Justin's posts

D.Kay and R. Miles, ‘Refugees or Migrant Workers? The Case of European Volunteer Workers in Britain (1946-1951)’.

Kay and R. Miles article, ‘Refugees or Migrant Workers? The Case of European Volunteer Workers in Britain aims to explore the tensions in government policy towards the initial recruitment, selection, and placing of volunteers in employment in Britain. The article begins by mentioning how the displaced people were specifically recruited under a Labour Government to help resolve a situation of acute labour shortage, conservatively estimated at around one million jobs. Britain was looking for unskilled workers to carry out essential jobs. They were viewed as making a positive contribution towards British economic recovery, especially compared to the immigrants arriving during the 1930s, who were viewed as being burdens on the economy due to the recession they were arriving in.

Both labour and the conservatives agreed that displaced persons were needed not just economically but to add to the growth of future British generations. This was because of their willingness to be free and adopt British values. The displaced persons scheme began in October 1946 by firstly accepting roughly 1,000 women from Eastern Europe for residential domestic work. This then led to other schemes being utilised like the Westward Ho which did not specify job roles until after the refugees arrived, creating a more flexible response to labour shortages as they arose. This scheme was carried out between 1947 and 1949. The term ‘displaced person’ had negative connotations so was then changed to ‘European volunteer worker’. By the end of recruitment, roughly 91,000 EVW’s were brought into the country.

The government preferred short term workers because they could be repatriated. This was not as easy to do with refugees that were stateless. They also preferred those from western countries as their way of living was like Brits, so groups like the Polish were difficult to assimilate therefore not wanted. When it came to eligibility, men had to be no older than 50 and women 40. They were not only judged on how well they may carry out a job but were extremely vetted on hygiene, demeanour, and habits. This was because they most likely were going to settle in Britain so had to assimilate well. Baltic women working in hospitals were positively portrayed throughout Britain for their beaty and good work ethic.

EVW’s could not leave their jobs with official consent. This led to large concentrations of women (95% in textiles and domestic service) and men (70% in coal mining and agriculture) working in specific jobs. They were paid the same as British workers but could only be hired if a Brit was not available for employment. They were also not allowed to create or join a trade union and were first to go if redundancies were announced. EVW’s were deported if they were not in good shape, so if they had venereal diseases or TB as they shouldn’t be a burden on an already overstretched health service. However, this was later reversed on humanitarian grounds and TB was treated by the British.

It is noted that the EVW were usually not allowed to change jobs. However, the Ministry of Labour quickly found out that they lacked authority to impose these rules as the threat of deportation was usually a bluff. This was because the Home Office had to sign off on individual cases so were not worth the time. So, it was common for EVW’s to jump between careers in search for better pay. Women ad men were also allowed to leave their jobs to reunite with their partners. This meant that men were willing to take jobs in less traditional sectors like textiles – 560 men joined their wives in textiles. Due to the difficulties of practically deporting EVW’s, they were eventually allowed to stay in Britain longer than they were contracted by 1953 and they were now referred to as Foreign Workers recruited under the Westward Ho scheme.

This article is effective at showing how desperate Britain were to continue their economic growth. It was also interesting to see how the British had to contend with the issue that arose from taking in significant European workers.

Gemma's posts

D. Dean, ‘Coping with Colonial Immigration, the Cold War and Colonial Policy: the Labour Government and black communities in Great Britain, 1945-51’ Immigrants & Minorities 6:3 (1987)

The article argues that the Labour government took little action to cope with large scale migration from the Empire and that there was a lack of sympathy and understanding for the isolated black residential communities which were almost totally regarded as havens for unemployed black men, unruly white women and mixed race children in the seaports that had been living in poor conditions with no recognition for nearly a century. These areas were remote and distinct from the rest of the nation due to race riots, poor social conditions and the depression. After the war with the creation of the Welfare State, a narrow-minded British society were keen to reserve these benefits for the deserving and it was believed that boundaries were to be put in place for who should receive them. Therefore, West Indians and West Africans were generally unwelcome as they were arriving in Britain.

Dean argues that on one hand, the post-war Labour government was working tirelessly to build a new partnership between London and the Colonial Empire which would secure Britain’s future position in the world. Evidence of racial incidents, discrimination and tension would lead to bad publicity in the Colonies and more black people arriving to compete for work and housing would undoubtedly create more tension.  On the other hand, the presence of black students and trainees for short periods of study was encouraged, with the aim that they would absorb British ideas and become willing to favour the Western powers in the struggle against Communism.

