In February 1932 a young architect made a remarkable journey by boat and train from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, up through Central and Eastern Europe to a large naval port, Stettin, in Pomerania, North Germany.
This journey was taken at a time prior to a period of extraordinary upheaval across the continent: the rise of National Socialism, the onset of the Second World War, the division of Europe, liberation 40 years on of Eastern Europe and the subsequent tragic conflict in the Balkans.
This architect who had, to his evident irritation and discomfort, just been made redundant by the Sudanese Government (on the orders of the British Government) travelled through places whose names and memories are inextricably linked with the tragedy and romance of our century – Constantinople, Belgrade, Budapest, Berlin. He was armed solely with a pocket camera and passport, which he very nearly lost in Prague.
We should all give thanks to the young Czech train conductor who returned that passport and who allowed that memorable journey to continue. For what was the ultimate purpose of that journey? It was to meet and marry his fiancee, a young ‘Hortnerin’ in Stettin and so step out together on the longer and more demanding journey of a stable and happy marriage which lasted over 61 years.
The international spirit and steadfast nature of Keith and Lotti’s marriage has swept through our four generations of grandparent to great grandchild, in counterpoint to the political upheaval of the age,. And it has been Keith’s quiet and consistent ability of practising a benevolent internationalism which has created his extended family gathered here to day from across the world: from Germany, from Africa, from South America.
And it is this positive and unwavering influence that I would like us to thank him for: his influence which instilled a belief that the world belongs to all of us; that we would do well to tend and care for it; his tolerance which valued all cultures and beliefs and which accepted people as they are: and the proof that the meeting of a young architect from Cardiff with a young Hortnerin from Stettin can provide us all with a beacon of hope and aspiration.
In a world of change and chaos, you have been constant and your love, quiet and steadfast. We thank you from all our hearts and from across the globe.
As Shakespeare said:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud capp’d rtowers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a wrack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded in a sleep.
Testimonial for Francis Keith Aitken, August 1993
2 thoughts on “Francis Keith Aitken: A Life of Quiet and Steadfast Influence.”
Up until 1932, Keith’s longstanding companion had been his bag of golf clubs. When he left Khartoum his luggage was sent by sea back to Cardiff, but he wasn’t going to risk sending his faithful golf clubs on that perilous journey. Consequently, in addition to his overnight bag, he carried those clubs across Europe on the Orient Express, and after changing trains in Munich he traveled on to Berlin where on 11th March he was reunited with Lotti.