Julia’s Stories

These are the stories of Julia (Zichy) Warren, as told by her daughter Rosemary Kemila.

  1. The house in Ujfalu

The first story is my mother’s memory of her home in Ujfalu , Hungary . The family always referred to it as the house, and the servants referred to it as the castle . It was all on one floor, with large rooms. In winter they had wonderful china stoves in the corners of the rooms which had very high ceilings, and in the summer shutters kept the house cool.

In one wing there was a small door opening from one of the bedrooms into the dining room . The door was covered in wallpaper (in the dining room) and was completely invisible when closed . The children were brought their meals through that door. My mother made a diagram of the house for us . The house faced north, and their bedrooms were in the front , so they could watch all the activities from the low windows, such as people coming and going. The house also had a lovely huge veranda where as children they tricycled up and down.  There was always tea in the afternoon on the veranda . The house also had its own little chapel where the servants and family would go to mass. The Communists eventually seized the house, confiscated the land and used it as a central office for the District Manager.

2. The front hall

My grandfather, referred to as “Papa” used the hall (where all the coming and going took place) as a smoking room, which upset my grandmother as he also used the hall to clean his guns with oil . They had a gamekeeper, who was probably the most important person in my grandfather’s life . His name was Marcus and he came to the hall everyday to talk about the land, the animals, the gardens; all the environmental aspects of the estate. He had to stand throughout the whole discussion – that was how things were done then. That main front hall had stuffed animals – a full sized wolf, animals he killed on safari, the head of a water buffalo, a zebra screen, elephant tusks, and even a tiger hanging on the wall over a couch. All the animals had their mouths open and looked vicious. There was also a huge brown bear carpet with the head so big that my mother remembers sliding down it. She said this was a really scary room, especially at night. She always ran through it at full speed, straight into her mother’s dressing room which was cozy ,friendly and upholstered in a pattern of pink and white parrots .

3. Pigeon  shooting  

In 1890, Papa and Grandpapa  drove a four-in-hand carriage to Monte Carlo for the International Grand Prix Pigeon Shooting – and Papa  won the event! In addition, while out for an early morning swim Papa saved a man from drowning; a waiter at the hotel. Once they arrived home, the winning pigeon was under glass at Ujfalu and the rusted beach hut key which Papa put in his mouth while saving the man was also proudly on display!

4. The Hotel Sacher

In 1916 the Communists briefly took over Hungary, and so aristocrats like my grandparents fled. My mother’s family escaped to  Vienna  with my grandparents dressed as a maid and a butler. A good friend owned the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, so she hid them . A few months later life started to return back to normal, and the family returned to Hungary .

5. Fancy dress ball

My grandmother Julia gave a large fancy dress ball when my mother (also Julia) was about 4. The children were awakened near midnight, dressed in the Hungarian national costume and taken in in to see the guests in the large ballroom, salon and billiard room. My mother said it was dreadful and she was quite overwhelmed by the noise and the people. “I was also very bad tempered because I’d been awakened in the middle of the night”.

6. Animals

My mothers happiest stories are connected with animals. Dogs were number one with her, and she told me a story about when they had an apartment in Budapest. She was walking by a house with a black wrought iron fence, and there was a dog on the other side whimpering. She dug out under the fence and brought the dog home to the apartment and said to my grandmother “I found this dog”. Horses were the passion of her brother and sister who were 4 and 5 years older than her. Much of her summers were spent at her father’s first cousin on the cousin’s estate. Aunt Jenny didn’t have children of her own but she had lots of horses and dogs. However, the really big love in my mother’s childhood was her Shetland pony – Bessie. Her mother bought her in England and  had her shipped back to Hungary. When the coachman went to pick up Bessie at the station , she kicked and bit and was wild…and so began Bessie’s hatred of men! As a result, when the stable men handled her, they would wear a work apron, and Bessie would be quiet and docile for them. My mother still talked about Bessie near the end of her life and she said it broke her heart when in the summers my grandfather’s first family came for half the summer and she, her bother and sister went on holidays with her mother usually on the Lido in Venice. My mother missed Ujfalu .

