Albert’s Travels

When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery
The Lesser Celadine, harbinger of Spring.

It was lovely to read about these pretty flowers, and the wild violets, and then to see both of them on my run today, thinking how Albert experienced the same pleasure and optimism in seeing these early spring flowers proliferate across the land.

These two letters continue Albert’s themes of exploration of his surroundings and observation of the natural world, which he clearly cherishes. Sadly, were I able to follow in his footsteps this March, (which I cannot do as we are still in a national lockdown) I fear I would not hear so many songbirds in the skies, nor see so many beautiful beech trees. However one day I would like to do that, take the same walk or the same cycle ride. It would I think be quite easy to do, for he gives us detailed directions.

Oh, and we learn that the motorcycle belongs to Bob.

Wednesday March 11 1942

Dear All,

Another wet Wednesday, once more we stopped inside cleaning up and doing other odd jobs of work – I was afraid this would happen when the wind changed. Let’s hope that the weekend will be finer.

You will have seen that I got to Chippenham alright from my last letter’s postmark. As I believe I mentioned before, it was a lovely day, warm compared to my last motor cycle trip and I enjoyed it no end. The country to the West (off the hills) is more like it is at home, with hazel copses – I saw some catkins – winding rivers, and hedge-enclosed fields. We saw a lot of trees being felled too, beeches I believe they were.

Chippenham is not a very large town, about as large as Havant, but more of a marketing town. It has one main street, with a square at one end, and, near the other, a bridge across the Avon. Further on is the station, which is the junction of three G.W. lines. There is a market, where there is also a NAAFI canteen, where we had tea. There are some fine old shops in the town, but there are no really interesting ones, such as at Winchester, or even Marlborough. The main business of the place seems to be concerned with the Nestles milk & Westinghouse electric factories which are there, & they are probably responsible for the council housing estate on the Bath side of the town. That part of Chippenham is quite uninteresting.

I saw some snowdrops and crocus in bloom in the school garden at Chippenham, I expect the Branstone snowdrops are well out now. Up here the spring will be later than at home but if I look around now I expect I shall see some Lesser Celandine out (I first saw it about March 3rd last year) and soon there should be wild violets & primroses, at home if not here. There is not quite the right sort of place here for large numbers of primroses or bluebells.

I was pleased to receive your letter yesterday, I hope this one is not so late in arriving as my last parcel. I have written to Jean, it was really past time I wrote to her. I think it is quite a good idea to get her a silver chain for her cross, but I think I could afford 5/3d on my own, & Peter could get her a little something else. If you can get me a pen, she can have my old one too. And you must find out what Peter would like – if he knows himself that is. For Auntie Bertha I shall get some chocolate if there is any available.

I do not yet know when our long weekend is. It should fall on Easter Weekend, but since there are travelling restrictions it may be altered to a week before or after. When I next go to Marlborough or Devizes I shall try to get hold of the times of buses to Salisbury.

I do not know what I shall do on Sunday. If this wet weather continues it will be rather damp and sticky for walking, so I may try to hire a bicycle. As I sit here & write this letter, the prospect of cycling seems very attractive, & if I get a bike on Sunday & all is well, I may yet ask you to send mine – there are a number of places in the camp where they can be stored away – Bob kept his motor cycle here quite successfully.

Thanks for the parcel by the way. I have eaten the cake (v. nice) but some of the jam still remains. We have been having a little jam most tea times, so I generally take mine at breakfast time. I think that will do for tonight, so goodbye and love from Albert.

The Cherhill White Horse

One detail that caught my eye in Albert’s next letter was his reference to ‘the now black white horse.’ I suppose that during wartime having a huge chalk horse near an RAF camp was a bit of liability, seeing as it would have been highly visible from the air, even in low light. So it was given a make over to suit the times. I remember as a child looking out for this horse as we drove along the A4, perhaps on a visit to relatives in Bristol. Wikipedia tells us that, “The figure at Cherhill was first cut in 1780 by a Dr Christopher Alsop, of Calne, and was created by stripping away the turf to expose the chalk hillside beneath. Its original size was 165 feet (50 m) by 220 feet (67 m). Dr Alsop, who was Guild Steward of the Borough of Calne, has been called “the mad doctor”, and is reported to have directed the making of the horse from a distance, shouting through a megaphone from below Labour-in-Vain Hill. His design may have been influenced by the work of his artist friend George Stubbs, notable for his paintings of horses.”

