A Moment in History

You had probably got rather anxious about the fate of my socks

Raymond Delfosse Jnr., Fort Marion, St Augustine, Florida 1942

This letter records a moment in American History, as well as the fate of Albert’s socks; the momentous jostling side by side with the banal. Albert and Raymond Jnr were distant cousins on my Grandmother’s side. Raymond’s grandmother Helen Pratt (known as cousin Ellen to my Grandmother) met and married Fernand Delphosse in France. Their son Raymond was born in Paris in 1900. At some point the family moved to Ontario, Canada. In 1920 Raymond moved to Queens, New York with his French Canadian wife Reina. Their son Raymond was born in 1922. I have assumed that we read Raymond Jnr’s words here, for relating that catastrophe at Pearl Harbor with a sense of excitement rather than horror is, I think, a tendency of the young. As the photo above shows, Raymond Jnr. was willing to serve his country, following through on the sentiment he expressed below.

Dear All                                               Saturday night, 17-1-42

Now that I have two letters to reply to, I had better start soon. You had probably got rather anxious about the fate of my socks. They arrived by the midday parcel post on Friday, and by the afternoon post came the letter including Phil’s “Greetings Telegram”, though it was written 2 days later. I expect the snowy weather has delayed things rather. Usually I get your letters quite quickly, the re-addressed one from Raymond arrived this afternoon.

Raymond’s letter I will return after I have replied to it. It is very interesting since it was written on Dec 7 and 8, just when the Japanese “declared war.” He writes about his newsreel film job, which he could not have, due to not being able to learn to drive in time:

“……in making a turn in reverse I smashed a pole and knocked over a mess of garbage [dustbin I suppose]. That was the end of that. It was too late for another test. “Holy Smoke!!!” a news bulletin has just come over the air stating that the Japs have attacked Hawaii. This sure is a surprise to me & sure is going to change a few plans over here…..Well I guess we’re ‘dyed in the wool’ allies now, and I’m going to drink to it & to you.”

That is really a thrilling letter I must say.

I should have said before how glad I am that the socks arrived, and must thank you for doing them, not forgetting Jean’s great services. I am now wearing a pair which she did (the mauve ones) and really Jean you have made a very good job of them (I expect that pleases her)…. If only you could make an equally good job of your arithmetic (I bet that doesn’t!). However, I will send the other socks on Weds. and when I come home, I must get Jean to teach me darning.

I am quite alright now (not that I was ever very bad) except for a cold in the nose which means I can’t taste much. I was sufficiently well to get to the cinema tonight to see the “Reluctant Dragon” which is a very unusual picture. It goes behind the scenes of the Disney studios and shows how the cartoon films are designed and made. The “reluctant Dragon” part is a Silly Symphony rather longer than usual and quite good; but best of all I liked a Goofy one on horse riding which is included in the the film. I laughed more than I had for a very long time at that one. For the next fortnight there will be the “International Ballet” at the New Opera House, and I shall probably go 2 or 3 times.

The weather is still cold and rather windy, but not, I think, so cold today as yesterday, when I should imagine that it was a bit colder than your 12˙ of frost a week ago. Is that the coldest you have registered this winter? We have had no more snow or rain since about Wednesday and I don’t wish to see any either. I expect there is some up in the hills, but as there is no promise of any sun, I shall not go out all day tomorrow. I will probably go for an afternoon excursion nearer Blackpool, after stopping in bed a bit late this morning. I will probably write a letter or so in the evening. I wrote to Jack this afternoon and have also sent to Maggie and Havant, so what with one thing and another I have not much of Auntie Frad’s book of stamps left.

Thanks for the 2/- that reminds me, I heard they had some “Players’ in the NAAFI today (but only 20 each) so perhaps supplies are returning. It has been all Woodbines & Star lately. Thanks for the chocolate too. Of course I like “Mars”, though having a cold, I have not yet eaten them. Do thank Mrs Churchill for taking the trouble to get them for me.

I suppose we shall be losing our railings soon, which doesn’t worry me much, as I never did like them much. We shall lose our ‘warning’ gate too I suppose but even that is not a very serious loss. It will show up the shabbiness of the wall though!

I hope Peter will be able to get Jean a geometry set. One of the shops here has some drawing and draughtsmens’ instruments – I saw a pair of dividers at 15/- – so I didn’t look much farther!

I set the watch right by Big Ben tonight. It had gained 4 mins since 6 o’clock last night. Now it is time for cocoa, so I will say goodnight. Love to all, from Albert

My dear Mother was only 10 in January 1942, but clearly old enough to be proficient at darning. I’m glad her efforts were appreciated although Albert still teased her about her arithmetic! I’m sure my Mum would have enjoyed the Reluctant Dragon too, but I don’t know if she ever saw it. And Albert seems oblivious to my Grandmother’s feelings about the ironwork being removed to help the ‘War Effort’. ‘The warning gate’, e.g. a creaking gate that alerted you of an approaching visitor, harks back to a time when it was unthinkable not to answer the door, so you needed a signal to give yourself time to check appearances in the hall mirror. How times have changed.

