Lionel George Archer Cust (1896 – 1962)
The Lionel Archer Cust archive, on loan to the College Archives for the World War One commemorations, is currently on display in Prisoners of War: Old Etonians and World War One. Curated by Etonians, here one of the students relates his experience working with the archive.
Working with archival material was a new experience for me. The letters were delicate and difficult to read, the sheer bulk of them was terrifying. As I worked my way through them however, it felt as if I was really getting to know to mind and experiences behind them. Written by Lionel Cust, a British soldier and OE during his time as a POW in Germany they were funny, kind and occasionally quite beautiful. A letter sent shortly after his capture expresses how ‘fortunate’ he is to be ‘in such lovely surroundings’. ‘In front are the blue hills of the black forest. But oh, I wish they were the copper beeches of Datchet’. Poetic and hopeful elements of the letters such as this seemed extraordinary to me given his situation.
The materiality of the letters was also really quite fun. Many had violent yellow marks across them made by the German censors checking for invisible ink. The telegrams that had communicated his survival to his parents felt so fragile for a document that had carried such monumental relief and emotion.
The process of setting up the exhibit, while daunting at first, turned into a real joy that I was and am proud to be involved in.
By Ludo Heathcoat Amory (AMM)