforehand and we were supposed to meet them at the restaurant. Rolf, however, would never walk down with me to the restaurant a nd so we always went separately. The allocation of rooms at home was that Rolf was sleeping in the upstairs attic and I slept in the flat. The flat had about six rooms where my parents, naturally, were in the parents bedroom. I had a bedroom and also there was the kitchen, dining room and sitting room. Upstairs, under the roof there was another attic room and that is where Rolf had his separate being, usually. Naturally, I had to go to a different school but that was no difficulty. I made friends with the girls there and one of them, Heti, had to go the same way there and back so we usually went together. Heti's father was a clergyman and they had eight children. They were greatly envied by me because they always had somebody to play with. Her father was very strict in that when Heti had a party he came in and examined the children on the contents of the Bible. I remember being mortified at never being able to answer any of his questions. Both her father and my father were town councillors which me ant, among other things, that they had free access to the Zoo. Her family went en bloc and my family went at a separate time which meant I had nobody to play with. When the parents sat down to have their coffee I used to wander around looking at the various animals there. The thing which struck me most, during those wanderings, was the little town belonging to the Guinea Pigs.
At this time I was told to choose a religion. At school I was regarded as a dissident and I sat out with the Jewish girls when there was religious instruction. I didn't know what a dissident was, nor did anybody else, but it just meant that I had to inform myself about religion and I took it as a special subject to major in at the Matriculation. At home I was never quite sure whether my father was a Member of the Society of Friends or an Attender. Seeing that he was the only one around he was regarded more or less as the one in charge. If foreign Quakers visited the area, they always stayed with us and I had to vacate my bedroom. I remember well meeting all those Friends who are mentioned in the annals as having made visits in post-war German homes. My stepfather also ran the Monthly Meeting. There was only one other child there and the other child and myself used to run out and play Red Indians during the Meeting. We were asked not to make so much noise so that they could pursue their silent worshi p. Sunday Meeting for Worship also took place in our house and was attended by a collection of people interested in Quakerism. They all stayed afterwards to have soup and bread and I remember having to do the wash-up. None of them ever helped me. Rolf was in a state of permanent rebellion and he had nothing to do with this or anything else in which the family participated.
In due course Rolf left school and reluctantly started training to follow in his father's footsteps being apprenticed in a shop in Bonn where he concentrated on rowing on the Rhine, refusing to attend to the shop on Sundays. During that time we had a lot of visiting Quakers stay: Rufus Jones, Elizabeth Fox Howard, Gertrude Giles, Carl Heath, Joan Mary Fry, Fred Tritton and many others. They were most interesting in that they spoke such broken German which fascinated me. Later on we saw a good deal of Wilhelm Hubben of Krefeld who had been my mother's colleague at school. Also Friedrich Siegmund-Schulze and Wilhelm Mensching. During that time I was finishing school and the question of what to do next arose. I was very anxious to do Social Science. I had been keen to do Medicine but that was supposed to be too expensive so that first I had to do a practical year and then go to the Social Science school. I went to a town where Siegmund-Schulze was lecturing and asked him to belabour my parents to let me go to his social settlement in Berlin. This he did and they agreed to it.
Chapter Three - Berlin
For me, Berlin was the most exciting time in my life. I had never been to a big city like that on my own before and I hadn't lived amongst young people as we did in the social settlement. I hadn't had any of the experiences of the sort that Berlin offered in terms of theatres, excitements, sightseeing and whatever there was to be done. I was very happy to be there. At that time I was apprenticed to a lady supervisor who, once during Sunday breakfast with a friend, said some words against Hitler. She was overheard by the neighbour on the next balcony and was put straightaway into prison! I was left in charge of the department. I had, of course, no notion of anything and when, one day, a released prisoner called, I left him in the office to go and find someone to see what should be done. When I came back he, and the cash box, had disappeared.
I hadn't previously met with, to my knowledge, unmarried mothers. My supervisor had asked me to look after a girl specially. She was having her third baby - all by the same man. This was all news to me and I had never heard of anything like that. Also we had to run playgroups for children of various ages and do house visits so that I got to know quite a lot about these facts of life. At the same time the political situation was such that any minor event immediately became a question of right or wrong, danger or no danger. Professor Siegmund-Schulze was a theologian with strong pacifist views. In the days of the Kaiser, he was preacher at the Court and spoke out against war in the Court Chapel. He was taken to task and Court condemned him for his pacifist views, to be shot forthwith. He was already before the firing squad and was only reprieved at the last minute through the intervention of the Empress. All the other students and I greatly admired his stand and would have done anything to follow h is directions. At one stage the house for the handicapped children was endangered. Sympathisers had told him that a raid on the children's home had been planned and I had to warn the staff to send the children home to their parents so that they were not there when the raid occurred. In those days everything we did was a matter of political importance. Whether you went to the theatre and heard Julius Caesar or were at home reading a book, whatever you did it all had some political implication.
