“We have got a cat here, a quite small one, ginger in colour. It is about the size of our Ginger”
Albert writes his next letter on 30th November 1941, fresh from parading in front of a ‘herd of officers’, for no good reason that he could see. His mind is on Christmas presents and his afternoon out with a family friend. It’s just a little letter, but I love it for insights that it gives us, on everyday wartime life, and those family members that I never got a chance to meet. It pleases me to picture Albert sitting by the fire, his mind on the cosy details of home. I am sure that one of the ‘girls’ was in the background, making him a cup of cocoa to share with her, after he had finished writing.
Dear All, I am starting this in the morning after having been to church. After church we marched by a herd of officers, moving at very nearly funeral pace, while they stood in a row and saluted. I didn’t see much point in the show but I suppose it keeps someone happy.
Mr Gibson is coming this afternoon about 2, for a couple of hours, it is very good of him to come and visit me like this with petrol so scarce. I must remember to get him cigarettes for Christmas. I must also take uncle Vic some tobacco, if I manage to get there next week. I have been sending off letters and cards by the score, first saying that I was going to Castleton and then that I was not. I have already used that 2/6 book of stamps that you sent last week and shall have to buy or borrow an envelope for this letter.I was out looking at shops yesterday afternoon and made one or two purchases. Regarding presents have you any ideas about something for Christine and Ron? I don’t think that there are any others I have forgotten. I could get an aeroplane construction kit for Ron. Would you like a calendar for 1942? I don’t suppose there will be many free ones this year and there are one or two in Boots which have taken my eye.
I was pleased to see the letter & statement from S.M.& B.P. The “ex gratis” payment made “4.4.0” was the fortnight’s advance pay which I got before leaving. The “War Allowance” is the 15% bonus. The “Provident Fund” is the superannuation affair. So if you work it out carefully you will see that next time the cheque should be for about £4. Continue to put it in the box taking out Jean’s money each week and I can put in the P.O. whatever is left when I come home.
Saturday I got a letter from Jean which I shall enclose if I remember to do so. I should write to Peter in the week, though I have no idea of what I shall write about. Just before I forget it, I must tell you that I have my savings book and I believe the RAF money goes in every three months. I don’t think I know David Trim, but I used to know the Bickers boys. I believe Ken is the boy I know best. As for Phil, I shouldn’t think he would be at all near the front. You remember that they were well in the vanguard of the retreat from France, so I should think he will be well in the rearguard of the advance in Libya, I very much hope so.
Some of the fellows here have just been complaining that they do not like Sunday morning because there is nothing to do! I am only too pleased to have nothing to do, although I always have a letter on hand to start or finish.
Sunday Evening: I had quite a nice afternoon with Mr and Mrs Gibson. He arrived at about 1.30 and we went to Fleetwood for the afternoon. He has a nice little car, a Morris 8, and it was very nice to have the afternoon with them. He had to leave early of course, to beat the blackout, and went at 4. I went out some way with him and walked back reaching the billet at 5. It was quite a fine afternoon, though there was a sharp NE wind blowing, which made it chilly to stand about.
Fancy having some primroses out! I believe they were late last year too. I saw some violets for sale in one of the shops, and wondered if they have any out at Branstone. Auntie Daisy sent the other pair of socks during the week, and in her letter said that she had picked some raspberries which were quite nice. I wonder if you have had any other bottled fruit yet. (I am wearing the socks which are alright).
I had some unpleasant news today, a good many of the air-crew have been moved from this part of Blackpool, to where we started off and possibly we may go too. I sincerely hope not, and if I can I think I should lodge a complaint – though I don’t suppose it would do much good. We have got a cat here, a quite small one, ginger in colour. It is about the size of our Ginger, but of course the tail is different, and it has more white in it. Yesterday he caught a mouse and was playing with it on the kitchen floor. At our first billet there were scores of mice. I saw one running about in one of the cupboards in the scullery, where they sometimes kept with provisions, and that didn’t please me very much you can guess! I don’t think there is enough news for another sheet, so goodbye and love from Albert.