The author goes on to state that the British labour government in general chose to do nothing despite being faced with these challenges. For instance, it refused to introduce legislation to restrict immigration from the Colonies, whilst also declining to bring in means that would outlaw discriminatory practices or break down prejudice, largely on the grounds that such legislation would cause bad publicity and upset white sections of the population. There was also little attempt to see that the minorities had special needs upon arrival which required sympathetic treatment. It was hoped that immigration would decrease as war weariness receded, employment became more settled and those who were already settled in the country would be forgotten again.

The article begins by describing the situation of black people in Britain prior to the Atlee Government. It was acknowledged by the government that these communities had suffered even more than other sections of the population from the depression and it was admitted that their struggle was the result of forces stronger than economics: ‘During the years of the depression they suffered from unemployment, partly because of the economic depression, but more so on account of racial prejudice.’ These family units therefore became a social problem. In these areas it was mainly ex-sailors, almost entirely male. Marriage or co-habitation took place with white women, a relationship which was frequently denounced. White women were often condemned as deviant, rootless and promiscuous and post war studies as a result, gave considerable attention to the white partners and frequently these women were blamed for deteriorating race relations. Therefore, whenever government departments discussed tensions arising between black and white communities, the dangers of association between black men and white women were highlighted.

Post war Britain changed in terms of race relations after WW2. Dean highlights the point of view from Dr Layton Henry in terms of race relations, ‘that the outbreak of the Second World War caused a dramatic change in the whole situation’. It was a war in which racism and the theory of racial superiority was blamed for its outbreak, and British political warfare had highlighted this in the mass atrocities suffered. The war is said to have pushed diverse groups together and some claim that the war needs of Britain from the colonies had broken down some traditional patterns of behaviour.

There was a complicated response from the white British population that had been exposed to imperial propaganda when they were met with black colonial soldiers and workers who had been convinced that Britain was the source of compassion and goodwill.

Dean highlights that those who were actually responsible for the welfare amongst black colonials in Britain were not optimistic about race relations and they warned in 1946 that ‘it is important that it should be recognised that a colour bar exists in various forms in the country’. Therefore, it is demonstrated that clearly the war had not changed prejudice into enlightenment. The Labour government tried to bring about significant social changes. The image of a less deferential society and expectations of greater sympathy and understanding of those in the African, Asian and West Indian colonies and the black residents already living in the country were encouraged which was related in every way to the fragile position of racial relationships in the Colonies. Labour politicians considered themselves to have distinct advantages to deal with the new situation and at party conferences Labour voices could often be heard condemning aspects of imperial rule, and the majority population of Kenya and Central Africa received powerful support in the struggle against deep-rooted aristocratic white settlers or threatening capitalist enterprises. Therefore, Dean highlights that there was a noticeable shift in opinion regarding the Empire when Labour came to power.

The author then argues that in 1945 the Labour victory proclaimed the death of an older, anachronistic, arrogant empire. The Colonial Office looked to the way the labour government handled eastern European displaced persons as they were viewed as a way to help with the labour force that Britain badly needed at the time. The Colonial office therefore thought that this could also be applied to areas in the West Indies with major unemployment, particularly Jamaica where the number of unemployed was from 40,000 to 50,000. Ex-servicemen who were aware of the unemployment in their countries decided to settle in Britain rather than return to their islands. The Colonial Office desired a few organised official schemes which would enable it to cope with mass immigration. It was to discourage spontaneous, uncontrolled immigration in which people arrived in numbers with no accommodation, no prior knowledge of living conditions and prevent them being attracted to the existing black neighbourhoods. Second, schemes were to be directed towards groups with particular skills who might be able to relieve severe labour shortages and thereby not experience too much white resentment. Finally, it was necessary to discourage the notion in the West Indies that the British government was uninterested in the needs of the area and preferred white, displaced Europeans who often claimed to have fought against Britain to black West Indians who had stood at Britain’s side in war.

