Saturday, September 25, 2010


Operation Pied Piper
The story of the rescue of 2,000 civilian refugees from Poland and 50 orphaned Jewish children

Joice Loch’s account of events of her incredible rescue of Polish refugees and orphaned Jewish children in A Fringe of Blue are greatly understated. In fact, she makes no specific mention of Operation Pied Piper at all. I am left to wonder whether she didn’t recognise the enormity of the task she’d undertaken, or personal humility on her part or a restriction imposed under some wartime ‘secrets act’. Perhaps all three played a part. Susanna de Vries (in the 2007 edition of her biography about Joice Loch, Blue Ribbons Bitter Bread, p.331) offers another possibility. In her seventies and during the writing of her autobiography, Joice had a serious accident that badly affected her powers of concentration and memory.

Joice’s story:
At the commencement of WWII Poland, at the request of Britain and France, had resisted mobilizing its armed forces to defend itself for fear that Germany would perceive such a move as a threat and respond aggressively. Now Poland found itself attacked on two sides – Russia from the east and Germany from the west. Escape was now their only option. Trainloads of refugees — Polish families, wives and widows of regular soldiers, and reserve officers fled to Greece and Jugoslavia, many via Rumania, to ships they hoped would take them to France. Those in Rumania found themselves confined in internment camps under orders of King Carol who wished to avoid being drawn into war with Hitler. Their only means of escape was to obtain exit visas - many able to be purchased only through the ‘black market’.

The Mission Begins

Joice Loch in Quaker uniform
Joice and Sydney Loch were sent by their Quaker organization to work with the Poles now stranded in Rumania. The ‘Green Frontier’ provided an escape route for Poles who fled on skis, stealing through the forests, mountains and snow like the wolves and deer, to an underground in Hungary.
...Meanwhile, Russia and Germany were squeezing their ways through to the rich oilfields of Ploesti, Rumania.
...Joice flew to Budapest to close the Quaker mission there and, against a background of false propaganda that Britain had been defeated, oversaw the care of and made payment for river craft to take the escaping Poles to Bulgaria and Constantinople and on to the port of Mersin on the SE coast of a neutral Turkey. An empty hotel was found by the British Consulate for the evacuees to wait for a ship. Among her charges was a large group of Jewish orphans whose parents had been killed escaping Poland.
...At last the aging war horse Warszawa stolen from a break-up yard in Danzig and crewed by volunteers arrived. Under cover of darkness, the Poles were smuggled on board and the ship set sail for Cypress. Among those on board was a complement of 500 Polish soldiers en route to Palestine.
...The war situation was changing fast. With the fall of Greece and the invasion of Crete, Cypress was no longer a safe haven. The British Government sent another ship to carry 2000 Polish refugees (including some rescued from Siberia when Russia joined the Allies) and 50 Jewish orphans to Haifa.
...To enter British controlled Palestine and be eligible for food rations all the refugees had to be registered as soldiers. Hence, the first Polish soldier to land on Palestinian soil was a four year old girl!

Operation Pied Piper
(various sources):

Summer 1940 marked the beginning of Operation Pied Piper. Susanna de Vries (2000) explains how Joice Loch borrowed the title from Robert Browning’s poem ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ in which a piper with a magic flute spirited the town’s children away. Interestingly, Rumanian legend records its own sequel, as it tells how about one hundred and fifty years after the event described by Browning, some merchants returning from the East told how, as they had journeyed across Hungary, they had come to the mountainous village of Sebenburgen (= seven hills). Here, they found that all the inhabitants of the village spoke only German. The people insisted they had come from Germany but did not know how or when they chanced to be in this strange country. “Could these people,” enquired the merchants, “ be descendants of the lost children of Hamelin?”
...Be that as it may, in early September, Joice, accompanied by a twenty-two year old assistant, Lushya, and Father Ambrosius, a Polish orthodox priest, took 450 Polsh women and children and fifty Jewish children from Bucharest by train to the Black Sea resort of Constantza, where she was to pick up another 400 women and children who had been harboured by wealthy Rumanians. Earlier, Joice and Lushya had trudged around the city to addresses where the women were housed to warn them of their danger and the plans for escape.
...As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, money Joice had requested from the Quakers War Relief Fund had not arrived. Although she had money enough for tickets, there was nothing left for food, medicines or any emergency. At the last minute, an urgent request for assistance from a Rumanian Banker and his wife, solved two problems. They asked Joice if their two nieces, recently orphaned in a war atrocity, together with their only daughter could be included in the escape plan and delivered to family in Haifa. In exchange for this consideration, the couple handed Joice an envelope containing ten thousand lei — more than enough to meet the needs of the journey to come.

