Edith talks about her new life in Kirkcaldy and her education. She describes her reaction when she finally met her birth father again.
INT: And what about going to school after that?
EF: Well that was…
INT: You still only spoke German?
EF: Yes, well they put me in the infant class to learn English and every morning the bell would go at a certain time. I can’t remember when…excuse me…And a group of pupils would be standing there, “We’ve come to take Edith to school!” And I had this for weeks that they came to collect me. And of course they gave me all kinds of IQ tests and various things and I had a lot of help from the infant mistress and the teachers and so gradually I got into my own, into my own age group. But every so often I had a request – somebody would come into the class and say, “Edith is to go to Miss O’Hinnachie and I thought “No, no…”
This lady did IQ tests and she sat on a squeaky cushion and every time you asked a question she would lean forward ‘Squeak! A Question, squeak! And an answer. Oh dear. It was all, you know, a man with a black bag goes up to the door, what’s his job? And things like that.
EF: So anyway…
INT: Were the children all kind to you? Because the war was starting and they must have known you came from Germany.
EF: The only time I ever had this was in Sunday School, because Mum and Dad were Christians and Dad, being thirty-nine/forty in age, he wasn’t called up because all the men had been called up. He wanted to go but he was Reserved. And he and Mum, were fire guards and different extra jobs that they did and, fine…But they were church members and we went every Sunday and only one time a little girl that I was sitting next to said, “I don’t want to sit next to you because you’re a German”. And that…whoa, that was…I went home and told Mum and Dad. Dad was furious and of course he saw his sister who was the superintendent of the Sunday School and he said, “Make sure that never happens again! And take that child away from Edith so she doesn’t have this…” You know.
INT: So he was able to stop her.
EF: Yeah, yeah. People were curious when you went out into the park for a walk, I sometimes with Dad’s sisters went for a walk after I had lunch with them, after Sunday school and they would say, “Oh, is that the little German girl” You could hear them whispering it, you know. But nobody was unkind, ever, not ever.
INT: That was good. Did you meet other people? Once you were with your new Mum and Dad did you meet other people who had come on the Kindertransport? That had come as refugees?
EF: No it was ironic that years later friends had been living in Dysart, another part of Kirkcaldy, well they had taken in a boy of the same age as me and they never even got us together.
And he, his parents came back; they managed to escape and get out. And they went to America, and he came back to this country to see that the people who had taken him in, who we knew, and we met here and it was just an amazing, amazing time together that we had. We had never met before but we just…Oh it was just….
INT: Did anybody, as far as you know, come from the Refugee Committee to check that you were being well looked after?
EF: Probably, maybe for Mum and Dad, but I was not conscious of that, no, no. Going to the police station, when I was sixteen, seventeen and eighteen, the superintendent of the police was a friend of Dad’s and he said… ‘Gavin asks to see me each time and we’ll have a cup of tea, just a formality’.
INT: And why did you have to go the police station?
EF: Because I was an alien.
INT: I see. And then were you given British citizenship after that? What happened?
EF: Yes, it was The Minors Act that came about when I was nineteen and Dad saw about that…getting me converted to Christianity…no, to British nationality.
INT: So I am assuming that you, not only didn’t meet any other people who came from Germany, but you also didn’t meet anybody from the Jewish community, is that correct?
EF: Not quite because there was a teacher at Kirkcaldy High, Herr Guhde, and he took in a Polish Jewish lad and we became very friendly. In fact they helped Mum and Dad because they couldn’t speak German and he did the translating so I was very fond of Dr Guhde and Henry so yeah…
INT: What did you find strangest about Scotland?
EF: Tomato soup. Red soup, I’d never, ever had red soup in my life before, red soup…But I thought it was all just so interesting, you know. Nobody was anything but helpful. It was just…Oh I just…Scotland’s the country for me, but British, I’m first and foremost British.
INT: And did you see your father again?
INT: What happened with your birth father?
EF: That was very difficult, very difficult because I went to Germany and his sister was a dear aunt of mine and she’d been bombed and she was paralysed from the neck down and I was going to stay with her and my father.
And he arrived at the station with beautiful red roses and everything. I have to confess with shame to this day; I felt nothing when I saw him. He was standing with his back to me when I looked out the window and he was tall and thin, just as I remembered him. Tall, very tall, six feet tall and you know, the crinkly hair which was grey of course but when he turned, the face was so wrinkled and ravaged. But he was always touching me and holding my hand and I could not, I could not feel the love that I had felt for this wonderful father that I had for nearly seven years, well seven years yes.
INT: And when was it that you went? How old were you by then when you went back to Germany to see him?
EF: Would it be nineteen or twenty? I was a student here.
INT: That is a long time.
EF: And of course…what I didn’t know was that my Scottish father was going out of his mind because he said to Mum, “She’ll not want to come back. She’ll see her own father. She’ll not want to come back.” She kept saying, she was one of these wonderful calming spirits, she said, “Gavin, she’ll be back, don’t you worry. This is her home and she loves us.” And I never saw such relief on their faces when I stepped off that plane and just ran towards them, you know.
INT: And why was it you weren’t able to go back sooner than that? Because that must have been quite a long time after the war had ended?
EF: Well I had no desire to go. I’d been fighting it and Mum and Dad didn’t want to force it.
INT: Right, right. That’s interesting. And after school what happened?
EF: After school I sort of said, I… I applied for university and was accepted for St Andrews University and then I suddenly said, “You know, you’ve been looking after me all these years. I would like to go and work.” And Mum and Dad said, “No. Take your education first.” But when I make up my mind about something I can be quite firm. So what happened was I applied for the continental exchange in London and got into the Post Office and the civil service here as a telephonist and it was the strangest thing, but just when I realised that I had made a terrible mistake, because all the girls were just talking about their boyfriends and what they did, and I thought I could do a university, Open University…
So I spent evenings/weekends studying and they’d say, “What were you doing at the weekend Edith?” And, you know, even boyfriends, I couldn’t spend the time with them because I was studying. I didn’t want to tell them. I was doing this quietly. And I thought, ‘This is not going to work.’ So I decided I would leave the Post Office and, ironically, when I had just made up my mind to do so, the appointment came through from London that I’d got a post in the continental exchange if I’d wanted it, but I didn’t. So then I went to university.
INT: And what did you study there?
EF: Modern languages and Latin. I did Italian the first year as well but my degree is in French and German.
INT: And then I think you went on to teach?
EF: Yes I went for a year to Moray House and then on to teach. Thirty-one and a half years teaching and I was a couple of years in the Post Office and that counted towards my final pension, so that worked out well.