The history of the Franco-British Foundation, headquartered at Epinay-sur- Orge’s Châteaux de Sillery, on the southern outskirts of Paris, goes back to the First World War and the British Committee of the French Red Cross located in Knightsbridge. Under the patronage of HM Queen Alexandra and presided over by the energetic Vicomtesse de la Panouse, wife of the then French military attaché in London, the committee coordinated all manner of assistance given to injured French soldiers. The funds supporting this work were donated entirely by English and Scottish contributors. Madame de la Panouse – later made a Dame of the British Empire - would, herself, convey funds, Red Cross parcels, medical and surgical equipment to military hospitals in France, many of them in the front line. Fully supporting this effort was the committee’s Honorary President, Paul Cambon, who devoted much of his 22-year tenure as French ambassador in London – which included the successful conclusion of the Entente Cordiale - to the improvement of Anglo-French relations.
At the end of the war, the committee’s funds – so outstanding had been British generosity – were far from expended. The trustees spontaneously agreed that France should remain their sole beneficiary and consequently sought a property near Paris for use either as a convalescent centre for injured French soldiers or for any other valid purpose. It soon appeared, however, that it was the health of France’s youth, as much as that of its army, that had suffered the ravages of war; tuberculosis was rife at the time. Dudley Holden Illingworth, one of the Knightsbridge trustees, a Yorkshire landowner with extensive business interests including the directorship of Isaac Holden & fils (France) Limited, immediately contacted Docteur Guinard, a leading light in the treatment of respiratory deceases. Very quickly they found a chateau at Epinay and a small frontline clinic in Paris’ 13 th Arrondissement, and purchased both with the funds of the Comité Franco-Britannique de la Croix-Rouge in Knightsbridge. The latter had no longer reason to be and renamed itself the Franco-British Colony for Convalescents (FBCC) in 1919, registering its articles of association in London. The British ambassador in Paris became its patron and Madame de la Panouse remained its president with most of her trustees transferring across. The latter, including Dudley Illingworth (himself Legion d’Honneur), were all dedicated, influential and, importantly at the time, qualified medical administrators or physicians; a few of British ones are mentioned below – the French trustees are to be found on the French page of the website.
Madame de la Panouse appointed her close friend, Baronne Amélie de Pitteurs, a formidable Belgian woman, as its first director general. She ran the place, including the attached farm and the Paris clinic, for the next 41 years with compassion and strictness. The war years 1939-1945 were particularly difficult; not only were many Jewish youngsters secretly entered on Sillery’s books and hidden within its walls but funding from London had to stop, huge debts resulting. These were repaid in their entirety immediately after the war by London’s FBCC who again gave Sillery a new lease of life. The chateau gradually took on more and more youngsters as opposed to military veterans whose numbers were fast dwindling. Vocational training increasingly became the centre’s aim; agriculture, horticulture, woodwork, metalwork directed towards able-bodied adolescents whose dysfunctional background had deprived them of a proper education. Sillery also changed its name to Association du Domaine de Sillery and, later, to Association Colonie Franco-Britannique de Sillery, giving it full charitable status under French law. For some time now, most of Sillery’s funding has come from the French state – regional and departmental grants. FBCC’s money, carefully invested in London, coupled with very necessary donations from private individuals and corporations, continue to be directed towards projects which do not meet French public funding criteria; inter-alia of late, Sillery’s IT requirements and website, the upkeep of its sizeable grounds, a visit by some of its youngsters to the 2012 London Olympics – hosted by Veterans Aid, a UK charity that cares for ex-servicemen who have fallen on hard times. Sillery has hosted reciprocal summer working visits for these homeless British servicemen on several occasions since 2007.
For reasons largely relating to governance, finance and its exponential growth, the Association de la Colonie Franco-Britannique de Sillery was elevated to the status of a foundation in 2012; hence its new title of Fondation Franco-Britannique de Sillery. With a turnover of €26,000,000 it now employs 300 qualified staff to look after 800 people with various disabilities in its 9 training/care centres – 7 of them close to Epinay and 2 recently acquired in Brittany - with the aim of helping them through their apprenticeship and into gainful employment when they are ready. Some – the more serious cases – will remain with us forever, working in our workshops; food-packaging, laundry, horticultural/landscaping training hubs etc. The foundation, with a board drawing its trustees from both sides of the Channel, is a shining example of Franco-British co-operation at the human level.
Sir Arthur Stanley GCVO GBE CB (1869-1947), philanthropist, MP for Ormskirk, Treasurer of St Thomas' Hospital, Chairman British Red Cross Society. Key player in an initiative taken by the American, British, French, Italian and Japanese Red Cross societies to expand the role of the Red Cross from its focus on World War One relief by establishing the League of Red Cross Societies, later the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Noel Dean Bardswell MVO, Legion d’Honneur (1870-1938), saw war service in the RAMC, specialist in treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, medical superintendent of the Mundesley Sanatorium in Norfolk, also King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst, awarded Weber-Parkes Prize and Medal by the Royal College of Physicians in 1915, medical adviser to the London Insurance Committee, principal assistant medical officer at London County Council 1921. Conducted survey of tuberculosis in Cyprus for the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis.
Eva Playfair, wife of Hugh James Moore Playfair (1786-1861) who was provost of St Andrews, assistant physician to the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women, also eminent London gynaecologist.
Sir Herbert Brown, KBE, Cross of Officer of the Order of Leopold of Belgium, (1869-1946) ran Charles Brown & Co. Ltd., flour millers in Croydon and Bermondsey, President of the Croydon General Hospital (May Day Hospital), Governor of St. Thomas's Hospital, Governor of the Star and Garter Hospital, Richmond, President of the National Association of British and Irish Millers, chairmanships of the Officers' Association and Knights of St. John. As Hon. Appeal Secretary of the British Legion, he travelled to Paris and arranged to have manufactured, by a French company, the first consignment of Remembrance Day poppies ever made.
The Franco British Colony for Convalescents Incorporated
Registered charity number: 1089726
Objectives: The advancement of education and the relief of sickness and distress of persons suffering from physical and/or mental disabilities and special needs through the provision of training, accommodation for those in necessitous circumstances and protected Workplaces in the republic of France and/or the United Kingdom.