In St John’s Wood

Albert’s drawing of 6 Hall Road
As it is today; no white chestnut trees and an additional storey added.

Those of you who know London, or who are interested in cricket (count me out), will know that St John’s Wood is, in my Uncle’s words ‘a quite good area of London’. I might update his description with the words ‘exclusive’ and ‘unaffordable’, yet in 79 years NW8 has not changed that much at all, at least as far as buildings are concerned. Albert draws a rather good representation of his new accomodation, as you can see from the photos above. However, before he tells us about his arrival at 6 Hall Road, he has two short notes to share – one after his arrival back at camp (from leave I presume, given the gap between this and his last letter) and one from a mystery Y.M.C.A.

Friday May 22

Dear All, I forget whether I said I would write as soon as I got here or would leave it until reaching London, but here is a short note in advance.

I had an awful journey here and did not arrive until 6.45, very cross about everything. I will write at length later on. Tomorrow morning we go to London and should arrive about 11.30. I will write or send a card from there with my address. I have discovered my leggings here – I thought I had sent them long ago.

The pump is safe – my good friends here took care of it for me, and I shall take it with me to London.

I hope you are having a good time: I felt rather miserable on my return here, but feel more happy at the prospect of going to London.

Love to all, from Albert.

Saturday May 23. 4.30 pm                              Address unknown

Dear All,

Well, here I am in London, but as we are only in our present flat until Monday, I can give no address. At the moment I am in a Y.M.C.A. at Hornsey. I have been to Joyce’s house but no one was in. They may have gone away for the weekend, though since she was on holiday last week I rather doubt that. I am going back later to see, and may phone Shell Mex House to see if she is working. I may stop the night as since we are not really ‘there’ until Monday, nobody at St John’s Wood knows or cares if we are in. I will write as soon as I get an address, so until then cheerio, and love to you all at Branstone, from Albert.

P.S. It is just 12 hours since I was called this morning. (And 11 and a half since I got up).

P.P.S. If this were not Whitsun I could have gone home! (Won’t have a chance next week).

The following letter, twenty pages long, describes Albert taking advantage of what London has to offer; what a contrast to the wooden huts and windy, open countryside of Wiltshire! At last Albert’s basic training is over and he has been assigned a ‘flight’ for the next stage in his RAF career. He doesn’t sound too thrilled with the courses he has to take whilst in London, devoting much more pen and ink to his forays into the West End’s theatre land.

I was interested to read about his visit to Joyce’s house, who he knew from his work at Shell Mex. My mother told me that this Joyce (not his friend Joyce Hart) became his girlfriend, which is interesting because in this letter Albert mentions her ‘young man’ who was stationed in Andover. Well, I hope that future letters will give us more peeks into Albert’s affairs of the heart!

In researching background on why Albert was sent to London, I came across this interesting post that has lots of detail about the RAF base at the famous Lord’s cricket ground.

Monday May 25

Dear All,

Well, I have at last got an address, as a matter of fact in the same building as we spent the weekend in, but in another flat. The building is a block of service flats, in quite a good area of London. They must have been some quite good flats in usual times, the layout of ours looks like this:

It is not a very good diagram as there are numerous bends and bumps that I have not included; and I haven’t shown the windows as it is too much bother to go round counting them. The thick wall is an outside one.

This place is considerably stricter than Yatesbury, and we have to be up earlier, but since there are only four of us here who were already in the RAF before coming here, we will probably get off a bit lighter than the new recruits: I hope so.

The flat is quite a nice place with H&C water, two bathroom- lavatory –wash basin places, and the kitchenette with a sink and some cupboards.

There is not much facility for putting stuff away, I have a drawer in the kitchenette and a hook, but there is little room for one’s personal belongings.

The ‘course’ here appears to be negligible, though as yet we have done nothing. There is some morse which we have naturally done, some mathematics, which is probably very elementary, and various lectures, inoculations and some foot drill, but once again, we should not have a lot of that ahead of us. There also appears to be a chance of us getting another tunic and hat. By the way, you could perhaps send my spare trousers to be cleaned – I know they are not very dirty, but they are a bit wrinkled, and the creases, which I did under the bed, are in the wrong place.

