“The longest month I have known.”

With these words Albert sums up his RAF career to date; I sympathise with my uncle – days of pointless marching and chilly evenings in shared accommodation, far from the home and the countryside that he loved. He did not have to sign up, and I admire him all the more for that. My Mother told me, that as a chemist in the oil industry he was in a ‘reserved occupation’ and would have therefore avoided conscription. But willingly he volunteered, committed himself to war as so many young men, and women, did. Did Albert ever contemplate his own death? On the 19th November 1941, I think not. His concerns were for his mother’s well being, and for those others that he loved. Not that he loved everyone mentioned, Albert’s opinion of ‘Mrs Churchill’ is less than favourable and why he recommended that ‘Aunt’ be barred from Bullar Road remains a mystery!

Wednesday, November 19th
Dear All,
Yesterday I received the parcel, which you posted on Monday, which was quite quick. I do not know which letter you were expecting from me, but the last thing I posted to you last week was a parcel containing socks and vest which went about Thursday. Yesterday or was it Monday I sent a package to you and a parcel containing meat paste, chocolate and sweets to Jean.
Thursday: incidentally I see that your letter was posted on November 17, one month after I joined the RAF and the longest month I have known, how much longer ago it seems that I was last home!
I do not think that I have a great deal of news to tell. My most interesting days are spent in the weekends, though this weekend we have a Church Parade, so once more I shall not apply for a pass, though if it is fine I shall escape into the country for a few hours. Monday and yesterday I attended the usual music meetings on Monday Myers Fogging, who played at the Tuesday’s concert, gave us some piano music – all from memory and very good. There was also a soprano and a gramophone symphony, making a mixed and interesting programme. On Wednesday one of the corporals gave us a most interesting lecture, illustrated with records, of the history of music – very sketchily of course, but he gave us a jolly good talk and played some excellent records including some that I should like very much indeed.
It is now evening and this letter will not be posted until Friday, so I hope you will get it on Saturday. Since I have nothing much to tell of my own doings I will answer your letter on the next page.


I was glad there is some news of Phil at long last, even if it was only a cable. Since I have been up here I have written him a letter and Airgraph and put a Xmas card in the letter, which I hope he has received. I am intending to write to Joyce somewhen and I will ask her what records she took away – just as a point of interest, I don’t mind of course. I can well imagine that you see plenty of Mrs Churchill too: I don’t suppose you have much time to think about your worries when she is in… I hope she will not be in too much when I come home, or else I shall be going back to Blackpool! However I expect she makes a good third for Kan-u-go, and company in the evenings. Do you see anything of Mr and Mrs Whatmore these days? You must keep “Aunt” out at all costs though, she is one of the visitors you must avoid.
It gets very dark these evenings, in spite of the street lights, and I’m glad to have my torch with me. This evening I saw the new moon for the first time, so we shall have some moonlight next week. We are on a new timetable next week, I understand, I suppose that will mean more work and time spent in marching around Blackpool. However, I do not mind marching now that my feet are better, or almost so, but the drill is still the item I dislike most of all. I am sure that I shall be able to walk much further now, which will be a good thing as I have no bicycle.
I have just been eating one of the apples and have two still remaining, so you see I did not really need any more. I also have some of the biscuits, which are very nice ones and a good shape as well, in fact I thought at first that they were shop ones before I undid the cellophane. As regards chocolates and sweets, I have not wanted to spend much money this week but I think I can get sweets at most times even if chocolates are rather scarce.

Murgatroyd and Winterbottom

I do not hear the wireless much here and I have missed all the things you mentioned. I should especially like to hear the talks on Mozart G minor symphony. I heard the music hall on Sunday though and thought it quite good with Suzette Tarri and Murgatroyd and Winterbottom who I have not heard for years. The “wireless” here is strictly speaking not wireless, as it is one of those re-diffusion things which seem very popular here.

“Another thing we see a lot of the swing doors, due no doubt, to the cold winds. I have never before seen so many swing doors as along the Blackpool Front.”

Don’t expect me to get Christmas leave! I saw in the “Telegraph” the other day that there would be none, and of course that would be especially true for trainees. However I think that our long weekend should be within a fortnight of Christmas so you will be able to save up some of the festivities for me. Anyway, I think you will be safe to go to Havant and I think it would be a good idea to go there if you can.
As regards photographs, I meant a small one (P.C.) f the cathedral . If you cannot find it you could send the other large one, the horizontal one, not showing the Bishop’s Palace. The one from the cliffs which I mean is the one on cream base grained paper – what I believe you call bromide paper, though in fact they are all on bromide paper, except the small contact prints. I do not know if that one has a train or not, but it does have a smudgy white seagull over the sea. I do not think the ones of Saints (Kings?), Fingal bridge or the stream are good enough to send, though you can send them if you care to.
I am not sure which ones of Jean I have, but I think we should keep the better one, which is I fancy, on the cream grained paper. That is about all this week, not even enough to fill this page, so goodbye and love from Albert. (P.T.O.)
P.S. We are just having some cocoa and a sort of fig cake for supper – we also have fig puddings for desert, and I don’t like it much – all pips and not a very nice flavour, but I don’t mind it much and everything else is very good.

Once again the feeling that Albert and I participate in a delicate dance, in which time is irrelevant; he mentions his wish for a photo of Jean and I found that photograph of my Mother to share in my last post. Foolish of me to think I found it for him? Perhaps. I’m sure though that he would have been glad (if not astonished) that I am able to share his work with you, wherever in the big, wide world you may be.

Happy Birthday

Jean at blossom time

Today would have been my Mother’s 88th birthday. What does one do on these strange anniversaries, when Mum has gone and the grief has faded? Three years since I sent a birthday card and made the trip westwards to spend a weekend. I’ve written the date in case notes several times today, without sadness, pausing to wonder ‘well, what do I feel?’ I have bought daffodils and put them in her vase. Yes, that made me cry a little, but not too much. Time has passed.

After my little bit of weeping I remembered this photograph that Albert took of my Mother, when she was maybe 8 or 9. How perfect a gift it is for today; in London we have sunshine in a peerless blue sky, blossom trees punctuate the streets with white and pale pink. Spring is here.

Thank you Albert, for showing me Mum, with everything before her. She had a good life. She was the best mum. Happy Birthday.

What an adventure!

“I gave the “hitch hikers” thumb salute to a red and black Morris 8, and lo and behold it stopped, the very first one I had tried.”

Scorton village as it was in 1932, downloaded from the archives of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

This letter is quite delightful. It’s 7 pages long and tells the tale of Albert’s first hitchhiking adventure to the foothills of the Lake District. With cavalier abandon Albert risks arrest for going out of his ‘bounds’ and has lunch with strangers. He returns home delighted that he has had two hot meals in one day. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, November 16th 6:30 pm
Dear All, I am sitting and writing this after having spent a very pleasant day out in spite of some rain. I tried to get a day pass and I had I done so I meant to take a bus to Garstang, and then walk up on the hills thereabouts. However I was not able to get a pass; they told me that passes were not issued until one had passed four words per minute stage in Morse. I think I have passed but the results do not come out until Monday and so I could not have a pass. So since the morning did not look too bad I thought I would take a walk nearer to Blackpool. I went by bus to Poulton-upon-Flyde and then walked from the church to the Lancaster Road and then onwards. I walked over the road way across the Fleetwood- Weston – Preston Road, and across another smaller road. Our 5 mile “bounds” end at about Poulton station but there were no military police so I walked right on. Having broken bounds I thought I would get a lift, so I gave the “hitch hikers” thumb salute to a red and black Morris 8, and lo and behold it stopped, the very first one I had tried. There were a man and his wife in the car, a Mr and Mrs Davies of Cleveleys as I subsequently discovered. They asked where I was going and I said I didn’t know but just wanted to go for a walk. They said they were going to a place about 8 miles this side of Lancaster and I could come as far as I liked. They proved interesting people to talk to and told me how it had snowed the two previous winters, 2, 3 and 4 feet deep and how there was single line traffic on the main roads and the outlying farms cut off for days at a time. Then they told me that they were going for a walk and I could come with them, so I said I would very much like to. We stopped at a roadside cafe and they took me in and we had dinner (or lunch I suppose) of soup, cold lamb with potatoes & sprouts, followed by an excellent treacle pudding and apple tart, and coffee. With the apple tart was cheese, which they told me was quite a Yorkshire custom and though it seemed a strange mixture, I liked it quite well. I don’t know if you have heard of it. Mr Davis said that they came out to this café each week and there were some other regular customers there and with the proprietors and his family we were quite a happy party. It was a real home from home sort of place.

About 2 p.m. After hearing the news and the music hall, we went out and turned down a little lane across the river Wyre and under the main L.M.S. line to Scotland. We walked to a little village of which I did not properly catch the name, but I believe it was something like Shawton [Albert discovers, as we hear in his next letter, that the place is in fact Scorton]. It is 2 miles from the nearest bus and has no public house, but four or five churches and chapels. John or Charles Wesley went there and I was shown the oak under which he preached. We were going up the hill at the back of the village, but it started to rain so we thought it advisable not to do any climbing. However I had a close view of the hills and we went on, again close to the Wyre and eventually over it. I saw a train of about 12 coaches going down to London, it was hauled by one of the red and cream streamlined engines – like we saw at Euston. Then we went along to the main road and back to our cafe. It was only about 4 miles but I enjoyed it very much indeed. There are no autumn tints here now, very few of the trees have any leaves on at all and there are not many beeches – I have seen no large ones at all. I do not think there are many woods of any consequence in this district, which is quite flat and seems to be devoted mainly to dairy farming, though now they are ploughing up much of the pasturage. I saw several birds, including what I believe were curlews, they were speckled birds about the size of a Peewit, with a long curving beak. It was pretty cold this morning when I started off (about 11) and some of the shallower ponds had a thin film of ice over them, though it appeared to be a black frost. They tell me that the canals are frozen over with thick ice most winters, and I can well believe it, though I felt warm enough once I had been walking a bit. When we got back at the café we sat by the fire and I had a couple of games of draughts with Mr Davis, and rather surprisingly won one of them. When we got outside it was raining quite hard and I was glad that I did not have to walk. They stopped at Layton from which I took a bus back to the North Station and arrived home at about 5.30. The landlady had kept me a hot dinner so I was able to have two cooked meals today! I had taken some bread and butter which I was going to eat with the cheese which you sent but that will come in for supper now. Also at the café were Mr and Mrs Dyson of Preston, and they gave me their address inviting me to call on them if I ever wanted somewhere to go over weekend.


Well I think that is about all there is to tell you of today which has been my most enjoyable since I left home. I must try “hitch hiking” as a means of travel again. Yesterday I saw Richard Tauber in “Blossom Time” but really I was not at all thrilled; his voice does not sound as good as it used to. However it was quite a pleasant show and gave me somewhere to go on a Saturday evening. I did not go to the cinema this week because I have already spent my RAF money and must dip into that odd pound for anything I shall want this week. However, we should get 30/- next Saturday, and I don’t think there is much I want to buy this week, excepting perhaps some stamps.
Yesterday I also had a letter from Mr Gibson saying he would be pleased to see me and that he was writing to you by the same post, so you doubtless know all about that. I believe Bolton is about 40 miles away so even that would be quite a good distance to travel.
As regards the weather, it has rained quite a lot just lately. We were out in it on Thursday and my greatcoat and trousers got quite wet, but I was able to put the coat before the fire overnight and until the wet ones dried, I wore my second pair of trousers so the wet should not do me any harm even though it has made my hat shrink! My feet are still a bit tender but nothing to grumble much about now. On Friday we went for a most enjoyable route march to Poulton, right at the crossroads to Higher Green, and then to Staining and back Home via Church Street. Some of the fellows – there are a number of Londoners in our squad – thought it was a long way but there were quite a number of us who enjoyed it very much, as it took us for the first time into the country. Besides the Londoners our squad includes another fellow from Southampton (Bevois valley), Mr Harper of Sandown, a Cornishman from near Land’s End ( St. Agnes’ or St. Mary’s is it?) one chap from Swindon & several from Devon (and one from Andover). It is a great pleasure to me to hear the Wiltshire and Devonshire accents. The Wiltshireman in particular has a most beautiful country accent, and a very pleasant, somewhat deep voice, and I like talking to him just to hear him speak. In another of our shorter marches I came across some very unpleasant slum-like homes, of the sort that one might expect to find in Chapel or Northam – it just shows what sort of a place this is compared with “our” seaside resorts, especially Bournemouth. We got our laundry the other day, I had a towel, shirt and two collars done for 9d, and it is quite worth it, though the collars are starched, which makes it a bit of a job to put on. This week I have put in my pyjamas, vest and pants as well. I must wash some more socks tomorrow too.
I think that about completes my account of my affairs, so I had better answer your letters. I was interested in your lamp idea, and I shall try to get a table lamp, though things seem to be fairly expensive here. Even if I can afford things I do not like putting my hard earned cash in other peoples pockets. I should think that it would be better if you were to put some muslin or some other material across the reflector for diffusion, so as to cut out the hard shadows which you must get now. I am pleased that you did not cut the flex. As for the yellow switch, it was never very satisfactory and I have hardly used it.
I think I know Clifford Cole – he used to go to Sunday school, is a dark fellow, used to belong to the Scouts and lives at the top of Dimond Road; I should like to see him if he comes up here again. The places I am likely to go to are actually Yatesbury or Compton Bassett, on Salisbury Plain and are not so very far from home, though I believe they are some rotten camps, especially Yatesbury. I don’t know what will happen if I get on this pilots course, we did not take the exam on Friday it is now supposed to come off on Monday or Tuesday. As regards cheese, we are quite well off and often have some for supper – we had some last night in fact – and the landlady tells me that she has 4lbs in. It will not be necessary to have anything sent here excepting apples, though if I am here at Christmas, I could have some homemade jam, but I cannot have anything for myself alone, with 5 other fellows at the table, especially as we are by no means short of rations.
I shall try to send some money to Jean, no, on second thoughts I had better ask you to take it out of my Hamble money, when it arrives. Until then the five shillings will serve as a source of supply. That is about all, so good night and love from Albert.
P.S. sorry about your tomatoes I hope the others didn’t go off like that.

Look at Scorton on the map today and you will see that the M6 now runs along the ridge that my Uncle endeavoured to climb before the weather turned against them. I can find no reference to an oak under which Wesley preached, so Mr Davis may have been employing some artistic licence here. But what generous people they were, what different times. It is not only the landscape of England that has altered irrevocably in the decades since 1941; I regret that our predisposition to show goodwill to strangers and give them good company is now greatly diminished, compared to my uncle’s generation.

Reading Aloud

“Incidentally, I believe that the large number of civil servants here are responsible for the good shows and concerts that come here.”

Gallops at the foot of Stephen’s Castle Down
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Peter Faceygeograph.org.uk/p/56367

I have not found it so easy to post a letter every week, far less easy than Albert found writing to his parents – this letter was sent two days after the last. It has troubled me, my lack of consistency. Partly I battle against the commonplace demands of work and fatigue, the need to cook meals, and generally look after oneself. Yet there is another specific reason, which is that I find typing out Albert’s long letters rather laborious and as I am an impatient soul my slowness frustrates me. I can type quite quickly if the words spring from my own head, but copying another’s is achingly dull.

But I won’t give up on Albert; I have (oh the wonders of technology) started dictating his letters, which is such a time saver! Reading aloud, if only to an iPad, shadows how these letters might first have been communicated to my Grandparents. I imagine my Grandfather reading to my Grandmother in the kitchen (reorganised to combat the winter cold), or maybe Grandmother read to my Grandfather as they sat together by the fire. Although I realise now how infrequently that would have occurred in the war years, for my Grandfather was evacuated with his entire school to Dorset, and Grandmother was mostly alone in Bullar Road. Still, these letters would have been passed around the family and read aloud at the kitchen table in Headley House, when Grandmother and Jean, reunited on the Island, went to visit.

