The RAF Observer

“What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say.”

My uncle was a modest man, I have learnt this much through reading his letters. His success at the Selection Board is not mentioned in this letter until almost the very end. Before he shares this news, Albert’s focus is on Christmas gifts gathered and the ‘absolutely wonderful’ concert he attended at The Tower. If Albert was accompanied by one of his female Civil Service friends we shall never know. Nor shall we ever know who the ‘Hamble friend’ was, or what became of him, for Albert never mentions him by name.

Time shows that Albert achieved the position of Observer, as we can see the brevet on his uniform in this photograph . I’ve not been able to find out much about the role, other than the Observer was considered second in command to the pilot and was most often the navigator and radio operator of the crew. It seems then, that my childhood description of the ‘big black compass’ may have been apt.

Saturday 7 pm December 12

Dear All, unlike last week I’m starting this letter early since I’m spending the evening indoors. We were inoculated for the second time today and my arm – the left one – is feeling rather stiff this time, you may recollect that it had practically no effect last time. Probably the fact that I have a cold has something to do with it, but you must not think that I am by any means ill (or I would not be writing this letter). I think I have been lucky to escape for so long without catching a cold.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my Hamble friend, who has finished his training here and is going for five days leave to Warsash. It will be a bit lonely now he has gone because it was very nice to be able to talk to him about our work and the people who are, and were, at Hamble. I hope to see him later on, when I get moved from here though. I received your parcel to-day, many thanks for it, though as yet I have not sampled the eatables or opened the Xmas gift, which I intend keeping until the day. I have spent the 3/- and a bit more besides. I think I have got nearly all the Xmas presents and cards settled, though I have not paid for Peter’s book yet as it has not arrived. I bought a small chocolate cake, which I hope to send to Havant if I can find a box for it; I hoped to use the one your stuff came in but it is not big enough. Someone here will have one no doubt. I have looked for some farm animals for Christine but they do not seem to be any, so I have bought a couple of exercise books since she seems to be short of paper and I shall send some sweets as well. On Wednesday I shall send you your tin box. By then I shall have enough cigarettes (wrapped separately!) and other things to fill it. I suppose I had better send your cards to Havant, though I don’t know how long you reckon to be there. That reminds me, I must buy a stock of 1d stamps for these cards. I suppose I should buy a card for Peter so as not to leave him out. If he is able to get his exam papers I should like to see them. 

We had a mince pie with our tea one day this week so the Castleton one was not the last of this year

On Thursday I went to The Tower and saw ‘The Messiah’, it was marvellous, absolutely wonderful and I enjoyed it more than anything I have heard for a long time.  There was a very good chorus of about 120 I should say, a good sized orchestra and an organ. The place was packed, far more people than were at the Halle concert and I had to pay two shillings to stand. I very nearly did not bother to go in, but having heard it I would willingly pay twice as much to hear it again.

Sunday Morning: I am feeling rather better now and sure I’ll be alright tomorrow. I am something like I was when I was inoculated last year. I had a letter from Grandma and Auntie Ursie during the week. Auntie Ursie says that their daffodils and snowdrops are beginning to show, I wonder if ours are coming out yet. She also drew my attention to the fact that they come from Poulton-le-Flyde, which of course I know, though I do not recollect Brown’s Nurseries. 

On Thursday I went up to the Selection Board who took me without any difficulty as an Observer. It will make no difference to me for some while, as I have to go through the whole wireless course, though not the gunnery.  What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say. I am sorry to hear that Jean is not very happy in her billet, though she is a good girl not to complain. It  seems to me that she got on best with the Hollybrook children. I hope she will have some nice companions when she is moved. I have not written to her lately but I don’t seem to have much time, or much news. I suppose that she will be spending some time at Havant after you have left, or will you be there the whole week? Well that seems to be about all I have to say, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. I was interested to hear about Mrs Hart and the solitaire board, I remember that they used to play it at Landford.  I could do with some stamps for the next lot of cigarettes. 

In some other post I will tell you what I know about cousin Christine and her family. Her grandfather was the catalyst through which my Grandparents first met; when I discovered this I was glad to solve the mystery of how, in 1917, a man from the Island could have met a woman from Havant.

