A 'Swenglish' journey through family photos, notes and postcards from the early 20th century.

2013-06-08

Sepia Saturday: First World War

The Sepia Saturday inspiration photo this week shows “the kitchen of the hospital train of Kaiserin Augusta Victoria and dates from the early years of the First World War”.

It brought to mind for me another photo from my great-aunt Gerda’s photo album:

Gerda 48-003

Unfortunately this photo like most of the others in the album does not come with any notes to explain when and where it was taken, or who the people are. The original photo is small, 6x8 cm. Again it was not until I got it scanned and enlarged on my computer screen that I realized that the woman in the middle, holding the plate and spoon, must be Gerda herself. (I say “again”, because it’s been like that with several photos in her album.)

Gerda 48-004

Compare it to the portrait of her in the sidebar of this blog, which she sent to her little sister, my grandmother, from Lyon in France in 1915 :

Gerda

There are several postcards in her brother Gustaf’s postcard album that were sent by Gerda from France in 1914-18. I will get to them in due time as I continue to blog my way through the album. But here is a foretaste for Sepia Saturday:

6214 Guerre 1914 canons _0002-001

6214. Guerre 1914.
E. FARGES, ÉDIT. – LYON
LYON – Les canons allemands place Bellecour

The Place Bellecour is a large square in the center of Lyon, France --- it is the largest clear square (i.e., without any patches of greenery, trees or any other kind of obstacles) in Europe /Wikipedia/

6214 baksida-001

Franked: Lyon Brotteaux 11.16, 12-12-14 Rhone

Lyon 11 Dec 1914
Dear brother,
I wish you a merry and happy Christmas! Did you get my letter, I haven’t had any news from home for a month. I hope I’ll hear from you soon. Lots of love from your sister Gerda. / These are cannons that the French have taken from the Germans, they are on display here.

Some six or seven months ago I got an email from a distant cousin of mine (grandson of one of Gerda’s older sisters). He tells me that after Gerda came back to Europe after her stay in Chicago (where she lived from 1902 and at least through 1910) she worked as lady’s maid/travel companion for (various) English ladies travelling in the British Commonwealth and to the US. When World War I broke out, Gerda was in France. The English lady she was working for at the time managed to get back home to England, but Gerda got stuck in France and remained there for years; judging by postcards sent to her brother it seems throughout the war.

Comparing Gerda’s portrait from 1915 with the photo of her in nurse’s uniform … It seems likely to me that it was at some point during the war in France that she also served as nurse. They seem very happy in that picture though… Were they celebrating victory? or just a private birthday party or something? I suppose that’s the kind of detail I’m not likely to be able to find out!

17 comments:

  1. This reminds me...."Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again"...........does anyone understand why this phrase came to my mind...or is my thinking just too lateral ??

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    1. Have to admit I don't think I get it. But it's been a very long time since I saw that film, I hardly remember the story.

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    2. Yes...I am sorry...I know it was a little too lateral.....but here is the clip. How could I forget how lucky he was (if he has my economic streak) to be able to entertain such a beautiful girl to dinner that just wanted scrambled eggs. Such is the modesty of a ladies companion. She was a companion...to a rather bossy English lady !
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8nrkMFNvQ4

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    3. Thanks Nigel. I see Rebecca is available full length on YouTube as well, maybe I'll rewatch it some rainy day... Gerda never got married. Whether she had any romances along the way I don't know but I think she enjoyed her independence and the possibilities to travel. Gerda's mother gave birth to nine children and died at age 57 (when Gerda was 13)... I imagine Gerda wanted a different life for herself - and did not stop at just dreaming about it. She got to see a lot of the world, and she lived to be 92!

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  2. Gerda had quite an adventure in those years! I've read several histories of WW1 where many people were caught on the wrong side of the border when the war started. Travel was restricted, even for neutral nationalities, and in the first months there was concern that Germany would defeat France too. Nursing would have been very suitable for her skills, but it must have been challenging for mind and body to cope with the trauma of war.

    Nigel has a literal and lateral mind. Echos of Rebecca?

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    1. The more pieces of Gerda's life-puzzle that I find, the more I wish she'd also left behind diaries or longer letters. Or at least proper notes in the photo album. (But on the other hand it's kind of fun guessing, too!)

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  3. The postcards of cannons taken from the Germans was a common theme. I have a similar shot on a postcard from my grandfather's collection of cannons taken from Germans in Amiens, sent to his family back home on a memorial trip to France in the 1930s, I think.

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    1. Gerda sent several postcards with war themes to her brother + I've also found a few empty ones that I suppose also belonged to her. I guess it was easier all around with officially approved open postcards rather than for closed letters to pass through censorship.

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  4. It is a very happy photo. I don't know why but I am afraid that I find the lady on the left a little creepy. However, Gerda has a kind, compassionate and fun loving face.

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  5. these are amazing pieces of history and i really really like the nurse photo. it doesn't matter that I don't know them, it just makes me feel good to see it.

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  6. How sad for Gerda to be stuck in France and receive no letter from home. I hope it was a matter of typical war-time postal service and not laziness on the part of loved ones.

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    1. I don't doubt it had to do with war-time postal service. Thinking about it, it's really more surprising that some of the mail did get through.

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  7. There probably were a lot of postcards like that. What makes that one interesting is the personal message on the back.

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  8. Yes, the two seem like the same woman! I also agree with the comment about the lady on the left, rather frightening, perhaps she had been nipping on the medical alcohol. I think she would scare most of her patients back to health! A hospital train, never heard of one.

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  9. An interesting post (and the follow-up comments). Those nurses certainly seemed to be happy and in a celebratory mood.

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  10. I agree - it is such a happy picture of the nurses, that you cannot help but smile with them.

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