Domestic Service

The Moncrieffs were unbelievably good. With a tact that really needs remembering. The first day we came and you feel like the last dirt on earth. You have no money; your language is very bad; and you have nobody. You have no doctor; you have no uncle; you have no aunt; you have nobody, in a strange city, in Edinburgh had no relatives .. and what did they do? She lays the breakfast table for me, my husband and Hannah, who was nine months old, in the lounge, and she lays a table for herself, her husband and the boy in the kitchen. Wonderful! You know, makes you feel like a Mensch again. Wonderful! So they were very, very good to us. And I mean I did the housework for them.

It was difficult being thrown into a completely different language & everything. They had 3 children not all that young. I think she did it really just to help to get people out. Very nice people, very nice.

You could only come to England as a household help, with children or cleaning or whatever. That’s the only way. Unless you were a child.

I think the worst job was that terrible woman who hated me and I hated her. In Surrey. ‘The Master’ and ‘the Mistress’. I don’t think we could stand the sight of each other. And she was really- You know, people always felt they could say anything because, you know, domestic servants didn’t count. They weren’t human beings. They were just something.

I was trying to get Claire over. And I thought she would have made a wonderful domestic servant. And I tried, I pleaded with the people you know to find a sponsor for her. To find somebody who would employ here. And I assured her that she would be a treasure, unlike me. [half-laughs] And she did find somebody. But the Home Office wouldn’t have her because she was two years too old. She was fifty-seven, and they said the age limit was fifty-five. But although I know people who were older and got over. My aunt was older, and she got over, because the Quakers got her over. I suppose it depended on the sort of clout you have. And, and I couldn’t get- And I never got over that, you know, that I... I couldn’t save her.

And we came, and Aunty Gussie took us to their business. They had a gown place in London, in the West End. They were making evening gowns. And she spoke to us in Yiddish, which-, we knew German, we knew a little bit of Yiddish, but not an awful lot. And we stayed in their place for a little while. But my uncle and aunt with their whole family was there and another aunt. They had too many people there. So they put me in these domestic jobs, which were no good at all.

A beautiful house in very large grounds, lots of rooms, tennis court, two cars, and very beautiful as you can see in the picture. After war broke out and all the other staff left, I was the head cook and bottle washer, who kept the household going.

They [her employers] had the [youngest daughter's wedding] reception in the house and I prepared the reception which wasn’t actually a total success because I wasn’t familiar with English food.

Well strange was of course the food and me being cook. I found it very strange because a lot of the food, of course, I didn’t even know. For instance, one of the daughters got married just as the war broke out, and the reception was at home, and I was asked to make veal and ham pie. Well the ham didn’t worry me, the veal didn’t worry me, but the pie bit worried me, because that’s a totally not continental thing, to serve meat and pastry. Pastry is jam or cheese, or God knows what, but certainly not meat. And it was an absolute disaster that I produced there, and somehow we survived it, I don’t know, the pastry, so called, was that hard, they needed a chain saw to cut it. However, it was OK.

When war was declared? It was a lovely sunny day. None of you know this, but it was a lovely sunny day. It was a Sunday, and I was cooking roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and peas and was podding the peas. And Mrs Hunt came in the kitchen and said, ‘War, we are now at war with Germany’. And that of course was very traumatic because one knew that everything was, well, cut off then. But still work was so demanding one didn’t even have time to think about it.

I had the domestic permit. We had to clean the rooms every day - although there was nobody in them. I also had to clear the grates, then the butler came after and laid the fire. The butler and the cook were the most important people. We were supposed to be in the servants’ hall with the others. So if I sat in the room, I had either the choice of sitting there in the cold or joining the others in the servants’ room.


@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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