My parents met in Brussels in 1946. It's not clear why or how my mother Rose and her sister Violet managed to afford a long weekend in Brussels after the war, or even why they went to Brussels. They were both nurses. There was some story about visiting Belgian soldiers they had been writing to, but why weren't they writing to English soldiers? We shall never know.
Only one side of the correspondence remains: my father's letters and cards to my mother. We found them when she died in a bundle like this:
The messages are constantly punctuated by "his date of departure". With a Polish passport only valid for Brazil or Palestine he had to leave Belgium soon. He was planning to leave as soon as he could find a boat to take him, working his passage.
Meeting in July? 1946
The cards start 5 August 1946 and are sent to the Cassell Hospital (where my mother was still working) and signed by Nykolay. The spelling changed later in life to Nicolai. There are cards and letters (sometimes together) every 4 or 5 days in 1946.
Letter 5 August
"en souvenir de notre rencontre et de cette magnifique soiree plein de charme". This seems to have been a concert with the Symphonique Pastorale.
Letter says very pleased to have English girl to think of him when he leaves the Continent and goes "vers les pays de soleil". Please send a photo. I'm leaving on 10 or 30 September to Brazil.
Letter on 16 August (half in English)
Expects her to come for 3 days. Date of departure not fixed but depends on "American Joint Distribution Committee". But the letter says "Le jeune homme blond qui pense toujours a vous". Photos always show him with dark hair.
Letter on 22 August
"happy to meet you just as another page of my life begins"
Visit No 2?
Planned for 26-28 August as Nick is departing 10 Sept. But didn't go as card and letter arrives during that period, says ?come later in the month and we can see some beautiful museums?.
Card on 5 September
"Il faut travailler pour gagner son pain quotidien" a phrase so typical and repeated so many times in later life that it became a joke between us. After I had a wellpaid job, and our family poverty was well past, I used to joke that I was now working for the jam and not just the bread
Letter of 9 September
Says "when we went to the country"
Letter of 27 Sept
Said " how not to lose one's head and not be sad when it's necessary to say goodbye". Asks her to be his wife and get married before the departure which was now fixed 12-15 October.
Letter 1st October
Says can she stay another day to do a declaration of eventual marriage at the consulate of Brazil to facilitate her voyage to Brazil. She has clearly met some of his friends: Mr et Mme Boifort (sic) les artistes vous trouvent tres distinguee et ils sont tres enchantes de vous avoir vu surtout Mme Boifort. Elle vous trouve tres gentille jolie and tres kultivee (sic), une vraie citoyeene du monde, un amie de la Nature.
Letter 2nd October
says thanks for the letter and nice books plus an autumn leaf as a sign of la Nostalgie. He got the present (2 handkerchiefs and two books in Polish).
Letter on 5 Oct
Seems to have been trouble before. She refused "categorique" to stay another day and maybe that was the end of our beautiful dream?. It seems there was a misunderstanding: "Believe me, I am not what you think. Just a simple worker, a poor Foreigner without fortune and "nu solitaire". But then he goes on: "are you certain that your father will let you marry a Foreigner without a fortune? I hope we have separated as good friends, and maybe you could write and I would reply".
Letter from O and R Beaufort, Ixelles, 7 Oct 46
Mme O Beaufort: M Nikolay est tour a tour gai et triste en pensant a vous: il lui arrive d'avoir des craintes pour l'avenir et je crois que vous feriez bien de lui remonter serieusement le moral, il a si peur qui vous changiez d'idee et est si triste d'etre separe de vous!?
M R Beaufort: Nikolay is a big child and to grow a so big child and so old one denotes a good hearth (heart?) and character. On the other part it seems me You possess all is necessary to be a good mother for him. So I am feeling You both will form a good association to(?) which I wish You might found a little bit of paradise.?
Card 9 October
They are back to normal and he is wishing her a good journey to him.
Letter 12 October
It seems she is planning another trip (to patch things up before he leaves?) But he doesn't think this is going to be possible. Maybe it was just a language misunderstanding as the letter mentions her going to school to learn French. He sends some photos from the Beauforts.
Letter 20 October
She is back in Stoke, and he is writing about her terrible anger: "comme une Maman pour moi et je vous promet sincerement de ne plus etre si exigent et de me corriger et d'etre plus sage".
Bad news: the Brazilian Consul won't prolong the visa, and he has to go when planned. But they can write to the government of Brazil and wait some more.
Letter 23 October
He is suggesting that she was so sad at their separation she should forget him, and this might be better, even if he can't forget her. Bad news from Anvers (Brazilian Consul) same as last letter, and they are not allowing Emigration. The Steamer leaves on 16 Nov from Bordeaux. "I will send you some silk stockings, please say what size and colour, or if you prefer I will send the money".
Letter 3 Nov
Thanks for the letter and card plus the poem of Sir Philip Sidney. Good news: the Consul has given him a visa without consulting the authorities in Rio. It's an exception. He will go on 5 or 20 December. It's already too late for the 16 Nov. He also got a new temporary Belgian permission for working.
Letter 6 Nov
She says she wants to come one more time to Brussels, but he doesn't want her to spend any more money. He has a letter from Brazil saying he has to present himself to get the visa.
