Villagers opened their homes - and hearts - to German children just after the war

Four of the children who visited East Durham in the post-war years, including Ingrid Raabe and Barbel Linke.
Four of the children who visited East Durham in the post-war years, including Ingrid Raabe and Barbel Linke.

An appeal to trace details of visits made by German children to Hartlepool and East Durham just after World War Two has been launched.

History enthusiast David Inch is aiming to draw up a record of the post-war ‘respite holidays’ as little has been documented about them.

“The compassion and generosity shown to these German children so soon after the war has gone largely unrecognised,” he said.

“I am determined their stories should be compiled and deposited in the County Durham archives as a permanent record.”

Groups of German youngsters - many left orphaned or homeless by war - were invited to visit England on respite breaks from 1946 onwards.

In 1949, however, the scheme was expanded - with thousands of the poorest children brought over to Britain for months at a time.

“A party of around 19 was sent to Wingate in May 1949. They lived with the families of miners as foster children,” said David.

“I don’t want this part of our history to be forgotten. But, day by day, year by year, those who were involved are passing away.”

The German youngsters attended lessons in a special classroom at Wingate Girls’ School and enjoyed trips to Hartlepool and Durham.

Among those to “adopt” a German child for a respite break was Mr J. Spooner, who took in two ten-year-old girls for the three-month stay.

“The improvements in the youngsters has been amazing. They can now speak some English and are putting on weight,” he told the Mail.

Many of the visits made by German children were arranged by the British Aid for German Workers, while others were organised by churches.

“Severe deprivation was the reason behind the holidays. Some children had lost a parent, others were virtually homeless,” said David.

“Their situations were often very sad, but they were welcomed into the homes of people who had also suffered during the war.

“I just feel that it would be so sad if this story of the kindness of people so soon after the horrors of war ended up being forgotten.”

David, chairman of The Friends of Durham County Records Office, has spent weeks trawling through news cuttings and archives.

But the retired local government finance officer has yet, however, to track down all the names and dates of youngsters to visit the area.

“I just feel that this post-war period should not be forgotten. That is why I want to try and record it,” said David.

* Do you have any information? Email The Friends of Durham County Records Office on fodcro@gmail.com or write to: FODCRO, C/O Durham County Records Office, County Hall, Durham, DH1 5UL.