There must have been so much more to Albert’s new life that he did not share with his Mum and Dad – the chats with fellow lodgers, the training, the thoughts and longings he had. This letter jolted my own memories of writing home, when I was at university. It was a little unusual, in 1981, to write a weekly letter, for public phones were commonplace. I wrote letters because my Mother wrote to me, and she could not hear well on the phone. I kept all her letters, it seemed a wicked thing to contemplate destroying them. And my Mother, as we discovered after she died, kept all of mine. They lay with Albert’s, in the same big box. Maybe one day, when I am an old, old lady, I shall marry them up – I couldn’t bear to do that now. Maybe one day, much further on in time, a relative of mine shall read of the duet we danced to, and marvel at the lost world we inhabited.

The Second Instalment

“I was able to stroll about with no hat or gas mask and my hands in my pockets without fear of being stopped.”

Albert took this photograph of Geoff How “Throwing a rock down Loose Hill” in 1936. It may be Lily How, his mother, that you can see behind him.

It seems that Albert spent more time travelling to and from Castleton, than he spent with his family there. With some relish he describes his long trip back to Blackpool, catching a train from Manchester at 1.25 a.m. (imagine that!) and arriving home well after his curfew.

This letter is a mixture of familiar domestic news and war time details that appear thankfully alien to us in 21st Century Britain – the landmine crater, a captured German’s flying suit and a two foot remnant of ordinance on display in the Scout room!

I found the photographs in my Mother’s album. I don’t know if Albert ever saw Geoff again, so I wanted to add the pictures as a tribute to him. Geoff was 16 when Albert visited, and he would follow his cousin into the RAF.

Tuesday, December 9, 1941 

Dear All, I am starting the second instalment of this letter today, so that I can catch up with the news as quickly as possible. I think I had just arrived at the station (Hope) when the last instalment closed. The train was due at 7:33 but was unfortunately half an hour late. Uncle Vic had enquired about the Manchester times and found that I should have about 10 mins to go from Manchester Central to Manchester Victoria. However, since I got into Manchester Central it was about 9:30, and since the other train had left at 9:10 there wasn’t much need to hurry! At Victoria station I discovered that there was a train to Blackpool at 1:25 am, so I went down to the Forces canteen at the station and whiled away the time eating some cheese sandwiches Auntie Lily cut for me, trying to sleep and reading some 1938 “Amateur Photographers” which were there.

At about 1 am we went along to the train and (four of us) secured a compartment in which we could lay down. The lights were out, and we kept out any would-be companions by shouting “Full up!” whenever the door opened. When the lights went on we took out the bulb and continued our rest until the train moved. I had quite a rest until the train reached Blackpool at 3:30 when I returned to the billet (the key was left out for me) four and a half hours late, and went to bed and slept until about 7:0 am.

Castleton looks much the same as ever it did, and though there are very few cars on the once busy road, I saw quite a number of hikers. The cinema and fish and chip shop are still going strong. Geoff tells me that they have quite modern films now, only about six months old. When we were last there I remember that that “Sanders of the River” was being shown. Of course there are nothing in the way of military there, and I was able to stroll about with no hat or gas mask and my hands in my pockets without fear of being stopped.

There are some excavations been carried out on Treack Cliff opposite the Odin mine for Flurospar. They tell me it is used for a flux in blast furnaces. On Treack Cliff too I saw the crater made by one of the landmines. It is not a very big one, due to the underlying rock no doubt.  They have a large piece of that mine (about 2 foot long) at the Scout Room, also a 6 foot length of the silk parachute cord from it, and a German flying suit. The blackout there is much better than at Blackpool.

I told Geoff that I would ask you to send up some films, as he is interested in photography but cannot get even ordinary films. Go to the cupboard and on the shelf, back left on some old plate boxes you will see a pile of films. I think the best ones to send are Selo “HP2:Z20” and a Kodak “Super XX”. Talking about photography, I was reminded that I have a Dufaycolor film undeveloped: it is on the very top of the cupboard where I keep all my chemicals, but I cannot say whether or not it is in a Dufay box. However, it will be labelled, and for your further information the spool is done up in red paper – you find it no doubt, so could you please send it off. Somewhere there is the old bill which states that I have 3d credit with them – try the medicine cupboard by my money box for it. As regards the picture that got bent, I am not quite clear whether it was the negative or my print. In any case there is not much that can be done, though soaking may help.

