Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Friends' School

The Friends School

The blossom on the stand of cherry trees in front of the old Friends’ School has survived the overnight gales.

I’ve written about role of the The Friends School in assisting Jewish refugee children from Nazi controlled Europe before, In all, up to 1940, 32 children from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary found a new life at Great Ayton1Watson, G. Alston. “Ayton School – The Centenary History 1841-1941”. Headley Brothers. 1941.. In my posting, I recounted the words of Marion Wolff who attended the Friends School between 1942-47.

On the Imperial War Museum website, I recently came across an account of one of these 32 children, Dieter Wolff (no relation to Marion). It’s an oral history of Dieter’s experiences2“Wayne, Peter (Oral History).” Imperial War Museums, 2021, www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80030717. Accessed 4 May 2021..

Dieter was born on the 8th May 1920 to a Jewish professional family and spent his first fifteen years in Berlin. In 1935, fearful of the worsening situation in Berlin, his parents sent away him to school, first to Switzerland, 1935/36 and then to Britain, 1936/37.

We take up Dieter’s account with his parents’ decision to send him to England:

We were all, everybody was very pro-English and by that time, quite a few of our friends had emigrated to London. And this proved very valuable later on when the borders were closed, and they sent me. It was also difficult to have a French school. My French was not brilliant, it was school French, my English was very, very poor when I arrived in England, but my parents managed through the Society of Friends, the Quakers.

There were four or five Quaker schools, all in the north of England, and I went to a Quaker school where we had already, the son of my parents’ friends, as a pupil.

The Quaker school was in Great Ayton … it’s in the Cleveland hills, it’s near Middlesbrough in Yorkshire.

We were not Quakers, the Society of Friends, and, if I might digress a little bit, did more, there are a small, not a sect, but a small community of people who have done more for the Jewish and racially persecuted refugees than any other organisation. In proportion to their, to their numbers. We are now, if I may digress, trying to have the Society of Friends, which is their proper title, added to the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, as a memorial to the enormous effort they did. They made to get and allowed children to come. We paid our school fees. They admitted us, and later on, when my parents couldn’t send any money out, they kept us.

I came over on a German steamer from Hamburg to Hull. Hull being the nearest town …That was, I can tell you the exact date, it was the first of May, 1936 … I was on my own. And I was met by the headmaster3The Headmaster at this time was Hebert Dennis – Watson, G. Alston. “Ayton School – The Centenary History 1841-1941”. Headley Brothers. 1941. in Hull, very kind, old, he was probably 55 years old, a Quaker. We communicated somehow after all I did have some English, and took me to the school, introduced me to everybody. And I had Peter Lasky who was, you know the one of my friends, or our parents were friendly, and I slept for the first time in my life in the dormitory with 22 boys.

There were, we were, it was actually for those, in those days quite exceptional. It was co-educational. We were kept well apart from the girls, apart playing some sports, we were joined together, but some of the classes, the fifth and sixth form, we had, we had girls in our classes as they have nowadays as well. It was a boarding school, the discipline was strict. We had to go to the meeting in the morning, on Sundays for two meetings, the Quaker form of worship is to sit in complete silence. I used to work out, mathematical problems so I did enjoy going to Quaker meetings. It is what it is. You know there are no priests there no, you sit in a square. And from time to time one of the elders, got up and was moved by a spirit to say something which was sometimes quite profound. No, I must say they were happy days I was homesick of course.

The homesickness was aggravated by the fact that I had my parents in Berlin. We read the newspapers, we were taught history in a different way. And we suddenly realised that the First World War was really lost by Germany, and not by being stabbed in the back by Jewish Bolshevists. I really learned history there. And I was worried about the way, I remember writing very cautious letters, without reference to anything political to my parents. And my homesickness, I do remember very clearly was not that I wanted to go back to Germany. I wanted them to come out.

Dieter was then asked how did he actually got on with his fellow pupils and did he encounter any anti-semitism amongst the British boys or was it stamped on it quickly.

Very interesting question. We had, of course, a great mix of children a lot of them came from farming backgrounds because it is farming land up there somewhere. Children of officers were posted abroad. I did not come across any anti-semitism except from one boy. His name was Eric Brown, and he in 1936/37 had somehow obtained anti-semitic leaflets which were definitely, I wish that kept one or two of them, which were issued by the British Union of Fascists. Sir Oswald Mosley’s gang. And he used to show them to me and they were very pro-German and pro-Nazi, and I remember having arguments with him, but I mean nothing violent. That was the only, that was one boy out of 85. Other than that, I found there was no bullying.

It was not a question of being Jewish or not Jewish, the Quakers insisted that we follow their, you know, their their religious way, which was of course Christian, I mean we used to, we used to have to get up, stay and be silent before we could sit down and eat our meals, but there was no, in no way any discrimination. You mustn’t forget that the Quakers themselves are pacifists, and the bulk of our teachers were conscientious objectors in the First World War, and they weren’t treated very nicely. I know my French master who was absolutely charming, and he sort of, you know, the German boys had no parents, we were invited to tea, we must not forget they all lived in the village and in the school, the teachers, so their wives used to invite us over and gave us a very warm welcome. But in the First World War, my French master was in prison, I think it was in Durham prison. They just locked them up. They treated them more gently in the second one.

