by Paul Kuttner
Almost exactly half-a-year before I was injured on December 14, 1944 in my left leg by the shrapnel of a Nazi V-1 bomb (nicknamed “Doodlebug”) near High Holborn in London, I had one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life.
As fate would have it, that disagreeable event took place in the early evening of June 6, 1944, D-Day, the day the Allied forces under General Eisenhower invaded the European continent. I had gone to see a war movie called “Bataan” near Camden Town where I lived (I worked at the time as a social worker in Bloomsbury House helping German and Austrian refugees land jobs) and as I emerged from the theater around 7p.m., still in broad daylight, I took notes about the “flick” I had seen, having studied movie-making under Leslie Howard until shortly before his death in 1943.
I jotted these notes down in a tiny, old 1930’s diary from Germany I had recently found among my belongings and was just about to cross the street, looking left and right for any traffic coming my way, when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and a brusque voice asking me what I thought I was doing. It was a “bobby” – a London policeman. I told him I was taking notes about the film I had seen. He got hold of my notebook – the German diary with my military-movie entries – pointed to a large column of soldiers approaching us (probably on their way to the Second Front in France), grabbed me by the arm and told me not to resist and come along quietly.
A crowd of curious onlookers had assembled meanwhile and both the “copper” and I marched through the mob of curiosity seekers to the nearby police station in the vicinity of Caledonian Road. The policeman informed the captain in charge of the local police precinct that he thought he had captured a spy and provided him with my German diary. I was put in a holding pen and told to wait.
Even though “enemy aliens” (all German and Austrian refugees except those in the British armed services were termed “enemy aliens” in Great Britain during the war) had a nightly curfew to be indoors by 11p.m., the sergeant told me that this curfew did not apply to prisoners and that I should wait.
After about another hour, two men in civvies arrived and introduced themselves as members of Scotland Yard. I was taken into a completely bare whitewashed room except for a number of chairs and a ceiling light focusing on my face, and there the two detectives, the cop who had arrested me (I was 21 at the time) and the captain of the police station started to grill me relentlessly about my past, my experiences in Nazi Germany, where I lived and worked in London, etc.
I had my “Enemy alien” card with me, which all Austrian and German refugees not in the British armed services had to take along outside their home at all times, and I told them that they could check with my landlady, Mrs. Carrot, at 302 Camden Road, but they were more interested in my answers about Nazi Germany and my experiences under Hitler in Berlin.
The more information I gave them about my life there until my arrival in England in February 1939 with the Kindertransport, the more suspicious they became about me. I asked them if they thought a Nazi spy would write notes on a crowded London street about an approaching regiment of Tommies in broad daylight in a German diary and they thought a stupid spy probably would.
They obviously craved the fame and honor of catching a Nazi spy on D-Day. Even so, by 10 p.m. they offered me hot tea and crumpets and then shared this late-evening snack with me, always behaving courteously, even amiably.
Suddenly I remembered my sponsor and good friend in England since February 1939, the chairman of Lloyds of London, Sir Eustace Pulbrook. This put a sudden brake on their cross-examination of me. One of the Scotland Yard men had heard of Sir Eustace. I gave the detectives the chairman’s private telephone number and in my presence they called him around midnight, explaining the Kuttner-case to him in a few words and then heard a mouthful, a virtual tirade, from one of the top businessmen of the British Empire.
You could see the Scotland Yard man on the phone cringe listening to Sir Eustace’s stream of abuse and after a few minutes the detective apologized for waking Sir Eustace and promised to release me immediately.
He hung-up, told me not to make any more notes in my old German diary and said I could go. I explained to him that if I was stopped by a policeman on the street at that late hour as an “enemy alien” I would be arrested again. Both the Scotland Yard man and the police captain agreed with me and said they would take me home in their cars.
They wrapped up a piece of cake for me, asked if I wanted another cup o’ tea and then, with the escort of a police cruiser, the Scotland Yard men drove me in their car to my not-too-distant home and wished me a good night.