Early Exchanges

In the early years after the War new administrative institutions and democratic arrangements were being created – the British set up councils based on the kind of local government that existed in England at that time. The first elections to the new Aachen local government were held in 1946. The new Aachen Council not only focussed on youth work and education but also was encouraged to study local government in England. This led to a group of Aachen Councillors and officials spending three weeks in Halifax. This group included Councillor Fritz Thouet – the Thouet family is still a strong part of the twin town links.

Meanwhile the first organised group of helpers, members of the British Youth Hostels Association, went to Aachen and gave technical assistance. This quickly opened up the possibilities of contacts between English schools and their counterparts in Aachen.

Early in 1949 the first contact between Halifax and Aachen took place. Alderman Percival N Whitley, Chair of Halifax Borough Council’s Education Committee, travelled there with the Chief Education Officer Mr C E Gent and the Youth Organiser Miss Gladys Elders. They met Dr Erich Ullrich, a teacher, to discuss the possibility of an exchange between young people. The outcome of this was the very first group of Halifax people to go to Aachen – that same summer. There were 34 in the party, mainly in their late teens and early twenties. They included people from a whole range of walks of life – including joiner, bricklayer, medical lab assistant, typist, post office clerk and grocery assistant.

They actually stayed in the Gelbe Kaserne and worked every morning repairing and improving it – making window frames, painting walls, making curtains and even underwear! In the afternoons they looked around the local area and socialised with young Aacheners.

This must have been a real eye-opener for all involved but also the beginning of person-to-person contact between young people who shortly beforehand would have considered each other to be enemies.

Further working parties went to Aachen in 1951, 1952 and 1953. They included groups of apprentices under the supervision of Maurice Jagger, a well known local builder, Councillor and later Mayor of Halifax.

These young people managed to make habitable three damaged houses – a gesture that was greatly appreciated. This was also the start of a still continuing connection with Aachen of members of the Jagger family.

Another strand of contact developed in 1950 through Mr Wrin, the Headmaster of Clare Hall School. He was invited to take a party of schoolchildren to Castle Blankenburg Youth Hostel near Aachen where they would be joined by children from an Aachen Senior School and take part in debates, discussions, social activities and also community work – such as helping with the harvest! A return visit followed in 1951.

Soon, however, this contact between schoolchildren led to a group of 60 people – including 45 adults – setting off for Aachen. The core of this group was from Forest Cottage Community Centre. Later, a large group of Aacheners came to Halifax as guests of Ovenden Youth Club. During that visit Dr Ullrich and his English hostess exchanged the front door keys of their homes – a declaration of trust and friendship that would have been unthinkable only a few years earlier.