The Prime Minister refused to abandon the open-door policy and told his backbenchers that it was traditional that British subjects whether Dominion or Colonial origin (and of whatever race and colour) should be freely accessible to the UK. However, major concern was expressed in the Economic Policy Committee when news spread that there were to be over 400 Jamaicans arriving at Tilbury in June 1948 on the former troopship the SS Windrush. The Economic committee argued that it would create serious embarrassment and it was suggested that the Secretary of State for the colonies should do everything possible to prevent the occurrence of any further similar incidents. This mass immigration led to fears that the same could happen with other groups such as the quarter of a million Indians in South Africa who were experiencing poor living standards and racial tension and nothing was in place to prevent them from coming to Britain. This raised immediate concerns over approaching shifts of population in Britain and was a sign to Attlee that the open-door policy would have to be altered and he stated, ‘If our policy were to result in a great influx of undesirables we might, however unwillingly, have to consider modifying it’. Dean highlights that the term undesirable was never precisely defined and little recognition had been given to the Windrush immigrants who were skilled Jamaicans, had invested considerable amounts of money from their own savings to pay for their journey and that they were usually ex-servicemen with prior experience in Britain. It was therefore agreed in all government departments that a fast distribution in small groups would calm the situation and create less public attention surrounding the situation. It was also agreed that the new arrivals were not to be allowed to drift and settle into black neighbourhoods. They were to be dispersed and employed.

The arrival of more immigrants, particularly the SS Orbita in Liverpool created more anxiety over the volume of immigration in 1948. This encouraged the first major discussion through an interdepartmental enquiry, on the possible use of black labour in British industry. Participants were the Ministry of Labour, the Colonial Office and the Home Office. Dean highlights that The Home Office anxiety over immigration figures was concentrated on two issues. It was believed that the easing of restrictions in wartime, careless shipping security, particularly in the West African ports and the network connections in British seaports was encouraging a huge rise in stowaways, who were cast off in Liverpool, Cardiff or London and then found themselves in the black, unemployed communities. The Home Office were also concerned about the implications for law and order if a larger inflow of West Indians and Africans came to the country. It was thought that the colour element was the main factor which caused negative attitudes in the public. Along with this, there was the wide belief that large numbers arriving from the West Indies were arriving not to improve their opportunities or find jobs but to exploit the expanding Welfare State. Dean highlights that this was presumed whilst the harsh effects of racial discrimination or unemployment and poor living and social conditions were left without acknowledgment. The Welfare State which was viewed as the finest achievement by the Labour government and increasingly seen as in need of protection supported the notion that black newcomers were individuals stealing rights that did not belong to them and this was made known to the Prime minister by Labour MPs. Dean argues that this kind of pressure undoubtably influenced most government departments which were involved in the discussion of black immigration throughout this period.

In terms of employment, the Ministry of Labour came to the conclusion that a widespread employment of black labour in factories, farms and offices would quickly lead to tension. In particular if black and white workers had to work closely. The majority of apprehension about West Indian residents came from the Midlands and requests were made either for a very restricted admission policy or if possible total exclusion. This led to serious incidents like Causeway Green near Birmingham in 1949, where there were clashes between West Indians and other residents which led to officials mostly taking action against the black group.

The author continues to demonstrate that throughout this period the evidence of racial discrimination did cause politicians and civil servants to consider a form of response and deliberate a kind of legislation which would outlaw various discriminatory practices. There was the concern that colonial students in Britain were experiencing discrimination and racial prejudice. Therefore, enhancing anti-British feeling amongst them and making Communism more attractive. Although this could have been addressed by the government, the Conservative opposition attacked Labour for their meddling with personal behaviour and conduct and this served as a warning to Labour ministers that they should stay clear of legislation against discrimination. A number of government supporters such as Lord Farringdon and Rev. R Sorensen continued to push for legislation which would outlaw certain discriminatory practice towards black people in employment, accommodation and places of entertainment but they then faced the cautious approach from those who would be in charge of implementing such legislation.

John Lewis who was Bolton’s MP and a significant parliamentary expert on race relations at the time felt that the British public needed to have their knowledge of the Colonies and its people modernised. He therefore admitted ‘there is a need for the British public to be better educated on the purpose for which they came to this country. This links, of course with the question of less racial discrimination.’ Dean highlights that there was however a present reluctance to put forward specific educational proposals to deal with this lack of knowledge. He also emphasises that when the question of a black person possibly coming to some sort of power was put forward, the question of white sensitivities came into question and therefore discussions to assign a black person as governor came to nothing.

By the 1950s, race relations were said to be a world crisis with Britain at the heart of it and eyes were fixed firmly on the public reaction at home and abroad. Issues of discrimination, influx of immigrants or any other concern relating to white and black people were subjected to public relations exercises by government departments to avoid potential criticism from the general public.