There will be more news from the American cousins in 1943, when Albert travels over the Atlantic, for a life altogether unimagined in January 1942.

“Oh, Mr Porter!”

Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat: Albert must have heard an extract from this film on the radio.

I could have titled this post “The Sock Saga”, as Albert is a little preoccupied with sock supplies, but I thought it not the most compelling title, plus it’s hard to find a photograph of 1940s socks. Yes, I’m sure somewhere on the internet there is a vintage sock snap; I’ll save that search for another day. I hope that Albert will learn to darn his own socks in the next year. He is getting used to washing his own hankies, as you will discover.

Albert is also laid low with tonsillitis. His doctor prescribes potassium chlorate and menthol to relieve his symptoms. I was a little alarmed when I discovered that potassium chlorate is a volatile substance, which is used in fireworks and other explosives, yet it was a widely used throat remedy way back then.

January 14 Weds

Dear All, your letter has not yet arrived, but I think I had better at least start to reply, though I shall wait until the first post tomorrow until I finally seal it up. I hope the socks arrive soon as I am down to the last pair, and even they have a hole in and want washing. I suppose that they arrived too late for the Monday morning post.

I have just been listening to Moore Marriott & Graham Moffat, in the bit from ‘Oh! Mr Porter!’ I expect you heard it too.

On Monday I went to the Music Society’s meeting as usual, & on Tuesday to a concert by the RAF orchestra. The orchestra played, amongst other items, part of the ‘Water Music’, some songs by a good soprano, and some very excellent piano playing by a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. As an encore he played the Dance of Fear [‘Dance of Terror’] from ‘Love the Magician’, much to my delight.

The weather has been still unpleasant, consisting mainly of wet snow, cold rain and cold winds. The snow has not laid properly, but it has made the roads nasty and sloshy to walk on. My cold is still with me and worse if anything, as I now have a sore throat too. I washed about a dozen handkerchiefs this evening, but have not yet succeeded in getting the blue out.

Nowadays we are back on the drill again. Not that there is any need for it, but I suppose that the idea is to keep us busy. Until then we were mainly on “route marches”, which generally consisted of about two thirds march & one third sitting in cafes.

Thursday: I am now at the billet after having been to see the doctor. He says I have tonsillitis and must stop in bed for two days. I have also to gargle, to inhale menthol & take some potassium chlorate tablets. I have not yet got to bed & don’t suppose I shall do so, because it is a lot warmer down here by the fire than upstairs, especially after the window has been open all morning. This morning was clear and very cold. About the coldest yet I should think. Don’t think that I am very ill though: as far as I am concerned I have just a bad cold and sore throat, but I think that if anything I am better than yesterday. I shan’t be able to go to the cinema tonight as planned though; I must try Saturday.

This morning’s post had only a letter from Auntie Frad for me, perhaps yours may arrive with the parcels at dinner time. I see from Auntie Frad’s letter that Peter arrived there on Monday, so I suppose that Jean has left you too. Her letter also included a 2/6 book of stamps, which is very useful, as I had run out & should have had to buy some to post this letter……….1.30pm: Nothing has yet arrived, so goodbye, Albert.

I had not heard of ‘Love the Magician’ until I read Albert’s letter. ‘El Amor Brujo’ was composed by Manuel de Falla between 1914 and 1915. I listened to an orchestral version of ‘Danza del Terror’ last night, closing my eyes to imagine my Uncle’s delight, to hear that familiar piece of music so far from home.

Another Good Walk

The pool above Calder Vale, where Albert watched the boys ice skating
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Ian Greiggeograph.org.uk/p/4940409

On the evening of Sunday January 11 1942, Albert starts his next letter, after a long walk in freezing weather. We know from previous letters that Albert was not averse to hitch hiking (see What an Adventure for a particularly fortuitous lift he received in November 1941). On 11th January Albert manages to hitch a lift further east, to explore Garstang and beyond. Albert furnishes us with timings as he details his route, a walk where he comes across a ruined castle, fearless skaters, tumbling rivers and frosty valley views. Finally, after about four hours of walking Albert catches another lift and rides back to Blackpool in style, in a Vauxhall 12.

Dear All,

I have just been for a good walk, though the weather was not so nice as it has been. All the week the weather has been cold, but the sun has shone most of the time: today it has been just cold or until about 4 o’clock, when the clouds and mist did part a little, and reveal a red and chilly sun.

I started off at 10.45 and took the ‘bus to Poulton, where the crossroads is. I walked along the railway and beyond the next cross roads (where the main Fleetwood road crosses the Lancaster one) before I got a car. There were few cars on the road, and two which did stop were not going my way. However, I did get a lift (11.50), in a car which the man was driving from St Annes to Glasgow, which he reckoned to reach about 5.30. I left him near Garstang, just beyond the railway bridge (12.10). I then went down to Garstang by the station and church, across the Wyre and left just over the bridge, before the church.

The lane took me up by the remains of a castle keep (more likely the remains of a look tower), and to a farm, where the road became a footpath which led over two railways, and became a road or lane once more (1.0). I followed this road and after some cross country walking and then back on the road again, reached a rather pretty place called Calder Vale.