However for me it was a very exciting time quite apart from seeing Berlin, sightseeing, and getting to know a lot of different people. My cousin Bernhard was doing medicine in Berlin and every now and then we met to exchange our experiences. When in Berlin I was also in touch with my elder stepbrother Paul and his wife Dewees. I had met Paul only once before in Elberfeld when he took me to a pub at the age of fourteen. I was greatly honoured to be so grown up! However, in Berlin, Dewees invited me to the social evening for American expatriates run by the Embassy. I enjoyed the entertainment, meeting the people there and being fed baked beans which I had never tasted before! We kept in contact from time to time but I never saw either of them again. At that time there were big rallies in the Tempelhofer Feld when Hitler gave his speeches. Once I went there with friends in order to hear him and saw the mass hysteria that broke out during his speeches. Fortunately it did not affect me. We had great di fficulty getting home because there were thousands of people crowding around, shouting and making it difficult to get back on to the transport.
During that time, amongst the people working in the settlement, were several youngsters who, like me, were only beginning their life in Social Work and who had been in other jobs before. We often went on excursions to the nearby island lakes and woods or to the town centre, the Kurfurstendam, to look at the cabarets and the theatres. We looked from the outside as we had no money to go in! Although I never had any cash, I regarded myself as a bourgeoise, my parents having a University education, possessing houses with my Gran and owning property. I would have liked to think of myself as working class but I knew I was not. There was one young man called Eric who made very much of me and was very specially interested in going out with me. I wasn't accustomed to this sort of approach being taken towards me as my experience with Rolf had got me used to being thoroughly ill-treated, so to speak. I was bowled over to find someone who would talk to me and go out with me and I was very pleased to be fri endly with Eric.
He and his friends ran an underground railway which meant they were helping Jews or political people to escape into other countries by an unknown route. Everybody who gave a message on the underground team, only knew one detail like the time of a special train, or bringing a map of the Swiss mountains to some place, or something like that. Everybody did one little thing and the whole of it made the underground work. I had only been three months in Berlin when the Social Work School, which I was to attend after my practical year, closed down. This happened because the head of the School, Alice Salomon, was Jewish. This put an end to my future in Berlin. My parents recalled me home. Eric also had to go home to Silesia and it was a sad parting for us although we hoped it was only temporary.
My parents decided that I should go to England and later to France to become fluent in languages. I was to work in an office when finished. Rolf had met a girl in Berlin and had got married. They lived in Wuppertal at the time. My mother got a place for me in London with two old ladies as companion help and took me to Siegburg to say farewell to my Gran and all the people and places I loved. I was reluctantly put on the train to cross to Dover and thence to London. I felt I was being expelled against my will and wept copiously.
Chapter Four - Departure
I thought I was not wanted at home and made it clear that I thought my mother had made a mistake in getting married again. She only got a little housekeeping money and had to be interested in cooking and dusting as well as the weekly Quaker contacts. My stepfather's factory made ladies underwear and he travelled interviewing all the lady buyers of all the big shops while his brother stayed and ran the factory. He was away quite a bit but that had not meant that my mother and I had become close. Even so, I couldn't see how she could stick it and be happy and also, I had no intention of becoming domesticated with the old ladies in London either.
Arriving at Victoria Station, I was met by a friend of my mother's who found me in all the confusion of 'Continental Arrivals' and escorted me to the ladies in Golder's Green, who were awaiting me. They introduced me to their household routine and I was given a half-day off once a week. I had no one to show me the sights and I was not sufficiently motivated to look at Buckingham Palace or whatever else there was to see. Neither had I money for sightseeing trips. When not immersed in domesticity, I had to take the dog out for a walk on Hampstead Heath. Other dog walkers used to look at the dog and say: 'King Charles'. I was convinced that the Heath was populated by madmen! I lost my way, running away from them and arrived at the Tube Station without any money. I was permitted to travel home for the sake of the poor animal.
My mother knew of another German girl in London from our area and had given me her address and telephone number. We met, in our free time, and went to the International Club. We had expected to meet English people there but, as in other countries, it was not the locals who came, but other newcomers seeking contacts. At that time it was mainly Indians. We were dated and taken out by the Indian students who, like ourselves, had neither fixed abode nor money to go sightseeing or to shows. I got a fair insight into their life in England and at home. They were in London, temporarily, to study and planned to go home. This was in contradistinction to the Indian-born people, whom I met in Social Work later, who saw themselves as British and had come to live and work 'at home' in England.
As I was still geared towards Social Work, I visited Muriel Lester's Social Settlement where Gandhi had stayed. She very kindly showed me around and even startled me by apologising for the 1914-18 war between our countries. I had never dreamt of holding her responsible for this anyway and felt embarrassed. However, she would not have me in her settlement, which was a disappointment. I was still hoping for some opening more in my line than what the ladies in Golder's Green were offering and, as Joan Mary Fry had been a guest in our house at home, I went to her as a last resort. I called after work at about 9.30pm only to be told she could not see anyone as she had gone to bed. I felt disappointed and abandoned though, now I have reached her age, I can understand her going to bed early and closing her doors to all visitors. Meanwhile, the ladies made contact with my mother, without my knowledge, to ask her to take me away. My mother, a reader of The Friend, saw there an ad from a woman in Ireland looking for an au pair and I was unwillingly shipped off, by one of my mother's friends, to Ireland. After a terrible crossing on the Princess Maud, I was met by Lucy Kingston with Daisy and Elsa. Daisy and Elsa were to escort me to Sorrento Terrace in Dalkey and thus began a whole new life.
