A really special post this week as I’m joined by fellow Choc Lit author Anni Rose to talk about her real life heroine. Over to Anni …
Thank you for inviting me on to your blog today Morton. A real-life hero was a tricky question for a girl, whose first love was Ivanhoe (apparently he might not have been real and so doesn’t count), and who had the poster of a wrestler on her wall as a young teenager. But, I have been incredibly lucky to have met many amazing people through my life, so being asked to pick just one real-life hero or heroine was difficult and required much thought.
Xenia is a good friend and another writer. We met many years ago at a writing class, held in our local arts centre. Twenty something years on, we still meet regularly to talk about all things writing related and she is still one of the only people I allow to see my first drafts —and criticise them. Currently she is writing her life story, which is full of many fascinating details and tells of a world far removed from my own. She has taught me so much. Xenia has already had part of her own story published by Penguin in their second decibel prize anthology, “From There to Here” which told of her arrival in the UK after the second world war as a stateless person under the Nansen passport scheme.
Xenia was from a large family, with a Russian father, a theologian and a choirmaster in the orthodox church who was forced to flee Russia in 1917. He met Xenia’s Dutch mother in Wiesbaden when she joined his choir as his principal soprano. They married in 1926, rendering her stateless as well. They had seven children, all of whom were also stateless. Xenia was number six.
In 1933, under Hitler’s regime, all foreigners became unable to work, those that could, left Germany. The regime closed all churches and took over most religious properties. When, Xenia’s father, trained in canon law, objected to the transfer he was further ostracised by his own church. They lived in a house next door to the church, some distance away from the town, without gas or electricity. Now unemployable, Xenia’s father grew food for his family, raising over 100 chickens — Xenia is still very fond of eggs! They weren’t persecuted, a woman who could produce seven children was respected by a regime who encouraged women to have at least four. And there was always a box of toys donated to them at Christmas.
They played a lot of games round the table, and had some lovely family times, life wasn’t bad. Xenia remembers being picked on and laughed at for being different, and when her eldest sister became 10, she wasn’t allowed to join the BDM (Bund Deutscher Mädel) The girls’ wing of the Nazi Party youth movement which all girls providing they were Ethnic Germans, German citizens, or free of hereditary diseases were forced to join. The BDM’s refusal to take Mausi highlighted how different the family were.
Xenia started school at six, but her school was soon closed when the bombing became more intense. She and her brother took to playing in the next-door churchyard or surrounding woods. In 1941 when Russia declared war Xenia’s father was arrested and taken away. He was returned after a week, but the situation had changed. Anybody not fighting on the frontline, had to work and he was given a job in an armaments’ factory.
When a whole block only a street away from Xenia’s family was hit one night by a failed German V-1, flying bomb, they survived, but lost all their windows, and everything was covered with an inch of dust. They were evacuated the next day to a room in pub in Michaelsbach, where they stayed until the end of the war. An eleven-year-old Xenia remembers that day clearly; everyone standing outside their houses watched as a German walked down the road, holding his gun above his head in surrender. Tanks and lorries, full of American troops, turned up their street. The man was taken away, but the tank guns circled threateningly.
Suddenly Xenia’s mother screamed ‘Where’s Vera?’
A desperate search ensued until they checked the cellar, where they found a terrified, shaking, youngster who had taken the instructions about where to hide when the enemies invaded to heart.
After the war, the Orthodox church in London and the Archbishop of Canterbury pulled out all the stops and flew her father into London aboard a British Army flight. He went on his own, but as soon as visas could be obtained, three of Xenia’s siblings joined him in 1948. The Home Office quota allowed Xenia and her sister to join them in 1949/50. A trip that involved both a lengthy train journey and a boat across the channel. Despite Xenia’s fear of water, she boarded the boat, promising herself it would be the only time she ever did it, even if that meant staying in a country where it always rains.
Their first day in the country was spent obtaining ration books and Alien Certificates of Registration which they had to carry at all times. In 1957, she applied for British citizenship, having to find four British sponsors and advertise her intention in the local newspapers. Finally, after much form filling and lengthy interviews it was granted and at the age of 24 she had a nationality, she belonged to a country and returned her Alien Certificate of Registration to the police. She was British, something her parents never achieved. They were older and both died stateless.