With the influx of West Indian and West African labour and the increased number of black students undergoing extensive programmes of education in Britain, the hostility and racial prejudice they experienced was certainly an obstacle to the process of co-operation between black people and white brits. Dean highlights that at this time, the Labour government believed that it was inappropriate to create any policy that openly acknowledged restriction by the colour of a person’s skin. Instead they adhered to the hope that as war excitement diminished and employment patterns became steady, the West Indian influx, in particular, would die away. Dean concludes that the Colonial Office were very optimistic in believing that there would be no influx similar to that of those who arrived on the SS Windrush and that black communities would once again become hidden from history.


Oliwia's posts

IRG Spencer, ‘The open door, labour needs and British Immigration Policy, 1945-55’.

The article by I.R.G Spencer is divided into four parts and overall aims to recognise the policies made by the British government to restrict the settlements of subjects from the Empire and Commonwealth. The articles largely counterargues the common belief that Britain maintained an ‘open door’ policy in terms of immigration as the author examines that as early as the 1930s, British officials spoke of a ‘problem’ of settlement of people from the Empire and Commonwealth. Although not always through legislation, the British immigration policy was largely argued to be ‘obstructionist’, limiting the human movement of people from the areas mentioned above.  

Part one of the article examines the notion that immigration in the post-war period until 1962 was ‘racialised’ and race was often ‘politicised’. According to Spencer, this was the reason for a shift from the non-discriminatory to obstructive immigration policies. Spencer also argues that the British Government despite recruiting people from the Commonwealth and Empire during the Second World War, it largely pushed for them to return to their homeland after the hostilities stopped. Part one of the articles is concluded by an analysis of the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962, which was said to provide a legal framework which enabled the British Government to limit settlement of Black and Asian British subjects.  

The second part of the article provides the reader with an insight into the different methods undertaken by the British government to discourage the settlement of – mainly – colonial citizens. The author gives examples of changes to issuing of passports and other administrative devices, one of these is the movement of passport approval from the colonial government to London, where the officials were said to be stricter on allowing entry and settlement. Further, many of those wishing to travel to Britain were required to possess a sponsor before being granted entry, this often discouraged the less affluent migrants. Additionally, the author also describes how the British Government aimed to deter colonial citizens from wishing to settle in Britain by sending over unemployment figures – especially those of colonials already settled in Britain. Lastly, within the second part of the article, the author states that although Britain was said to provide equality for all members of the Empire and Commonwealth, that certainly was not the case for other ‘foreigners’. 

Part three of the article discusses the ‘colour problem’ as a result of Empire Windrush. However, the author discusses how following an investigation, proposal for additional restrictions was rejected due to a lack of evidence that Empire Windrush was the beginning of a large-scale immigration. This part of the article also states that there was a lack of mention of labour needs during immigration debates and that one cannot generalise the attitudes towards Commonwealth immigration was the attitudes and opinions varied. 

The article is concluded in section four where the author argues that the measures put in place were of little success, particularly in the Caribbean. However, in the Indian subcontinent, emigration to Britain was made much more difficult as a result of the changes. 

Overall, the article is very detailed and informative, examining each aspect of British policy in the period 1945-55 thoroughly.  

Siobhan's posts

Thomas Lane ‘Victims of Stalin and Hitler: The polish community of Bradford’

The following article ‘Victims of Stalin and Hitler: The polish community of Bradford’ by Thomas Lane explores the Polish community within Britain specifically within Bradford.

The author introduces the source by including that Bradford attracted workers and merchants from the surrounding rural areas, and from far-flung ports of the British Isles and overseas. Bradford became a centre home of many different ethnic minority groups as Lane established that there were Irish, German and Jewish Immigrants attracted by job opportunities in the textile factors and wool markets. The author establishes that Christine Poles were not included within these ethnic groups until the second World War. It was established that there was a total of only around 4,500 poles numbered in the United Kingdom in the 1931 census to which they were clustered in three main areas of Polish settlement: London, Manchester and Lanarkshire.

Lane establishes that from the 19th century the majority of Polish newcomers were economic migrants and before then Poles in Britain were often mainly political refugees seeking sanctuary after the Polish uprisings of 1830, 1848 and 1863. The author also establishes that the polish presence within Britain and to a larger extent within Bradford was mostly a result of the war. Lane acknowledges that British officials were aware of the danger of creating ‘Alien’ settlements and that all reasonable measures had to be taken by the government to ensure that the Poles and other Eastern European workers within Britain after the war would assimilate. The Royal Commission on populations report in 1949 emphasised that Immigration was welcome only If the migrants “were of good human stock” and were not prevented by religion or race from intermarrying with the host of the population and becoming merged with it.

