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
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
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.