Once again the road became a footpath, which led up from the village up the steep sides of the river valley, through a small wood, at the bottom of which the river rushed over rocks and boulders. It was quite similar to the Welsh scenery in some aspects. I came across a pond above the river, on which some boys were skating and cycling. I should think it has been quite cold there, though I felt warm enough all the time I was walking. The path gradually reached the top of the valley, at a small church and school (2.0). I ate my dinner (cheese sandwiches) there, but it was so chilly sitting still that I saved some cakes until later, and ate them walking along. I turned south at the church and kept to the road on the east side of the Calder valley, right down to Claughton park. The road was particulary nice where it runs closest to the river, which can be seen tumbling its way over the stones, and between the rocky walls which rise to 12 feet or so on either side. The grassy fields which formed the sides of the valley were white with frost, even when I was there. I came to the main railway and over a canal, which was also frozen over, but not so much as the pond. The canals must be fine for skating when they are frozen over. From there it was only a short walk to the corner at Churchtown (3.45). From there I got the first car which came along (a Vauxhall 12) and rode in state to Blackpool (4.10).

Albert’s lift home

Monday: By the way I believe I told you that I was to be on Guard over the weekend. Fortunately, I was not required after all and so could go on my walk. Today we have had some snow, though not yet enough to worry about. In spite of the snow though, I see the first spring flowers, jonquil and narcissus, in the shops, as well as some late chrysanthemums and some carnations. They are not priced of course.

Not having Guard to do enabled me to go to the Halle concert, which I enjoyed quite well, though there was none of my favourites in the programme. However, it was good. Tuesday there is a concert by the RAF orchestra, which I must attend, and on Thursday (or perhaps Friday) I must go to the cinema to see Walt Disney’s “Reluctant Dragon.”

I had a surprise the other night when I pulled out the watch and found its figures all a-glow and easily readable – it could not have been really dark when you looked at it. It was even more surprising since I had been carrying the watch in my pocket, and it had not been exposed to the light. It keeps very good time too.

Perhaps you could send up and Ever-Ready battery for my torch if they are procurable. I shall want a new one soon, and cannot get Ever-Ready ones up here, though there are plenty of unknown makes for sale, at about 9d each. I suppose the children will soon be leaving you, or have done so already. I hope thay have had a good time at home. Goodbye, and love to you all from Albert.

P.S. I ate two of your apples yesterday.

I wish I knew what type of watch Albert had, and also why he was not in posession of it previously. I’m happy to know he was pleased with it and doubtless he used his watch to make note of the time during his walk. Maybe one day I will retrace his steps, for Calder Vale appears, according to my research, essentially unchanged all these years later.

Once again I find myself smiling at the list of things Albert must do, e.g. attend concerts and go to the cinema. His ‘obligations’ shatter my illusion of the bleakness of wartime life! It’s good to read that there are always things to look forward to, even in the darkest of times.

A Walk in Windmill Land

It was Albert’s reference to the windmills that caught my imagination, and had he seen this book (first published in 1916) I’m sure he would have read it avidly, as it’s all about the landscape that he walked in. Sadly, of the many windmills Albert would have seen, very few remain. I have included a link to the Singleton Mill at the end of this post.

Albert’s letter is dated 6 January 1942, and yes, 79 years later to the day, I send his thoughts out into the world. One of the reasons why I ceased posting on this site in 2020, was that I felt ‘out of sync’ with Albert. Publishing his Christmas commentary when I was basking in the late Summer sun didn’t feel right. I hope to get closer to Albert’s lived experience through reproducing his letters on the anniversary of their creation.

Albert lived through strange times, and now we do too. In bleaker moments I wonder if ‘normal’ will ever return – did Albert think that too? I’m sure he must have worried, but he kept his concerns to himself and filled the pages with the comforting munitae of daily life and the joys of an afternoon’s walk; therein lies a lesson for us all!

Dear All, for once we have a fine sunny day, though it is very cold, especially at night.  There have been some moonlit nights too, though by now the moon is in the morning rather than at night.  There was plenty of frost on the rooftops and railings this morning too.

 It was a pity that it was not so dry and sunny on Sunday, when I went for a walk after dinner. At quarter to two, I took a bus to Hardhorn Corner, near the village of that name. It was quite sunny then and I walked along the road to where it runs nearly parallel to the railway. By that time it was getting cloudy, but it was still pleasant walking. This time I did not try any cross country walking. As even the side roads were in a muddy state and I did not wish to repeat the experience of Christmas day. I have taken my shoes to be repaired and have not yet got them back (they should be ready today) and one pair of boots is at the RAF repair shop, so I have only one pair of boots. The shoes want new tips to the heels and one requires a new sole, so that will mean two soles and a pretty hefty bill to pay.

I walked under the railway, over a little canal and to Great Singleton, where I took the road by the church, which I passed as the clock struck 3. I stopped there a little while and ate the remaining few of your biscuits. There was a little plantation of trees there and I stood underneath and enjoyed the singing of the birds. I walked to the main Poulton road, which I crossed and went up the smaller road by the Wyre and rejoined the Poulton road at the crossroads. By then it was nearly 4 p.m. and beginning to rain, so I hailed a passing car and returned to a part of Blackpool from which I caught a ‘bus.