Chapter Five - Via London to Ireland
on the 60th Anniversary of her arrival in Ireland
One winter night in February
A young girl came to Ireland
And bravely stepped ashore.
We sisters went to meet her
At the harbour in Dun Laoghaire
A prospect which, to our young minds,
Was positively scary.
A towering figure clad in black
And on her head a turban.
Her bright blonde hair came shining through
And she looked truly German.
So on the train I said to her
"I go to bed at seven",
And she gave such a hearty laugh
We thought we were in Heaven.
From that time forth we were firm friends
And so we still remain
She gave us love and warmth and fun
And one of us became.
She taught us many German songs
And loved to imitate
The film stars who, at that time,
Were very up to date.
She was one of my heroines
My mother was as well
And lived a full, exciting life
With many a tale to tell.
She worked to help the down and out
The homeless and the young.
Did many other kindly acts
For which she's yet unsung.
She's known in Quaker circles
As a rather weighty Friend
And received an invitation
Yearly Meeting to attend
She gave the Cary Lecture
In the country of her birth
And the Quakers there applauded
For all that they were worth.
Now Annelies is honest
And Annelies is true.
Always very generous
And hospitable too.
She's humourous, affectionate
And loves to celebrate
But woe betide you if you dare
To be a minute late!
It's wonderful to be back here
In this beloved place,
Reviving happy memories
Which time cannot erase.
And isn't it the strangest thing
That fate has so contrived
To have her live a hundred yards
From where she first arrived!
This poem serves to give some idea of how we felt at that time. Yes, we were happy then. I got on well with Lucy and was fond of her. I loved the girls and accepted Samuel Kingston as Dada. He was a somewhat remote figure to me, just as my stepfather had been. I took no notice of Raph and his friends just as I had coped with my stepbrother Rolf. I went to Monkstown Meeting with the Kingstons and participated in Young Friends' activities when able to go. I cycled everywhere. At that time, my mother sent me ten Marks per month from Germany. One was not permitted to send any more than that. It hardly covered necessities but I was able to run up some frocks for myself and made economies everywhere else. Notepaper, stamps, etc. were a must.
At the end of August I went for a term to Woodbrooke and enjoyed the lectures and other contacts. I had nothing in common with the young people who were teenagers interested in sport and activities while I was worried about politics. The English asked me to terminate my visit and I was grateful to the Kingstons for re-inviting me to Ireland. I had heard in the meantime that the group running the escape route from Germany had been discovered there. They also had my name and I was wanted. The law held then that your relatives are equally responsible and I was anxious that my parents would not be associated with me. This was comparatively easy as they had a different name from me. At the end of term, in December 1934, I returned to the Kingstons in Ireland.
From then on it was a constant struggle for permits to stay and permits to work. The Departments of Justice, and Industry and Commerce were chivvying me incessantly. Lucy went in 1935 to visit my parents and she got on well with my mother. Subsequently, my mother wrote to inform me she was separating from her husband. I thought that was a good idea. She moved to Bonn and I was fearful lest she found she no longer had contacts there. Those friends she had were busy with their own lives and seemed to have no time for her. I also got word that Eric had been taken and was doing a prison sentence. I got a few letters from prison. We had been told that you can write messages with milk between the lines and which had to be heated so you could read them. I used a candle to try to decipher the message, which was there, but the whole letter went on fire and I never knew what the special message was! Anyway when Eric was released he got married. When the war started, he was sent to Africa and was killed there .
With the worry over my mother and Eric, and the constant harassment from the Departments it was impossible to make a living. I often swam out into Killiney Bay, thinking never to return, but the constant kindness and support of the Kingston family and my affection for them drove me back. About that time, I had an operation owing to period pains. In the light of my subsequent knowledge it was quite an unnecessary operation. It was probably inspired by the need of a teaching hospital to demonstrate odd operations. It was a Guillaume Appendicetomy, which was on the way out in practice. I was very grateful, however, at the time.
It was a very worrying and confusing time and only the support of the Kingston family made it bearable. I saw my mother in Birmingham later. My own father had written a series of letters to me before he was killed, and which were to be given to me when I was twenty-one years old. I was not quite yet twenty-one and asked my mother for them but she would not give them to me. They were bombed out in the subsequent war - I never saw them. At the time that Eric was released, I made a short trip to Holland to visit friends, where I also met my mother. I had secretly planned to cross the border into the woods and meet with Eric. This romantic dream came to nothing mainly because he could not, or would not, come.
When I returned to Ireland we decided that I would do a course in Midwifery in the Rotunda Hospital. The Kingstons kindly lent me the fee, which I paid back later. The struggle for permits continued and I was saved again, only temporarily, with the help of various friends of the Kingstons in suitable positions of influence. I started in the Rotunda in October I937. My mother had also started a course in Chiropody but she was troubled by depression. I felt bad about not being able to help her and yet if I went back to Germany I would have been able to do very little for her, due to my political involvement.
During these years I met lots of people while going to Meeting, joining the International Club, cycling, playing bridge, staying in youth hostels and meeting other foreign girls in Ireland to brush up their English, and meeting various friends and relatives of the Kingston family. I swam with the residents of Sorrento Terrace in their bathing place and got to know them. I made friends with some of the girls with whom I trained. I also made special friends like Nora and Oswald White and Robert and Doreen Ditchburn.
At this time the struggle to stay and to work continued. When the war broke out, contact with Germany was cut off. Although Ireland was neutral, the people had mixed allegiances. The Anglo-Irish identified with the British and the Nationalists with Hitler. As far as I was concerned, my personal worries were enormous. My struggle to stay and work continued, alleviated only by the help of the Kingstons. Any possible clients I had were torn by their allegiances. The Catholics were afraid of a Quaker nurse and that she would, in an emergency, put the mother's life before the saving of the baby. The Protestants were, mainly, so anti-German that they would not have a German nurse but they accepted the recommendation of their doctor. Dr. James Quinn sponsored me and I had a string of lovely people engaging me. It was the fashion to go, for the confinement, into a nursing home and, afterwards, for the nurse to accompany the patient to settle her, and the baby, back into her own home. I got around in this way although, as an alien, I had to report to the Police when moving more than three miles from my residence. I got to know and like a lot of lovely people and often my delight was to be able to keep in touch with my babies and their parents.
I also worked in the Magdalene Home when I was free and when they were short staffed. In the Rotunda I had noticed the plight of the single mother. I had noticed the attitude towards her and the outlook for her and the child. While the Catholic mothers disappeared into convents and laundries, the Protestant ones went into hiding in the Magdalene, had their babies adopted and got jobs as nursery maids elsewhere. It seemed to me at the time that it was heartbreaking for them to give up their own child and then to go and look after other peoples' babies. At this time and for a long time afterward, this seemed to all concerned to be the acceptable solution.
I had applied for citizenship, after the regulation time but was refused, owing to the impending war. I no longer had a German passport and was therefore unable to move out of the country, had I wanted to. It took twelve years residence here before I was granted citizenship and a passport and was free to offer myself to do Quaker relief work in Germany.
Chapter Six - Relief Work in Hanover
I had a passport. Roger Wilson had spoken in Yearly Meeting and I applied and was accepted for Relief Work in Germany. I travelled to London where the future team was being trained in Woodstock in Hampstead. It was delightful to meet all those eager and well-meaning volunteers, to be tutored by experienced Friends and returned Relief Workers, to learn the language of the country one was about to be sent to (in my case not necessary), to indulge in community living and to be taught all sorts of way-out skills. We got to know one another, making special friends here and there and were sent to assist at all sorts of odd jobs connected with servicing Relief Work, sorting foreign gifts and adjusting to one another. We went on visits of observation held in Friends House, Gordon House, and other centres of activities. We found out how we reacted to pacifist argumentation and how far we were going to go in adjusting to circumstances. In England the out-and-out pacifists were in prison and those who had compromised were in the FAU and we as potential out-and-outers had to face endless compromises or get out. The FAU was already active in some places in Germany, especially Belsen, and they were forming the nucleus of the Relief Teams. We were still struggling with the question whether we were willing to go under military government orders, wear Quaker grey uniforms (the FAU wore khaki), accept military government provisions like food and perks and, above all, live in commandeered accommodation. I found each decision, especially the latter, heartbreaking having been at the receiving end after the previous war.
Eventually, having enjoyed the companionship and battled my way through endless decisions to accept the conditions, we were ready to go. Coming from the Cologne or Aachen area, I found myself posted to Hanover. The Friends, speaking now about their experiences fifty years ago were able to stress what they found important to them and to their clients: that was to be there to befriend them. For me, as a returned citizen helping to rebuild, I was not so understanding and forgiving as they were. I was also very critical.
The team had FAU members, English FRS people and American Quaker volunteers seconded to Friends Relief Service. To all of us the sight of the devastation, the suffering hordes of refugees, the human misery of young and old was heartbreaking. With typical Quaker energy we set about ameliorating conditions. We got in touch with local agencies, tried to assess whether the old, the young, the homeless, the returning prisoners, the displaced persons or whichever group was in most urgent need. In due course we were able to spread the net wide and co-operated closely with local people and agencies.
When a trainload of refugees arrived we often housed them in a school. Families or friends lay in clusters on the floor in big unheated rooms with all their belongings. It was an indescribable muddle and it was icy cold. The newly born seemed, particularly, to be at risk. We made one of the rooms in our requisitioned accommodation available and got the co-operation of the local hospital unit and doctor to send a day and night nurse until the babies could be called for. It often meant that the Relief Workers and their visitors helped out with the feeding bottles. As some of the babies were the result of rape by Russian soldiers, they were never called for and I wonder now whether we paid enough attention to bonding. The team often had overnight guests and, among them, was my stepbrother Rolf. The most deplorable figures, amongst all the down and out, were the German ex-soldiers who had been prisoners of war in Russia. Heavy work, inadequate food, severe climate and the hopeless despair had left th e men completely debilitated. They were only sent home if likely to die. Clad in the rags and remains of what they had started out in, they were totally emaciated. Rolf was sent back to die. He had gangrene - one finger gone and was regarded as a hopeless case. He and his wife Asta had had a daughter Karin. Asta had got a divorce from him and so he returned but to where and to what? For a while he stayed with the team and then returned to his father - also bombed out - to rooms designated by the housing department, to start again. Miraculously, he survived and was able to get back to what was then regarded as the normal life of poverty and deprivation.