When finally, Xenia’s mother and two sisters travelled on German travel documents in August 1950 the family were reunited in London. Although Xenia was by then living with her aunt, following her uncle’s death, where she learnt a lot about church traditions and customs, while her youngest sister was sent to boarding school, a convent in Abingdon to learn English six days after she’d got off the train in England.
On a five-month course at a college in London, Xenia studied English for Foreigners, and flew through the exam in May, but struggled with the English language and all the colloquialisms. An employment agency finally found her a job in an office, where as office junior, one of her tasks was operating the telephone switchboard. She says, she hated it, because she couldn’t understand a word anybody said, or which buttons to press. But she persevered and with the help of women’s magazines, which she read voraciously, her English improved and she started to enjoy life in England.
Her eldest sister had joined the YWCA in London and one day took Xenia to a Christmas party organised by the Chalfont Park Canoe Club where she met her husband Ron, who was also a great friend.
Ron and I shared a love for photography and were members of the same camera club. Sadly, prostate cancer took Ron far too early in 2010, two years after their Golden anniversary.
Despite her fear of water and the fact she couldn’t swim, in their younger days they were both accomplished slalom canoeists. Xenia has a cup to prove this and Ron and his brother were part of the British slalom team.
Xenia has achieved many of her childhood ambitions, including that to be a mother, and a good one. She brought up four children who can all vouch for that and six grandchildren of whom she is inordinately proud. She has helped me with crochet. Her sauerkraut recipe is something we’d all rather forget, but as I write this, she is writing another part of her life story. My “Favourite Old Woman” and definitely somebody I am glad to count as a friend and my real life heroine.
Wow! I often describe my blogs as fascinating in a bid to get people to read them, but this one truly is fascinating! Thank you Anni and Xenia for sharing. Mx
About Anni Rose
As a child, Anni loved writing fiction, producing reams of stories, thankfully most of them have been lost over the years. She hopes these days her stories are a little more plot and character driven than the “Missing Custard” or the “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” both of which turned up recently, but the love of creating a fictional world is still very much there and Anni says, ‘If I am stuck on a plot or a character, I find writing in long hand with a lovely pen, is a really good way to get rid of any blocks’.
At the age of eight she came second to a good friend in the school writing competition and won a bag full of gobstoppers, fruit salad and blackjack sweets and thought she had hit the big time!
Further successes, if you exclude the weekly 37½ p postal orders that would regularly turn up from the Junior Bracknell News’s weekly spot the difference or word competitions, took a while longer to achieve.
On leaving school, despite harbouring desires to be a journalist, the need to earn a living sort of got in the way of writing and she became an accountant where her only published work apart from regular financial reports was the employees’ handbook.
A local writing course and an encouraging group of writing friends re-ignited the fiction flame many years later.
Anni would describe her writing these days as mainly modern romantic stories with a healthy dollop of humour thrown in.
Away from writing Anni can usually be found behind a camera, walking the dogs, enjoying one of her husband’s curries or sister’s bakery treats.
To keep in touch with Anni you can use the following links:-
About Recipe for Mr Perfect
How do you know if you’ve found Mr Perfect or Mr Perfectly Useless?
Jess Willersey realised things with Martin weren’t perfect, but it’s still a shock when he leaves. Is she destined to a singleton lifestyle with only her cat for company, or could a certain hat-astrophic encounter with a handsome stranger at a rather unusual wedding signal a turning point?
At the same time, Jess’s best friends and work colleagues, Maggie and Sarah, are going through their own personal disasters – from shocking family revelations to dodgy dating app-related drama.
To top it all off, it seems that the handsome stranger won’t remain a stranger – and when Neil Jackson turns up at the friends’ offices with yet another bombshell, how long will he stay ‘Mr Perfect’ in Jess’s eyes?
Book buying links below :
Google Books: https://bit.ly/3uVCGYv
As I was preparing this blog, Recipe for Mr Right was showing a lovely orange bestseller flag on Amazon. Mx
International Bestseller Summer at Lucerne Lodge was published as an eBook on 20 April 2021 and now available as a paperback and audio download too – Amazon Check on my Choc Lit author page for other purchasing options here