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 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.
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!
“Our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times.”
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.
Dear reader, forgive me for not writing for so long. Albert’s letter has been lying around my house (on the bedside table, by the computer, on the sofa) for too many weeks. Perhaps the letter has enjoyed its travels around my house, reminiscent of the times it spent on the dining room table at Bullar Road. Perhaps Grandmother or Grandfather kept the letter in a pocket for a while, in order to read it again, refolding the five pages carefully along the creases that remain in place today.
Albert’s opinion of Blackpool has changed somewhat, due to the variety of evening entertainment on offer. Although he struggles to find a quiet place to read (I love his observation “of course the churches are no use at night”), he has thrown himself into his new life with gusto. One would hardly think there was a war on!
A melancholy tone pervades at times, such as when he writes “it is not very happy stopping indoors in a home that is not mine.” Did my Grandmother worry about her sensitive son, lover of classical music and English Downland? If he were mine, I am sure that I would have.
Dear All, On Friday I received your letters and rag, written Sat. night and yesterday afternoon, your parcel arrived. I see that those letters were written on Tuesday night, so it seems that the letters take longer in this direction. I was very pleased to receive the parcel; I think the pleasantest part was the pair of shoes. Having to wear boots has made my feet quite sore and although those shoes are heavy one I felt as if I was treading on air. You have probably received my parcel of cigs by now. I shall certainly send more later, also chocolate but the latter is not now so easy to obtain. We do not use the token or coupon system at the NAAFI which now serves us, we have to queue up & then we only get 20 cigs. and a 2d bar of chocolate. I can get the cigs. at other places quite easily, but not so the chocolate. Incidentally, I bought 2 x 20 cigs and a 10 at the first 3 shops I tried – all Player’s and I didn’t draw a single blank! By the way when you say “Player’s or better”, what are the better?
I shall send back a vest and a pair of pants (and pyjamas) with this letter. there is a laundry service to which I am sending my Air Force stuff – towel, shirt, and collars. It is a free laundry & until something goes wrong I shall use it. I have washed socks and handkerchiefs but perhaps you could send some more socks, as I have only two pairs – one I am wearing, the other pair is drying. I was also pleased to receive the apples though I do not think they will keep long, the small ones which I have tried lacked that crispness which they usually have. When you send again you might put in some darning wool for my socks – just in case! The money for my parcels and torch you really should take out of my pay – I expect it is none too easy to make ends meet and at the rate of several parcels a month it will not take long to pay back the cost of Jean’s bicycle – so you would not be any better off! As regards money, I find Blackpool a real city of temptation. It is so much easier to buy a reserved seat at 2/6 or 3/- than to queue up for 1/6d or 2/- seat, and after the show I don’t need much persuading to go and have supper, and of course there are always coffee, ices and lemonade brought round in the interval. I met quite a nice fellow at Friday’s WEA class and we had supper together. I had not seen any cheese since Padgate, so I had and enjoyed Welsh rabbit [rarebit]. If I spend only 7/6d this week I shall have £1 left, which I shall try to save. I shall also try to save 5/- a week by managing on 10/1 per week and thereby save something for Christmas presents and leave. In 4 weeks from now we get (if lucky) a short weekend pass, Saturday dinner time to Sunday night, and in 8 weeks time a long weekend from Friday night to Sunday night, or Monday morning (7am). So on the long weekend I might get home, and on the short weekend, I can go to Castelton or Wentworth. After a while I may be able to get a day pass out of our 5 mile “bounds” (the bounds exempt Fleetwood and Lytham on the coast) and possibly go to Coniston on that, or else Bolton, if the coach tours no longer run.
Yesterday I saw the opera of which I am sending the programme. Being Russian it was not so easy to understand, but I enjoyed it very well. The Opera house is much bigger (about the size of the “Forum”) than the “Grand” where the other operas were, and it is quite modern. The Winter Gardens, the Tower and the Palace are the 3 main places of entertainment. Each contains a cinema, a variety (Palace), stage show (Winter Gardens -Opera House) or something similar and a ballroom. The Winter Gardens have about 3 restaurants and 4 bars, as well as milk and coffee bars, lounges, and amusement halls of automatic machines. The Tower has restaurant, bar, and a menagerie and aquarium. By paying for the cinema or stage show one can see the rest of the building, and after last night’s opera I wandered round & looked at the amusement arcades and the dancing in the Winter Gardens. even if it does not appeal to me much, it is a truly remarkable place.You are quite right about the fellows here; they are not of the “rough & tough” type, and don’t bother me, but there is usually plenty of noise going on, so I find it difficult to concentrate on writing & reading. this morning things are quite quiet, but if you find a lot of mistakes in my letters you will know the reason why. That is why I do not stop in very much, also, it is not very happy stopping indoors in a home that is not mine, one tends to forget being away by going out. So on Mondays & Wednesdays I go to the RAF musical meetings, on Friday to the WEA class, on Thurs. or Tuesday to see my Hamble friend, & on Saturday to the Theatre. That does not leave me much time to be lonely. It does not leave me much time for reading either and I have only reached page 39 in my “English Downland” book. I hope to find a quiet place where I can read in silence. I must make a tour of the many clubs and canteens & see if I can find somewhere. The reading room of the library is unfortunately closed at 7p.m., and of course the churches are no use at night.
Could you let me know which books Peter took? Or perhaps I shall write to him and ask. Somewhen you could possibly make a list of Christmas presents for our family, Ron, Havant & Branstone. Our course at Blackpool is 10 weeks to-morrow, so it looks as if I shall be here for Christmas and I might as well buy presents about a month before the time so as to have a good selection to choose from. I might get Peter another chemistry book. Thanks very much for the torch, but I used it to go downstairs & when I tried it again it would not work! so I suppose the bulb has gone: the journey up must have done for it. Most of the people have had their photographs done by now but you will not see any from me in a hurry! Some of them are very poor & I have seen none of real excellence. I have not as yet made any real friends but I do not mind that. I go out on my own and often meet pleasant people when I am out. I do not doubt that the others in the billet wonder what I do with myself. I do not tell them much because I should not think they would approve of my music meetings. Next Monday there are some professionals appearing to play a Beethoven Sonata and a Brahms trio, usually the music is provided by a radiogram. On Wednesday we tried to hear a broadcast concert but the reception was too poor to continue listening. In spite of it being a very good set, there was a lot more fading than we experience, so to fill the time, the one who organises the meetings played us some piano music: he had no music & is a very good player.
Well I think that is about all so goodbye and love from Albert.
P.S. I hope you have some nice rides – tell me about them, I should like to know. What does ‘ad vincula’ mean?
I was glad to hear that the Ceratostigma was out, does it look as if it will be a nice shrub? I have destroyed a good many of the letters you sent. I hope you wanted none of them. I am keeping Jean’s though because it gave me a good laugh to read it, Bravo Jean!
“Welsh Rabbit”, ah that made me smile, it reminded me of a staple of our Sunday afternoon teas; Welsh Rabbit with Worcester Sauce. As a child I thought it was a silly name my Dad made up, never having heard of a ‘Welsh Rarebit’. Does anyone else remember that? A silly, and frankly (for a small child) confusing and rather disturbing name. It tastes nothing like a rabbit.