Dearest Blue Eyes
These letters were written by Major Henry James Drew Smythe, M.C., in January 1919 to his wife, Enid.
At this time, he was with the International Commission for the Repatriation of Prisoners in Bavaria and she was at the Hotel Crystal, Boulogne, serving as a V.A.D. They had been married in November 1914, soon after the outbreak of World War 1 and saw each other only on infrequent leave opportunities.
This is the portrait of a relationship as much as an observation, with anecdotes, contained within a complete personal report of a few weeks of his work and travels in Germany and Austria less than two months after the Armistice that ended The Great War.
Note: The spellings of towns, areas and vocabulary are as they appear in the original letters. Students or researchers should make their own geographical or linguistic verifications.
Good evening little Pinkie mine. We are now in Austria and the air seems purer and freer. We started off at 8o'clock this morning and crossed the frontier about 9.30. We were not stopped at all on the German side, the weather being too wet for the present day German soldiery to come out. On the Austrian side we just showed our British pass and then went on.
We got to Salzburg about 9.50 and went to see a German Officer there to get information from him about the salt mines in this area and decided to do the group of mines today. So, soon after this, we started out for this place which is in the centre of a group of mines.
We had to come here along a mountain road and as we got higher we gradually got into a snow storm and had to do 25 miles with snow 2-3 inches deep on the road. At one time, we got off the road into a snow-drift on a side road and by means of much reversing and starting by everyone pushing, we got out in 20 minutes and after that had no more adventures and got here about 1o'clock. We went to the one hotel and the one place that is open, got rooms and garage for the car and then the Colonel and I went and had lunch in the hotel.
We had soup, two small fishes and a pastry sort of thing and paid 18 Kronen (= 7 Kronen in normal times) each for it. We are going to live on our rations for the rest of the time. After lunch we started on our visits to mines and as they were up mountain paths we have to walk. The Colonel likes it. I don't. However. I manfully pull myself up. We did one between lunch and tea, had tea and then did another between tea and dinner. The first one was five miles and the second six miles and we only just arrived back at the hour appointed with our people for dinner. Dinner consisted of hors d'oeuvres: sardines (very bad ones) - Colonel's contribution, meat - bully beef - (cold) and potatoes. Sweet:- biscuits and chocolate. Drink: wasser.
After this sumptuous meal we received an audience. The Burgomeister and Assistant Burgomeister of the town. We had an hour's conversation with them. My part of the proceedings was to give them ration cigarettes as each one was smoked out and say "Jah" or words to that effect to every sentence hurled at me. They have only just departed - and with many handshakes. I am very glad they came and I feel awfully sorry for Austria as she was absolutely duped by Germany and now these people are really half starved. Before the war this was a great holiday resort and has really wonderful scenery; great lakes like seas with woods stretching down to them; high mountains all around and all the country people with typical Tyrol costume. This is another place that my little girlie must come to, bless her angel heart.
During the war, no visitors have come here and there is absolutely no produce or a very tiny amount grown here and Germany cannot send them any and Austria is in revolution and disorganised so the plight of these people here is very parlous and I am very sorry for them.
Tomorrow we go and audit other salt mines round here and hope to get back to Salzburg tomorrow but it all depends on how quick we are and if the snow in the passes permits. So far we have not come upon any traces of English prisoners and I am certain there are none in this area but we have to assure ourselves by visiting the mines themselves and seeing their books etc. They had Russians, Serbians and Italians here but no English or French and these others have all gone away now.
The mines are simply long tunnels bored into the mountains with side tunnels running off. The salt is found mixed with earth - about 60% salt which is very good. This is chipped from off the sides of the workings, loaded on to trucks and tipped into the tanks of water. The salt dissolves and the earth is left as residue. The salt water is then run off through pipes to Ischal or Hallstat where the water is evaporated and the salt left and that is the ordinary rock salt used for horses. The table salt is refined from that. The district round here must be awfully wonderful in the summer as it is quite wonderful even now.
This, I think, is all my today's adventures and I shall hope to continue this letter tomorrow night all being well. Goodnight my sweet little heart ... I want you with every breath of me ...
We are still here my little Baby and have had a simply appalling day today. We were to start out for a place called Aussee this morning by car at 8o'clock but suddenly the Colonel decided that the road would be impassable by car on account of the snow which was very likely so we swallowed breakfast as fast as we could and rushed off to the station to catch the one and only train during the day - the 8o'clock- and just managed it on time. We arrived in Aussee at 10.30 and went straight to the salt works office there and then, by sleigh. It was some four miles to the salt mines and back to Aussee. The sleigh ride was the best part of the whole day and it was really nice but I had rather it were for pleasure than for duty.
We caught the 12.30 train for Hallstatt and got there by 1o'clock having crossed the Hallstaten See by a small steam boat from the railway station. At Hallstat we were supposed to meet the car but it was nowhere to be seen and so we telephoned to Ischal to find out why. They said they could not get to us on account of the road and so the only thing to do was to walk to the place where the car could get to.
We visited the salt mine at Hallstat and a small museum there which is awfully interesting, had a small lunch and started off for the car. We had to walk sixteen or seventeen kilometres before we got to the car and this was through snow and it was snowing all the time we were walking. One slipped from one side to the other and mostly backwards and it was an appalling walk altogether. The worst of it all was that the car could have quite easily come all the way to us but some village people had told them that they could not do it and so they didn't try. I was real angry when I did get to the car because they just didn't try to help. However, we are back in the hotel once more and, snow permitting, we are going to try to get to Salzburg tomorrow and do some more mines in that district. We shall do it alright I think - but it will mean walking and pushing up most of the hills; but once at Salzburg we are on the level and all ought to be well.
So far we have found absolutely no trace of any British prisoners and I do not think that we shall. I am so tired this evening Baby darling and my legs ache so. I do wish I had a dear, kind little wife who would undress me and put me to bed. Do you think she would if she were here? Good night my lovely one ...