Thoughts on the subject several years after: on Ingrid and the world she belonged to
My marriage to Ingrid and the fact that I had now become part of a well-to-do, distinguished Austrian family for whom the concepts of honour, tradition and duty were everything, and the provincial way of life in a small rural community the only one they knew at that time after the war made me think seriously about what we were going to do with our lives after the end of my military service with the British Army. I knew I could not remove Ingrid from her beloved family, friends and homeland, Austria, without breaking her heart and so I did what I myself wanted too – I began to prepare myself for a future life with my Austrian bride in the land of my adoption. We made a home and made plans for me to study at the university after I had quit the British Army.
Ingrid died suddenly in her mother’s arms shortly before midnight on Saturday, 30th April 1949, two years later. She was 25 and our married life had barely begun. By that time Ingrid knew that our future home would not mean her having to part from family and friends: so, thankfully, she had died without what she herself in a letter to my parents in England had called ‘this shadow across her life’ with me. The whole of the township of Weiz mourned her, as we did.
Ingrid’s death marked the finish of the happy relationship I had enjoyed with my father-in-law for reasons that today seem trivial and irrelevant, the more so since he had always attached the greatest regard to having a son-in-law who was both an Englishman and a soldier. Austria has changed with the times since those days. Austria was still bound then by pre-war traditions like the importance of one’s origins and service to one’s country: these were things which were important to middle-class and upper-class families in the Province. They mattered even more in those scattered, isolated rural communities which lay, historically, at the furthest edge of a German-speaking empire facing the east in the green hills and mountains of Austria’s eastern province beyond Graz. Here, life was still essentially parochial and conservative and the standards of common, civilized behaviour set by local aristocratic families or the new patriarchal families from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, like Ingrid’s, whose responsibilities had been very much akin to those of, say, the landed gentry in an English shire. It was part of an older Europe where, for instance, people outside the city were still referred to as “peasants”. At the beginning, then, for me and for my English friends too in the army this was a world utterly alien to us.
Indeed, it wasn’t just a clash of cultures: for nothing in Ingrid’s childhood in a manorial home staffed with servants, in her class background or her expectations from life as a young lady from a wealthy background bore the remotest resemblance to my own; I know now that it was largely because I was English and wore an army uniform with some small degree of authority that my rank in the intelligence service gave me, coupled with the fact that I spoke a High German, or educated German, that I had had any access to her world at all… Had I not been so young and arrogant myself, because of this background I would have realized that I was hopelessly out of my depth. In particular, the admiration for England and things English amongst the upper echelons of provincial Austrian society never ceased to amaze me.
Why, then, my father-in-law’s attitude changed afterwards has never been clear to me. I was aware that he had reservations about my duties as a responsible member of British counter intelligence in a country under military rule; neither did we see eye to eye, as people who had fought on opposite sides in the recent war of ideologies, about the merits of the National Socialist system to which my father-in-law had subscribed from the very early days in Austria.
Thankfully, such considerations had never ever clouded my marriage with Ingrid; nor did they now affect my relationship with Ingrid’s mother which, in our shared grief, became much closer. The reason I requested permission to return to England to quit the regular army prematurely and came back to live in our home in Austria was largely out of my affection for her, and because she had asked me to.