Ron was the son of my grandparents’ neighbours. He spent much of his childhood with my Mum and her brothers, joining them on holidays, and trips to the Island. We know him as ‘Uncle Ron’, always cheerful, always smiling. He made a career from his love of aeroplanes, working in the Concorde factory in Bristol. He was a dear friend to my Mother, almost like another brother to her.
“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.
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
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.
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.
With these words Albert sums up his RAF career to date; I sympathise with my uncle – days of pointless marching and chilly evenings in shared accommodation, far from the home and the countryside that he loved. He did not have to sign up, and I admire him all the more for that. My Mother told me, that as a chemist in the oil industry he was in a ‘reserved occupation’ and would have therefore avoided conscription. But willingly he volunteered, committed himself to war as so many young men, and women, did. Did Albert ever contemplate his own death? On the 19th November 1941, I think not. His concerns were for his mother’s well being, and for those others that he loved. Not that he loved everyone mentioned, Albert’s opinion of ‘Mrs Churchill’ is less than favourable and why he recommended that ‘Aunt’ be barred from Bullar Road remains a mystery!
Wednesday, November 19th Dear All, Yesterday I received the parcel, which you posted on Monday, which was quite quick. I do not know which letter you were expecting from me, but the last thing I posted to you last week was a parcel containing socks and vest which went about Thursday. Yesterday or was it Monday I sent a package to you and a parcel containing meat paste, chocolate and sweets to Jean. Thursday: incidentally I see that your letter was posted on November 17, one month after I joined the RAF and the longest month I have known, how much longer ago it seems that I was last home! I do not think that I have a great deal of news to tell. My most interesting days are spent in the weekends, though this weekend we have a Church Parade, so once more I shall not apply for a pass, though if it is fine I shall escape into the country for a few hours. Monday and yesterday I attended the usual music meetings on Monday Myers Fogging, who played at the Tuesday’s concert, gave us some piano music – all from memory and very good. There was also a soprano and a gramophone symphony, making a mixed and interesting programme. On Wednesday one of the corporals gave us a most interesting lecture, illustrated with records, of the history of music – very sketchily of course, but he gave us a jolly good talk and played some excellent records including some that I should like very much indeed. It is now evening and this letter will not be posted until Friday, so I hope you will get it on Saturday. Since I have nothing much to tell of my own doings I will answer your letter on the next page.
I was glad there is some news of Phil at long last, even if it was only a cable. Since I have been up here I have written him a letter and Airgraph and put a Xmas card in the letter, which I hope he has received. I am intending to write to Joyce somewhen and I will ask her what records she took away – just as a point of interest, I don’t mind of course. I can well imagine that you see plenty of Mrs Churchill too: I don’t suppose you have much time to think about your worries when she is in… I hope she will not be in too much when I come home, or else I shall be going back to Blackpool! However I expect she makes a good third for Kan-u-go, and company in the evenings. Do you see anything of Mr and Mrs Whatmore these days? You must keep “Aunt” out at all costs though, she is one of the visitors you must avoid. It gets very dark these evenings, in spite of the street lights, and I’m glad to have my torch with me. This evening I saw the new moon for the first time, so we shall have some moonlight next week. We are on a new timetable next week, I understand, I suppose that will mean more work and time spent in marching around Blackpool. However, I do not mind marching now that my feet are better, or almost so, but the drill is still the item I dislike most of all. I am sure that I shall be able to walk much further now, which will be a good thing as I have no bicycle. I have just been eating one of the apples and have two still remaining, so you see I did not really need any more. I also have some of the biscuits, which are very nice ones and a good shape as well, in fact I thought at first that they were shop ones before I undid the cellophane. As regards chocolates and sweets, I have not wanted to spend much money this week but I think I can get sweets at most times even if chocolates are rather scarce.
I do not hear the wireless much here and I have missed all the things you mentioned. I should especially like to hear the talks on Mozart G minor symphony. I heard the music hall on Sunday though and thought it quite good with Suzette Tarri and Murgatroyd and Winterbottom who I have not heard for years. The “wireless” here is strictly speaking not wireless, as it is one of those re-diffusion things which seem very popular here.
