In this next letter Albert tells us of his journey to Torquay, via places familiar to him from his time in RAF Calne.
Albert is sad to leave London and Joyce in particular, who he spent a pleasant evening with before saying goodbye to the capital city. I assume it was Jocye who sewed on Albert’s ‘sparks’ badges – given upon qualification as a Radio Operator.
Albert will continue his initial training at RAF Torquay, which was based at the St James’s Hotel. In spite of its seafront location, Albert appears unimpressed by the accomodation, and even less impressed by the keeness of his colleagues to follow orders!
Sunday June 7, St James’s Hotel RAF Torquay, South Devon
Dear All, here I am in Torquay and I had better say at once that as far as the R.A.F. goes it appears to be rather a miserable place. The food and accommodation are both good it is true, but the discipline is going to annoy me ‘ere long, and everybody seems frightfully keen and enthusiastic about it all.
Friday afternoon we changed our billet from Hall Road to another block of flats in Regents Park Road.
I was off to Camden Town by 6pm and as the bus runs along there I did not have the usual walk there and back. I had a good evening at Joyce’s with a nice salad for supper and left at 9.30, after having listened to the gramophone and had my ‘sparks’ sewn on my second tunic.
That was the best evening in London and I enjoyed it very much and was sorry to say goodbye, not only to my good friends there, but also to the tree-lined streets, the parks with their lovely gardens (I went into Queen Mary’s Garden – Regents Park on one evening) and even the buses and tubes, and of course the concerts and shows and new films.
Contrary to expectations, we did not leave early on Saturday morning and I had the pleasure of remaining in bed until about 9, after which I had a bath and was able to go for a short walk before our early dinner at 10. We had a little more time off and then, very hot, loaded up with all our pack and kit, & left by coach to Paddington.
As we were sitting down waiting for the coach, an ‘Express’ milk cart came along and a good many of us bought a bottle. I don’t mind a bit of milk nowadays and was pleased to drink some.Of course there was the usual waiting about attended by rather more discomfort than usual due to the heat. This June is certainly flaming.
The train left Paddington at 1.30 and our ‘party’ had reserved coaches, with plenty of room as there were only 5 in our compartment. The route was through Reading and along a piece of line new to me, Newbury, Hungerford, Savernake, Patney, Castle Cary, Taunton, Tiverton and Exeter. Just before Savernake I saw the road by the canal where I had that puncture on the way back from Inkpen. We passed Froxfield with its almshouses, Great Bedwyn and the church and went through Pursey, all of which I knew.
I was pleased to see that part of the world again, and enjoyed looking out of the window, especially as the heat in the carriage was intense.
From Exeter I was once again on familiar ground, and was delighted to see the outline of the cathedral the same as ever, and Dawlish with its many coves and cliffs, and Teignmouth.
We stopped at Teignmouth, and amongst the people on the platform I saw, first, David and then Uncle Jim and Auntie Olive. Naturally I dashed out and hailed them and they invited me there for the day. I shall endeavour to go soon, but as the buses do not start running until afternoon, will probably have dinner first. It is now 12, so I think I will definitely leave it later.
Continuing with the journey (though that is practically finished) we went via Newton Abbott (naturally) and along the Torquay branch, along which I have only been once before. The train arrived somewhere around 6 and we were taken to this hotel.I think I shall leave a description of the billet and the RAF for the next letter, as I have not a great deal of time yet, and shall want something to say.
I expect that by now you have received my parcel of socks etc. The laundry seems as if it may be quite effective so I shall perhaps try it for vest and pants, but not socks, as they are not regulation ones.This is being written with my new pen, which works very well, as you will see.
I don’t think there is much else. It is now after dinner and we have still a bit of messing about before we can go out (this is an awful place) and actually the bounds are 5 miles so I shall ignore that for the time being.
I must get those maps at Uncle Jim’s, as there should be some opportunity for walking, though not cycling as I have nowhere to keep a bike and I believe it is not allowed.
So goodbye from my new abode and love to all, from Albert
Alberts ends his letter with , ‘Arrived Teignmouth 4.15 (Posted at Woodland Avenue).‘ So he wasted no time in leaving his new billet (ignoring the fact that he was travelling out of bounds) to spend time with his uncle and aunt and his aunt’s son David.
I was pleased to hear Albert make mention of his socks, a running point of interest in his letters, along with food. No doubt he was concerned about losing his unique socks in the communal laundry; socks lovingly knitted by his Isle of Wight aunties and carefully darned by his mother, when the need arose.
Albert writes on the 3rd of June 1942, ‘very annoyed’ that he will be leaving London soon. And whilst Albert will miss the concerts and the vibrancy of the capital city, I am in no doubt that it is Joyce’s company that he will miss the most.
My mother put this photograph in the album she made of her Mabey family. Joyce did not marry Albert, but she was placed within the album as a homage to how important she was to my Mother’s brother, or could have been had things turned out differently.
I have some news – according to what we have been told we leave here on Saturday for an unknown destination which might be anywhere. I am very annoyed at that as I had promised myself at least a further week & though I get fed up with it, the next place will in all likelihood be worse, and there are so many things that I want to do. I am annoyed about it.
As to actual news, there is little that I can say. Last night we were firewatching and could not go out. There was an air raid warning at about 3.15 or 2.45 am but the all clear went soon after. I half expected a ‘reprisal’ raid on London.
Tonight there is a concert at the Albert Hall but I shall go to Joyce’s instead as time is so short and I have not been there since Saturday.
By the way, I shall probably want my other vests and shirts (RAF) sent along when I arrive at the next place, together with the trousers if they have been done.
I have just been down the road and have come to the conclusion that I am sorry indeed to leave London, as I am just beginning to find my way about & enjoy myself in the evenings if not during the days.
I am afraid I can’t think of anything else to say, except goodbye and love to all from Albert.
We learn in the next letter that Albert gets to spend the Wednesday evening at Joyce’s. In the short time in London he has been a fairly frequent visitor. I can’t help but wonder what Joyce told her ‘young man’ (he of the tank division) of Albert’s visits.
By the time Albert writes this second letter, he knows he is headed for Torquay in Devon, on the South West coast; a seaside resort quite the antithesis of Blackpool.
Albert mentions visiting Teignmouth (pronounced ‘Tinmouth’) as his uncle Jim Mabey lived there and the family visited during the summer holidays. Excepting that, when I looked at the 1939 Census records, I found that my great uncle Jim lived in Dawlish, a smaller town along the same stretch of coastline. His occupation was registered as ‘army clerk’. Jim survived World War 1, whereas his brother Lloyd did not. Jim always looks rather dapper in the photos I have of him. This one was taken in the late 1930s outside the family home at Branstone, Isle of Wight.
Friday June 5
Dear All, here is a short note before I leave this benighted dump. I am afraid that we have had an awful time the last couple of days, what with inspections and parades and the heat; which is the real London tropical weather. Talking of Hall Road, I shall be glad to get out of it, but sorry to leave London. I have been here a fortnight and have been to the Albert Hall only twice and the Cambridge Theatre not at all, though I did hear Wednesday’s concert over the radio when I went to Joyce’s.
I had a nice quiet evening there on Weds; how sorry I am to leave here. We are officially confined to camp tonight, the night before we leave, but if it is at all possible I shall slip off and pay a farewell visit.
