like the ruins of those ruins

November 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

like-the-071113

On March 7 1939, a few months before the beginning of the Second World War, and just nine days before Germany invaded Czechoslavakia, a German woman called Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, described by Hitler as ‘the perfect Nazi Woman’, arrived at Croydon Airport and was met by the wife of the German Ambassador Frau von Dirksen. A few hours later Scholtz-Klink was introduced to Lady Douglas-Hamilton, formerly Prunella Stack, coincidentally known as ‘Britain’s Perfect Girl’.

They were both at a dinner at Claridges organised by the Anglo-German Fellowship who had invited Scoltz-Klink over to London, ostensibly, “to study the work done by and for English women” but were very keen to publicise the connections and similarities between the two nations despite an almost certain war quickly approaching…

Prunella Stack, despite her young age, was the leader of the two hundred thousand strong Women’s League of Health and Beauty and she was one of the most famous women in the country at the time – the Daily Mail had recently described her as ‘the most physically perfect girl in the world’.

Nine months before Gertrud Schlotz-Klink’s visit to London, during the summer of 1938, five thousand enthusiastic members of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty had performed in front of a huge crowd on the bright green grass of the fifteen year old Empire Stadium in Wembley. The finale of the ‘Empire Pageant’ featured an impressive Greek-influenced athletic dance with women in white tunics carrying swords, shields and javelins.

Suddenly some grecian-style chariots emerged from the tunnel drawn by horses that were meant to gallop around the cinder athletic track that surrounded the famous turf. Instead they charged across the pitch scattering performers in every direction; totally upsetting the careful choreography of the event. At one point, realising that flaming torches were involved, Mr Herbert, Wembley’s overweight manager, stood with arms outstretched shouting “For God’s sake, Ladies! For God sake, take care!”…

On the 15th October 1938 Prunella married a Scottish Laird, Lord David Douglas-Hamilton the youngest son of the 13th Duke of Hamilton. At their first meeting, at the opening of a swimming pool, he impressed her that he was keen to start a fitness summer school in the Highlands. As he said goodbye, he took her hand and examined her fingernails. “I’m glad you don’t paint them,” he said, “I hate artificiality.”

Douglas Hamilton had German and Austrian friends (his best man was Prince Ernst August of Hanover) and before their wedding they went on  holiday just days after the 8th Army of the German Wehmacht had marched into Austria to be greeted by cheering Austrians with cheers, Nazi flags and salutes. Prunella, in her auto-biography, described Bands of Hitler Youth marching through the streets shouting ‘Jeder Deutsche stimmt mit ‘ja’. Nur ein Schwein stimmt mit ‘Nein’. (Every German votes with ‘yes’. Only a swine votes with ‘no’.)

Prunella also visited Germany in the summer of 1938 after the League had been invited to participate that summer in a Physical Education Congress sponsored by Kraft durch Freude. Prunella and the rest of the League women stayed on the luxurious cruise-ship Wilhelm Gustloff from which they watched mass demonstrations of German physical culture and folk-dancing.

The British Women’s League of Health and Beauty performed twice – “their neat black and white uniforms and slim figures contrasted with the generous build of the blonde German girls,” Prunella later wrote. On the ship she was introduced to the Reichsportsfuhrer, Herr von Tschammer und Osten, Dr Ley, the leader of Kraft durch Freude and even Himmler.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Becker & Maaß

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