Yesterday and to-day the weather has been wet and drizzly, so I can consider myself lucky on Sunday. You seem to have had much the same week-end weather except for the thunderstorm. It would not have been good for cycling at Castleton.

I think a bottle of gooseberries would do alright for Ron, I can’t think of much else that would suit him.

I do not need any more cheese though, we have no need of extra provisions in this billet. We are now up to 6 again, though two of them are going soon. I think that Tibbles must be going mad from what you say about him. It is something to amuse you though.

I was glad to see that Peter has won a prize, he has deserved one for a long time. I think as for him registering at 16 and a half, that is nothing to be worried about. If he goes to college he will be exempt until he has taken his degree, and if it is a BSc, they will probably put him on government research. I took the “educational test” last week and went through it easily enough – it was the sort of stuff Peter was doing before he could walk properly. But this week we go up before the Selection Board which consists of officers who seem to do their best to keep us out, so I don’t know if I shall pass that part. As regards Morse, I get on quite well and I’m up to 10 w.p.m. now. We have to reach 12 here. At last that is about all, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. Don’t bother about getting a new tie clip. What with all our moving about it too might fall off and with the uniform it doesn’t show at all, so a tiepin (which I have) is perfectly satisfactory.

My Grandmother obviously worried about my Uncle Peter (the cleverest person I know) going to Cambridge University at such a young age, but Albert wisely pointed out the advantage that Peter would be exempt from conscription. What unimaginable strains the war put on families, the constant worry, for mothers especially. Geoff was Lily’s only son, her only child – how difficult it must have been to watch him go. How cruel that Geoff was killed in action on 25 March 1945, aged 20. One hopes Lily and May found some small comfort in their shared loss. But to lose your only child, all your hopes for the future – I don’t imagine she ever got over it.

Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Barnes How, 1925-1945
Last known photograph of Lily, after the war was over. How different she looks.


Monday 8th December, First Instalment

“I will recount my adventures on my trip to Castleton.”

Albert’s map showing the route from Vic and Lily’s former home (‘Hope Cottage’) to their new residence, ‘Laneside’. I cannot quite match it up with current maps, and am puzzled about the school also being a cinema!

The Derbyshire Peak District is an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and so, because of the strict planning laws relating to National Parks, the village of Castleton remains mostly unchanged from 1941, when Albert escaped the murk of Blackpool and visited for an overnight stay. This letter gives us the first instalment of that visit, with more detail to follow in Albert’s next letter. Albert sounds happy to be out of town and in familiar company. I felt like I was back there with him, even to the point of wistfully wishing I had known Uncle Vic and Aunt Lily. I found a nice photo of them, with Geoff, which I think was taken around 1926. They are standing in the garden of Hope Cottage.

Although I am not familiar with the area, I know that the Peak District is a very popular destination, with Castleton being a hub for walkers, cavers, climbers, cyclists and those who simply seek some restful hours in the English Countryside. ‘Mam Tor’ is the highest hill in that area, its name means ‘Mother Hill’. Also, so Wikipedia informs me, it is known as the ‘Shivering Mountain’ on account of the frequent landslides. The Winnats is a deep valley pass that means ‘Windy Gates’. Look up this National Trust website and you will see how beautiful it is – and very different to Blackpool!

Dear all, as a change from the usual, I have a lot of news and as I have to write to Castleton as well tonight, I may have to curtail this letter a bit. First I will recount my adventures on my trip to Castleton. Saturday started off fine but by 12.30, when I took the Manchester coach it was blowing hard with fine rain. By the time we reached Manchester it was raining hard. At Manchester I hoped to catch the Sheffield bus, that we used to get up to Mam Tor, but they told me that it did not run, so I thought I would do the next best thing and catch the Buxton bus. (Listening to Mr Churchill – heard Rooseveldt at 6.30).

