Cycling Home by Moonlight

“The moonlight never attained the hard brilliance which you get on really clear nights, it was a good gentle light though.

In the time between Albert’s prevous letters and these, he has spent another weekend at home in Bitterne Park. Once again I wonder what did he do with his weekend, with my grandparents, perhaps my Mother? It makes me a lttle sad that I will not, through reading Albert’s letters, have any more than glimpses of his home life, nothing more substantial than that. So instead let’s enjoy Albert’s appealing narrative of his return journey from Southampton to Calne, culminating in a moonlit cycle back to camp.

Monday morning 7.30am March 30

Dear All,

I arrived here OK at about 12.30 am – late due to a bus breakdown, of which more later. It was not a bad journey though and a lovely night for cycling. I find that I have left my toothbrush (a blue one) in the bathroom, perhaps it could be sent on in the next letter. I shall write again tonight & Branstone, so love to you all for the present – Albert.

March 30

Dear All, I hope you received my short letter on Tuesday morning. The journey you will have guessed, was not a very good one as regards speed. I got on the Salisbury bus, with a seat, and travelled there as per timetable. There was a relief run, but it turned back at Plaitford and after there quite a number of people were unlucky. There were great crowds at Salisbury bus station, and in the town itself. Salisbury appears to be quite full of army and air force on Sundays. There was too much of a crush for me to eat my sandwiches in the waiting room, but I did not feel hungry. The Marlborough bus was not filled until some way out, but before we reached Upavon they were passing waiting people.

Two old Southampton buses

At Upavon the bus went on to Devizes & the Marlborough passengers had to change to a single decker. There our troubles began as we were told that the bus had to go along the Devizes road to pick up some Marlborough passengers from a bus which had broken down. We went nearly all the way to Devizes, to the railway bridge, & found that there were only about 2 passengers for Marlborough. We took some Upavon ones too. The bus then went back almost to Upavon and on the main Marlborough road.

I did not look at the time at Marlborough but I should think that it was about 11.30pm when we arrived. I went down to my garage and knocked up the people. At first I got no reply, & began to wonder if I was in for a walk, but eventually the woman came & unlocked the door. She did not seem to mind my being late though.

I tied the parcel on the carrier & left at what I suppose was 11.45.

I did not hurry and it was a perfect night for cycling – no wind, warm & light. I enjoyed the journey in spite of the late hour. The clouds gradually cleared as I went along, although the moonlight never attained the hard brilliance which you get on really clear nights, it was a good gentle light though.

I saw a few cars on the road and several lorries travelling in the opposite direction. About halfway along I came across 3 Army Bren carriers, one of which had broken down, & was being hitched up to another. I saw and heard several peewits which seemed to be quite active in the moonlight. Two of them were certainly performing all the usual acrobatics.

THE HANDY BREN CARRIER“The Handy Bren Carrier” © IWM (H 23492)

I arrived at camp at 12.30, being one of the last to arrive, except those who missed their train and did not turn up until this morning. I ate two of the sandwiches, leaving the others for this mornings break. I feel a bit sleepy today but not really tired, as I might have expected.

I think I was very lucky as regards weather, as today is quite misty and damp looking, though not unduly cold. I should not be surprised to see some rain though, and must put on that saddle cover tonight. That reminds me that I did not bring my pump with me. Also that I could have done with an oilcan, as the dynamo sounds as if it’s a bit dry. However, I can borrow these things.

I suppose Peter will have had his teeth done when you receive this; I hope he is alright. I hope Jean is well and happy too. Goodbye, & my love to you all, from Albert.

P.S. I hope you get the parcel sent on Weds, possibly Tuesday, but I shall probably not write until Thursday & even then cannot think that there will be much to say – so prepare for a short letter!

Later: I have just written to Branstone, telling of my journey.

Even Later: I have just, in spite of opposition, managed to listen to the latter part of the broadcast od “Love the Magician.” Had I known it was on, I should have listened to more, though no doubt opposition would have been greater.

Credit: Photo of moon by Herrmann Stamm on Unsplash

Two Short Letters

There is a windmill on the hill, but very tiny in this photo!

Albert’s letters this week are a little short on substance, yet they contain some amusing and puzzling details. I was amused by the egg and puzzled by Portsmouth’s contribution. I shall say no more about either, Dear Reader, and let you discover for yourself.

