Showing understanding, welcome and humanity – The Windermere Children

I was moved to tears watching “The Windermere Children” on TV this week.

It told the story of how, in 1945, our government took in 700 traumatised children from the camps in Germany and Poland. They had witnessed scenes more harrowing than we can imagine, almost certainly lost all of their family, killed by the Nazis.

300 of them were taken to a place near to Lake Windermere, and I saw how gradually they began to understand that they were free, were not going to be taken away, that they were loved, welcomed and treated with respect.

All the way through they were treated with dignity. Trauma was understood and taken account of. Time was given for them to express what had happened in their own way. Any wrong doing was not punished in way usual for those times, but with understanding and in a way that they understood what was wrong. The love and welcome were consistent.

At the end it showed five men who had been original Windermere Children. They had become part of our society, were patriotic, been good citizens, started and run successful businesses, given awards and one had been knighted. Above all they had remembered the welcome, and lived life as it should be.

Tears of joy hearing them speak turned to tears of rage. What a huge contrast to how our Government treats children arriving here from war torn countries where they too have witnessed atrocities, had family members killed and lived in fear. They haven’t arrived here by invitation though, haven’t been flown here and taken by bus to a safe and loving haven. They are not treated with respect and dignity, been able to express their terrible memories and talk about their families left behind. But they are treated as criminals who arrived here by unorthodox means, expected to give a coherent story when quizzed straight away, treated with suspicion in a culture of disbelief.

Why, oh why is it so difficult for our government to allow understanding, welcome and humanity to exceed all the negativity that those arriving here are met with?

It is going to get worse with the Nationality and Borders Bill that was debated in the House of Lords yesterday. Eight of our Peers gave excellent speeches against the Bill. Labour, Cross Benchers, the Green, the Bishops and even some Tories spoke well too. I only hope enough of the Tory MPs can listen to their consciences and look back on what happens when you give a welcome rather a push back to those seeking sanctuary here.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations. She is Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary's parliamentary and external relations officer.

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One Comment

  • Suzanne Fletcher..Thank you for a moving piece.. The Windermere Children, together with the earlier Kindertransport and the MS St. Louis, are an echo of a once caring UK.

    I have my own idea of when we, as a nation, changed ; or at least some of us did. What I do know is that successive governments have become more and more hostile to immigration and much of the country have bought into the ‘we are overrun/full-up’ myth.

    Thankfully, there are still ‘bright’ episodes to show that the spirit of the Windermere Children is still alive…Friends of mine who stopped donating to the R.N.L.I to punish it for being ‘a ferry service for illegals (my arguments fell on deaf ears) have been proved wrong; .The R.N.L.I have had a record year for donations..

    Hopefully, to use the words of Maggie Holland, “So here’s two cheers for a place called England, sore abused but not yet dead; A Mr Harding sort of England hanging in there by a thread.”

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