Our destination tomorrow should be Torquay, of which I must make the best, though on the RAF side I understand that it will be a rather bad job. Ron says it is not a bad place at all, but I expect that he would put up with discipline and that sort of thing rather better than I should. One hope is that they will not want us until Monday and I shall be able to push off to Teignmouth for the weekend. I do not know anything else – how long we shall be there, what we shall do, where we shall go afterwards or anything but that the destination is Torquay or thereabouts.
If we are there for 10 weeks it would be worth having the bike sent down. In any case I must have my map with me. I believe the most suitable ones are a 1 inch of Exeter and a ½ inch of Plymouth and district. There is also a 1 inch of Torquay which was being sold in Teignmouth last summer. I wonder if I could get that still.
Looking in my exposure book I see that the holiday was less than a year ago – but what a long year it has been (the dates were June 16-27).
I have mentioned the heat, and I expect that you are getting it warm and the garden must certainly be doing well now. Of course London heat is worst than most, and in that respect I shall be glad to leave, though there is no prospect of Torquay being much cooler. Someone has had a grain of sense and we are going round in shirt sleeves, but the service trousers are very hot & of the marching pace (same at T), I believe I have already complained.
Many times I could have done with a good draught of Branstone water, the London stuff is very insipid and warmish, and Devon water is just the same!
The parcel arrived yesterday, with the contents intact, and many thanks for the chocolate and the pen (writing this now) etc. I shall send the other pen to Jean when I am able but must warn her that it is liable to let out blobs of ink from time to time. We are now moving to another lot of flats – just for tonight!
I was interested to hear that the primula sikkimensis is in blossom, I expect that the helianthemum will soon be out, and doubtless the tomatoes are by now planted.
Well, I think there is little else to say, and in any event little time to say it, so goodbye for a while and love to all from Albert.
Albert waits for a reply from home, wondering (can you imagine?) if the wait is due to bombs falling on his home town. And some of my readers have been waiting a long time for this post; the delay was not due to any act of aggression I can reassure you. My thanks to Brad of tokensofcompanionship for giving me the nudge I needed to get going again.
So, in Albert’s world the year remains 1942 and he remains in London awaiting news of his next posting. In the meantime Albert spends more time with Joyce, who begins to feature more in his letters, and takes advantage of the musical programme offered to lift the spirits of the population, at the famous hall that shares his name. Although actually most people called my uncle by his middle name, John!
Friday May 29
Dear All,I have not yet received a reply to my letter written on Monday night. I hope that it reached you safely. I heard that Southampton was bombed on Tuesday morning, so hope that’s had nothing to do with the delay. I understand that it was the docks.
The delay in writing this one is partly due to not having heard from you; chiefly due to my forgetting how the days has gone. Well, on Tuesday evening I went to Joyce’s again. She works until 7.30 this week and does not reach home until about eight, that her mother and one of her friends were there and I talked and later had supper, making an enjoyable evening of it. I have got the correct buses and so forth all right now and did not take so long on the journey as before.
On Wednesday night I went with another fellow to the Albert Hall and heard the concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the second half of which was broadcast. I am sending the programme so you will see all about it. There are also the items of Thursdays concert which I also heard, and possibly you did too.
We got 1/- seats and sat in the centre floor, and rather annoyingly heard the famous echo to full and devastating effect. However, we enjoyed it very much especially the Tchaikovsky (my latest records). It is an easy journey to two 2d buses, changing at Hyde Park Corner. Maida Vale Road, at the bottom of Hall Road is the main road to the Northwest suburbs and there are plenty of buses running. Along there too are our nearest shops, though a good number of them are blitzed.
Last night I went alone, as the other fellow was going out with his father (he lives in East Ham). First I went to Leicester Square to get a ticket at the Cambridge Theatre for the piano recital on Sunday. That place doesn’t appear to want my patronage as the box office was then shut, and so I made my way via Leicester Square, Haymarket, and Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace, and thence to Hyde Park Corner, where I caught the bus.
It was very pleasant walking under the trees there, the London Parks are not vastly different, in spite of the barbed wire and barrage balloons.
I had lingered too much though and arrived a trifle late. Dashing up to the box office one of the doormen asked me if I was going to get a ticket for “upstairs”. I said “yes” and he handed me a complimentary ticket for the gallery (2/6). The echo was not so bad there and since the seats are in tiers, one has a better view of the proceedings. There were not a great many people up there, and I had a bit more leg room than on the floor, so altogether I had a very enjoyable evening’s outing for only 7d!
The weather has lately been very showery, especially towards the evenings, but one fortunate thing is that there has been a fair amount of wind to prevent the weather from being too warm.
Well, I can’t think of much else to say, though I seem to have been doing enough to keep all my time occupied. This afternoon we got a ‘maths test’ which, from all accounts, is of quite an elementary nature. Most of our time though is quite wasted, and often we get pretty bored with the place. A rumour was going round that we should be here until June 20 at least – that will be quite long enough, and quite expensive enough too. The next payday I understand to be on Thursday, though I am alright so far as regards money. The chief trouble is the amount spent on fares etc, it is about 4d to get anywhere.
The mail has just come up, and again nothing from you. I expect this will arrive tomorrow some time. Well love to all etc, from Albert.
In Albert’s next letter we hear of another visit to the Albert Hall, a visit to see his friend Joan and a visit to Joyce’s. Albert also visits Hampstead Heath, and his comment comparing the famous heath to the not so famous Southampton Common, reminded me what a lovely place the latter is. My father said it was untouched since mediaeval times, which might not (knowing my Dad) be 100% true, but it is certainly a beautiful sem-wild expanse of green, filled with Hampshire oaks, in the heart of the city.
Monday June 1st (glorious)
Dear All, I have just packed up a parcel, containing dirty underwear, socks, handkerchiefs & the leggings. I have also just noticed that I still have the map here. I must send it next time (if I remember that is). You will see that most of the bulk of this consists of the letters by Phil and Raymond, which I have at last remembered, and which I have yet to reply to. I believe I forgot to tell you that Phil’s letter arrived safely, on Tuesday or Wednesday I believe it was.
Your parcel arrived on Saturday morning or Friday evening; the delay was doubtless due to the ‘Road/Place’ of the address, as I have just received your letter of May 30 and you seemed to have got my letter in good time. By the way, do not worry if the parcel does not arrive as soon as this – I do not know when it will be posted: it depends when the local Post Offices shut. I was going to send a card on Saturday evening to say that the parcel had arrived, but when I got to the post office found that the last collection was at 6.30. Apparently that is usual: at Blackpool there was one at about 9pm.
Yesterday I went to Watford as my friend was home for “Whitsun” leave. After a good dinner we went back to London and tried to get in to the Albert Hall, but were unsuccessful, so then we went to a Lyons and had teas and then to Hampstead Heath & back to Watford & billet respectively.
I wonder if you had the thunder shower we had at about 3pm. It rained quite heavily for 20 minutes or more and then left off abruptly and the sun started to shine, after which the weather was very good and the evening was really lovely. We had a church parade in the morning (Every Sunday morning here) and the weather then was none too promising.
You may remember that I said last week I was told that there was plenty of room in the Albert Hall. This week the whole musical population seemed to have turned up in force, and were queuing for miles around the hall and in front of the box office. They must have been there early too, as one fellow who got there even earlier said he was unable to get in. I suppose it is because Tchaikovsky is so popular.
Nonetheless I quite enjoyed it after the rain finished, and Hampstead Heath is a pleasant place in fine weather, rather reminiscent of The Common in places.