Dear all,
here is a letter to accompany the parcel which I hope to send tomorrow (Thursday) dinner-time. I have not done much since I wrote last. I went to the concert, for which I have enclosed the programme. The orchestra was quite good and the pianists excellent. I liked the Bach best of all, it was similar in some respects to the concerto in A minor which I have. There were about 15 in the orchestra but the audience was most disappointing – there could not have been more than 350 there, which, since there are 75,000 Airmen in Blackpool represents about a quarter %. Some of the audience were civilians too.
On Monday I went to an educational test to see about being an observer. I took a short and easy test and when the real test comes off I am pretty sure I shall pass. When I pass that I am given a sort of certificate to show that I have passed. Later on in our fourth or fifth week of training we go before a selection board and are asked if we wish to go over to the pilot’s course (same for observers) and if we produce this certificate we have quite a good chance of getting through, so I have only to wait. I believe that our squad is all taking this test on Friday – but like many other things up here that may not come off as arranged.

I wished I had been cycling home from Hamble instead of drilling in one of Blackpool’s dingy backstreets. “


On Friday we have our second Morse test and with luck I should pass that and get onto the six words per minute class. To-day I must try to book a seat for the Warner Brothers film – I hope to go on Friday. There are generally so many people going to the cinemas that one has to queue up or book a seat, yet there was plenty of room at the Halle orchestra concert on Saturday. Incidentally, I believe that the large number of civil servants here are responsible for the good shows and concerts that come here. I am told that before the war, the entertainment was about what one might expect in a place like this.
Today is quite muggy and warm, yesterday was lovely, warm sun and not much wind and quite warm walking home in the evening. I wished I had been cycling home from Hamble instead of drilling in one of Blackpool’s dingy backstreets. We have just been issued with an extra shirt and two collars, making three shirts and six collars in all. Not that I need them, for I find that apart from socks, I do not dirty my clothes at all quickly, of course we do not do any dirty work.
6.40 Evening
I am now waiting to go down to the music Society meeting at 7:30. This afternoon we played football, or rather 11 of us did whilst the other 30 sat down and watched. Then we went home early, which is not a bad way of spending an afternoon. This morning I put some boric acid powder in my socks to stop my feet from blistering but I don’t know whether it has made any difference. Well, there seems very little to write about this time. I have not had any letters since yours, I do not seem to have had much mail lately though I have written quite a lot. I have not written to Raymond yet or to ‘Spray Bank’. I think I might as well break off now and add a bit more later on, if there is any more to add.
9.40
It is funny how I keep on suddenly thinking of little bits of country round home at all sorts of odd times and usually for no apparent reason; sometimes my memory brings up a picture of Stephen’s Castle Down, another time of Deacon Hill or again of the Lyndhurst Road. I don’t know what it shows, but there it is. Well that about finishes that piece of paper, so goodbye and love from Albert.

In the 1930s and 40s Southampton was a large, bustling commercial port and town, yet Albert’s 6 mile cycle ride to the Shell Mex BP oil refinery in Hamble would have taken him down green lanes with views of the river Itchen and the wider expanse of Southampton Water. No wonder he missed his daily dose of countryside, as his sore feet marched up and down the dingy drill ground for hours on end.

Sunday morning, Monday evening.

“Now I had better tell you some more about the billet and how good it is. We have plenty of everything.”

Albert started this letter on 9 November 1941. In spite of sore feet he appears in a positive frame of mind. His happiness was fuelled, I am sure, by the company of women (who obligingly make cocoa and iron hankies) and a plentiful supply of food. Other news relates to cinema trips, concerts, socks and day trips. Aside from his sore toe and the mention of pilot and observer exams, it would appear that the war is doing little to cloud his outlook.