“Another thing we see a lot of the swing doors, due no doubt, to the cold winds. I have never before seen so many swing doors as along the Blackpool Front.”
Don’t expect me to get Christmas leave! I saw in the “Telegraph” the other day that there would be none, and of course that would be especially true for trainees. However I think that our long weekend should be within a fortnight of Christmas so you will be able to save up some of the festivities for me. Anyway, I think you will be safe to go to Havant and I think it would be a good idea to go there if you can. As regards photographs, I meant a small one (P.C.) f the cathedral . If you cannot find it you could send the other large one, the horizontal one, not showing the Bishop’s Palace. The one from the cliffs which I mean is the one on cream base grained paper – what I believe you call bromide paper, though in fact they are all on bromide paper, except the small contact prints. I do not know if that one has a train or not, but it does have a smudgy white seagull over the sea. I do not think the ones of Saints (Kings?), Fingal bridge or the stream are good enough to send, though you can send them if you care to. I am not sure which ones of Jean I have, but I think we should keep the better one, which is I fancy, on the cream grained paper. That is about all this week, not even enough to fill this page, so goodbye and love from Albert. (P.T.O.) P.S. We are just having some cocoa and a sort of fig cake for supper – we also have fig puddings for desert, and I don’t like it much – all pips and not a very nice flavour, but I don’t mind it much and everything else is very good.
Once again the feeling that Albert and I participate in a delicate dance, in which time is irrelevant; he mentions his wish for a photo of Jean and I found that photograph of my Mother to share in my last post. Foolish of me to think I found it for him? Perhaps. I’m sure though that he would have been glad (if not astonished) that I am able to share his work with you, wherever in the big, wide world you may be.
Today would have been my Mother’s 88th birthday. What does one do on these strange anniversaries, when Mum has gone and the grief has faded? Three years since I sent a birthday card and made the trip westwards to spend a weekend. I’ve written the date in case notes several times today, without sadness, pausing to wonder ‘well, what do I feel?’ I have bought daffodils and put them in her vase. Yes, that made me cry a little, but not too much. Time has passed.
After my little bit of weeping I remembered this photograph that Albert took of my Mother, when she was maybe 8 or 9. How perfect a gift it is for today; in London we have sunshine in a peerless blue sky, blossom trees punctuate the streets with white and pale pink. Spring is here.
Thank you Albert, for showing me Mum, with everything before her. She had a good life. She was the best mum. Happy Birthday.
“I gave the “hitch hikers” thumb salute to a red and black Morris 8, and lo and behold it stopped, the very first one I had tried.”
This letter is quite delightful. It’s 7 pages long and tells the tale of Albert’s first hitchhiking adventure to the foothills of the Lake District. With cavalier abandon Albert risks arrest for going out of his ‘bounds’ and has lunch with strangers. He returns home delighted that he has had two hot meals in one day. I hope you enjoy it.
Sunday, November 16th 6:30 pm Dear All, I am sitting and writing this after having spent a very pleasant day out in spite of some rain. I tried to get a day pass and I had I done so I meant to take a bus to Garstang, and then walk up on the hills thereabouts. However I was not able to get a pass; they told me that passes were not issued until one had passed four words per minute stage in Morse. I think I have passed but the results do not come out until Monday and so I could not have a pass. So since the morning did not look too bad I thought I would take a walk nearer to Blackpool. I went by bus to Poulton-upon-Flyde and then walked from the church to the Lancaster Road and then onwards. I walked over the road way across the Fleetwood- Weston – Preston Road, and across another smaller road. Our 5 mile “bounds” end at about Poulton station but there were no military police so I walked right on. Having broken bounds I thought I would get a lift, so I gave the “hitch hikers” thumb salute to a red and black Morris 8, and lo and behold it stopped, the very first one I had tried. There were a man and his wife in the car, a Mr and Mrs Davies of Cleveleys as I subsequently discovered. They asked where I was going and I said I didn’t know but just wanted to go for a walk. They said they were going to a place about 8 miles this side of Lancaster and I could come as far as I liked. They proved interesting people to talk to and told me how it had snowed the two previous winters, 2, 3 and 4 feet deep and how there was single line traffic on the main roads and the outlying farms cut off for days at a time. Then they told me that they were going for a walk and I could come with them, so I said I would very much like to. We stopped at a roadside cafe and they took me in and we had dinner (or lunch I suppose) of soup, cold lamb with potatoes & sprouts, followed by an excellent treacle pudding and apple tart, and coffee. With the apple tart was cheese, which they told me was quite a Yorkshire custom and though it seemed a strange mixture, I liked it quite well. I don’t know if you have heard of it. Mr Davis said that they came out to this café each week and there were some other regular customers there and with the proprietors and his family we were quite a happy party. It was a real home from home sort of place.
