For women desperate to escape from Fascism, nursing or domestic service were major means of entering Britain legally from the late 1930s to the onset of World War Two in September 1939 (when paid work was otherwise normally prohibited as a condition of entry). These life-saving measures were widely sought after through agencies and charities, and posts were often obtained on the women’s behalf by family members or friends already in Britain. But whilst the women were grateful to be safe, few were content. Overall, the domestic service experience was not a happy one.
Several factors contributed to the women’s unhappiness, quite apart from homesickness and anxiety about loved ones left behind. Grievances centre on their treatment/mistreatment as ‘lowly servants’ regardless of their education, qualifications or social standing (not unusually equal to, or greater than that of the respective mistress). Unfamiliar language, customs and practices could heighten a woman’s humiliation or sense of lost identity in a class-conscious and alien society that had not endured foreign domination for centuries.
Despite the Domestic Bureau’s guidance in Mistress and Maid, tensions inevitably arose, especially when the ‘domestic’ could not cook or light an open coal fire… Nevertheless, it is broadly held that the women were generally exploited. Read more here.
– Dr Jana Buresova