August 1939 was not, perhaps, the best month to pick for a solo bicycle tour of central Europe. But my father, who was 20 years old at the time, had been working with the Quaker committee for Jewish refugees in London as well as the British Esperanto Association, and he knew people here and there. And he did love his cycling.
His Youth Hostel card gives an impression of his travels, which took in Troyes, Nuremberg (not a great YHA experience in the era of the Hitler Youth, he reported), Vienna, Basle and Lucerne, amongst other places. Meeting a contingent of French troops on its way to the Maginot Line he was invited to join them and, his pacifism doing feeble battle with his Francophilia, almost agreed; but felt he ought to go and see his parents back in Kingston-on-Thames first. A few days before war was declared he arrived at the German/Austrian-Swiss border at Martinsbruck and was challenged because his papers weren’t in order. “Let him through,” cried the senior Swiss guard: “We’re all in this together, now.” He spent the first night of the war in Lonay, Switzerland.
These were the days when passport photographs could be taken in your garden with a background of bushes:
I have all the postcards he sent his parents, but this is certainly the most striking, posted in Vienna and chosen with an eye to the censor – “a lovely photo of Hitler when he was younger”:
Shortly after he returned to England he enrolled for a course of study at Woodbrooke, the Quaker college in Birmingham, and it was there he was to spend the first few months of 1940. But that's another story...