I wonder how many of the Old Girls have realised what a lot of extra work we have had to do at the Settlement since the outbreak of War. Our ordinary work has had to go on in the same way, and on the top of this we have had two new branches of work, and have just started a third.
We had been working the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society from the Settlement for a year or two before War broke out, but, of course, the work entailed in peace time was very little compared to the work it entails now. Discharged soldiers core up for help till they can get work, and thanks to the co-operation of the Manager of the local Labour Exchange we have had no difficulty in finding these men work. Others want help pending discharge; others who have come out of Hospital want help to get their pay through, and so on. Of course, many of them are frauds, and go from one place to another with pitiful stories of all they have been through, &c. One man has been up here under two different names, and was much upset when he was recognised. Another man who had been discharged some months before and had been helped by us then came up again for help, as he had slipped on the train lines and injured his arm. We refused help, but nothing daunted he went on to his late employer and stupidly said he had been helped here. The employer wrote to us to ask if the case was a genuine one, and he told us that this man had said he could not work, as he was attending the Hospital for a wound in the arm! There are, I am afraid, many such cases, and unless the funds are properly administered there will be many more of them. Fortunately they are not by any means all frauds. We have lately had one very interesting case. A young man who had been wounded early in the War was taken prisoner by the Germans, and last month was returned to England as hopelessly wounded, after having been in a German Hospital for over a year. He is paralyzed from the waist downwards; and has been tied to his bed. His sister wrote to us to ask us if we could help to get him an invalid chair, and through the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society this has been procured. The man is now able to push himself about, and we hope to be able to arrange for someone to teach him carving or carpentry, so as to help to fill up what must be a very weary day for him. We have already had 252 applications during this past year, and, of course, the work will increase enormously as the War goes on.
When War broke out Miss Hodge was asked if she would work the Camberwell and Peckham Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association from the Settlement. She consented to do this, and we all waited patiently to be told what it would mean. On the Monday after the declaration of War we were doing our usual work, when suddenly the small garden in front of No. 17 was besieged by a mob of women i They were all Reservists’ wives, who had expected their separation allowances a week after their husbands had been called up, and on failing to get it had gone in a body to the Town Hall. The Town Hall authorities, with great alacrity, drove them down the road to the Settlement, and left us to cope with it all. Those were awful weeks! We spent morning after morning taking down particulars as hard as we could, and afternoon after afternoon rushing round with money to relieve the women. Some of the women were seven or eight weeks before their money came through, and all that time we had to keep them going. We were often interviewing the women up to 3 and 4 in the afternoon, and we frequently had our lunch at 3 or 3.30. Then there were the visitors to be dealt with. They had to be advised as to how much the women should be given and what questions to ask and what to look out for. In the evenings there were letters to write, so as to help the harassed people who had been writing steadily since 9 a.m., and visits to be gone through. Also every afternoon one would see groups of people all over the garden wading through case after case, deciding what was to be done on this one or not done on the other one. This feverish rush has, of course, died down now, but we still have a great deal to get through every day. We have at the present time 7687 cases on our books. We were very well supported by helpers at the beginning, when everything was somewhat of a novelty, but now it is more difficult to get helpers. People think this is much too humdrum as compared with driving ambulances, &c., &c.!
The newest branch of work which is really an outcome of the War is the School for Mothers. A new building has been erected at the end of No. 19 garden, and the cost of this has been defrayed by some money given to Miss Hodge for any special purpose. The School is already a most flourishing concern, and we hope by means of this School to make some, at any rate, of the future generation more healthy and useful members of the community. The next generation is a very important one, particularly so at the present moment, and it was felt that the Settlement could not do a more useful piece of work in this district than start one of these Schools; appeals for which so often appear in our daily papers.
But please do not think that we have allowed our other work to suffer. The I.C.A.A. Care Committees and Clubs still go on, and their work is now even more important than ever, for here again we are working amongst the next generation. We want more residents and more workers to help us. The strain on the Settlement has been very great for this past year, and now we are faced with a possible lack of funds and a falling off of workers. Surely it is up to us Old Girls to see that this does not happen. Workers and money have already begun to fall off, and unless we put our backs into it we may have to face the problem as to whether the Settlement can go on as it has been going.