Fainting in Coyles An occasional letter from the
Heart of Euroville
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Musing A letter from my father-in-law started me thinking the other day. It came in a package accompanied by an African brass balancing dancer and a packet of letters from my wife’s grandfather.
The letters were written from Africa in 1924-5, where he, a military doctor was posted. The first retells his return to Africa after a while and recounts the first month after arrival where he discovers his posting is 180 miles inland from Lagos. There is no transport, so he collects a cook, some bearers and walks. The cook is castigated for being unable to bake bread without yeast, meanwhile the bearers are lauded for trekking upwards of twenty miles a day in heats of 110ºF. At one point he comes across a large town where his arrival is announced and he is greeted by the local king, Runkali “complete with red blanket, white clothes, large turban with a helmet on top, a finely caparisoned horse, sword bearer and big noise maker. The latter made a song about the king and about me, saying what a hell of a lad I was”. The next day the king, horrified to see the English officer walking, sent over a horse and a mounted guard to guide them to the next town.
The second letter is about an elephant hunt in which he could see a herd 200 strong, “half a mile of solid elephant moving slowly”. The very thought of sights like these send me reeling. His evident joy at taking down a massive tusker cannot be imagined in today’s world no can much of his gung ho enthusiasm of life.
Dr Philip Hugh Rawson MC had served with the South Staffords in Flanders where he had won his gong. His citation in the London Gazette is short in words, but between the lines what can one imagine. “On several occasions he rescued wounded men under very heavy fire”.
On her mother’s side Joslin’s grandfather was also a doctor. But for him it was a very different war. A brain surgeon with a practise in Hamburg he was in a restricted profession. He and his wife were collectors of ‘degenerate art’, and were under suspicion. I once met the old woman before she died and was perplexed by a collection of no less than nine copies – all pre war, in English, of Laurence Stern’s fantastical novel, Tristram Shandy.
I asked why she had so many. Her reply was enlightening. During the Nazi period it was hard enough to trust friends and family let alone newcomers. She would lend a copy of the book to new acquaintances and question them about the book after they had read it. If they liked the book and understood its weird complications then, so she reasoned they could not support the Nazis. Thinking of the novel and the mindset required to enjoy it then I can positively support her approach.
Finally Dr Bach was sent to the front, the Eastern front. He survived for three years before returning to Germany, and attributed his survival to an extent to a crucifix that he carried the entire time in his back pack. That crucifix, which he had looted very early on now sits upon our mantelshelf lacquered brass it makes a neat counterpoint to the dancing African.
These two men both military doctors who served on different sides of the front line are now united in my wife and my daughter. The horrors that they experienced are inconcievable. The joys they took are also now verboten.