No Bad News

“There is little hope of recovering it I am afraid.”

Written with an inferior Platignum

Albert writes a happy letter on Wednesday 17th December, 1941, although his first line sent a jolt of panic through me, a shadow of what my Grandmother felt, I’m sure. Oh, but is not truly bad news, not of the life and death variety, yet the loss of one’s writing pen was, in wartime, perhaps akin to losing a mobile phone today? Maybe not quite so bad as that, most people I know would freak out if they lost their phone. Albert was not of the freaking-out generation, so he laments his loss and then gives my Grandmother copious instructions on what to do to find a replacement, in that slightly presumptive tone that young adults reserve for their parents. So, once I appreciated Albert was not in immediate danger, I enjoyed this letter, which details preparations for Albert’s first Christmas away from his family.

Dear All, first of all I have some bad news, so brace yourselves. I have lost my lovely fountain pen. The pen that I liked so very much and so many other people admired. I am writing this with a Platignum I bought to-day for 2/2d. There is little hope of recovering it I am afraid. I don’t know if I told you that the clip had broken almost as soon as I arrived at Blackpool but I have been carrying it loose since then and it must’ve dropped out somewhen. Whilst searching my pockets for the pen I found the missing tie clip but I am afraid the pen will not turn up so easily, so perhaps you will look and see if there is a “Relief No. 7” for sale anywhere and with a fine or medium fine nib, if so buy it, if not see what the nearest equivalent is but don’t buy it in case I can procure one elsewhere – if I cannot, I shall have to do with what I can get. Anyhow I want one, so spare no expense! The Shell money should have arrived by now. 

I am now busy looking forward to our Christmas party. The management of the billet changes hands on Monday and two of the girls have been transferred to Bristol and go on that day, so we are having a farewell party on Sunday. There are a man and wife taking charge now and from what I have seen of them they are very nice people. They bought a Christmas tree (artificial) with them and the man, who used to be a baker or something is going to make us a cake. We have been busy decorating the room too, and it looks fine now, though it is not quite finished yet – I have some more ideas to put into practice! I had a fine time yesterday thinking of schemes of decorations. I cut out the letters in yellow crêpe paper “Merry Xmas” and hung them in front of one of the mirrors so that you can see them twice, and we have got bits of cotton-wool, like snowflakes, making “HAPPY NEW YEAR” on another mirror and there are still two more mirrors to experiment on. We have got red white and blue paperchains, like our red and green ones, across the room, and green ones draped across the mirrors & unused fireplace. Some of the more horrid ornaments have been camouflaged with coloured paper, tinsel and streamers, and some holly which was beginning to look a bit dusty we have gilded over, and it looks very nice. 

On Monday Auntie Lizzie’s present arrived – some nice writing paper (not this) and envelopes. With this lot I am sending the cake, which I have managed to pack in a shoebox. I have also been getting my cards ready to send, I expect I shall post them during this week because it looks nice to have a good show on the mantelpiece. We have quite a lot here, though there are none of mine as yet. I find that I am sending off quite a pile, about a dozen altogether. I am afraid that this will be a late parcel again as it is now 11 pm so I shall not finish it tonight. On Monday I went to St John’s church for a choir service by the Ministry of Health choir and I enjoyed it very much. I had a programme but it seems to have disappeared somehow.

Thursday: it has just occurred to me that you may be going away on Saturday or soon after so I had better post this with as little delay as possible. I am interested to read about the scarves, they must look very gay and it’s a good idea of Joyce’s. It pleases me to hear that the Forsythia is out now – it has beaten the New Year this time! As for the bicycle tyres, I don’t quite know what to do, though I should imagine that new tyres would keep better than old ones. When storing rubber I believe it is best to keep it in the dark. If you can afford it I should buy them, if you have the money though, because the “Fort” is a very good tyre. The films you sent Geoff were the oldest there were, bar the Agfa, I remembered the sequence of dates. I think I shall keep the Agfa for peace celebrations! 

I have just seen that you go to Havant on the 24th, so that disposes of that query. I hope you will not have too awkward a journey. Yesterday evening we had some records I enjoyed very much – Mozart’s 41st (“Jupiter”) symphony. That is a work I have wanted for some time and it gave me very great pleasure to hear it again, and made me want it even more.

The weather is quite fine and not too cold here now, and if it is anything like that at home the gardening should be proceeding apace, though of course it gets dark too quickly to do anything in the evenings. My cold is still with me and I cannot taste things very well, so I have not had any of the biscuits though the apples are very nice to eat. 