Sunday March 15

Dear All, many thanks for the parcel, which was very welcome, though most of the stuff I have eaten already. The cheese paste is very nice and I can always do with some of that, though at the moment there is some left.

As regards Peter’s present, if you cannot find out what he would like, you will have to give him money – about 5/- will do. If he wants books or something that costs more than 5/- it will be quite alright to order them. I suppose the warship week will be soon, when it comes off get me some savings certificates to leave about £2 in the box – I think that should be sufficient.

Yesterday evening I walked to Calne, up the hill to Oldbury camp and across some fields to Blackland, from which I followed the lane to the main road, which led me into Calne, where I had some supper and caught the bus back to camp.

It was growing dusk by the time I had climbed the hill, and after a sunny afternoon, ragged grey rain clouds had filled the sky. However, the wind was still Southerly & warm, and it was very, very pleasant on the top. The Wiltshire chalk does not seem prone to forming well-defined ridges of any length, but like the hills just here, like those which are the northern boundary of the Vale of Pewsey, do rise sharply from the general shapelessness of the Downs. On the North side of the hill is as steep as any chalk hill I know of, almost a precipice, and as it falls away sheer from the 800ft height, one has a fine view of the village of Cherhill and the road, dotted with tiny people & cars beneath. The camp is mercifully hidden by the curve of the hill (on which is the now black white horse) and the treed landscape, with the long fields, the cottages and church, & on the other side, the rolling downs stretching far away to the south, the crest of each hill capped by its little beech clump, is very enjoyable, one of the finest views I have come across in Wiltshire. When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery.

I walked on, passing a small, geometrically-planted square of beeches and descended to the fields, across which I walked towards the Blackland Road. In one of the fields I picked up the head of the first wild flower I have seen this year, possibly pecked off by a bird, as there were none other of its kind near. It was a smallish brilliantly yellow thing, after the style of a dandelion but not much larger than a daisy – you probably know what I mean. [‘Coltsfoot’ is wriiten in the margin, in my Grandfather’s hand]. There were many birds singing, mainly blackbirds I think, but also chaffinches, robins, larks and some others, and the air seemed filled with song. It was getting dark after I had descended the hill, & by the time I reached the Calne road it was quite dark. In Calne I had some sandwiches & meat roll in the W.V.S. canteen there – a very good place too, I think they must get a lot of stuff from Harris’s.

Harris’s sausage factory at Calne

Today I have been out cycling. I queued up for one of the camp bicycles, for which I paid 1/8d and by about 10 was out of the camp, going down the road towards Calne. It was a very unpromising morning for a cycle ride; true the wind was South but the hill was hidden from time to time in mist, and after I had gone a little way it began to rain. I continued in spite of it, and turning to the left, again through Blackland, got on the Devizes road. After a while the rain ceased, and at the top of a hill, I took off my gas mask and tied it to the back stays of the bike. My road crossed the Beckhampton – Devizes road and led me on through Bishop Cannings, which as the photograph suggest, is a pleasant little village. I followed that road over the canal and through Allington, Alton Barnes and Alton Priors to Wilcot. I stopped where the road goes nearest to Rybury camp and climbed the hill, though not going right up to the camp. It rained again whilst I was there, and then there was a fleeting patch of sunshine which crossed the Downs from south to north. In Wilcot I took a wrong turning (I’m not sure how) and instead of coming out in Pewsey I arrived on the main road a couple of miles on the Salisbury side. Again it rained and I sought shelter in an inn near North Newton (on the crossroads between 2 rivers [Avon]).

I ate my dinner, which consisted of all the biscuits which remained, spread with cheese paste. By the time I left (1.30) it had stopped raining, and once more the sun was shining, as it continued to do for quite a while. I turned back towards Pewsey, which I reached quite quickly with a following wind and from there I took the road to Savernake. Pewsey is quite a pleasant little town about the size of Bishop’s Waltham. I crossed the A346 and the railways at Savernake station and went on the road through Savernake estate. To my disappointment the WD [War Department?] have Savernake forest, and the Grand Avenue (photograph in ‘English Downland’) which I intended to take to the A4, is closed. I had to carry straight on, and struck the London road a mile or so further east, and along it rode to Marlborough. I had some tea in Marlborough & looked at the bus timetable – there is an hourly service to and from Salisbury – and went to one of the churches. Then I returned to camp along the main road, in sunshine & after a very enjoyable day, though due to the smallness of the bicycle, my legs felt a bit cramped.