The team gave talks in the High School or wherever we were invited. We were in touch with the Local Quaker Meeting and also lots of young people who were interested in reconciliation. We were near enough to Bad Pyrmont to keep in close touch with the Quaker Centre. After a while I was able, in my time off, to get to the Bonn, Cologne and Wuppertal area and face the heartbreaking devastation and to renew contacts with relations and friends - a joyous but also heartrending experience.
My father had one brother and two sisters Tante Grete, Tante Lily and their children. We were joint heirs to the Becker estate. Uncle Carl, being a solicitor, looked after things like business meetings in which I participated and, eventually, represented myself. The meetings consisted of a meal and decisions to exchange parcels of land for a sack of potatoes. What could I say but let them do it. I had not got an Irish or English account to buy enough food in the Army & Navy Stores to keep them going. There was an awful racket with cigarettes generally, and also in Hanover, as visitors liked to be offered a cigarette, not to smoke but to use as exchange on the Black Market and we tried to prevent that.
At that time there was a project to get the German brides of English soldiers to England and I was able to ship my starving cousin Gisela to England with the brides and then to Ireland where Margaret Moody took her in. She eventually married an Irishman and settled here.
When the time came for me to leave Germany there was financial inflation. There had, in the past, been other inflations. When my mother was a teacher, she was paid monthly and I remember having to shop and pay in millions for food that could be kept for a month - pumpernickel, dried peas and beans and whatever could be made last to the next pay-day. At a certain date you could pay all your debts, if any, and the next day everyone had a clean slate. The money was wiped away and you had 50 Marks left. This was hard for old people who had saved all their life for their old age. To me, it didn't matter as I had always worked for a living, even for minor wages, and could continue to do so.
So ... back to Ireland via England.
Chapter Seven - Relief Work in Vienna
After my return back to Ireland, I couldn't settle back to my former way of life. Having applied to the American Friends Service Committee to join their team in Vienna, my experience obviated further training. I was called to Paris to the Quaker centre there to await permission to travel. This took about three weeks, which gave me time to enjoy Paris had I not been on tenterhooks. I met the Friends living in Paris, visited the Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur, Versailles and many tourist places and shops. I also made contact with a Jewish family from Siegburg, friends of my aunt, and got some insight into their life during the experiences in Paris. At last the long awaited permit to travel arrived and I boarded the Paris to Vienna train - a long romantic journey in a sleeping car.
The beauty of the city is overpowering. Even then it exuded the striking ambience of the imperial city of a former, vast empire. It was also divided into British, Russian and American sectors as Berlin was then. The war was past and the city had regained a certain normality. The Relief Workers lived separately in rented accommodation and assembled in Quaker House for discussion of their work processes. The team consisted mainly of American with Viennese office staff working in conjunction with Scandinavian Quakers who ran a children's home. I was in charge of clothing distribution. We each had the use of a jeep and drove everywhere which lightened the work considerably.
Amongst the many clothing projects one in particular stands out in my mind. It was a project involving American schoolgirls sending parcels with messages to the local schoolgirls. Arrangements were made with the local school for us to explain the goodwill behind this and the friendship of the American girls. The parcels were labelled with their age and were handed to girls of similar age who were encouraged to write. Often the clothes of an American girl were too big or too small for the recipient of similar age or, sometimes, it did not contain what the child needed most, such as shoes. Mothers appeared anxious to swap such things, to such an extent, that matters could get out of hand. At times, American visitors to the team would participate and elaborate on the goodwill of the institutions and encourage correspondence. The most difficult American gifts were the fur coats. These were badly needed in the icy winter weather but. if accepted, they conferred a special status and made shopping in the market impossible. Sellers and other people felt that anyone who was so rich as to own a fur coat was not eligible for bargain food. Fur coat recipients found themselves ostracised everywhere and would only accept a fur coat to sell on the black market. We, however, did not approve of such a practice. In the end the coats found the most peculiar recipients, such as administrators, driving in the cold snow from one office to another. On Sundays these administrators would lend the coat to their wives. This gave rise to a lot of ill feeling. It even led people to write to America and complain.
When we worked we ate in a hotel used by the occupation forces and came across other teams there and formed many friendships. We worshipped on Sundays with Viennese Quakers and met and discussed with groups of young people. We saw a good deal of Austria both in conjunction with our work and in our leisure time. When we were able we went sightseeing in Vienna, we enjoyed the Opera and Theatre, walked in the woods in winter and summer. We got to know each other very well but in a different way. In Hanover we had all lived under the same roof, in Vienna we all had our separate flats. Here we also had visitors to the team including more personal visitors to our own flats. There were even visitors from Ireland.