We had been on Church Parade on Sunday morning, and when I got up it was raining quite hard, but it stopped by the time we were out.

There are a great many windmills in this district, due to the flatness of the country I suppose. Of course, none of them are working now, but a good many still have the sails intact. They tend to be rather squat building though, and not so nice as the few at home, especially the one near the A3 where Chalton road branches off.

Evening: This afternoon it has again clouded over, and when I came in a little while back, there were a few spots of rain falling. On the way from our bath, I called in and got my shoes back. They cost me 5/9 and are rather a rough job, heavier than before, not such good looking leather or workmanship and the soles are nailed on, not stitched as before. However I am glad not to have to wear boots after duty hours.

This weekend they have put me on a guard 10am Sat to 10am Sunday. Normally I should not mind unduly, though of course it is a nuisance at any time, but this Saturday afternoon there is a concert by the Halle orchestra. I don’t know yet what the programme is, but just for the purpose, it is probably an extra good one with some of my favourites like a Mozart & Beethoven symphony, or a Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto. (In my next letter I will give the programme and you can see how accurate my forecast has been).

Wednesday Jan 7 (Dinner time): Your parcel has just arrived, and I have skimmed through your letters from home, though not the others. I have looked at the apples, which are looking very nice, and glanced at the watch, which of course was stopped. I have not yet come across Mr Mitchell’s Xmas card, I wonder if you put it in.

I am glad that Peter and Jean are still home, I hope that they are with you for quite a while yet (you don’t say when they go home). I have not time to write to Peter and Jean, but I was interested in Peter’s Meccano models. I didn’t know though that the electric motor was still going, I thought that the brushes were missing. The transformer I suppose is the one from the doll’s house; it will do but I don’t think there is enough output to get the motor going really well. I expect Jean enjoyed her stay at Bishop’s Waltham, it must be a long time since she saw Jean Bryan.

Today it is sunny (at the moment) but quite a wintry sun it is. Until a little while ago the roads were mostly covered with slippery ice, as it rained slightly yesterday and then froze very hard last night. It was perishing cold this morning too. That is about all, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. Thank Mrs Churchill for the chocolate, it is a long time since I saw as much as that. Once again I have nearly got rid of my cold, but I don’t know how long for. I washed many handkerchiefs on Monday. I found much to my dismay that the colour was coming out of at least 2 of the blue ones; whether Peter’s or Ron’s I cannot say, and had tinted the white ones, including one of my nice ones. I hope the blueness will disappear with subsequent washing. I was interested to see how you did “my” chestnut tree, though I don’t mind now if you cut it down if you want to. I still think it won’t be in the way.

This how Albert finishes his (otherwise splodge free) letter.

I found some photographs of the Singleton Windmill, which you can view via the link. Using Albert’s directions it was easy to find the Chalton windmill that sits atop of Windmill Hill in Hampshire. It is now a nice looking home.

I’ve never visited the countryside around Blackpool, yet via the internet I have seen plenty of pretty photos of Singleton; when it lost its ‘Great’ness I do not know! I was pleased to see, via Google Maps, that the woods around St Anne’s church remain. It’s nice to think of Albert enjoying the respite of nature, as many of us have learned to do in this time of pandemic. Let’s hope the birds start singing again soon, giving us hints of Spring.

School Friends

“a sort of guarantee that things are much as they were, underneath, just as you know that a tree is fundamentally the same in Winter as when it is able to be in leaf.”

Phil Hart 1938′ – this photo was probably taken by Albert.

I don’t know when Albert would have received this short letter, surely some weeks after the date his school friend Phil Hart wrote, on 16 December 1941. However, in The Christmas Party Albert mentions receiving a letter from his school friend. If this ‘Air Graph’ took only five days to fly from ‘The Middle East’ to Southampton and thence to Blackpool, that would have been some kind of miracle. At the time of writing, these young men were only 20. Although the letter is short I loved the insight it gave me into another important relationship in Albert’s life. I was moved by the wisdom of Phil’s words, so apt not only for their radically altered lives, but the strange and uncertain world we live in now:

Dear Albert, This is just a “filling in” missive, not my much-overdue letter to you; that will arrive later. I hope you’ve seen everything that has arrived home from me. I am aware that you’ve been in the RAF for several weeks now. Unfortunately, I am not in possession of your new address yet, so this will go via No 38. I received a letter from you a short while ago, written in Devon. I enjoyed your holiday. It’s strange how you do enjoy such things by proxy, when you’re separated from them. It seems to be a sort of guarantee that things are much as they were, underneath, just as you know that a tree is fundamentally the same in Winter as when it is able to be in leaf. My sister, for instance, writes, “Albert wrote to me last week – don’t think he’s very happy, fed up with drilling etc. So write and cheer him up. Muriel, Sheila and I, walked from Compton, via Oliver’s Battery and Tegdown to Dene and Sparsholt and back to Winton for tea last Sunday. There was a tremendous wind and the Downs looked all silvery and lovely. I do wish you could have been there.” So, of course, do I, and you with me, but meanwhile isn’t it cheering to hear of these familiar places thus? I can’t supply this fare, as you did for me before you entered the RAF but you should receive a better letter from me about a fortnight after this arrives – cheerio for now – Bill.