As yet I have not received a message from you to this address but doubtless there will be something tomorrow, and if today I give an account of my doings, I shall be able to reply to you in a short time. It seems that the post is so slow that we cannot reply to letters twice a week I shall have to write my second one before I receive a reply to my first and so on, if you see what I mean I think it would be a good idea if I posted my letters Monday and Thursday so that you would receive them in the middle and at the end of the week. Then I think you could write on the same days, replying to my Monday letter in your Thursday one and to my Thurs. one in the weekend. I shall not now need to send home washing since we can send the stuff from this billet to a private laundry at about 1.6 a time which is no more than the post would cost. That reminds me, it goes on Sunday so I had better get it ready – oh it’s alright the landlady has collected it from my bedroom when she made the bed.
I said I was going out today but that is not the case I failed to get a pass at my first attempt and since: (a) I have got a sore toe and could not walk far with comfort and (b) I have already spent most of this weeks money, I did not bother to try a second time.
I have also discovered much to my dismay that the journey to Sheffield takes about five hours so it does not look as if I shall see much of that part of the world. Perhaps you could let me have the Bolton address if you think it would be alright to go. Or did you say that uncle Alan is at Manchester I could get there quite easily.
On Tuesday I got my feet seen to and was excused drill and marches for three days -which I didn’t much mind! They put Acriflavine and plaster on since the little toe on my right foot has blistered. I have brought some Acriflavine cream and put it on, it should be alright by Monday.
Now I had better tell you some more about the billet and how good it is. We have plenty of everything. Breakfast this morning was cornflakes, fried egg and bread and marmalade or jam. Yesterday dinner was chips, steak and beans and a custard trifle. For tea there is always something such as cold meat Friday there was fish and chips. At night the girls make us cocoa and there is something such as a pie or sandwiches to eat. It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us such as washing up supper things and will iron handkerchiefs and ties for us. There is always a fire too, so that it is quite pleasant to stop indoors. Another good thing is that we help ourselves to sugar and milk (they they were in the teapot before) and have linen tablecloths instead of bits of American cloth, all of which make it more like home. There is warm or hot water in the morning too.
It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us

“It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us..”


I have been eating, and enjoying, lots of things that I did not touch at home. Most breakfast times there is cornflakes or “shredded wheat” and I have had that with milk and sugar, and quite likely may have it in summer time when I come home! I also have custard with things and rice pudding, and I eat, though do not like so much, greens and other vegetables, though we have not had much in the way of parsnips, swedes and turnips.
Today is grey and windy and I do not suppose I should go far this afternoon. As I said, I have not too much money. We were paid £1 on Saturday, to last us a fortnight and I have spent nearly 10/- of it on writing paper, acriflavine and a ticket for “Blossom Time”, going to the Halle Orchestra concert, and other odd things such as stamps and “The Listener”. This week I want to go to the cinema to see the Warner Brothers new film, perhaps I should go with Bob, my Hamble friend. The trouble is that it costs 2/- or 2/6 to get a reserved seat at the theatre, and I do not intend to go into the gallery though, at the Grand one can get a good seat for 2/- by waiting in a queue. However I shall manage on my RAF pay, even if I cannot save much of it. Which reminds me to ask how much of Jean’s money is left. I should think she has enough left for two or three weeks. How much is there in my box, and how are the savings certificates going, or probably SM&BP have not sent anything yet 
[Shell Mex & British Petroleum]. It is difficult for me to realise that I have been away only 3 weeks.
Yesterday I collected a parcel which arrived at Hull Road. It contained a pair of socks from Branstone, and I am wearing them now. This afternoon I ought to wash them and a lot of hankies, as I have had a bit of a cold. There was also a letter from Ron, which I was pleased to see, I must reply next week. I must do something this week about being an observer. As a matter of fact, there are several who would like to be pilots ( the pilot’s course is initially the same as the observers) and as a matter of routine the whole squad is undergoing an educational test to see if any are fit to go in for the course. I saw a pilots revision course maths paper and did practically everything in my head so it all seems pretty simple. On Friday we had a Morse test which I failed, but since I did not know any before Monday that doesn’t worry me much. We have two more chances on successive Fridays; I expect I shall be alright by the next test.
Monday 5pm.
I have just come in and have been reading your letters; it is very nice to have such a lot to read, and to know all about what happens at home, especially all the little things, like Tibby catching a mouse, and how you have arranged the kitchen for cold weather. I expect we have had some frosts but there being no grass or greenstuff, one doesn’t notice it so much. To-day it is wet and rather miserable and I am glad to sit by the fire. I must get this done in time for the post though and get that extra vest in. Auntie Daisy has some more socks underway I believe, so I shall soon be very well off. When I have got these dried I shall send a pair and save myself some mending! Thank you for the cheese and apples too. If I ever get a day out I can take the cheese with some bread thank you also for the information about Christmas presents, but you have missed out 2 very important ones.
I should like to share in your cheese savoury for dinner, that is something I should not get in any billet. Of course we have plenty of meat allowed us and most people would prefer meat to a “fussy” and dish like macaroni cheese (I wouldn’t of course). By the way we are allowed to wear shoes and so I have no worries on that score, and in lieu of slippers we use our gym shoes (plimsolls) which do just as well and don’t come off. I should not bother to send the “M.M.”, I have plenty to read and it would only get bent and battered. Perhaps you could send to uncle Jim a PC size photo of Exeter Cathedral, and there is one of the railway and cliffs done on cream grained paper that he could have. There are some of the guides to but they are not sufficiently in focus to be of much use, still send them along to him. I also meant to send Peter Wadham a 2 inch screwed rod and 2 doz. nuts & bolts for his Meccano, but that had better wait until Peter is home again. By the way 39 D. Road is opposite a little alley way and south of Banks street. Our “drill ground” is the top (blind end) of Cocker Street, not far away.
The envelope I meant was a blank stamped one which you sent. It got rather bent and slightly split in the journey. Don’t let the gramophone run down after use, though of course it is inadvisable to leave it fully wound. If you have not yet done so the needle had better be changed, use one of the “Chromium” ones (silver case) they are easier to put in. It is now nearly 6.30 & there is no time to make up the parcel. I will send it next time I write (Weds). So goodbye now and love to all, from Albert.