On the journey to Manchester I was struck by the fact that most of the main roads around this way are of old stone setts – something like our tramway cobblestones, but often smaller: I am glad I didn’t have to cycle over them. If you look on the map you will see that the Buxton and Castleton Road divide at Chapel-en-le-Frith. Rather foolishly I went on to Buxton, since I forgot the road when I got the ticket and thought I would be more likely to get a seat in the Castleton bus by boarding it at Buxton. However I was told that there was no Castleton bus, so I got a car back to Chapel by which time it was about 5.15 and growing dark. From Chapel I walked along the Castleton Road. Fortunately it was not raining so much and I was pleased to remove my hat and get out into the fresh air a bit. Walking briskly in the gathering dusk, I was quite soon almost at the top of the hill, past the farmhouse on the left and almost where the road runs along the top of a deep gully,  lots of contours on the left. Then one of those lorries came along and by waving my arms and shining my torch I was able to stop it and get a lift right to Squires Lane. I could just make out the silhouettes of the hills as I got out and I arrived at about 5:45,  just as Auntie Lily and Geoff were coming down the lane to meet the station bus.

Indoors we had sausages for tea also some mince tarts which was very nice indeed. Then we had a game of Monopoly which is a very interesting game, although not really suitable for less than four players. We had one game which took until about 10 pm. They have a very nice house, much better than Hope Cottage, though it is further from the village about half mile. Squires Lane is actually the Loose Hill Road and the houses are on a new road on the other side of the wall. They have quite a large garden but, due to having no time to spare, Uncle Vic lets someone else (an ‘in-law’) do most of it. They have six rooms, with hot water, electric light and mains radio and a nice bathroom. From the living room window they have a view of Mam Tor and The Winnats.

In the morning we had breakfast at about 9.30 and the morning was a fine contrast to the previous evening. It was still blowing hard but the sky was clear blue and the wind keen. There was a thin sprinkling of snow on the tops. At the bottom of Mam Tor I saw the bracken through which we waded when we went to the Odin mine, and it was all red and orange, very nice. For dinner we had some Christmas pudding which was a very good one, then Geoff and I and some of his friends went for a walk up The Winnats and back down the Mam Tor Road. The wind through The Winnats was the strongest I have ever experienced. The gusts were so strong that we could really lean against the wind. Upto about the corner, or just past it, the road has been metalled to quite a respectable surface.

There were numerous brave hikers and cyclists about most of them without coats and some even in shorts! There were three cyclists pushing up The Winnats road. From the top there was the usual fine view, and it was quite clear so that we could see the end of the valley. We came back and I left at about 6.30 to catch the bus, (to be continued) love from Albert.

…I have to stop as there is no time.

Fancy having a Christmas pudding before Christmas! I suppose the war, and an honoured guest, were a good excuse. Albert seems to have fallen foul of that common spelling error (at least in my family) of writing ‘loose’ for ‘lose’. There is a Youth Hostel at Losehill Hall, and a road called Goose Hall, so I think he merged the two. Without a second thought Albert set off on foot to to walk the last six and a half miles from Chapel-en-le-Frith to Castleton, along an unlit road without pavements. I suppose he had no choice, but how many of us would even consider doing that? I’m glad he managed to halt that lorry and get to Castleton before the sky turned pitch black.

Aunt Lily

“Yesterday I sent off a warning to Auntie Lily that I may arrive there on Saturday”

Who was Aunt Lily? The answer is a ‘How’. A very long time ago in 1879, Elizabeth Barnes, of Sheffield, met and married my Great-Grandfather Albert Pratt. They were both ‘in service’ and, allegedly, both worked for sometime at Chatsworth House. Elizabeth had a younger brother, Charles, who married and moved to Castleton in Derbyshire. He and Kate Barnes had one child, a daughter called Florence. Florence married Edward How in 1922. They had one son called Geoffrey Barnes How. Florence was therefore my Grandmother’s cousin, younger than her by 5 years.

It was simple to write that paragraph, yet torturous to discover the details – on account of most of the participants using different names, or having different places of birth from one census to the next. Florence was always known (except those in officialdom) as Lily. Edward was known as Vic, Charles was sometime known as Chas and Elizabeth’s place of birth wandered around the environs of South Yorkshire. Thankfully my mother left me photographs with names pencilled on the back, otherwise I would never have discovered my distant relative, Florence Lily How.

Lily lived until she was 89. She died in Sheffield in 1981, the year I went to university. I did not know her. As so often happens, my Mother would have lost touch after my Grandmother died in 1965. In the 1960’s Derbyshire was an expensive and long journey from Hampshire. Mum had her hands full with 4 young children; a visit would have been near impossible. Lily moved house, perhaps an address book was mislaid, the connection disappeared.

