Richard Larkin was born in 1940 in Salford and moved to Cheetham in Manchester when he was five. He was seven when he went to Switzerland and here he describes his ill-health as a child and the effects that staying in Switzerland had upon him.
While we were in Cheetham I got poorly, when I was about six. I was poorly for quite some time and I missed loads of schooling because I was ill for six, seven, eight months, something like that. I probably had pneumonia and pleurisy. We had a big range fire and I slept downstairs all the time, next to the fire. There was hardly any room in the living room, once I’d got the bed in there, so we used to sit for breakfast in what we’d call the scullery in the back, we used to have a table in there. That’s where my mother used to do the cooking, and eating. Mum used to make a fire before she went to bed, so I must have been pretty poorly, and the priest came and he, how can I say, he gave me the sacraments, because I was that bad.
My life at home was good, but you might say we were poor. I don’t think it was unusual for me to be poorly, I think there was quite a lot of people, mainly chest more often than not, it was breathing that you’d have a problem with.
Anyway, thankfully, I came round and, like I say, I was selected then to go to Switzerland.
The journey to St. Gallen
We went down to Fairfield Station and I was accompanied by my mum and her friend Margaret. My father was working at the time, with us having five children, so it was pretty busy. He worked on a building site. I remember arriving there with quite a number of children knocking about and we were just standing around with nurses and various people, talking to my mother. I was assigned to a group and I think at that time we were tagged, they put a little tag on us a little label, to say who we were. I met up with this lady who looked after the group on the train to London. And then I think we went to Southampton and from there on the boat to France. I remember the train journey in France believe it or not, because I thought the train was going, stopping and starting all the time for whatever reason, ‘cause we all seemed to be thinking, you know, ‘where are we going’ and whatever.
We eventually ended up in Switzerland. I was taken with the same group on a kind of a coach and we ended up in Basel. Everyone met different people. We were the last ones to be sorted out and then, eventually, I went to live with, Mrs Stadelmann, Elisabeth Stadelmann, in St. Gallen. We went to her house, I think it was more or less up away from the town. It wasn’t like in the town itself, it was away from the town. She sent me a postcard with a cross where the house is and I’ve got that card.
Her address is on that and I’ve tried to locate that now on the modern stuff with help from my grandchildren and they said to me ‘that must be where you lived then’. It was quite rural, quite open, away from the villagey area that she’s marked on the postcard.
I seem to remember I didn’t see anyone until the following day at breakfast, when I was introduced to her son, two daughters and her husband. From there my memory is of Peter mainly, who was the eldest in the family, a similar age to me, so we kind of played out in the garden. They had a lovely garden I remember that, a lovely garden to play in. Very different from where I lived in Bell Street. I do remember them having toys. Maybe they weren’t too keen on sharing them at first (laughing).
Most of the time it was just going out. Mrs Stadelmann used to take me down to the town centre and she’d meet up with different people and other children (possibly other ‘delicate’ children) and we’d have ice cream or whatever. She used to take me down probably twice a week into the town centre, the village. She also took me to school which was a bit of a surprise for me, you can imagine. I only went to school on just the odd days, and probably just to be introduced. It was all in English as far as I remember. They probably tried to teach me a little bit of Swiss or German whatever, but they failed on that score entirely!
The dad, Mr Stadelmann, he used to come home at weekends, and I remember going on quite a number of train journeys with him up into the mountains with Peter, probably for the fresh air. It was good that part of it, the trains were good and I enjoyed it.
I remember also, Mrs Stadelmann took me away with her daughter for a few days, I think it was to see her relatives, with the eldest daughter, just to visit. I had my eighth birthday, while I was there. Mrs Stadelmann mentions that in my letters, so they must have had a bit of a party for me. She bought clothes for me as well while I was there. I’d never had a suit before. It had short trousers and a jacket, so when my brothers and sisters seen me, they’re ‘how have you got them’, you know what I mean, ‘we never got anything like that’ (laughs).
All the time I was there I was maybe a bit scared for want of a better word, a bit frightened at first. Then eventually it came okay. Because listening to the letters that Mrs Stadelmann wrote to my mother, I must have been a bit of a nuisance at first, because of my wetting the bed. I was wetting the bed on a regular basis and she commented on that, in the letters to my mother. And then eventually I must have settled down. After probably a week or a fortnight, I was probably okay with it. And then Mrs Stadelmann used to sit me down and make me write – make me write a letter. She was lovely, she was very, very nice. I was probably not too keen on writing letters. It’s funny, because even though she’d write letters to my mum and I wrote one or two cards to her, I never found out what her husband did. I always imagined he was a doctor, because he was smartly dressed. I seem to remember him having a collar and tie on.