I know that Phil survived the war, I don’t know why he signed himself ‘Bill’ though. Any readers familiar with the area around Winchester will be impressed by the distance Phil’s sister (Joyce) and friends walked in an afternoon, I’m sure it would take me a whole day. And, in a time of limited freedoms, it is cheering for me to hear of the silvery Downs and imagine a walk with family or friends in that familiar and essentially unchanged landscape .

Wishing you all a Happy New Year, with better times ahead.

Close to His Heart

“..so Goodbye, and more love from Albert.”

In my last post, I mentioned that we had read the last of Albert’s letters of 1941, and the next post would bring us to 1942. Well, dear reader, please bear with me as we have to pause, and revisit October 1941 before we delve into the next year.

As I worked my way through the very many letters of 1942, a little note slipped out of an envelope. Undated, many times folded over, tinted with the residues of coal dust and tobacco smoke. I held it in my hand and knew instantly by the soft curve of it, that this letter had lain close to my Grandfather’s heart, stored in his wallet or pocket book, from October 1941 to February 1963.

I think most people have one – a little note, some scrap of something handwritten. Often the subject is quite mundane (I have kept one of my Mother’s last lists) but the pattern and the flow of words written by one passed, or grown, touches us. There is something of the soul, something that we long to keep close.

The contents of this little note replicate much of what Albert wrote in the post 23 Hull Road. I guess what touched me most was that he begins the birthday letter ‘Dear Daddy’, and that he writes ‘may we spend the next one together.’

None of us know what’s around the corner, hasn’t 2020 highlighted that for us? And in 1941, no-one knew either. They had hopes, love and family and little reminders of those things, stored in letters and lists – kept close.

Gas Masks, Face Masks

“Blackpool, 1941, Gas Drill” by Tom Keay https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/14646

As I drove to the supermarket this morning, I realised that seeing people wearing facemasks feels just so normal now, and I guess in 1941 it felt just as commonplace to see people carrying around their gasmasks. Whilst I won’t compare the current pandemic in the UK to the upheaval of a world war, I see similarities in the hidden, unpredictable threat faced and how society shifts into new, previously unthinkable, patterns of protective behaviour.

As I was thinking about the parallels between war and pandemic, I looked up the number of British civilian casulaties – 43,000 people killed between 1940 and 1941. Currently the number of Covid 19 related deaths in the UK is 41,429 – not far off – in 8 months.

In 1941 due to censorship, people did not hear about how many of their fellow citizens had died as a direct result of war. Albert would have participated in gas mask drills (he could even have been a model for this sketch) but his letters omit such details. There must have been many, many things he did, which he could not share with his family. And I am sure also, there were feelings and concerns he would have wanted to share, about his life, his purpose and the unpredictable world he was living in. As such candour was impossible, Albert details the munitae of his December days, in the dull lull between Christmas and New Year.

Monday Dec 29. 1941

Dear All, I hoped to write a long letter about a walk which I intended to take yesterday, but by the time I awoke it was 10 o’clock and the ‘bus left at 10.20 – so it was not much use hurrying to catch it. The weather was cold and rather grey looking, though no doubt I should have enjoyed myself had I gone. I was going by ‘bus to Garstang, and then to walk up to the hills and moors, using my new book of maps. I must try that walk before I leave here, though I fancy there is a church parade next week.

In the afternoon I borrowed the “Monopoly” board which belongs to the people here, and had a game lasting for the afternoon and the earlier part of the evening, then I wrote some letters. I heard some “bits” of music during the day, including Everyman’s music in which they played the 1st part of The Water Music, much to my delight.

This morning your letters, posted on Boxing Day, arrived, and I was pleased to hear that you had a very good time at Xmas, with the usual Christmas fare and games, & quite a large party to join in with them.

I did not know that Jean had been to the clinic during her exam period, nor did I know that she did so well for Drawing, she is quite good.

As you seem to have such quantities, I am not sending any cigarettes this week. I had 40, but sold them to the man here, as he is not always able to get them; I can do with the money too, as I have not yet got over Xmas! (financially that is). I wonder how you got on travelling on Monday. Several of the girls who have gone on Xmas leave were due back to-day, but none of them has turned up. The fellows who had weekend leave say that the trains from Euston were packed, & very many of them could not get on the night train, and have had to travel later in the day.

It has turned much colder this week, and tonight it is slightly foggy, with a moon shining, and a sharp frost in the offing. The roofs were quite white this morning, which was also rather cold. This is the first really cold weather we have had; it probably is getting ready for next week when I am supposed to have some guards to do!

“Squad Drill on the Prom, 1941” by Tom Keay https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/14652

I am sending along “English Downland” which I am sure you will all like. I have put some remarks in the margin, so I won’t say anything much about it here. The part I like best of all is the description of the road over ‘Old Winchester Hill’, which he does very well, and in addition it is one of my favourite roads. If you have a spare Sunday in the Spring when the violets are out, you really must go along the road from West Meon station to the top of the Hill. I think it is best to go up the road, as then you have to walk and can see the full beauty of it. You could continue along Tegdown to Hyden Wood and thence either home or to Havant.

