Many children who returned from Switzerland maintained contact with their Swiss host families into the 1950s, exchanging postcards, letters visits, parcels and gifts. Some of the most extensive correspondence we’ve been lent is from the family of Joe Littler. Sadly, Joe had died by the time the commemorative event took place in 2018, but his family attended and lent us some lovely postcards that he’d been sent from Switzerland and his memoir called The Murmurings and Meanderings of a Mancunion.
Joe had loved his time in Switzerland, so different from his life in Manchester where he been in out of hospital for much of the time between the ages of five and seven with suspected TB. Having spent six ‘lonely and unhappy months’ at a residential Open Air School he found himself spoilt and cherished in Switzerland where he was taken under the wing of Margrit Debrunner, the daughter of the family, a young woman of about thirty. Joe described being chosen to go to Switzerland as one of the best things that ever happened to him. The house in which he stayed had housemaids, a cook and a gardener, and his bedroom was as big as the downstairs of his own home in Manchester. He had plenty of good food and was taken out on trips. When the time came to leave, he was a reluctant returner to ‘cheerless Britain’.
‘I wept bloody buckets. I can even remember being on the train at St Gallen station waving goodbye to Margrit Debrunner, with tears running down my face’.
Margrit clearly missed the young Mancunion, as she wrote in a letter to Joe’s mother on his return:
I was very pleased to get your card saying that Joe had arrived safely. I do hope he brought home safely all the things he had in his luggage. I still think of him a lot and do miss him very much! It was heart breaking to see him going away for good and it did seem quite strange especially that he would have like to stay on. I hope, however, that he will be able to come another time. I got very fond of him as he is such a good child…
Margrit and Joe corresponded for quite a time after he returned to Manchester, but his letters to her gradually grew more and more infrequent, until he stopped writing.
In retrospect I’ve regretted this since her kindness to me was nothing short of incredible. I do not think that this fact really entered my head when I was in my early teens. Teenage kids can be somewhat uncaring and far from thoughtful. One of my regrets.