Elsa Kingston came and as non-combatant, neutral Irish citizens we were able to travel to all sectors either by jeep or train. When seeing our passports the Russian soldiers would say: 'Ah, India', and we in our attempt at Russian would answer: 'Niet, Irlandia!'. However, they persisted in calling us Indian and were very eager to take Elsa away with them but I would not let them! She and I went up the mountains to see the Gentian growing wild and also the Edelweiss. We went sightseeing to the Gloriette in Schonbrunn, visited the Peoples Opera and when I was not free to take Elsa around myself, a young Israeli teenager took her to the Prater - the vast amusement ground. They also went boating on the Danube from which she returned wet all through, having fallen into the Danube on that occasion!
As I have said, I was able to go to all sectors as a non-combatant neutral Irish citizen but always found it difficult to explain Ireland to the Russian soldiers at the checkpoints. Amongst the American team members were some ex-Viennese and ex-Germans. The ex-Viennese, especially, were a great help with all their contacts and know-how. Although here also we were on pocket money, without other funds to fall back on, I was no longer worrying about starving relatives and was even able to afford a Freudian analysis! I was also glad to read up on some facts and visit the venues and lectures connected with Freud. When my two years in Vienna came to an end, I had benefited greatly in understanding, through the contacts with the team, the helpers, the clients, the analysis, and only hope that I was able to make a worthwhile contribution in all the various fields in which we were involved. On the whole, the time in Vienna was most profitable both in seeing the country, getting to know the people and doing so me good, one hopes, for the people there. On our return the AFSC gave us a severance grant to enable us to re-enter normal life at home. I used mine in Ireland to go to Trinity College to become a social diplomat.
Chapter Eight - Trinity and jobs in London
Having dreamt of going to Trinity for ages, I was delighted to have reached this goal. I found, now, considerable changes there. The days when females had to leave the premises at 5pm had passed. Although not allowed to room there, many of the anti-feminine restrictions had been lifted. I lived with a friend in Rathgar - Constance Haughton. She had heart trouble, but did not need nursing: only the knowledge of having someone to cope should an emergency arise. She had a lovely house and many friends and neighbours. I only had to be there in case of emergency. This suited both of us. The Kingston family had left Sorrento Terrace to move around the corner to Milano. Sam Kingston had died there. Raph and Daisy had got married and Elsa was working as a physiotherapist in Northern Ireland. After moving to a few temporary residences, Lucy shared a flat in Rathmines with Rose Jacob, and I was fortunate to be able to live with my patient in nearby Rathgar.
The Social Diploma course in Trinity introduced us to the existing social work scene and thinking. Most of the students were school leavers with only two mature students. The course was geared to absolute beginners but introduced us older ones to background prevalent thinking and practice. Having finished, I found it impossible to get work as the few jobs available were run by the Churches. The Eastern Health Board did not yet exist so that I was forced to look for work in England, get English testimonials and supportive letters, and thus start working in a residential home for delinquent teenage girls.
They were lively and bent on mischief! It was a pleasure to be with them and most challenging. One time when there was an inspection visit from the home office I was in the kitchen to prepare refreshments. I stepped into the pantry and was locked in! I pretended that I always meant to make the sandwiches there and did not notice. At the same time I was sure I would lose the job and be disgraced if they inspected the kitchen (which was bound to happen in due course) and found me incarcerated. The girls were also totting up possible consequences in their minds and unlocked the door just as the visitors prepared to come into the kitchen. We were able to present a calm and companionable front! I was later offered promotion to be Matron in charge of another hostel. I did not accept but changed over to community work on a Housing Estate run by Time and Talents. It was a social settlement consisting of similar services as in Berlin. It was administered by a group of ladies with a social concern and, also, Social Workers. I lived on the Estate opposite the Community Hall, which was hired out for weddings and parties. The wedding celebrations at times became a bit wild and noisy. At other times the hall was used by a classical music group led by Lady Maud, who was bent on sharing the experience of exquisite musical enjoyment with all and sundry. But alas, the piano - so well tuned and cared for - on one occasion did not achieve anything but a string of cacophonies and, on inspection, it was discovered there was a breadknife lodged in the bowels of the piano! This had accidentally slipped in when the wedding cake from the previous night's festivities was being cut. Consternation! I was never allowed to forget breadknife in the piano story!
I also arranged for facilities for all age groups with a tenant's management committee. We had outings for the elderly, visits abroad for mixed groups, of teenagers, house visits for the elderly, fundraising activities for local and national Time and Talents activities. I also took Social Work students to get their practical experience. The settlement house was nearby and we co-operated closely. It was a wonderful all-round experience with a lovely supporting group and endless scope for wider service.
