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