Quakers support Germans in Britain
While Hilda wondered if she would meet Germans in France, other British Quakers were meeting Germans closer to home.
There were thousands of Germans living in Britain when war broke out. They were particularly known for working as waiters in London. At the beginning of war, many German men were called up to the German army and had to return to Germany, often leaving wives and children behind. British wives of German husbands found themselves without support and facing social stigma in Britain. At the same time, German, Austrian and Hungarian civilians in the UK were labelled as “enemy aliens”, and the men in particular were interned in camps.
At least as early as the second week of the war, Quakers were discussing how they could support German civilians in the UK or help them to return to Germany via neutral countries such as the Netherlands or the US. A committee was formed. At a time when opponents of war were accused of being pro-German, the Quaker work with Germans was criticised in pro-war newspapers.
The following report appeared in the independent Quaker magazine The Friend on 9 October 1914.
W.H. Aggs gave an account of the emergency work among distressed Germans, Austrians and Hungarians in England.
At present it is difficult to get access to the Concentration Camps, but it is hoped shortly to make arrangements to supply prisoners of war with books and means of occupation. The Committee has been almost overwhelmed by the claims made upon it. There are about 800 names in the casebook, and many of these names represent families. A good deal has been done in the way of repatriation, and the American Embassy has entrusted a large part of its work in this direction to the Committee, and has provided funds for it.
In spite of abuse in some papers, the Committee is rapidly gaining the confidence of the authorities. Dr Henrietta Thomas has taken several parties to the frontier and has now started on a somewhat perilous journey. She is conducting another party to the German frontier and hopes to go on to Berlin, to arrange for the return of English girls and women from there. She will then endeavour to proceed by way of Cracow and Prague to Vienna to collect other English girls, and to return with them through Switzerland, Italy and France.
The Committee is in great need of funds if the work is not to be contracted to the help of a few cases through the winter. Now and then employment has been found for applicants, but the prejudice against Germans is very great and extends to their wives even when English. Up till now about £300 per week has been expended.
From The Friend, 9 October 1914. Used by kind permission of The Friend Publications Ltd.
Read more about Quaker work with 'enemy aliens' in The Testimony.
Amidst fears of German troops reaching the town, Hilda's tasks seem to have included keeping everyone calm, as shown by an early letter to her friend Edith.