Ilse’s Story

Our music project has been going since the summer, with opera singer extraordinaire Peter Brathwaite and the seemly ever creative composer Joe Steele. We’re also privileged to be working with opera composer Na’ama Zisser. Our community song-writing group has now got to know each other on a personal and creative level. They have used stories of Jewish refugees coming to Cheetham in the 1930s and 1940s as inspiration for songs about arriving, assimilation and belonging. I thought we’d focus this blog entry on Ilse’s story which is in our oral history collection.

When 17-year old Ilse first arrived in Manchester, her father was being held in Huyton internment camp and her sister was in hospital in Liverpool. Ilse joined her mother in a refugee hostel in Great Clewes Street, Cheetham and worked as a domestic, a waterproofing factory in Blackfriars Road in Salford and later as a dental technician. Many of the factories got bombed in the war, so the workers had to deal with broken windows, bombed sites and had to go to work during the blackouts.  

She felt misunderstood and found it hard to assimilate with British people when she arrived. “. Little things seemed to matter very much and made you feel very sore.” As time went on, however, she had lots of friends who were refugees. “When you have lost everyone, you stick together.” The sense of being an outsider remained to some degree throughout her life in Manchester:

“if you go somewhere somebody knows your parents, family, school friends, I am just somebody the wind blew in , a nobody, you won’t understand it, you couldn’t possibly, you know but I wouldn’t say I feel jealous when people say oh I’m going to my relatives here or there to a party to heavens know where – I wish I had them.”

Eventually Ilse met Herbert who worked on a farm in Wiltshire to prepare for going to Israel. He was then interned in the Isle of Man then Canada then back to the Isle of Man. They kept in touch while he was interned through writing letters and she bumped into him by chance in London later. They then got married, he learnt to be a baker and came to Manchester. They got married 4th November 1943 in Cheetham Hill with her parents and sister and his uncle in attendance. At first they lived in an upstairs flat of Herd’s Bakery in Chorlton then started a partnership and they moved back to Cheetham.

Our community song-writing group thought about Ilse’s 1940s experience in relation to contemporary stories of arriving in Cheetham. The creative combination of Michael’s talents in lyric writing, Andy and Aaron taking those lyrics and jamming together to set them to a tune and Philip’s skills in listening and editing the material came to the fore. Discussions between the group about how to represent Ilse’s voice, choice of words and empathy for hers and many others’ situations profoundly resonated with me. The choice to focus on the phrase ‘I am just a somebody the wind blew in’ was the glue to the structure of the song. I hope we’ve done Ilse proud!

Ilse’s Song

Bought here by a wind from the east

That wind that also brings the snow

Driven out with nowhere safe to go

I’m just someone the wind blew in

I’ve left behind the country I called home

Yet even now I cannot cease to roam

Father interned, mother in a mill

And even worse my sister’s ill

I’m just someone the wind blew in


If you go somewhere, someone knows your family

You won’t understand it, you never could

People go to parties, heaven knows where

So many friends I wish were mine

When all seems lost you have to look around

Until at last new happiness is found

You make new friends with who you stick together

Where once was cold, I found some calmer weather

But I’ll always be the one the wind blew in

We always welcome new members to our group who like making music or story-writing, just email our Creative Producer Laura to find out details of the next session:

Fabulous music-making, Manchester Jewish Museum, Music, Opera

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