About 2 p.m. After hearing the news and the music hall, we went out and turned down a little lane across the river Wyre and under the main L.M.S. line to Scotland. We walked to a little village of which I did not properly catch the name, but I believe it was something like Shawton [Albert discovers, as we hear in his next letter, that the place is in fact Scorton]. It is 2 miles from the nearest bus and has no public house, but four or five churches and chapels. John or Charles Wesley went there and I was shown the oak under which he preached. We were going up the hill at the back of the village, but it started to rain so we thought it advisable not to do any climbing. However I had a close view of the hills and we went on, again close to the Wyre and eventually over it. I saw a train of about 12 coaches going down to London, it was hauled by one of the red and cream streamlined engines – like we saw at Euston. Then we went along to the main road and back to our cafe. It was only about 4 miles but I enjoyed it very much indeed. There are no autumn tints here now, very few of the trees have any leaves on at all and there are not many beeches – I have seen no large ones at all. I do not think there are many woods of any consequence in this district, which is quite flat and seems to be devoted mainly to dairy farming, though now they are ploughing up much of the pasturage. I saw several birds, including what I believe were curlews, they were speckled birds about the size of a Peewit, with a long curving beak. It was pretty cold this morning when I started off (about 11) and some of the shallower ponds had a thin film of ice over them, though it appeared to be a black frost. They tell me that the canals are frozen over with thick ice most winters, and I can well believe it, though I felt warm enough once I had been walking a bit. When we got back at the café we sat by the fire and I had a couple of games of draughts with Mr Davis, and rather surprisingly won one of them. When we got outside it was raining quite hard and I was glad that I did not have to walk. They stopped at Layton from which I took a bus back to the North Station and arrived home at about 5.30. The landlady had kept me a hot dinner so I was able to have two cooked meals today! I had taken some bread and butter which I was going to eat with the cheese which you sent but that will come in for supper now. Also at the café were Mr and Mrs Dyson of Preston, and they gave me their address inviting me to call on them if I ever wanted somewhere to go over weekend.