from de Vries, 2007, p.274
 ...It was school holidays and the train from Bucharest was crowded with holidaymakers on their way to the beaches of the Black Sea resorts. The children, dressed in sundresses and shorts, and the women clutching beachbags, mingled with the general crowd and boarded the train in family groups, laughing and chattering. They arrived safely in Constantza in time to catch the afternoon ferry to Istanbul. Joice played the role of English governess to her three newest charges as they filed through customs. Every thing had gone well!
...Then came an announcement over loud speakers in Rumanian and German that brought a chill to the adults in the party. The ferry must return to Constantza immediately! What now? Had they been betrayed?  Would they now be herded on to cattle trucks and despatched to labour camps in Germany — or worse?
...A detachment of Iron Guards was waiting at the wharf. The soldiers clambered aboard amid the surrounding deathly silence and gathered around eight huge wooden shipping crates labelled sturgeon and tinned caviar. Guns were drawn. Then, after some confrontation between the Captain of the ferry and the guards, a crane boom swung over the crates to load them into nets and landed on the dockside.
...Joice was puzzled. All this fuss over tinned caviar! But Lushya, watching the pantomime playing out on the dock as the Iron Guards prised open the crates with crowbars to reveal the glint of gold bars, began to laugh. The crates contained the bullion King Carol was shipping out of the country to finance his exile.
...The ship’s engines were restarted and the ferry pulled away from the dock for a second time. Another crisis averted!
...On arrival at Istanbul, the party was met by a committee of Poles who escorted them through the streets to several large pensions where the group had been booked for the night. The next evening they boarded an overnight ferry to Mersin. From here they were to await a ship to take them to Cyprus.
...After a week, Joice was feeling desperate; money was running out, the Harbour Master was anxious she accept his recommendation of a suitable vessel. But heeding her husband Sydney’s warnings about finding a trustworthy captain and the dangers of dysentery, Joice knew she must find a ship with a safe water supply and proper sanitary arrangements.
...In desperation, she contacted the British Embassy in Constantinople. After an initial rebuff there was good news. The British Naval Command had found her a ship. The Warszawa would arrive in Mersin within the next twenty-four hours. It had been commissioned to embark Polish soldiers on their way to join British forces in Palestine. But since the ship was already bound for Cyprus en route, the cost to Joice and Operation Pied Piper was nominal. There was one proviso: they must buy their own provisions and cook their own meals. It was settled. The Polish women embraced the task. They rolled up their sleeves, scrubbed the decks, toilets and cabins, and cooked meals for themselves and the children.
...Under cover of darkness, the Polish soldiers bound for Palestine were smuggled aboard singly and in pairs; and the Warszawa slipped out of Mersin harbour so quietly during the night that not even the Harbour Master noticed her departure.
...The sea was calm and they managed to avoid German mines. After an anxious night, Joice was relieved to see the island of Cyprus. With the support of the British Government, the Polish refugees and the Jewish orphans were settled into comfortable accommodation; and for a time, Joice and Sydney now reunited, were able to relax.
...By the spring of 1941, while Joice was negotiating places for the Jewish orphans on a troop ship to Haifa where there was a large Rumanian-Jewish community who would take care of them, Germany invaded Greece and Crete. Cyprus would be next! This meant, not only the Jewishe orphans but also now, the entire contingent needed to escape.
...In June 1941, the British Government sent a naval cruiser, and Australian troops who had arrived in Cyprus after the battle of Crete helped load all 2,500 refugees aboard. Under a scorching sun, the British cruiser made slow progress, twisting and turning to avoid floating mines. The journey was perilous in many ways; there were not enough life jackets for all the passengers and few of the children could swim. One night the drone of engines was heard overhead. Bombs aimed at the ship created a maelstrom as they hit the water on either side. At dawn the German planes flew away.
...On their approach to Haifa, the Captain received a radio message to advise the area surrounding the harbour had been mined to destroy their ship. What now? Joice felt overwhelmed with concern, when, suddenly, out of nowhere, steamed their old friend, the Warszawa with hundreds of soldiers in Polish uniform waving and cheering.
... Shortly after, a British mine-sweeper arrived to remove the mines - and the refugee ship was allowed to dock. Despite stories of Palestine refusing entry to any further Jewish refugees, when port officials came on board there were no difficulties. All the women and children were ushered through customs and a special train was sent to the port to deliver the refugees to two camps outside Haifa.
...The orphaned Jewish children were found foster homes or relatives among Haifa’s large Rumanian Jewish community
...Thus, after more than eighteen harrowing months ‘Operation Pied Piper’ was finally complete. Joice Nankivell Loch had pulled off yet another remarkable feat.