So all I can share is the sense of kinship between my Grandmother, May, and her cousin, that is conveyed in the postcards they left behind. Clearly as teenagers they visited each other several times. Whether May was accompanied by parents or her older sister Lizzie I do not know. On the reverse of the photograph above Lily writes:

“Dear May, I can’t come myself so here is a substitute. Don’t laugh please, at the horrible simper. I got my p.c. (postcard) this morning from C.V. Early wasn’t it? Everything seems very quiet here, after such rushing times, but it will give me time to think. I found everybody very well, even after they had sampled the doughnuts. Joking apart, they thought them delicious.”

The postcards I have from Lily to May and vice versa, are affectionate and amusing; I would like to weave them into this project of mine, but not yet. Lily and May’s friendship continued throughout their married lives. Albert, Geoff and Peter were born within 5 years of each other. We see them here in this holiday snap, taken around 1927. They are a happy, contented family group.

Back row: Lizzie Pratt, A.J. Pratt, four unknowns, May Mabey. Front row: Lily & Vic How with Geoff. Albert, Peter and Hedley Mabey.

As a young Airman alone in Blackpool, Albert was keen to call on his Derbyshire relatives, for some fuss and familiar company. On 3 December 1941, he is making plans to visit on a weekend pass. We will hear all about the visit in a later letter. Hopefully I will find some more photographs to illustrate it with.

Dear All, once again I fear that this may be a short letter,because for one thing there is not much news, and for another thing I have not much time it now being nearly 10 pm. I have just been to the grammar school listening to much Brahms, a recording of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat minor, and an actual performance of a sonata for violin and piano. As a light relief there were the Barber of Seville Overture, the Flower Song from Carmen, and the Invitation to the Waltz – Joyce’s record. On Monday we had Beethoven’s 8th Symphony and some piano music. It has all been very enjoyable. I have not usually bothered much about Brahms but I liked this evening’s programme very well, though it was rather heavy at times. I am beginning to think that perhaps B. is not so bad after all!

Yesterday I sent off a warning to Auntie Lily that I may arrive there on Saturday, since we have been told that our weekend will be this week. To-day I received the enclosed letter from her, with 6d worth of stamps which will come in very useful.

I have 40 Players which I need to send. I don’t know how many a week you would like. Thanks for the P.O. by the way, it will come in useful for the weekend.

We now have only 3 airmen in the billet, and one of them is expecting to be posted very shortly so that will leave only two. We are expecting some more in very shortly probably they will be new recruits just up from Padgate.

Tomorrow we should have the so-called educational test for the pilots’ and observers’ course and next week the Selection Board, so it seems that things are at last moving. As regards that the weather, has been very muggy this week. We have had no rain to speak of and it has been quite chilly in the mornings but during the days (today especially) it has been quite warm and close. Tonight there is a nearly full moon and it is extremely light out, there being only slight cloud. I wonder if you have been able to get out in the weekend: I hope so. Really I am afraid that is all, so this is a very short letter. I hope to have a lot to make up for it next Monday, love from Albert.

PS I am sorry to say that I have lost that nice tie clip which Auntie Lizzie gave me. It must’ve dropped off somehow. There is a performance of “The Messiah” here next week – I must go. Which primula is it which is out, the Wisley “Julia Hybrid” or the other “ordinary” purple one?

Colouring My Mabey Family Past

An afternoon in 1937 comes back to life

The Mabey family at home, Branstone, Isle of Wight c.1937

When Val of Colouring The Past offered her followers a free colouring of a photograph, I jumped at the chance. Val selected this photograph of three generations of my Mother’s family, that first appeared in my post Your Dear Little Self, which I posted last August. I am so happy with the results! Val has done such a careful and sensitive restoration, these figures seem to glow with life. Val has meticulously followed the information I could give her about clothing, hair colour and the house and garden. I was able to give Val a copy of Albert’s hand-coloured photograph of my Mum, in the very same dress, that he took in 1937 – serendipitous to say the least.

I hope that you too like Val’s rendering of the photograph, and of course I encourage you to delve into the many fascinating works on her site. There is something hypnotic in the transformation of black and white images into ‘real’ colour – to me it’s as though the dream world of the past blooms and expands into life.