Well I think that is about all there is to tell you of today which has been my most enjoyable since I left home. I must try “hitch hiking” as a means of travel again. Yesterday I saw Richard Tauber in “Blossom Time” but really I was not at all thrilled; his voice does not sound as good as it used to. However it was quite a pleasant show and gave me somewhere to go on a Saturday evening. I did not go to the cinema this week because I have already spent my RAF money and must dip into that odd pound for anything I shall want this week. However, we should get 30/- next Saturday, and I don’t think there is much I want to buy this week, excepting perhaps some stamps. Yesterday I also had a letter from Mr Gibson saying he would be pleased to see me and that he was writing to you by the same post, so you doubtless know all about that. I believe Bolton is about 40 miles away so even that would be quite a good distance to travel. As regards the weather, it has rained quite a lot just lately. We were out in it on Thursday and my greatcoat and trousers got quite wet, but I was able to put the coat before the fire overnight and until the wet ones dried, I wore my second pair of trousers so the wet should not do me any harm even though it has made my hat shrink! My feet are still a bit tender but nothing to grumble much about now. On Friday we went for a most enjoyable route march to Poulton, right at the crossroads to Higher Green, and then to Staining and back Home via Church Street. Some of the fellows – there are a number of Londoners in our squad – thought it was a long way but there were quite a number of us who enjoyed it very much, as it took us for the first time into the country. Besides the Londoners our squad includes another fellow from Southampton (Bevois valley), Mr Harper of Sandown, a Cornishman from near Land’s End ( St. Agnes’ or St. Mary’s is it?) one chap from Swindon & several from Devon (and one from Andover). It is a great pleasure to me to hear the Wiltshire and Devonshire accents. The Wiltshireman in particular has a most beautiful country accent, and a very pleasant, somewhat deep voice, and I like talking to him just to hear him speak. In another of our shorter marches I came across some very unpleasant slum-like homes, of the sort that one might expect to find in Chapel or Northam – it just shows what sort of a place this is compared with “our” seaside resorts, especially Bournemouth. We got our laundry the other day, I had a towel, shirt and two collars done for 9d, and it is quite worth it, though the collars are starched, which makes it a bit of a job to put on. This week I have put in my pyjamas, vest and pants as well. I must wash some more socks tomorrow too. I think that about completes my account of my affairs, so I had better answer your letters. I was interested in your lamp idea, and I shall try to get a table lamp, though things seem to be fairly expensive here. Even if I can afford things I do not like putting my hard earned cash in other peoples pockets. I should think that it would be better if you were to put some muslin or some other material across the reflector for diffusion, so as to cut out the hard shadows which you must get now. I am pleased that you did not cut the flex. As for the yellow switch, it was never very satisfactory and I have hardly used it. I think I know Clifford Cole – he used to go to Sunday school, is a dark fellow, used to belong to the Scouts and lives at the top of Dimond Road; I should like to see him if he comes up here again. The places I am likely to go to are actually Yatesbury or Compton Bassett, on Salisbury Plain and are not so very far from home, though I believe they are some rotten camps, especially Yatesbury. I don’t know what will happen if I get on this pilots course, we did not take the exam on Friday it is now supposed to come off on Monday or Tuesday. As regards cheese, we are quite well off and often have some for supper – we had some last night in fact – and the landlady tells me that she has 4lbs in. It will not be necessary to have anything sent here excepting apples, though if I am here at Christmas, I could have some homemade jam, but I cannot have anything for myself alone, with 5 other fellows at the table, especially as we are by no means short of rations. I shall try to send some money to Jean, no, on second thoughts I had better ask you to take it out of my Hamble money, when it arrives. Until then the five shillings will serve as a source of supply. That is about all, so good night and love from Albert. P.S. sorry about your tomatoes I hope the others didn’t go off like that.
Look at Scorton on the map today and you will see that the M6 now runs along the ridge that my Uncle endeavoured to climb before the weather turned against them. I can find no reference to an oak under which Wesley preached, so Mr Davis may have been employing some artistic licence here. But what generous people they were, what different times. It is not only the landscape of England that has altered irrevocably in the decades since 1941; I regret that our predisposition to show goodwill to strangers and give them good company is now greatly diminished, compared to my uncle’s generation.
“Incidentally, I believe that the large number of civil servants here are responsible for the good shows and concerts that come here.”
I have not found it so easy to post a letter every week, far less easy than Albert found writing to his parents – this letter was sent two days after the last. It has troubled me, my lack of consistency. Partly I battle against the commonplace demands of work and fatigue, the need to cook meals, and generally look after oneself. Yet there is another specific reason, which is that I find typing out Albert’s long letters rather laborious and as I am an impatient soul my slowness frustrates me. I can type quite quickly if the words spring from my own head, but copying another’s is achingly dull.
But I won’t give up on Albert; I have (oh the wonders of technology) started dictating his letters, which is such a time saver! Reading aloud, if only to an iPad, shadows how these letters might first have been communicated to my Grandparents. I imagine my Grandfather reading to my Grandmother in the kitchen (reorganised to combat the winter cold), or maybe Grandmother read to my Grandfather as they sat together by the fire. Although I realise now how infrequently that would have occurred in the war years, for my Grandfather was evacuated with his entire school to Dorset, and Grandmother was mostly alone in Bullar Road. Still, these letters would have been passed around the family and read aloud at the kitchen table in Headley House, when Grandmother and Jean, reunited on the Island, went to visit.
