In this section Henry describes his life when he reached Britain as a Kindertransport refugee. His first placement when the war broke out was in a farm in Perthshire but fairly soon he found himself being treated as an enemy alien and was interned in various places, eventually on the Isle of Man.
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H.W: Now, I went back to school and then war broke out. Remember we were friendly enemy aliens due to religious persecution; this was our standard. But the minute the war broke out, the police came. There was a curfew, I had to be in by ten-thirty; being an enemy alien.
And the police came to the door but there was no problem, we weren’t hounded, I mean people were friendly. Only certain things you had to do. I went back to school for two days then we were evacuated. From Queens Park Station I was evacuated to Perthshire, a little place called Guildtown. On a farm, I was very lucky. We had two children, a big farm, six hundred acres with a tractor, horses, a bothy so I learned to speak Scots ‘You know Tatties and stuff like that. We did potato picking obviously and we worked quite a bit on the farm which was great and there was no shortage of food.
We had cream (I mean it was a farm after all) there were tinned peaches and there were pheasants – it was absolutely wonderful and I went to the local village school in Guildtown and then I was transferred to Perth to the bigger school Perth Academy. Perth Academy did not accept me; my English wasn’t good enough, ok. I was sent to a Junior Secondary school Balhousie Boys School, Perth.
These things stay with you because you’re young. Now, I’m quite glad that Perth Academy didn’t accept me. Balhousie Boys School, the headmaster Mr Borthwick. He was very kind to me and I was the only foreign boy there in Perth. [The school was] opposite the Black Watch Barracks.
I was there about three months. [We] did one [of] Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth. Now that, funnily enough, I got to grips with. I can still quote you whole passages of Macbeth to this day and they were very kind. Certain exams I could sit in German and somebody would translate it into English and I got a leaving certificate eventually. I got fairly good marks only being there after a few months. We were transferred from that farm eventually. We were transferred to the other, the other side of Perth; [to] a village by the name of Forgandenny near Bridge of Earn. The house of Colonel Sir James Hutchison, a country estate, was taken over by the Glasgow School system and we were lodged there with thirty or forty other children.
There were another two Jewish children. So we stayed in this fancy house for wee bit then we took the train into school, there was no problem. It was very nice, it was well catered for.
This was the time of Dunkirk, so there were road blocks, I mean you know, they put cement bollards over the road; the tank could have gone round the field, it didn’t matter. In any case road blocks so you had to show identification. I had an alien’s book. So the little soldiers, they were looking for German spies. Here I come on my bicycle [going to school], there is written down ‘nationality – German’.
Well, the soldier, I can only tell you he nearly wet his pants. I mean, he sent for his corporal, the corporal sent for the sergeant, the sergeant sent for the officer.
He said ‘Let the boy go to school’ and it is quite [true], this remains in your memory. Yes. So that, it went on like that. No problem.
I corresponded with my parents. That became the problem afterwards and as I, when I became sixteen I should have registered. That was after Christmas, [in] February, I forgot to register and [Perthshire] became a protected area.
You may not be aware of that, the whole of Great Britain ending within five miles of the coast or certain parts of the country where they stored ammunition or they had army barracks were not allowed for enemy aliens of any kind to stay there. So, I had to leave.
I had to leave school and I was sent home to Glasgow, back to Mrs Harwich because this became a protected area; you simply could not stay. Edinburgh was protected, you couldn’t stay anywhere near the coast.
So I came home to Glasgow and it didn’t last very long, [Now] I have a different story. I was then arrested for corresponding with the enemy. May I, may I explain to you. I wrote to my mother and father. When war broke out, of course, this postal service ceases completely but I had uncles in Paris and in Belgium and I wrote to my uncle in Belgium Salo Wurtzburger, and he sent the letters to my mother – the letters were censored.
I was accused of corresponding with the enemy which was an [offence], in war time you know, we’re laughing about it now but it was a very serious offence. I’ve got, if the archives are in there, I’ve got these letters etc here. In any case I was told to come to a tribunal in Edinburgh, the committee arranged a lawyer for me. We went to Edinburgh, the lawyer was not allowed in so I’m here, I’m sixteen years of age, I’m standing in the High Court in Edinburgh, Sir James Strachan – [who] became Lord Strachan later – and two assessors. Who were well informed, they even knew that my uncle in Paris had changed address so they were, I was amazed how well informed they were. I committed this offence and I was found guilty of that offence.
This was the problem, they didn’t know what to do with me. You are underage; I was, I wasn’t handcuffed – thank God for that. I was taken from the Court to Haymarket Station, Edinburgh. I was locked in a compartment to Queen Street. And at Queen Street two detectives came on the train and opened the compartment, took me to Queens Drive to Mrs Harwich. I was to pack a case. I had two phone calls, I was allowed two phone calls and I was taken away. They were very kind, I mean traumatic yes, I mean but you’re sixteen, you’ve just got to cope with it. Traumatic it was I grant you. Nevertheless there was no ill treatment, no abuse or anything like that. The two detectives were very, you know, they’ve got a kid there, what are they to do?
Got to St Andrew’s Square Police Station which in these days was..
The sergeant said ‘Canny take him – nae laddie under seventeen is allowed in a cell’ Very civilised country, Scotland.