To-day it is still cold and foggy, I expect it is something like that at home, judging by the weather report from Dover. I hope you are all well: my love to you both & Peter and Jean – Albert.

P.S. I saw a car (Morris 10 or 12) with a ‘COW’ registration number. I took my shoes to be mended today so for the next week I shall clump round in boots for evenings. We should have church parade on Sunday.

And that is the last letter of 1941. What will 1942 bring Albert Mabey? I don’t know much more than you, for I have made a point of not reading ahead, prior to posting these letters. Soon I’ll pull the bundle of letters out from the box and we can discover the next chapter together.

Very Definately the Worst Xmas

..and I do not wish to see another like it.

Oh poor Albert! You know, in spite of his dramatic assertion above, I don’t feel too sorry for him, having read this letter through. There seems to have been quite alot going on for Albert in 1941 that was new and interesting, even though that necessitated some hard work on his part (for example getting his ‘words per minute’ up from 10 to 14 in Morse code). However I am sure it pulled on my Grandparents’ heartstrings to read those lines and also to learn that the prospect of Albert having Leave long enough to return home was some months away.

Albert pulls himself out of his petulance to detail his recent entertainments. Although Albert did not mention the concert of 23rd December, I have included the programme here because it was folded up with the letter. It’s lovely to read his annotations, which I imagine he made after the concert, as a means of sharing his experience with the family. I’ve added more photographs at the end of this post, so you can read them too.

Saturday, December 27 1941

Dear All,

I have received so many letters from you this week, that I had better write now, so as to catch up with you. I am writing this in the afternoon after having been out into the town, trying to buy a copy of “The Listener”, but there seem to be none left. It is crowded in the town, so crowded in fact that I did not bother to go into Boots’ and get the envelopes which I require. Since Christmas I have had quite a lot of letters –  three I believe from you, one from Auntie Edie, one from Havant, one from Grandma, one from Maggie and from Hamble, so I have had plenty of mail to read lately; now I had better start answering it.  It is a good job that I did not write a letter on Christmas evening, as I was then feeling very fed up. It did not seem like Christmas at all as I sat and looked at the fire, and it made it very definitely the worst Xmas I have ever known,  and I do not wish to see another like it.  It was worse because I had two pieces of bad news to think about, one which I am hoping maybe a mere rumour is that we have to pass out at 14wpm in Morse  instead of the previous 10 which I have just passed.  The other, which is definitely a fact, is that there are now no long weekends, so after the short weekend the next leave is the 7 days which is given on posting.  One bright spot in the evening was a concert by the Scottish Orchestra, in which they played Mozart’s 39th Symphony (in E minor I believe) but even that was marred by poor reception, as it was on the Forces programme.

 As for Christmas dinner, it was much the same as any other –  quite alright but not Christmas.  I ate the remaining apple after tea and very nice it was too  – I was surprised that it had kept crisp so long  – and we used up most of the nuts and Maltesers. In the afternoon I had a very pleasant walk in lovely weather; it was quite the best day we have had for weeks. I went along the Preston Road through Little Wharton, and then across country to The North towards the Weeton road. In the course of crossing field and I came across a drainage ditch (the country round here is rather flat and wet) and jumped across to the other side. Unfortunately the part that I thought was a nice firm one wasn’t and I landed up to the ankles (wearing shoes!) in soft black mud. However,  I wiped it off as best I could and continued towards the Weeton Road at which I turned right and then left to Staining. From Staining, which is quite a nice little village, I went along a footpath to Stanley Park and thence home.  The sun was shining, and, because I had not seen any for so long I suppose, the grass seemed exceptionally green and fresh looking.

Boxing Day, we were of course working, which made it rather miserable, especially since the Airforce seemed to be the only people out of doors.

In the evening three of us went to the pictures. It was not a film of much consequence (except for a Goofy silly symphony which I enjoyed immensely) and I can’t even remember what it was called, but it was better than stopping indoors and quite enjoyable really. Today as I say I am doing nothing much, though I had a bath just before tea (it is now nearly 7.0).

 I have only a slight cough left from my cold and that does not trouble me much now. I have just washed another lot of handkerchiefs and socks  – it looks as if some darning will have to be done soon.

 I have spent some pleasant moments looking through Peter’s exam papers and doing such easy questions as I’m still able to do; I have got very rusty, especially on the physics co-ordinate geometry and trig. Looking at the maths question on roots of a quadratic equation, I see Peter gives the answer as x2 -27x + 26=0 and on working it out I get x2 -27x + 52, which I believe is the correct answer, so I am afraid Peter has slipped up there (have you?). The others  I get the same, though it took me a long time to work through them! I have not yet done the numerical parts of the chemistry or physics (which is very difficult to read) papers. I was amused to see Peter’s memo to listen to the radio on the back of the “Pure Maths” paper. I was surprised that there was only one maths paper.

