lady painting

 

Dec 2000 Journal

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Profile: Charles Peter Carter

Unintentional prophecy on the part of his father meant that Peter Carter took English lessons from the age of six with an Englishwoman who happened to live in Vienna and without whose intervention he might not have been able to leave Austria in 1938. To begin at the beginning:

Charles Peter Carter was born in Vienna, an only child of middle-class parents, in 1921. Until the age of fourteen, he attended the Stubenbastei Gymnasium (popularly known as “RGI”) but, at his request, transferred to the Handelsakademie which he attended until he left Vienna in July 1938. What prompted his departure was being thrown down the stairs at school a week after the Anschluss when being a Jew in Vienna meant, among other things, experiencing the transformation of people’s attitudes from friendliness to hostility. With an uncle and aunt in Swiss Cottage who acted as guarantors, a visa was duly applied for and granted. Collecting the visa was an altogether different matter as it meant running the gauntlet of Nazi thugs surrounding the British Embassy, achieved with the assistance of Peter’s English tutor who fended off aggressive taunts by replying that she was English and Peter was her nephew!

After a few weeks living with his aunt and uncle in Swiss Cottage, Peter soon made himself independent visiting Woburn House through whose offices he found work as a trainee exhibition designer, a job which appealed to him because of his love of art and drawing. On the outbreak of war, he was laid off and found work in a distant relation’s toy factory painting dolls’ faces. His mother was able to reach London in September 1938 as a domestic but his father only managed to leave Austria illegally by crossing into Switzerland via Basle. (He finally reached England in 1943 via France, Spain and Portugal).

Peter was interned in the summer of 1940, first in Kempton Park, then in Prees Heath, Shropshire and finally – for six months – on the Isle of Man. When recruiting officers came round the camp in January 1941, he volunteered for the Pioneer Corps. He transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps in 1943 and participated in the Normandy campaign. The end of the war saw him posted on the Danish-German border near the Kiel Canal. Throughout his war service, Peter’s postings were influenced by his linguistic abilities; the position was no different at the war’s end when his commanding officer appointed him Administrator for Civilian Affairs for the town of Iztehoe and the surrounding district until his discharge in December 1945. In this capacity, he was in charge of all administration, a baptism of fire for a 23 year old. He remembers one occasion when he was required to give formal permission, to a Yugoslav in a nearby labour camp, to marry. His ‘reward’ was an invitation to a noisy and ‘boozy’ wedding and an offer to exercise droit de seigneur with the bride. Faced with this worrying development, he decided his only option was, without delay, to make good his escape.

In December 1946, Peter married Irene, a Viennese refugee whom he first met at a Viennese skating rink in 1935 when she literally bumped into him. Sadly, she died nine years ago. They adopted their son when he was a year old.

After a series of jobs on his discharge from the army, Peter applied to the Central Office of Information’s exhibition division where he worked for 27 years interrupted by a six-year stint at the Natural History Museum from 1964. The Insect Gallery, unchanged since the mid 1960s, is his handiwork. Prior to his retirement, he was in charge of project and design assistance to prison governors and chief constables.  

Since his retirement in 1983, Peter’s hobbies have been the study of philosophy and playing social bridge. He also still skis. He admits to being a technophobe and does all his writing on an ‘old-fashioned typewriter’!
Marion Koebner

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