Friday, 24 March 2017

A Very British Romance, part 13: It would make Birtley open her eyes

More from Connie's time in Switzerland, written by Margaret.
Stamps from one of Connie's postcards home, The Leybourne Famil
Stamps from one of Connie's postcards home, The Leybourne Family
Connie is still in Switzerland, writing to her mother on 14 March she notes, 'letters come from home, much quicker than mine do to you.' Connie is sending more photographs but she is not happy with the quality of the last batch. She blames the developing, and has found another chemist, 'which promises better' and is cheaper. 'One of the negatives was an attempt at a "time" exposure and was the very deuce'.

'Great news! Phil [one of Connie’s brothers] a major, I must just have missed his name as I look at every Times Gazette, either for his or Angus's name.' Angus never received the mining books [Connie’s other brother] Ernest sent, he only received a copy of the Coal Mines Act.

That Sunday had been a strange new experience. They had to have their meals upstairs in their salon, and had to ask various officers in to relieve the pressure in the public salon, while downstairs in the dining room, the partition was taken down, a wonderful stage erected, and chairs and forms of all descriptions brought. It is a kind of Annual village fete. 'We went down to the concert in the evening which was quite good acting, but the atmosphere!!' They went off to bed before the end about midnight, but evidently the fun was only just beginning.

The chairs and long trestle tables where the villagers had been fed were cleared away, 'and then they commenced dancing or jigging, and this went until 5 o’clock the next morning. The servants all looked rather washed out the next morning with our breakfast.' The fete is usually a three day affair, but Madame Haldi, the proprietor, said as she had internees she could only let them have the chalet for one night, 'and quite enough I should imagine', thinks Connie.

A postscript is added to this letter:
'Mrs Leybourne wants me to say they cannot do without me now which of course is tommy rot.'

Connie and her mother’s letters cross in the post, on the 17th, Connie receives a letter written on 12 March, a few days before she wrote her last. 'My dearest Mother, your letter of the 12th arrived tonight, I got a bit of a shock when I saw Dad's writing on the envelope, and more when I read the contents.' Her mother had a fall while in Newcastle and Connie is worried. She rushed straight up to the telegraph office to wire Ernest, and this letter she is sending express and must be off by 7:00pm that night. 'Please send me an answer by express also, as you know how anxious I am. When will Mrs Middleton be available? Why not get her as soon as ever she is at liberty, to help in any way. I am so glad the maids are going on well, and also that Minnie was with you when you fell… Write and say if you want me to come home at once and I'll start to make enquiries and preparations.'

Connie is anxious to get her letter sent off; her closing lines fill a whole page, but she has important news, 'We have just heard yesterday that there is every likelihood of a number of the prisoners being sent home, but nothing definite is known yet.'

Three days later on 20 March, Connie is writing again to her mother, she has not yet received a reply to the wire she has sent to Ernest; she is not fretting because she knows it takes five or six days for a telegram to come from England. She asks if they are getting all her letters, she has written twice a week since going out.

Meanwhile, in preparation, Connie has written a cheque out for her hotel bill, which she has asked Madame Haldi to give her weekly; she doesn't like it when it gets big. It generally comes to between 60 and 70 francs per week, 'which is very reasonable'. She has written another cheque for £10.00 because she has 'a horror of running short'. Endeavouring to keep accounts, Connie is putting them down every night, 'but they don't always square which is strange for me isn't it?'

It is snowing a blizzard now but on Saturday she and Angus had a tete-a-tete tea on the veranda, and she was able to sit there until after 5 o'clock, quite warm.
Postcard of a lady in a blue Pierrot costume, The Graphics Fairy
Postcard of a lady in a blue Pierrot costume, The Graphics Fairy

The concert being put on by Connie and her crowd is to be held on 22nd March, Connie writes an excited, detailed account of the final dress rehearsal:

‘The costumes are Pierrot, white with blue sateen spots all over, black net ruffles and the men black skullcap affairs on their heads. Muriel and I wear white skirts to our knees, with very bouncy petticoats, plenty of them, which I have borrowed from Mrs Reynolds, Captain Reynolds’ wife. A white lawn blouse borrowed from Muriel and various other unmentionable articles also borrowed. We also have large ruffles and blue tulle round our head, black shoes and stockings. The stage has a frame of black and blue, the front curtains are black with large blue queries on, all the hangings of the stage are yellow muslin, the back in strips, so that we can put our heads through anywhere. The lighting is great!

Red, green, and white, foot, side, and top lights, with a wonderful arrangement of a tank of water under the stage to damp the lights down, so that we are able to gradually blend red into green or white. Angus has done all the electricity part, we haven't been able to get a word out of him for the past fortnight, now that it is all right, and the red lights really go on when the red switch is turned etc. he isn't quite so absent minded.

We also have a spotlight it is a magic lantern belonging to one of the officers for shewing his photographs, which he is doing in the interval. The spotlight makes me blink, but when once I get used to it, it is much easier to sing, as it is impossible to see anyone. One of the officers, a lieutenant Brown [from Chicago] sits in a little box, partly under the stage and works the lights. I wish you could all see it; it would make Birtley open her eyes. I will enclose a programme after the concert. I told you did I not, that we were giving it for the interned men in Rossiniere, free. The interned men get absurdly little pay, and it is only the ones with a little private money that can afford to buy tea in an afternoon or have tripe suppers at the YMCA Hut, no tea is provided here.'

Lieutenant Colonel Picot mentions that tea is unobtainable in Switzerland. Lord Northcliffe sends out 750lb of tea a month free for the men in hospital. That’s the same as 27 gold bars, but the tea was probably more valuable to the men.

Before signing off, Connie adds:
'We heard last night all the internees in Suisse were going to be sent home, but I won't build on it. Certainly there seems a likelihood of some of them being returned, we are waiting anxiously.'


  1. I love this series, thank you.

  2. Really enjoying this - such an unusual insight into WW1. Loved the little facts supplied to give context, especially the bit about the tea too!