On Friday and Saturday I went to Joyce’s. One of those days I had a tomato – the first for this year. They had just got some tomato plants and put them out on Saturday morning. I expect yours are in by now. Afternoon on Saturday I spent watching the gardening and helping a little, but not too much, for fear my efforts might not be too successful. Then in the evening to Studio One to see ‘Fantasia’. It was a long wait to get in and by that time the only part of the programme left to be shown was ‘Fantasia’ and the news, but it was even then a 2 hours programme and a very enjoyable one too. You would probably not like all of it, but it is of such an unusual nature. It is all very interesting and some of it, the “Nutcracker” suite (Sugar Plum fairy etc) was delightful, and one of the best things I have seen for a long time.
The Micky Mouse “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was very funny, more on the usual Disney lines of course, and so was the “Dance of the Hours”, a burlesque of it really, with ostriches, elephants, hippopotami and crocodiles doing the ballet. If it is on for long I might go again.
This week there are two concerts at the Albert Hall, but I do not know if I shall get to both. We are also due to be on guard at some time, Tues or Weds most probably.
I was glad that my pen has at last arrived, and am looking forward to seeing it in the next few days.By the way, do you still want cigarettes (at the high price I’m afraid) as I think I can get fair quantities of them, also tobacco, so if you are short let me know before I leave London. Leaving London reminds me that it appears that the course will be three weeks here.I believe I have said all that before, but that is an indication that I have no more to say, except goodbye and love from Albert.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
Albert’s letter of Wednesday 6th May 1942 relates the second half of his day out to Inkpen Beacon; another mammoth excursion by bicycle. He tells us of a couple of mishaps, one of which was the loss of his map in the area of Linkenholt. This little village is wholly owned by the Linkenholt estate (as it was in Albert’s time) and therefore little has changed since those times. You can’t buy one of the pretty houses, they are all rented out by the current owner, who bought the estate for £25 million in 2009.
Well, back in 1942 it was ‘E.Sharpe’ who kindly found my Uncle’s treasured map and returned it to him. His brief but charming letter is reproduced below. I have spent some time today trying to find something more about this gentleman, but without success. I was able to find a record for his dwelling in the 1939 Census, but all the names, except that of the cook, have been redacted. If you are interested to know why, take a look here (it’s too complicated to explain!).
Dear All, I think I will continue this letter where I left off the last one – at Inkpen Beacon (though of course I’m not there now) and go on recounting what happened in the ride.
I went down a pretty steep hill into Combe, or Coombe as I believe it is correctly called. (The map says Combe, but W.H.Hudson, the Parish notices & memorials in the church all spell it with the double ‘o’). The village is very tiny and consists of a church, a farm and a very few cottages, without, as far as I could see, even a shop. I went into the church and found that the parish is Coombe & Foccombe (Coombe in Berks., Foccombe in Hants). There was soon to be service and just before I left, the rector of the joint parish came in, an old, frail man. I had a few words with him – he knew Hudson’s book – and then proceeded down the road, past what must be a very isolated searchlight post, to a crossroads, from which the road climbs and turns to Linkenholt, in Hampshire: the border is about where the searchlight post was (or perhaps it should be vice versa).
At Linkenholt I stopped and went to the church door, but as there was a service in progress I did not go in. From there I went to Vernham’s Street, where I posted your letter, and about 100 yards on I stopped for a drink at a wayside tap. Looking round on the carrier, I saw that the map was not in its place. I had tied the map, the writing paper and my gas mask on but somehow the map must have dropped off. I was very worried and went all the way back to the crossroads, where I had last looked at it, without finding it. Of course there were plenty of people about when I went along the first time (and lost it) but on the other two journeys, not a soul. However, I thought whoever had picked it up must be a local, and would only need a little prompting to return it – perhaps not even that. Just to make as sure as possible I penned a note which I put on a Home Guard hut, the front of which was used as a notice board:-
Yesterday, by the second post, your letter & my map arrived, the enclosed letter with the map. I have replied to it this morning.
From Vernham’s Street to Vernham’s Dean by memory, and I found it a very nice little village, with a village pond and green, and neat little thatched cottages. I asked the way of a postman – Burbage I said, as it was the first place I could think of that I was going through. I followed the main road to Foxbury (just in Wilts) Oxenwood where I asked the way to Great Bedwyn, and again where the road crosses the A338.
I found Great Bedwyn alright, and went into the church there which is pretty large and very good. I followed the road by the railway and canal, as I could see from the map in “Highways and Byways” that they crossed the road near Burbage. Of course that map is hopelessly inadequate for cycling, as there are only a very few roads marked. However, I got along quite nicely, through Crofton, just past which I decided to stop and eat the remainder of the date cake. Just as I ran down off the road to the canal side my front tyre burst, much to my annoyance, so after eating the cake I had to mend that, which however did not take me long. I must think about getting a new tyre if that one is any more trouble.
My little road became quite rough and led away from the railway and by Wolf Hall into Burbage. From there I simply had to follow the main road (which was very quiet) through the western edge of Savernake Forest to Marlborough.In Marlborough I got something to eat and drink.
In a pub there (where I had some very nice cider) I met an old countryman who was actually a native of Charminster, though now living near Marlborough. He had also worked for some time as cowman for Alfred Brown’s of Southampton for a number of years, until 1920 I believe. He knew the town well and we had quite an interesting talk. I noticed that he called Great Bedwyn ‘Big’ Bedwyn. I recognised his Dorset accent as soon as he spoke to me, saying that is had been ‘waarm’ that day.It certainly had been a lovely day, and despite the two little mishaps I enjoyed it very much.
Today I fell for some work, though not of a very exacting nature. I was a “marker” for the cross country course, and actually all I had to do was sit out on one of the training gallops near Beckhampton. I wrote some of this letter whilst I was there. This evening I shall quite likely go for a little ride, perhaps through Compton Bassett
I hope then to see you this Sunday, May 10, at Salisbury in the Cathedral Close some time during the morning. I should advise you to bring some dinner, as the town is very crowded on Sundays. It certainly looks as though the weather is going to treat us kindly; I certainly hope so.
I cannot remember anything else to answer in your letters, so I suppose I shall have to waste the rest of the page. One more thing – it would be quite nice to have a cake.
All the usual love, from Albert.
It’s nice to think of Albert looking forward to seeing his mum and dad in Salisbury (and expecting cake too). The arrangement to meet ‘some time in the morning’ speaks of a different age, when all parties were reliant on slow and sometimes unpredictable public transport. Unfortunately we won’t get to hear anything about their excursion, as the next letter I have from Albert is dated 22 May. He has left Wiltshire and all its beauty behind, stationed in London, “address unknown.”
This week I publish just one of Albert’s letters, written on a Sunday afternoon atop the highest hill in Hampshire. Take away the date and this could have been written at any time in the twentieth century; there is no flavour of war here. Indeed should you be a reader hungry for history regarding the RAF in World War Two, then I’m afraid there is little for you here. If, like many of my regular readers, you seek the common threads of humanity in the words of those long passed, then I invite you to read on.
1pm, May 3 Sunday 1942 Inkpen Beacon
Dear All, I am looking down towards Hampshire from the South side of Inkpen Beacon. The best view and what a marvellous view it is, is looking north to Berks. & Wiltshire, but it is too windy to write letters there. On this side there is just enough breeze to prevent the sun from being uncomfortably hot. Even from here it is very nice looking down the road to Combe which you will see is walled in on three sides by the downs. For a good description of the village and surrounding country see “Afoot in England”. As a matter of fact it was reading that book which made me visit the place today & it certainly is worthwhile.