Just a few lines penned whilst I am at Morse. I’m afraid it is not very good paper but properly it is a scribbling pad. I was interested to read about Auntie Lizzie’s Hampshire books, that is just the sort of thing I should like to look through. It is especially good because they deal with just the part of Hants that we know best. You must let me hear more about them. By the way, I have been through “English Downland” for the second time and will send it along next week. To-day is very cold (or at any rate this morning) and foggy, but I think it may be quite fine once the sun gets up. My torch is getting very dim so I must get the first new battery. It has done well though, and I have used it a lot. Well I think that is all, so goodbye & love to all, from Albert.

P.S. I have not got a calendar as they all seem to have disappeared (and so has my money!) I want a pen so that I can see how much ink I have left. 

“I think I shall keep the Agfa for peace celebrations”, that poignant line causes me once again to reflect on how short a life my Uncle lived and how sorely he was missed. Albert didn’t see the peace, he did not resume his career in the petrochemical industry. Albert did not marry Joyce, buy a house and have children, who would have been my cousins.

When I go too far into this type of melancholy, I remind myself of the facts of my Uncle’s life, that he experienced happiness and adventure, and like most of us, he did not know his end. In December 1941 my Uncle was enjoying cosy evenings in the company of clever young women, listening to the gramophone, sharing cups of tea and Players cigarettes. He was free to do as he pleased, away from home and family duties. I see him laughing at the ‘horrid ornaments’ with the girls, huddling round the fire to compare progress on their paper chains and snowflakes, delighting in their warm smiles and appreciative looks (both for his musical knowledge and scissor skills). I know that Albert’s RAF career gave him qualifications he would never have acquired in peacetime and sent him to distant destinations he was unlikely to have visited otherwise. He lived out some of his dreams, which is as much as any of us can hope for.

13 thoughts on “No Bad News”

  1. I’ve often wondered what Albert thought the future might hold, whether he worried about it, either for his own safety or that of his loved ones. He doesn’t write much about the war or his thoughts on it. His line about keeping the Agfa film for peace celebrations may have been a joke (Agfa being German), or it may indicate that he expected the war to end soon. I somehow doubt the latter, given the state of affairs on the Continent in December 1941. The United States had declared war on Germany six days earlier, on Dec. 11, but was militarily unprepared. In the week that followed, the Soviets mounted a desperate defense of Moscow, which was ultimately successful, but Albert wouldn’t have known that yet. Perhaps the fighting seemed very far off to him at this time.

    From his letters, it sounds as though Albert was fully capable of being happy in the present, which is really a blessing in these circumstances.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t realise Agfa was German! Albert had quite a dry sense of humour I think, so you may well be right about the joke. My feeling is that the war was some ways off, indeed possibly more remote in Blackpool than in Southampton, which had been extensively bombed. I’m not sure if his letters were scrutinised by censors, or whether this was only for those in active service. Let’s see what future letters hold?
      I always enjoy your comments..and learn something! 😊

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yes, the war was far off, and the UK was no longer in danger of invasion. The Battle of Britain was won and the Blitz was over, and so morale must have been high in the RAF.

        Albert was a keen observer and his letters are full of fascinating details. Commenting on them is a pleasure!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this post! It’s fascinating how he writes down his thoughts on this and that, just like he was on the phone with the recipient 🙂 It is something I have found my relatives did as well, and it gives you a great insight into everyday life. Like you write, it paints a picture of him taking part in the party decorations, thinking about the garden, books to read etc. It’s so funny how he writes “spare no expense” – it truly reveals the importance of the lost pen – it seems he also missed the nice compliments he used to recieve for it 🙂 I can relate – as there is nothing better than writing with a really good pen! Something I find myself returning to more and more as I do get tired of keyboards and screens…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. And I suppose neither your relatives nor mine ever imagined that so many people would read their stories!
      Thank you for your comment and I look forward to your next letter (and very thankful that you can translate so well into English). I feel I enjoy writing more with a pen.

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      1. No, right!? I sometimes think about if they would have minded, but I believe they would be okey with it. It’s a way to celebrate the life they lived and a way to remember them as well as letting them keep on inspiring even though they themselves are long gone. Right now I’m scanning letters so as to be able to enlarge them to see all the little scribbles that I can’t read as they are now. Fun and exciting!!
        Also wanted to comment on Alberts sense of humour – wonderful that it shines through in his letters, given the seriousness of the situation in the world when they are written. My relatives unfortunately have not displayed much sense of humour as of yet. But, then again – maybe they were just holding it together while trying to survive all that happened over there in China… We’ll see what might reveal itself as work progresses 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Starting a letter at that part of the decade about some bad news and then continuing about a fountain pen, was… tactless! Or maybe it was a bit of 1940s (black) humour, as well as being factual.

    The decorations put me in mind of ones my mum and sister and I used to make for our parties at home in the 1950s.

    Liked by 2 people

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