I see into my Mother’s childhood world, a world that of course I never knew. They are posing for my Grandmother, one spring afternoon, perhaps during the Easter weekend, at Headley House. There stands my Grandfather, standing tall, and by his standards informally dressed (as he is without a jacket). There sits my Great-Grandmother, in her habitual black and spotless white apron. My Great Aunt Frad beams at the camera, no doubt a cheeky quip on her lips. She lays a gentle hand upon my Mother’s arm, just to keep her still whilst the Brownie camera focuses and clicks. Then little Jeannie can go, go and find Blackie, go and play in the sunshine for a while, before she is called in to wash her hands for tea.

Books and Maps

“I believe the billet is to be closed for Xmas so we shall have to move out, though only temporarily I hope, because I cannot imagine a better billet.”

There was a haunting lyricism in Albert’s last letter, recalling his rides to Ovington and to Avington, the whitest frosts on the fields of the Island, the steam rising off the gentle horses in the morning sun. I have been looking at his albums, which has brought me joy and sorrow in equal measure. He took these two photos in 1939, before the war began, before his fate was sealed. He was probably thinking of his photographs as he wrote.

You will have gathered by now, that two of Albert’s interests (besides photography) were reading and walking. So books and maps, being the means to both ends, feature often in his letters home. Here Albert shares his interest in one of the ‘girls’ in the billet, which centres not, I think, on any romantic intentions but on her decent 1″ maps and good taste in nature writing. He’s found an educated friend to go to the music society meetings with, and does not try to conceal his pleasure. Good food makes Albert happy too, as does a warm fire and plentiful hot water. Well, does that not hold true for all of us?!

Wednesday Nov. 26th Midday
Dear all
I have not yet received your parcel so it may arrive later on in the day, but since I last wrote I have very little to report, and nothing to reply to. The only important item is that we have a “short weekend” this weekend from noon Saturday to midnight ( 11.59pm actually) on Sunday and I hope to go to Sheffield, and have written to Auntie Lily asking if it will be convenient for me to come. The times of trains are rather awkward, and make the journey about five hours, so I am going by bus which should be quicker provided there is a good connection from Manchester to Sheffield. I had thought of getting lifts but shall not bother unless there is a long wait at Manchester. I have also written to Mr Gibson to let him know, in case he had intended to come here next week (Nov 30) and have also said that I may be able to get a day pass the following week (Dec 6) in which case I shall try to visit him. I think that is fairly certain as there is a Corporal in our billet who is able to wangle them for us (in return for a glass of beer no doubt!). As to Christmas leave, it seems to be definitely off. Our long weekend should be Xmas weekend, so it will be put off, not to the following weekend which is payday, but to the weekend after that, which is in the New Year. I believe the billet is to be closed for Xmas so we shall have to move out, though only temporarily I hope, because I cannot imagine a better billet. We have just had, for dessert, a sort of sponge pudding with orange in it and custard over – it was very nice indeed. I have not yet eaten all the biscuits which are very nice. I often have one before I go to bed which is usually about 11 pm. We go up at 10:30 or just after, and by the time I have cleaned boots, shoes and buttons and put my trousers to press under the mattress, it is usually about 11-ish. Then in the morning we usually start at 10 to 8 and get up about an hour beforehand, which is not very early for me and as the water is always hot, that is alright. They light a fire at about 7.15 in the morning and now that the other fireplace is repaired we have two fires going.
On Friday morning some of the lights went including those in the kitchen and scullery. I said I could put a new fuse in and did so, but only succeeded in getting two of the bedroom lights back on leaving the kitchen and scullery. More fellows tried but were not more successful and we had to bring a light up from the cellar and suspend it in the kitchen with much string.

Monday and Tuesday the electricians came and after some mucking around with the fuses which were quite alright got the lights going yesterday. I did not hear what they said about it, but one of the wires must have gone, and blown the fuse into the bargain. You remember that our playroom light did the same thing about five years ago.
Auntie Lizzie wrote me a letter which I received yesterday and I must reply to that soon I also should write to Joyce (I have started that), Ron,and Raymond. Also to one or two of the people at Hamble. I have already use all the 2 1/2d stamps in that 2/6d book, so perhaps I have not too many stamps even now.

