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- Gordon West
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- 26 May 2005
MUNICH CRISIS — EFFECT ON COMMUNITY IN EDWARE
This is the story of a suburban street at about one year before the War; it’s the gathering storm. And this letter, which I found in my attic after my parents had died, gives you some idea of what it was like in those times. I should explain that my Mother was German and my Father was English. My Mother by the time the war had come had become neutralised, so she had given up her German nationality and was legally English, but she had been born in Spanda in Berlin. My Father had visited Germany before the war for Kodak to start up a factory. She was a secretary to the firm that Kodak was taking over. They got to know each other, fell in love and got married in 1929. I was born 1931 and my sister in 1937.
We lived in Edgware at the end of the Northern Line. Suburbia - streets of semi-detached mock Tudor houses. We had 2 ½ bedrooms, I say 2 ½ because the third bedroom was more of a box bedroom. I remember there was a grass verge with cherry trees. There was lovely cherry blossom in the spring. Our neighbours were a mixed bunch. We were very cosmopolitan, a lot of German Jews escaping Nazi Germany, opposite lived the Cohen’s, next door to us on the left was Mrs Zhouke who was Russian, opposite again a bit further down the road was the Kemp’s. Mrs Kemp was a Dutch lady who was widowed. She had three daughters. My Father in fact was their surrogate Father if you like, he gave them away at their weddings, and he walked down the isle with them. Next door from us were Bert and Winnie Richmond. Burt had been in the 1st World War. He had a collapsed lung from being gassed. He always looked slightly miserable to me as a boy at that time. And now of course I understand why. As I have said, my mother was German. She had a family in Berlin. So I had one uncle in the British Navy and one uncle in the German Navy. What I am going to read to you now is a letter which she wrote to my Father in September 28th 1938. She wrote:
My dearest love
I had your letter of the 15th this morning and want to assure you that we are all perfectly alright. I always disliked it intensely, the many political radio messages I had to listen to when you were here, but I can assure you that since then, I have done nothing else but hear politics and speeches. This last week has been a nightmare, still is for that matter, but when Chamberlain announced this afternoon that there will be a new conference in Munich tomorrow morning and that he is going to fly to Germany a third time, we all breathed a little bit more freely. Let us hope and pray to God that war can still be prevented.
Everybody has been most marvellous to me. Captain Taylor and his wife were both here yesterday to assure me that they will help me all they can. Yesterday McMaster (McMaster was my fathers boss at Kodak. He was an American) he rang me up. And this morning I had a long talk with Billi. (Billi was another German lady who lived in Britain and was a friend of my mothers). From Rose I got a very nice letter. (Rose I have to say, was my aunt. My father’s sister-in-law). Mr Tracey phoned early this morning as well to assure me of his health. (He was one of my dads colleagues at Kodak). All the neighbours are very nice. So you see I’m not alone, but I am miserable without you, naturally, but don’t let that worry you, I wont lose my head and I will do everything I can for the children’s sake. I thought that the best thing I could possibly do is to send the children with mother (that was her mother-in-law, my father’s mum) up to see Rose. They will be safe there. (They lived up in Scotland). I have not talked to the parents as yet, (By parents she means my fathers parents). but I am convinced that they will both agree that it will be best for them to clear out of their flat. (Which was in Cricklewood). I would suggest to you to have dad with me here, where we will be as safe as one could possibly be near London. If it should come to the worst I’m quite willing to let the children go if mother can see her way to go with them. I don’t for one moment think that there will be danger of life for them here, but I would like to spare the children the nerve racking experience of air raids. Gordon and I (that’s me, Gordon) have had gas masks fitted yesterday. But up to now there are no safety devises for children under four, (My sister was under that age of course, she was only one and a half) although we were assured by wireless that there were gas-bags for babies ready which will be distributed within the next few days. However that is the second reason why I would like the baby out of the way. Elfreda (I have to explain - we had, you wouldn’t believe it, but in a little suburban house with two bedrooms and a box room, a German maid. Her name was Elfreda. There was another house up the road where they also had a maid. I remember her well ‘Marie’, because I was used to going to the kitchen and used to get to lick the spoon whenever she was making a cake.)
Q. How old was you then?
A. I was seven and a half
Q. Where was your dad?
A. My dad was in America he was on a business trip to Kodak over in America.
Elfreda has her ticket back to Berlin and her bags are packed. She was actually leaving here tomorrow morning with Elise (that was her other German friend). After we heard the announcement about Chamberlain she is staying on and we will see what tomorrow brings. Billi told me this morning that I should let her go as I would take on a great responsibility in keeping her here. Anyway she will go as soon as we know that war is inevitable. Mr Faylor (Mr Faylor was a German industrialist and had a factory over here) got tickets yesterday for his wife and their children to go to Holland tomorrow night, now however they have postponed their departure. He was going to stay on as he has quite a number of German families in his factory dependant on him. Many people here in the road have left for the country. The Mortimer’s are leaving tonight, as he might be called away any moment for special service and then he does not want to leave his wife and children behind. The news was terribly disquieting till this afternoon but now there is hope and smiling faces again.
Many tube stations are closed, trenches are being dug day and night in the big parks and the wireless is booming on and on, recalling Chamberlain’s speech in the House of Commons in English first and then in German.
I’m worried too about father and mother knowing that they are so close to the aerodrome, (they lived in Temple doff In Berlin) but it helps such a lot to know they at least are still in ignorance of the great danger which might overcome all of us. Hitler’s speech, the night before yesterday, mades it quite clear that he keeps his beloved people so much in the dark so they can’t possibly realise the great danger.
If the meeting in Munich should fail tomorrow I will send a telegram to Dudley (that was my uncle, my father’s brother) asking him to have mother and the children. I will feel happier to know that they are out of the danger zone. It would worry me to be alone in the house with them especially at night although the Barrett’s and also Mrs Hill (the wife of the man who made the boots for the Prince of Wales) have offered to take us all in so that I would not be alone. And I will take very good care of myself until you are safely back with me again and I can always go somewhere else at night in order not to be alone. The Richmond’s and Mrs Zhouke (that is the Russian lady I mentioned) also will still be here and I dare say quite a lot of others.
Please, please, don’t worry about us, darling. By the time this letter reaches you, all our worries might be over and a thing of the past. I fervently pray that this may be so.
I am so sorry that this has turned out to be such a miserable letter, but I hope it will only reach you together with my next one which is so very much more cheerful.
I think of you day and night. All my love
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