Londoners began to feel the crisis: a possible war with Germany. I felt it, perhaps more than others, since I worked in a sensitive and perceiving atmosphere in the City. One could sense, and almost feel, the nervous tension increase day by day.
Thus, with suggestions from above (i.e. the second floor of the bank), I decided to send Joan and the children home to New York. I arranged two adjoining first class cabins on the Queen Mary. They sailed from Southampton on August 31, 1939 via Icelandic waters; by the time they safely reached New York, a state of war existed between Germany, and England and France. In the meantime, shortly after my family's departure, I took the Bugatti from the garage and motored to Southold, on the east coast in Suffolk, and closed up the house we had rented for the summer.
On the morning of September 3rd, I motored back to London. Along the way, in a village "pub," I learned that war had been declared- On my arrival in London in Picadilly Circus, the air- raid sirens went off and people were ordered to shelters. After the "all clear" sounded, everything was knit together in intricate confusion. (It later turned out that the alarm was just a test') When untangled, I finally managed to wend my way to Lownes Square and a welcoming drink from Betty, our maid, who had been packing up clothing and various items that Joan and the children had unavoidably left behind.
The next few days were, to all intents and purposes, routine business days at 23 Great Winchester Street. Barrage balloons blossomed over and around London; traffic lights were covered with only a slit of light showing for the evening blackout; sandbags were arranged around air-raid shelters; and air-raid wardens appeared with their helmets and gas masks. People, however, settled down quickly to their established routine, and other than the nuisance of the blackout and a few air-raid alerts, things remained nearly normal- Night clubs, as well as cafes and restaurants, did a good and merry patriotic business. I usually had breakfast and dinner at home in Lownes Square, but sometimes braved the blackout to visit a nearby cafe or night club, or to go to some potentially fun party.
One evening, while attending a frolicsome party at the Café de Paris in Leister Square, I asked Willie Hill-Wood if he knew what the bank was going to do with me. With a leer and a twinkle in his eyes, he replied, "your fate has been decided, 'Boy.' You will know soon." Then, as an afterthought he asked, "'Boy,' do you still have your O.T.C. (Officer's Training Corps) certificates?" I replied, "yes". That question shook me up somewhat. "They cannot draft me, I thought. I am an American neutral."
"Why?" I asked him. "Do not worry, 'Boy,' he answered. "You will learn soon!" Three days later I learned my fate.
My usual daily office routine at the bank, on the ground floor in the manager's office, became somewhat more active since Mr. Hancock and his two assistants, the Brown brothers, were either absent attending conferences on the second floor or out of the bank on business. Partners in the firm and other senior employees left and returned. Important looking personages visited the second floor. It, therefore, sometimes became necessary for me to handle various and different routine bank matters. Sometimes there were matters and affairs of which I had little or no knowledge. It behoved me to be on my toes and watch my "P's and Q's." I thoroughly enjoyed this responsibility. I was not unduly worried or concerned since it seems I muddled through satisfactorily and received no reprimands or complaints.
It must have been sometime towards the end of September or very early October when I was summoned upstairs to the second floor by the senior partner, Lord St Just (Teddy Grenfell). Also present were Francis Rodd, Willie Hill-Wood and Mr. Hancock. I now became worried. What fate awaited me? Was I to be sent back to the United States? I was greeted warmly and told to sit down. Teddy Grenfell then spoke and told me I was to be sent to the Paris office of Morgan and Cie as soon as matters could be arranged, since owing to the Neutrality Act, American citizens were not supposed to travel on belligerent ships -- English or French. He mentioned that the Paris office of Morgan and Cie had lost most of their French employees to France's armed forces and that I could become most useful to them since I spoke fluent French. He asked if that arrangement was agreeable to me and I replied I was very pleased and most happy. (That, I was most certainly.) He told me he assumed it would be a few weeks before everything could be arranged and suggested that I begin to set my affairs in order and that I could take as much time away from the bank as I needed. He rose from behind his desk and added that he was sure he spoke for all those present and said they were all sorry to see me leave and that they had hoped that I could have continued working for the bank, in my present capacity, for a good deal longer, but that the war situation dictated otherwise. He said I had done a good job with them, that they were very pleased with me, and that the bank would assist me in my arrangements to get to Paris- I thanked them all and left the old oak paneled room feeling as if I was walking on air!
Ten days previously, or thereabouts, I had vacated the apartment in Lownes Square, arranged to store some of my belongings and moved into a small, but nice apartment in the Ritz Hotel overlooking St. James Park. It was, to me, a home away from home. After all, the hotel and staff had known me since I was ten years old. The concierge, the epitome of a concierge, was an East Indian who, it was supposed, had obtained his position many years before I was born through an old established client of the hotel and very close friend of my family, the Aga Khan. The concierge knew more about what was happening socially, and otherwise, than most of my friends and I put together.
Meanwhile, I was treading water, so to speak, waiting for the necessary clearance papers before I could leave England and find passage on a neutral ship to France. My friends and I, however, were never bored: I even became a local air-raid warden with helmet and gas mask. The patriotic fever of the British was great and catching. I admired them greatly, their gaiety, their "sans froid", with a thumbs-up attitude. Pretty girls, in and out of uniform, were friendly and smiling, cheerful and gay for the servicemen about to go to war, and perhaps never to be seen again. Even I, happily married, was tempted to flirt many an evening.
I had recently met a beautiful red-headed Scottish lassie, named Pat, whose husband was in the R.A.F.; Pat became a "Fanny" -- a top secret confidential armed forces secretary. We became good friends and a mutually protective couple; she rescued me at parties and I rescued her. Owing to the blackout, and it often being cold at night, we sometimes became "he" and "she" platonic water bottles. I was glad we both were born from two relatively Christian high-principled molds.
I met her husband, Gordon, while he was on leave for a few days. He was a delightful, six-foot handsome red-headed Scot, full of fire and vinegar. They adored each other. I gather they had a ball when I left them my apartment for a while.
In the meantime, I managed to motor to Southold and back in the Bugatti to pick up some odds and ends I had previously left behind. I spent a couple of nights in Southold with my former landlord, a retired British Army Colonel "frothing at the bit" to again get into action. (In 1916 he was badly wounded and lost a leg.)
On my return to my apartment at the Ritz I found two bottles of champagne left "on call" and a note signed by both Gordon and Pat saying, "Thanks a bunch. We love you. Cheerio! Come see in Berlin." I left for France not long after and I have never heard from them since. As I recall their name was McLeod.
The memories of these early fall days in 1939 and the wonderful spirit of the British I cherish and will remember forever.
To digress somewhat: While still awaiting all my necessary clearance papers, I visited my old school, Radley. I took a train to Oxford and put up at the Miter Hotel of which I had pleasant memories when my parents visited me while I was attending nearby Radley. Wearing my old Radley tie, I rented bicycle and pedaled my way to the college.
I strolled around the grounds; nothing had changed much. old house, Nugee's, was just the same. I then sauntered over the main buildings containing most of the classrooms, and set foot in the chapel, one of the most lovely in England. I said short prayer and as I emerged I found one of the masters (a priest whose name I have forgotten) observing me. He had noticed my old school tie and I introduced myself. He asked me to his "digs" for a glass of sherry -- this in the late afternoon. He also invited me to supper and insisted I spend the night. He phoned the Miter Hotel in Oxford and told them I would not be with them that night and to hold my things. He excused himself, as he had one of the late classes before supper.
I took this opportunity to visit the old red brick O.T.C. armory. I walked over the cricket grounds and found an elderly sergeant major in charge who showed me around, although I still remembered it well! I found my name on the Honor Board listing my name as the top O.T.C. cadet for the year 1930. "Well, well," said the sergeant major, puffing out his chest. "If the Yanks come in, Sir, I guess we will not have to worry much about us showing those Nazi blighters something or two, hey what!" I replied that I thought, and hoped, we would come in as we did in 1917. We chatted a while and then I went to find and introduce myself to the warden (the headmaster) before dinner.
At supper I sat next to the warden with other schoolmasters at the head table. I also attended the evening service. We still had an outstanding and lovely choir. I was entertained for a short while in "Pop's" study (the school prefect's study) and then joined some of the masters for a night cap before retiring-- rather late.
It had been a most enjoyable and sentimental day. Those with whom I talked were full of questions about America and how I found the American education system after leaving Cambridge and entering Harvard. I am sure I noticed some raised eyebrows concerning some of my replies to their questions as to, shall we say, the more liberal aspects of American college life compared to the more restrictive English system. My visit had brought back fond memories of the past and I fell asleep happily in my confidence that the English and their empire would muddle through somehow in their true bulldog tradition.
After breakfast the next day, a Sunday, I said my goodbyes and bicycled back to Oxford. I was only charged half price for my hotel room; it was most courteous of them. I partook of an early lunch and then caught a train back to London.
On my return to my London hotel, I found a message to telephone the bank. I was informed that I had been booked to sail, within a few days, from Southampton on a U.S. Line ship which, if I remember correctly, was the U.S.S. Constitution or perhaps the U.S.S. Manhattan- The ship was bound for France (to somewhere near Bordeaux), where I was to disembark and find my way to Paris.
Two days thereafter I said my "goodbyes" to the personnel in the bank, and then bid more farewells to some close friends over a merry lunch at the Savoy. That evening in my hotel room, and before dinner, I closed my steamer trunk and two large suitcases. Before retiring I wrote several letters to friends I had been unable to see or inform of my departure. The Ritz Hotel had made me a special rate during my stay with them for which I was sincerely grateful.
The next morning some of the hotel staff saw me off. Their wishes and farewells for a good and safe trip was heartwarming-- like saying goodbye to old and dear friends. A taxi took me and my baggage to Victoria Station. A regularly scheduled train transported me and my baggage to Southampton. I put up at a small but pleasant inn near the docks.
Early next morning, in a misty rain, after an efficient British security clearance procedure, and with the help of a hefty unofficial porter, hired for the occasion, I went aboard the American liner- I was assigned to a small, but nice, cabin with berths for two.
Bert, the cabin steward who arrived to settle me in, was a cockney by birth, about fifty years of age, and had become a U.S. citizen after marrying the widow of a U.S. Navy Petty Officer -- so as to keep her happy! He was full of information. The ship had come from Cobb Ireland where it had picked up some stranded Americans- Prior to that the ship had, in New York embarked many foreign nationals returning to Europe. All cabins were triple and quadruple occupancy, except those recently vacated by those passengers mostly British, who had disembarked the previous day. He said the French passengers, mostly young men from Indo-China and Canada who had been called up by the French military, were keeping the ship alive! A young French-Canadian doctor was to be my cabin mate; "a quiet young man," according to Bert.
As if on cue, a good looking young man of about 28 years of age knocked and entered the cabin. Bert introduced me to Dr. Marcel Beauvois. The young doctor greeted me warmly and said was about to meet a French friend in his cabin for a glass of wine before lunch, and asked if I would like to join him. I replied that I would be delighted.
His friend, Maurice Caillaux came from Rennes in Brittany and was to join the French Navy in Brest. His cabin mate, Robe Leboeuf, was a former Canadian Mountie and was to enlist in the French Army. Over our glasses of wine I told them about London and other news of which they were unaware. LeBoeuf was surprised at my French and said it was better that his! They inquired how I had come aboard a day early and I explained I had been working in London and had a British working permit.
"Ah!" said the doctor, "perhaps you can help these two and their French friends. The ship is under tight security and no one but the English can come aboard and go ashore. We are almost out of cigarettes and other necessities. The ship's stock of good wines is also nearly depleted. Is it perhaps possible for you to go ashore?"
"Let us see," I said, "we can only try."
Maurice said he would go and find someone called "Claude" while the doctor and Robert made a list. Maurice came back with a list. Both lists together amounted to almost more than I believed I could handle, British pound wise! I went to my cabin to count my pounds. Maurice again left to find Claude. Shortly after I got back to Maurice's cabin he entered. He was accompanied by a heavy set, dark haired six-foot fellow of 23 to 25 years of age whom Maurice introduced to me as Claude.
Claude carried a large satchel full of money -- mostly French and some Canadian! "Claude, I thought, must be a banker! (How right I was, as I learned later') No one knew the rate of exchange. I offered a suggestion for French francs and Canadian dollars against British pounds. Since I had just left London my suggestion was accepted in a true "entente cordial spirit!"
Although the purser's office was somewhat doubtful of the necessity, or success, of my shopping expedition, they, with their best wishes, handed me a return ship's boarding pass. The police constable at the end of the gangway checked my ship's pass and papers, as did two more officials at the barricade at the end of the dock. One of them inquired as to where I was going.
"Shopping," I replied.
Looking surprised he asked, "Shopping? For what?"
I hesitated a moment and said with somewhat of a secretive air, "food and French letters!"
"Blimey," gasped the man, the boat out of food already, and them things, too?!"
"Could be almost possible, I answered, and I haven't eaten either since going aboard! I then slyly asked whether there was a pharmacy nearby. "There is one not far from the Swan Inn, just behind those large sheds," he said pointing. "Not far."
After they warned me that the dock would be closed after dark, I thanked them both.
A good fifteen-minute walk took me to the Swan Inn where I had spent the previous night. In the bar, with its oak pitted tables and dart boards on the walls, I espied my friendly unofficial porter nursing a beer. I bought him and myself a drink, since the bar was about to close. I told him my problem and what was needed. He said he would be most happy to guide me to the proper places.
The tour was mostly a success; although in the large, but confined dock area some of the listed items were unavailable. Nevertheless, we had almost more than we could carry. My porter friend, however, managed to borrow a four-wheeled dolly contraption from a dock friend and we proceeded towards where the liner was berthed.
We were halted at the dock barricade. I showed my papers again. My porter, Henry, displayed his dock pass.
I was asked by my former inquisitor, "What's you've got there, sir? Hope you found what you needed, eh?"
I answered, "Yes, we have; most things anyway."
Tapping a rather large cardboard box with his rather large foot, he inquired about its contents.
"Oh," I said, "food, refreshments, and other necessary things for our trip."
"Good, good," he said. With a roguish smile he further questioned me, "Did you find there them rubber things?"
Dipping into my raincoat pocket, I showed him two small packets I had prudently purchased for such a contingency.
"O.K.!" he said. Now pass on sir, and you, Henry, be sure to come back soon! Have a safe trip, sir."
"Passed muster, I see," said the constable at the bottom of the gangway. "You will need some 'elp. 'enry 'ere can 'elp you up to the top of this 'ere gangway."
Henry, with the help of Charles, the gangway steward, managed to get everything safely aboard.
I thanked Henry profusely for his help; and, while he was wishing me a good and safe trip, I handed him almost the last of my pounds sterling.
Once aboard, I went to Maurice's cabin. He, Robert, and Marcel were already sorting and storing the packages of scotch, whiskey, wine, cigarettes, cigars, sardine cans, English buns, assorted chocolates, and some English newspapers in various nooks and crannies. Remembering what I had in my coat pocket, I pulled out the two small packets, and placing them on the corner of the dressing table, said, Maurice, for you and Robert, with my compliments!"
Marcel glanced at them, picked one up and muttered, "Oh non. Des capotes anglaises? For us never! We will give them to the ship's doctor!"
"One moment," Maurice interjected. don't be hasty Marcel; one never knows!"
I told them of my conversations with the barrage officials on my leaving and my return to the dock- They were hysterical and congratulated me on my foresight.
At seven o'clock, in the lounge outside the bar, six or seven young Frenchmen greeted me. Maurice was in the forefront with Claude. Claude said, My name is Chatel. We met when you lived in Paris." I failed at the time to recognize his family name, but later ascertained that his family and mine had known each other quite well in Paris, when we were both much younger, and had gone to children's parties together.
Around a large table in the ship's lounge we were served champagne and cheese hors d'oeuvres, and reminisced about France and our individual recent activities and experiences. I was very intrigued and fascinated by stories of Indo-China. We conversed and chatted so much we almost missed dinner.
We all knew each other quite well by the time we sat down at the table Claude had reserved for eight; I recall well our excellent dinner of salmon and lamb from Ireland. During the dinner conversation, I gathered that, since leaving America, their group had formed a pool of their personal available financial resources to practically corner the available market of wine and champagne. I forthwith joined the pool! During dinner an idea was born -- providing the following day's passenger trains from London did not disturb matters by arriving too early. The idea, furthermore, required the purser's approval.
Claude, and one charming fellow called "Eddie," born in Alsace, were put in charge of the scheme. The crux of the matter, from the Chief Steward's point of view, was that when the London boat trains arrived, there would not be a sufficient number of stewards to handle the personal hand baggage of the boarding passengers. Appropriate arrangements were however diplomatically and discreetly made with that department and the "volunteers" were issued white steward caps and jackets.
"Voilà," said Eddie, early the next morning, busting into Claude's cabin in a very zestful manner. Les trains arrivent dans une heure! 'Le Commissaire' begs us to hurry and behave 'comme il faut"'.
"Très bien, of course we will be good stewards," said Claude springing from his bunk. We are on board an American vessel and America, we hope, will soon be our allies against the Nazis. Eddie," he said, you are in charge. Aux Parsenelles et bonne chance!"
There were two gangplanks by which the passengers from London could be seen boarding the ship. Those "volunteer" stewards, travelling from many parts of the world, probably had not seen a pretty girl for many frustrating weeks. Gangplank #1 had four "volunteers." Gangplank #2 had three. According to the agreed upon rules, the volunteers had priority in selecting the passenger(s) they wished to help ascend the gangplank and to assist to their assigned cabins. I was the fourth man on Gangplank #1.
Claude, and the other two "volunteers," had disappeared assisting arriving passengers when one of the regular stewards said, "Sir, do you see what I see coming up? All furs, feathers, and frills, I would say!" One look was sufficient. I was bound to do my duty to the group. I put myself at the head of the reception line. Two beautiful young women, in the 26 to 31 year age bracket, both blondes, handed me more parcels than I could carry. I looked for and received help from my "eagle-eyed!' associate named Charles. I was most grateful, for I knew not where their cabin was located. (I had failed, prior to the embarkation, to check and memorize cabin locations.) Their cabin, lo and behold, was an outside one, almost mid-ship, with just two berths! I was somewhat surprised, in view of the lack of berths on board! Charles soon left, saying he was very busy topside.
While helping them store their paraphernalia I gathered, from a discreet glance at the baggage tags, that the name of the younger woman was "Honey Haselton," travelling from London to New York. Her companion seemed to be the "Honorable Helen Smythe," also going to New York from London and then on to Ottawa, Canada. There was no doubt from whence came Honey's lackadaisical drawl; it conjured up visions of magnolias, red roses, a green lawn, Spanish moss, and a white columned mansion house. Helen spoke a well-educated English, together with a slightly debonair and casual attitude. She was also, as it turned out, a practical woman.
While all sorts of frou-frou were being unpacked and stored away, wherever possible, Helen asked, "Where can we get something cool to drink besides this carafe of warm water?"
I had been worrying about Claude and Eddie. I asked her what they would like.
Honey replied, 'Champagne, of course. Two bottles of their best. Can you get some?"
I answered that I was not sure, but I would go and find Claude who was in charge of the wine department. I added that I was uncertain that wine could be delivered to passenger's cabins, but that I would try. Nevertheless, I assured them wine was available in the dining room during dinner.
I further asked them if they would like me to make a table reservation and Honey replied, "Yes, please, just for the two of us in a nice place."
As I started to leave, Helen said, "one minute," while fumbling in her handbag, "we do not know your name."
I told her it was Henry.
"Well, you have been an angel to us and here is something for you. And please give your friend, Charles, something."
The plan, it seemed, was working perfectly. I thanked them most profusely and assured them I would find Claude and see what he could do regarding the champagne.
I rushed out of the cabin to locate Claude. He was nowhere I expected to find him. I ran into Eddie and then young Jean, one of their group, and a subterranean alarm went out over the ship for Claude. I, however, finally found him on the promenade deck helping an elderly American couple to find suitable deck chairs. After I explained the situation, he rapidly excused himself. He was ecstatic, and almost would have kissed me then and there were we not still in our white jackets.
It was, however, time to take off the white jackets. Eddie and I were to meet Claude in his cabin in twenty minutes. Meanwhile, a table for five or six was to be arranged in the restaurant for later that evening. About a half an hour later, after picking up a bucket of ice-chilled champagne from Claude's cabin, I (dressed in grey slacks, a blue blazer, and a grey "foulard"), knocked on the cabin door of the two ladies whom I had recently conducted to their cabin, and who now had become the interest of every Frenchman aboard ship.
"Come in, called out a Southern voice.
I opened the cabin door and beheld a lovely sight. The two ladies, appropriately dressed in lounging pyjamas, were reclining on their respective berths.
Sitting up, Honey exclaimed, "Oh, oh, Lordie me! Who are you?"
I replied that I was Henry who, with Charles, had helped them with their baggage when they arrived aboard ship. While depositing the champagne on a nearby small table, I explained that my French friends and I had only been volunteer stewards. I forthwith handed Helen half of the generous tip they had given me and told her I had given the balance to Charles, a regular steward whom I thought deserved it well. Honey and Helen made a few feminine gasps, looked at each other, fussed with their hair, and asked me to sit down on the only available chair. Looking somewhat confused, Helen said, "I do not really understand!
I informed them that all the tips the "volunteers" had received after passengers had come aboard, went into a pool for the regular stewards and was divided equally among them. "Thus, this arrangement," I continued, "permitted me to have the good fortune to meet two such lovely ladies as yourselves," and that I hoped shortly to introduce them to some of my French friends that I had met since arriving aboard ship.
Almost as if prompted by some invisible signal, Claude appeared at the open cabin door, adroitly balancing a tray with a champagne bucket thereon, and a white napkin over his arm. He hesitated a second or two while looking at the two women, and in almost a whisper, said "Mon Dieu," and with a flourish, placed the bucket of ice and champagne in the middle of the cabin floor -- the only space available. Bowing slightly from the waist, he told them he was most enchanted to meet them, and that he was at their service day or night.
Honey and Helen began to giggle with hands over their mouths and then burst out laughing; I, too, joined in their laughter.
Then, as if on cue, Eddie entered bearing another champagne bucket and set it down next to Claude's. I introduced him. When Helen stopped laughing and again became her practical self, she said that it seemed a good idea, and an appropriate time to open at least one bottle of champagne. Eddie did the honors with practiced hands.
Raising her glass, Helen had the grace to say, "vive la France."
Claude responded in English, "long live England."
The party progressed happily in a somewhat less agitated manner with some witty repartees amongst the group, together with some obviously flirtatious remarks. Young Paul appeared with a pretty young Irish girl, and while standing half in and out of the cabin, sipped some champagne. As Paul and his girl left, Jean, a strapping young dark haired man from Lyon, arrived to say, "hello." With an apology, he drank the last of the champagne, and then he and Claude left together to replenish the supply that had been somewhat rapidly consumed by both the group and visiting members of the French contingent. Once outside the cabin, Paul told Claude that, among their friends, the cabin had acquired the name "Le beau petit boudoir!"
Shortly after Claude and Paul returned with sufficient refreshments intended to last until dinner, Bert, my steward friend. appeared at the cabin threshold. Without addressing himself to anyone in particular, he announced that a lady's cabin had, by some error, become occupied by a South American diplomatic couple with child. The lady in question, had now been relegated to share this particular cabin #145 with the two ladies who now occupied it. He apologized, "purser's orders." He added, nevertheless, that he had been informed, that Madame had been promised a small cabin alone, on the deck below, when the ship left France.
He turned towards me, and smiling slightly with raised eyebrows, asked me if we would all be so kind as to leave the cabin, with the exception of the young ladies, to permit him to properly install the folding cot that was outside in the corridor.
For a moment or two no one moved or spoke. Claude was the first to recover. He quickly retrieved a wallet from his jacket, wrote a note and handed it to Honey who received it with a slightly dazed look on her face. We waved agitated "a bientots" and assembled outside in the corridor.
There we met "Madame," a trim, handsome woman about 5'9", in her middle sixties. She was wearing a blue-grey tweed skirt and jacket, a hat and handbag to match, a white blouse, and a small strand of pearls. She looked like she may well have come from Boston, and when she spoke, there was little doubt about it. She said there had been a mix-up in her cabin arrangements and she was very sorry if she had spoiled our party. Eddie told her we were on our way to prepare for dinner and that we hoped to be able to see her again soon.
We hurried down the corridor and Claude announced "rassemblement de la troupe; Quartier general; Ma cabine 23." Shortly afterwards, Claude, in his cabin, declared to the assembled "troupe" that he had handed Honey a note giving his and Eddie's cabin numbers ("naturellement"), and that we would meet her and Helen in the ship's lounge before dinner, about half-past six. A table had been arranged.
Dinner was early, he explained, because of the blackout, and it was uncertain as to when the boat would sail. With a Gallic smile and twinkling eyes he added, it would be a "bonne idée" to attempt to locate "des coins" for the possibility of after dinner conversations!
At about six-thirty, I met Claude, Eddie, and Jean in the cocktail lounge. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by the young assistant purser, Jeff Richards, who spoke some French. Paul came by for a few minutes. He left us shortly to meet his Irish girlfriend and three other young Frenchmen elsewhere.
While biting into a sardine canape I espied Helen and Honey entering the lounge through its large glass doors. They looked gloriously lovely. Both wore long chic chiffon evening dresses: Helen in black and white, and Honey in pink, with evening bags to match. As they approached our table we all rose in silent awe. Jeff Richards was introduced. Claude, standing opposite to me, his face ecstatic, greeted Honey with a slight bow while furtively rolling his eyes down the front of her dress, seated her next to himself. I, in turn, moved quickly, and plumped myself down on Honey's other adjoining chair. Helen, smiling happily, and fussed over by Eddie and Jean, was duly seated between them. Jeff Richards, a slim, dark six-footer with dark hair, and a bemused grin on his face, took the seat next to mine.
Dinner was a vivacious affair to say the least. Claude and Eddie spoke almost perfect English, Helen fair French, and Honey, I gathered, but a few words of French. The talk, to begin with, was mostly inconsequential chit-chat, but eventually developed into talk of a more consequential nature. Our curiosity concerning the girls was somewhat partly satisfied by Helen, then by Honey.
Helen told us she was born and raised near Abingdon, in Berkshire, not far from Oxford. For two years she went to Radcliff in Oxford, but left in order to care for her father after her mother died in an accident. Later, in London, she studied nursing and done some clothes modeling on the side. While modeling in London, she had met Honey. Helen's father retired Navy Captain who had recently rejoined the Navy, was to depart shortly for Halifax in Canada. On her arrival in Ottawa she was to stay with her maternal aunt and uncle, await events, and probably renew her nurse's training. She spoke well and modestly. I noticed that her two pieces of jewelry were demure, but quite adequate: a string of pearls around her neck and a star opal on her right hand.
Honey, then picked up the conversation, informed us that she had been born in South Carolina; had gone to school in that state, and then two years in a Junior College, studied biology (of all things), and then went to visit friends in New York. Her parents lived at present in Charleston where her father was an engineer. While in New York she had decided to support herself modeling for various fashion houses. She was given some modeling assignments in England, and once there, decided to remain. She had resided in London, with a few short occasional trips to the Continent until she felt that, with the times being so uncertain, she should leave. She was therefore going back to the United States and planning to visit her parents in Charleston. Her southern drawl was charming and fascinated the boys, including Jeff whose home was in Chicago! I also observed her jewelry, less demure than Helen's, but most suitable: On her left shoulder, a lovely ruby clasp in the shape of a rose with a diamond center; a thin ruby and diamond bracelet around her left wrist; and a nice ruby ring encircled by small diamonds. (No necklace. Nothing, I thought, to detract from the lovely "frontage!")
Conversation among the group resumed in a merry and joyful style. The food was good: the channel sole was delicious and the wine excellent. Jeff informed us that the ship would dock at "Le Verdon," at the mouth of the Gironde River - approximately 100 kilometers north of Bordeaux. The dock there had been constructed during the last war for the debarkation in 1917 of American troops and war supplies.
Turning toward me, Honey gently nudged me and said Claude had told her that I was destined for Paris and a position with the Morgan and Cie Bank. I replied that was correct. She then continued and inquired as to whether I could perhaps help her with a minor problem after my arrival in Paris. I assured her I would be happy to be of assistance. (I assumed, naturally, that her problem would turn out to be of a financial nature and I would do well to watch my P's and Q's. I was surprised to discover I was very mistaken.)
Honey opened her bag and withdrew a ring of several keys, disengaged one and handed it to me, saying "this is a key to a "Vuitton" trunk that I have in storage with a girlfriend in Paris. I would like you to tell her I would like her to arrange, as best she can, to ship it to me in care of my apartment in New York. If this is agreeable to you, I will write some instructions for her and will give you the note before you disembark."
I gallantly responded that I would make every effort to deliver the key and her letter.
Honey beamed, "you're sure a darling," and gave me a hearty kiss where a kiss should be bestowed!
"Alors, alors," chimed in the observant Claude, "Ça ne se fait pas à table mon vieux, and added with a chuckle, "you are a married man!"
Twisting around to face Claude, she gave him a peck on the cheek and explained that she had asked me to undertake an errand for her in Paris.
"Bon, bon; ça va," Claude unabashedly agreed, "but why not me?"
"Well," replied Honey diplomatically "you are not an American!"
The three of us laughed.
Honey turned back towards me and continued our interrupted conversation. She told me she had known her friend, Stella Ramble, in Paris and London for several years and that they had become close "pals." Honey informed me that her friend, about 32. years of age, was a very beautiful, bright and friendly woman who enjoyed the "best!" Patting my hand, she added with a bewitching smile, "be a careful and good boy when you meet her!"
I was somewhat bemused and befuddled by Honey's conversation, looked over at Claude and his somewhat perplexed expression, and declared, "à toi la conversation, mon ami!"
Leaning over and taking Honey's hand in his, he chortled happily, grinned at me with a roguish look and said, "talk to Jeff, he's lonely!"
Neither Jeff nor I were lonely, but Jeff had business to attend to and would have to arise in the early morning. I was more tired than I realized. With appropriate excuses, we kissed the girls "good night" and wished them "pleasant dreams."
At this point, no soothsayer could ever guess that over the next six years this shipboard meeting with Honey would unfold into a very intriguing story.
On my way to my cabin I remembered that, in London, I had been given a letter to be opened only at sea and then destroyed. I found the doctor, Marcel Beauvois, almost asleep. I apologized for disturbing him, but he was interested in hearing about my evening activities. I briefed him shortly while looking for my letter which I found stashed among my pajamas. I bade the doctor good night and found myself a comfortable sofa in a secluded corner of the lounge.
The letter, dated October 1939, was written mostly as a friendly farewell and a God speed. The last paragraphs, however, read:
"... so, Herman, keep your eyes open. You may never realize the importance of the things you might hear, see or observe and when they could perhaps be of assistance to your business and other friends. This is a troubled world.
"While you are in neutral countries in Europe, try to keep in touch when you can, through friends, if not in person.
"My wife, Sarah, and I hope you will be able to see your family again soon, and please give my regards to my friends at the bank.
"With all best wishes..."
It was signed by a good London business friend. I never grasped or properly absorbed the implications of the letter until several months later. I tore the letter into many pieces, passed through the blackout curtains, and from on deck threw the pieces, downwind, into the water.
The ship had been slowly underway since around 11 o'clock; it was awaiting final clearance and escort passage down the Solent and from British coastal waters into the English channel.
Late the following morning, while walking on the promenade deck, I spotted a steward serving a tray of bouillon soup to an elderly lady reclining on a deck chair. It was the lady I had met the previous evening and assumed to be a Bostonian.
As I approached her deck chair she looked up and greeted me with a most pleasant smile and said, "hello, Mr. Harjes," and tapping her adjoining deck chair, added, "oh, do please sit down."
I was surprised that she knew my name. I told her I would be most pleased to join her.
While the steward was covering my legs with a ship's blanket, I inquired of her as to how she knew my name.
She replied, "Honey, one of the young girl in my cabin so informed me of your name. She said that a French friend of yours, I think by the name of Claude, had told her."
"Anyway," she continued, "my name is Elizabeth Westland. I live in Boston and have three grown sons. My husband died four years ago and I like to travel when I can."
"I know your family quite well. My husband knew your h from the Morgan Harjes Bank in Paris. Your mother now has house in Tuxedo Park; she married Seton Porter. I met her there on several occasions. I believe you met your wife, Joan Blake, at a tea at Mrs. Morgan Hamilton's in Tuxedo, just before the annual Tuxedo Ball."
I was aghast! All I could think of to say was, "What a small world! I am delighted to meet you, Mrs. Westland."
"Yes," she responded, "it is a small world and what is going to happen now to this world? It's really rather frightening." Then, turning her head and looking directly at me, she said, "Let us forget the present and pray that all will turn out all right and for the better. Now, please tell me what you have been doing in the last few years. Why are you here, on your way to France?
Are you here for our government or what?"
I advised her that I was going to Paris to work in the Morgan and Cie Bank. I then mentioned that any account of my activities since the Tuxedo days, might be somewhat lengthy!"
"Heavens, no!" she exclaimed. "Lunch is more than two hours away. I would love to hear what you have been doing."
She was an enchanting and knowledgeable elderly woman who listened with interest and amusement to my story, responding with nods and shakes of her head, smiles, chuckles, "of courses," "how nices," and other similar short comments. I felt relaxed and I loved talking with her.
The deck steward eventually approached us and advised us that lunch would be served shortly. Mrs. Westland inquired whether I could join her for lunch. I accepted with pleasure.
As we prepared to enter the dining room, Claude "buttonholed" us in the lounge and insisted that we join his small group for a cocktail - "ou deux." Mrs. Westland said she would esteem it a pleasure. We found Helen, Honey, Eddie and Jean seated at a round glass-topped table.
Mrs. Westland spoke a little French and chatted pleasantly with the group. She thanked Honey for allowing her to sleep in her bunk rather than on the folding bed she had been given. "You know," she said, "I never even heard you two come in and you were both sound asleep when I left this morning. I hope you all had a good time last night."
Our cordial and attentive purser, Jeff, suddenly appeared beside our table. He remarked, with a becoming grin, "There was a sound of revelry last night! Vive la France."
"A Waterloo perhaps!" Mrs. Westland discretely whispered to Helen.
Laughing, we clicked glasses together and responded with "Vive la France and vive les Etats Unis."
Jeff regretfully declined our offer of a glass of champagne, bemoaning the fact that duty called. Shortly after Jeff's departure, Mrs. Westland thanked Claude for the hors d'oeuvres and her champagne cocktail. She asked to be excused, explaining that she was somewhat hungry and that, after lunch, she intended to write certain friends in Paris letters which Herman Harjes offered to mail on his arrival in that City.
Lunch with Mrs. Westland was most agreeable, interesting and informative. We talked about her family, Boston, Harvard, Miopia Country Club, and friends and people we knew or knew of. We also discussed Hitler, Stalin and international affairs, mostly pertaining to the war. After coffee, and before we parted, we agreed to meet again before dinner.
I went to the purser's office and collected my various documents and money that I had left for safe keeping. Jeff informed me that we were due to arrive at Le Verdon shortly after sunrise on the morrow, and invited me for a cocktail before dinner. I left for my cabin and therein proceeded to pack my belongings.
After a while, I was joined by Dr. Marcel who also packed his possessions which included a box of assorted medical equipment he had left with the ship doctor. He asked me, was about to leave our small cabin for his exclusive use, about the American Hospital in Paris. I informed him that it had been founded and funded by my grandfather, John Harjes. I also invited him to look me up if he was ever in Paris, and that if was interested, I would be most happy to introduce him to the hospital staff. He promised he would attempt to take me up the offer and gave me his card, as well as the addresses of relatives living in France.
By the end of September I had been ordered to Paris --- to Morgan & Cie --- because I spoke French and the United States was, of course neutral. [...]
In Paris all was serene and calm. The beginning of the cold war I went to work for the Bank immediately after finding rooms in the Hotel Princess, near the Etoile. The owner was an old retired and respected French intelligence officer. My work at the Bank was demanding in that so many Frenchmen had gone to war --- everything was left up to the neutrals --- Swiss and American. [...]The beginning of the German offensive made it necessary that your mother return to the United States. She left by Pan American Clipper from Lisbon in early May.
Prior to your mother's departure things had begun to move somewhat rapidly in every way. My mother (your grandmother) and Seton Porter, her husband, had been in France for several months. Your Uncle John had joined the American Field Service Ambulance Corps; my mother and Porter had left, I believe, in April. Your Uncle John left France and the Ambulance Corps in the middle of May, or thereabouts, to return to the U.S. The cold war, in France, had terminated the 10th of May. After your mother's departure I returned to the Hotel Princess.
Morgan & Cie was considered an "American Bank". It had foreseen the possible necessity of a "branch office", behind the river Loire, in case of a serious German invasion towards Paris. Their choice had been "Niort" north of Bordeaux. They had acquired a large Villa and had installed steel safes and vaults. The French Government left Paris --- officially, about June 10th. The Bank had to split into three "parts". One part had to follow the "Bank of France" to Chatel-Guyon, in central France. The second part went to Niort --- the valuable part! (Securities, bonds of all kinds, cash and other negotiable instruments; a great deal owned by other than Americans!) The third part remained in Paris staffed by neutrals. The Paris office never closed until we, the United Stated, entered the war in December 1941. I was elected to go to Niort - --about 350 miles southwest of Paris and about 225 miles from the Spanish border. I left, I believe, on either the 9th or 10th of June, in my "Matford" car, with (besides my own suitcase and bicycle) "X" millions of dollars of negotiable securities!. I arrived that same evening. The next morning, my immediate boss, Harry Watkins (a partner of the Bank and eight years older than I) arrived in Niort. I had been promoted to Manager! We had a staff of about three women (French), one Belgian accountant, and two older French clerks. (My stay in Niort and various side trips and "business activities" are a long story.) The Germans arrived in Niort in full force about June 19 - 20th The Franco-German armistice was signed, I believe, on June 23rd, 1940.
To continue in brief Miss Ann Morgan (J. P. Morgan's sister) was in "Angouleme" with her Hospital units --- about 50 miles to the east. She needed money and Harry Watkins drove there to give it to her. On the way back he met the Germans and rode into Niort squished between two Panzer tanks! The day after the Germans entered Niort we decided that some of the Securities in our vaults must belong to the enemies of the "Reich". (English, Dutch, Belgian, etc.) After the armistice, as an officer of an American Bank, I applied to the local Military Government to transport certain urgently needed office equipment and files to our office in Chatel-Guyon, which, in accordance with the armistice terms, was now located in the "unoccupied zone". The Germans were assured that without mail or telephone service an International Bank could not properly function without the necessary files and personnel --- especially as it involved delicate financial negotiations between them, the Bank of France and neutral International Banks! A permit was granted, by the Military, for three cars to go to Chatel-Guyon. Three cars, three drivers, and the "Goods" arrived safely in Chatel-Guyon the next day without any trouble from the military at the border. (250 miles approximately). I remained in Chatel-Guyon four days and eventually got back, into the "Occupied Zone", on the sixth day, to Niort. (A German Colonel, at the border, just could not figure why an American with a French car and speaking public-school English, would want to return to the Occupied Zone!)
Shortly after my return to Niort it was decided that I should return to Paris. [...]
For us, neutral Americans, living and under the German occupation, business was most inactive, and any social life we had to generate ourselves as best we could - in order not to stagnate.[...]
During the period July 1940 to 1941 there were numerous interesting stories that could fill several pages. [...] The American of the Bank staff rotated home to the U.S. in accordance with seniority --- and business necessity! I was the junior American and finally made it home, in the early Fall of 1941 [...]
On my return to New York, and after a pleasant but short holiday, I went back to work with J. P. Morgan Co. I also worked for the Government interviewing (directly and indirectly) "refugees" (American and Foreign) arriving from Europe. [...]
I was in the Foreign Department (so-called) at J.P. Morgan & Co., and we were up to our necks in "intrigue" domestic and foreign. (Details later) Also "our British friends" were on hand (from Morgan Grenfell & Co. London and other firms) at 43 Exchange Place, N.Y.C. under the name of the British Purchasing Commission. (This Commission covered many activities !! ) My ex-London boss, Wilfred Hill-Wood, was No. 2- --on the Commission.