Horst’s windfall: love letters and wartime photographs
A public appeal for help identifying a boy in a wartime photograph led to a windfall for a local author.
Horst Augustinovic was scrolling through eBay in 2019 when he found Victor Haag’s picture of a boy eating a sandwich along with a bunch of love letters he had written sometime between 1940 and 1944 while stationed here as a censor.
Mr Augustinovic, who then decided to write a book about the photographer, spoke with The Royal Gazette in January of 2021 about his search for the boy and was contacted shortly afterwards by a couple in Leicestershire, England.
Anita and Simon Higgins had a box of photographs Mr Haag had taken here, which they found in Ms Higgins’s parents’s home on the Norfolk coast. Mr Haag and his wife Dorothy had been their neighbours.
Ms Higgins mailed the 28lb box to Mr Augustinovic who, on opening it, was “just blown away” by the 500 8X10 pictures it contained.
Mr Haag moved here during the Second World War with the photography department of a British censorship station that operated out of the Hamilton Princess. The group focused on spy communications, checking the mail for information that might help the enemy.
On seeing the pictures it was clear to Mr Augustinovic that Mr Haag spent much of his free time snapping Bermuda landscapes, landmarks, people and sporting events. Even more intriguing were the rare glimpses into the life of the censorship department.
One photo is of Charles Dent, the head of the censorship station’s science department which developed chemical formulas to uncover secret messages. Another showed censors waiting for a visit from Winston Churchill on January 15, 1942.
The pictures did not have any names attached but Mr Haag wrote about Mr Augustinovic’s mystery boy in a letter to his future wife.
“A boy came up to him and said, ‘Take my picture, take my picture!’” the author said. “Haag said, ‘OK, I will if you’ll eat your sandwich while I take the picture.’”
He was able to piece together a great deal of information about Mr Haag, from the photos, letters and other documents sent by Ms Higgins.
He learnt that the photographer was born in Maroilles, a village in northern France, in 1900. His great grandfather, Charles John Haag, was a master baker in London, England. As a result, Mr Haag was also fluent in English.
During the First World War he enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment. When the next war rolled around, he was 39, and playing the banjo in a band. He was recruited to the British censorship because they needed people who could read different languages.
He worked in Liverpool until bombing caused his station to be moved here. Mr Haag arrived on the Mataroa in August of 1940.
“He wrote about how Bermuda had a great climate and plenty to eat,” Mr Augustinovic said. “Meanwhile, Dorothy was being bombed in London.
“In the beginning, Victor lived at a house called Upper Deck on Harbour Road in Warwick. I did not know where that was. On Christmas Eve we had some friends over and I mentioned that he lived at Upper Deck. My friends said, ‘Oh, that’s our house!’”
Mr Haag moved from Harbour Road after American base workers arrived in Bermuda. They earned twice as much as the British censors and rents shot up to take advantage of that.
“Three of the censors moved to a house in Paget and shared the rent. Then he ended up living at the Dinghy Club, which was then on Church Street, where the Washington Mall is today.”
Mr Haag returned to England in 1944 when the censorship station here closed and married soon afterwards. By then in their late forties, the Haags never had any children.
Mr Augustinovic released a small number of 1,324 Days in Bermuda: Victor Haag and the Secrets of Room 287, in December.
“I put 20 copies for sale at the Bermuda Book Store and 20 copies for sale at The Bookmart,” he said. “They sold out in a flash.”
The books have since been restocked.
This is his seventh book. His last one, Censorship and Bermuda’s Role in Winning World War Two, was released in 2019.
Meanwhile, he still holds out hope that someone will identify the boy in the photograph.
“Someone must know who he was,” Mr Augustinovic said.
Contact Horst Augustinovic at firstname.lastname@example.org