Despite the kindness and generosity they often encountered in Switzerland, not all the children liked their stay there. Some took a while to settle in; others never quite did. Barbara Gore’s abiding memory was of wanting to run away back home to Manchester:
I was going to come home. I was going to follow the train lines in me imagination, I thought if I followed the train lines, I could get back to England.
Barbara, born in 1938, grew up in Miles Platting, Manchester, where her dad worked on the railways and her mum worked at home until the children left school. Barbara was one of two sets of identical twins who went to Switzerland; if you’re quick, you can see them flitting in and out of the archive footage in Returning Home. She and her twin sister, Stella, rarely apart, were so close that when Stella’s poor health led to her being moved out of ‘ordinary’ school to the Open Air School in Crumpsall, Barbara went with her because her mother didn’t want them to be parted:
Me mam said, “Can the other one go with her. Don’t split them up”.
There was nothing wrong with me (laughs), but because we were twins and we were alike, they didn’t separate us.
Like many children sent to open air schools, both girls missed out on their education at Crumpsall, where health was prioritised over education. As Barbara puts it, ‘It wasn’t like school’. You had ‘sunshine rays treatment’ and you had to go to sleep after lunch.
You got your breakfast, dinner and tea and all your snacks in between… it wasn’t for the education, it was for children who were poorly, we did gardening and they didn’t bother with the schooling really, we had the basics…
Stella was picked to go to Switzerland as one of the group from Crumpsall and Barbara went too, because although she wasn’t ‘delicate’, her family insisted that she couldn’t be left behind.
We were always together, you see, so they said we’re not splitting them up, so she’s not going if the other one can’t go. My mother’s a bit forceful, you know. “If she’s going to Switzerland, why can’t the other one go with her?” And that’s how I come to go to Switzerland.
Memories of the journey are hazy, although Barbara ‘vividly remembers’ the novelty of sleeping in the London Underground in beds that had been set up for the war, any anxieties tempered by being with Stella: ‘Well, we were together… so I wasn’t scared really’.
All went well until the twins arrived in Basel, where their mother’s forcefulness no longer held sway and they were confronted by the most momentous challenge they’d yet experienced: ‘When we got there, they split us up’.
Their separation came about as they were allocated to foster families and still rankled seventy years later when Barbara described what had happened. It seemed their mother had told them not to let themselves be split up when they got to Switzerland, but warned that if they were separated, ‘whatever you do, don’t cry’. She may have meant so they wouldn’t appear ungrateful, but her well-meaning advice turned out in Barbara’s words to be ‘a big mistake’,
because there was another two lots of twins who were crying their eyes out, so they could stay together, and they separated me and my sister and they shouldn’t have done, we should have cried like this other couple…
Parted from Stella, Barbara was placed with the well-off family of a pilot, his wife and their little boy, but their kindness and pleasant surroundings were no consolation for the twins’ painful break-up
they could speak English, so that was a good thing, but I don’t think I was very nice, I wanted to come home, I was going to follow the train lines to come home… You know what you’re like when you’re kids, don’t you.
The shock of separation into different households plays a central role in Barbara’s story of Switzerland, in which she emerges as a strong-minded little girl determined not to give up on her sister. Her description of stumbling across where Stella was staying gives a touching insight into her pride and satisfaction at having managed to track her down:
I found my sister, I went looking for her, don’t ask me how I found her, but I found her in Switzerland. I went walking around one day and I went into park and I was doing something in a park and this women said “what you doing here Stella?”, and I said “I’m not Stella, I’m Barbara”. She said, “There’s a girl just like you lives across the road over there, and she took me to my sister’s”. That’s a miracle don’t you think, to find my sister in Switzerland?
Having found each other, Barbara tried to reassure her.
My sister wasn’t well at all, she had a bad heart, I think she fretted, she fretted to come home, so I said, I was very adventurous, I said right then we’ll follow the track, the train lines, I thought you could come home by following the train lines.
They did manage to settle down, once ‘they let us visit each other every day, so we weren’t really lost to each other’. The weather was lovely and they enjoyed weekend outings to the mountains. They were glad to get back to Manchester, however, as Stella had continued to fret and miss home and had to go into hospital on their return.
The adults seem to have been satisfied with the opportunity the girls had been given. Barbara’s father, who ran a Mission in Miles Platting, was very ‘protective’ and ‘old fashioned’ towards his girls, but had been willing to let them go on this occasion, because of the significant health rewards the visit to Switzerland promised, especially for sickly Stella.
The twins’ parents kept in touch with Stella’s Swiss foster family and her foster mother came over to see them in England several times, including in 1953, when they met up in London for the coronation. From the twins perspective, however, the visit was less successful. Barbara, left with an abiding sense of the shock of separation, described splitting them up as ‘the biggest mistake they made’, a lifelong upset which overwhelmed her other positive feelings about Swiss chocolate and the scenery.
© Barbara Gore