de Vries, Susanna (2000), Blue Ribbons Bitter Bread, Hale & Iremonger. First edition
de Vries, Susanna (2007), Blue Ribbons Bitter Bread, Pirgos Press, Brisbane. Updated edition
Loch, Joice Nankivell (1968), A Fringe of Blue, John Murray, London
Various references, articles, interviews and reviews found online

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Joice NanKivell Loch 1887-1982

The birth of Joice Mary NanKivell in 1887 at the height of a north Queensland cyclone to a seventeen year old mother with only the help of a Kanaka housemaid, could be seen as a portend of things to come. Her father, George Nankivell, managed a sugar plantation. Government withdrawal of Kanaka labour 1890 and the Depression of that period began the family’s downward drift to poverty and bankruptcy. Yet Joice was to become not only an author, journalist and humanitarian, working with refugees in Poland, Greece and Romania after Worlf War ! and World War 11; but also the most decorated woman of the twentieth century.

In the opening page of her autobiography, A Fringe of Blue published in 1968 Joice Nankivell Loch recalls:
I was nearly ten years old … that drenching morning which witnessed the advent of the seven little pigs Father hoped to build a fortune on. … Our neighbours said we were born with silver spoons in our mouths; but the gilt was already off by the time my brother (eleven months younger than me) was born. p.3

After the family’s move to an isolated farming property at Boolara in Victoria,  her love of nature was born, never to die:

The bush was a tangle of creeping things, gay with flowers; birds darted everywhere making odd noises; the crack of whips; the tinkle of bells; hoarse coughing. Sudden flashes of bright feather delighted us, and spinning lightly on their toes were gay blue wrens, their absurd tails flirting and tilted over their backs. p.11

The goldrush had George Nankivell heading to Western Australia to seek his fortune and sending his wife and children to stay with her family in Queensland. It was not to be. Instead he contracted typhoid fever and returned to join his wife in Queensland to recuperate.

...During this period he entertained Joice and her brother Geoff with drawing beetles and telling such wild stories about robbing orchards, cheeking a policeman — and claiming that children of today were duffers. What have you ever done? — that he unwittingly enticed the children to mimic one of his ‘tall story’ escapades:

Mrs Chubb lived down the hill, and we lived near the top. She had a large paddock of pumpkins. Geoff and I could not lift them, but we could roll them, and one day we went off to her pumpkin patch and stole the largest pumpkin we could find. We toiled and rolled, and rolled and toiled with it through that tropical summer’s day, up that shadeless hill, and to my father’s feet.
Furious at what they’d done, he sent them back to return it.
Hot and damp we rolled that pumpkin back. We hammered on Mrs Chubb’s door. … ‘Father told us to steal your pumpkin! But he doesn’t want it now, and sent us back with it.’ …
‘Well,’ said Mrs Chubb, ‘ if he wanted it badly enough to send little children to steal you can take it back to him.’
Back we toiled in that frightful heat.

