Woman of the Week, Mrs. Lewis Brookes, Evening Telegram, 1946, December 28, p.13
Few women have led a more exacting life during the past six years than Mrs. Lewis Brookes, who, after wandering parts of Europe doing newspaper work, has come to Newfoundland to settle down and make her home here.
The “Strand”, an English magazine well known to Newfoundlanders, contained several pages written by ‘Milady’, no other than Mrs. Brookes for herself, who filled the pages allotted to her with attractive and interesting material. With the paper shortage creeping in on her preserves Mrs. Brookes was forced to curtail her writing to some extent, and took, instead, to selling advertising space –“a splendid game,” she calls it. However, she still has her contract with the “Strand”, and in event of her little son demanding less of her time, it is possible that Mr.[sic] Brookes talent for writing may not be entirely lost.
Recalling the hectic days before war broke out, Mrs. Brookes told how she lost everything to the Germans. In 1936, together with a Czech and a Hungarian doctor, she set up a factory at Pecs, Hungary, where, supplied by Ledra, they turned out handbags and gloves. Incidentally, this is Brookes says she had the “best fun of her life”, designing and producing these articles. During the next few years Mrs. Brookes made many trips to Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, keeping up her work with the “Strand”, and at one time, reporting for the “Manchester Guardian.”
“As time went on,” Mrs. Brookes related, “I continued dashing about everywhere, looking for material and so on. Meantime, there was much talk of things happening. I remember in 1938, when I was halfway through Germany, I became convinced that somebody was following me. There seemed to be trouble brewing. The military had taken over in Germany, and the SS men were pushing themselves everywhere.
“In fact, when I got to the frontier where Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia meet, I was held for three days. At this time I was reporting for the Manchester Guardian. Whether that had anything to do with it or not, I can’t say. I never dreamed I would ever become tangled up as a possible spy, but that’s how it was. I thought it was the funniest thing that ever happened to me, but it was not so funny by the third day. In fact, it began to look rather grim. I made myself a general nuisance and they finally let me go. The Germans were like that at that time – trying to make trouble. Every Britisher was inclined to have trouble that way. Maybe they knew well enough that I was small fry, but perhaps there was always the possibility that I might not be. Anyway they let me go. Even so, I believe I would have had had still further trouble getting away if it had not been for the guard on the Berlin train area I knew him, and he spoke for me. So many people were held for nothing at all, that I felt I was lucky to get away so easily.”
“I saw the terrible beatings of the Jews in Berlin,” she continued her story. “Even the children were held up to watch the beatings. It shook me to the core, and I still wonder when people talk of being friends with the Germans again. They are an arrogant hateful people, and they hate us!”
“In ’39 I was still with the “Strand”. I went to France, the Riviera, Italy, and saw the colour troops being drawn up and the battleships congregating. I found the south of Italy very interesting. It looks so quiet and peaceful, yet all the time they were building gun placements, guns, and storing empty houses with shells and ammunition. In reality, they behaved distinctly anti-British. It rather shook you, when you had thought for so long that they were actually with us, but those of us who had seen for ourselves were not surprised when Italy went against us. Nothing but war and politics were being talked, and I guess they had to get wrapped up in it.”
“Coming back to peaceful France I found Paris blued-out (they had not reached the black-out stage). Then I left for England, and it was so strange to arrive home from peaceful France to find them at home delivering gas masks. The continent still seemed so quiet, as far as war was concerned, that it seemed incongruous to see such evidence of open for preparation at home.”
“We soon had to get busy. The hospital patients had to be evacuated to the coast, where it was thought they would be safe. Funny, wasn’t it, since eventually the coast took so much bombing.”
“Finally war was declared, and I was called on ambulance duty. I went on the very first shift in the morning. As I was on my way in my car, a half-crazy man came careening around in his car, and my precious Jaeger got ours. My car was a mess, and so was I. It was never proven but I always claimed I was the first war casualty, since the accident happened only two or three hours after war was declared.”
“During the early part of the bombing, the ‘Fire over London’ part, in the course of my ambulance driving, I had to go quite near St. Paul’s Cathedral. The numbers of fires were appalling, and when the tide ebbed, the hoses could not bring sufficient water to fight the fires. Looking at St. Paul’s from Fleet Street, the dome showed against the flames like a lady in a beautiful oyster pink crinoline dress. Amongst all the terror and trouble and fear, one had to admire the really wonderful sight.”
“Some of my most amazing memories and laughable too. Like the taxi we were in one day. We were going down Park Lane, and the bombs were falling. I’m sure it must have been about the only taxi for hire. The driver was in a merry mood, perhaps due to the influence of drink. Anyway, as the bombs fell, he would say, ‘There goes one, There goes two, There goes three.’ The fourth, we felt, was bound to have us. It was dropped right in our path. But it dropped behind us, tipping the taxi up a bit, but hurting no one. Still exhilarated, the driver went on with his chant without losing a beat. ‘There goes four’, said he, as the bomb lifted up dust behind us.”
Mrs. Brookes did hospital work at the Overseas Club, entertaining at her home men from almost every country of the world. She was on the committee of the Colonial Club of the Overseas League, where she did a great deal of work.
Mrs. Brookes enjoys the peace and quiet of the land after her many experiences abroad, but she says, laughing, “It still is neither peaceful nor quiet with a small son to look after.”