The Swiss connection

It was whilst I was visiting the Central Library arranging some Safety First Posters, that a chance meeting with a young man on the staff, that a new chapter in my life was opened.

Werner Habersaat worked at the Burnley library. He had read about my pioneering work in producing films for use in schools and whilst I was visiting the library, he approached me with an unusual request; he wanted to borrow my films to show to the Swiss Club.

I had to disappoint him; if my films were damaged or lost, I would never be able to replace them. But, before leaving the library, I thought of a compromise - I would offer to show my films for him. Werner was most cheered by this suggestion and in giving me more details about the proposed 'film show' I discovered that the Swiss Club did not meet in Burnley but in Manchester and that Werner and his mother would need transport to get there. The meeting, on this occasion, was for the Swiss ladies.

We all set off for the Midland Hotel in Manchester Werner, his mother, Mrs Hanna and myself. They all helped me to load and unload the car. It was a pleasant experience for Edith and me, we had not expected it to be at such a lovely hotel. The Swiss ladies were exceedingly charming and their spoken English had a delightfulness of its own, which immediately won our hearts.

In a separate room in the hotel, the Swiss gentlemen spent the evening playing cards. But, my films of Old English Crafts had made such an impact with Mrs Habersaat and her lady compatriots, that on our next visit to the Midland Hotel - the Swiss nationals were there in force - men and women.

The secretary of the Swiss Club was Henrie Monney, an importer of Swiss Embroidery. Anglaise. Before showing my films, Edith and I were Henrie a guests at a sumptuous meal at the Midland. Later we went into the large ballroom where the audience stood and applauded when I was introduced as an 'educational film producer'. Feeling a little pleased, but certainly embarrassed, I switched on the projector and talked to the audience.

Here I was, a schoolteacher, following a self-appointed task of researching the possibilities and looking into the value of films in education; it had not crossed my mind that others were now regarding me as a 'Film Producer'.

The films I projected that evening were all silent, which I considered added to their value for educational use; it enabled me to use them for different age groups and adjust the commentaries accordingly. Now, I was speaking to a group of Swiss nationals. My Lancashire voice was much appreciated by my Swiss audience. At one stage, some of them even thought that I may have had my origins in Germany. They found my commentary easy to follow, unlike some of their previous English lecturers who had spoken so "posh" that they had had difficulty in understanding.

It was see weeks later that my wife Edith had an unexpected phone call, it was from the Swiss Consulate. The Swiss Club members had been so impressed with my films that the Consul, Oscar Schneider, wished to show his appreciation by inviting Edith and I to a Swiss Banquet and Ball.

I was tickled pink, to think that the Swiss Consul was showing his delight and appreciation of his fellow Swiss men and women, to a Burnley schoolteacher who had shown them a sample of his educational films, when my own Education Authority, would hardly give this teacher - the time of the day.

The banquet and ball was something Edith and I really looked forward to, there would be a new dress for Edith and new friends to meet. Little did we know that this was only a beginning of any happy years with the Swiss Community in this country and in their homeland as well.

During the banquet I was sat next to the Swiss consul, he chatted about my films and then asked if it would be possible for me to film their Landsgeminde. I did not have a clue what a Landsgeminde was, and there was nothing in the conversation that gave me any hint of what it might be.

I confessed to Oscar Schneider my ignorance, he seemed a little amused and told me it meant a Parliament . The Parliament met at Hardcastle Crags near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. It was held each year on the third Sunday in June. The Consul wished to have a film record made of the event so that he could send a copy to Switzerland to show how the Swiss in England remembered their own country.

I readily agreed to make the film. It was a banquet and ball not to be forgotten and Edith and I made many friends and later some of the friendships were renewed in Switzerland when Edith and I went on holiday there.

On the third Sunday in June the weather was at its best. The Swiss were given a Civic Welcome in Hebden Bridge and later they all assembled at Hardcastle Crags. The steep sided wooded valley with hidden plateaux provided an ideal setting for the Landsgeminde.

A picnic was held during the afternoon and it was a time for meeting friends, old and new. Later they all sat in a great circle, their leaders, each in turn, spoke to the gathering and invited them to come together in their Canton groups. When all had regrouped and greeted each other, there was singing, yodelling and music.

Our friendship with the Swiss in England grew steadily. Edith and I spent several holidays in Switzerland. Back in England I organised trips for our Swiss friends; we went by coach to Stoneyhurst College and toured the Ribble valley. The Mayor of Burnley, Alderman Joe Herbert, gave the Swiss Club a Civic Welcome at Towneley Hall. The flags of the two countries flew side by side from the battlements of the Hall. At the cafe, close by, the building was festooned in bunting. Swiss confectionery had specially been provided for the visitors.


The bond of friendship between my family and our Swiss friends was strengthened. I was given a letter of introduction from the Swiss Consul which allowed me to film in Switzerland in places not normally open to tourists. My love for Switzerland and its people remains to this day.