The author then establishes that Polish civilians freed from German labour camps at the end of the war increased the number of displaced persons held in Germany. There was around 55,000 Polish troops in the Polish first corps based in Britain and Germany at the end of the war, plus 19,000 members of the Polish air force and around 4,000 naval personnel. The author then mentions the significant number of Poles within Bradford as he states that according to the 1951 census there was a total of 2,757 Polish residents within Bradford. In 1961 the number was 2,303 however the reduction of poles reflects in the re-migration of Bradford Poles to the United States, Canada and Australia.  Lane also establishes that one other factor which makes up for the 1961 figure being relatively low was the fact it failed to take into account both substantial numbers of naturalization during the 1950s and the children born in British to Polish parents, or in mixed marriages where one parent was Polish.  In most cases these individuals considered themselves to be part of a polish community and it was possible to estimate their numbers.

Lane proceeds to mention that a consequently large proportion of the European Voluntary Workers found employment in West Yorkshire and Lancashire textile industries including Bradford where there was a severe shortage of labour after the war. The process of finding a job within Bradford was entirely Government directed,  members of the Polish resettlement corps were, however, free to find their own employment from the outset as some moved into textiles straight away while others made their way to Bradford after working in other areas which for one reason or another proved unsatisfactory.

Historian Lane introduces the reasoning for many Poles coming to Bradford and he states that some came because they had friends, some came prior to the possibility of a job in engineering when that industry was closed to them in other cities.  Some Poles preferred work in textiles as opposed to alternatives elsewhere, and others came due to the greater housing availability. However, Lane emphasises that although many went onto work in Textiles many believed their stay would be temporary until they could find something which also another reason which enabled hundreds of Poles to come to Bradford under this scheme, it also helped them enable friendships which lasted till after the war.

Lastly, Lane emphasises the social aspect of the Polish within Bradford as he recognised that parish clubs offered social and recreational opportunities within the Polish community. The list went from activities such as dancing, army days, gymnastic and chess clubs discussion groups, music and drama societies, a circulating library and many other activities.  It was also emphasised that Saturday schools offered children the opportunity to learn and speak Polish and to study Polish history, geography and culture. Although there was a number of shops selling traditional polish food, a polish pharmacy and a travel agency. All these allowed members of the community to meet and socialise away from the clubs and the chance to talk to their native language in familiar settings.  Overall this source written by Thomas Lane does well to illustrate the Polish community and explains their settlement into Bradford.

Christy's posts

Wendy Webster, Defining Boundaries: European Volunteer Worker women in Britain and narratives of community, (2000).

This source looks into the recruitment of female European volunteer workers (EVW’S) that came from camps within Europe for displaced persons to the British labour force during the 1940s. EVW’s were titled as “suitable” immigrants, after being deemed better than those branded undesirable, but not equal to the dominate white ethnicities within Britain. Webster tries to understand how gender was significant in defining the boundaries of national belonging, examining the testimonies of women who came to Britain through deportation, displacement, or exile. 

The recruitment of displaced persons from camps in Germany and Austria, to the British labour force, meant that EVW’s were denied refuge status. EVW’s included a range of many nationalities such as Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian, and Lithuanian. Although men were the majority of those recruited, into jobs such as mining, agriculture and textiles, Webster states that 21,434 women joined the scheme too, under the title of a “suitable” immigrant.

Webster points out that within literature, EVW’s are often missed out when discussing their impact on immigration policy, and in particular within gender history, and the impact of white, female migrants within the British labour force. The phrase suitable was widely used during the 1940s, and during a 1947 parliamentary debate they were described as “the spirit and stuff of what we make Britons”. The notion appeared that the EVW’s were still branded aliens, however due to their nationality, where the best option that Britain could get to help its labour force, in particular, when in comparison to both Black, and Asian immigrants, forming a hierarchy of suitability due to race.  Jewish survivours, who had been placed within the displaced personal camps were also targeted against and often were referred to as the bottom of the desirability list.