It is a strange, but not unpleasant sensation, to feel glad that Albert is enjoying himself. The heart tunes into the truth that lingers; he may be long gone but his words reconnect me with the time when he was young, hopeful, and delighting in Northern adventures. I have never visited Blackpool (shall I ever?) but I’ve found a good guide, albeit for the town as it was nearly 80 years ago! Well Albert, I look forward to your next letter.

Another Country

Where Albert’s heart was..

Albert’s Photograph of Sutton Poyntz, Dorset, August 1940

I have mentioned before that my uncle was a keen photographer. And being a photographer in the 1930s and 1940s meant developing one’s own photographs, with all the expense and labour which that entails. The photograph above is, I think, of such a high quality that it deserves to be the first that I share with you. Albert must have been rather proud of it too, for he included it in his 1940 album. You can see below how he chose to mount it, with a precise hand-drawn frame and caption. I’m sorry that I could not get an entirely straight shot of this page, because the album is a little warped, in spite of my Mother’s care in keeping it. Albert’s choice of title “The Quiet Stream” hints at his romantic spirit, of one in love with the English Countryside. I wonder if he ever looked at his work and dreamt of a future where his photographs graced the pages of a guide book or ‘Country Life’.

I think Albert must have spent hours making this page in his album.

I also love the photograph below. This really is of ‘another country’; a bygone era, unknown to all but a few people now. It might be of farmland on the high hills around Winchester, if not there then I am sure that it will be somewhere in Hampshire or Dorset. These counties were his favoured lands. I have two versions of this photograph, one is a test print on a postcard and this is the final print, which he mounted in another album, preceding the 1940 one. Certainly the photos in the album are not quite so lovingly mounted, which is why I didn’t include the frame! I think it is beautiful.

Taken probably in 1938 or 1939, possibly near Winchester.

On the back of the test print are some notes made in pencil. Initially I thought Albert had hurriedly set down his thoughts, for the letters slope uncharacteristically elongated and almost illegible across the card. But as I slowly deciphered the words, I realised they were by another’s hand. I had not given any thought to how or where Albert developed his photographs. Given the costs and space required, he most likely shared resources, maybe at a club. The critique below must have been written by a friend or a club member, someone who had some expertise to pass on to my uncle, but I don’t know who. Maybe my Uncle Peter will be able to recall?

Apparently sun wasn’t shining – so don’t expect highlights on the horses. Besides my horses were classics – these aren’t. Composition might have been improved by having sky behind house instead of a horse. I’m always doing the same thing. Plus sunshine, this might have been a prizewinner.’

Oh but I think it absolutely is a prizewinner, Uncle Albert!

10 Girls, and Real Birds

“Our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times.”

32 Dickson Road as it appears today. A very different place to Whiteley Bank (see below).

Two days later, on 4th November 1941, Albert writes another letter home from his new billet. He is sounding really rather chipper, his excitement about his new lodgings leaps off the page. He finds himself in a hotel where there are more ‘girls’ than airmen, a dream come true for a 20 year old man far from home, I am sure.

