Friday, 6 January 2017

A Very British Romance, part 6: Cinders

January 1917 was a busy time for Angus and Connie so there will be a few instalments of a Very British Romance from our volunteer, Margaret, this month. Here's a link to the previous entries:
Montreux, Switzerland (photo by Victoria, 2015)
Montreux, Switzerland (photo by Victoria, 2015)
When we left Angus and Connie in 1916, permission had been granted by the authorities for her to travel out to Switzerland. In the meantime there has been Christmas and a birthday. Preceding his letter of 8 January 1917, Connie must have told Angus that his Christmas telegram and arrived on her birthday. In the letter he confesses he is ‘a little ashamed if I do not know the date of your birthday, but I notice you are rather unfortunate in having it very near Christmas as presents generally get rolled into one.’

Angus acknowledges that he is to expect her any time after the 14 January, but wishes she was out now as there is so much he wants to tell her, and it would be awfully nice to have her to go to Montreux and Lausanne ‘and all these places.’ He tells her that they were talking of chaperones the other night and he suggested that Muriel was ample, but his mother was not quite certain:

'Well! Well! we will just have to carry on as best we can under the cloak of etiquette. Give my love to your father and mother and keep heaps for yourself.
I am yours to a cinder
E. Angus Leybourne'

Obviously in high spirits Angus signs off with a grand flourish.

This use of formal, full name, signatures remind me of the scenes in the John Wayne movie, 'The Searchers', and how exasperated Laurie Jordanson was by Martin Polly signing off his letters in that way when he ought to know they were engaged. Angus, now that he is almost certain that he's engaged, has thrown convention to the wind; E. Angus Leybourne has become 'Yours to a cinder, E. Angus Leybourne.' I haven't heard that expression before, and it's not likely to be heard now, since the days of coal fires and cinders are long gone (wood burners don't make cinders). Connie would know what he meant. 

On the 17 January 1916 Angus writes again and gives a little restrained insight into his life as an internee:
'Just had a rather interesting day up at Chateau d'Oex.  There are a lot of things with regard to this abnormal existence which are better not put onto paper and which if I tried with my limited powers of writing, would be totally inadequate to explain to you all the little petty incidents which make up our life here … A local Major with a particular animosity towards the Leybourne family and others as well is doing his best to get us out of the Grand Chalet. However I have the matter well in hand and certainly do not intend to allow him to "strafe" me.'

Lieutenant Colonel HP Picot, Senior Officer, British Interned Switzerland, wrote a report, The British Interned in Switzerland, which was published in 1919. The British Internees were initially under the command of Swiss Officers, with a Colonel Hauser as the officer in charge. Picot had difficulty persuading Hauser that the men would not respond well to this arrangement and urged him to allow the British Junior Officers to organise the men, especially in the training and setting up of workshops. This he agreed to do, eventually, and the British camps became much more efficiently run than those of the French and Germans camps where the Swiss Officers remained in sole charge. However, it remained a fact that the British Internees were at a disadvantage compared to the French and German Internees with regard to the language barrier and the cultural differences. For example, any man charged with a misdemeanour could be sentenced to 3 days confined to bed, which caused some amusement among the British who were used to being punished by being confined to barracks.

Some of the men had been diagnosed in the first stages of Tuberculosis and with more and better food and fresh air and sun cure, which was recommended to heal wounds as well, they began to recover and were under-employed. The French and German Armies at the beginning of the War were made up of Tradesmen, whereas the British Internees, especially those who were the first to arrive in Switzerland, were almost entirely made up of professional soldiers, who had been recruited at a young age. This meant that the British did not have the skills needed to set up workshops as readily as the French and Germans were able to do.

Before finishing his letter, Angus mentions that he has heard, ‘certain rather discomforting rumours today about Switzerland, which are I hope not true.  However, you will probably hear about it before me.’  He gives no indication as to what the rumours are, and there is no further mention.

This is the last letter from Angus to Connie for a while.  The next letter in the collection is from Connie to her parents, her journey to Switzerland has begun.  

No comments:

Post a Comment