...Another farm on the King River at Myaree in Victoria turned out to be as big a disaster as the first, and Joice’s mother issued an ultimatum: either a suitable farm be found or she would return to her family in Queensland. This time they found a place at Drouin in the Gippsland just four miles out of town. Now aged thirteen, Joice enjoyed the tutelage of a Scottish teacher who had previously run a school in Melbourne but had sold it to come and look after her ailing father on a nearby farm. For Joice: Her house was full of books —a paradise to me.
...During this time two powerful influences in Joice’s life were her Uncle Harry Mitchell, chief medical officer for New Guinea, and her cousin, Ellis Rowan, a noted painter of flowers. Uncle Harry taught Joice much about caring for sick and injured creatures – human and animal. On his visits to the farm, Uncle Harry provided medical care to the community and used Joice as his medical orderly. He taught her the basic principles of medicine and human anatomy, and gave her manual on home surgery.
...With shortage of labour, Joice and her mother often worked beyond their strength on the farm. But that did not stop Joice’s passion for writing. At night, when the chores were done, by the light of an oil lamp, she would sit up in bed and write in longhand on blocks of cheap paper.
...Throughout her early years Joice maintained her passion for writing both prose and poetry. She finished her first book The Cobweb Ladder and sent it off to Macmillan’s Melbourne branch where it was accepted for publication.
...In an interview reported in The Queenslander, Saturday 8 September 1917 p. 5, Joice was asked:
How did The Cobweb Ladder come to be written?
Her reply:
Well, that's just what I can't tell you. It was not owing to any effort on my part ; it just grew, like so many other books have grown and will grow. It was written at the Gippsland Lakes, chiefly on the backs of envelopes, during one very beautiful holiday that I spent there, and something of the lakes should have crept into it, only it didn't. Strangely enough, it didn't go through all the visissitudes of "first books" as I expected it to. I slmply walked into the Lothian Book Publishing Co. with it, and asked them to read it … and they did.
...When Joice’s brother, Geoff, made known that he planned to pursue wool classing as his future career and not join his father on the farm, her father sold their livestock, ceased wheat growing and decided to retain only the orchard. Thus Joice, after ten years of working for him without payment, received his blessing to escape to Melbourne to pursue her passion for writing on condition she take annual holidays during the fruit picking season.
...In preparation for the big move, Joice sent away for a book on touch typing. Once she was satisfied her typing speed was adequate she successfully applied for an advertised part-time position as secretary to Dr Alexander Leeper, Professor of Classics at Trinity College, Melbourne University.
...Her work hours were flexible and Dr Leeper encouraged her writing and enabled her to attend university lectures that interested her. She joined the Lyceum, the Repertory and the Melbourne Literary Club; the Melbourne Evening Herald took her first war poem, and she appeared thereafter regularly in a short column, Under the Clock.
...With the outbreak of World War I, Joice’s first thoughts were of Geoff. The brother and sister had been close companions since childhood. Nor were her fears without foundation; Geoff sailed for Gallipoli, and at the end of the third year of the war, he and a small detachment came under heavy shelling. There were no survivors.
...As a solace to herself and a tribute to Geoff, Joice wrote ‘The Solitary Pedestrian’ – a collection of twenty-one short stories about their childhood experiences in Victoria and Queensland — bush life seen through the eyes of children. Without Geoff, she indeed saw herself as the solitary pedestrian.
...It was while freelancing as a book reviewer for the Melbourne Sun-Herald, that Joice was asked to review a book on the Gallipoli campaign: The Straits Impregnable* written by Gallipoli veteran, Sydney Loch. A meeting with the author changed her life. Joice and Sydney were married at The Manse, Royal Parade Melbourne on 22 February 1919.
...With the war now over Joice determined to go to Europe to continue a career in journalism — a decision backed by the editor of the Melbourne Evening Herald, who thought it the best step for anyone who had serious ideas about writing; and agreed to take freelance work from her.
...Joice managed to secure passage on one of the last troop ships from Australia. Sydney followed later. Once reunited in London they secured work as Fleet Street journalists. But Joice’s observations as a child of the injustices meted out to the Kanakas in North Queensland and the poverty of rural Victoria, had developed within her a keen sense of the injustices suffered by minority groups. Now, unable to interest the British Press of the plight of the dispossessed people of Poland, Joice and her husband applied to the Quaker Relief Service as aid workers. This decision proved the beginning of a series of remarkable life journeys that were to colour the rest of their lives.

Additional reading:
* A free download of Sydney Loch's book can be found at

de Vries, Susanna (2000) Blue Ribbons, Bitter Bread, Published by Hale and Iremonger. ISBN 0868066915. 2000.  

Next week: Operation Pied Piper

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Clare on Mount Saleve,
where Eglantyne … drafted her
pioneering statement of children's human rights …
Today I interview Clare Mulley, author of The Woman Who Saved the Children: a biography of Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children.

Welcome Clare! In the previous three weeks we've already uncovered a great deal about Eglantyne's journey. Today, I am particularly interested in hearing more about the research that went into the writing of the book.

Thank you Mabel! I feel quite excited about being taken back to review the process. It's something I've not though about for in quite a while.  