Yesterday evening I went around collecting train and bus times, and cigarettes and I’m sending the latter with this letter.

There was no chocolate, though but I may be able to get some boiled sweets for Xmas and also toffees, if I am not too lazy to stand in the queue.
On Monday I went to the RAF music society’s meeting and heard some chamber music of Brahms and Cesar Franck, and songs by Mozart. I went with one of the girls from the billet. She is interested in music (plays the piano) and in cycling and walking. She has a 1 inch map of the district and some nice travel books including one called “Rivers of the South”, with photographs by C Dixon Scott
[J Dixon Scott & A. B. Austin], which is in the Bitterne library.
Other suggestions for Christmas presents are:
blue handkerchiefs – I do not think the others will stop white for long without boiling. “Hampshire Scene” by John Vesey Fitzgerald
[Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald] a book which Daddy told me he saw at Major Charmer’s at New Milton. A book of maps of England and Wales, Phil has a good pocket atlas by J.G. Bartholomew, and I expect Mrs Hart will show you when you go round there. Another of the girls here has another very good book of maps, 3 miles per 1″ published by W & A.K Johnston Ltd, Edinburgh and London, at 5/-. As regards scale, it is the better (the other is 5m=1″) but it has no index and is not, I think, so well printed, so I really don’t know which is the better.
That makes a lot of things I should like for Christmas -more than I shall get no doubt but it is quite a nice lot to choose from anyway!
This afternoon there is a football match so I shall keep well in the background and clear on the side. There are some seats at the recreation ground and I have an interesting book to read, British scientists of the 19th century Vol. II. You may remember it, a Penguin book of which Peter had the Vol.I. I have lots of 6d books in my drawer and must send some home, for it is nice to have something to read in our breaks, and in order to save money I don’t have tea very often.
Evening 5.15pm. Your parcel has not yet arrived and there is no other mail so there is no further news excepting that we may not get our leave after all due to a church parade being due so I don’t know whether I am going to Castleton or not.


Cheers! Your parcel has come so I must now open it and answer in brief. I am surprised that Jean had not got her parcel but actually I thought she would be home for the weekend, but no doubt it will be welcome when she gets back. I think you had better get a geometry set for Jean, as I have not seen anything special up here and you will probably get it cheaper at home, try Rose’s or some similar shop. Get one with celluloid set squares, 60° and 45° good thick stuff and similar protractor, and a compass like this with also, if not too expensive, a compass for ink in a nice strong well-made box because you know how she will bang it around! I don’t mind paying up to about 5/- or a little more if you think it is worth it. Tell me how much it costs and I will send you the money.
Arthur Askey’s film doesn’t seem to be due here yet, though I have not seen all the programs for next week. Blackpool does not seem to get very modern films. If you get Mr C to do those prints postcard size, you will find some “Best Wishes” folders in my cupboard. I believe they are in a Kodak white envelope on the bottom of the cupboard. Well that had better be all, or else I won’t be able to post this so goodbye and love from Albert.

“Not a very satisfactory letter”

The photograph shows the envelope in which I found the following letter, along with three others. My Grandmother would have sent them all on to Headley House, for my Great Aunts and Great-Grandparents to read. They would have been read by the oil-lamp’s light, for there was no electricity. The envelope originally contained a letter addressed to my Great Aunt Daisy. Daisy Nutt was the only daughter of John and Jane Mabey to marry, in 1919 I believe. But the marriage did not last and, unusually for the times, Daisy divorced and returned to live with her sisters and her parents. Why she chose to leave Ryde and her sailor husband I do not know.

Albert starts his letter on an inclement Sunday evening, rather brooding on the failed meeting with Mr Gibson and apologetic that he has not procured any cigarettes. He shares, again, his memories of Hampshire countryside and the melancholy of his words reached me all these years later; I wonder if you shall feel it too?

Sunday, November 23 

Dear all, 

I will try to write as much as I can tonight, though I fear that I may not be able to finish it. It is not a very satisfactory letter I am afraid, for one thing, I have no cigarettes, which is not very good since, I received some stamps with your last letter! I will see what I can do in the week. Also I have to say that Mr Gibson did not turn up today -perhaps you miscalculated, or perhaps my letter put him off, for when he suggested that he might come to see me, I wrote that he ought to perhaps to drop me a line so as I should not be out. I stopped in all to-day but he did not turn up, though I should not have walked far, because yesterday I had a nasty blister on my left little toe. I put some Acriflavine on it last night and it seems alright now.

