In 1936, while we were all at home in England, the shocking news came over the radio that our King George V, King of the UK, British Dominions and Emperor of India died which meant succession was given to his firstborn son Edward VIII who reigned only from 20 January 1936 to 11 December 1936 because he abdicated the throne. He caused a constitutional crisis when he proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson who was an American twice divorced. His marriage conflicted with the King’s status as the Head of the Church of England which at the time was against the up and coming marriage. Edward chose to abdicate so that he could marry Wallis Simpson in 1937. He was succeeded by his younger brother Albert who chose George VI as his regal name. We all weren’t sure whether this new king would be up to it but he reigned from 1936-1952 until his death. My family and I believed that the stress of WWII took its toll on the King’s health which was also exacerbated by his heavy smoking and development of lung cancer. His first born daughter, Elizabeth II reigned as Queen in 1952 and her elaborate coronation was televised on 2 June 1953. We all had time off work and enjoyed the festivities in the streets. We could barely move but the energy was electric and we all wanted to be part of this special event. As I record this Queen Elizabeth II is still our Queen of England.
In 1938, our grandparents left their beautiful home in Hanover, Germany to seek refuge in England with us. Their cook Helga came to live with my family but the other staff they had to let go. Helga was a small, chubby lady who always wore an apron at home.
She remarked to me on the day of leaving, “Violet, I am getting old and I am afraid for my country and my life. I have no family except you all and I am happy wherever you all happen to be”.
I hugged her and Rosy came over to hug her too as she heard Helga speak. We walked towards the train holding her arm and I noticed a small tear out of the corner of eye.
Many specimens were packed and sent to our home before war began so many old and unique specimens were saved. They couldn’t believe that they might not ever see their beloved home and garden again. They’d never spend time in their conservatory, plant another plant and see the special ‘memory garden’ flourish. It was hard to bare.
Papa told grandfather that he needed a research assistant at his work to help with cataloguing specimens and that it was left to him to hire somebody.
My papa spoke to his boss about my grandfather and he said, “It would an be honour to have him work here”. I saw my grandfather’s face soften as papa told him and it was like so much stress had been lifted from him. My grandfather jumped out of his chair and hugged my father.
If my grandparents cried, I never saw it. Granny told me shortly after leaving, that she knew she had to shake off all this self-pity because she knew lives were being lost, homes destroyed leaving some people with no place to go. She truly inspired me with her bravery and courage. But, Oh! How much she loved her new home, that was her husband’s ancestral home where he grew up. We all missed our grandparents home in Germany but it was too dangerous and risky to stay. We will always have the memories of spending special family time there, going to concerts, movies, art exhibitions and hiking in the country. Knowing she might not see this city for a long time or beloved home filled me with grief.
In September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s voice drifted into my parent’s living room. It was only a few minutes to turn our world upside down. We were at war with Germany, the Prime Minister told us. We weren’t surprised especially my grandparents. Under their leader Adolf Hitler, the Germans had already invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia soon after Poland was invaded.
It has happened again and I can’t quite believe it. If only women were in charge. There would, I am sure be no wars. As women, we need to challenge the power structures and build a new system where it’s not ok to allow people to go to war to be marginalised, exploited and discriminated against. We want power with a purpose. War does not achieve anything but loss and devastation.
My grandparents have now settled in at my parent’s townhouse in Richmond, south west of London as they left Wiltshire after World War I to be closer to my father’s work at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England. From my grandparent’s room, they could see their son’s garden and conservatory he had built. For my granny’s 65h birthday, her son and daughter-in-law bought her a chaise lounge which she put by her bedroom window and often you would find her reading, crocheting or drawing as she lay on the lounge with music playing in the background. Charlotte, Ludi and Ludwig’s parents stayed in Richmond for the rest of their days. Richmond has a large number of parks and open spaces and according to father, there are over ten thousand street trees and trees in parks and open spaces which truly make it a delightful place to live. The Thames curves around the town, and then Kew, in its course; Most days we take our daily walk and usually not at the same time enjoying our familiar and gorgeous surroundings breathing in the fresh air and letting it fill in our lungs.
My parents bought this beautiful, charming architecturally designed townhouse which was built just before WWI. Their is a spacious living area/loungeroom which my parents have decorated with lots of paintings, prints, rugs, plants, floral lounge chairs, a hand-carved wicker rocking chair, built in bookshelves, marble fireplace, paintings from family and friends and a great copy of the French painter, Camille Pissarro’s impression of Kew Green in 1892. The interior is very similar to the interior of the ancestral home in Hanover. The living area/loungeroom was warm and cosy and one of our favourite rooms in the house, especially on cold nights. We also spent a lot of time in the courtyard and my father asked an architect friend to do a design for a conservatory to fit in with the stone townhouse. A beautiful small gable fronted conservatory with wing was decided on and built. It was painted all white with an atrium, which housed my grandfather and father’s collection of plants, flowers, pots and medium sized table and chairs where often my parents and grandparents would be sitting reading and researching. It wasn’t as big as the conservatory in Germany but it was still beautiful. Two easels were set up in the corner by the windows for my mother, sister Rosy and I to paint at our leisure. It was the family sanctuary and wherever I have lived, I have tried to emulate this room.
In 1940 the air raids begun. We put cotton wool in our ears, looking at each other with fear, wondering if we would live to see another day. We never slept when the sirens howled. Hitler’s plan was plain to see, dark and illogical as it was. The root of the plan had such contempt for common humanity and enslavement was its aim. Meanwhile, we all continued to fight for our existence. It was sheer craziness, all of it.
A lot of my grandparent’s friends were drawn in by Hitler’s words and believed his vision for the future. My grandparents told me one day, “Violet, its hard to believe that so many people that we know and respected have been conditioned to believe his words are the way for Germany”. It really has shocked me. It beggars belief!
We often lay awake at night worrying for the Jewish community and innocent German people and for everyone effected by this War.