Postcards from the Past

Postcards from the Past is a series of postcard conversations about the ‘delicate’ children from Manchester and Salford who stayed with Swiss host families for three months in 1948 to improve their health. Postcards developed after the Covid-19 lockdown began in March 2020. Lockdown meant we could no longer continue with our group work and face-to-face activities and had to move the entire Returning Home project online. This resulted in a much greater intergenerational and family emphasis, which Postcards illustrates.

Postcards was inspired by the postcards that Swiss host families often sent to the parents of the children they hosted. We designed a set of eleven postcards based on family photos and mementos with questions as writing prompts for the returners, their children and grandchildren. Each family received a set as a keepsake of involvement in the project. Several returners used the postcard questions as a way of thinking and writing about their experiences, shared via phone calls, texts and emails and written up on the stories section of the ‘Returning Home’ website.

Richard Larkin and his wife Kath managed to get their entire family of children and grandchildren involved in writing responses to Richard’s memories of his three months in Switzerland. Here is the story of their involvement.

Richard and kath larkin: Getting involved in returning home

Richard: It was my granddaughter’s boyfriend who’d seen it on the television.

Kath: He saw it on Granada Reports, on the northern news. And even he’d heard the story of Switzerland. So when you asked was it was ever mentioned then obviously, yeah. Because Jay saw the story and thought ‘I’m sure this is Granddad, he went to Switzerland when he was a boy, so he got in touch.

They got a link and sent it to the ipad and said ‘Have a look at this grandma, I’m sure it’s what Granddad went on’, so we were all looking.  And it was great, brilliant, and it was only ‘cause of Jay seeing it on the television. 

Kath: Absolutely, even my brothers and sisters I mean, they’d heard the story in the past but only now and again, but suddenly they’re all interested in it

Richard: Because they’ve probably just thought, maybe it was just one or two of us, but when you think about two hundred and odd people and that, you know,  probably thinking ‘I wonder why he got going’.  Because, like I mentioned before, my mate said ‘Bloody hell, why? I went to Wales!  I had pneumonia and they sent me to Wales’ (laughing).  And he’s the same age as me!

Richard’s mother kept many mementos of Richard’s three months in Switzerland, an archive of letters, postcards, photos, official documents and newspaper articles about the visit which suggests how important it was within the family. It was a vivid memory of childhood that Richard has passed on to his own children and grandchildren.

Stories passed through the family

Richard: It’s been in this family now, all the time it gets mentioned. I bet you it gets mentioned ten or twelve times a year or more, you know, ‘Tell us all what happened, tell us what happened’. 

The children and grandchildren, they’re more interested in this today than basically I am, you might say. It’s the grandchildren that are interested as well because they want to know what’s going on.  ‘Why did you go to Switzerland, why did you?’

It was a massive event when you think about it, because they’ve said to me, people, relatives they say, ‘Why did you go for three months, you were only seven’.  I say, ‘Yeah I know’. ‘Why did they take you away from home at seven’?  I say ‘Because I was poorly, that’s the main reason’. 

They say, ‘You know, what would you do if somebody came here and said we’re going to take your daughter off to Switzerland for three months, or whatever, what would you say?’ I wouldn’t know what to say, really would you? 

The children and grandchildren, they’re more interested in this today than basically I am, you might say. It’s the grandchildren that are interested as well because they want to know what’s going on.  ‘Why did you go to Switzerland, why did you?’

When my grandchildren were growing up, I’d think, you know, fancy leaving me there, because you’re not at home for three months, and it’s not as if you’re just down the road, you’re quite a long way from home.  So I think I must have been fairly sad at the beginning.  Well the letters tell you that, because I’m asking about Tommy and, you know, my brothers, so I must have been missing them. I don’t know whether they missed me, I never asked them that question! 

Richard’s postcard
Kath’s postcard
Daughter Catherine’s postcard
Daughter Claire’s postcards
Daughter Elizabeth’s postcards
Grandchildrens’ postcards
Grandchildren’s postcards
Son-in-laws’ postcards

The Returning Home team would  like to thank everyone in Richard and Kath’s family who has contributed to the Postcards project. Special thanks to Richard for sharing his memories and his family archive, and to Kath for chivvying everyone to take part – we couldn’t have done it without you!

The Larkin family at the 2018 celebration event organised by the NWFA

Talking, Listening, Connecting

Sharing Family Stories

Becoming part of Manchester and Salford Histories

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