Aug 20 2019

Kingwood Farm: A WWII Orphan’s Sanctuary

(The following article originally appeared in the Hunterdon County Historical Society Newsletter this spring. The farm discussed is now Horseshoe Bend East, which was preserved in 2016.)

The four-year-old girl arrived at the Kingwood farm for the first time in early 1941 with her only two possessions in the world: a teddy bear and a 2-lb. magnesium incendiary bomb case.

The farm must have seemed otherworldly. The girl, Barbara, suspiciously eyed the grass – which she rarely saw in her native London — fearing it too soft to walk upon. The wind whistled through the nearby woods, and down the gentle slope from her new home, the Copper Creek burbled softly as it meandered toward the Delaware River.

The farm must have felt like heaven. Especially when considering that the girl had just escaped hell.

Barbara’s young life had known intimately the angry buzz of German Luftwaffe bombers droning over London during the Blitz. The groans of buildings collapsing from the plummeting bombs. The screams of the dying.

One bomb whistled harmlessly from the inky black sky, and failed to detonate. An air warden carefully unscrewed its cap and dumped thermite into the ground. Barbara came in possession of the bomb case, and it rarely left her side. She often slept with it at night.

But another bomb, prior to this one, landed with devastating consequences: It blew her world to pieces, killing her parents and reducing her home to rubble.

William Lindsay White

As the Battle of Britain raged, renowned journalist William Lindsay White stood in the wardroom of a destroyer watching through the porthole as the Canadian coastline faded from view. White was headed across the dangerous waters of the Atlantic Ocean to cover the battle for CBS News and a consortium of newspapers. (White was the son of William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette of Kansas and an intimate of President Theodore Roosevelt.) Tucked into his lifebelt was a note in cablese English that read “UPLOOK KIDS,” a reminder from his wife, Kathrine, to adopt a child if one needed a good home.

White arrived safely and contacted Anna Freud — daughter of the famed psychoanalyst — who had organized the Hampstead War Nursery for children made homeless by the war.

In his book Journey for Margaret*, White recalled first meeting the girl. “Very tiny and fragile. In a little red coat, red leggings and a small peaked pixie hood. . . [T]hat small face pinched tight with grief and those big black eyes filled with hopeless despair. Yet she isn’t broken.”

White visited the nursery multiple times before the long trip that ended at the 100-acre Kingwood farm.

Barbara adjusted to her new life on the farm, growing tense only when hearing planes flying overhead. The family visited Kingwood a number of times through the years.

In a 2016 interview, Barbara White Walker told me from her Arizona home: “My parents were living in Washington, D.C. when they bought the farm, and spent weekends there restoring it, and cleaning out chicken manure from the big chicken house. They planted the 100 acres with pine trees.”

“My father wrote several of his books at the farm, and when he was writing Report on the Russians the house was broken into, and several things were destroyed,” she noted. The 1945 bestseller detailed the Katyn Forest Massacres, slave labor and the Russian retreat from Moscow. “They think the culprits were American communists.”

Barbara grew up in New York City and on the Kingwood Farm, attended Stanford University and married. She later became editor of the Emporia Gazette, the Kansas-based newspaper her family has now owned for more than 120 years.

In February 1964, the Whites sold the property to the United Reformed Church of Somerville (then known as the First Reformed Church) for $1. The church used the farm as a retreat, hosting picnics, pot lucks, and other church events. In 2016, Hunterdon Land Trust spearheaded an effort to preserve the farm. It is now owned by Kingwood Township and is known as Horseshoe Bend East.

*White changed his daughter’s name from Barbara to Margaret for the book, which was later made into a movie starring Robert Young and Laraine Day.

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