2016 Centenary Note: Two Wartime Tragedies

In our Anniversary Series, we have to turn to early June 1916, which brought two tragic war-related events to Elizabeth and her family.

In 1916, news travelled more slowly than it does now.  On the morning of June 3, Elizabeth heard about the dreadful losses suffered on both sides during the BattleThe Black Prince of Jutland (May 31 to 1 June 1916). She was concerned immediately for her nephew, John Waterlow, and noted in her journal, “Saw in Times that Johnnie’s ship Black Prince had gone – much horrified. Motored over to Tit’s p.m. – there was Drischie. Tit wonderful and Drisch still hoping Johnnie saved. Tit no hope.” [1]

The following day she motored down again to see her family where she was met at the door by Drischie and Charlotte’s other son, Sydney Waterlow. They told her that Johnnie had gone down with his ship, the Black Prince, where he held the rank of Commander. Elizabeth had recently spent time with Johnnie while he was on leave and knew him well.

Further misery was in store, for there was a telegram from Bremen, Germany,           informing her of the death of her youngest daughter Felicitas, known as Martin. In her journal she wrote, “drove back in wet and gale alone tasting the depth of desolation.”

Felicitas with her grandparents, Henry and Louey Beauchamp.

Felicitas was perhaps the daughter who most resembled her mother; she was bright, very musical and had “imaginativeness, gaiety, charm”.[2] Elizabeth found Felicitas “too sweet and clever for anything – so extremely and delightfully and intelligently interested”.[3] One suspects also this very charming daughter could also be wilful and was often ‘at odds with authorities’.

She certainly upset the authorities at her school in Lausanne, Switzerland, from where she was dismissed in the summer of 1914, and escorted by Teppi, Elizabeth’s friend and the former housekeeper at Nassenheide, to a school in Germany. Little did Elizabeth know, as she parted from her daughter without any sign of affection or forgiveness, that they would never meet again.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 meant that Felicitas was trapped in Germany. Moreover, the ban on financial transactions with Germany also made it impossible to pay Felicitas’ school fees. Teppi arranged for her to be employed as an assistant at a children’s home in Bremen, where, on the night of 1 June 1916, she contracted pneumonia while playing the violin at her open window. She died the following day of complications; she was sixteen years old.

Elizabeth wrote to Liebet (living by then in the USA) on 7th June 1916: “I’ve got sad news for you – Johnnie was killed in the naval battle, and the same day we heard that, came a telegram from Teppi saying briefly and giving no explanation that Martin is dead. …how dreadful it is, too dreadful – I can’t bear it – and yet I’m going to bear it”. She added that “Martin’s death is just as directly the result of the war as Johnnie’s”. [4]

While Elizabeth makes hardly any further mention of her loss in journal, in several letters to her daughter Beatrix, who also remained in Germany during the war, her heartbreak and grief are palpable, held together only by practical considerations of the funeral and admonishments to Beatrix to remain strong and be brave in the face of tragedy. Von Arnim’s plans to organise a passage for Beatrix to join her sisters Liebet and Evi in the States ultimately failed.

One year later, von Arnim would fictionalise Felicitas’ death in her epistolary novel Christine (1917), which tells the story of a young girl who in Germany during the war. Trying to reach her mother in England, Christine dies of pneumonia on the way. Christine’s letters to her mother are those of a loving, dutiful daughter. The novel was marketed as non-fiction. Isobel Maddison has offered a sustained discussion of Christine in the context of anti-war propaganda. Beyond this, In the Mountains (1920) also includes a veiled reference to “one’s extremest bitter grief, which is, like one’s extremest joy of love, too deeply hidden away with God to be told of”. In her memoir, All the Dogs of My Life (1936), in which von Arnim remains very guarded about her private life, Felicitas’ death is not mentioned.

[1] Journal, 3 June 1016 (Hungtington Library, ER 97).  Tit was Elizabeth’s older sister, Charlotte Waterlow, Drischie was Charlotte’s daughter and Johnnie was Charlotte’s son, John.

[2] Leslie de Charms, Elizabeth of the German Garden, p157.

[3] Leslie de Charms, Elizabeth of the German Garden, p157.

[4] Leslie de Charms, Elizabeth of the German Garden, p 179.

Written by Jennifer Walker & Juliane Römhild

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