The Dirigible Balloon
Poetry for Children

The Windermere Children

#PoemsForChildren #LakeDistrictHolocaustProject

In 1945, a journey of rescue and rehabilitation began for 300 Jewish refugee children abused by the Nazis during World War Two. The rescue was arranged by Leonard Montefiore, supported by the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief with the children cared for under the direction of child psychologist Dr. Oskar Friedman.

This was the focus of a marvellous film in 2020. The Windermere Children, written by Simon Block, directed by Michael Samuels and featuring amongst others, Iain Glen, Pascal Fischer, Thomas Kretschmann and Romola Garai, chronicled the events in 1945 at Calgarth in Troutbeck Bridge.

Accommodation blocks that had been used to house workers producing the Sunderland Flying Boats became the temporary home for the children who were in desperate need of care. Dr. Friedman’s supportive network offered opportunities for sport, education, outdoor recreation, art therapy and healthcare. From the brutality of Nazi death camps to the tranquillity of the Lake District, the children’s testimonies, which now form part of the Lake District Holocaust Project exhibition in Windermere Library, record how they felt they’d arrived in ‘Paradise’.


When fighting stopped and silence fell
in May of 1945,
within the depths of hellish camps,
some children managed to survive.

Malnourished, overworked and ill,
with spirits low and little hope,
behind barbed wire where cruelty
made it so very hard to cope.

So many orphaned by the war,
confused and anxious, in despair,
in need of rescue from that place
and words of kindness, love and care.

To save the children, plans were made
to leave the darkness far behind,
to find a place where wounds could heal
and rest might help a broken mind.
In the camps we were left
when the fighting had stopped.
We were hungry, neglected, afraid.
We had seen so much hate,
couldn’t understand why
any human would treat us this way.
Feel the pain of the loss
of your family and friends.
Feel alone with your grief and despair.
Wonder how you will cope
without love, without hope.
In the darkness, does anyone care?

In the cold and the damp,
in the rubble of war,
we were found in distress and alone.
We were given some bread
with a drink for each child
and some kindness and care we were shown.
Feel the pain of the loss
of your days as a child.
Feel the anguish of grief and despair.
Wonder what now awaits
in the rest of your life.
In the darkness, does anyone care?

They took the children off to Prague,
and with the RAF they flew
to England’s county of the lakes,
beyond the clouds, to start anew.

Three hundred left on planes that day
on Stirling bombers through the skies;
the shadows of young boys and girls
with sallow skin and haunted eyes.

In groups of thirty to each plane,
eight hours across the land and sea,
to land near Carlisle in the north
where buses waited patiently.

Through winding roads in Cumberland
to Westmorland and very near
to where in war they built the boats
with wings that flew from Windermere.

Then we’re questioned and cleaned,
given second hand clothes,
moved to Prague and then onto a plane.
And from there we are flown
over land and the sea
overnight in the darkness and rain.
Feel the pain of the loss
of your home far away.
Feel the nightmare of grief and despair.
Wonder where you will go
in this place you don’t know.
In the darkness, does anyone care?

Then on Windermere’s shore
under trees and by streams,
we learn to be children again.
And slowly at first
unlock feelings and dreams
tightly shackled by anguish and pain.
Feel the breath of the air
on your face as you run;
leave the hatred behind in the darkness.
Seek friendship and joy
as you try to have fun;
there is love within each act of kindness.

At Troutbeck, for these boys and girls,
a friendly welcome was prepared.
Yet worried eyes betrayed their thoughts;
these children still felt lost and scared.

As questions raced when they arrived:
could they be safe in this new place,
this foreign, unfamiliar land,
another camp they had to face?

But here within the Calgarth camp,
the story of their lives would change.
Instead of loathing based on race,
they found a welcome, which felt strange.

Some snug clean beds, fresh linen sheets
and buttered bread piled high on plates.
No more the shrill and callous voice;
but friendly words to contemplate.

Shall we dream of our parents,
our neighbours, our friends,
see reflections in eyes filled with sorrow?
Shall we wait for the bruises
and heartache to mend
when the pain comes again on the morrow?
Feel the breath of the air
on your face as you play;
leave the hunger behind in the darkness.
Seek friendship and joy
on your journey each day;
there is love within each act of kindness.

Shall we fly over lakes
in a boat made with wings,
splash in wellies through clouds under rainbows?
Shall we ride on the wind
with the birds as we sing,
chasing stars in the wake of tornadoes?
Feel the breath of the air
on your face as you fly;
leave the barbed wire behind in the darkness.
Seek friendship and joy
as you understand why
there is love within each act of kindness.

A place of peace and beauty too,
where mountain rose to touch the sky,
a lake to swim and woods to run,
to learn, to play, to heal, to cry.

And given paper, brush and paint,
some time to think, to deal with pain,
the children took a few steps on
the road to health; to smile again.

Less than a year for hope to spring,
a space to breathe, to feel alive,
within this refuge by the lake
those summer months in forty-five.

From shadows how the children grew,
with spirits that refused to die,
when like the Calgarth flying boats,
from Windermere they learnt to fly.

Shall we muster our courage,
be thoughtful and kind
as we sail on our way under blue skies?
Shall we care for each other
and those who we find
feeling sad and alone as the boat flies?
Feel the breath of the air
on your face as you smile;
Leave the prisons behind in the darkness.
Seek friendship and joy
feeling safe all the while;
there is love within each act of kindness.

As the summer grows old
and it’s time to move on
from the flying boats up on the skyline,
we will never forget
when our childhood has gone
how we played in the sweet Lakeland sunshine.
Feel the breath of the air
on your face as you leave;
we will run, laugh and play till we’re done.
From the darkness we came
yet we learned to believe
that tomorrow we’ll sing in the sun

… and that kindness could save everyone.

About the Writer

Jonathan Humble

Jonathan lives in Cumbria. His work has been published online and in print in a number of magazines and anthologies. His first collection of poetry, My Camel's Name Is Brian, was published by TMB Books in 2015. His second poetry book, Fledge came out in 2020 through Maytree Press. His poems for children have been shortlisted and highly commended in the Caterpillar and Yorkmix poetry competitions and he is the editor of The Dirigible Balloon. His poems Masterclass and This Work is Done were chosen as the Milk House Poem of the Year at the end of 2022 and 2023.