Monday, August 10, 2015

Where Family History Meets World History - Usually - During War Time



Yugoslav Refugee Camp: Austria 1946.

Margaret Blair, center, eldest daughter of Marion Nicholson Blair in Refugee Camp in Austria. She didn't volunteer. She found herself in Europe when war was declared and just got to work. She had  terrific role-models, her mother (President of the Teachers' Union in Montreal) and her Aunt Edith, Commandant of the Quebec Red Cross in WWII.  Besides, with her mom a busy working widow, Margaret learned responsibility early, helping to raise her younger siblings in the 1930's.




In 1912, Marion Nicholson, my husband’s grandmother, was offered a chance to accompany her friends, the McCoys, on a trip to Europe. She had to decline. “Teachers will have to make more money before I can go to Europe,” she wrote in a letter to her mother. Read Threshold Girl here.

In 1913, she gave up teaching altogether to marry a Hugh Blair.

She had been deeply upset when “a mere boy out of school” had been hired  over her head for the 7th form  and given 800 dollars a year to start, when she was living on a 650 a  year salary – and she already had 6 years’ experience.

So it’s not a surprise that when her husband, Hugh, died young in 1927 leaving her penniless with four children, and cut out of his family business that  she went back to work and joined the Teachers Union, eventually rising to the Post of President in 1942.

In my last post, I published a speech where she is arguing for a raise for elementary teachers.  The speech I have transcribed here is one of her last, for she died suddenly of a heart attack in 1947.

In this speech Marion A. N. Blair (as she called herself) discusses her 1947 trip to Sevres, France, to attend a UNESCO conference as a representative of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

And she answers a question I have long wondered. Did Paris look all bombed out to her? 

  Apparently not. Paris bombings (from what I read) took place in working class areas.

Well, she finally did get to Paris, and not only as a young  empty-headed tourist doing the rounds ( like this American ingenue in a previous post) but on a serious mission.


.(See pic way below of Edith in Red Cross Uniform)
 Margaret Blair 1914-1978. Margaret died young of alcohol related disease. She thrived in the chaos of war, but wilted in the POST WAR as a domesticated 50's housewife. Marion's side trip to Austria was likely on Margaret's behest.

It was both a great privilege and a great honour to be one of the Canadian Representatives chosen by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, to attend the conference of Unesco held this summer in Paris.

Personally, it was an extremely broadening experience and one that I consider a liberal education in itself.

UNESCO, as the letters indicate, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, is embodied in the United Nations Charter drawn up in San Francisco in 1945.
As you know the tree mains divisions of the U.N. are 1) International Court of Justice 2) General Assembly 3)Security Council

Out of the General Assembly come many specialized agencies such as
WHO (World Health Organization)
IRO International Refugee Organization
ITO International Trade Organization
International Bank for reconstruction and development
International Monetary Fund
PICAO
International Civil Aviation Organization (Editor: headquartered in Montreal up until recently, I think because the Ferry Command (in which my own father served) was at Dorval Airport.
International Labour Organization.

Consequently, you can see that UNESCO occupies no mean place in the scheme of International Planning.

Unesco did not develop directly from the recent war but there is no doubt that the frightful prospect of atomic destruction hastened the formation of UNESCO under the U.N.

There were  international organizations on educational lines before this such as :

International Organization of Intellectual Cooperation in the framework of the League of Nations formed in 1922
An International Bureau of Education  organized in Geneva in 1925
Then in 1942 a Conference of Allied Ministers of Education was held in London.

However, until the San Francisco conference of the U.N. an international educational Org. remained an ideal rather than an accomplished fact.

Thus Unesco, we may say, was born in November 1945, when its charter was drawn up. Since then it has grown until the present time where it has a membership of 31 nations.

A seminar was held in Paris this summer of representatives of these 31 nations and for this I was appointed by the Can. Teachers Fed.

Of course, you realize that the purpose of the UNESCO Organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture and World Peace.

Its objectives follow three broad lines:
1.Education, Scientific, and Cultural Reconstruction of countries (members of Unesco) which have been devastated by the war
2. A universal minimum of education
3. Promotion of International Understanding

True to all matters pertaining to education, Unesco struggles forward with a worldwide problem on a budget of 6 million, which is the price of a good destroyer which one well-aimed torpedo can send to the bottom of the ocean, a total loss.

This sum, which may seem large on paper is very small when divided among 31 nations and the magnitude of the work to be done.

ie. Eliminating illiteracy and giving a basic elementary education to all peoples. If we brush aside elementary education for all, we fail our responsibilities as one of the most fortunate of the nations. To be purely selfish jeopardizes our own security and our democrative way of life.  

All people without knowledge are easy prey to unscrupulous  people or nations or non-religious groups, working to promote their own advantage.

We well know from bitter experience that it has come to some countries.

