After her initial time with the Eckhards in Weybridge, my mother Ruth spent most of the 1940s in Cambridge, where part of her adopted family lived. The sister of Bea Paish (who with Frank Paish agreed with the Neumeyer parents for Ruth and Raimund to come and live with their extended family), Joan Stirland, was married to John Stirland, headmaster of the Leys School. They took a great interest in Ruth, who always knew them as ‘Uncle John’ and ‘Aunt Joan’. While studying at Cambridge University, I visited them on numerous occasions in their house at 8 Fulbrooke Road and Joan described her giving Ruth botany lessons – an interest Ruth retained through the rest of her life. She lived for several years as housekeeper to Professor and Ethel Ginsburg at 19 Adams Road, during which time she developed a warm relationship with her employers and flourished socially in the relative freedom of Cambridge.
She always spoke positively about her years in Cambridge, but they must have been fraught with worry, with no news after 1943 about her family she’d left behind in Germany, and only intermittent Red Cross messages from them in the three years prior to that.
Clockwise from top left: Ruth punting on the Cam; skating with her friend Lorna Wilson on Coe Fen; Adams Road in the snow; with Leon Long just after VE Day; VE Day in Cambridge
Ruth’s circle of friends included numerous other refugees from the Third Reich, such as Ossy and Trüde, orphaned sisters who had escaped from Nazi oppression in Austria. Gitta Deutsch, and her father Otto, were also among them. They were of Jewish origin and after the Anschluss in 1938 fled their native Austria to settle in Britain. After being interned as aliens in the Isle of Man, they moved to Cambridge. Otto Deutsch was an eminent musicologist, still remembered for his work on creating the thematic catalogue of the works of Franz Schubert – all of which continue to be known by ‘Deutsch numbers’. Ruth revered Schubert and remembered visiting Otto in his study. Gitta was her own age and was involved in Cambridge in the youth section of the Free Austria Movement, and worked for a period as secretary to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, another Viennese intellectual who fled to Cambridge before the war. Otto, Ossy and Trüde all returned to Austria after the war.
Two twins from Baden in Austria, Lore and Erika Weiss, became Ruth’s very closest friends and she continued to visit them in their house in Clare Road, Cambridge, until her cancer prevented her from travelling at the very end of her life. The twins lived together and never married; they were very different types but depended on each other despite the occasional sororal bickering. According to Ruth, Erika had a constant stream of male admirers but never managed to make a choice between them; Lore, who became a midwife, was much more down to earth – rather like Ruth in many respects.
Two brothers, Denys and Leon Long, both formed attachments to Ruth. Leon had got engaged to a German girl called Maria before the war, and soon after the end of the war, Ruth’s brother Raymond was in Germany working for the British Army. There he sought out Maria and managed to reunite her with Leon, I think rather to Ruth’s chagrin. She later became attached to John Beer for several years, and he wrote her copious letters; after their relationship ended they were still in close contact for many years.
Ruth joined the German Society and the Amateur Dramatic Company (ADC). Her movements as ‘enemy alien’ would have been restricted but she was allowed to go on fire-watching duty from the tower of Great St Mary’s.
She also befriended aliens from Germany, both refugees and prisoners of war:
A letter in response to a query from Ruth while she was in Cambridge in 1941 about the whereabouts of a refugee, one Helmut Nathan, the brother of twins she had been in contact with – very possibly Kindertransport children like her.
The rest of the story is thus far a mystery. Ruth was at that time living in St Chad’s, Grange Road (now part of St Catharine’s College).
She never spoke to me about this man, one Manfred Massinger. On the back of the photo is written: Dear Rüthy, You gave me in a time without freedom joy and happiness. May this happiness return to your own heart. All the very best to you, with kindest regards, I want to remain your very sincerely Manfred R Massinger, Frankfürt-am-Main.
Ruth wrote in black ink ‘POW’ at the end of the note, presumably
as a reminder to herself.
Nursery training and a letter from America
As an Enemy Alien, Ruth was restricted in what job she could do. One of the approved jobs was nursery training, which she carried out during 1942-43 in Wellgarth Nursery Training College, in at Shrivenham, not far from Swindon in Wiltshire.
During that time she received a letter from ‘Aunt Rosie’ in New York. I have yet to identify who she was, as she certainly wasn’t a relative but knew the Neumeyer family very well. It’s a rare mention among all the wartime diaries and letters of Ruth’s of what’s happening about her family. Ruth’s wartime diaries are hard to decipher, but I can’t spot any reference to her parents in them.
The mention of Mrs Hildebrandt refers to the woman married to Pastor Hildebrandt, whom Ruth knew well in Cambridge, and about whom she wrote frequently in her diaries. He was a German-born Lutheran theologian but his mother was Jewish, so he left for England. He returned to Germany for a period at the behest of his friend Martin Niemöller in order to promote the Pfarrernotbund, an organisation of pastors opposing the introduction of the notorious ‘Aryan paragraph’ into church organisations in Germany. Hildebrandt then after being arrested managed to escape to England. Niemöller was deported to Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps but survived.
Her reports were all glowing and she seems to have fitted in very well. A testimonial from the college dated 16 February 1943 notes that she is the first foreign student to have been appointed by her fellow students to the post of Senior Student. ‘She has proved herself an intelligent and good student. Miss Neumeyer has gifts which will be most useful to her, she is imaginative and artistic, which combined with her powers for organisation will enable her to do valuable work with children.’
After her training she returned to Cambridge and continued her work with children at the Shirley War Nursery in Green End Road.
And finally: an extraordinary image
With very good reason, Ruth absolutely detested swastikas. My father had to cover up the spine of a novel that had a swastika on it to avoid offending her. So it’s particularly surprising to come across her design for this programme cover for an all-women play by Christa Winsloe called Children in Uniform. This was produced at Leavesden Green Emergency Teacher Training College, where she and my father met in 1949 prior to her attending art college in Canterbury. She’s in the programme as playing ‘Her Excellency Von Ehrenhardt’. She must have been very uncomfortable about creating this cover: it’s not something she ever showed me.
Words and images copyright Tim Locke. Published 17 September 2018 on what would have been Ruth’s 95th birthday.