Alice spent the war in America with Erwin, but unlike his family, all her family survived. I was intrigued to know where they had been and what they had been doing. Among the treasure trove of documents from the Czech Archives, I found some answers.
Alice’s sister, Eva, seven years her junior, is almost as interesting as Alice herself. Both had attended Charles University in Prague, but whereas Alice had studied Law, Eva had studied Natural Sciences, gaining her doctorate in 1935 and then completing a teaching diploma in 1937. According to my father, it had been through Eva that Alice became involved with the communist party. When Alice had attended the university in the late 1920s, politics had not been such an urgent subject, but ten years later, with the rise of fascism in Germany, the political landscape had changed. As a university student in Prague, Eva had far more contacts and opportunity to be involved in activism than Alice, a married lawyer working in Zilina. No wonder it was through Eva that Alice made contact with the rising communist party.
After the Munich Agreement, it became clear that Czechoslovakia was a dangerous place to be, as a communist and as a Jew. Those who could, made plans, and Alice, having returned from Spain, followed Erwin to America, via Belgium. Both Glasner girls were good linguists and could speak German, French and English, as well as Czech, Slovak and Hungarian. This opened up opportunities for work abroad.
In 1939 the Czech military mission moved to Brussels and this was where Eva found her first employment, in the office of the military and consular department. She and Alice may have lived together for a short while before Alice set sail across the Atlantic. On 11th May 1940, the Czech mission was forced to move again, this time to Paris, and Eva moved with it, and continued her work there for another month at least. I have yet to discover where she went after that, but by 1942 she was in London, living at 30 Chepstow Court, Chepstow Crescent in W11. She was receiving a stipend from the Education Department of the Czech Ministry of the Interior and working as a researcher at the Jodrell Laboratory, Kew Gardens.
On November 23rd 1942 she started her research work under the direction of Dr C.R. Metcalfe, looking especially into rubber producing plants. It must have been quite a trek to Kew each day, a journey of at least an hour in the blackout, and when she returned home, there was always more to do. She was active in any spare time she had; through her involvement with the Czechoslovak British Friendship Club, based at 19 Pembridge Villas, W11, which unlike Kew, was conveniently near to her flat. In fact, it is also near to the present Czech Embassy and Czech Centre which I visit every Thursday for my Czech language lessons. Finding out about Eva’s work in London and finding myself treading the same pavements in the same area has brought home to me a world that had seemed quite remote. All that I have been reading about took place in mainland Europe or America, but here was Alice’s sister, nearly on my doorstep.
Eva was not just a member of the Czechoslovak British Friendship Club, she was on its executive committee. The committee were all Czech, but the patrons of the club were British and included Lord Faringdon, Julian Huxley, Dame Sybil Thorndyke and Lilian Bowes-Lyon. They were an interesting group of people. I had heard of Sybil Thorndyke and Julian Huxley, but the other names were unfamiliar to me, apart from Bowes Lyon, which I correctly assumed belonged to a relative of the Queen Mother, her cousin, in fact. On looking her up, she turned out to be a fascinating woman in her own right who lived in Bow during the war and worked to help the poor of Stepney as well as helping evacuees and supporting the kinder transport. For more about her, see the link below. Lord Faringdon, a Labour Peer, had, like Alice, worked as a volunteer in a hospital during the Spanish Civil War, so shared the sisters’ commitment to the Republican cause and could have discussed it with Eva, who knew all about her sister’s year in Spain.
The aims of the club, were expressed as follows: “We are united in the determination to do our utmost to help the fight of our nations for the liberation of our country. Our aims are.. to unite all Czechoslovaks in Great Britain irrespective of nationality, political or religious conviction… To help every individual to be fully conscious of this unity in every action for the war effort, and so to contribute in every way to the common victory over Hitler Fascism (sic).” The club organised many social and cultural activities, including theatrical performances and concerts by English artists, lectures, educational courses, choral singing, gymnastics and sport. It had a library and published its own books and periodicals. It also provided a place where refugees could meet and socialise, as well as an advice centre to help them deal with practical problems such as accommodation, work and legal issues. Although the club explicitly emphasised its inclusive nature and its cultural activities, its aims were political. In the British security service records held now in the National Archives, the club is described as “communist controlled” and Franz Hampl, alias Frantisek, a leading figure in the club, was expelled from the country for spying.
Eva was a communist before she ever came to England and so to find out that her activities continued once here, is no surprise. There is definitely more to find out about the Czechoslovak British Friendship Club and when I go to Kew to read the documents, I shall think of Eva, seventy four years ago, just a few streets away, on her daily journey to the Jodrell Laboratory.
There is one more mystery about Eva (for now – I live in a world of ever deepening mysteries) and this is about Eva’s travels at the end of the war. As well as papers covering her time in England, I have a copy of her passport and she was a well travelled woman! In 1944 and 1945 before the end of the war, she travelled widely in the Middle East, visiting Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Palestine, as well as stopping on a couple of occasions in the Soviet Union. What was she doing?
It is strange to think about the separate lives that could have intersected. My mother worked as a secretary for SOE in Baker Street during the war, she and Eva could have passed each other on the street completely unaware of their future connection through my father.
It is also still a mystery for me what happened to Eva in the years after the war. For a while she still worked for the Czech government as a member of the Czechoslovak Women Council’s Central Action Committee. But so far that is all I know…