“The top is a league-long tableland, with stretches of green elastic turf, thickets of furze and bramble, and clumps of ancient noble beeches—a beautiful lonely wilderness with rabbits and birds for only inhabitants. From the highest point where a famous gibbet stands for ever a thousand feet above the sea and where there is a dew-pond, the highest in England, which has never dried up although a large flock of sheep drink in it every summer day, one looks down into an immense hollow, a Devil’s Punch Bowl very many times magnified,—and spies, far away and far below, a few lonely houses half hidden by trees at the bottom. This is the romantic village of Coombe…. that small isolated village in its green basin—a human heart in a chalk hill, almost the highest in England.”
“Afoot in England” W.H. Hudson
I came to Hungerford on the main London road. Although it is such a busy road, there was not much traffic today after I had passed by ‘an army convoy’ before & just after Marlborough. I started from camp at 10am, and so avoided what few joyriding motorists remain. In Marlborough I saw a good example of how the British Army carries out manoeuvres; coming down on the London road I encountered one of the light trucks leading some heavy lorries up a side road. As they came to a turning the driver put his hand out to the right, and an officer standing up behind him promptly put out his hand to the left. Apparently they didn’t know which was the right road, though there were three sorts of police fellows about and about 2 one inch maps to each car.
Along the A4 between Marlborough and Froxfield I saw what seemed to be Berberis growing and blooming by the roadside. Froxfield is quite a nice little village by the Kennet. It has some rather nice looking alms houses, called Somerset Hospital. Just a minute & I will see what “Highways & Byways” has to say about them – apparently they were built in 1691 and enlarged in 1775 “by the right noble Sarah Duchess Dowager of Somersetdeceased.”
In a farmyard at Froxfield I saw an old stage coach in a very dilapidated condition. Just out of the village is the Berkshire border and from there it is not very far to Hungerford, where I left the main road. I went through a lovely common just out of Hungerford, and took the quickest road to Inkpen, which is quite a small village, some distance away from its church, which I did not visit.
Though I took it to Calne on Thursday, my 3-speed was not yet ready yesterday, so I have been running with more or less fixed gears. Just before reaching Inkpen though, I fixed the gear in middle, by means of a piece of wire & the chain I usually lock it up with. I need a lower gear than top in this part of the journey.
I reached the hill here at about 12.30, and before writing this I ate half the date cake. I took that as I thought that of all the eatables, it would travel best. Incidentally it is a very nice one. If I can find a piece of string I will now measure my mileage up to date: if I am to believe my cyclometer it will be about 25. And not very far out either, it is actually about 23. I see from the map that I was wrong in saying that Froxfield was by the Kennet; that river does not run close to the main road again until Hungerford.
I have seen quite a lot of Kerria today, as well as wild cherry blossom and all the usual spring flowers. I saw some wild bluebells on Thursday. At the moment I can also hear a cuckoo in the woods below.
On Thursday, after I had taken my 3-speed in to be repaired (by Friday he told me) I went out of the village north-westwards, on a little road between A4 and B3102. After about two miles I turned right and went along a road which overlooks the plain of the Avon. Though the road was never more than about 410 feet high, the view was pretty extensive and as the sun was coming through the fresh green foliage, from the west, it all looked very lovely. As I only decided in Calne to go for the ride, I had not my map with me, but by various little lanes I managed to find my way to Compton Bassett, crossing the B3102 just north of Hilmarton, and keeping south and west of Highway. Compton Bassett is a very long village, which straggles along the lane for a distance of about a mile. I suppose I should not say “straggles”, as it is one of the neatest & best kept villages I have come across. Most of the cottages are whitewashed or cream washed and have tiled or smartly thatched roofs and well tended gardens, many of which are terraced up the hillside. The church I did not visit, as it was too late in the evening, but it is a Perpendicular building which looks very good from the outside.
Between Compton B. and the main road is an RAF camp which takes its name from the village. Its situation at least is much better than ours as regards immediate surroundings, and it is doubtless neither so cold or so windy.
By the way, the parcel arrived quite safely on Saturday by the second post: they seem to be a bit slower in transit of late.
Excepting that I must try to see Mr Bryan one night, and that I must go to Calne tomorrow & get my 3-speed wire (I hope) and a card for aunt Daisy, I think there is little to say in reply to your letter, so as it is getting a bit uncomfortable here, and also it is 10 past 2 and time to push on, I will be closing now.
I will post this in Combe or perhaps somewhere in Hampshire. I suppose it will not be much use sending love to Auntie Edie as she will have gone before the letter arrives, so love to all at home, from Albert.
P.S. Remember me to Mrs Churchill. I see that I have forgotten to bring the right envelopes, so excuse the one I have used, and the way the paper is folded.
In the course of this endeavour of mine, which has mostly centred around Albert’s letters (as they far outnumber those of my other Mabey relatives) I have gained a great deal; not just insights into times gone by but also an exploration of hidden memories of my own. In this letter Albert invites me to remember the Kerria that grew in the front garden of my childhood home, rather too ‘straggling’ for my Mother’s liking. Albert casts my mind back to the tall bookcase in the living room filled with faded linen covers, “Highways and Byways”, “English Downland” that I ran my fingers across on drowsy afternoons. He calls to mind the singing grasslands and dusty chalk paths we tramped along, with Mum and Dad ahead of us, four girls lost in our daydreams. Albert, dear and gentle soul, invites me to memories that are distant and sweet.
“Today my brother Albert would have been 100, and I can’t help wondering about what mission he had been training for on his last flight in 1944. He was the navigator of a Beaufighter and flew into a Scottish hill in cloud, after an instrument failure.
We were never told what the flight was in aid of, but when the story of our attacks on Hitler’s heavy water plant in Norway came out, we guessed that it might have been relevant, although as far as I find now, low-flying air support wasn’t used at that time.”
So today I’m thinking of my dear Uncle Peter, as he thinks of his brother. But it’s true to say I’m thinking of Albert too, feeling like I have got to know him through these letters. Once again I have fallen behind with writing my posts, so I cannot share with you what Albert was doing on his birthday in 1942, when he would have turned 21. However he chose to celebrate it, it would have been away from RAF Yatesbury as Albert’s course was due to end in a few weeks. How much Albert had already experienced in his young life – for all the hardships and loneliness that at times befell him, Albert’s life was certainly filled with adventures in these war years.
Wednesday April 22
I am afraid that I won’t have much to say in this letter. I am going to pack up a parcel tonight, but as it may possibly take until Monday to reach you, I shall post the letter separately.
I was going to go to Devizes tonight but the weather is rather grey and cloudy so that the ride would not be particularly good, so I shall be able to do my letter writing in the hut. Not at the NAAFI tonight, as there is a dance on.
Another thing we should have done was gone on a flying trip yesterday – not much more than a joy ride, in one of the two-engined D.H. planes that Jersey Airways had, but it should have been a nice break from the usual work. The day was very misty though, & there was no flying – the first day since it began that there has been none. We hope for better luck next week.
I tried my filter on the Voigtlander & found that it does fit – rather to my surprise. You may remember that I soaked the cement out and have the two pieces of glass & the gelatine, so before that can be used I shall have to re-cement them together, but I maybe able to devise some method of fixing the other (gelatine in cardboard) filters to that filter holder.
By the way, I hope you can get my pen, as this one is behaving very badly; the joint where the nib & feed screw into the barrel leaks and whenever I write a letter I get covered in ink. I’m afraid I have no more to say, except goodnight & love from Albert.