My photographs to accompany this post are from the very welcome trip I took to see my dear friend Clare, and her little girl. It was the first time I had been out of the city this year. Clare said to me, ‘let’s go and see Albert’s windmill‘ and so we met and climbed Butser Hill but the windmill couldn’t be seen from that vantage point. We clambered to the top of the hill and the three of us had a picnic under a bare-branched tree, looking out across the water of the Solent to The Island. We made a game with sticks and chalk stones and talked about our plans for when the world opens up again.

I left them later to walk on my own through the beech woods, seeking a view of the windmill. And as I walked deeper into the wood and the roar of traffic from the A3 subsided, I sighed and settled into a slower pace. Soft earth underfoot, not hard tarmac. Sounds only of birdsong and the gentle breezes of fresh air. I saw wild violets. I saw yellow gorse and yellow flowers I do not know the name of, perhaps coltsfoot that Albert also saw.

Then, as I came to the chalk path of the South Downs Way, I saw his windmill on the brow of a far off hill. With the beech trees and the violets behind and no planes in the sky, I felt I was experiencing life in that moment just as Albert would have. I sensed his presence, pointing a way. A way that sits outside of time, intangible but close at hand.

March 22 1942

Dear All,

This will be another short letter I am afraid, as the weather today is really too cold and miserable for me to venture out. There is quite a strong and unpleasantly cold east wind, and the top of the hills are over-hung with cold mist, and even in the hut there is a definite wind blowing across the back of my neck. So I am stopping in the camp for the whole of today, writing and reading and generally messing about.

Yesterday was very nice until the evening, when it became cloudy. I cycled to Calne early in the evening and did a little shopping. Then I took a look around the town which I had not previously seen in daylight. It is about the size of Botley but rather better, and with some good old stone houses. I took a little road which led me westwards out of the town, and soon became a footpath, which led to an old mill. From there I turned back along the riverside to Calne again. The walk was no distance but the birds were singing rather nicely & it was very quiet and peaceful looking across the river meadows in the twilight. Coming back in the dark I noticed that there was a new moon, which should be quite bright by next week, if I have to travel in the dark.

I had some supper last night in a W.V.S. canteen in Calne, as a very clean place. For sweet that had some sort of pudding with homemade plum jam on top, it was really lovely. I have put the bicycle in between the huts, and this afternoon I shall try to find some old sacks or blankets which would keep off some rain (which we shall get before long no doubt).

I have also bought some Vaseline which I can smear over the handlebars and 3 speed wire. I had better move the machine round to the east wall whilst the wind remains in this quarter, though I suppose this wind will not bring so much rain as the south.

I shall probably eat the egg today, for supper probably, not for a meal somewhere away towards Aldbourne as I had hoped. It seems almost a waste to eat it in camp, but will be doubtless very nice. The eggshell got rather cracked, but I think that was due to the spanner and things, which also broke up some of the biscuits. The chocolate biscuits were very nice, so is the cake which I have not yet finished. I really cannot think of anything further to say, so goodbye & love from Albert.

P.S. I have put on my pullover, after leaving it off for over a week.

Is this perhaps the same flower that Albert mentions in his travels?

Tuesday March 24

Dear All, I have just sent off a parcel, containing a jam jar, a pullover and some handkerchiefs. As parcels posted on Thursday do not seem to arrive until Monday, I must take to posting them off on Tuesdays.

Today has been really lovely, just the sort of day I would like for a Sunday. Had it not been the Music Circle today, I should have gone for a ride in the twilight. Tomorrow we are working all day as the sports afternoon is (as once a month) on Saturday, which will be very annoying in view of last week’s unkind weather. Another source of annoyance is that for this week we are having our tea later at 6 to 6.30 instead of 5.30 to 6. However, unless the weather is bad I shall go to Marlborough to find out where I can park my bicycle over the weekends, and also how long it takes me to get there.

I have got your letter written Sunday night, and am glad to see that we reached our War Weapons total; it really is a lot of money, I think that Portsmouth’s objective is only £2,250,000. I’m glad that the school did so well. [I transcribed the amount just as Albert wrote it. However that seems an extraordinary amount; was it perhaps £22,500?].

I suppose that Peter will be home when I go to the Island this weekend. I hope though that he will be alright when I see him on Saturday. I don’t know when I shall be home, by 9pm I trust. I don’t think there is time (it is 10.30pm) or necessity to say anymore except goodnight for a very little while from Albert.

The Bicycle Arrives!

I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one.
Albert’s Mum & Dad enjoying a bike ride.

