I’m going to have to be careful how I phrase parts of this blog or I could end up with the same sort of people reading it that I had when I wrote about how I was being haunted by Marks & Spencer’s knicker adverts.
You see I was chatting to a lady who was brought up with my late mother. It’s fascinating travelling with her because she’s done an awful lot and has seen a lot. But it was her memories of Page Bank that intrigued me. You see before the war my grandfather had two farms, with two houses and a farm worker’s cottage. The house I live in tended to be the house the family didn’t live in, so was occupied by an employee and his family.
And that was how I heard of Mr and Mrs Budd. Now their name wasn’t Budd, but that was the best stab a Barrow lass aged about ten could make of it. It was something like ‘Buddinski’ or Buddowski or something like that. But anyway, Mr and Mrs Budd were Jewish, and they arrived at some point, perhaps about 1938, and spent three years living here, in Page Bank. Mr Budd worked for my Grandfather for those years, and as far as anyone has ever said anything about him, he was a good worker.
Now when the Budds first appeared, they had ten children. Two, both daughters, were theirs, and the others were the children of family and friends in Germany. The Budds took all the children with them to safety. At the same time the other families tried to sell farms, houses, shops and get out of Nazi Germany to meet up once more with their children in England. Apparently the Budds did eventually manage to get the ‘extra’ eight children to family members, but whether the parents left behind made it out in time or died in the camps nobody now remembers.
After about three years, the Budds finally moved on, apparently to America. Think, somewhere out there in the US might be someone whose mother or grandmother lived here, sat and read in the same room I’m writing this, if only briefly.
But for three years, my Grandfather employed and worked with this man. I’ve mentioned my Grandfather before; his main contribution to defeating the fascist menace was growing as much food as he could, and arresting a German pilot at pitchfork point. Now he was employing and housing Jewish refugees as well. I suppose a chap with five daughters of his own could sympathise with the plight of the Budds.
But anyway I was just driving along, listening to the tales and occasionally asking questions. The older girl had been traumatised by her experiences. At times she’d get upset about something and just totally forget all her English and revert to German. The younger sister was perhaps too young to understand and she adapted happily enough to life on an English farm.
But the thing that really stuck in my informant’s mind, looking back, was the strange things the Budds had. Obviously they’d managed to plan their leaving. They’d even managed to bring things like bedding with them. And even their bedding was strange. Big square pillows like nothing anybody had seen before. And they didn’t have sensible sheets and blankets, but big heavy continental quilts or duvets. Also, and here I am entirely in the hands of my informant, German girls wore entirely different underclothes to English girls of the same age. I’m afraid I’m not able to supply further details.
But think, in this house, every morning Mr Budd would say the Shema,
Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad – “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is One.”
His family would get out of their strange beds, put on their strange clothes and go out to meet the day.
Refugees, with their strange clothes, weird religion and unthinkable bedding lived here among us.
Are there echoes? Did people demand we kept the refugees out because they’d destroy our essential Englishness or steal our jobs or whatever?
But actually what happened. Yes, we changed. Apparently some people now have abandoned sensible sheets and blankets and use these weird German duvet things. (Again I remain silent on the subject of underclothes.)
And that’s what happens. People turn up and we absorb their good ideas and if we have any good ideas, they absorb them.
And it’ll still happen. If the English are worth being part of, people will want to be part of us. In fact to paraphrase loosely what a chap almost said, “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, people will see these things and want to be part of it.”
Earlier this year the gentleman pictured below died, Sir Nicholas George Winton. Let’s just hope this generation can aspire to live up to the example he set us.