The copyright of all photographs belongs to individual interviewees. Please get in touch for more information

Francoise Robertson

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
in 1940
Mode of Arrival:
Mother and baby searched for a boat, lived rough and eventually arrived in the UK

Interview Summary:

Francoise Robertson (nee Herzberg)was born in Brussels in 1939 to an English mother and an Austrian father. Her mother, who was from Birmingham, had come to work in Brussels as a Librarian and had met and married and settled there. Her father moved from Austria to Holland and then to Belgium and worked for printing companies. Her father joined the Belgium Air Force as a pilot. He was twice captured and escaped. He escaped to England and joined the RAF. His mother survived the war in Belgium. On the German invasion of Belgium, Francoise mother took the baby and tramped the roads going from port to port looking for a ship. They lived rough. She caught a boat and arrived in the UK where she went to her family in Birmingham. 

She lived at first in Birmingham and her brother was born in 1944. When her father came out of the RAF they went to live in Croydon in c1946. She attended the Crowham Hurst Private Girls School. This gave her a sense of duty to the community. Her father came and went and the marriage was very insecure. It eventually broke up and her mother remarried. Her father also remarried and each of the new spouses had children to previous marriages so there was a big extended family. She had a liberal Jewish upbringing, although her mother came from a more orthodox family. Her brother became an architect and she took teachers training, although she would have preferred to continue her athletics or drama. These were frowned upon. She married a non Jew she met at college and was disinherited by a great uncle. She has married three times, all non Jewish and had 3 boys.

My mother… realised that the Germans were approaching and people were being rounded up and sent off. There was only one chance and that was to leave Brussels. I was a small baby, so she picked me up …and she set off on foot to try to get …to England. She walked for 6 weeks along the road, carrying a baby. Very, very brave and managed by walking from port to port to get on, I am told, what was the last boat that got back to England without being bombed or stopped. She was made a big fuss of and there were articles in the paper about this brave young woman who had managed to save her baby and get back to Britain.

…the importance of everyone- Learning to accept and value other human beings for their qualities. One mustn’t look at colour, one mustn’t look at religion and one mustn’t look at the differences between people. One must think of them all as human beings and we do have something in common with all of them.


@ Refugee Voices 2020

Made by BookJaw