Tim to Roger – from Bonn in 1953

My Uncle Tim wrote to my Father on 4th August 1953. Tim is writing from 3, Liebfrauenweg, Bonn (OSM), and my father was living in Edinburgh by then.

Auslandsamt der Universität,


Liebfrauenweg, 3

Begun 4/8/53

Dear Roger, this will take the form of a supplement, or perhaps errata to my last letter. As before I shall only deal with what might be of technical interest to you, and will describe my other doings in a letter home.

I was rather dubious when they told me that goats rubbed the bark off the young trees (as reported in my letter) so I checked up and found they use the same word for deer, so they do have deer here.

First general remarks with no particular connection between them, and in no particular order.

During the war apparently a great deal was taken out of the German forests while very little was put back – I expect it was the same in Britain. One often sees tree-stumps about 6 ft. high round here – it means that they have had the top knocked off by a shell or bomb blast. In fact our sickles have often struck bits of shrapnel and occasionally remains of  incendiary bombs etc. Quite a few of the stumps are charred. I am also informed that they had a number of V.1‘s round here (when I speak of here I mean Prüm) and you frequently see great gaps in the woods. Apparently the steering used to go wrong, and they landed sooner than intended.

They have quite a lot of oak here, both the ordinary (European ?) and American Red Oak, which I am told grows more quickly but is consequently not so hard. After the oaks are a few years old they plant beech between them – something to do with keeping down weeds, I believe. The oaks are planted pretty close together – I forget really but I think they were only about 2 feet apart.

There are some rather fine beech woods round here, and natural regen is definitely practised with these – I believe it works out at 2 beech generations to 1 oak generation – I hope you see what I mean.

They have Japanese and European larch also. I have a note about lice and fleas, but I’m not sure if it fits in here. Is larch vulnerable to these horrors ? They have winter and summer limes, they have a flesh-eating plant called ‘Sonnentau‘ (I haven’t seen it) on the nearby Schneifel (I don’t mean they cultivate it !), they have Douglas-fir, of which more anon, and they have a tree with a name like Weimutzkiefer (Weimutz fir) which is also American and grows fast, but I gather it gets diseased rather easily.

I said in my first letter that erosion was quite a problem, but I’ve since been told that it’s not so bad, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to take your choice.

I managed to visit the plant garden during my last day in Prüm. It is surprisingly small – I should imagine only 70 yds x 40 yds or less. It lies in as much of a dip as can be found round here, is is surrounded by a wire-netting fence about 3’6″ high. As I’ve already said, most of the plants come from Halztenbeck when one year old and are replanted in the Pflanzgarten. Only half is being used, the other is full of lupins. (I forget if I’ve told you, but these are about the only thing we leave standing when we go at our larches/spruces/pines/firs). They cant grow from seed here as it is over 500 meters high and during the winter the ground freezes up. The soil round here is primarily clay, whereas I’m told you need a sandy soil for seeds.  As it is always pretty damp here it is especially good for spruce, as they can draw in the moisture through their needles as well as their roots. (Does that sound like spruce ?) The wire netting is primarily to control the rabbits which make a nuisance of themselves during the winter. I know this contradicts what I said in the first letter, but these things seem to depend on whom you ask.

In the Pflanzgarten the Douglas Firs are protected by a wiry sort of shrub which the Germans call “Ginster“. It is unfortunately not in my dictionary and I have no idea what it is in English; we have any amount of it in the plantations in which we work. I gather that its seeds, owing to their high oil content, can lie several years in the ground and then come up again. They are draped over the Douglases and protect them form too much snow and wind. The Douglas firs are supposed to grow twice as fast as the spruces (?), and I saw one wood of 50yr. old Douglases. I was told twice, but I think there must be a mistake somewhere, that Douglas-fir costs DM.160 per kilo. They say it is fine for floors and other furniture.

The young plants are actually planted in the Pflanzgarten with the aid of metal strips with notches at regular intervals. They look roughly like this:

 The insides of the notches are covered with rubber to protect the young stems. The notches are 5cm apart for spruce (?), 7cm for Douglas and 10cm for larch. The distance between the rows is 20cm for the larch and probably corresponding distances for the others. A shallow ditch or furrow is of course made first, then they stretch a piece of string to facilitate alignment.

I forget to include in my list of pests the most persistent of all – the horse-flies. Whatever damage we may have inflicted upon them in Switzerland has certainly been well and truly avenged. Their mortality rate is still pretty high, but in general they draw first blood.

Well I suppose Edinburgh is by now preparing itself to justify its title of cultural capital of the world, and I expect you are more interested in ordering tickets than reading about spruces question-mark and I can’t say I blame you. Has M. or D. told you about my first and true camera love. They say they are going to give it to me for 21st. Whoopee !



Tim remembers that summer, as in recollection the sun shone every day.

He had been in holiday on holiday in Switzerland with my father, Roger,  in the second half of June 1953. Tim for two weeks, and my father, who joined the Forestry Commission in 1952, so would have had limited annual leave, only for one week. They stayed in a small Gasthaus in Winderswil, and walked most of the local hills. Tim used his RAF boots and nearly wore them out. Tim did his national service in the RAF. They worked out that horseflies like to follow you up a mountain and attack you from behind, so they countered this by walking up backwards, which – precipices excepted – mainly seemed to work.

Many years later, in 1969, I went, with my parents and siblings, on our first foreign holiday. We stayed with Tim, at his flat in Geneva, and then camped near Interlaken. My father, possibly not trusting us to handle precipices, did not let us in on the walking backwards method, but we remember the horseflies, which did their best to attack us between our campsite and swimming in the lake. We were there for the first Moon Landing and heard the news on the radio.

 In July 1953 Tim moved on to Prüm in the German Eifel for 4-5 weeks, where he joined a sort of International work camp for young foreigners, purportedly helping to revive German forestry. This was after his first year at Cambridge and because he was supposed to be studying German he thought it was time he learnt some. They were a group of 15 or 16, all Europeans Tim thinks – he was the only Brit – and they stayed  in the local youth hostel. Tim can’t remember what they were supposed to be doing, but they slashed away at everything and he knows they thought they’d set the German forests back by a decade or so. They were a nice bunch and a couple of the Swedish girls came to the UK later and stayed with the Lines family for a bit at Pickwick.

Tim went Bonn next where the university was running some sort of course for foreigners. Tim remembers that he liked Bonn, which of course was then the capital of the FRG, and he bought his first camera, a Paxette, a modern[ish] 35mm job quite unlike his mother’s bellows-type folding Kodak. In those days you could only take £50 out of the country, so it wasn’t bad to have spent 2 weeks in Switzerland, four or five in Prüm and two or three in Bonn, plus the fares to get from one to the other, and still be able to afford a camera. Tim does still remember my resentment at having to pay what seemed an extortionate sum for laundry in Wilderswil.

Then in the last week of August Tim joined the family [who exactly and how did we travel? Train or car?] for a fortnight’s two-centre holiday in Austria, again mainly walking or probably strolling.  First week on Lake Pertisau, second week in Oetz.