M: You have indicated that ‘The Woman Who Saved the Children’ was a long time (7 years) in the making. Can you remember/explain the germ idea/s that set this story in motion. Did it start with a general topic, a specific idea or with the character whose story you wanted to explore?

C: I was working at Save the Children as a rather struggling fundraiser when I came across a line she wrote some 80 years before; ‘the world is not ungenerous, but unimaginative and very busy’. It was still so true and it intrigued me that her voice sounded so immediate and relevant. When I went on maternity leave, thereby showing far less commitment to the charity than Eglantyne who never had children and devoted her life to the cause she had founded, I took an afternoon to poke around their archives. Down the side of a plastic crate I found a crumpled leaflet Eglantyne had printed, showing a terrible photo of a starving Austrian child, with the word ‘suppressed!’ pencilled in Eglantyne’s scratchy handwriting in the top corner, the exclamation mark showing her indignation at the Liberal government’s policy to continue the economic blockade of Europe after the armistice as a way of pushing through harsh peace terms. Eglantyne was arrested for distributing these leaflets in Trafalgar Square in May 1919, and secured the first donation to her new ‘Save the Children Fund’ from the prosecutor at her court case. I knew then I was on to a good story, but not how good it would turn out to be!
M: At what point did you decide the main focus would be the life of Eglantyne rather than the story of the Save the Children Fund - where did you go from there?
C: There was never any thought that it might be a history of the charity. Eglantyne was a brilliant, courageous, controversial woman whose vision, passion and humanity are still utterly compelling and relevant today. A woman who did not like children, and once called them ‘the little wretches’, she nevertheless devoted her life to promoting their welfare, and more controversially pioneering her revolutionary statement of children’s human rights that has now evolved in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history. I never had any doubt that it as Eglantyne’s story, and her force of character, that captures the imagination – then as now!
M: One of the challenges in researching the life of someone born in the 19th century lies in the sparsity of written records and the inability to interview colleagues and competitors, immediate friends and family. To what extent was this an issue in your research? What were the main sources of information?
C: Eglantyne died in 1928, and not liking kids much never had any of her own, so there were no direct descendents or anyone alive now who knew her that I could trace. However she left plenty of letters, photos, diaries, half-written romantic social novels, transcripts of her spiritual conversations with dead friends, medical records, political fliers, and funny, scratchy sketches… in all of which her personality came blasting through. And she made such an impact wherever she went that there are plenty of accounts of her conducting her own defence at court, chasing the Pope round the Vatican or impressing the trade unions. Sometimes the trail went cold – for example when the man she loved proposed to another, and any letters mentioning the romance were evidently destroyed, but by chance (or was she pulling at my elbow?) I ended up having dinner with the grandson of her sweetheart and getting the story from the other side…
M: What were the main areas of your research?
C: Cradle to grave, warts and all, but some of the things that interested me most were the irony that she was not maternal, her two great love affairs (one unrequited, the other illicit), her spiritualism, and the development of her visionary political and humanitarian ideas… But above all I wanted to capture the person not just the achievements, the little things, her being - as well as her doing.
M: Which areas were most research intensive?
C: Her charmed childhood was easiest, the canvas getting more involved as she grew up of course, the First World War tore the world apart, and she faced some fairly conflicting priorities and duties, and a passionate personal life.
M: Did the research involve you in particular adventures along the way? (Funny, scary, exciting, sad?)
C: There were many modest adventures, from sleeping in Eglantyne’s childhood nursery, to eating from her plates and once even holding a curl of her still bright red baby hair. I was invited into her former houses and offices by numerous strangers, came across secret inscriptions in second hand books once owned by the family, and a secret bar in the garden of her friends Margaret and John Maynard Keynes. I shed tears buying flowers for her grave outside Geneva and laughed out loud at her letters in public archives all round the country. It was great.
M: Tell me about the research process. Where does research begin for you? In your head? Talking with friends? Reading books on allied themes? Library and/or internet search?
C: Research began in the Save the Children archive, and then in a load of boxes stacked in the wonderful drawing room of The Lyth, Eglantyne’s childhood home where the Jebb family still live. Lots and lots of reading, and then it slowly began to filter down into a story, or a series of stories, told at first as anecdotes to patient friends.
M:  How did you deal with conflicting reports or evidence?
C: Funnily enough there was not much of this, but I did quite quickly begin to disagree with the usual presentation of Eglantyne as a saint like woman, who sacrificed her life to her cause. Eglantyne was passionate and opinionated, with a mischievous dry wit and brilliant ability to make her case, and although she died young partly exhausted by her struggle, it belittles her to write her off as a female martyr. She was never a sweet old lady, but she was never particularly sweet anyway.
M: Did you consider presenting your manuscript in a format other than the one in which it is told? (For example, as a journal or an oral history) What made you choose a basically chronological narrative approach?
C: Once I saw how funny and engaging Eglantyne was, on top of her huge achievements, I knew she deserved a biography. I think most readers of the genre expect and want a chronological story, and I wanted to respect that. But I have also tried to make each chapter hang on a theme, such as maternal love, romantic love, faith, politics, war etc, so that each effectively tells a story on its own as well.
M:  Research can be such an addictive process. How did you know when it was time to stop? Did you have difficulty sorting what to omit/what to include? If so, what was the hardest to let go?
C: You are right; research is addictive! The first chapter I wrote was chapter 6, because I could see the whole story of that moment. I did revise it later but it was clear what dates and theme were bound together, and that did not fundamentally change. Then I went back to the start, but basically I kept researching while I was writing up the chapters that were emerging from the piles of notes and lists I kept on the go all the time. This may not be the best way to do it, but it worked for me!
Of course I could not put everything in. Some I was glad to let go – there are no summaries of charity meeting agendas etc, but I have files of extra bits that failed to make it either because they were not telling enough, or they simply, and infuriatingly, would not fit in to the chapter structures.
M: What did you learn about the research process? (e.g. the excitement of unexpected finds; persistence in not taking ‘no’ for an answer; the need for imagination - to think laterally/divergent thinking).
C: All of those things are true and/or important. I also learned how kind and generous people are, giving up their time and opening up their houses to me.
M: And now it is time for me to thank you, Clare, not only for giving me so much of your time over the past weeks and opening up yourself in the name of Save the Children; but for devoting so much time and energy over a number of years to writing this biography solely to benefit the children of the world.
C:  Thank you Mabel. I really appreciate the blog time you've given to spread the word.
The Woman Who Saved the Children:

a biography of Eglantine Jebb
founder of Save the Children
by Clare Mulley
First published by Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England 2009.
Released in Australia as a Paperback in 2010

Available’through all good bookstores and can also be ordered online at http://www.boomerang/ you'd like to find out more about Clare, her website is

For further reading, visit some of my friends’ blogs... woman who cares

Saturday, September 4, 2010


The Woman Who Saved the Children: a biography of Eglantine Jebb, founder of Save the Children
by Clare Mulley
First published by Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England 2009.
Released in Australia as a Paperback in 2010

A slab of marble in St Georges Cemetery two miles south of the city of Geneva in full view of Mount Salève, and on the end of a sparsely populated row by a gravel path, marks the last resting place of the body of Eglantine Jebb. A simple brass cross is inset into the marble slab. Underneath are the dates and locations of her birth and death; an acknowledgement in French of her role in the foundation of the International Save the Children Union; and a quote in English from Matthew 25:40

Eglantyne's grave Geneva Switzerland December 1928
As for Eglantyne, I imagine her today back on her mountain from where she looked down over the city and scribbled the notes that were to become the basis for ‘Declaration for the Rights of the Child’, still agonising over the plight of children across the globe … still dreaming,

Who is this woman?
I had not heard of Eglantyne Jebb, before author Clare Mulley introduced her and led me back in time to late nineteenth century rural England and Eglantyne’s family — part of the Shropshire gentry.
Eglantyne Jebb c1920
... In the 1990s, when working as a fundraiser for the Save the Children UK, Clare Mulley came upon Eglantyne in a photo — a woman sitting poised at her desk looking down at her work —hung over her supervisor’s desk. Intrigued, Clare set about uncovering the person behind the ‘woman who saved the children’. Her research revealed a close-knit family, instilled with their parents’ social conscience and keen love of literature, and who, throughout their lives, supported each other’s work.
... Named after her mother, Tye, Eglantyne quickly established her special place among her five siblings as the family storyteller and scribbler. Her imagination and daydreams often found substance in stories and poems. … characteristics she never lost. Home schooled and strongly influenced by her Aunt Bun who lived with the family, Eglantyne went on to make a series of decisions that broke social convention. With the encouragement and financial backing of Bun following the death of her father in December 1894,
Eglantyne became the first daughter to undertake a degree course — almost unheard of in that time.
... Each of Eglantyne’s life experiences contributed toward and prepared her for what was to be her greatest challenge —to make the international community respond to the needs of children irrespective of race or creed.
... Her writing begun in childhood, her University education and teaching in working-class schools proved an invaluable apprenticeship for things to come. Through her frequent travels abroad with family and friends she became familiar with cultures outside her own. Fundraising for the Cambridge Women’s Memorial for Queen Victoria and her direct involvement in relief work in the Balkans in 1913 sowed the seeds of her vision for countries around the world to acknowledge the place children’s welfare and human rights.
... At the age of forty-four she found the task for which her life to date had prepared her. The year was 1919. Eglantyne, outraged that despite the armistice following the World War of 1914-18, the British government of the period continued the economic blockade of Europe in order to push through harsh peace terms with the defeated countries, embarked on the fight of her life. Children and the elderly, particularly in Austria and Germany, were starving to death in huge numbers. She could not stand idly by and watch while this humanitarian crisis unfold. Against all odds she secured the active support of the churches and through them the sympathy of many of the British people formerly sceptical of aiding the children of their enemies. The Save the Children Foundation UK was born.