So enjoyable was it that I should like to have my bicycle here, so that I can enjoy the full pleasure of cycling. Rather a change of opinion you may think, but it will be so nice to be independent of other means of transport, especially as one has to queue up for hired bikes, for buses, and hitchhiking! So perhaps you could send mine to Calne station, “to be called for” – by passenger train I suppose. But first buy a lock and chain (not Woolworth’s – everyone has keys for them) and remove the saddle bag. Perhaps you had better send some tools, the puncture outfit, my adjustable spanner, tied underneath the saddle (so that the railway people don’t sneak them). I leave it to you whether you send the pump. I think that is all so goodbye now & love from Albert.

P.S. There was a red sky tonight and I saw some smoke going straight up. I saw lots of snowdrops – almost wild, & heard lots of larks.

Today is my Uncle Peter’s birthday. I spoke to him earlier on the phone, as we cannot see each other under the current restrictions. He reminded me that Albert would have been 100 this year, being 5 years older than Peter. My uncle was kind enough to tell me that he enjoys reading these letters and remembering those times, which is a great incentive to keep on with my posts. Happy Birthday again Uncle Peter, I hope we can see each other again soon xx.

Did I miss something?

A photo of Potterne’s half timbered houses

Such was my first thought, when reading Albert’s letter on 3rd March 1942, for he writes of arriving at camp and of his journey on ‘the bike’. Well, where had he been? And when did he obtain a bicycle? I thought that I had mislaid the letter that answered these questions until, as I read beyond the first paragraph, I realised that he must have left camp on Saturday evening and travelled back to Southampton to spend Sunday with his parents. Lucky Albert, how fortunate for him to be based 53 miles from home; a long journey in 1942 but not too long. But on a bicycle, surely not? I know my predecessors were hardy folk, but not that sturdy! Oh no, it was a motorbike of course, that became over clear when I read over the page. Whose motorbike was it? That I do not know, for Albert does not relate this information, nor the name of its driver.

Dear All,

I am writing this letter tonight so that I can get it and some clothes etc posted tomorrow. First of all we arrived here alright at about ¼ to 10 or 11. We went through Salisbury at 20 to 10 and to the straight road through Shrewton (by Druid’s Lodge) Tilshead, W. Lavington, Potterne & Devizes. It was beautifully bright though rather cold, and the bike was going fine. We stopped to warm up at the cross roads before Shrewton. The road up to then is very bleak and lonely. The villages look very nice places; Potterne has some half timber houses, and I may visit it one Sunday – it is not far from Devizes. The bike started missing after Devizes & stopped just after Beckhampton. At first we thought it was the petrol but it turned out that another plug was required. When this was put in it went again and we covered the last mile at a rousing pace, going in by the main gate without any trouble.

Now for one or two things I want sent up to me – with the next washing parcel will do:

1. My filters in the black box and the homemade filter holder which they fit. I don’t know where they are but I should suggest looking on the medicine cupboard, in our homework cupboard in the dining room (I know the Actina filters are there, but I don’t want them), in my photographic cupboard, in the Sanderson case. They should be in one of those places.

2. A front stud. The one I was using has broken, and a substitute I have is not much good.

3. Look in the ‘Radio Times’ and see what Louis Kenter played in the 2.30pm concert on Sunday. It was something by Chopin, Scherzo in A flat I think, but I’m not sure. Having found it perhaps you could tick it off in the H.M.V. catalogue, or else send it up to me. I have few records of piano music and would like to get that one (or two). Any time you can get the set repaired I would be willing to pay for it & you must admit, it does want doing.

Through the magic of the internet I can confirm that the Chopin Scherzo was in C sharp minor.

I am pleased to have the biscuits and cake to eat in our break times, they are very nice. I have not yet opened the jam as we had some yesterday (raspberry I think) and today I wanted to get away quickly to have a bath, I expect I shall have some tomorrow.

