Happy Days at The Wilderness

One of the unexpected bonuses that came with the publication of Immigrant Soldier has been a connection between myself and my English cousin. In the novel, Hazel is the un-named baby who is trundled in her pram to the underground shelter each night by Edith and Clara.

Raised in different continents, separated by wartime, the Atlantic Ocean, and the entire expanse of America, Hazel and I never met as children or even as young adults when we were in the midst of raising our own children. Finally in the 1990s, I met her several times. However, during those brief evenings, I was concentrating on taping the stories told by her mother, Herman’s sister.

Recently, through Facebook and her enthusiasm for Immigrant Soldier, we have begun to correspond by email. I was excited and pleased to get the following comment from her last spring on Facebook: “Congratulations on the book!!! Have read it, of course, and can’t praise it enough!! Well done. . . . It brought back so many, many, memories of Uncle Bruno and the Wilderness.”

It seems that, as a youngster, she went there often with her mother and her little brother. Days at The Wilderness were a welcome family holiday from life in war-torn London. I asked Hazel to share some of her memories of Uncle Bruno’s estate, which had been sold and subdivided long before I was able to visit England.

Hazel remembers the excursions as occasions when they would dress in their best clothes and ride the bus to Kingston Hill, a country area of large homes southwest of London near Wimbledon. From the bus stop, they entered “four or five acres of grandeur” that included a lake, a boathouse, flower and vegetable gardens, and two tennis courts. Hazel recalls that Uncle Bruno would greet them and then, “Auntie Nellie would appear. She was a very stern lady, elegantly dressed, and to us, she had the appearance of a queen.” Nellie would often reprimand Edith for her

tardiness, a habit she seems to have shared with her older brother, my own father.

A formal visit in the sitting room came first, but after that the children were allowed to go outside. They loved to visit with the head gardener, a Mr. Brown, who showed them the

“Victory Garden” of vegetables. For children, raised in the city, not to mention in a nation where everything was rationed during and even after the war, fresh vegetables were a delicacy. They looked forward to eating some of the produce at lunch, which was announced by a “massive dinner gong.” In summer, lunch was often served outside, but regardless of where they ate, Auntie Nellie presided and did not allow talking by the children during the meal.

Hazel remembers Uncle Bruno as “a lovely, warm man who actually delighted in taking us out in a boat— a punt. We would go under the overhanging trees looking for the moorhens’ nests.” This gracious man died in the mid-1950s soon after the passing of his wife. He left Edith enough money to buy her own home in London, a three-story place of two flats where she lived until she herself passed away.

Besides her long email, Hazel sent me some photos, taken at The Wilderness. I have included two of them here. The picture at the top of the blog is a typical sibling shot of Hazel with her little brother taken on the lawn in 1944. I have left the notation written in the family photo album.

The 1948 photo to the right clearly evokes the happy afternoons spent with Uncle Bruno, who sits at the rear of the boat holding the punt pole. Hazel is the little girl, obviously enjoying the adventure. She is flanked by an adult relative and her little brother, Michael, with his back to the photographer.


This picture of Uncle Bruno’s home was taken from a postcard-size reprint of a drawing Herman shared with me.









Punt – a long, narrow, flat bottomed boat with a square area at each end. A punt is intended for shallow waters and has no keel. The punter, who often stands on a kind of platform at the stern of the boat, propels and steers it using a long pole, which is pushed against the bottom of the river or lake. These boats are common in England and have become a tourist “must do” in Cambridge.

Have you ever punted while in England?


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