While in community work with Time and Talents, I went on a Social Worker's exchange to Israel. At that time there was an influx of Caribbean people to London and I thought I could learn something by studying how the Israelis coped with an influx of people from Yemen. My opposite number, the Israeli Social Worker, stayed with me first and I was able to show her around the work and introduce her to the vast cultural possibilities of London. On my return visit to Israel I was most interested in all I was shown. I stayed with my own opposite number for a while and one memory I have is of the sound of the jackals crying at night in the desert. The social workers in Jerusalem, with whom I subsequently stayed, had been trained in the Alice Salomon School in Berlin. That was the same school which I had been unable to enter. Although our common native language was German, we always spoke English to distance ourselves from the Nazi era. During my stay there, I was shown the Knesset - the Israeli Parlia ment, and was introduced to Golda Meir. I saw Accra and Haifa and met Martin Buber, the poet. I was overwhelmed with kindness and fascinated by the setting, visiting camps of settlers, old people's homes in Natanya, orange groves, Kibbutzim and some caravans of camel travelling through the desert. The Israelis were coping with the influx of people from Yemen at the same time that London was coping with an influx of Caribbeans. It was fascinating to be in Israel and be shown so many facilities. I loved seeing Jerusalem, Haifa, and the desert down to Beersheba. There was, however, no comparison with the English situation as religion, even if practised differently, was a common link here - a link which did not exist in England. It was an eye-opener for me. I also saw Rome and Athens on my way there and back.
After Community Work, I took a job in old people's welfare in Deptford. I think, now that I have joined that age group, I would run it very differently!
Chapter Nine - London Miscellany
My relations and friends in Germany by now had teenage children who wanted to see the world and the first thing that occurred to them was seeing London. Even in my flatlet with Time and Talents a selection of youngsters came to stay and I found au pair jobs for them. When I had my fourth floor flat in St. Pancras, I provided beds for friends and relatives travelling to and from Ireland to Germany. Living near Euston Station was very convenient.
When I got one of the intermittent share-outs of our inheritance, I bought a four-story house near Primrose Hill with a sitting tenant and lots of rooms, which I did up and decorated by degrees. This meant more guests from Ireland and Germany - both friends and relatives. At home I had been brought up to be hospitable and here I also had, in my part of the house, my personal guests - Yearly Meeting guests, Committee members, international travellers, and contacts from far and wide which gave me great pleasure.
I saw a lot of my personal friends - Roy and Nell Jarvis, Robert and Doreen Ditchburn and Michael and Jenny Sorensen. About this time I fostered Jackie who spent weekends (if I was free and not on conferences) and holidays with me. A volunteer worker in Friends House office, Mary Austin, often came to look after the garden until tenants took over. There were visits to concerts and theatres, trips up and down the river, visits to parks and castles and the wide variety of possibilities on offer in London and surroundings.
Apart from the sitting tenant, an elderly lady, there was, in the course of the years, a vast variety of people in and out. Some were young and starting out on their own for the first time, others were newcomers to England, some were Friends, some were in difficulties of one sort or another, but most of them were kind and helpful to one another and to me. I moved around the house according to which rooms needed decorating. For a time I was in the basement flat with the garden until I noticed that younger tenants and their friends climbed in and out of the hall floor windows bent on a more extensive nightlife! I moved into the hall floor then - though not to climb in and out. I gave up the very young tenants and with the continuous immigration to London, I had people from India and South Africa and a variety of people employed in Friends House. One was a 74 year old man who had been my client in Deptford and who was determined to continue working. He applied as doorman to Friends House and got the job, which he kept for years until he moved into a Friends Old Peoples Home. A lot of people were looking for a steady job and if they were successful they moved on to somewhere near their place of employment. One couple left, had kept a cat without my knowledge and which they secretly took for walks on Primrose Hill, using a ribbon for a lead! After their departure, their top flat was hopping with fleas when I tried to show it to future tenants. They didn't take the flat, of course. I had to call in the Corporation Exterminators before it was all back to normal. Fortunately the fleas had not realised they could explore other parts of the house.
The most unexpected matters developed into causes for disagreement, especially use of bathrooms. Loud music was not a problem as the younger people were out a lot to enjoy London while the oldies kept their radios reasonably low. Fortunately we never had disagreements over the colour question.
When I left England, two Friends took over the management till the house was sold.
Social and Economic Affairs Committee
And Penal Affairs Committee
In 1957 I was appointed secretary to the Social and Economic Affairs Committee, then called Industrial and Social Order Committee, in Friends House in London. At that time I lived in the St. Pancras area. In 1964 the Penal Affairs Committee was formed and added to my job. The Declaration on Social Affairs was the basis of its thinking then and it was guided by the 'Foundation for a True Social Order' which had been accepted by Yearly Meeting. The practical development of this concern was monitored by Friends in industry and their various experiments in industrial co-operation such as the Scott-Baader Commonwealth and Robert Best's concern. These and other topics were discussed in periodic conferences and Friends were kept informed of current thinking in newsletters to correspondents of Preparative Meetings. Through Harriet Wilson's initiative, the Child Poverty Action Group arose from a meeting of concerned people in Toynbee Hall and it is still in action today.
As the economic order is not peripheral but central to the question of faith in action, it is seen as a matter of personal integrity combined with compassion. These and similar thoughts were followed through in group discussions which were shared with Friends in general. Closely connected is the concern about crime and punishment, and the abolition of the Death Penalty. Sanctity of life is a fundamental principle of Friends and during my time, in co-operation with other groups working on this issue, the Death Penalty was abolished.