Today the weather has been very mild after quite a white frost. The morning was quite sunny but with the afternoon the clouds came and we have since dark had a little rain. I hope it is fine Wednesday afternoon for our ‘sports’, as I intend taking another walk.

I hear that there are some bicycles in the camp which may be hired, so if they do not look too decrepit I may try one. I was talking to a fellow who had been to Devizes, & he says that it is a pleasant town, & in his opinion better than Malborough.

I fear that I can’t find much else to say, as I told you most of the news on Sunday. They don’t seem to have any chocolate here yet. I got a soap coupon this week. I don’t know how often they are given out, but if  it is once a week I shall be able to supply you with some soap. Our laundry came back today & seems quite satisfactory.

Weds: It has been raining hard since morning (or night) so we can’t go out this afternoon.

Goodbye then and love to from Albert.

P.S. a 4th thing you could perhaps send some Parke Davis shaving cream (no hurry). There seems to be an epidemic of mumps here.

I confess that I inferred from Albert’s postscript, that the shaving cream was a 1940s home remedy for mumps! But not so, dear reader. As far as I know Albert did not succumb to the epidemic.

In Albert’s next letter he gives his considered opinion on my Grandmother’s vegetable pasties and expresses frustration at the weather’s thwarting of a photography expedition. So Albert has his camera with him, which he must have been very pleased about. And he’s about to go motorbiking again, with his mystery companion. Don’t you feel like he’s having the time of his life?

Sunday March 8th

Dear All,

I hope you were not too worried at the non-appearance of my parcel on Thursday. I had it all done up on Tuesday night, but too late I discovered that the post office closes early on Wednesdays, so I was not able to get it posted until Thursday midday. You will have seen that I arrived in camp safely and without trouble.

Your parcel arrived safely and proved very welcome. I have eaten the veg. pasties but am leaving the cake until tonight. The pasties are quite nice though not so good as meat ones, I think that vegs. do not possess the right sort of flavour, or not enough of it, to go in pastry. I have been eating the jam too – I had some for breakfast this morning & I was also able to snoop some from the cookhouse, and put it in the powdered milk tin in which you put the cake. The cakes and nearly all the biscuits have gone, though I have two or three of the cheeses left.

I don’t know what you think of the week’s weather. Wednesday (“sports afternoon”) when I had promised myself a walk to Avebury, & possibly some photographs too, it rained hard so there were no sports, let alone walks. Then the wind went back and it became bitterly cold again, with snow on Thursday, some of which still hangs about. Saturday evening saw an improvement, and today I am pleased to say that the weather is fine and sunny with quite a soft wind (S). The snow is being melted rapidly, but early, when the sun was still low, it looked very lovely across the white hills and downland. Of course, the church parade prevented me from going out photgraphing.

This afternoon, at about 2 (it is now 1.30) I am going by motor bike to Chippenham. We intended going as far as Bath, but the petrol situation forbids that. I believe that Chippenham is quite a nice market town though & the weather is really quite nice for motorcycling. I will keep the leggings here for a little while just in case I need them, they will be quite safe in my locker & I don’t suppose you would use them (& the gloves too).

Whilst at Chippenham I must look at the railway times to see what chance there is of getting trains to Salisbury, they may run earlier & later than the buses.

I suppose Jean is home this week end having come by the Royal Blue. I trust that coach travel came up to her expectations. When Peter and I saw her off from the Central the last thing I told her was not to fall out of the window – as she waved to us while the train rounded the bend she leaned so farout that she must have had to catch hold with her toes. Tell her not to do that the next time. Probably she will say she did not lean out very far at all, but it looked a lot; Peter and I looked down the line after the train to make sure that she was still on the way. This weather is the right sort for learning to ride a bicycle too. By the way, I believe that Bournemouth music festival was last week – I had wanted to get there on the Sunday, but it was impossible today of course. But I believe that they have some Sunday concerts at Bristol, which is not so far away, and on the main road (which at home we are not) so I may go there one Sunday if I can find what the programmes are; perhaps there will be something of that sort in Chippenham.

As I will perhaps have little time this evening I think I will close now & write about the afternoon’s journey in the middle of the week, so goodbye now & love from Albert.

P.S. I expect the gardening is doing well today.