 I am glad that you were able to see Auntie Edie after so long. I hope her journey was not too troublesome. I was interested to read that they had a new Valor at Branston  – that was something not heard about, though I knew that the old one had gone wrong.

 I was interested to see the facsimile of Phil’s airgraph, though I have seen one before. Did you know that I had sent him one? There does not seem much to answer in your last letters –  I have not yet received one later than Dec. 23rd, though I have had an note from Havant saying that the cake “travelled beautifully” which rather relieves me. I hope you had a good Xmas at  Havant, something more like the old times there.

Well goodbye now and love to you all, from Albert.

In this letter I found so many things that deserved further investigation, although delving into quadratic equations was not one of them! Perhaps Uncle Peter could comment on that? I was curious about the details of Albert’s walk, so I consulted Google Maps. I discovered that there is no such place as Little Wharton. Following his directions I think it was the delightfully named ‘Little Plumpton’ that Albert passed through. His walk , based on this assumption, was at least 15 miles long, and half of that completed with soggy socks and shoes! Albert’s lack of complaint about fatigue or discomfort serves to remind me that his generation were certainly more hardy than we.

Reverse of the programme. Albert has attended several of these Musical Society meetings since he arrived in Blackpool
The concert started with the Polish National Anthem, as there were many Polish airmen based in Blackpool, who served with the RAF.

Christmas Eve 1941

Postmarked on Boxing Day, which is remarkable, although Albert complains of the slowness of the post.

Wartime and pandemic: My uncle knew the former and I the latter. I think about the similarities, the uncertain future, the constant but low-level sense of unease. Most of all I think of how both Albert and myself were taken by surprise, to experience a familiar world so suddenly altered.

This is Albert’s first Christmas away from home. He updates his family on the success of the the Christmas party, paying particular attention to the food. If there was any kissing under the misletoe, then Albert kept it to himself.

Once again I am touched to read Albert’s remarks to my Mother Jean, albeit a mild reprimand for doing poorly in her arithmetic test. My Mum excelled at many things, but maths was never one of them.

 A Merry Christmas to you all and here’s hoping to see you all very soon in the New Year.

 Dear all (Mummy and Daddy and Peter and Jean, and Aunties Lizzie and Bertha and also  Berty and everyone else).

 This is a strange 24th of of December and Christmas Eve but it will be another day of rest tomorrow, which is one pleasant thing. We had our party which was really quite enjoyable and the cakes excellent then also trifles with real cream on top I don’t know where ever it all came from there must have been nearly a pint in all. During the afternoon of Sunday I heard the first part of the broadcast of the Messiah and wondered if you to heard it. Now that we have some new people catering for us we have the wireless since they have brought their own, an all mains Murphy with ABC tuning, something like the Bryan’s, a very good set.  What we have is a speaker attached to a rediffusion system which seems to be very common here as there are wires across the streets,  right and left.  I am able to hear the news now and shall probably hear the King tomorrow.

 I don’t know when you will receive this, being posted today. Your letter ,written on 19 December, did not arrive until yesterday and mine, which you have not received, was posted on the usual day I believe. I was rather disappointed that you did not put in those Dufoy prints. I was anxious to see what they turned out like – after having remembered that I still had the reel.   I also had a letter from Castleton in which Geoff thanked me for the films. They included a 2/6d book of stamps. As regards the 5/- from Uncle Bernard,  perhaps you could send it on if the postal order is still intact, otherwise don’t bother . But after buying my Christmas presents, few though they were, I have very little ready money left.

 As for chocolate, we get some but not a great deal and just now there are great queues outside the NAAFI for cigarettes and chocolate, although not such large and disorderly ones as at Portswood.

 I was very interested to see Phil’s letter and read what he has being doing.  It seems that he is in quite safe area and that he is not having too bad time, in spite of what he says about it.

Dec 25 11am: We have just had breakfast and are listening to the church service on the home program . They are singing “Hark the Herald Angels sing” and it brings back to me happy memories of the many times I have been to Havant church on Christmas day; the same carols, the lesson from Isaiah and the Gospel from Saint Luke, about the shepherds at Bethlehem  – it does make it a little like Christmas.

 I do not know when this letter will reach you. Again I do not know where to send it. By the general slowness of the post I think I shall have to send it home. I will now thank you for the presents which I opened this morning.  I am wearing a tie which is better one than our issued article and which I shall save for ‘best’  wear.  The handkerchiefs would of course be very useful, though I have not quite so much use now as I nearly got rid of my cold, which has been rather troublesome. 

So today I have eaten the cake and I must say that it is very nice and although I believe you said it was without eggs or something.  I should not have thought so to eat it.  It was lovely and fresh too, in spite of having been kept for a week.  I have been eating the biscuits during the week too.  I think the Chinese ones are the best, although the chocolate ones are almost or equally as good. The honey biscuits have a good flavour, although they  are not so crisp and ‘biscuity’ as the others.

 I have just been reading your letters and it is a pity I did not read them before, because I have not been to church and now it is too late to go to any of the morning services. You see, I have to get someone to wake me up if I want to get up earlier than about 10. I was called at 10 this morning.

