Remembering when war-weary Wearsiders welcomed German children into their homes

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.
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An appeal to trace details of visits made by German children to Wearside 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 on them.

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

“I am determined their stories should be compiled and deposited in the County Durham archives, where they will be on 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 several months at a time.

“A party of around 19 or 20 children was sent to Murton. They lived with the families of miners as foster children,” said David.

“I was a child then, but still remember it well. I’ve often wondered what happened to those children – and now I’m trying to find out.

“I just 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 posted to Murton attended lessons at the Presbytery Hall, but always joined Murton School pupils for lunch.

Among the guests was Irmgard Raabe, who had lost her father in the war. She was fostered by pit deputy Richard Lowton – and loved it.

Such was the success of her visit that Irmgard returned in 1950, receiving a school diploma for ‘good deeds’ during her six-month stay.

Her foster father, Richard, travelled to Germany to take Irmgard home in 1951, later telling the Echo he’d had a “grand time”.

“Irmgard was very happy in Murton,” he added. “But, when I went to Germany, I was very impressed by the kindness everyone showed.”

The early 1950s saw dozens of German youngsters enjoy respite care holidays in Sunderland too, although there was little time to rest.

Indeed, one party of visitors was treated to a whistle-stop tour of the town in 1953 – from shipyards to pits and even Roker Park.

“Newspapers of the time only tell fragments of the story. I want to document the bigger picture,” said David.

“There must have been some official documentation about the visits, or at least a list of names of the German children who visited.

“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 several 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.

“The reason behind these visits was severe deprivation. Some children had lost a parent, others were orphans or homeless,” said David.

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

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

And, by the mid-1950s, Wearside youngsters were making return visits to Germany, just a decade after the town had been severely bombed.

“I just feel that this post-war period should not be forgotten,” said David. “It may not be a perfect record, but at least there will be a record. People will know that there was great kindness shown.”

** Do you have any information on the post-war visits by German youngsters to Wearside or East Durham? 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.