steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Love in the Phoney War - January 1940

Today would have been my father's 93rd birthday.

Back in June I described how, as a young man of 20, he spent the month before the outbreak of WWII on a solo bicycle tour of France, Germany and Switzerland. Some people asked what happened next, so today and for the next couple of days I'll be posting selections from his 1940 diary. As far as I can gather, the months from September to December 1939 were spent working for the Quaker Committee for Refugees in London - but in January 1940 he set off in search of an education at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Education Centre in Birmingham.

1 Monday
This night I stayed up with Eunice to see the new year in. This we did so effectively that we did not crawl upstairs until nearly 4 o’clock. In the morning she escaped after kissing the family goodbye, and I returned to the house, after having seen her off on the bus.

In the evening I went to the pictures with Lucie. We always have a few moments’ hesitation before leaving the performance, as she is absolutely sure that she has mislaid one of the several hundred fiddling objects to be found in her handbag. Sometimes I find myself quite lost in gazing upon her semitic profile, and she, aware of this fixed attention, will turn about with a querying look or sound, and I, inevitably must state: “Nothing!” She loves to make me talk, and asks me to by saying: “Tell me—all!”

2 Tuesday
This evening I went to a party given at Esher Meeting House for the Aliens of the district. Patro* had told me to look out for Miss Weininger. I found her straight away, and we talked a lot of Esperanto together. There was a flash [??] blonde who came from Richmond,--spoke with a deep husky voice, and “American”. She had big legs, and her head seemed quite small in proportion to the rest of her body—in spite of the foaming yellow eruption that surmounted it.

I say goodbye to Betty later, in her house. She said she’d miss me. Although I wasn’t often a-visiting her, it was a comfort “to know I was there.” She is thinking of making Miss Weininger her German friend—although she says that “nothing can replace Irmgard.” I hope she will.

* Tom’s father, M. C. Butler, was known as Patro – ‘father’ in Esperanto.

5 Thursday
To-day I stay yet another late morning in bed, and then go to London. Here I say goodbye to several people, and then lunch with Monica and Margaret.

I leave them later, go to Foyle’s, and steal what I afterwards calculated to be about fifteen shillingsworth of books. Then I see programme of Mickey Mouses at the Tatler, and return home.

In the evening Miriam phones me to say that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to see me the week-end, as her fiancé is on leave. “At least,” she says, “we shan’t be able to get anything working.” That poor child talks in riddles at times. She lately refused to join in the War Savings Scheme at the Hospital, because “She was a Quaker.” Even that is not true.

6 Saturday
I wrote some letters to-day and later went to tea with the Trittons. Fred* looks more emaciated than ever. He is still on a diet. I found amongst the books I had taken from Foyles two that I thought would interest him. He kept one on Spinoza, in German. I found Miriam’s beau busy hammering a bicycle lamp, and trying to get the thing to re-start. He is mechanically minded, it seems.

* Frederick Tritton (1887-1968), a Quaker writer employed by the Friends Service Council.

8 Monday
After the usual last minute rush, I find myself in the train for Birmingham. In my own heart it seems rather as the Retreat from Moscow – the last Indignity! I meet a lady, who had been a missionary in Africa for 4 years, and had returned because her health had broken down.

At Birmingham she and a friend offer me a lift in a car to Woodbrooke. I accept gladly, and am pleased to observe that the ugly streets and scenery disappear at greater speed.

At Woodbrooke I go to see Christopher Naish first of all, and later we play feeble games, eat measly food and disappear to Bed. I had at first Room 1 in Holland House, but change it later with Richard Ullmann* for one which overlooks the garden but hasn’t the intriguing print of Stephenson’s Rocket on the wall.

* Richard Ullmann, Quaker political writer, died 1964.

12 Friday
I believe I spent most of the morning to-day in reading.
In the afternoon, after tea, H. G. Wood* gave a quite creditable little speech on the present situation, which raised quite a fire of questions afterwards.

I worked till later, writing up notes on the psychology of groups.

During meal-times, my attention is distracted by the comings in and out of a certain maid, who has an attractive face—jewish in cast. At times I am hardly aware of what I am eating, which is perhaps just as well.

