Kaiser Bill’s Batman’s CufflinksThursday, 1 December 2011
◄ The other night I went to an opera first night in Melbourne with Maureen, I wore a dinner jacket and my Kaiser Bill cufflinks.
There’s a story behind those cufflinks with the German Imperial Eagle and a ruby in the centre and how I came to own them. My great grandfather was Kaiser Bill’s batman. Seriously. A small ‘b’ batman is usually a British soldier working as a servant to an officer. In 1967 there was a novelty hit single record titled I was Kaiser Bill’s Batman, it even inspired a German version Ich war der Putzer vom Kaiser.
Well back in 1907 Kaiser Wilhem II, ‘Kaiser Bill’, had a three week holiday at Highcliffe Castle on the south coast of England. Highcliffe Castle features amusingly in Bill Bryson’s book Notes from a Small Island. My great grandfather William Ludlam, so the family history goes, was assigned to be the Kaiser’s batman while he was briefly ‘living the life of an English country gentleman.’ Here’s the ‘Emperor of Germany and Suite at Highcliffe Castle.’ ▼
The Kaiser, the family story continues, liked my great grandfather so much that he took him to Paris and as a result my grandfather, Ralph Ludlam, went to school there. He would have been 12 years old in 1908. Then WW I reared its ugly head, the Kaiser would soon become ‘the most hated figure in Britain’ and my great grandfather returned to Highcliffe with enough money from the Kaiser to found Ludlam’s Newsagency – look for Lymington Avenue, Highcliffe-on-Sea on Google Maps and with Street View you’ll find Ludlams of Highcliffe is still there, you can even see that it was ‘founded 1913’.
William Ludlam also came back with those cufflinks, from a jeweller named Joh Wagner & Sohn at Unter den Linden 30 in Berlin. They were suppliers to the Imperial German Court, moved along the road to Under den Linden 16 in 1913 and continued in business into the 1930s.
Appropriately I wore my Wagner cufflinks to an Opera Australia performance, because Maureen is working with Opera Australia to put on Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2013.
* correction – I drove through Highcliffe in late 2012 and Ludlams newsagency had closed down a week or two earlier, it didn’t quite survive to its 100th birthday.