Albert’s next letter contains details of a mammoth bike ride from Calne to Bath, there and back in one day. Knowing what I know now about Bath’s fate (see ‘More of Albert’s Travels’) it was particulary poignant to read of Albert’s pleasant afternoon in the as yet undamaged city. Later in the letter I felt a chill as I read of the ‘enemy activity’ that Albert heard in the early hours of Sunday morning. Those bombs fell not on Southampton, Bristol or Avonmouth, but on the very city that he had visited just hours before.
Sunday April 25
I think I will start this letter in the morning as if I go out I shall not write until tomorrow. Furthermore the weather is becoming cloudier and I am a bit doubtful about it.
I do not think that there is a great deal to reply to in your letter, except about going to Salisbury. When I said “week after next”, I should have said Sunday after next, meaning May 3rd, though actually week after next is perfectly correct. Anyway it doesn’t matter which week it is, though May 10 is fairly near the time I should be leaving here. However, I leave it to you, & will wait to see what you think about it in your next letter.
One more item is my pen. I think that it would be as well to not cancel the order, as you would have to wait at least as long to get another. At the moment though, this one is going very well, as I cured the leaks with the aid of cotton and Seccotine. I forget whether I told you that the pen I bought in Blackpool fell to bits and I bought another in Calne, still a Platignum, but with a better nib & transparent barrel. The nib is smoother and finer too.
Yesterday was our sports & spring cleaning day – something which occurs every month, though we missed the last one because we were on our weekend. On Friday I took my bicycle to the lane at the back of the camp, and parked it on the field side of the hedge. Then yeaterday I got an early dinner and whilst everyone else was feeding I betook myself across the playing fields and collected the bike. Until then it was my intention to go to Marlborough and do some shopping, but it was a lovely day, though with a strong easterly wind, and as it was only 1pm I decided to go to bath instead, especially as I should not again get the chance of going on a Sunday.
So I set off, at a good pace as I think that the road is easier in the eastwards direction and the wind was pretty strong. It was hot too & I soon took off my hat and unbuttoned my tunic. I think my times were Chippenham 1.45 , Bath 2.40 – a very rapid journey.
I parked my bicycle in one of the smaller squares or courts in the city & walked round seeing the sights. Though I had plenty of time there I did not see as much as I would have liked to have done. I delayed seeing the Abbey until after tea, and then found to my disappointment that it was shut. I did however see some of the old buildings, including the Baths and most of the shops. There are some good parks too, & in one of them I saw a good length of hedging – all forsythia. There were some lovely almond blossoms too. I spent plenty of money; apart from little things I got the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, “Highways & Byways in Wiltshire” (Like Mr Wills’ Dorset book) and a book called “Teach Yourself Air Navigation.”
I was lucky to get some tea without queuing up for it, though it only consisted of toast and cakes. Going by the Theatre Royal I saw that the Sadler’s Wells Ballet is visiting next week but I do not see how I can possibly get ther for an evening next week – the only late trains are on Saturdays.
I had supper at about 7.30, in the same place as we went when we went to the concert there. Then, at 8.20, I left by the same main road to camp. The wind had not, as I hoped, dropped with the evening but was still strong as ever, & remained so all night. To Chippenham the journey was not so bad, as the sun was still shining & I seemed to get along fairly well. I saw a field of cowslips past Corsham and several people with wild bluebells, though I have not seen any growing, nor have I yet heard the cuckoo. I went by Chippenham church at 9.30, as it was getting darker, and from there my speed dropped rather, though I reached Calne at 10.10 or just before. Then came the worst part of the journey, from Calne to camp in the dark, all up hill and the wind getting stronger as I climbed. I should think it was about quarter or ten to 11 when I finally got inside. However, despite the ride back (which was not really too bad) I thoroughly enjoyed my day’s outing.
Last night there was some enemy activity, with flares being dropped fairly close, I hope that it was not Southampton again. It seemed to be more Bristol or Avonmouth.
Today I do not think that it is suitable for going far. I had had some idea of venturing as far as Inkpen and Combe, about which W.H.Hudson write so well in “Afoot in England”, but it is rather windy for venturing that distance. Actually I suppose westwards, Chippenham way, would not be so cold, but that would mean I should have a headwind on the return journey.
As I expected I had not enough to say to fill another large sheet, hence the smaller piece of paper. You will see about where I go today by the postmark – if I don’t forget to post it! Anyway love to you all, from Albert.
P.S. Thanks for Raymond’s letter, I hope to reply to it soon and then return same to you to read. That reminds me that I have a couple of airgraphs to post to Phil.
Once again Albert teaches me something new, for I had never heard of ‘Toc H’ before reading his letter. Initially I thought I had misread his sometimes spidery writing but no, Toc H is a Christian charity, which provided many pastoral services during wartime and continues to do so today, although its reach has diminshed. Call me fanciful if you will, but I think the ethos of the charity, which I paraphrase here, “To Love Widely, To Build Bravely, To Think Fairly and To Witness Humbly” well suited to my uncle and many of his generation.
So Albert appears to have bunked off from his sports day to explore another Wiltshire town and have some respite from the rigour and tedium of camp life. He’s returned to Avebury and likes it better in the springtime, and he’s visited some more churches and confidently shares his observations and opinions.
Then Albert takes us back to London, remarking on the normality of life in the capital in spite of the war. Another discovery he led me to – that Waterloo bridge is also known as ‘The Ladies’ Bridge’ because most of it was built by women. Work started in 1939 and progressed very slowly, for obvious reasons, with women replacing most of the male workforce by 1941. It was opened in 1945, so Albert would never have seen it completed. Strange to think that many times I have travelled over a bridge that my Uncle watched being built.
Wednesday April 15
I am writing this in a Toc H room in Devizes, which I have been looking round during the earlier part of a very lovely evening. This afternoon I was able to enjoy our “sports day” to the full. The sun was lovely & warm, & yet there was a nice cool breeze (from the East incidentally) which made it ideal for walking. I went to Avebury again over Windmill hill, and now that the spring is here, I like the village more than at my first glance. The fresh green of the grass, and the colour imparted by the flowers, give it a much livelier appearance. I saw very fine Japonica in one of the gardens. Tea was fairly early for a change and I was able to get away before 6, and had a good run down with a following wind all the way from Beckhampton. I fancy that it is less strong now, so it may not be too great a hindrance for the return journey. I have taken a look round the town, and into the church I mentioned – of St John the Baptist. It has some very fine Norman work in the tower and chancel, with a good late 15th century chapel on the south side.
Yesterday evening was also very nice, & I went down to Calne. In a barber’s there I heard the news and the budget. I don’t worry much about the beer or cigarettes tax (though Daddy won’t like paying 1/- for 10 Players) but I was not pleased to hear the 66% purchase tax on photography and gramophone records. A little later I may ask you to get a few before they run out of old stock.
I also went to Calne church, which too has some Norman work, though in the nave, and further, a very good old roof, & though not painted like the Bere Regis one, it has some smaller carved figures projecting from the bottom. I think that the churches around this district are very interesting, and often surprisingly large and richly built for the size of the village.
Speaking of churches, I believe I mentioned that the congregation at Heddington on Easter Sunday was very small; I was surprised to find that the Watford church was crowded with people, & there was only a very few empty seats in spite of being a large church.
I believe there are one or two more things I could say about London. The chief thing that struck me was the normality of everything, the same crowds in the parks, the orators at Marble Arch (though not perhaps so many), the many buses.
