Coming Home

At the end of their three month stay, most of the children returned home to Manchester and Salford ‘showered’ with gifts for their families: chocolate, nylon stockings and cigarettes and with new clothing, whose distinctive Swiss styling may be seen in the archive film, together with children loaded down with parcels. A journalist who travelled back with them found himself in a travelling gift shop’.

The carriages were loaded with presents for mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers – many from the kindly Swiss folk who had acted as foster parents.

To journalists who first spoke to the children on arriving in Manchester, they seemed subdued and unnaturally quiet as if they were coming into a strange city. 

We persuaded them to talk, and the words came in a curious patois, half German, half English… For in three months some of these very young children seemed to have forgotten they are English. But if they have assumed a foreign accent their hearts still remain Lancashire. Mavis Clinton, who is ten and comes from Hyde, was waving a Swiss flag almost as big as herself. But in her bag she had two pairs of silk stockings, a present for her mother. All these children have brought with them some little souvenir for the people left behind.

Many ‘souvenirs’ included gifts of chocolate for brothers and sisters. Not all the children whom the press met were subdued; seven year old David Farnworth, ‘sunburned’, ‘feeling “ready for anything now”‘, and returning with chocolate for his family, put a reporter to rights by explaining how it could be got ‘without points’ in Switzerland. Not only was it ration free, but Swiss chocolate, world renowned, was in a different league to the unappetising ration chocolate available in Britain, made from dried skimmed milk powder. As our interviews for Returning Home have revealed, many of the children developed a life-long fondness for Swiss chocolate.

Advert for Toblerone, 1948

Rationed chocolate, Britain, 1940s. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

The children’s return in the last week of June 1948 featured widely in the Manchester and Salford press partly, perhaps, because it coincided with the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS): the first NHS hospital opened in Davyhulme, Manchester a few days later, on the 5th July. The children’s arrival by train in Manchester was a civic event attended by the Lady Mayoress of Manchester, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Salford’ and the Swiss Vice-Consul. David Farnworth was clearly a lively lad, who caught the attention of the Mayor of Salford by asking him whether his chain of office was as heavy as it looked. Invited to feel the weight of it, he told the Mayor that he was glad to be back, despite making many friends in Switzerland and learning the language very fast.

Families often kept newspaper cuttings celebrating their children’s return and the photo below, clipped from a newspaper article headed ‘Wythenshawe Children Have Happy Memories of Swiss Holiday’, suggests something of David’s high spirits.

‘Perhaps young David Farnworth of Greenwood Road, Benchhill, one of the Wythenshawe children returning from Switzerland, is hoping that he will become Mayor one day, and wear a chain like that of Alderman John Brentnall, Mayor or Salford’.

Film cameras were also waiting to capture the reception, with parents forewarned help the ‘gentlemen’ who were making it ‘by behaving as naturally as possible and BY NOT [in capital letters] STARING AT THE CAMERA. The finished film was subsequently shown in several local cinemas.

Maureen Fishwick, one of three children selected to feature in the film, had to wait fretting on the train, until the speeches were finished and the other children and families had been reunited, so they could be filmed separately, meeting up with their parents.  It is difficult to say why these three children were chosen, although in Maureen’s case, it may have been because one of the teachers who escorted the children from Manchester was the Head Teacher of Crumpsall Open Air School, where she was a day pupil. 

Good food, plenty of fresh air, secure surroundings had a remarkable effect on many of the children. On their return, the average weight gain of all the children was five and a half pounds; some had put on as much as 10 or 12 and in at least one case, parents didn’t recognise them at first. Families often kept in touch with each other, sometime for several years.

Dear Boys,
Many thanks for your very nice Easter cards with the good wishes! I also send you my best wishes to you and your mother; happy Easter!
Yours Margrit Debrunner
You’ll soon get a present with chocolate.

The stay was, for some, life-saving. Barbara Fowler, one of the youngest children at 6 years old, became so poorly in the winter following her return that her German foster parents took her back to Switzerland for a further 12 months, where she went to school and her foster-mother told her family how she had learned to ‘write in German very nicely and she makes lovely drawings. Only in knitting is she a bit backwards, little Swiss girls are usually good at knitting’. Her foster mother signed off, ‘I am sure we shall feel very lonely when she won’t be here any more’. By the time she returned to England,  Barbara had forgotten how to speak English. 

Manchester in 1948
Children with foragings from a shop off the Rochdale Road
Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives

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