It was remarkable to find representatives of these 31 nations, regardless of nation, race, colour or creed, united in the problem of international understanding, wishing to develop themselves along their own lines, keeping their own cultures, realizing through all that there is a beauty and value in differences, though all our aims were exactly the same.
It was inspiring to the ultimate success of UNESCO that the nations of the East, Egypt, Indian, China, Iran, Turkey, as well as all Latin American were as interested in International Understanding for World Peace as we were.

I am sure you will be interested to know how we were cared for during the Conference.
As you know, the headquarters of UNESCO is in Paris, where they have permanent staff directly its many activities.
Julian Huxley, an outstanding scientist and able administrator, is its Director.
(Other names)

We lived at the Lycee at Sevres, originally the factory where the beautiful Sevres China was made and at the Salle de Garde (Mme de Pompadour, now a Normal School).

Although there were many sessions and free discussions, we managed to see quite a lot of Paris.
Living as we did at the Lycee, we became very well acquainted with the other delegates, meeting them for meals three times a day and carrying on discussions on all kinds of topics of interest.
It was very easy for us to develop an international understanding, but this has to be carried back to the nations, which is not always so easy.

During lectures, the barrier of language was eliminated by interpreters.
It is not easy to estimate another’s problems when they cannot be adequately expressed, and we only guess at them through the light of our own experience.

After leaving Paris with its beauty and culture and without seeing much material destruction of property I went to Austria.
(Random words scribbled: French visa, French theft, Meeting Margaret, Money, Salzburg, Police Permit, 20F)


We drove through the Austrian Tyrol, the most beautiful scenery I have ever imagined, up winding roads over and around mountains, around beautiful lakes and deep valleys.

The headquarters were in Leoben ?), an industrial town  of about 30,000 people. (Words: Iron mountain, mining university, walled city, gate 1200, 1700, clock.)

It was while I was in Austria that I visited many D.P camps. Most of the people I came in contact with came from Yugoslavia. Some of them had left voluntarily, because of conditions, others were forced out for political reasons, even taken in the middle of the night, put in closed trucks and dumped across the border leaving all their worldly goods and possessions.

We must not imagine that these people were all undesirables. They were from all walks of life, doctors, musicians, teachers, tradesmen, mechanics, laborers, and many many children whose parents were probably dead.

At present these people were placed in camps, taken care of and protected by the Allied Commission.
There you realize they must stay until the peace terms are decided and some country or countries open their doors and taken them in as immigrants.

In most of these camps , the people are encouraged by the officers to interest themselves in different crafts and skills. Some that can play instruments make up a small orchestra, then they are moved to other camps to entertain. 

Others who can cook and sew are given jobs as cooks and seamstresses or as tailors in the camp, for which they receive a minimum wage.

Others with clerical abilities help put in office routine.

Perhaps the greatest lack is in education.  Each camp tries to have some kind of school for the children, although supplies are inadequate and there are no qualified teachers.

It is estimated that there are 120 thousand displaced persons in Austria. 

I visited one of the children’s homes where there were 145 children seemingly happy, never having known  any other life, not remembering a home or mother’s care.

In one camp I witnessed the evening meal of a group of boys aged 10-14. It consisted of: (?)
I wonder how many Canadian children would have liked that fare. Nevertheless, the place was spotless clean.
Boys had made window boxes and filled them with flowers. They had also large veg gardens (no weeds) to augment their food ration.
I did not see any milk, though I believe that some of the babies in the children’s home had some. (Cows)

Each year the theme for Education Week is chosen for us… This year it is the four freedoms:
Want.. Releg ? Fear…of Speech

The need of these freedoms I saw very clearly in my travels this summer. I saw people in WANT without enough of the proper kind of food and with little clothing;

I saw people afraid of the future and well they might be in light of their own experience.

I saw people absolutely disillusioned and full of suspicion regarding their fellow man.

I saw people deprived of all the rights and privileges of citizenship which we as Canadians enjoy.

Often I fear, not realizing what a wonderful thing it is to be a Citizen of Canada.

These four freedoms, spoken of so glibly and lightly for other people…What are they but words if we do not make sure that we have them and keep them here, may I repeat, have them and keep them here.

We have spent billions to destroy, should we not spend billions more and finish the job with construction so that these four freedoms become the basic human rights of all mankind?

Everyone  of us believes in planning for the future. Every insurance policy, every savings account, every investment account is a means to plan for the future.

The greatest and safest investment in our futures are Canada’s public schools.

The world has become so small with modern inventions, radio, airplanes, we rub elbows with people of distant lands. It is time we made this proximity secure and comfortable with understanding and neighborliness, feelings on both sides.

Disaster can come through indifference, carelessness and complacency. We know that it must be secured and cherished though each succeeding generation. We, each and all, have a grave responsibility to fit our children to carry on. There must be  an education in Democratic Faith, in loyalties, in knowledge and in the discipline of free men.

As Lincoln said in his 2nd Inaugural Address: To do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations


More Yugoslav Refugees

Meanwhile, back in Quebec, Edith Nicholson inspects the Red Cross Troops.