seems to have been Sydney H Wood’s suggestion, on the outbreak
of war, that the British Council should extend cultural hospitality
to Germans, Austrians, Poles, and Czechs who had taken refuge in England.
As representative of the Board of Education on the British Council he
submitted a plan for this to Lord Lloyd who was the chairman of the
British council. On the basis of his plan the Resident Foreigners Committee,
later the Home Division of the British Council was established.
Its scheme of cultural hospitality for refugees was interrupted by heavy bombing. The fall of France required the British Council to devote its energies to the service of soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allies.
In 1941 a group of interested individuals, which included Wood, urged the government to take some definite steps to help German teachers and social workers in England to prepare themselves’ for a return to Germany after the war. This attempt did not prove to be successful.
By 1942 Wood was chairman of the Home Division [of the British Council?] he wanted to do something to relieve civilian refugees especially those from Germany. He identified the likely significance of this group once the war was over. Wood therefore sought to promote a revival of activity in cultural hospitality for Germans. At this time British opinion was, understandably, divided upon the suitability of such a scheme.
Wood began to despair of finding support for his plan. Looking back to the early 1940s he wrote:
returned home on the evening of the day on which I had decided not to
pursue the matter further and said to my wife. ‘I can do no more
about reviving cultural hospitality for German refugees’. She
replied, ‘Let us do it ourselves!’ and so GER was born.”
Wood’s wife; Phyllis went on to be a founding member of the GER board. She retired from the board in 1953, at the same time as her husband.
After making enquiries the Woods discovered that there was a small group of German teachers and social workers who were working towards the same goal as they. They joined forces and with the help of personal friends, but with no funds or official backing set out to help a few Germans in England equip themselves to play an active part in the reconstruction of the German Educational system after the war.
The resulting group was known, for a short time as ‘German Re-education Planning’, however, by the time the board met for the third time the decision was made to adopt the name German Educational Reconstruction and the three letter abbreviation GER.
From very early on the GER was organised into a Board and a Standing Committee. The Standing Committee was made up of German teachers and social workers living and working in England. They prepared a programme of study visits and conferences designed to maintain and develop their professional knowledge and skill. The GER board then granted financial aid to their programmes on consideration of the events and the funding available.
The foreign office is actively supported the venture, which progressed beyond the expectations of the small numbers of supporters involved.
During the war the GER held conferences, organised study groups, conducted training courses and published pamphlets. Their activities were all concerned with German education either as it had been before the war or how it ought to be after it. With this in mind the group prepared a suggested educational reconstruction plan for the period of transition following unconditional surrender .
After the war most of the GER’s active German members returned to Germany at the earliest opportunity. As a result the GER experienced what might be called an identity crisis. Its original objective had been achieved, its members were departing for Germany, and so, in 1946 the topic of winding the organisation up was discussed. It was the departing German members who felt it was necessary to keep a British focus of interest in German education alive. Therefore the GER adopted at new constitution with new and broadened aims of creating a strong and lasting relationship between Britain and Germany in the field of education and social service.
wide ranging activities of the GER and its sister organisation in Bonn,
were carried out through a number of help schemes. Through the Books
for Germany scheme, the GER organised for the shipment of tons of books
for distribution to German universities, schools and libraries. The
Periodicals Scheme placed British donors of progressive cultural publications
in personal contact with German citizens who wished to receive such
Throughout its existence the GER brought many hundreds of guests to Britain. They included those engaged in educational and social work for study and observation. Conferences were arranged for ministers of education, professors, administrators, school inspectors, teachers and social welfare workers, as well as historians, social scientists, and lawyers.
Under the post war secretariat of Eric Hirsch youth visits featured largely among the activities of the GER. These often involved English youth groups travelling to Germany or German youth, and drama groups or choirs visiting England. The GER also funded and arranged study visits to England for individual Germans wishing to improve their English or to study a particular aspect of British life.
Harvest Camp scheme was another means whereby Germans could travel to
England. It had it’s origins with the Ministry of Agriculture.
The scheme included male, female, and disabled students, who visited
camps in Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire, Essex and Wiltshire to
assist with agricultural and harvest work. The initiative to involve
German students came from German Supply Department of the Foreign Office.
Campers were expected to do at least 36 hours of work each week. By
the intervention of the GER University and High School Students from
the British, American and French Zones of Germany were able to attend.
Clothing was supplied, with water proofs coming from the War Office,
and clothing and shoes from private sources. Campers who attended under
the auspices of the GER were encouraged to save their camp wages to
finance a holiday in England after the harvest was completed. The GER
worked with its members and contacts to provide hospitality for German
campers in British homes during their post-camp stay in the UK. In 1954
the Ministry of Agriculture took the decision not to run future camps.
From the 1955 season some camps taken over by National Farmer's Union
or private wardens. In 1958 the GER made the decision not to repeat
the Harvest scheme.
The GER published its own periodical; the Bulletin, from 1946 to 1951. The bulletin, edited by Paul P Bondy, was initially published alternately in German and English. Later editions were produced in English only. It recorded the activities of the organisation and reported on conditions in German. It is therefore a valuable resource for social history and on the changing attitudes between Britain and Germany.
By the mid 1950s the GER was competing with other organisations in the field of Anglo German relations. Many felt that the period of reconstruction was coming to an end also that the promotion of Anglo-German exchange was being carried out successfully elsewhere. This raised the questions of the necessity and relevance of the GER. In an atmosphere of changing British attitudes towards Germany and increased competition for charitable funding the GER was finally wound up in 1958.
Find out more about the GER papers