During a time of post-war reconstruction in Britain, the EVW’s offered a move to recruit labour from abroad, and the encouragement of British emigration. EVW men were preferred over men from the colonies and were seen as a way out of the growing labour shortage. EWV women were preferred over women fro the colonies, as they were described as better workers. Due to the fact that EVW’s were seen as aliens, they were employed on a contract basis, and could be controlled, or deported if unsatisfactory. Trade union fears grew over the wages of EVW’s and it was believed that they were being used to undercut wages, and ultimately the number of these workers where restricted. However, they were still regarded as a threat to both the livelihoods and conditions of indigenous workers. 

The role of a women had been defined since the 19th century as motherhood, and that if numbers within Britain were maintained then the work of an imperial nation could be achieved. Winston Churchill started actively promoting people to have larger families, however, there were fears over interracial mixing, which promoted the EVW workers further as they were deemed “suitable”. The most important aspect of an indigenous woman became her ability to have children, compared to an EVW woman that was to work. The identity as a low paid, low-status worker was part of of the way that female subordinate white ethnicities were constructed, and the separation of mothers vs workers grew wider. 

The narratives of such women where collected by Bradford Heritage project, and account many of the female experiences of EVW workers arrivals in Britain after being displaced. The accounts tell of scary, violent, and sudden removals of themselves, and their families from their homes in the middle of the night, without any belongings, showing the brutality of the process, and the discriminative, and cold responses they also received once in Britain. Organisations, clubs, societies, and communities for EVW women within Britain become very important for their livelihoods as many described, that “if I don’t help myself, no one will”.

Overall the British Government recruited EVW women in order to boost export drive, and help them in the national war effort, whilst denying them refugee status.  Although the British saw the indigenous women as the ideal mothers, and housewives, the stories of the EVW showed that they valued family life, and their communities within Britain as key to their survivals, and not just their ability to work.  Their desire to return to their home nations also shows that they saw themselves as exiles, and undesirables whilst living in Britain, even after being labelled as the most suitable workers in comparison to other workers of different races such as Black, and Asian EVW’s who were treated even worse. EVW women’s personal sense of identity shows that family life and community support was used, and highly valued, in helping them to recover and heal after their trauma from dispossession, and displacement, and to fight back from racism, and discrimination. 

Emily's posts

The Right to Asylum: Britain’s 1905 Aliens Act and the Evolution of Refugee Law- Alison Bashford and Jane McAdam

From the 1880s, states and self-governing colonies in America, Australasia and South Africa began to introduce laws to regulate entry of ‘undesirable immigrants’, and Britain followed this trend with the 1905 Aliens Act.

The 1905 Aliens Act was passed in response to the persecution of Eastern European Jews and their forced migration, during which around 120,000 to 150,000 European Jews settled in Britain between 1881 and 1914. The act has been framed as the original basis for further and more substantial restrictions in the 1960s. There was no comprehensive system of regulation or restriction in Britain before this act was passed, except for the Registration of Aliens Act 1836, which was thinly implemented.

The main focus of this article was the asylum provisions which the act gave, which permitted entry to the UK to those who were at risk of persecution or prosecution for political or religious reasons. The asylum clause made a change from previous legislation and inspired the development of future legislation. For example, successive acts were passed in 1914 and 1919.

The article looks at the idea of the ‘right to asylum’ through the interwar and mid-twentieth century period.

The act defined certain immigrants as ‘undesirable’ and detailed processes by which undesirable immigrants could be sent back to their country of origin at many ports, or be deported if already a resident. Undesirable immigrants were defined as those who could not ‘decently support’ themselves and any dependents they may have had, those who were a ‘lunatic or idiot’, or those who had been sentenced for a non-political crime in a foreign country.

The article states that it is not often remembered that the 1905 Aliens Act was the first time an individual’s right to asylum was written into a law, and the article believes that this could be because British officials distanced themselves from the principle.

Sophie's posts

John Stewart, “Angels or aliens? Refugee Nurses in Britain, 1938 to 1942”.

John Stewart’s “Angels or aliens? Refugee Nurses in Britain, 1938 to 1942” analyses the topic of refugee nurses in Britain during the late 1930s until the early 1940s, examining experiences of the nurses as well as the policies that affected them. He demonstrates that transition from the strict attitude towards refugees to the more relaxed approach which increased in 1942.