The weather is perfect, cold and frosty with red sunlight.

* Herbert G. Wood, director of studies at Woodbrooke from the 1920s and later Professor of Theology at Birmingham University.

17 Wednesday

After a most entertaining Social Psychology lecture we had dinner, and then, after the meal David gave a little tea-party in the Men’s Common Room, and Bal handed round his inevitable pea-nuts, which, as he said, go well with the little cups of coffee. The girls for the most part sit on the floor, while the men occupy the arm-chairs: I can’t help thinking that this is only right.

19 Friday
This morning somebody threw a snowball at me as I was going into breakfast. It was my maid and a friend. They stood at their bedroom window laughing.

In the afternoon was a fierce “International Forum” on the psychological interpretation of the German nation. Of course, as is common with Friends, the issue became one of morals—they feel safe on that ground.

23 Tuesday
This morning I got up before the first bell and sallied forth, since the cook had mentioned quite casually the day before that the German maids sometimes went down to the pond before breakfast. Of course I hoped to see Gütli (I will use this name until I learn the real, or a better one). But, as I expected, there was nobody. The air was extremely cold, and I walked behind the people going to work, in order to hear what they were saying. It was like another world; I enjoyed it.

The building construction lessons grow more and more interesting—I am intrigued. I wish I could get a chance to speak to Gütli. She smiled at me from her window this morning.

24 Wednesday
I bless that window. She greeted me with her friend and a mouth organ this morning, and then later, as I was going into meeting she waved her hand. Later in the day I spoke with her friend, who says that Gütli’s name is Käte, and that I must “be careful.” Don’t I know it.

I have tried my hand at an essay to-day. I make a point, and then discover it won’t hold, and try another, and discover that won’t either. And yet the subject is so clear that I shouldn’t need to make points, or write an essay at all: “Is it our function to provide National Service Camps for C.O.s?”* I don’t know or care. George bought me some new chocolates.

* Conscientious Objectors.

29 Monday
The snow is really very thick to-day. I have difficulty in getting up in the mornings—I feel tired, yet am quite lively. These days I often go a bit mad.

After breakfast I come out to make my bed, and a snow-ball just misses me—of course it is Käte who has thrown it. She is wearing an entrancing yellow jacket, I should imagine shot with silk. I throw back. As I come from making my bed, Käte’s friend comes dashing along the path and shoves a little slip of paper in my hand: “In the name of my friend,” she says in a real dramatic manner. I unfold it: “Käte Baruch: just above the side-door.”

H. G.A[lexander]. and I chat and gossip about Quakers. There is a good two feet of snow around the chalet, and in normal places about 10” of it. The post and milk is held up. Käte has made a snow-man in the lawn: it has a gas-mask!

30 Tuesday
Leo Liepmann’s* lectures are most interesting, but to the uninitiated (of whom I), a most tiring mental exercise.

Yesterday I posted my letter to Käte. The post came later, and I was with the postman when he announced to Käte (at the window) that there was a letter for her. Later in the day, when I was working in the library, her friend gave me the reply. She announced therein that there could be nothing more than friendship between us, because she was engaged... I wrote back, saying that her engagement couldn’t affect me, and I regarded it as her business, but for me it was very much a question of – Dich und Ich, and that I couldn’t accept conditions to start with. But I still hoped that she would meet me at the place she suggested—in front of Woodbrooke gate at 8 on Sunday. Fear and trembling, because of my presumption!

I do my laundry to-day. To-morrow, I hope I shall iron it.

* Leo Liepmann, an economist and in 1942 one of the founders of Oxfam.

31 Wednesday
To-day I tried to find out what effect my letter had had on Käte. I imagined that she did not look in my direction as much, but later I saw her smiling, just as before. While I was sorting out knives and forks after table-clearing, her friend approached and said “There is a letter for you.” All very sub rosa! I found it in my pigeon-hole. It was short, in English, and said that she was not at all angry (“how could one be”!) and still was willing to meet me. Also that I was not to “worry too much.”!!

Tomorrow - "Whatever next?"
Tags: family history
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