7. Boarding School

Julia only lived full time with her family at Ujfalu until the age of 4. Her mother was my grandfather’s second wife, and so she had a generation older half sister and half brother from the first marriage. My grandmother and grandfather separated when my grandmother found out that her son would not inherit the estate and that it would go entirely to the first son. When Julia was 4 she went to England where the older two were going to boarding school. My mother stayed with the headmasters family who also had a 4 year old girl. My mother was very ,very, angry and upset. “I was so angry with the other girl I scratched her face. I took my hands and tried to scratch her eyes out!” It was a huge loss for Julia to leave her warm cozy home and go and live with strangers. She had no pets, no loving nanny, and a very uncomfortable environment. Then at age 5 she followed her sister to boarding school in France, Notre Dame du Ciel. She wasn’t old enough to attend the regular first grade, so again, was left to amuse herself by going for walks around the grounds of the convent with the nuns, sitting on the benches listening to stories and learning to read. It was very lonely as she had no classmates or contemporaries. The first time she felt she finally belonged to a group was when they all came down with measles and were cared for in one huge room. Everyone had a wash station next to her bed with a face cloth dipped in some liquid to sooth the awful itch. In third grade, everything changed again and Julia went back to live with her mother in Budapest and attend day school with the Grey Nuns.

8. Displaced persons

Julia was 22 years old when the war ended. She was working at a field hospital and on May 14, 1945 someone came to her and said “ Julia, come quickly – the English are here!” An officer and his driver had been motoring around in no man’s land looking for someone who spoke English. Julia lit into him for being so non- chalant when there were partisans all around. Remember, the Hungarians were on the German side – although not willingly. Of course, the mash unit had had no communication with the outside world and had no idea the war was over. The Englishman smiled and said “they are our allies “, and that is how the British occupation started . Then, the head of their medical unit called them together and said “we’re on our own, the war is lost “.   My mother stayed with the 700 mostly stretcher patients to evacuate them. They stopped a train and scrambled with the patients on board. They were bombed with phosphorous bombs because the train was not marked with the Red Cross. This was one of her most heartbreaking moments because there was nothing that could be done. It was a nightmare for her that she never forgot her entire life.

Suddenly there was a mass of humanity all wanting to go home. The English set up an Army field office in her Red Cross hospital and tried to manage the refugees. At the Missing Persons Bureau information was taken from people and painstakingly written down for thousands upon thousands who were uprooted. My mother spoke 5 languages fluently so she could interpret for the British. She always said that the British were very well organized, very disciplined and very kind and helpful. They shared very badly needed medications and rations and she said the tea was so good your spoon could stand up in it!

No one knew where Julia’s mother, brother and sister where so she went to Salzburg with an American journalist and was able to forward a letter through journalist circles to my grandmother in Budapest. There was no postal service in Europe. She found out a few months later that my grandmother had survived the war, so Julia went back to Budapest and tried to talk my grandmother into leaving, but she would not leave Budapest.

9. Hospital for women & children

By sheer coincidence, the same Colonel  Julia had helped initially was made the commander of this whole part of Austria . The British couldn’t understand why there were so many prisoners of war who were women and children. My mother explained to him about the Russians and their looting , raping and murdering. It was very difficult to make the British understand what the Soviet occupation really meant in Hungary. This officer asked her to start a small hospital for the women and children, and the British Red Cross gave them supplies. Julia was given free reign to organize the welfare of Hungarians in the British zone of Austria. She was 23 years old, and had several hundred thousand Hungarians in her charge.

10. Peanut butter

Julia wrote to a cousin who had already escaped to America because she was half American, saying how much in need they were of everything! As a result, her cousin sent hundreds of care parcels; and when these parcels were opened, head quarters asked “what is this yellow sticky stuff ? It’s not butter, it’s not shoe paste”? So my mother phoned some American friends in Austria and amidst lots of laughter this is how she was introduced to the great merits of peanut butter! My mother had never had peanut butter and remained NOT a peanut butter fan all her life. 

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