Mother and daughter remember
The following short piece is part of my mother’s reminiscences of her childhood. I am not sure precisely when the event took place but it must have been in the 1930s. My mother’s younger brother was born in 1928 and both he and my mother came to England, from Vienna, in 1938 when Hitler invaded Austria. My mother is Ulla Frisch and she has lived in Cambridge since the 1940s.
Picking wild flowers, by Ulla Frisch
“We used to spend our summer holidays in a small place called Grundlesee. There was a lake surrounded by mountains.
My younger brother and I played with the village children, we went where they went and soon knew where to find wild strawberries. They taught us their songs and dances and we became like them, you couldn’t tell the difference.
One day as I was walking home I was stopped by a grey-haired lady who admired the flowers I had picked. What were they called, she asked in somewhat halting German. We were used to foreign visitors as the place was near Salzburg, so I thought I would try my English on her – so we got on fine.
Would I find her some wild flowers for her son who was a botanist, in fact he ran a botanic garden in England. Her name was Mrs Gilmour and her son was called John.*”
*Before becoming Director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden in 1951, John Gilmour had been Assistant Director of RBG Kew from 1931-1946 and then Director of the RHS flagship garden, Wisley from 1946-51. Ulla Frisch’s recollection of picking wild flowers in Austria would seem to coincide with when John Gilmour was at RBG Kew.
Elsie Walton’s bench, by Monica Frisch
My mother and I have enjoyed visiting the Botanic Garden together since I returned to Cambridge in 2004. On one occasion she mentioned that there was a bench in memory of her friend Elsie Walton. So I kept my eyes open for it and on one visit located it near the Main Lawn.
She had met Elsie Walton soon after coming to London in 1938, through a Quaker refugee committee that provided her with a small grant. In return my mother offered to help by translating for the new arrivals. Elsie Walton and her husband, Arthur Walton, an agriculturalist and pioneer of artificial insemination, lived in Girton, Cambridge. Many of his students were British Council scholars from Africa, China and Burma, who were stranded in the UK because of the war and had nowhere to spend Christmas or New Year. They, and my mother, were befriended by Arthur and Elsie Walton, and warm and lasting friendships formed. When she died in 1996, these friends clubbed together and bought a bench in her memory, on which is inscribed “Elsie Walton 1908 – 1996 in memory of her outstanding contribution to international peace and good will gifted by her many friends”.
On a subsequent visit, I took my mother to see the bench and she was delighted to be able to tell the two women sitting on it about the woman in whose memory the bench was bought.