I noticed that there is still some slow progress being made with Waterloo Bridge, it is going to be a nice looking one when they finish it. There is also a wooden bridge partly constructed about 100 yards upstream. That is quite apart from the temporary bridge and I don’t know what it is for. In Fleet Street I looked at a camera shop of City Sale & Exchange, they still had plenty of lovely second hand cameras. I wish they had been open so that I could have tried for some films and papers. I have not yet done anything about my filter holder, though I have a vague idea of how I may fix the filters on; it will involve using elastic bands.
Monday night I rode my bicycle to the post office and in doing so broke the spring on the 3-speed control. The spring operates the ratchet for the 3 positions. I have fixed it now with an elastic band & it works quite as well as before. Lucky it was something I could manage.
I sent the programme of the Bath concert, and I think it pretty well speaks for itself. I enjoyed the concert ever so much, & also the journey there, especially where the road runs down into the valley from Corsham (where Jack once was) to Box. Bath is a pleasant looking city but crowded. We had arranged for some sandwiches & coffee, which we needed, having been without tea (I had some bread and butter before we went) and it was lucky that we did not leave it to chance, as people were queueing for suppers at the restaurant. We got back into camp at about 11, after one of the best evenings I have had here. Incidentally this course should only last another month.
I’m afraid I can’t reply to your last two letters, as they are in my locker. I hope Peter’s second operation goes well (or has gone well). I still have Jean’s drawing, which I will return next time if I remember it. My love to you all, from Albert.
P.S. I hear the birds singing from the room here. I had egg, toast and chips at the W.V.S. in Calne.
Albert wrote this next letter after a trip home for the weekend. I wonder what he wrote on the postcard that he thought he should not have? Perhaps that he misses his home and family; we will never know. It’s clear that Albert sneaked out of camp without permission, as you will discover. And good for him, making the most of whatever opportunities he had to be free.
This letter also gives us some insights into the changes that war brought. Millbrook is the docks area of Southampton. With his characteristic understatement, Albert remarks that had the bomb fallen on coal, it would have ‘made a mess.’ And just to prove that life really could carry on pretty much as normal, Albert devotes as many lines to a bird scarer as he does to that recent attack on Southampton.
Monday April 20
I hope that by now you have received the card which I wrote Sunday night & posted this morning. I thought, after posting it, that it would have been better not to have written that sort of thing on so public a form of communication as a postcard.
The bus to Salisbury was crowded in fact it was a relief run. The relief was to have gone back to Plaitford, but there were too many for the Wilts & Dorset bus which met us there, so it had to go all the way to Salisbury, which we reached at 8 p.m. I got something to eat in a YMCA near the bus station, & got the Marlborough bus, which leaves at 8.15 and not 8.20, so it is as well that I did not try for the 7.20 one. As on the other Sunday, Salisbury was full of people.
The bus journey was quite interesting as it was still light practically into Marlborough which we reached just as it was getting dark.
I saw where the bomb fell on Millbrook goods yard, though the shed was demolished there does not appear to have been anything in it. A few yards away and it would have fallen on a heap of coal, which would have made a mess for a few hundred yards around.
Just past Totton, in a cottage garden I saw a bird scare in the shape of a cat’s head, with glass eyes. The evening sun shining through the eyes made it quite a formidable creature.
I got my bicycle without having to wake up the householders, and left Marlborough at 5 to 10. There was a very little wind and a bit of a full moon, which made the journey very easy, & I got along at a good pace. When I put my bike away it was 10.35 & I had ample time to eat my cake & got to bed, as well as writing your card.
Apparently there was a check up on Saturday night but somebody (who was known to be in) got in my bed and covered himself with the blanket, so I was “present”, some of the others will probably be going home next week, so I shall step in to perform the same service for them, or rather, one of them.
I think the week after next would be quite a good chance to go to Salisbury for the day, if you can manage the journey then. I must go to Marlborough one day and see the bus times on Sunday mornings. I’m afraid that is all I have to say, so goodbye and love from Albert.
I’m delighted to read that Albert had friends who were prepared to impersonate him asleep, and that he is able to plan to see his parents for a day in Salisbury. It seems that Albert is in a good frame of mind, enjoying his explorations near and far. Let’s hope that his happiness continues.
Albert writes his first letter of this week on the evening prior to a trip to Bath for a music concert. Had Albert travelled to Bath at the end of April he would have surveyed a very different, devastated city. In my search for a suitable picture for this post, I discovered that over the weekend of 25-27 April 1942, Bath suffered terrible bombing, part of the ‘Baedeker Blitz’ targeting some of England’s most historic cities. The following quote is from Wikipedia:
“The first raid struck just before 11 pm on the Saturday night and lasted until 1 am. The German aircraft then returned to France, refuelled, rearmed and returned at 4.35 am. Bath was still on fire from the first raid, making it easier for the German bombers to pick out their targets. The third raid, which only lasted two hours but caused extensive damage, commenced in the early hours of Monday morning. The bombers flew low to drop their high explosives and incendiaries, and then returned to rake the streets with machine-gun fire.
417 people were killed, another 1,000 injured. Over 19,000 buildings were affected, of which 1,100 were seriously damaged or destroyed, including 218 of architectural or historic interest. Houses in the Royal Crescent, Circus and Paragon were destroyed and the Assembly Rooms were burnt out. The majority of Bath’s churches were greatly damaged, including St James Church on Stall Street and St Andrew’s Church, both of which had to be demolished.”
I include the above information in this post to bring a sense of how very close the war was to Albert, although the content of his letters may lead us to think to the contrary. Albert and his friends may have walked along those beautiful, graceful streets that were, just over two weeks later, to be ravaged by fire. He may have passed by people who were to die in that inferno, or who would have to live with terrible injuries. It makes me wonder, to what end? What good ever comes of such brutality?
In this letter Albert misses home and his family, feeling ‘rather out of the way of things.’ His helpful nature comes to the fore again – with advice on home electrics. I have always had a healthy fear of electricity, believing that any association with wiring and circuits is best left to the professionals, a sentiment my Uncle clearly did not share.
Tuesday April 7
Dear All, It is only last night that I wrote the last letter, but tomorrow I shall not be able to write much as I am going to Bath for a concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The Music Circle is running a coach there, & the whole lot, coach fare and admission is only 6/-. I may be able to get out for a walk tomorrow afternoon, and will probably leave this letter for posting until then , when I can add further detail. If the weather is like today’s, I shall not go. I suppose one might say that today’s weather has been “seasonable” but it has been much too seasonable for my liking, and we have had some very heavy showers. I have been thankful that a strong wind and an old sack have kept my bicycle fairly dry, but it will need another polish up as soon as the weather becomes a little drier.
There is not much more in the way of news, but plenty to answer in yours which I received today.
I was pleased to see Peter’s report & Jean’s papers. It seems that his Chemistry result has already answered my query, as it would not be wise to keep that in favour of the Applied Maths at which he obtained 88%. You do not say what college you put down but I quite agree that he is more likely to find the necessary tuition at Cambridge than Oxford.
Jean too is doing well, and her drawing of the Norman Castle struck me as being particularly good. I suppose there are none of her art papers to be seen. I am very pleased at the progress Peter has made since his operation, Jean seems to be the ideal companion for him in these difficult days. It makes me feel rather out of the way of things to read all about these goings on, and not to be able to see what is happening. I have had a letter from Grandma in reply to mine, & today one from Havant. Auntie Lizzie said that you had not mentioned my coming home, but supposed that was because you were worried about Peter, so that is alright.
