90 years ago this week Eglantyne Jebb and her sister Dorothy launched a new fund to help provide milk and aid to the children in Europe who were starving to death – 800 a day in Germany – as a result of the post-war British economic blockade.
Eglantyne had been arrested in Traflagar Square a few weeks earlier for distributing leaflets that had not been cleared by the government censors, like the one in my first blog, to raise public awareness about the European famine. She had insisted on conducting her own case at her trial, sensibly focusing on the moral arguments. Technically found guilty, she was fined just £5, ‘which’, she wrote to her mother, ‘is equivilent to victory’.
Her next letter went to the papers, and by the following day she had gained coverage in five nationals. Building on this publicity Eglantyne and Dorothy decided to call a public famine meeting. Although nervous about the response they might get, the sisters were also ambitious, and decided to book the Royal Albert Hall. In the event there were not enough seats for the crowd that arrived – although unfortunately many had come with rotten fruit to throw at the traitors who wanted to give succour to the ‘enemy’. Eglantyne was a nervous public speaker, but her voice rose with passion as she went on – until she was demanding ‘surely it is impossible for us, as normal human beings, to watch children starve to death without making an effort to save them’. The crowd began to applaud. Within ten days £10,000 had been donated which went to provide sustainable relief through the delivery of Swiss dairy cows to Vienna.
This meeting happenned yesterday – 90 years ago. And yesterday I was delighted to be invited down to talk to staff at Save the Children in London about the history of this wonderful organisation. Afterwards some of them cornered me and made me talk to tape – if you missed the talk you can see the video on this YouTube
Thank you very much for inviting me in, and thank you very much for all the inspiring work that everyone who works at Save the Children, or supports Save the Children does, to make sure that children still receive relief in emergencies – irrespective of their race, faith, politics or anything else. It is a priviledge to be involved!