How it started

Marion Hewitt, Director of the NWFA during the 70th anniversary of the ‘Returning Home’ film

The Returning Home project was inspired by a film called ‘Returning Home’, deposited in the North West Film Archive in 1978 by Manchester Education Committee. The film was made by Manchester City Council in 1948 as a thank-you gift to Switzerland and the Swiss Red Cross Society for accepting ‘delicate’ children from Manchester and Salford onto an international child relief programme offered to children from across the UK and Europe after the war. Salford City Council was similarly grateful and sent a symbolic gift of English rose trees to Switzerland.

These ‘delicate’ children all travelled to Switzerland on the 22nd March 1948, having been invited by the Swiss government to spend three months with Swiss foster families in the expectation that plenty of fresh air and good food would build them up and improve their health, after years of rationing and poor living conditions. They were all what would be described nowadays as primary school children, aged between five and eleven, and were accompanied by an escort party of teachers, nurses, and a doctor. 

The children returned from Switzerland to Manchester and Salford three months later, on the 24th June 1948. They were filmed from their arrival off the ferry in Folkestone to journey’s end at Manchester’s Mayfield Station, to the south of Manchester’s London Road Station, which closed in 1960 when London Road Station became Piccadilly.

Mayfield station:

The children’s homecoming in June 1948 featured widely in the local 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 which involved the Lady Mayoress of Manchester, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Salford and the Swiss Vice-Consul. The film itself was carefully choreographed, with parents asked to help the ‘gentlemen’ who were making it ‘by behaving as naturally as possible and BY NOT [in capital letters] STARING AT THE CAMERA’. All the children and their parents subsequently had an opportunity to see the film when it was shown in several local cinemas.

The 70th Anniversary

June 2018 was 70th anniversary of the children’s return to the UK and the NWFA showed extracts from the film on regional television and publicised it in the local press, asking for people who had gone on the visit to get in touch.

Manchester Evening News

Dozens of  individuals and family members got in touch, sending in mementos, photos, letters and postcards between Swiss foster families and the children’s parents, and written descriptions of these relationships, some of which continued long after the children’s return home. An audience of about 80 of these respondents subsequently attended a 70th anniversary screening of the archive film in its entirety, to share their stories and experiences. Some of these are helping to curate this online project, using archive film, interviews with children who went to Switzerland, biographical accounts and family histories.

Those who went to Switzerland are sharing sharing and curating their childhood experiences with the support of the former Passions team, Sue Reddish, Jim Dalziel and Melanie Tebbutt.

If you would like to know about the project, contact Melanie Tebbutt at Manchester Metropolitan University:

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