He has a sense of purpose too, for his specific training has commenced and he is learning Morse code. He writes that his efforts can be seen on the paper. I searched and searched and saw no dashes and dots, until I tilted the first page and saw the impressions of code besides the address. I cannot reproduce it here and if there is a secret message contained therein, well I’m afraid I shall not be investing in fingerprint dust to decipher it!

Later in the letter he relates his visit to Stanley park where he saw ‘Real live birds!’ and enjoys the softness of the grass beneath his feet. He wishes he had walked from Whiteley Bank back to Branstone with his family, back to Headley House where there have been worries about money. How dear he was, to offer a contribution from his wages to help his Grandparents and the Maiden Aunts.

I very much enjoyed this letter, Albert came alive as I read his news. I hope you enjoy it too.

Dear All, you will note the change of address! Apparently our old billet was too far from the parade ground (about 12 mins), so we have been moved here, which is about 10 minutes nearer. We got back to billets at about 6p.m. and were informed that we should move after tea! It is now nine o’clock!

Fortunately this billet is, I believe, even better than the last. For example, our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times, none of which we had at Hull road. Two of use from Hull road came here, and joined five other airmen who have been in Blackpool about 8 weeks I understand. There are also 10 girl Civil Servants, who are working at the Ministry of Works and Buildings, which has moved up to the Hotel Metropole here. There are other Ministries here, including Pensions and Health. They have naturally got the biggest & best hotels in the place.

We have begun to work in earnest this week. We work from 8 or earlier, to 6 with about an hour for dinner. There is the usual drill, and now we do Morse. Yesterday I had my first acquaintance with the Morse code and instead of going to the Music Club I learnt, or partly learnt the code – you will see that on the top of the page over. This evening I missed Handel’s Oratorio Judas Maccabeus by moving here. To-morrow I mean to make the greatest efforts to get to the music meeting. And on Thursday I must see my Hamble pal again – he was out when I called last week.

I received your letters this afternoon. I was sorry to hear that you had so tiresome a journey, though I would be pleased to walk from Whiteley Bank with you! I am very pleased to hear that the bother over the money has been settled, but perhaps you would like to take say 5/- per week out of my S.M. & B.P [Shell Mex and British Petroleum, Albert’s employer]. Or I could make an allotment of 7/- a week to you or them, and you could have as much as you require. Don’t be afraid to take the money if you want it. I am glad that their wireless is alright, and that Peter is better now. I suppose Jean is still in the same billet; I shall try to send her some chocolate or sweets and perhaps some meat paste.I believe there is a laundry service that we can avail ourselves of.

On Sunday I went to Stanley Park which you will find on the map with a pond in the east part of it. I believe it is the only park in Blackpool, but it is quite a nice place and I was joyful to have some grass under my feet, & trees on either side, and even some birds – real live birds! I walked to the eastern gates and out to a field nearby, where I actually saw some cows.

If I can manage a day pass to get outside the 5 mile limit, I should like to go to Garston on Sunday. Garston (I hope that is the name) [No Albert, you meant Garstang] is a village under the Pennines and I can do a little walk from there.

The fellows here say that it is not always the case that leave passes come when they should so whilst we can live in hopes, it is not advisable to hope too much! I have tried some shops for 1/4″ map of the district. There was a 1/2″ available but it did not show Castleton or the Lake District. I shall keep trying though. Boots have a very good shop and quite a nice selection of books. The apples have all gone – I was wrong when I said they were not so good – I had only had two of the little ones when I wrote – the large ones were much better & I shall always be pleased to see some more. That had better be all so goodnight & love from Albert.

P.S. I should not send any more envelopes you can see what happens to them!

What did happen to the envelopes I wonder? This letter, like many others, did not have an envelope. Albert’s letters were most likely censored. I know for a fact that some later ones were, as I’ve found little windows on pages, signifying the removal of a potentially treacherous word or two. Goodnight Albert, enjoy your cocoa and the sound of the “girls'” laughter.

Whiteley Bank, looking towards Canteen Road, which my Grandparents would have taken to Branstone.