So they didn’t know what to do with me. They sent me to a remand home in St Vincent’s Street. Now, a remand home which contained young children from other remand homes who are to appear in court the next day. So I got to this remand home, I must have been the oldest. [The others were] twelve year olds. The first thing he said ‘What did ye dae?’ I didn’t dae nothing you see! So I ended up at the bottom of the pile and the, the commander, the chairman, no the manager of this remand home, he was very kind but very naïve.
He was very naïve, even I knew better. You know, in these days we all smoked. You just smoked. You weren’t allowed cigarettes – he said ‘You must leave the cigarettes in my office and if you want to smoke come to my office’
Now, I knew better. I mean you’re in, you’re in amongst the lot you don’t go to the manager’s office for a smoke. You would have been absolutely… I knew better than that. I was there for three days then they decided they had to take me, they took me to Maryhill Barracks which doesn’t exist anymore. Maryhill Barracks, in Maryhill Road.
I was put in an underground bunker with twenty, well I can’t say German soldiers, German merchant seamen. I don’t know if you know or remember, there was the Icelandic Blockade. The British Navy would not let any, any foreign ships come, to supply Germany. So when they captured the ship they interned the crew. So these were German merchant seamen who I was interned with in Maryhill Barracks for at least three weeks, which wasn’t pleasant I can tell you. Some were very anti, one or two were quite kind and we were there for several weeks and then we were transferred to Donaldson School in Edinburgh; you know the deaf and dumb school?
That became our internment camp where we were interned there for quite a while.
I’m now going back to the internment camp in Edinburgh. The, I can remember the commander of that camp (Well, camp is strong; it was a school, there were only these twenty German merchant seamen and myself) and he said ‘Is there anybody here that can cook?’
Well I, even then I learned, you know, any volunteer for something, even if you’re in a prison camp, it always helps you. I said ‘Yes’ Well, I was put in charge of the kitchen but I had these German sailors as my kitchen staff. One called me a dirty Jew and another one knocked him out or whatever. In any case the commander said to me ‘You have to prepare a meal for two hundred people arriving within the next seventy-two hours’
Because by then general internment of friendly enemy aliens was decreed in the Cabinet. nothing has changed [since]. The tabloid press, ‘The Express’, particularly ‘The Daily Mail’ you know, ‘Intern them, intern them – they’re enemy aliens!’
And Churchill got fed up, and he said ‘Collar the lot’ and he banged the table in Cabinet and we ended up, we ended up eventually on the Isle of Man.
So I came from there to various other camps. It was very traumatic but you learn; you learn a lot. Eventually I spent ten months in internment in the, in the Isle of Man.
On the Isle of Man where we were very well treated but it was a high powered learning curve for a young boy. I mean, I must have been amongst one of the youngest.
Most people were in their mid forties and whatnot. A lot of academics, a lot of, I mean a lot of music. The Amadeus Quartet, Lord Weidenfeld. All the winners of prizes. Of the Nobel prizes, of prestigious prizes, Rudolf Peierls the atomic people, they were all there. This was a high powered learning curve. I remember these men playing chess, you know, they had, I mean they had wives and children ashore. Playing chess with their back to the table. You were allowed five seconds for a move; callout the square. So it was, this was the kind of place it was.
The problem was I got a new roommate and he tried to get me drunk a few times he said he was an officer, a German army officer working for the British Aluminium Company in Fort William, which was quite true. But he wasn’t; he was an MI5 man. His German was perfect, his English was perfect – fantastic.
So he pumped me for information – I didn’t have any information. All I can say, I really think they did suspect me of writing these letters. You know, a child, letters can be used to communicate with the enemy quite simply.
In any case I was released. During my stay in the camp I was again before tribunals and I went from ‘Enemy A’ (dangerous enemy alien) down to ‘B’ then I became ‘C’ and when I became ‘C’ (friendly enemy alien) the commander said to me, he said ‘I’m sorry, you are under the age of internment; we have to send you home’
Now, after ten months interment the worst thing was being sent home. You were given a ticket and then you’re in the open wide world.
You’ve been with your group of people absolutely, you know. Be it army or prison- it doesn’t matter. So here you go, you have to change trains in Preston. It was all…you managed but it was quite, was quite frightening
H.W: Only two years ago I say to myself, this story – I mean did they really suspect me? C’mon. So I wrote to my MP, I said
‘What can I do?’ he said ‘Well, write to the National Archives’
Well lo and behold, it’s all there. They sent me stuff. They sent me stuff which has to be secret for another twenty-seven years.
I said ‘Do me a favour’ But because I’m the enquirer and I’m the subject of the enquiry they released all these things for me and I’ve got all the correspondence from the National Archives. I mean when you think, seventy years later it’s all there and you can access it under the Freedom of Information Act.
H.W: It’s quite amazing
INT: Yes. And did that explain?
H.W: It did yes. Oh yes it explained to you; I can show you. I’ve got all these things, I think I might give them to the archives in Glasgow
INT: Yes. You can scan it I think yes
H.W: They can scan it, they can look at it, yes. It’s very interesting – all this correspondence
INT: What does that reveal about why you were there?
H.W: What does it reveal? It only revealed…it, it didn’t reveal anything. It said, one, yes, one chief constable said ‘The boy should not be left in freedom, he is a danger, he should be interned.’
And when they examined me again it said, he said ‘Excuse me, the boy’s of above average intelligence and he should return to Mrs Harwich in Glasgow’
So you see how it changed over the period. It was very interesting