Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

A Forgotten Fostering Venture: Dianne Ascroft

Dianne Ascroft is a Canadian writer, living in Britain. She has been freelance writing since 2002. Most of her writing focuses on history, arts/music and human interest stories. She particularly enjoys interviewing music personalities and has had the pleasure of chatting with a variety of people including former Bay City Rollers lead singer, Les McKeown and the classical singing trio, The Priests. Her articles have been printed in Canadian and Irish newspapers and magazines including the Toronto Star, Mississauga News, Derry Journal, Banbridge Leader, Senior Times and Ireland’s Own magazine. Hitler and Mars Bars is her first novel.

Dianne started life in a quiet residential neighbourhood in the buzzing city of Toronto and has progressively moved to smaller places through the years. She now lives on a small farm in Northern Ireland with her husband and an assortment of pets. If she ever decides to write her autobiography the working title will be Downsizing.

Hitler and Mars Bars is the story of a remarkable child and era. Set in war-torn Germany and post-war Ireland it is the tale of German boy Erich’s struggle to keep his dreams alive in an alien world.

Growing up in a Children’s Home in Germany’s embattled Ruhr area Erich knows only war and deprivation. His beloved mother’s disappearance after a heavy bombing raid leaves him desolate and desperate to find her. After the war the Red Cross transports Erich and his younger brother, Hans, across Europe, with hundreds of other German children, to escape the appalling conditions in their homeland. Erich and his brother find new lives in Ireland but with different families. During the next few years Erich moves around Ireland, through a string of foster families, experiencing the best and worst of Irish life. He finds love and acceptance in some and indifference and brutality in others. When a farmer and his wife welcome him into their loving home and re-unite him with his brother he finds the family he craves. But his brief taste of happiness is dashed by circumstances beyond his control.

This is the story of a German boy growing up alone in Ireland. He dreams of finding his mother. He yearns for a family who will love and keep him forever. He learns his brother is his ally not his rival. Plucky and resilient he surmounts the challenges his ever changing world presents.


by Dianne Ascroft

In America, Britain and Australia thousands of children are fostered each year. Each of these countries has a well developed system that oversees the care of these children.

Fostering, caring for a child who is not your biological or adoptive one, has been implemented in various ways through the ages. For centuries it existed in a much less formal structure than the current system. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries industrialization and urbanization changed people’s lifestyles, creating an increased need for foster care. Grandparents, other relatives and sometimes unrelated adults raised children when parents were unable to do so. The mass evacuation of children from British cities during the Second World War created a new form of foster care provided mainly by unrelated adults.

Nations usually provide for the needs of the children within their jurisdiction. But, after the Second World War, the devastation in some European countries rendered them unable to do so. So organizations in several western European countries took children from the stricken countries to be fostered in less damaged places.

One such initiative, Operation Shamrock, an Irish Red Cross project, aided German and French children.

Conditions in the war ravaged countries of continental Europe were appalling after the Second World War and many people, especially in Germany, were near starvation. Irish people were particularly moved by the plight of the children and, as a result, the German Save The Children Society was formed in October 1945.

In March 1946 the Irish Red Cross, on behalf of both organisations, applied to the Allied Control Council, the military governing body for Allied-occupied Germany, to bring one hundred German children to Ireland. The request was approved and on July 27th, 1946 the first eighty-eight children arrived. By April 1947 over four hundred children, aged between three and fifteen, were in Ireland. Most of them came from the devastated Ruhr area, which had been heavily bombed by the Allies during the war.

On arrival the children were taken to the Red Cross Centre at Glencree, Co Wicklow where they were cared for by nurses and Red Cross workers. Malnutrition and other health problems were treated, and when their health improved sufficiently, they were placed with foster families. Each child was fostered by a family of the same faith as himself. The children received good care and nourishing food. Language barriers were overcome and the children settled into their host families. Most of them formed strong bonds with their foster families and many were loath to leave them when the time came to return home.

At the end of the planned duration of the three-year project, between April and September 1949, most of the children were returned to their families in Germany. They returned home healthy and happy though many missed their foster families. Approximately fifty children, for various reasons, remained in Ireland permanently.

This fostering project was a very worthwhile humanitarian effort. Over 400 children were brought to Ireland and cared for, with very few reports of mistreatment. After three years they returned home much healthier than when they arrived. It was a resounding success for the Red Cross and many children, who may not have done so in their homeland, survived and thrived.

Despite its value and success Operation Shamrock is rarely ever mentioned in Irish history books and has not received the recognition it deserves. Several years ago a man who was fostered under this scheme told me his story. I was fascinated and my curiosity prompted me to dig deeper into Operation Shamrock. After talking to people who were involved in it, Irish families and the children they fostered, my head was filled with their stories. I couldn’t forget what I’d heard and wanted to bring these events alive for others. So I wrote an historical fiction set during the era. My novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, tells the story of Erich, a child who finds himself far from home and plunged into a new life in Ireland.

Thank you for inviting me to tell the story of the forgotten fostering venture, Operation Shamrock, on your blog today, Phyllis. If readers would like to know more about Hitler and Mars Bars and Operation Shamrock, please visit my website at


July 26, 2010 Posted by | reviews, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment