Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Please note the date of this event is approximate:

At the end of the month the Admiral arrived from Vienna. He was no longer young, but he was very enterprising, and, though for many years retired, he now offered himself to his country, which was ungrateful enough to evince no very pressing need of his services. The Admiral’s thoughts, from force of habit, lingered on things naval, and his morning greeting was, invariably

“Good morning ! To-day we shall hear something from the sea ! ”

We all grew impatient as time passed and the Admiral’s big sea-battle failed to take place I once dared to suggest that the German Fleet was afraid to come out. The Admiral’s remaining hairs literally stood on end.

“Afraid ! Oh, Miss Jerry ! You must have patience they will come out in time. What do you suppose Willy built his Dreadnoughts for? To sit in the Kiel Canal, perhaps?”

There was never even a hint in the Austrian papers of any doings at sea at all ; but the Man of Art knew of the clearing of enemy ships from the seas by the Allied Fleets. It was in the suppressed Slav papers.

“But how do you manage to get those papers? ” I once asked.

“Na, Fraulein ; don’t ask me that. To have that known is as much as my life is worth. But you can be quite certain that I’m not the only person here who gets them.”

Japan’s declaration of war was the surprise of the Admiral’s life, and his rage was almost classic. It was right, though, he said, for the Allies to welcome the yellow Japs to their rainbow collection of soldiers!

Uncle Pista was charmingly funny about Japan one afternoon when Claire, the Admiral, and I went to tea to Aunt Sharolta.

“Japan will regret what she has done,” and in anticipation of this his face grew rounder and redder. “There won’t be much left of her by the time that Germany’s done with her.”

“How is Germany going to manage it ?”

“By sending ships and men there, of course,” he replied, contemptuously.

“And how will Germany manage that ? ” asked the Admiral, greatly amused.

” How!” repeated the old gentleman. “How does any ship go anywhere ? By crossing the sea, of course.”

“What about the British Navy on the way ? ” asked Claire.

“Why would the German boats go near the British Navy ? ” and Uncle Pista was surprised and disappointed.

“Not intentionally but they might find the British Navy difficult to avoid,” said the Admiral.

“Then they wouldn’t avoid it at all,” said Uncle Pista, recovering his spirits. “They would just smash it up, as they’re smashing up the English in Flanders just now, and then go on, and they would be in Japan in a few days.”

“Good sailing!” commented the Admiral.

“Oh yes, there will be an end of Japan and of England, too ! Willy will teach them the lesson they need. How glad I am that no child of mine ever learned English!” By this time we were literally roaring with laughter, and he paused in surprise.

“What are you all laughing at? Am I not right?” He had forgotten my nationality.

“Quite,” I said, hoping he would continue. But Aunt Sharolta looked up from the chest-protector she was sewing and said “It is useless for you to talk like that, Pista, when we are being annihilated in Galicia and Serbia. Oh yes, I know the newspapers are very encouraging, but those who know say otherwise.”

” Have patience ! Have patience,” said the Admiral. ” Trust in Willy. And mark my words, to-morrow we shall hear something from the sea.”

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Harry Lauder, Entertainer, On tour in Melbourne, Australia.

The next day was the fourth of August—my birthday. And it was that day that Britain declared war upon Germany. We sat at lunch in the hotel at Melbourne when the newsboys began to cry the extras. And we were still at lunch when the hall porter came in from outside.

“Leftenant Lauder!” he called, over and over. John beckoned to him, and he handed my laddie a cablegram.

Just two words there were, that had come singing along the wires half way around the world.

“Mobilize. Return.”

John’s eyes were bright. They were shining. He was looking at us, but he was not seeing us. Those eyes of his were seeing distant things. My heart way sore within me, but I was proud and happy that it was such a son I had to give my country.

“What do you think, Dad?” he asked me, when I had read the order.

I think I was gruff because I dared not let him see how I felt. His mother was very pale.

“This is no time for thinking, son,” I said. “It is the time for action. You know your duty.”

He rose from the table, quickly.

“I’m off!” he said.

“Where?” I asked him.

“To the ticket office to see about changing my berth. There’s a steamer this week—maybe I can still find room aboard her.”

He was not long gone. He and his chum went down together and come back smiling triumphantly.

“It’s all right, Dad,” he told me. “I go to Adelaide by train and get the steamer there. I’ll have time to see you and mother off—your steamer goes two hours before my train.”

We were going to New Zealand. And my boy was was going home to fight for his country. They would call me too old, I knew—I was forty-four the day Britain declared war.

What a turmoil there was about us! So fast were things moving that there seemed no time for thought, John’s mother and I could not realize the full meaning of all that was happening. But we knew that John was snatched away from us just after he had come, and it was hard—it was cruelly hard.

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

When the declaration of war did come it sobered us somewhat! The Princess quickly recovered and said “Why do you worry about it, Jerry ? It’s not a matter between you and me, but between Grey and Berchtold let them scratch each other’s eyes out if they like. After all, I’m not sure that I’m so angry with them, for it means that now you’ve got to remain here indefinitely nolens volens. I am very glad, for it will be fearfully dull here without our usual big shooting parties. And now come and play bridge.” That was the way in which the Princess looked at it all the time. It was impossible for me to persuade her that to have an enemy alien in the house might be very unpleasant for her : she could never see why, though England and Germany hated each other so cordially, she and I could not remain the good friends we had always been and live peacefully in the same house.

The Bores were very contemptuous as were all Austrians and Hungarians about England’s embarking on a war with Germany ; but the Prince was very serious about it, and said that though England was undoubtedly on the losing side one should not speak so lightly of her resources and her money . . . her money. . .

“And if it should become a money war, where are you then?” I asked.

“It won’t be a money war,” said Bethi, ” pfui pfui pfui! You are an enemy, and you and your friends the French will get a nice smashing ” but before she had time to get further, she was seized by Count R and Billy and was escorted to her room.

The Princess then took the opportunity of saying that she wished it to be understood once and for all that politics were not to be discussed in presence of Jerry they didn’t wish to offend Jerry, and Jerry had no wish to offend them ; and discussions under existing circum-stances were not possible without giving offence some-where; besides, Jerry was only one, and they were never fewer than eight against her, and it wasn’t fair.”

“But don’t listen to what my sister says,” said Count R , “we shall continue our arguments in the garden, Jerry.” And in future our very heated discussions really did take place among the Man of Art’s roses and flower-beds where they seemed strangely out of place.

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

There were days of tension after the ultimatum went to Serbia. The press was very restrained but clearly uneasy, and did not attempt to justify the extravagant tone of the ultimatum. General opinion as to whether the Serbs would fight or not was not very divided, and there were few who did not agree that Serbia was never intended to fight. She was simply to behave herself in future and Austria was to see that she did it. General T was indignant at the ultimatum.

“Berchtold again! Soft-headed fool pooh! There are so many ways of getting what one wants he must just choose this one! This way may really lead to war, and we are not prepared no money, no munitions nothing, nothing! Ach, it’s an awful business! Perhaps Serbia won’t dare to fight … if the Russians back her she will!”

” You surely can scarcely imagine that any country could take such an ultimatum lying down?” I suggested.

” Pooh,” he replied, ” you can’t deny that they’ve always been a thorn in our flesh. But my country is mad mad! Nobody seems to realise what this can lead to. The Serbs are good fighters too. If Russia backs them we’re done for. Na, I must get back to Vienna now, for Walther will have to go if there’s war. Pooh they’re all crazy everywhere.”

Even the Man of Art grew mournful among his rose bushes. He was Croatian and bitterly anti-Austrian.

” Ach, Friiulein ! There are sad days coming, for that wasn’t an ultimatum that went to Serbia it was a declaration of war. The Serbs will fight, Fraulein. I know the race ; they are brave men such as we have in Croatia. Of course they’ll fight. They are real soldiers and have real officers old General Putnik that’s a man ! They’ll beat us, Fraulein, and I’ll have to go and fight against them too against my own race. Bah ! we’re slaves here in Austria.”

” No,” I said, encouragingly, ” I don’t think you’ll have to go. You’re too old.”

” Na, the old ones will have to go too unless I can perhaps get out of it some way. The doctor may not find me fit.”

” I shouldn’t put much hope in that,” I said, as I doubtfully surveyed the large and healthy Man of Art, ” but perhaps your eyesight is defective. It’s a pity for you to go and fight the Serbs when every person thinks that the murder of the Archduke was such a good thing for Austria.”

“Fraulein, you don’t understand, the Archduke was really no friend to Germany that’s why they don’t like him. This country is done it has no life in itself and looks to Germany to save it if ever it’s in trouble. I tell you they’re glad actually glad to have the poor Archduke out of the way. Who knows if Serbia really was behind that murder ! Na, one doesn’t say those things. …”

“And the new Tronfolger ? ”

“He is young and dashing and Germanophile. He’s no favourite with the Slavs.”

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

The Schloss is an old white building full of beauty and interest, built on the hill below the village, in the midst of a park where Maria Therese used to hunt. Though very old the house has happily suffered little through imprudent restoring, and despite constant improvements its beauty has not been impaired, as has so often happened with old Hungarian houses. The gardens which surround the Schloss are so beautifully laid out and so ornamented with fountains and statues that K is known to Hungarians as the Miniature Versailles ; the head gardener being a person of such serious importance in K that even the Herrschaft at the Schloss speak of and treat him not as an ordinary gardener but as a Man of Art.

Indoors, too, the house confirms its reputation of being a small Versailles, for the collection of pictures and antiquities, begun centuries ago, is pursued by the Prince of to-day with vigour, and carping guests have been heard to remark that though there wasn’t a chair in the Schloss but had a history and a value that made ordinary mortals’ hair stand on end, there also wasn’t one that offered any ease or comfort except in the Prince’s den where all was modern but sacred to the Prince. Continue reading

Mina “Jerry” McDonald – Introduction

Troops at Schloss K

Troops and possibly the author / photographer at Schloss K.

Mina McDonald was an English companion to the two daughters of a Hungarian magnate living near Bratislava (then known as Pressburg). Information about her is sparse and the account of her time in Hungary appears to be her only published work

In the 1911 UK census there are two Wilhelmina McDonalds who might fit the description. A 23 year old from West Derby – which by 1914 might make her too old for this account – and a 17 year old from Sunderland which would put her at roughly the same age as the Prince’s daughters (21 and 18).

schlossk_002The description of the Schloss (château) where she was staying in Hungary as a ‘Miniature Versailles’, plus its location near Bratislava, would seem to indicate it might have been Esterháza.  This would make Prince Nikolaus IV  & Princess Margrit her employers, though the biographical information at hand doesn’t quite match with Princess Margrit having died in 1910. Additionally at one point in the account the Princess is referred to as ‘Helene’.

This doesn’t rule out other members of the House of Esterházy being depicted in this account but until other information is discovered the exact identity of Mina’s location and Hungarian hosts are uncertain.

For the purposes of this blog her location will be in the the general area of Esterháza. Some of the dates are approximate and this will be indicated on those particular entries.

Please get in touch if you have any information about Mina McDonald and her Hungarian host family.