Now as for the larder light, the little Bakelite transformer will do quite well, I should think that off load it will take so little current that it could be permanently connected to the mains, with the switch in the 6v circuit. That is how they are meant to be used as bell transformers. I should not advise putting mains through so exposed a connection as the door switch. The bulbs must be connected in parallel, definitely not series, as in that case you could not light them separately. The circuit would then be:-
In addition there could be a switch in the mains circuit which could be switched off when we go away. If you are making the connection from the upstairs plug, you could repleace the present bell transformer by the Bakelite one and have low voltage going downstairs to the bell switch and larder lights. In that case, due to resistance of the wiring you could safely use 6v, and perhaps even 8v (see the brightness of the bulbs) with the 4.5v bulbs.
I had hoped that your parcel would arrive today, as my pyjama jacket is torn. I shall change my underclothes tonight as the laundry comes on Tuesdays, but not send the parcel until I get my other pyjamas.
It is just 10pm so I will close unitl tomorrow – goodnight all.
PTO – Nothing to report this afternoon; I did not go out as we had a heavy shower early on. I must hurry now for the concert. Love – Albert.
In this next letter Albert ventures further afield. I’ll let you discover where he goes, via all manner of transport, and with little care for the trouble he’d be in if he was caught without a pass! This is the first mention, by name, of one of the ‘girls’ (see my post 10 Girls and Real Birds) who Albert met in Blackpool. Joan had become a firm friend of my Uncle’s, and after the war she remained close to my grandparents. My mother became a godmother to Joan’s daughter Helen, and, I am pleased to tell you, we remain in touch today.
Monday April 13
This is a late letter, but, I imagine quite a surprising one. As usual I will start by telling you about my weekend journey, but instead of the usual, this weekend I went to London! This is how it happened.
Many weeks ago one of the Blackpool girls said (and I agreed) that from Yatesbury I would be within weekend distance of her home. Last week I had a letter saying that she would be home (Watford) for Easter leave (they call hols. ‘leave’ in the Civil Service) and inviting me there for the weekend. As there were two of the chaps gong home for the weekend I said I would come, so on Saturday, after ‘school’ two of use started off for Beckhampton corner. This is how the journey went:
Of course we could not go by train for fear of the service police, but several had got to London by hitchhiking on their long weekends.
We stood at the corner for about 20 minutes but there seemed little traffic and there were so many there that nothing was willing to stop. A large 60ft RAF wagon passed us there. So after a while the three of us continued walking along the Marlborough road and at a café just before Salisbury we discovered the 60ft trailer, and on going in & enquiring of the driver, I found that after tea he would be going as far as Reading. We went outside in the hope of getting an earlier lift but nothing stopped, so we went on the trailer. By the time the driver had finished tea there was quite a crowd (20 perhaps) for the lift. We got to Marlborough at 7pm and kept up a good speed through Hungerford & Newbury to Reading and just beyond.
By the time we got through Marlborough, the sun had come out and the country looked very lovely in the evening light. I stood up in the back and enjoyed it all very much, as it was quite warm in spite of the wind. I took the date cake and found it very welcome on the journey. (It did not look so good as the last one, but there was not much difference in the flavour. The apple was very good too).
Just beyond Sutton’s nurseries, we stopped, at quarter to nine. I had intended going to Slough and thereby bus to Watford, but quarter to nine at Reading was too late for that, so I had to go into London. We got a lift from there to Maidenhead, where we got to the station in time to see the London train go out. The next one was 10 something, so we decided to try for a lift, and, if unsuccessful, get the train. As it happened, we got a car to stop, though it was about 9.30 and nearly dark. He brought us in to London, to, I believe, Morden tube station.
I went by tube to Queen’s Park station. The train stopped and there were no more that night but there were 9 of us who wanted to get to Watford way, and so we all piled in the same taxi and got out en route. My fare was 4/-. From Watford I walked the remaining few minutes.
In the morning I was up fairly early & had a lovely breakfast of bacon, egg and marmalade. I thought of what those at Yatesbury were “enjoying”. Then we went to Watford parish church for the morning service, which was quite a nice one with a good sermon. The church itself is a good old one, flint outside and with some interesting plaques and memorials inside.
After a good dinner, with some lovely baked potatoes, we took a bus into town, getting off at Hyde Park Corner. The crowds at Marble Arch seemed just the same as in peace time and despite the bombed houses of Park Lane & the guns in the park, there were still daffodils along by the path. The railings have been taken down & it looks much better, as do our parks.
From Hyde Park Corner we went through Green Park to the Palace, and through St James’s Park (much the same as usual) to Parliament Square. We would have liked to have gone in Westminster Abbey or the Cathedral, but could not as Joan had no hat.
So we walked over Westminster Bridge, along the embankment to the Temple & its church, right down to Blackfriars Bridge, and then up to Fleet Street. From there we went by bus the Charing Cross and on another to Paddington, which I left by the 7.25 train. There were such great crowds of airforce there that it is not possible to check for passes, and so I bought my ticket & walked on.
It’s nearly “lights out”, so I must rush. The train is a good one, and I was soon at Chippenham, where I found some of the others. To Chipp. I was in the first carriage in which there was plenty of room, though the rest of the train was crowded.
There was a long wait at Chippenham but eventually we got to Calne & by bus to the camp, after what I found to be a good weekend.
I had hoped to come home this weekend, but some of the fellows got caught, & so there may be a check up next Saturday.
That’s all I have time for, so goodnight and love to all from Albert.
These two letters take us into April 1942, and in the absence of any war work (that Albert can tell us about) we learn a little more about camp life and, happily, Albert has a lovely day out exploring the villages and historic sites of Wiltshire.
It is such a pity that I have not been able to locate the photgraphs that Albert took on that Easter Monday. I wish I had been able to find some in amongst the albums that have been passed on to me. The photograph above was taken, according to my Mother’s note, in 1938. Hopefully Albert also saw some cherry blossom as he cycled on the country lanes in 1942.
Tuesday April 1
This is written on a fine Wednesday afternoon, the second I have had here, and the second I have not been able to go out. Instead of the sports, there is a “kit inspection” which should have taken place on Saturday, but we missed it then. I am therefore taking the opportunity of a little spare time to write this letter, and have just finished the parcel. The tying of it looks a bit of a mess but I hope it will travel OK. There is included the leather gloves “Afoot in England” and a tin of salmon which was given to me by someone who “found” it.
I have had no time to continue reading my new Hudson, as I was busy writing on Monday & most of yesterday evening I went to the music circle meeting. Sometime today I want to have a bath, but I do not know if there will be time to go out this evening. It is very windy & inclined to be showery, so I may not bother. We had some snowy looking rain this morning.
I have eaten up the apple tart and found it delicious, I should certainly like another if you are ever making them again. The cake is very nice too, and so is the potted meat. I am very well off for food at the moment & shall be well provided for if I am able to go out in the weekend. The only things I should not bother to make again are the salt biscuits, I don’t like them very much.
It is now evening (9pm). We had the kit inspection, and after that there was a cross-country run. As there was only a little more than an hour before tea I went down to the playing fields and watched a football match. Before that I went to the post office with the parcel, as I was told that it was open: it was not, and the parcel is still in my locker. The wind is terrific and not at all cycling weather, one blessing is that it is not raining.
On Monday night, after I had finished your letter, I cam out and found that the wind was blowing up some rain, so I put the old lagging on my saddle, and got a blanket and put it over the machine. I was glad of that later, as it rained hard during the night, but the bike did not get very wet. Tonight I have been cleaning it and polishing it with floor polish. It looks quite smart now. I have also put Vaseline on the cables, the handlebars and some of the other chrome parts.