At the time, I must have thought it was just a nice, a trip, and then it was going on and on and on. Because in the letters that I sent, on the end of the letters you’ll see I’ve got crosses, and I must have about 40 or 50 crosses at the end. So I must have been missing them. Three months is an awful long time when you think about it.
I don’t ever remember having any kind of a problem in Switzerland. Most of the memories I have were good. I remember coming home, that seemed to be a lot quicker. I haven’t got very many memories of coming back apart from Mrs Stadelmann being with me for quite a length of time. But then of course the memory I’ve got is being back in Fairfield Station.
A memory I have is of meeting my brothers from school, and they didn’t know me (laughs). ‘Cause I’d gone from that, to that. I do remember meeting them on the road, they were coming from school, and I met them, and they were like looking at me. And my younger brother Peter, who was probably only five, maybe six, he ran away from probably thinking ‘Who’s that’? And then, when I got home, my sister was born the following day, that’s why my mother didn’t meet me at the station. ‘Cause Ann my sister was born the following day. I come back on the 24th of June and she was born on 25th June. When my mother was taking me down to the station to go, she must have been well, six months pregnant. I don’t even remember. Well, at seven years of age I probably wouldn’t even notice that.
They knew I was back! There was no room in the bed then, because the three of us used to sleep in a bed and putting on weight didn’t help matters (laughs). Five boys in one bedroom. The eldest two together and then me, Peter and Dominic in the other. I was all on my own at Mrs Stadelmann’s, all on my own in a bed. The room wasn’t that big, if I remember, it wasn’t particularly big but it was absolutely strange. Because me and Kath (Richard’s wife), we’d never actually slept on our own, never actually slept on our own and then we got married and we didn’t sleep on our own (laughing) so it’s amazing. The only time we ever slept on our own was if we were, we went away with somebody.
A different kind of life
It was an absolutely different life, a different life altogether. They had everything that I wasn’t used to, you know. When I got back, I had to go outside in the cold to go to the toilet! It certainly had an effect on me, in respect of how tidy I might have been, more than I would be normally at home, because when I was in Switzerland Mrs Staddleman was always pretty keen. I can remember times when had a loss of temper or had a word not so much with me but with her own children.
Their routine was breakfast, dinner, tea. At home I wouldn’t have had a routine. My mother used to say ‘Right, when you’re ready your tea’s here’, and we used to go in one at a time or two at a time. There was no set time, if I was playing out with my brother, me other brothers ’d probably be eating at different times as well, so you’d just come in and then mother would make you summat to eat and you’d sit down and eat it. They wouldn’t have a massive table to eat at, you’d sit round and it would possibly be on your knee.
The food there was okay because they never actually comment about me eating in the letters to my mother, she doesn’t say, he’s not doing this and not doing that, but I don’t eat cheese now believe it or not, because in Switzerland I remember eating an awful lot of cheese. My grandson would tease me, used to tease me with cheese and onion crisps and say ‘do you want a crisp grandad’ I’d say no, no, no! They were desperate for me to eat cheese! Because I don’t remember every having cheese at home. Even when I came back from Switzerland, it wasn’t a food that was in the house. Because my mum and dad Irish, they were born in Ireland, and they got married here. So consequently our food was based on potatoes, bacon, eggs and cabbage (laughs).
I would say it probably did me the world of good. When I got back, I was probably a different lad altogether. Touch wood, as regards to my breathing I’ve been fine ever since, one or two problems, but the rest of me has been fine.
I was absolutely different, because I’d been to another country. None of the other children in my school had ever been anywhere else only Blackpool maybe, that’s as far as they’d’ have gone. Southport, maybe. Never been abroad to other countries
When you see photographs, I’m totally different. Most of the time I’ve always kept very slim, I’ve always kept my weight reasonably well. So when they’ve seen me going away to Switzerland and seeing me come back, in three months, I’d changed dramatically.
Keeping in touch
I kept in touch with Mrs Stadelmann until I was 23, and I had plans to go to Switzerland I must have, well, I did mention it to her because she sent a letter back to say, ‘I do hope you manage to get over to see us because it would be nice to see you’, or whatever. But, I met Kath (laughs) I met Kath and we got married then and basically there was other things I needed money for.
So it was a shame really. In fact, I still in my mind think, I might just go back to Switzerland, we have talked about it, me and Kath, that it might be a nice idea to just go. I’ve been trying to find out in my own little way, whether or not there are any of the survivors of the Stadelmann family, I’ve been trying my best to find – I’ve found loads of Stadelmann but none of them ring a bell with me.
© Richard Larkin
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