Got Brazilian visa on 28 Oct, but boat departure planned 5 or 20 December delayed due to repairs.
Letter 22 November
He has some work as "mecanicien", so on Sundays he can go to the Opera. He recommends Cavalleria Rusticana and Les Pecheurs des Perles. "It's a poem and a symphonie of love, friendship and heroism."
Letter 27 November
Departure date for the boat now set for 30 Jan 47, with visa only extended till 28 Jan 1947. He went to Anvers in France to look for a new boat. The Committee is trying to find another way for him to leave, if possible, and Mr Baumann from the Committee has not yet left for Australia as planned.
Letter 2 December
Some good news: Mr Bauman has found a passage to Brazil via Spain at the end of December.
Letter 13 December
Now he thinks he is leaving on 20 December to Genoa in Italy and from there on 26 December to Brazil. He is making arrangements for letters to be sent to his friend's address in Etterbeek, but still hoping to see her. I want to give you "un Manteaux nouveau de l'arme Americain teint de bleu marin" for the winter and several other things which the post won"t accept.
Letter 18 December
Departure now put back to January. Still planning a visit, but saying don't waste money or make sacrifices.
Letter 19 December
"Ma bien-aimee a Noel et la nouvelle Annee a Minuit (12 hr) je leverai mon verre a votre sante et a votre bonheur et alors mes pensees seront pour vous.
Card 11 Jan says hope you got back safely to "Engleterre"
Letter 13 January
After a visit. I beg pardon if I have left a bad impression. He has been to Anvers to the Brazilian consul to get the visa extended and the probable departure is now 15 Feb from Rotterdam.
Letter 16 January
Now leaving 4 Feb from Rotterdam.
Card 2 Feb
leaving on board SS Alphard for Rio.
It's not clear on which visit these photos were taken.
Card 24 Feb
Says arrived safely
There is more information about Brazil here
Card 17 May Santos
Thanks for your letter of 6 May. I am on the Belgian boat Kapitain Praef bound for Belgium.
Card 27 May 1947 addressed to Rose Bridge
I am on my way to Anvers on the SS Paret de Loup Maritime Belge. I hope to arrive at the end of June. "Votre Mechant Nikolay"
Card 11 August addressed to Mme Rose Kosmyryk, Hindhead Surrey
Very miserable to be separated.
Letter 14 August
Very miserable to be separated.
Card 18 August
"Ah ma Rose, vous etes vraiment comme ma Maman". Your sister Violet asked me to meet her at the Gare du Nord on 15 August, before her departure, but she didn't come, the naughty girl. I wanted to give her some chocolate for you.
talking about going to England
Rose coming to Brussels not worth the money.
24 Oct letters addressed to Mme Kosmyryk.
Undated card addressed to Queen Charlotte's Hospital London
Best wishes for ?votre? bebe.
Got the telegram.
Telegram from Queen Charlotte's, hoped to come at Christmas
12 January 1948 to Hove
Good news from the Home Office. I just have one thought, to see you again, get married and leave happily with you ever after. Votre Niky
Card Jan 48
No work, because of the crisis
6 Feb Rose got permission for him to come to England. Aimed to go 19 Feb.
Comments by Helene
I haven't used my French much since school and only lived there for 4 months, most of which I spent with my small children, speaking English. Nevertheless, I have no difficulty reading these letters. So it seems a shame to translate everything and lose the original flavour.
It's clear this was a whirlwind romance since they only seem to have met three or four times for very short periods. The letters don't contain much information about their joint interests or plans together. Since I was born in November 1947 I was clearly produced during the very last visit, before Nick went to Brazil.
Reliability and speed of the post
It seems incredible that people with not much money could send letters back and forth like this every two or three days without losing any or much crossing in the post.
The letters always refer to her as vous. No intimate address in those days. When does one change to "tu"? After you get married? One of my Ukrainian friends admitted she had only changed after they got married, as her husband was rather older than her and deserved respect. At least at the time he did, later a different story!
Brazil v Palestine?
I never heard any discussion about going to Palestine or any justification for the choice of Brazil. Why were these the only options for displaced persons in Belgium at the time? Why did Brazil close emigration (sic)? Update: we realised that in 1946, the state of Israel had not been created, so as someone with documents saying he was liberated from Belsen, going to Palestine meant in fact going to what was to become Israel.
Maman pour moi?
Is this a chance remark which turns into a joke between them, or is it a comment on the real basis of their relationship? The story of his mother is not yet written. His father was killed in World War I and his mother "went off", (no explanation ever provided) so perhaps he did need a mother.
Throughout the letters, there is a real desperation to find a way to leave Belgium and use this opportunity to go to Brazil. Why was it not possible for him to stay in Belgium where he had lived since 1928? Something strange here, though the story found in the Belgian War Archives shows perhaps why he wanted to get away.
Long flowery speeches
Many of these in the letters. We always used to smile at him "lifting his glass of wine" and making a big speech, little realising it's really common to make proper toasts in Eastern Europe.
English cards available in Brussels?
What's quite strange is he manages to send English cards, even Christmas cards and a calendar to her from Brussels. Why not send French?