Lady Harriet Jephson

Gennep_NetherlandsThe Netherlands. There were few tears shed when we steamed out of Frankfort two days ago on our way to home and freedom. It was wonderful to feel that we might talk above a whisper in the railway-carriage; amazing that we had not to scrutinize carefully every corner to be sure no spies lurked there, and most delightful of all to know that we had got beyond the reach of the Demon of the Burg-Strasse. Egotistically enough we went over in retrospect our anxieties, disappointments and miseries. Should we ever get rid of that evil shadow, we wondered, which had darkened so cruelly two weary months of our lives!

Now and then we looked out of the windows with distaste—agreed that the outskirts of Frankfort were hideous with their obtrusive and insistent collection of factory chimneys; and shuddered at the distant and beautiful background of mountain and forest, to us so teeming with painful memories. We exclaimed at the unsightliness of the huge skeleton lettering proclaiming to all the world that a maschinen-Fabrik was below. Even when we entered a bucolic region of modest gardens and saw nothing more aggressive than cabbages and turnips, we turned away from the sight with aversion. Yet the villages are picturesque enough, and so are the towns. Timber-framed and gabled houses, steeply pitched red roofs and stunted grey and mossy church spires, certainly make no unpleasing picture. In happier days I have admired the grape-vines meandering over the whitewashed cottages, and marvelled at the monotony of taste which furnished every window-ledge with exactly four pots of scarlet geraniums. Now, nothing pleased us that was German; scenery, architecture or people! “This,” we said to ourselves, is “the sunny Rhineland through which we are passing, and we see no obvious signs as we go by of the struggle which is devastating Belgium and menacing France.” At the first station, however, we realised that Germany was indeed at war. Red Cross nurses seemed everywhere. Long tables were spread with snowy cloths and bore coffee urns, zwiebacks, hörnchen and huge bowls of steaming soup ready for the poor wounded as they pass through. Now and then pale bandaged faces looked out at us from passing trains, and men on crutches hobbled by, and the horrors of mutilating war came home to us all. At Goch we had to show our passports, and have our luggage examined, but the reality proved not nearly so bad as our imaginings, and on the whole the officials were kind and courteous compared to our Altheim demon. The sun was setting blood-red behind a distant line of black forest when we left Goch and our enemies and imprisonment behind us and entered the Land of Promise.

We had all been saddened in the morning to learn that Mr. Ives’ strenuous efforts to get permission for the men left behind to go soon, had met with a curt refusal from the Commandant at Frankfort. “When England returns our men, not before, and she had better be quick about it,” said he. But how true is Rochefoucauld’s cynical epigram—”Nous avons tous assez de force pour supporter les maux d’Autrui!” Even our sympathy with, and sorrow for, those left in Altheim could not damp the joy we felt to be free again; and when we quitted Goch, the German frontier station, I thought how blessed would be that day when “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid.”

This is the end of Lady Jephson’s diary entries. She returned to England and published this account “A War-Time Journal – Germany 1914” in 1915.

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