Distressing news

A German-American family whose son was serving with the Allies faced the tragic loss of a daughter.

23 July 1918

About 11, as I was about to descend to the library with Johanna to play to her, came two postcards from Robert, dated June 16th & 17th. They were written from Brooklyn….

The card also contained the distressing news that Frau Dressler, whose only son is with the American Army in France, had lost their only daughter (whom we met with them in Zurich) & their son-in-law, the German doctor whom she married & with whom she was living in Stuttgart, both of them having been killed by a bomb thrown from an aeroplane. Their little two-year-old child was apparently spared.

Diary of Will Spencer, Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

Almost ludicrous if not so horrible

Opposition to the war had led to revolution in Russia, and the fear of getting drawn in caused riots in neutral Switzerland.

Florence Vansittart Neale
19 November 1917

Russia almost ludicrous if not so horrible. A subaltern made Commander in Chief.

Will Spencer
19 November 1917

News that a policeman & two other men had been killed in “anti-military” riots in Zurich on Saturday night…. After dinner I read the account of the Zurich riots on Friday & Saturday. (They began on Thursday.)

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

‘All’s well that ends well’: Will and Johanna Spencer are reunited

Will Spencer, the eldest brother of our friends Percy and Sydney, had been living in Germany before the war with his German wife Johanna, where he taught piano at a conservatory. He was trapped in England when the war started because he had come home to Cookham on holiday, while Johanna remained behind. Eventually, they decided to reunite in neutral Switzerland – a happy ending for the couple, but not a perfect one, as work was hard to come by. Will wrote to his sister Florence to let her know how they were getting on:

Hotel Glockenhof
Zurich
Wed. Feb. 24th, 1915

Dear Flo,
Thank you very much for your letter, which was forwarded to me from Basle, & also for your postcard of Feb. 4th. I did not answer either at the time, as I had no good news to tell, for as you have no doubt heard at Fernley [the family home in Cookham], Johanna was not able to join me here until Feb. 16th, owing to delay on the part of the authorities in sending her her papers, & until she had got her papers, I had a strong misgiving that she might not be able to join me here at all. But all’s well that ends well, as we say – which isn’t true, but when we have arrived at the good ending we feel as if it is.

I am writing this in the writing room of this hotel before breakfast, while Johanna is dressing. Johanna seems quite as well as usual, I am glad to say, & is still able to laugh if anything amuses her (which I am glad of). She has heard a couple of times from [her sister] Agnes since she has been here, & I hope that the portal of communications between the two countries may remain satisfactory, as she would feel it very much, I am sure, if communications became very slow or were cut off.

Johanna brought a lot of my music & books with her, & I have played to her several times on the piano in the little reading room adjoining this. Just now I have a cold in my head, but when I have got rid of it I am going to call on the American consul here, & leave my name & address with him, as I believe a certain number of German Americans have come into this part of Switzerland of late (on account of the war) & I have thought of the possibility of my finding a pupil or two among them. From what Johanna tells me, there is no present need of my getting any teaching here, but I would rather have some if I can. There is so little for the Swiss musicians at this time, no doubt, that I can’t expect the Swiss to employ a foreigner like myself.

I hope influenza has taken flight from Grovefield by now. Hoping, too, that you are well, & with best greetings from Johanna & love from me,

Yr affec. brother Will.

Letter from William George (Will) Spencer, formerly Professor of Music at Koln, and now residing in Switzerland, to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/3/2/1)