This morning and afternoon we went down to Lord’s to be put into “flights” (that is what the 10/48 on the address indicates).

Most of the time there we were in the NAAFI or another canteen, or watching the cricket, which is Army versus Sir Pelham Warner’s XI. Quite a lot of wickets went down in a short while at the end of the morning’s play. Perhaps you heard the commentary on the wireless. A good number of civilians came in too, and some of them are now in our flats (‘Hall Place”). I expect Mr Abbess is somewhere around this way too, if he has not yet gone away.

As regards leave there is none, and they appear to be very strict on coming in at nights – 10.30pm, midnight on Saturdays.

After posting your letter on Saturday, I went to a barber’s and then phoned Shell Mex House for Joyce, and was told that she had gone to Andover for the weekend; I phoned her again for confirmation and found that they were out, so I went down to the West End.

Two members of the ATS count their change after buying tickets at the No. 1 Box Office at the New Theatre on St Martin’s Lane in London. © IWM D 17176

I had some tea & joined on a queue for the ballet at the New Theatre. Coming in the train to Leicester Square, I asked for the best station for the New of a man who turned out to be a Swiss, who had lived in the country for 20-odd years. He was quite an interesting fellow, talked to me about music, and was a great Bach fan, and finally showed me to the theatre. When I had nearly reached the door the gallery was full, so I had to search for further entertainment. It was not much use trying the theatres at 7.15 and not much fun walking around as it was raining a bit, so I joined another queue, for the New Gallery cinema.

The film was “How Green Was My Valley” together with a Donald Duck film and about 3 other shorts. I was in the front stalls (but the screen was quite a way back from the front seats) and paid 2/6 for the privilege. The next price was 4/-, then 5/6 and 8/- . If you want a really good “human” film I can recommend it to you. It is about the life of a mining family in a S. Wales village of about 40 years ago. It has happy & sad moments; some singing, few Welsh accents, but no strongly American ones, and is altogether very good entertainment. The Donald Duck (“Chef Donald”) was immensely funny, and one of the shorts was a good natural history one.

The show finished about 10, and I made my way by tube to camp, arriving without any rush at about 10.30. I went to bed about 11 and we lay in bed and talked until about 12.00. We still have no sheets, but the beds are quite comfortable, and don’t worry us much.

Interior of St Bartholomew the Great
Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday I missed breakfast, as it was too early for me. I rose at 8.30 and after messing around and nearly starting this letter, I went with another fellow to church. I went to St Bartholomew’s by Smithfield Market, and he to a nearby Catholic one. St Bart’s is an old Norman church (AD 1123) with small arches, a good roof, a sort of arched apse with Lady chapel behind, & triforium and clerestory. In spite of the ruinous condtion of most of the neighbourhood, the church (and market) are ok. The service was not greatly attended; there cannot possibly be many people still living there, so bad is the damage, but it was good with an interesting sermon, even if rather too long. I stayed for the Communion, which caused me to miss dinner.

In the afternoon I went to the Cambridge Theatre to hear a concert by The London Symphony Orchestra, but by the time I got to the box office, only 6/6 and 8/- seats remained – so I went away, rather disheartened. It was too late to go to The Albert Hall, as it was then 2.25, but I thought I might as well go along, as there are concerts in some evenings this week, and it seems necessary to book for things here. So I went by train to Kensington West, intending to walk to The Albert Hall by way of Kensington Gardens. I had not gone a great distance (I did not know if it was in the right direction) when I came across a phone box, and it occurred to me that it would do no harm if I were to phone Joyce’s house again. This I did and to my surprise, she was in, and had been stopping in all day, as in my note I said that I would call that day (that was written before I was told that she was at Andover). She asked me to come over, and I went to Kens. High Street, which was not far, and caught a 27A bus to Highgate and thence a 41 to Crouch End, where I found her in.

I had tea: they gave me egg (boiled), lettuce and beetroot, bread & butter and jam, and cake. I was quite hungry and enjoyed it.

In the evening we took a short walk, and talked indoors. I also had supper and after a most enjoyable evening, which turned what looked like being a miserable day into a jolly good one, I left at about 9.25.

I took longer over the journey than I need have done, as at Camden Town, where the 74 for St John’s Wood goes, I waited in the wrong place (the bus goes from a back street). Consequently I took an hour on the journey.