Dear all, here is a letter to accompany the parcel which I hope to send tomorrow (Thursday) dinner-time. I have not done much since I wrote last. I went to the concert, for which I have enclosed the programme. The orchestra was quite good and the pianists excellent. I liked the Bach best of all, it was similar in some respects to the concerto in A minor which I have. There were about 15 in the orchestra but the audience was most disappointing – there could not have been more than 350 there, which, since there are 75,000 Airmen in Blackpool represents about a quarter %. Some of the audience were civilians too. On Monday I went to an educational test to see about being an observer. I took a short and easy test and when the real test comes off I am pretty sure I shall pass. When I pass that I am given a sort of certificate to show that I have passed. Later on in our fourth or fifth week of training we go before a selection board and are asked if we wish to go over to the pilot’s course (same for observers) and if we produce this certificate we have quite a good chance of getting through, so I have only to wait. I believe that our squad is all taking this test on Friday – but like many other things up here that may not come off as arranged.
“I wished I had been cycling home from Hamble instead of drilling in one of Blackpool’s dingy backstreets. “
On Friday we have our second Morse test and with luck I should pass that and get onto the six words per minute class. To-day I must try to book a seat for the Warner Brothers film – I hope to go on Friday. There are generally so many people going to the cinemas that one has to queue up or book a seat, yet there was plenty of room at the Halle orchestra concert on Saturday. Incidentally, I believe that the large number of civil servants here are responsible for the good shows and concerts that come here. I am told that before the war, the entertainment was about what one might expect in a place like this. Today is quite muggy and warm, yesterday was lovely, warm sun and not much wind and quite warm walking home in the evening. I wished I had been cycling home from Hamble instead of drilling in one of Blackpool’s dingy backstreets. We have just been issued with an extra shirt and two collars, making three shirts and six collars in all. Not that I need them, for I find that apart from socks, I do not dirty my clothes at all quickly, of course we do not do any dirty work. 6.40 Evening I am now waiting to go down to the music Society meeting at 7:30. This afternoon we played football, or rather 11 of us did whilst the other 30 sat down and watched. Then we went home early, which is not a bad way of spending an afternoon. This morning I put some boric acid powder in my socks to stop my feet from blistering but I don’t know whether it has made any difference. Well, there seems very little to write about this time. I have not had any letters since yours, I do not seem to have had much mail lately though I have written quite a lot. I have not written to Raymond yet or to ‘Spray Bank’. I think I might as well break off now and add a bit more later on, if there is any more to add. 9.40 It is funny how I keep on suddenly thinking of little bits of country round home at all sorts of odd times and usually for no apparent reason; sometimes my memory brings up a picture of Stephen’s Castle Down, another time of Deacon Hill or again of the Lyndhurst Road. I don’t know what it shows, but there it is. Well that about finishes that piece of paper, so goodbye and love from Albert.
In the 1930s and 40s Southampton was a large, bustling commercial port and town, yet Albert’s 6 mile cycle ride to the Shell Mex BP oil refinery in Hamble would have taken him down green lanes with views of the river Itchen and the wider expanse of Southampton Water. No wonder he missed his daily dose of countryside, as his sore feet marched up and down the dingy drill ground for hours on end.
“Now I had better tell you some more about the billet and how good it is. We have plenty of everything.”
Albert started this letter on 9 November 1941. In spite of sore feet he appears in a positive frame of mind. His happiness was fuelled, I am sure, by the company of women (who obligingly make cocoa and iron hankies) and a plentiful supply of food. Other news relates to cinema trips, concerts, socks and day trips. Aside from his sore toe and the mention of pilot and observer exams, it would appear that the war is doing little to cloud his outlook.
