And so Prunella -
The writer of this letter, in November 1927, was (or, rather, was probably posing as) a gypsy - a traveller called Jonothon Transpleisene. The MSS is a typescript carbon copy, presumed to be a transcript from the original made by "Prunella" - the recipient - now (December 2001) believed to be Joyce (Jan Struther) Anstruther. It must be presumed that "Jonothon" was either a family member or a close childhood friend - of some social standing, if being mounted on an expensive horse at a hunt meet on Armictice Day - as later mentioned in the letter - is anything to go by!
"And so Prunella,
Here is Armistice Day again and in the twelve months Jonothon Transpleisene has travelled a long way: both in miles and in growing up. And we had one glimpse of Prunella - a letter or two - but all too tantalising.
And thinking over all the things (s)he has told me, kicking over the fallen leaves or watching them whirl in a hurly burly, I thought of two which would interest you perhaps more than any others. Perhaps your patience will be exhausted before I get to my second tale and so I'll begin with the most important first, which is very wrong and topsy turvey.
All the Armistice letters that have been written, tho' they've varied in theme, tho' some have been narrative and some imaginative, have had as their basis "Remembrance", just like the poppies - then placards - all to help Remembrance. Going back to the earliest one I remember it was one when you were in a car on the Ascot road - the focus of that was Remembrance - you can picture it now - so on successive ones - Remembrance, and yesterday is long ago compared with the War - and so I wondered why this effort - this parade to remember.
Last year I noticed so strongly during the silence the faces of those who were "recollecting" - "re-seeing", if you will, and those who were only remembering the boys and girls who heard about the War and were never part of it as we were - who've only heard that then we all lived through years a skin short - all keyed up - alert - bared to pain - thrice keenly felt - magnified to each of us by the lense of fear - have heard tell of hunger - death - partings and re-unions - and read as good war stories of meetings in queer places, of dramatic entries and sudden surgings of emotions - good and bad ones - which wrecked each of us, testing, straining, stressing our minds, our souls - shaking the very foundations of some of us.
Yes, for them November 11th. is rightly called Remembrance day, but for us it's not quite like that - for us it's the two minutes Silence which is the focus point - We can't forget - any of those episodes, any of the people who we've lost in the Maelstrom. We need no pageant to help us know our losses - to bring it all back. Isn't it all we're going to have to live with a little later on - Memory - and the Memories sad and happy which were most visioned will be the more with us.
But I'm wandering along the lane of this letter and I must confess I'm looking for a narrow footpath that turns off and winds itself into what I want to tell you. Looking back a page I think I see the entrance to the path - it's this -
Why Remembrance? It's all wrong. Our losses we can never forget; they are deep down snug in our minds, ours and always, but the War, the fact of it; the horrors and brutalities of it; the sorrows, - surely they are better forgotten?
Yes, I think that's the footpath - it's like the way I saw it.
And really I suppose the thing is - must one remember publicly things which one could not - try as one would - forget privately?
No - I'm afraid that wasn't the path - we've come to a dead end - A bramble bush thick and prickly and no way through - and back again to the lane - and I'll sit and rest a minute to try and see where it was.
There's a queer little old man. I wonder who - No - it was a victoria with bay horses - I can see him in Piccadilly - driving home that day I went to see her.
That must be a rabbit scut - yes, it's bobbed - and moved off.
You see, after all, I've missed the path again. You know, Prunella, it used to be so, so very easy to write you my imagination on paper, because in those days it was the only life I had, - the one I invented and imagined, and now since you were married and I've got married and found in real live fact all the more than I ever dared to imagine, well can't you see one can't go on imagining any more.
I must tell you about my getting married. I who have written you so many, many times of the joys of the open and lonely road - and its sorrows and loneliness. Yes, I'm married and settled and living on a fixed pitch, as we used to call it in the old gypsy days. How it happened, with whom, - when and why - all these do not matter.
But now you can imagine me treking home each night to the same pitch and very glad to do it and looking forward to it.
Going back to Remembrance and Armistice Day - I think I'm right, it would be better if we remembered each year that the most important thing is to forget - not the people - but the War and our loss; it was all so bedraggled - no pageant - so unglorious - a shoddy peace on an imagined and murky half packed victory, not even historical. One hundred years hence it won't be Nov. 11th. that is remembered. What will be the outstanding thing that is remembered by the historians of those days?
Something perhaps trivial and un-noticed by us - perhaps Summer Time - perhaps the fall of Antwerp, or the first use of poison gas - which must be the forerunner of the end of all wars - or the first use of Tanks.
Think of it - the people who caught and arrested Guy Fawkes couldn't possibly have had an idea that that date would be handed down almost as a national holiday all these years afterwards.
And so it will be about our War-
Something that people - most people - now won't dream of.
The opening - perhaps - of a door in the half light - the closing of an arch way; the passing of a second that was Eternity to those who endured it.
And to-day, actually the eleventh, I was mounted on a very expensive hunter at the Pychley Meet when the Silence happened. We sat on our horses bareheaded; hunt servants and all; even the hounds seemed to sense something was afoot, some unseen something passing. The only noises were the champing of steel bits and the crying of some young pram mounted baby and the jingle of the steel and the whimpering little, little cry of that baby just summarised for me the War and all it meant. Can you imagine it? Are we never to meet again Prunella?
Notes (January 2001)
Prunella may have been a "private name" used just by Jonothan Transpleisene for the intended recipient; certainly, whoever she was (and there are clues within the text that are currently being explored) she had shared much (in time and writing) with the author of this letter.
If the name was not her own, there may be some basis in the following as clues to her character ...
Prunella vulgaris L. (selfheal). This member of the mint family has a long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. The flowers are considered antiseptic and astringent. The tea, made by soaking crushed leaves in cold water, has been used to treat sore throat and bleeding gums. Leaves are used in first aid to treat fresh wounds.
Prunella - The name of Prunella makes you very idealistic, sensitive, and inspirational. If these qualities are not understood and properly directed through music, art, or other creative expression, you could become jealous and possessive of those close to you. Your feelings are so strong that you are inclined to build your life around certain individuals and become wrapped up in personal love rather than seeking into the deeper truths of life; thus you could suffer losses in your affections and shattered ideals. You are generous and people are drawn to you because of your friendly and sympathetic nature. You lack system and order in your life and will often leave your own duties if someone calls upon you for assistance. When you are inspired and feel happy, life seems so wonderful; but you can be just as depressed and unhappy as well, feeling as if everyone is against you. The weakness of this name could create nervous breakdowns, or disorders related to the nervous system.