The Prince of Wales came to our billets at mess-time last evening – a slight, unassuming chap. A shockingly dressed cook showed him round. At midnight when I had started my broken night’s rest, it was further curtailed by the Sergt. Major waking me to ask if I should like to be in a river trip early tomorrow.
[Image: Group portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales (left front) standing with Major General Andrew Russell and staff officers at the New Zealand Divisional Headquarters in Leverkusen during the occupation of Germany after World War I. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Maitland (Jumbo) Wilson is in the centre behind them. Photograph taken January 1919 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/1-002118-G]
Just returned from a performance of Faust, remarkable for the magnificence of its scenery and setting. The magic scene (a la Venusberg) was a revelation in stagecraft. Mephistopheles was taken by one Frederic Schorr – splendid voice.
Having fasted since lunch, I have just toasted half a rissole and two small crusts, rescued from breakfast, which, washed down by half a cup of cold tea, have restored my pristine and titanic energies. I refuse to go to bed – I don’t want to make my bunk – “I tell ye I’ll not clane our me cell! I’ll lave the goal first!” I shall read “New Zealand at the Front” and continue smoking.
[Image: A group of soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, NZ Rifle Brigade, enjoy the joke of reading a copy of the publication ‘New Zealand at the Front’ while seated on a captured German anti-tank gun. Photo taken at ‘Clapham Junction’ a muddy part of the battlefield in Belgium on 20 November 1917 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-012980-G]
Having consumed a vast quantity of cold porridge rescued from breakfast, I did not feel in at all an artistic mood when on a damp pier I attempted to sketch the majestic “Dom”.
Having some porridge to spare, I put it aside for future reference, to obviate all temptation to indulge in “stew”. Having strapped the lid on my mess tin, I promptly forgot its plenitude, and hung it above my bunk. Porridge-juice mingled with melted sugar has been dripping over my belongings.
Out exercising horses this afternoon. On return had a gallop, and my “lead” broke away and got lost. Eventually found him in another battery’s stables with a guilty look on his face.
9 p.m. – I find it hard to define my impressions of “Jenufa”. I know not who is or was Janacek, its composer.* Most of the khaki audience were frankly bored, and left early with much clatter. The first act found me much of their persuasion. In the second, the tragedy gathered, the music began to get a hold on me. To my mind it succeeds in its revelation of sorrow, anguish, remorse, and, towards the end of the last act, of grateful devotion and forgiveness.
The first scene, a mill on a sunny slope, with poplars and the millwheel revolving in the background, remains in my memory.
* It was not until 20 years afterwards that I learnt per The Oxford Companion to Music all about him.
Germany is working entirely on paper money. I have not seen a coin above ½ mark value, and as a rule even 10 pfennings are paper money, i.e. ½d.
The Rhine is now several feet lower than when we arrived; confined between walls, its width does not vary. Powerful tugboats are forever hauling strings of barges up and down. As an indication of the value some Huns place upon their iron crosses – one was sold to an artillery-man for 10 marks. The shortage of food etc. seems to be acute, and one is forever being pestered with cadgers, whilst the more unscrupulous are making small fortunes trading their (and other’s) belongings to civilians. Some fellows imagine that it is possible to live two lives, and that their post-war characters will not suffer from acts done in uniform in strange lands.
9.30 p.m. The scheme of the opera (Tales of Hoffman) as far as I could guess is to portray several tales or legends told at a tavern gathering – the opera opening and closing with the tavern scene. The act in which the well-known barcarolle occurs was of extraordinary sensuousness, as that theme would suggest. The piece is of an uncommon, seductive and entertaining character. In one act is a lady automaton, or mechanical doll, who walks, sings, and dances in a manner amazingly clever and machine-like. Another scene appeared to depict the hallucinations of a girl dying of consumption.
Have I told you how the Huns raven for “chocolade” – they will sell their very souls for it. Apparently it has been unobtainable for years, and was once their almost indispensible confection.
Having no ticket for Don Juan, but with two other diggers, I ascend to one of the circles, where we bribed a Machiavellian flunky by a handful of paper money, to stand up at the back. A woman squeezed closer to her hubby and made room for me, so there I was, missing only most of the first scene. Of course, I couldn’t follow the story. The Don was a whiskered, be-hatted, lady chaser, with robe-suspended rapier, who must, forsooth, be surrounded by diaphanous dancing damsels, even at his dinner. Some delightful singing, nevertheless, and I can stand any number of musical evenings of anything like the same quality.
I see that in the Schauspielhaus, where drama is enacted, they are putting on Euripides, Ibsen, and so forth – if one only understood German.
The attitude of the people here is now quite friendly. They are apparently glad to have our protection in view of the riots etc. in unoccupied parts of the Vaterland.
J. and I sat on the banks of the Rhine, and drew a large Lutheran church across the stream.
Met Hun skinflint, and received two seats for Tales of Hoffman, and brought in legitimate manner seats for Thursday’s performance – Jenufa, by one Janacek – and then cantered upstairs to hear Der Frieshutz. It was unintelligible to us as drama, but we enjoyed much of the music. It comprised supernatural elements – His Satanic Majesty – appearing – re-appearing and disappearing with accommodating frequency and promptitude, amid surroundings of Dantesque gruesomeness: in fact, at one stage of the proceedings brimstone and treacle were flying about in all directions. It is a long opera, interspersed with much unaccompanied conversation, during which we Englanders were out of the joke, but several of the hunting scenes and interiors were beautifully staged, and the singing left little to be desired. It contained two very familiar airs.
Returned to barracks, I am enjoying a second musical treat – a mouth organ!
Now used to counting our money in marks. The trouble is that it fluctuates from day to day, like the Rhine with the rains.
[Image: Sketch of Lutheran church across Rhine, Cologne, by Lincoln Lee, 11 January 1919]