Cataloguing journeys – World Explorers

Oh the joys of correspondence – I’m talking real life letter writing here, none of this e-mail malarkey.  Of course I can’t imagine getting by without instant communication anymore than the next person but at the same time there is something quite magical about postal correspondence.  Whether this be telegraphs, handwritten letters, or in this case a typed letter, but with gorgeous headed-notepaper!

Letter from NUWT Collection, ref no UWT/D/58.2, ©Institute of Education Archives, University of London

This example got me pretty excited – a gorgeous illustration of the ship with the binoculars filled with the globe – it’s fantastic!  The purpose of World Explorers was ‘to reduce the cost of travel as to make it a practical part of every average education’.  They were previously called ‘The Honourable Company of Friendly Adventurers’.  Asides from the illustration my favourite bit of the letter is that the head of the organisation, Ruth Mitchell Knowles, is listed as the skipper! The NUWT had a representative on the World Explorers Advisory Committee but only for a short while as it seems from the correspondence that they became worried by the lack of direction and management of the organisation.

As is quite often the case with cataloguing, one letter can lead down some interesting roads! I was intrigued by the ‘skipper’ Ruth Mitchell Knowles and did a few google searches.  She was an American, the daughter of a U.S. Senator, John Lendrum Mitchell.  In the early 1940s she was to the Balkans with her husband, British intelligence officer Stanley Knowles.  According to this website she was a supporter of the Chetnik’s and was arrested by the Gestapo whilst trying to make contact with Draža Mihailović.  According to another source I found she was sentenced to death but so amazed the court with her own defence, in fluent German, that instead she was sent to prison.  When she was released, or escaped (depending on which source I looked at), she returned to America and spent her time writing and talking about the horrors of the Gestapo.

Apparently she was also the model for the character of Gerda Millet, played by Ingrid Bergman, in the film The Yellow Rolls-Royce.

I love the trails that cataloguing leads you off on!


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