On the last but one day of May 1918, at Gerrards Cross to the west of London, John Nash and Christine Kühlenthal married. It was a fine spring day, but the war news from France was bad. In keeping with the times, their vows were ‘quietly solemnised’. The bride was given away by her father, and Second Lieutenant Paul Nash attended his recently returned younger brother as best man. As the local paper noted, the groom had by this time served fourteen months in the ranks, but was now to be employed on work for the British War Memorials Committee.
Christine and Jack, as he was known to family and close friends, had become lovers eighteen months before – pledging publicly that they would marry if he came back alive and, privately, that their shared life would be at once both intimate and free. In their ideal future, each might well have other ‘outside loves’ and their alliance was to be a convention-defying undertaking. It was a choice the ‘Home & Colonials’, their parents and relations, might never understand or even know of – a deep personal commitment, but not an acceptance of ties that bind.
‘I know dear you will be good to me in the way you mean, I will try to be good to you,’ Christine wrote, ‘We will never let the sun go down upon our wrath. I really (consistently) mean that darling and I don’t think I shall forget it all my life. Oh, I hope we get the chance to put our ideals into practice.’
For fourteen months she had feared for him daily. Life seemed fragile and infinitely precious, the prospect of sharing it elusive – ‘never has the future seemed so impenetrable,’ Christine confessed, ‘I also do not know what to say but one thing is certain, that I ever love you more with the increasing difficulties that surround us’.
In frequent letters she had tried to hold him close: ‘I take you down to the gate and you light up your old bike – first the front lantern and then the one on the wheel. Then you kiss me over the gate and so I kiss you now.’ As she conveyed news of their families and her close friend Norah, of her dancing and teaching, and her efforts to exhibit and sell his dwindling stock of old work, she painted lyrical word-pictures of their favourite places, reminding him of the duets they had played, and of shared feelings and moments: ‘do you remember the thunderstorm when we were in the chestnut circle?’; ‘Do you remember you asked me if I knew that feeling, the first day, after the trolley day, sitting on our green sofa? I loved you for saying that – excited to think you knew it too.’