I had a fascinating chat with George, whilst I was en route to a picnic lunch in Regents Park. I know George slightly, through his connection to animator/film maker Lotte Reiniger, with whom he worked. I’d often seen him in Primrose Hill, going off to play tennis (he played till he was 95) or later, carrying bags of chemist items to his fellow tenants who were frail and housebound.
After I admired his lilac pullover, he said he hadn’t seen or smelled lilac for a long time, so I nipped across the road and nicked a sprig from someone’s garden (apologies to the garden owner but in a good cause). ‘It’s the first time a woman has given me flowers,’ he told me. George was born in Hungary, and is 101 years old. I was curious to know more, and George was happy to chat.
He came to this country in 1938, and after war broke out tried to join one of the armed forces. Despite being ‘A1 fit’ as he said, none of them would have him because he was Hungarian. At the time Hungary had connections with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. George wanted to be a pilot, but the RAF wouldn’t have him either, so he joined the Norwegian navy, and aged 19 sailed in convoys going between Scotland and Canada. Twice he had to escape from a sinking ship hit by enemy fire.
Last year he was in hospital for several months after he broke his hip. ‘I’ve survived two shipwrecks unharmed’ he said, ‘and then that happened.’ He fell over getting out of his shower. ‘I slipped on a copy of the Evening Standard lying on the floor,’ he told me, and added with a wry smile, ‘It could at least have been a copy of the Times.’