Many Friends in the field of Penal Affairs were active as visitors, chaplains, workers and employees of the Prison Service so that when they got together in conferences the exchange of experiences and comparisons of conditions proved helpful. I went on many visits to a variety of penal establishments. In those days the drug culture had not yet become prevalent. Grendon Underwood was an outstanding example of a modern psychiatric approach then. Richard Hauser, husband of Hepzibah Menuhin, felt a concern to run a discussion group in Wandsworth Prison, which continued successfully for some time.
We were in contact with Meetings through their correspondents and kept in touch. I also represented Friends on the Social Responsibility Department of the British Council of Churches (later with the Recording Clerk) and found this contact very interesting. I realised then how closely the Church of England is allied to the Monarchy. One weekend conference was held in Windsor Castle and it seemed strange to sit in the seats of the mighty in the Chapel and only one or two women there, as usual! During my time, Roman Catholic representatives were invited for the first time. This was in stark contrast to life in Ireland where it would have been the other way about.
We also ran conferences for those working in Friends Homes for the elderly. Some of the homes arose from the wartime situation when the needs of the elderly became more evident, and pacifist Friends had volunteered for this work. It was lovely to realise their motivation of real caring and the way the client's needs and wishes were regarded with understanding and consideration. In the course of time a fair percentage of the inmates were Friends and were represented on the management committees. This helped co-operation and considerate understanding.
The arranging and managing of many conferences on a variety of concerns in our field led us to explore university facilities and conference centres of all sorts. University facilities, being geared towards the young, involved too much running about for older age groups and we found the purpose-built smaller centres better served our needs. Working in Friends House also provided the opportunity to meet interesting visitors to other Committees. The Recording Clerk, then Arthur White (and before that Stephen Thorne) met the secretaries at intervals and for co-operation.
In my time there was a continuing influx of newcomers to England. The German refugees were practically settled when Cypriots came. Then came Indians and Caribbeans, the majority of whom were slowly being integrated. There was a permanent flow of Irish too, and the indigenous population permitted a slow integration although some parts of London were distinctly and prevalently of a certain background.
I left in May 1970 to return to Ireland.
Chapter Eleven - Interaid
Part of the reason for taking early retirement was the thought that I would like to make a special contribution to life in Ireland in grateful acknowledgement of taking me in. At that time I felt it wrong to have too many possessions - a position which has changed with advancing years and the insecurity of not knowing how long I would have to provide for myself and where. In any case, a number of my friends and their friends felt we could all help one another. The easiest way to do this was in the housing sector. Accepting the presupposition that housing people is the job of the Government, we saw our effort as an interim job.
The people interested in starting Interaid all had special people in mind who needed help for a time. Some who were willing to serve on the Interaid committee were keen on helping the handicapped, having worked in that field. Others wanted to help the elderly and some more wanted to help mothers alone. It was understood that a little survey would be helpful about these categories in need. We visited about thirty young handicapped people and their mothers and realised that a lot of them needed very special conditions possibly for a long time. This we would not be able to provide. The situation of single mothers was well known to some of us and was being coped with in a variety of ways, some of which became notorious. At that time, allowances for single mothers had just come in, but landlords were reluctant to have them as tenants. Another group in need was the elderly. There were also immigrants.
As we had only a small amount of money, enough to buy a medium size house, we started with a small committee of concerned people. Once we had one house, we could use it as collateral for the next and so we were able to grow. The Housing Department paid a rent allowance directly to us and the tenants paid their part. We expected the Housing Department to offer a permanent residence before a child was of school age. This is what happened and most people took the furniture from our premises with them to their new home. We therefore had a permanent need for second-hand gear of all descriptions, which was given freely by our supporters.
At the start of this venture we had considerable help from Friends who gave loans and encouragement. Young Friends gave practical help in moving furniture, decorating rooms and providing transport. We had one client, a blind lady, who needed a guide dog, but her accommodation was not regarded as good enough for a dog! We were able to offer her a room with garden space and after some time she got her own small house and garden from the Housing Department. The idea of tenants helping one another did not always work as the elderly often find babies noisy and tiring. They are at home when young mothers want to go out but are not necessarily good at babysitting. So we all learned what can be done and what is unsuitable but it all depends on the mix of personalities.
We got a lot of help in fundraising and are very grateful to the Arusha Singers and a number of other people and groups who arranged special events, produced cookery books, gave parties, a lecture on Beckett, and a variety of other fundraising events. For a while we had a house for the use of welfare clients in Belfast but this project terminated after a short while. A number of interested people have served on the Management Committee and still do. The project has passed its 25th birthday and is still providing challenges.
It is now quite some time since I returned to Ireland and settled here. My involvement with Friends continued, though it got less active in the course of time.
It is lovely to see the Society of Friends broadening out and widening the base of its supporters. This has meant exploring different ways of continuing the work, expanding its thinking and adjusting to social changes while still preserving the Truth through being open to the Light, from wherever it may come.