... Eglantyne became the soul of a movement that transformed a one-off British ‘relief’ fund to a permanent international organization prepared to focus not just on emergencies but on economic reconstruction, education, health and nutrition, and housing.
... Legend has it, writes Clare Mulley, that one cloudless summer Sunday in 1922, Eglantyne Jebb climbed to the summit of Mount Salève, the great rocky plateau on the edge of Geneva. From the top she had a fine view of the city sprawling out from around the curve of the lake, and, on the far bank, the League of Nations’ offices. Here she settled down on the crisp turf, her hair flying in the breeze and, in the silence and calm above it all, she took out pencil and paper and drafted a five-point ‘Charter for Children’. It was the first major statement of children’s universal human rights — the precursor to one of the world’s most influential pieces of international legislation: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. After some modification 17 May 1923 ‘The Declaration of the Rights of the Child’ was adopted by the International Union.

The personal cost
From an early age, Eglantyne was driven by powerful imagination and bursts of boundless energy often followed by severe bouts of exhaustion. Her almost fanatical sense of personal social responsibility and keen sense of justice brought with them lengthy periods of ill-health. She was torn between her need for society and solitude; work and withdrawal; her private life conflicted with unrequited, impossible love affairs and personal tragedy. Within a sixteen month period, as Eglantyne was planning and embarking on her university studies, both her father and younger brother, Gamul, died. Grief left its indelible mark upon her as she struggled to find a new way to express her Christian faith and became attracted to mysticism.
... In keeping with her sense of mission, and upon completion of her studies, Eglantyne taught in two under-funded schools for working class girls. At times she doubted her ability to teach or even like children. Despite her own assessment of her abilities in this role, she proved more adept and creative than she recognised. However, the personal cost was great. Worn out by class sizes that no teacher of today would be expected to manage, and with the meagre resources available, Eglantyne’s health failed. Despite these setbacks, part of her legacy lies in her enduring interest in education.

A brief comment
The 19 March, 2010 somewhat harshly headlines an article by author, Clare Mulley: THE WOMAN WHO HATED CHILDREN...AND SAVED THEM. It seems a little unfortunate that publicists and promoters felt justified in latching onto the author’s discussion of Eglantyne’s maternal instincts (a small part of her overall story) and use it as a headline-grabbing selling point.There are two sides to every story. Did Eglantyne, who once called children 'the little wretches', really dislike children? Or could these words be cast in a more sympathetic context? Some historical evidence provided in this book hints at an alternative view. In the end it is left up to the reader to decide.
....That aside, meticulous research is the real hallmark of Clare Mulley’s book. Not only is each chapter convincingly written and compelling reading, but the supporting information provided by (1) the foreward by Anne, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal; (2) the Family Trees; (3) the Cast of Characters; and, (4) the detailed Endnotes, add an impressive dimension to the book. The fourteen pages holding twenty-nine black and white photo plates provide a poignantly visual timeline of the life and work of Eglantyne Jebb.■

All author royalties are being donated to Save the Children.


Saturday 28 August, 2010: Clare Mulley introduces Eglantyne Jebb
Saturday 4 September, 2010: Book Review by Mabel Kaplan
Saturday 11 September, 2010: The Research Process – An Interview with Clare Mulley

This book is available through all good bookstores and online at