It can be hard to find a suitable photograph to start these posts; I have inherited many more letters from Albert than I have photographs and I spend ages searching for an image which is attractive and relevant . I was struggling particulary to find something appealing to head up this post, when it occurred to me that it would be nice to show a photograph of the recipients of all those letters, namely my Grandparents. So I looked through the photograph albums and found this happy scene, and so apt for letters full of bicycle news. I don’t know when it was taken, but most likely before Albert (who was of course behind the camera) started his RAF service.

So here are two rather short letters, full of details of everyday life on an RAF camp, but avoiding any mention of the actual training that Albert undertook, because that would fall foul of the Censor’s Office. I imagine my grandparents were delighted to read every word, knowing that he was safe and enjoying his expeditions near and far.

Dear All , Tuesday March 17 1942

Your welcome letter came today and as I have been told that the post office is open for a short time on Wednesday, I am going to try to get the parcel posted tomorrow. I am sorry now that I did not skip off home last weekend, as I found that there is quite a good bus service between Marlboro’ & Sarum. As a matter of fact I had some idea of getting off this weekend, but of course that will be no use as you will be away. The train service from Chippenham seems to be quite hopeless; I could not reach Salisbury before 9.30, & returning on the Sunday would be worse if anything. As it is, I understand that our weekend is to be pushed forward to the week before Easter (or 5th) to avoid travelling at that time, so I shall leave coming home until then. After sending off my last letter I realised that if I was going to the Island [The Isle of Wight] I should require a bicycle, and it might have been better to have waited until the long weekend, though then it would have been none too easy as I am not likely to travel by train. I shall be able to use one of the others though. By the way, I think I have found an ideal place for keeping the bike. The huts etc are arranged like this (this is not quite accurate).

You see that in between the huts & washhouses etc, there are little patches of grass, not used by ordinary traffic, & in one of those I could keep a bicycle; leant against a lee wall it should be kept pretty dry.

Thank you for getting a fountain pen for me, Oroto is a very good make according to the place where I bought Peter’s, though it is a pity you could not get such a good quality one as the one I lost. I shall look forward to using it in the near future.

I have answered your queries about war savings, and birthday presents etc. Thanks for the cards, I quite agree that Peter’s is a good one, and the others will do, I rather like Jean’s. I have been trying to get some chocolate to send Auntie Bertha, but there is none in at the moment. It is a very poorly supplied NAAFI, I have only just succeeded in obtaining some soap (Palmolive) after having waited since Saturday. I must try to get some Pears in Calne if I can get down there before the shops close.

When I was out on Saturday I saw some of that yellow jasmine in flower, there were also wild arums coming up. The snowdrops grow much wilder here than at home; I saw a lot on the outside bank of a cottage garden and a host more in the backyard of one of the lodges at Savernake.

I have just been to the music circle meeting, I hear that the Griller string quarter (very famous) is coming Saturday, so I must make strenuous efforts to get there. I do not think I can say much else, so goodbye & love from Albert…..

Weds: I have just been out for a walk to Yatesbury village whilst everyone else is cross-country running. It rained some of the time so it was not too enjoyable, but the walk was better than the run. I went into Yatesbury church which is quite interesting – Norman and early English. There were snowdrops growing in the church yard and looking very nice.

We were today told “definitely” that our weekend is the one commencing March 28. I will warn Grandma in my birthday letter, but if you are writing sooner you had better mentioned.

Friday March 20

Dear All, I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one. I went to the music circle meeting to hear Tchaikowsky’s 5th symphony, but on arriving found that the radiogram was not working, though several ‘experts’ were having a go at it. Then the electricity failed , as it did this morning, and any future attempts at repair would have been useless. We were also told that “due to transport difficulties”, the Griller string quartet would not be able to visit us tomorrow, a great pity.

This dinner time the Yale lock and chain arrived, and the afternoon post brought the parcel of food and letters etc. Receiving the second letter first, I was not sure when you were sending it – but I finally saw what you meant.

So at about 7.30 I went to Calne, leaving the camp without lights in the growing darkness. I just missed a bus but got a lift down in an RAF truck, and arrived about 8. I went up to the station and got the bicycle, in good order, without any difficulty. I rode a little way out of Calne on the Chippenham road, & then back again & to the W.V.S. canteen to have a meat pie. Then back to camp to write this letter, which I suppose you will receive on Monday morning. I shall hope to go for a ride on Sunday, of which more later.

Goodnight now, and love from Albert.

P.S. lights on now.