Joyce will be on late work this week, but her mother is alone there & would be glad of the company, so I shall go over some times in the week. Also I must see about these concerts at the Albert, Aeolian & Wigmore Halls. One fellow went to the Albert Hall on Sunday and said there was plenty of room, so I shall probably get in without booking, which is better since my spare time is a very unknown quantity.

I think that covers most of my activities up till now. I am writing this in a Church Army Canteen just opposite tot the flats. It is raining and I have plenty to write, and so shall go no further.

I believe I did not tell you about the journey to Yatesbury. Stale news, so if you are not interested, read past. I saw a Corporation bus go just as I passed the clock at the bottom, and had to wait a good 15 minutes before a Hants & Dorset turned up. I passed the Civic Centre at 1.52 & saw the smoke of a train leaving as I was at the top of the new road. That was probably it. As the ticket collector told me next train 3 something. I made for the top of 4 post hill (Hobbs) and caught the 2.0 bus to Salisbury: I might as well have gone by train. When we passed the exit of the Sarum bus station, the Devizes to Marlborough bus was in, when we had gone round the block and got in, it had gone out – missed it by the skin of my teeth again! The next transport was a Bath bus to Devizes at 4.40, which I caught. That got me to Devizes at 6.05, and after walking about a mile in sultry weather and greatcoat & kit and getting even hotter and crosser, I was picked up by about the 100th car that passed me. Glory be it was going to Yatesbury, passing by the camp, and I eventually rolled in about 6.45, very annoyed with things.

I got my £1 pay today, and have about £2, 10s left, which will probably see me through the next ten days – that should be about all we are here.

I don’t think there is much else to say. I will write again in Wednesday or Thursday. I expect letters should reach you quite quickly from here. I trust that you had a good Whitsun weekend, with not too much rain. So love to all from Albert.

P.S’s. Excuse the writing. I have a lot to write & am in a terrific hurry. It is 7.45 and I hope to get 2 or 3 letters done before bed.

Joyce had not gone to Andover (her ‘young man’ is there in the Tank Corps) and there was no accommodation available.

This canteen is in a very large and what was once posh house. It is a jolly nice place and they have good fresh cake, though no hot meals.

We also filled in reams of forms today. My RAF records must contain the same stuff in about octuplicate.

Is it just me or does Albert grow in confidence? It must have felt good at least to no longer be a new recruit, as some of his flatmates were. I sense the feeling of accomplishment he has in navigating his way east and north across London, to Smithfield and to Crouch End. Albert is becoming a cultured man, seeking out the ballet, conversing with a Swiss gentleman about music and Bach. His reason for attending church a way across town must have been to see the architectural beauty of a renouned Norman church and to express his knowledgeable appreciation to his parents, using triforium and clerestory as examples of his learning. I looked up these words for you – ‘triforum’ is space in a church above the nave arcade and below the clerestory extending over the vaults, or ceilings, of the side aisles. ‘Clerestory’ is the high space above the nave that contains a series windows. He’s a man that appreciates fine architecture and Donald Duck, I love him for that.

I enjoyed reading of the discoveries Albert made; I felt like I was going along with him. It’s a lovely gift to have all these years later. For whether your interests are in learning about wartime London or discovering what comprised tea in 1942, there is something for everyone here, wouldn’t you say?

8 thoughts on “In St John’s Wood”

  1. I’ve never watched “How Green Was My Valley.” It sounds good. 🙂

    Your comment at the end, about Albert’s letters being a gift after so many years, made me think that Albert’s letters were first and foremost a gift to your grandparents. He invested a great deal of time in writing them, which he must have enjoyed as a way to record his experiences and impressions. More importantly, though, the letters must have meant so much to your grandparents.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They must have meant so much to them; but maybe it was hard to read them after he was gone. It does make me sad to think they were all they had left of him, although of course the love the family had (and still have) endured.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. How lovely that Albert got to see and experience so much culture while in London! He seems much happier now, having left the country-side. Though I think he is good at appreciating his possibilities – like when he was describing his outings by bike and listening to music. I too, hope that we will get to read more matters of the heart from him 😉.

    Like

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