Stewart begins the article by explaining that the historiography of refugee women remains relatively poor, therefore emphasises the importance of his discussion on the topic. He then goes on to examine the background to the refugee situation, explaining the push factors that led people to leave their homeland. This included those who fled Poland following German invasion in September 1939. Stewart then goes on to explain that before 1938, Britain was reluctant to take many refugees, operating a limited policy on accepting work permits with the number of foreigners per hospital being restricted to 3 percent of staff. In 1938, the policy remained difficult, however, it became more liberal, as Stewart argues. The approaching war problematised the situation, with certain refugees being classed as “enemy”, many of whom were interned in 1940. Some authorities, including the LCC dismissed their enemy alien staff during this year. However, eventually there was a reduction of restraints and altering of attitude towards refugees, partly due to increased sympathy towards refugees, as well concern over the labour market.

The author places emphasis on the fact that refugees were seen as one way of solving the increased demand for nurses during the war, therefore, the guidelines for refugees were relaxed in order to accommodate this. He notes that during mid-1940, the Nursing and Midwifery Department stated that 130 out of 914 trained nurses and midwives were Czechoslovakian, with the remainder of Austrian and German descent. There was some concern among the British that foreign nurses would “crowd out” nurses from the United Kingdom, however a leading article in 1939 explicitly rejected this claim. Furthermore, Stewart goes on to mention pre-war hostility toward refugee medical practitioners. He argues that one proposed resolution for this was to employ female refugee doctors as nurses.

A section of the article is devoted to producing first-hand evidence of experiences during this period, including Miss Powell, who was responsible for the nursing section of the Ministry of Labour’s International Branch, explaining that she was overwhelmed by the large number of aliens who wanted to contribute.

Stewart concludes the article by stating that “the history of refugee nurses in the late 1930s and early 1940s can be seen as an episode which reflected well on both the host community and the nurses themselves”. He notes the changing position of refugee women from low status domestic work to the higher status nursing sector.

Overall, Stewart provides a detailed account of nurses during this period, using an adequate range of primary sources from both government officials and those in the medical field.


Abbie's posts

Tony Kushner, “Constructing (another) ideal refugee journey: the Kinder” – AG

This blog post focuses on the chapter, “Constructing (another) ideal refugee journey: the Kinder,” in Tony Kushner’s The Battle of Britishness.

The Kindertransport was a voluntary movement organised by the British government in 1938 that brought 10,000 Jewish and other children from Nazi Europe to Britain. It was set up in November 1938 and successfully brought refugees (of which, 90 per cent of the 10,000 children were Jewish) from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

The anti-Alien feeling still very much existed in Britain when this movement was created. Questions were increasingly raised on whether it was right to give free entry to political refugees who were seen as a danger to state and to law and order. Especially as, to the British state, migrants from Eastern Europe were the least desirable, no matter which problems they were facing at home. Kushner documents that almost all of the 80,000 refugees from Nazism, before the outbreak of the war, including those on the Kindertransport, were on temporary visas. Kushner also discusses the anti-Alien feeling in regard to the attitude of the British government, as there was no intention of the Kindertransportees to stay indefinitely, entry was, in words of the Home Office overview policy, strictly ‘on condition that they would be emigrated when they were 18’. This is reflected by a refugee worker who spoke to journalist, Mollie Panter-Downes (one of the leading voices in kindertransport), at Liverpool Street Station,  who informed her that the children would not be settled in Britain permanently – homes may be found for them in America, Australia or ‘wherever room can be found for them’.

The Kindertransport was restrained within the confines of existing alien legislation, according to Kushner’s studies, he regarded it as ‘a scheme with many flaws’.  He mentions the failure to assess the sustainability of guarantors and whether children should be separated from their parents. However, Kushner states that those working on the project acknowledges their short-comings, and admit their failure on the guarantor’s assessment.

Nonetheless, the movement is celebrated in Britain, with many statues, documentaries and movies spawning from the experiences of the children. Britain became a shining example, especially to America,  of help given and a contrast to restrictionism everywhere. Kushner states there was a mixture of sadness, excitement, confusion and tiredness among the kinder and that the memory of the Kindertransport has been instrumentalised to show how generosity is integral to British character. But, Kushner concludes that while it is important to remember how many refugees Britain has taken in, it also has a history of rejecting many refugees.

Jennifer's posts

J. Jenkinson and C. Verdier, “War Trauma among Belgian Refugee Women in Scotland in the First World War”

The article starts by discussing what different historians have studied in the past in relation to trauma and women during war but states that this article will explore the lives of wartime civilian refugees that came to Britain from Belgium that were diagnosed with mental illnesses relating to war trauma.