 As regards the rest of my present I think it would be best to get my watch done if that is possible.  The ‘Hampshire Scene’ is in the Portswood library, the author is John Vesey Fitzgerald.  I have an idea that folder of maps is a smaller scale than the books.  I believe I have seen them.  Anyway, as Phil has the Bartholomew’s book it will be nice for me to have a different one. They will also be able to revive memories of home and holidays for me,  as well as help me to find my way around wherever I may get sent to.

 As regards presents and things, I have not a great deal to show for this Christmas.  I have had five cards up to date, though I have sent off a great deal more.  I sent a card and letter to Mr and Mrs Gibbons in which I enquired about Jack. It is a good job that I did not send to him at Thorney Island.  I have had two books from the girl who used to work at Hamble – one is a Dictionary of Photography, the other on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. I have the one from Havant some while back, and last week Ron sent some handkerchiefs.  I have just told you about Auntie Lily’s present and that I think completes the list.

 This morning is fine and sunny and if the afternoon is as nice I may take a short walk in the country, though I must first of all write a letter to Joyce, who has been waiting about a fortnight or more for a reply to her last one.

 My love to Peter and Jane Peter must tell Jean for me that even if someone has to be bottom for Arithmetic and even if we are not surprised, it would be better if she got more for it and does a bit better next time especially (I am sure Peter can tell her this) for so important subject as Arithmetic.  I know she can do it and have no doubt that the trouble is only carelessness, so buck up Jean!  I am glad that she has done so well English, French and History and that she takes an interest in the Art Club and enjoys it so much. There do not appear to be any marks for drawing or suchlike. But Jean, I don’t like your green ink although I like reading your letters!

 I don’t know whether I can fill the rest of this sheet now. I have not even got some old men to talk about like Jean has, so I will close now, with love to you all from Albert.

P.S.  This stamp on the envelope is the one off your letter before last! (saving paper).  And give my Christmas greetings etc to Mrs Whatmore and Mrs Churchill (!).

What I Hoped For

..from the Isle of Wight to Western Australia

Rev. Francis Bamford on the left of this group depicting the ‘Pageant of St George’. I don’t recognise any Mabey faces but one might be lurking under a (fake) beard.

Today I sidestep the story of my Uncle to tell you another, one which started more than 100 years ago. What I hoped to do, when I determined to publish the letters I inherited, was to rekindle family connections lost over time, to get to know the forgotten in my family through the words they shared. If you have accompanied me in this endeavour, I think you will agree that Albert walks amongst us again – his weekly letters have been the almost exclusive subject of my site for several months.

But as I say, I’m sidestepping away from Albert to share the sequel to a post I published in January 2018. In Believe Me I shared my Grandfather’s letters of recommendation. My Grandfather starting teaching on the Isle of Wight some time after 1911. To gain a position, and any subsequent promotion, testimonials of his good character were essential. So my Grandfather had quite a collection of such letters, which he kept carefully all his life. I wrote that I was particularly taken by the letter from Francis Bamford, vicar of All Saints’ Church in Newchurch. It was not only the freshness of the letter itself – thick, black ink on white, cloth paper – it was also the sincerity of his words:

I have very great pleasure in bearing witness in the highest terms to his moral character and intellectual achievements. I have known John Mabey for nearly fifteen years and have watched him grow out of boyhood to manhood.

This particular post did not get so many visitors but recently Francis Bamford’s Great-Grandson Hugh happened upon it- so another connection has been rekindled, which is more than I ever hoped for. It feels almost miraculous!

The lives of the Mabeys and the Bamfords were, for several decades, intertwined. My Great-Aunt Frad was a teacher at Newchurch School, my Great-Uncles, Great-Aunts and Great-Grandmother sang in the church choir. Great-Aunt Norah taught at Sunday school. Francis Bamford, a respected and much-loved vicar, presiding over church and school, would have known the Mabeys well. I guess I must have had an inkling of this strong connection, for why else would I have copied pages from the oral history book “Newchurch Remembered” that pertained only to Francis Bamford? This little book, which I found in the Isle of Wight Records Office, has several mentions of my relatives, of the shop they kept and the work they did, and so understandably I took copies of those pages. My reasons for photocopying two pages about Francis Bamford are less clear to me now, although I know the recollections held my attention; I am always drawn to kindness.

So I shall return the Bamford letter to Hugh, who lives in Australia, and I’ll send him those stories too. Let me share this one with you, for I think it gives a flavour of the man:

“When Peace was declared on November 11th 1918 there was a kind of mini Pageant in the Church Room and a tea party…. In the evening of this particular day everyone expected a dance in the Church Room (Mr Bamford presided over these dances himself all through the winter months) and so no-one could understand why on that night of all nights he should refuse them a dance. Some time later someone came up with a possible explanation that could well have been the correct one. Right opposite the Church Room, in The Square, lived Mr and Mrs Frank Smith whose son did not return from the War, and perhaps the Vicar thought the sound of music and dancing would have hurt the couple. Sheer speculation but I have a feeling it could be true.” (Recollection of Mabel Groves).

Frances Bamford, vicar of All Saints’, Newchurch, 1896 – 1934. You can view the stained glass window dedicated to him here