… there was a financial situation, my father had obtained again through the Jewish refugee committee, because you see we were regarded as Jewish because we were persecuted because of our 75%, non-Aryan blood. He had obtained sufficient money to send over, at an exorbitant rate of interest, to pay my school fees which were £30 a term, full board. I remember that. And, but there was of course a time limit, and my parents said no, for God’s sake, please work hard, get your matric [Matriculation] at 17, university entrance, but we got enough to keep you there (the Quakers would have kept me anyhow). But do try and get your matric within a year of being there. So I already wanted to become an accountant, sat down and worked out. What did I do? The amazing thing was that our German school, my German school, was superior in teaching methods, and we were well advanced. So I looked at the curriculum, and I found that I was well ahead in mathematics. I was well ahead in French. And of course German was, was a gift, because it’s my life. The things I concentrated during that year was English language, English literature and history because we went to completely different historical events.

On being asked if he picked up English quickly:

In Yorkshire, if you’re like, I used ‘Ee by gum’. Yes. English is not a difficult language, I had this background, and being involved with nothing but English speaking people, teachers and pupils around me. I did pick it up quite well. I do remember I had a nickname. Of course I was called Deiter Wolff in those days. They said they called me Ditter, and then they decided they called me, Yellow Yumpa, because I could not say yellow jumper. So Yellow Yumpa was my nickname, but it was all extremely pleasant. I mean, I can. I don’t. Would you like to hear the sort of story of a young boy.

When I arrived and I wanted to ingratiate myself with my new fellow pupils. So, one evening, the one of the boys said look, we were always hungry, by the way, I don’t know why, we had to tuck box. One of them said look, Ditter or Yellow Yumpa. Would you go to the fish and chip shop. This was after lights out and get a portion a fish and chips which was to be 2 pence at the time. And the boys gave me the money. We had, I went down on the fire escape steps from the dormitory. Crossed the village green and purchased that steaming hot load of fish and chips. I returned to the school. Everything was in complete darkness I mean we weren’t locked in, it wasn’t. I climbed up the fire escape. The window was open. I crawled through the window, saying, I’m back. Complete silence, as soon as I set foot in the dormitory the lights went on, the duty master appeared. He used to sleep next to the dormitory. So there I was, and the fish and chips were confiscated. I remember the words of the master who he was a science master, he goes out, I was the guilty party, to some extent, although the boys put me up. It was very serious. I do, I wasn’t severely punished. But you said to me, in his broad Yorkshire. You are not just a wolf by name, you are a wolf by nature. In this Churchillian voice. That was one of my episodes. I remember but basically it was all very, very pleasant.

We had during part of my school, some boys from the Basque Country. Because that was the time when Franco, at the time of the Spanish Civil War. And they were refugees, and they were taken in by the Quakers. There were only two or three of them, were then housed in a hostel nearby4Possibly Hutton Hall see http://www.fhithich.uk/?p=23754. We had one black boy who was marvellous at sports, and there was no discrimination whatsoever. He just, I think he must have been Jamaican. He spoke very good English.

On holidays :

I was befriended by one of the boys, he became later on my, my very best friend and his parents who lived in Darlington, used to take me during the holidays because I couldn’t always go home. My parents were still in Berlin, my little brother was still in Berlin. And I used to spend the holiday with them, with the Hardys, but I did go back in 1937. No, it was Christmas 1936. Berlin at that time, just during the Olympic Games, wanted to give the very best impression to the world at large. They had removed all the anti-semitic slogans from the streets, newspapers, very, very clever, or done by Dr. Goebbels, the Propaganda Ministry. You know, you can’t, you can’t have 80 different nationalities in a town for the Olympic Games, and have anti-semitic slogans. They didn’t want to offend anybody. Things had calmed down. And again we will lulled into a sense of security, which was, with hindsight, of course, a great mistake. I took my, I took my friend back to Germany, he was very impressed by everything. His name was Douglas Hardy.

In July, I got six credits, with distinction in German. And I was therefore, I was, I was quite happy to, I went back to Darlington July 1937, The results came out. And I then decided to become a chartered accountant. In those days, it was not a university course, it was you had to be articled, like solicitors … my parents in the meantime made efforts to get my brother out, came out actually, in January 1938 to the same Quaker school where I was.

After school, Dieter Wolff worked as articled clerk in Darlington. In 1940, he was interned in Liverpool, on the Isle of Man, and in Canada. He served as a private in the Pioneer Corps in North West Europe, 1941-1944; later serving as an interpreter with the Military Government Detachment in Germany, 1945-1946. He later changed his name to Peter Wayne.

  • 1
    Watson, G. Alston. “Ayton School – The Centenary History 1841-1941”. Headley Brothers. 1941.
  • 2
    “Wayne, Peter (Oral History).” Imperial War Museums, 2021, www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80030717. Accessed 4 May 2021.
  • 3
    The Headmaster at this time was Hebert Dennis – Watson, G. Alston. “Ayton School – The Centenary History 1841-1941”. Headley Brothers. 1941.
  • 4
    Possibly Hutton Hall see http://www.fhithich.uk/?p=23754





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