Stories from the Archives: Who is Mrs Emiljanof?

Trying to piece together a picture of our school’s beginnings in the 1930s was a difficult and frustrating business. It was also fascinating; indeed, for me it was perhaps the most fascinating decade of the school’s entire history.  One of the most important pieces of information I needed was the identity of the person who actually founded the school. I was told by one elderly lady that it was a New Zealander called Mrs Brunton-Jones, but by another that it was a Russian called Mrs Emiljanof. (Note the spelling. It is important.) It seemed unlikely that a Russian lady would have founded the school but my informant was adamant.  When Olive Bowen (the pre-war teacher that I wrote about in the first of these articles) came to visit us she was able to clear up the mystery. Our school had indeed been founded by a New Zealander called Gwen Brunton-Jones but she had later married a Russian opera singer called Emiljanof.  She was known socially by her married name but at work by her maiden name. Olive told us as much as she could remember about her. She had had, for example, a baby son called Victor. She was also passionately attached to her little school and even after war was declared in 1939 and people of many nationalities started leaving neutral Holland to return to their own countries, she insisted on staying in The Hague with the rapidly dwindling numbers of pupils. Indeed, in a letter written on 19th April 1940 (and which I have in the archives), she wrote, “Personally I think Holland is safe.” She couldn’t have been more wrong. The next six years she, her husband and child spent in a German internment camp at Liebenau in Saxony. When the war was over they moved to New Zealand. Mrs B-J had wanted to return to The Hague and re-start her school but her husband who had been through the First World War, the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany and the Second World War had, understandably, had quite enough of Europe and wanted to get as far away as possible.

For years I tried to find out what had subsequently become of our founder, but in vain. Even a search of the Public Records Office in New Zealand led to nothing. Once the internet arrived, opening up all sorts of possibilities, I tried googling the name Emiljanof but still without success. And so the decades rolled past. The 1980s, then the 1990s. The millennium came and went, and then one day back in 2001 I was going for the umpteenth time through all the old 1930s letters I had in the archives when I noticed that one scribbled note which had previously escaped my attention contained a reference to a certain Emeljanow. Now Emeljanow and Emiljanof sound much the same but in a list Emel and Emil are quite a long way apart. Hardly daring to hope but recalling the name of Gwen Brunton-Jones’ baby son, I crossed my fingers and punched Victor Emeljanow into google. Even sixteen years later I can still feel the shiver of excitement when I read: Victor Emeljanow, Professor of Drama at the University of New South Wales.

The email that I sent to Professor Emeljanow, once I had pulled myself together, explained who I was, told of the twenty-year quest that I had been on and ended, “They had a son called Victor. Are you by any chance that son?”

The reply came later that day and started, “Dear Mr Weston, I can’t tell you how delighted I was to receive your letter. Indeed you are talking about my parents and I am the Victor to whom you refer.”

To be continued…

Stories from the Archives is a new Voices Blog series by BSN Archivist Mike Weston.

Mr Mike Weston

BSN school archivist, detective and storyteller

Mike came to the English School at The Hague (BSN) in 1972 as Head of German, intending to stay for two years. Mike has been at the BSN for nearly 50 years. Over the years, he has taught a range of subjects and has been involved in many school activities. Starting a school archive from scratch and tracing the school’s history is the activity that has given him the most pleasure. Once he reached retirement age, he asked if he could stay on as the school archivist in hopes to be of service for a while yet. In this capacity, he regularly dives into the archives and comes up with some great stories. His stories are all our stories; enjoy them.

When asked what does he do? In limited space, he can only give the bare bones: Mike stores the BSN’s past. Strictly speaking that is the past of the whole school up to 1966 and after that date (when the BSN split into separate Junior and Senior Divisions) of the Senior School. He has past students’ records, about 150 photo albums going back to the 1940s, programmes, letters, realia, over 200 CDs and DVDs, magazines (beautifully bound in blue and gold!), newspaper clippings. And so on. It’s a long list. Much of the printed material has been scanned – a very onerous and time-consuming task. Mike deals with all manner of enquiries, from parents, alumni, colleagues, employers, other schools, embassies, the public, people being shown round the school.

He enjoys it very much when visitors come to the archive. If you would like to get a glimpse into the archives and hear a fascinating story (or two), just get in touch with Mike beforehand to arrange a time.

In case you missed it, you can read the first instalment of Stories from the Archives: BSN Teachers Flee German Invasion in 1940 here

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