Bother, I have just had to refill my pen on the last line! I think I will say goodnight now & love from Albert.
P.S. It is quite cold in here tonight.
Final Note: I am writing to Havant & telling them I went home, but not to Branstone: I hope that is alright.
This next letter takes us on a journey to one of the more famous historic building in Wiltshire – or perhaps I should write ‘well known’, because if you have ever watched the Harry Potter films, or Downtown Abbey, or Wolf Hall, you may well recognise the location. Not only Lacock Abbey but the entire village was given to the National Trust, ‘to be preserved for the nation’ in 1944, so it makes rather a good backdrop for a period drama, and is something of a star in its own right.
Easter Monday, April 5 1942 (Bank Holiday)
Sorry this is a day late, but last night I would not have had time to write sufficient for an adequate letter, and as you will have already seen by my card, I did not bother to write until now. Yesterday was in most ways a very good day, though one most unfortunate accident marred it somewhat. I have lost my filter-holder (the home made one) in Lacock church probably, or possibly it dropped out of my pocket when I got out my handkerchief at some place or another.
Before I describe the day’s outing, I had better thank you for the toothbrush which I was glad to have back again. Also for the letter and State School paper. I am very pleased at Mr B. King’s remarks.
The microscope is in my photographic cupboard, at the back of the top shelf in the cupboard part. The slide box… now I’m doubtful, it may be on the bottom of the cupboard, but anyway you should experience no difficulty in finding it.
I see from Mr Bolton King’s letter that he suggests Peter dropping chemistry. I thought that Peter rather wanted to go on with chemistry, with a view to getting a job as a chemist later on. I don’t know what he thinks about it now, and I believe that he is better at maths than at chemistry, but on the other hand it is possible that a very good chemist could earn more, and get a job more easily, than an exceptionally good mathematician. But I might be wrong and I’m sure that Mr King knows more about it than I do, but if you see him soon you could perhaps mention the point. By the way, if you all visit The Island, I could pay Jean’s fare if you find it a bit difficult. When you buy the next lot of saving certificates, leave about £3 in my box. Incidentally, I do not seem to be able to save money here any more than at Blackpool. And that reminds me that it is about time I sent my RAF savings book. I have had it since November.
Now about yesterday. I got up in good time, as one always has to to get breakfast (7.30-8.0) and after that had a bath and then packed up my dinner – some good thick slices of brown bread and butter with a good lump of cheese, which I had been saving for the purpose. I thought that the morning was perhaps a little too fine, but when I later saw the clouds being blown away, I decided to risk going without a coat, so I packed the food and my book of road maps on the carrier, and put my camera in my gas mask. I did not look at the time I left, but it could not have been long after 10am, and as there was rather a strong wind, I thought it would be rather a good opportunity to keep off the high grounds and go down to Lacock.
Once again I went down the road towards Calne, and took the left turn through Blackland and to Heddington. Heddington was rather off my route but at the crossroads near I saw the church tower above the trees, with St George’s flag flying from the flagstaff, and I thought I should like to go to the service, so as it was about 10.30 I went along the road to Heddington, which I reached at quarter to 11.
I just had time to take a photograph of the church tower, and then go inside for the 11 o’clock service. Although there were not a great number of people present, it was a very friendly and pleasant service. We sang “Jesus Christ is Risen today” and another Easter hymn, accompanied by a tiny hand-blown organ. The church is a very interesting one, and it was lovely and peaceful there with the singing of the birds faintly audible. After the morning service I stopped for Holy Communion.
It was gone 12.30 when I left Heddington, and before I had gone too far, it commenced to rain so I stopped to shelter in a little shed affair, & ate my bread and cheese there.
After that I continued, in sunshine, to Verlucio [site of a Roman camp] and then up the main road to Sandy Lane, a pretty little village, and left opposite the Inn towards Lacock. Just before the village of Bewley Common, where the road comes off the high ground like this [Albert has added a little diagram which allowed me to pinpoint the spot exactly], there is one of the loveliest “surprise” views that I know.
Where I have drawn the line across the road, it starts to descend steeply, and taking a small bend between high banks on either side, one is suddenly confronted by a wide view of the Avon valley, seemingly at one’s feet. And as one takes the corner by the church, there are cottages separated from the road by a wide green, and not far below is an old mansion, actually Lacock Abbey. In the distance I could see the Mendips and Cotswolds.
Soon I was in Lacock, which is surely one of the most delightful of all villages, equally as old & quaint as Cerne, but not so dead looking. I first took some photographs, and then went into the church, which is lovely. It has some fine Perpendicular clear glass windows, through which one can see some rather fine old farm buildings.
An added attraction was that I was able to go into the tower, and out on the roof. From the roof of the North Aisle I took photographs of the village. That was my last photograph for the day, & I remember taking off the filter in the church afterwards, so I expect I left it there. I did not take any in the abbey as the army are there and I did not want to risk any trouble, but now I wish that I had taken one, & I should then have discovered my loss. Now there is no chance of recovering it, and I must see if I can do any improvising with paper or cardboard & glue, as I do not wish to be without filters.
Last of all I went to the Abbey. It was converted at the Dissolution into a residence by its buyer, Thomas Sharington. Much of the old abbey is still intact, though it has 16th Century and later work built on. The only missing part is the church, which probably was used to build the stables. Later, the house was inhabited by the Fox-Talbots, one of whom was the famous photographic pioneer, and it was one of the oriel windows there that he made the subject of his first photograph – the first of all photographs.
Due to its heterogeneous styles and diverse uses to which it has been put, the building does not make a really good whole but some of the parts, such as the windows, cloisters and other parts of the vaulting are very good. Now, some of the lower rooms are used by London evacuees as a school, and I am told that A.T.S. girls are going to use the place soon. Certainly it is a home which has kept well in the main current of changing history. One of its possessions is an enormous copper cauldron, which must be a good 3 feet in diameter, and to the eye, at least, it appears to be perfectly spherical. Considering that its period is medieval, it is a marvellous piece of work. It was made in Malines [Mechlin, Belgium].
After seeing the abbey I bought the cards which I thought you might like. I would have bought a guide book, but had no change. From Lacock, I turned right just before Bewley Common and went along to Melksham Forest. During a short shower I sat under a straw rick & wrote the cards and ate my remaining piece of bread and cheese. From Melksham forest I went to Bromham which I reached at 10 to 6. I would have gone into the church, which I must definitely see, but there was a service about to commence, and I did not have time to attend it, so I went to Devizes. I found Devizes to be a larger town than I thought, and the church I saw was not apparently the main one, which is more in the town and looks even better than the other. I shall spend more time in Devizes when it is not so crowded with soldiers and airmen. There were too many for me to get anything to eat, so I returned to camp for supper. I had a very strong following wind along the nearly level road to Beckhampton & went at a terrific pace, making a good finish to a very good Easter Sunday’s ride.
Another fellow and I were intending to go to Devizes tonight, but as it rained this evening, I am writing this letter here instead of there. I think I had better not start another page, so goodbye & love from Albert.
A few of the sites and viewpoints remain, through preservation, the same today as in Albert’s time, and there’s a pleasing comfort in that. A quick search on the internet shows that the church at Heddington still has a flagstaff and its environs look unchanged. Oh, but the roads are filled with cars now, and few people visit church for Easter Service, not in these quiet village churches that’s for sure. So I’m grateful for my uncle for taking me on a journey with him and showing me his lost lanscape, and I hoped you enjoyed it too.