I have since learnt that it was Scorton that I went through last week, though I don’t know about the other places. If we have any snow this winter, I shall certainly do my best to get out into it. I remember well a ride with Phil out into the Forest after we had had a slight fall – most of the snow had melted by the time we arrived, but that field on the left up Hunter’s Hill still had snow on it because the winter morning sun had not yet got to it. I also remember going with him to Avington Park & Ovington (one of his favourite rides) and there was quite a bit of snow remaining on the road between the east of Avington Park and Ovington, the Bell Inn I believe. And that reminds me of the time I went to the Island (early this year I believe) and went out before dinner to Bobberstone way. I went towards Fighting Cocks and left down the Bathingbourne Road, and near the Godshill Road I got off and walked across some fields which were white, with one of the whitest frosts I have seen and especially nice because the sun was very yellow and shining through the trees and on some horses in the field and the horses were steaming in the frosty morning. It was very nice and I walked up the field and looked across over the frosty fields. I remember too that I had my blue overcoat on and it was too warm for me.

Ratty & Mole, “The Wind in the Willows”

We got paid on Saturday and to my great surprise I got £2, some of the others who are putting the same into P.O. Savings  got only 30/- and I believe there were a few who received £1. I suppose I should get about £1 next fortnight. However  I have ordered a chemistry textbook for Peter’s Christmas present, I hope it will suit him. As regards myself, I think that watch repair would be quite nice, it would be useful . Most certainly I do not want a new hairbrush! For Jean you might get the “Wind in the Willows”‘ it is a book most children enjoy, and should read, but she may have better suggestions. By the way you can tell her that I for one do not approve of her green ink,  and she had better get some more if she wants to write to me! Just before I go, I got your letter with stamps. I had bought a 5/- book, so I won’t want anymore for a little while at any rate perhaps you had better send a P.O. next time [Postal Order] when it amounts to enough to send. When the Hamble money arrives you had better save it up for a bit because I shall want some about Christmas time. 

We do not seem to have any alerts here we have not had a warning since my first week up here. I remember they were ploughing the park by Brambridge House and now they are doing The Avenue.  I expect you will see a lot more downland being put under the plough this winter and spring, and a lot more beech woods going down -what a shame it is to see those lovely trees being cut up and carted off.

I got the Shell Magazine on Friday, but no letter inside – perhaps they could not afford the stamps.

Owing to money shortage I did not see the Marx Bros film and so cannot give you a first-hand account of it, though I have heard that it was not up to the usual standard. This week there are no films of great interest or plays etc.  Saturday evening I saw “The Cherry Orchard”, a Russian play by Anton Chekhov. It was a most unusual play, every so often one of the characters made a most peculiar speech addressed more to empty space than to the other characters or the audience.  However though very odd, it was very interesting too and quite amusing, so I enjoyed it more so than the Tauber thing. Somewhen in the future there are some Gilbert and Sullivan operas which I should very much like to see.

It is now Monday and once again dull and drizzly. We seem to have a lot of rain here in Blackpool or perhaps you are getting a lot of rain at home too. I must write to Mr & Mrs Gibbons and Jack. They must wonder what has become of me. I suppose you have not seen anything of them since I left. That seems about all I have to say, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. Excuse the scribble I’m in a hurry. If anyone with a spare coupon wants to buy me a Christmas present,  they could get a black tie, I think mine will be wearing out soon.

I wonder if my Mother received “The Wind in The Willows” as her Christmas gift from Albert? And if so, was it the same copy that she gave to me to read, when I was 7 or 8? I loved that book. I raced through the story by torchlight, under the covers as my sisters slept. So I agree with my uncle when he writes (sounding rather older than his years) that ‘it is a book most children enjoy, and should read.’

Those of you that are familiar with Southampton will know that The Avenue is the main route into the city centre from the east. It passes through Southampton Common, which (assuming Albert’s report is correct) must have been ploughed up during the war. I cannot find any reference to this though. Let me know if you have any information about it.