Friday, 3 February 2017

A Very British Romance, part 9: Out and about in Switzerland

Margaret brings us more from Connie, her first letters home after getting settled in Switzerland.
The top of Connie's letter home (letters copyright The Leybourne Family)
The top of Connie's letter home (letters copyright The Leybourne Family)
Connie writes home to her parents twice a week while she is away in Switzerland visiting Angus, and calculates that they should have a letter every third or fourth day. Her next letter is dated 1 February 1917 from Le Grand Chalet, Rossinieres.

'My one wish here is that you all could see it all. The scenery is grander than Engelberg, but otherwise things are much the same. Life here is totally different from life in England. One cannot realise a hideous war is in progress all over Europe, except the sight of the men and officers who knock about. The place is full of them. I never met a more cheery crowd in all my life, of course they all want to get home… One man in this chalet is minus an arm, his wife and child are here; another boy of 20 is minus a leg. I see he is trying his temporary leg until he gets his proper one. The major here has to go into Hospital to have his leg off within the next few weeks, and so on.

Last night at the hotel where there was dancing, it was a pathetic sight to see a great strong officer dancing with one sleeve loose, the arm that should have been holding the girl's hand. But how they joke about their lack of limbs. One man here (all officers) is minus an eye, enough of this.'

Connie changes the subject and tells how Mrs Leybourne and Muriel ran down the path to meet her when she arrived with Angus, and made her feel absolutely at home at once. Mrs Leybourne has a private sitting room, the only one in the chalet, and it allows them to have their meals there instead of the public rooms. She describes her own room as typically Swiss. All her luggage arrived and she has begun to settle in.

Their first outing was up a nearby mountain to Caux where Angus and an American were entered in the Bobsleigh races. 'They came off with some small cups and medals.' Mrs Leybourne insisted on paying Connie's expenses for the weekend and they had a very jolly time. The following Tuesday Connie went with Angus to Chateau d'Oex to have lunch, and 'Angus showed me his book-binding establishment (to teach the men to bind and to frame pictures), and also his lending library for the men, all the books have been given'. She also visits the Red Cross Hut that has just been opened and is introduced to Miss Simey and found out that she is the sister of a girl she went to school with.

Connie has been skiing and of course fell about but enjoyed it thoroughly. Then in the afternoon of the same day, they met with a Canadian whom Angus had been six months in hospital with in Germany, and who was a marvel by all accounts. Half his thighbone was taken away and he was over a year in hospital.  'As I said in my last, I am very happy and contented, you understand? and everyone is very kind and do their utmost to give me a good time.’

On 6 February, Connie writes to her Mother and proposes that she write to her on Wednesdays, and Saturdays or Sundays to her Dad, but that they mustn’t get anxious if they do not get the letters up to date, because the post is so uncertain and she is not always in the house in time for the post. However, she has found time to buy a 'new jersey cap and scarf, it is such a smart place here. Muriel and I have the same now.' It is time for dinner and she has had a bath, 'as baths are rather a difficulty here, and I find this is the best time to get hold of one. (No! I won't go over the doorstep)… Mrs Leybourne looks after me as if I was her own daughter.'

Going out of doors after a bath was a very dangerous thing to do in the olden days!

Angus has taken her to Gstaad for lunch, a sale of flowers and other articles went on in the big lounge of the Hotel, in aid of the Belgian Red Cross. Internees from many of the different nationalities were there.

Fund raising was an on-going and major concern to help finance the needs of the Internees. 113,000 francs were raised between May and Dec. 1916. Mrs Grant Duff (later Lady), wife of the head of the British Legation in Berne, was the tireless and staunch leader of the 'British Legation Red Cross Organisation' (BLRCO), until she handed over the task to Lady Rumbold in October 1916, at which time the organisation came under the auspices of the 'Central Prisoner of War Committee' in London. It was Lady Grant Duff who introduced and ensured the success of the delivery of a separate parcel of a loaf of bread to each individual British POW every week; the prisoners had mentioned in their letters that it was bread that was needed most. The Continental baking did not always meet with the approval of 'Tommy Atkins'; there was too much crust for his teeth. 

The French system of sending flour and having the bread baked in the camps was not proving successful. The loaves however were delivered, as the men acknowledged delivery by filling in and returning a receipt. 98% of the parcels reached their destination; from a total of 13,000 in July 1915, to 100,000 in September 1916.

As Lieutenant Colonel Picot attests in his report, 'it was good work nobly done.'

Officers of 8th Battalion, Durhal Light Infantry, Angus is top left, 'Willie Coulson' is centre back, Connie's brother Philip Kirkup is bottom right, August 1914 (D/DLI 2/8/98)
D/DLI 2/8/98 Officers of 8th Battalion, Durhal Light Infantry, Angus is top left, 'Willie Coulson' is centre back, Connie's brother Philip Kirkup is bottom right, August 1914
Angus and Connie returned from Gstaad in time for dinner and were invited, 'by three of the officers to dine with them, they had some friends up from Chateau d'Oex. None of us were very keen as we had heard that one of the ladies was not very desirable. However she wasn't so bad, only had a very loud laugh, her husband…was mining in Canada before the war. One man, Captain Colley…was in Germany with Willie Coulson, he said it was a terrible disappointment to Willie when he didn't pass. I think he was kept a month at Constance before being told he had to return to Germany. Later on we sang.'

On the Sunday they went back to Gstaad, where hundreds of officers and men had gathered to watch the ski jumping. 'It was a most marvellous sight.' and she goes on to describe how they gasped when the first skier came down, 'and especially so when he crashed down to the bottom, turning somersaults, but up he jumped, not one appeared to hurt even their little finger.'

Yesterday it snowed and they stayed quietly in doors. Before signing off in her usual way, Connie adds a note in the left hand margin of the page, 'By the way, when you go to Newcastle, will you get a transfer for a cushion, of the DLI Crest. Mrs L has some satin here and says she will work it for me. What about silks, ask if they can be sent out of England.'

I wonder if she got the cushion made and kept it with that first little silver cup?

No comments:

Post a Comment