The article continues by discussing the key features of modern PTSD that used to be called ‘war trauma’. It also states that shell shock was associated with feminine weakness and that male combats that experienced shell shock were often emasculated by showing a form of mental disturbance that was associated with women. The article discusses women on the front and that they saw family and friends being shot for no reason while trying to flee.

The article then goes on to discuss the correlation between Belgian citizens war trauma and poor relief applications by looking at the poor relief records in Britain. In comparison to British citizens the Belgian applicants for poor relief had double the amount of diagnosed mental health disorders that the Brits suffered. It also states that there were more women than men applying for poor relief that were diagnosed as ‘insane’. Applications from Belgian refugees were marked with red ink and had the word ‘insane’ written in capital letters at the top where the applicant had been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness.

The article then gives some examples of women that were categorized as ‘insane’ and how they had tried to hurt themselves or their children. One example is Celine Debroven who was diagnosed with war anxiety. She was sent to an asylum and treated for trying to attempt suicide 3 times, she also believed a man was trying to kill her. The last entry in her record was on October 1918, and it stated that her delusions remained.

The article ends by noting that this article has opened up the filed for further research using analysis of similar records elsewhere in Britain.

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D. Laqua, ‘Belgian exiles, the British and the Great War: The Birtley Belgians of Elisabethville’

Laqua’s article, Belgian exiles, the British and the Great War: The Birtley Belgians of Elisabethville, is a good article for understanding Belgian and English relations during the First World War. The article’s central focus is the Belgian colony of Elisabethville in Birtley, a small self-reliant gated community, built to house predominantly conscripted Belgian soldiers unfit for service who worked in the nearby National Projectile Factory. Laqua seeks to show the idea of a complex relationship between the Belgian exiles in Elisabethville and the surrounding Birtley area, and through frequently citing historians such as Kushner and the use of primary newspapers, this is clearly articulated. Laqua further shows Elisabethville as a diasporic Belgian home front due to its blurring of boundaries between the home and battlefront.

In the beginning, there was an outpour of kindness and generosity towards the Belgians. There was great sympathy expressed towards them and their situation, so much so that in November 1914 a fundraiser was held to raise funds for the Belgian relief fund. These charitable pursuits bonded the Belgians in Britain to their homeland, the immigrant community as well as areas of captivity. Belgians provided activities to raise money for English causes as well. Charity, therefore, was a central part of the Belgians role in the war effort and it was certainly not one-way.

However, in 1916 there were visible tensions. After accusations against Belgians Private Stephenson, on the frontline, had to remind readers of the great sacrifice of Belgians. Laqua argues that this showed a multi-layered intersection between Belgium and British home fronts. Furthermore, due to the Belgian Military Authority, Belgians had to wear their uniform during their leisure time. This culminated in riots amongst the Birtley Belgians and resulted in the British military authority stepping in to relax standards, showing victimhood and heroism as debated features within the exile community.

Laqua then points to the Belgians social life in showing their interactions with the rest of the Birtley population.  Sport became an interlinking aspect as it was linked with charity, for example, the Belgian Swimming club holding a fundraiser for Belgian prisoner of war. However, these events came with hostility, with English residents noting their focus on alien policy.  To this, Laqua argues that Belgians were heavily restricted through the Aliens Restriction Act of 1914 as well as the Belgian Military Authority. Despite the restrictions, the Elisabethville Belgians did leave the community. The biggest attraction was Newcastle. Yet there were complaints regarding Belgians and English girls. The courts were involved to tackle Belgian and English relations as there were questions of Belgians causing prostitution, it is here where anti-alien attitudes arose. Yet Laqua shows that binational relationships were not impossible as records show 30% of marriages in Elisabethville to be binational. Therefore, although Elisabethville was different from other Belgian communities it still saw a great degree of intermarriage.

Concerns about Belgian socio-economic impact emerged at various intersects and Lauqa focuses his third section on this topic. The Belgians were stereotyped as lazy and dishonest by many but yet others believed Belgians to be good people. The responses were so contradictory that a local newspaper had to publish an interview with a Belgian worker to address concerns. Belgian exiles were helping Britain by doing work that was needed but yet there were calls that work was being taken from the English. Paired with the suspicion of Belgians driving down wages, it prompted W.T Kelley to write of Belgian optimism in 1917. Tensions persisted and they developed to encompass several areas from healthcare to food. It was always found, however, that these fears were unjust as Elisabethville was a self-reliant community.