Subject Basque Children.
Reference John Bull, 5th. June, 1937.
HEART OF HUMANITY CAMP
By a 'John Bull' Investigator
In the peace and security of their camp at Southampton these refugee children are being helped to forget the horrors they have left behind them
I HAVE just seen 4,000 children who yesterday were in fear of death, but today are enjoying every moment of life. They are the little Basque refugees, just brought to England, who will remain our guests until the Spanish war is over.
They have been terrified so often and for so long, and seen such horrors, that, with some, nerves had been strained to breaking-point. Others, stunned beyond power to endure any more, had come to a state of cold fatalism. In that condition they arrived. But what a miracle a few days in the camp at Southampton, with its peace and security, have wrought.
The older ones, boys and girls of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, are a little more serious. But in the little ones life is again beginning to bubble on the surface.
All are eager to make friends and to learn English, the language of the people whom they look upon as their saviours.
Before I reached the entrance gate, youngsters sitting on the grass waiting for their midday meal, scribbled their names on scraps of paper and threw them over the fence to me and to others who had come from Southampton to see them.
One boy called out "O.K." and felt proud of the achievement. Another begged for the newspaper I was carrying. When I passed it over he scanned the front page excitedly, though he could not read a word.
Immediately a dozen others fell upon him and nearly tore it out of his hands in their eagerness to look at the strange new language.
The thing that strikes you most as you go among them is the deep sense of gratitude for all that is being done for them.
I do not know Spanish, so an interpreter was put at my disposal. She was born in Colombia, South America, married an Englishman and now lives in Southampton. Every day she goes to the camp to help.
Wherever we went Mrs. Parker put the same question, " Esta contenta? " ( Are you happy?) And the reply was always the same. " We are happy." It was surprisingly rare to see any tears.
As we passed one tent several children were still waiting for their dinner — long past the usual time. With only a couple of days' notice the National Joint Committee had to get ready to receive 4,000 children instead of the 2,000 they had prepared for. For the first few days, there was some disorganisation which could not be avoided.
This little group waiting for their dinner was a result of that. One girl, about fourteen, was hungry and crying, and complaining bitterly. Her companions sat about, just as hungry, but patient.
As I passed, three girls from another tent, about her own age, came up and opened a regular barriage of reproach. She ought to be ashamed of herself after all that was being done for her. She was lucky to be alive — to have got away safely from Bilbao.
Suppose she hadn't had her dinner. What of it? She ought to wait patiently and be thankful there were no bombs to run away from. She was ungrateful. They stormed at her for about five minutes until she was thoroughly quelled.
That little incident expresses perfectly the attitude of them all. A deep, deep gratitude, bursting to express itself in any way it possibly can.
It shows itself in their orderliness and good behaviour and patience. I spent a whole afternoon going round every part of the camp, talking to as many as I wished. And though I saw thousands of children I did not see one single incident of serious misbehaviour.
They keep themselves beautifully clean. Hair is well brushed and neatly done. Tents are orderly. Many of the children were busy washing their clothes.
Water has been laid on from the Southampton supply and there are taps all over the camp and plenty of buckets. One firm sent £3,000 worth of camp equipment.
Ysabel Arroyo is fourteen. I found her busy outside her tent doing the washing for her younger brother and sister. They come from San Sebastian and were already refugees in Bilbao. She was studying to be a teacher when war drove her from her home.
But despite all the hardships she has been through, she has a bright, cheerful face and always wants to be doing something. She and her sister and brother will remain together.
In no case will brothers and sisters be separated when they are finally sent from the camp to permanent homes. And Ysabel is determined to be a conscientious " mother " to her little family while they are in England.
Many of the children come from quite well-to-do homes. Even the majority, whose fathers are artisans and the like, come from comfortable homes. Many of them have brought money with them - so many that a special bureau had to be set up where they could get it changed into English money.
Señora de Eguia is there with six of her children three boys, three girls, the eldest thirteen, the youngest two. She has left four other children behind her to fight in the war.
Her husband is an official in the Government propaganda department in Bilbao. At home she had servants and a nurse to look after her children. Small, slight and amazingly young-looking, she told me how, in twenty-four hours, she packed for her family of six to come away.
" I took just one trunk," she said, " and put in three complete sets of clothes for each of the children. Nothing more. Things have been so scarce in Bilbao for months that though we had money we could not buy new clothes. So I just brought the old ones."
She, too, is full of gratitude for all that is being done for them.
When I saw her she did not know where she would go when she left the camp. I learned later through Dr. Audrey Russell, the British doctor who worked in Bilbao examining the children. Señora Eguia and her children will stay as the guests of a private person.
Señora de la Torre is another mother with three boys. Her husband is in a shipping office and she herself was a teacher employed by the Government. At first her three boys were coming alone in the Habana.
Then teachers were asked for. She applied, was accepted, and now is pathetically happy to be with her children
The youngest, little Augustin, had his seventh birthday in the camp a few days after he arrived. I asked Pedro, the eldest, tall, manly, and thoughtful for his ten years, what he thought about being in England.
He said he was very glad to be here, and added " But it doesn't matter about us here. It is those others left behind who will settle this thing." So quickly does war mature children.
Another boy told me without a flicker of emotion that any of them would be very lucky if they ever saw their parents again.
Wherever you go the children beg for paper and envelopes to write home.
One little boy of about seven had found some sticky stuff somewhere and made a primitive envelope for himself with the address scrawled in faint pencil. If it ever survives the journey to Bilbao it will be a miracle.
The Boy Scouts have given very valuable assistance in helping to organise the camp, and a film has been made which will be sent out to Bilbao and shown to the mothers who have been left behind.
The real personality behind the whole thing is Mrs. Leah Manning. She has been working in Bilbao for a long time and when the British Government refused to give any money to evacuate the children she set about getting it herself.
In contrast, the French Government has voted £1,000,000 and has already taken 10,000 children.
Through Mrs. Manning's efforts a thousand pounds came to the fund from Chicago. One man in London gave £5,000. Lord Davies gave £1,000 and his two sisters £500 between them.
For the actual organising this end three Members of Parliament have been mainly responsible — D.R. Grenfell (Labour), Capt. Macnamara (Conservative), and Wilfred Roberts (Liberal). All political Parties and religions are represented among those who are working for these children. The Catholics are taking 1,200 of the children and the Salvation Army 1,400.
At Derby, Mrs. Noel Baker is running a local committee to look after fifty. At Worthing, the mayor is doing the same thing for another fifty. Bournemouth Girl Guides are taking 150.
But much money will be needed to take care of these children while they remain in England. Sir Walter Citrine has issued an appeal for £30,000. Donations should be sent to him at Transport House. London S.W.1.
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