Chosen for health reasons, vetted for suitability and encountering bewildering cultural differences, these children’s separation from parents and families was an emotional, if short-lived experience, which seems to have been especially long-lasting among those who got in touch about the film, some of whom had already discovered it in the North West Film Archive (NWFA) before the anniversary.
Maureen Fishwick, for example, first saw it at the NWFA in 1993, after enquiring whether a copy of it might be available because she had been featured in it with two other of the ‘delicate’ children. Maureen’s appearance on screen had clearly made an impression on her, and when she met her future husband on a blind date in the 1950s, she used the Returning Home film as an opening line, to ‘kid’ him that she’d been a film star as a little girl. The screening at the NWFA brought back many memories:
The title came up ‘Returning Home 1948’ and there I was on screen a little girl again. I remembered the clothes I was wearing, everything. There was my dear Mum now deceased. I went to pieces and cried. Then my sisters and my brothers were on the screen leaving our home to come and meet me at the station all those years ago. Not my Dad though – he could not get the time off work to join them. I was overwhelmed by it all. After talking about it for so long here I was actually seeing it on a film made forty-five years before.
Maureen put on weight during her stay in Switzerland and her health improved so much that she was able to go to a mainstream school. As she explained the visit to Switzerland opened ‘her eyes to living differently’. It made her realise that she didn’t have to live like her mother and father. ‘You could have a better life’. And she did, emigrating to Australia with her mother’s blessing when she married.
Most of the those who went to Switzerland as children didn’t know each other before leaving and were separated on arrival there; even siblings were separated and sent to different destinations. They knew very little of what each had encountered and on meeting,,, at the anniversary showing in Manchester in 2018, were fascinated hear of different experiences, untangling puzzles and filling in gaps for each other. Maureen, who had ‘felt important’, on arriving at her destination to be met by host family’s car (another first), was ‘shocked’ to hear from others how some groups of children had been sent to what she called ‘orphanages’ or ‘hostels’, probably health farm communities for those who were tubercular.
Not all stayed in the palatial surroundings that Joe Littler and Maureen described: many went more modest homes. All those who have in contact with us have, however, expressed a strong sense of having been touched by a different kind of life. Joe, for example, wrote how being chosen to go to there was ‘one of the best things’ that ever happened to him.
Young as they were, they recall somewhat dream-like encounters with difference, a changed sense of aspiration and identity expressed in large and small ways, sometimes through hobbies or adults interests. A particularly striking example was a girl whose mother was stuck in a marriage with a drinker who never enough money. Her mother eagerly encouraged the trip to Switzerland because it was an opportunity to travel that she had never had. As her daughter explained: ‘I’m so glad she did, because it changed my life’’.
Personal Responses to the Anniversary Film Showing
The adults who went to switzerland
The trip to Switzerland changed my life. I have enjoyed good health since.
It was quite an emotional experience. I was one of the children in the film, it brought back memories of childhood, and of the Swiss experience which I had chosen to forget.
Brought back great memories. Very surprised to see how many people attended and enjoyed hearing others’ experiences compared to mine.
spouses and siblings
This has been a nice way to remember my husband’s visit to Switzerland as it is almost 12 months since he died. He would have loved this.
It was wonderful to see the children looking so happy and healthy on the train and at the station. My brother who was 10 when in Switzerland always described how kind his hosts were and kept receiving presents from them for many years. The fact that so many families in Switzerland, which chose to be neutral in the war, were so enthusiastic to welcome and care for sick and probably poor children with genuine affection can restore our faith in human nature.
Children of the ‘delicate’ children
Made me feel fortunate and very touched at the kindness of strangers – the Swiss family who were welcoming to Dad.
Humble that my dad was there at that time. Hadn’t realised how poor and unhealthy the children were in 1948.
As a child of one of the children that was sent to Switzerland this has been I feel a huge part of even my childhood as my mother would talk about it always with great fondness and I feel that really she didn’t want to come home.
Wonderful idea to bring everyone together and keep the history of this going.
Felt moved by viewing the footage
Very important social and personal history.