Pat got in touch in September 2020, after seeing a feature about Returning Home on BBC North West Tonight, to say that she also was one of the children who’d gone to Switzerland in 1948. She was prompted to write because she’d never heard about any others who were on the visit until she saw the programme and described how she still had the purple ribbon that was pinned to the children’s coats, together with her name tag and a couple of letters from the her Swiss host family.
Pat had a happy childhood, living with her parents, grandparents and aunt in a large house on Albert Road in Levenshulme to the south of the city centre, mid-way between Manchester and Stockport. There was a garden with apple trees and a greenhouse and plenty of cousins lived nearby, so although she was an only child, she didn’t feel like one.
Her health was not as bad as that of other returners who have contributed their stories. Looking back, she thinks the reason the doctor put her forward to go to Switzerland was because of complications arising from a tonsillitis operation, when excessive bleeding left her so ill that the hospital placed her on the ‘Free List’, which meant her parents could visit at any time. She has photos taken when she was three or four which show her as a ‘very chubby little girl’, although by the time she left for Switzerland after the operation, she had lost so much weight that she looked like a ‘little waif’.
Staying in Switzerland
Pat had only just turned seven when went to Switzerland and her memories of the trip are hazy, although there are some that ‘stick out vividly, especially having to sleep on bunk beds deep in the darkness of the London Underground.
Once in Switzerland, she travelled on from Basle to Stans, a village in central Switzerland between the mountains and Lake Lucerne, where she stayed with a family in what ‘seemed like a hotel with a restaurant’.
Pat has few memories of her Swiss host parents, who may have been in the restaurant during the day, but she remembers being taken under the wing of the family’s two daughters, especially Elspeth, the elder sister.
The sisters were in their mid-teens and Elspeth helped her write letters home, including one composed shortly after she arrived: ‘To my dear parents’, ‘It is nice here, but after three months I would like to come home’.
Pat’s parents wrote and sent a photo of Manchester to their daughter’s hosts in Switzerland but the correspondence was difficult because, as Elspeth explained, the family was German speaking. She felt the need to apologise for her English when writing back yet wrote a full and kind letter which helps fill in some of the gaps that Pat can’t remember. Elspeth explained how she and her sister were at school so that during the day Pat was looked after by a nurse, who took her to play with other children and for a daily walk. She was getting a slight tan and even learning to understand German, although she couldn’t speak it. Importantly, was putting on weight.
She likes very much the dinner and the supper from Switzerland, and she is bekoming two pound more rounder.
She likes to remain by us and we all love her very much.
Pat doesn’t recall being unhappy in Switzerland. Like other children, she received new clothes during her stay and recalls a chocolate bunny and being given painted eggs as she walked down the main street with the family at Easter. The only uncomfortable memory was of having her wavy hair cut short by a local hairdresser.
Lasting memories and mementos
Arriving back in Manchester, with short hair and a new Bambi brooch, Pat was met at the station by press photographers, her parents and all the rest of the family who had come to welcome her home.
The Bambi brooch disappeared long ago and Pat’s family and her Swiss host family don’t seem to have kept in touch after her return. Nonetheless, her mother saved photos, letters, the name tag and purple ribbon from the time her daughter had spent three months away and Pat remembers her stay fondly, only regretful that she was never able to go back to visit Stans.
Switzerland was a short-lived moment of childhood about which she’s thought many times over the years, although thinking of her grandchildren when they were same age as when she went, she wonders now how she ever managed it, ‘Gosh, I don’t know how I did that!’, being so young and such a quiet child.
© Pat Murgatroyd, now McGurk