As yet I have not received a message from you to this address but doubtless there will be something tomorrow, and if today I give an account of my doings, I shall be able to reply to you in a short time. It seems that the post is so slow that we cannot reply to letters twice a week I shall have to write my second one before I receive a reply to my first and so on, if you see what I mean I think it would be a good idea if I posted my letters Monday and Thursday so that you would receive them in the middle and at the end of the week. Then I think you could write on the same days, replying to my Monday letter in your Thursday one and to my Thurs. one in the weekend. I shall not now need to send home washing since we can send the stuff from this billet to a private laundry at about 1.6 a time which is no more than the post would cost. That reminds me, it goes on Sunday so I had better get it ready – oh it’s alright the landlady has collected it from my bedroom when she made the bed. I said I was going out today but that is not the case I failed to get a pass at my first attempt and since: (a) I have got a sore toe and could not walk far with comfort and (b) I have already spent most of this weeks money, I did not bother to try a second time. I have also discovered much to my dismay that the journey to Sheffield takes about five hours so it does not look as if I shall see much of that part of the world. Perhaps you could let me have the Bolton address if you think it would be alright to go. Or did you say that uncle Alan is at Manchester I could get there quite easily. On Tuesday I got my feet seen to and was excused drill and marches for three days -which I didn’t much mind! They put Acriflavine and plaster on since the little toe on my right foot has blistered. I have brought some Acriflavine cream and put it on, it should be alright by Monday. Now I had better tell you some more about the billet and how good it is. We have plenty of everything. Breakfast this morning was cornflakes, fried egg and bread and marmalade or jam. Yesterday dinner was chips, steak and beans and a custard trifle. For tea there is always something such as cold meat Friday there was fish and chips. At night the girls make us cocoa and there is something such as a pie or sandwiches to eat. It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us such as washing up supper things and will iron handkerchiefs and ties for us. There is always a fire too, so that it is quite pleasant to stop indoors. Another good thing is that we help ourselves to sugar and milk (they they were in the teapot before) and have linen tablecloths instead of bits of American cloth, all of which make it more like home. There is warm or hot water in the morning too.It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us
“It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us..”
I have been eating, and enjoying, lots of things that I did not touch at home. Most breakfast times there is cornflakes or “shredded wheat” and I have had that with milk and sugar, and quite likely may have it in summer time when I come home! I also have custard with things and rice pudding, and I eat, though do not like so much, greens and other vegetables, though we have not had much in the way of parsnips, swedes and turnips. Today is grey and windy and I do not suppose I should go far this afternoon. As I said, I have not too much money. We were paid £1 on Saturday, to last us a fortnight and I have spent nearly 10/- of it on writing paper, acriflavine and a ticket for “Blossom Time”, going to the Halle Orchestra concert, and other odd things such as stamps and “The Listener”. This week I want to go to the cinema to see the Warner Brothers new film, perhaps I should go with Bob, my Hamble friend. The trouble is that it costs 2/- or 2/6 to get a reserved seat at the theatre, and I do not intend to go into the gallery though, at the Grand one can get a good seat for 2/- by waiting in a queue. However I shall manage on my RAF pay, even if I cannot save much of it. Which reminds me to ask how much of Jean’s money is left. I should think she has enough left for two or three weeks. How much is there in my box, and how are the savings certificates going, or probably SM&BP have not sent anything yet [Shell Mex & British Petroleum]. It is difficult for me to realise that I have been away only 3 weeks. Yesterday I collected a parcel which arrived at Hull Road. It contained a pair of socks from Branstone, and I am wearing them now. This afternoon I ought to wash them and a lot of hankies, as I have had a bit of a cold. There was also a letter from Ron, which I was pleased to see, I must reply next week. I must do something this week about being an observer. As a matter of fact, there are several who would like to be pilots ( the pilot’s course is initially the same as the observers) and as a matter of routine the whole squad is undergoing an educational test to see if any are fit to go in for the course. I saw a pilots revision course maths paper and did practically everything in my head so it all seems pretty simple. On Friday we had a Morse test which I failed, but since I did not know any before Monday that doesn’t worry me much. We have two more chances on successive Fridays; I expect I shall be alright by the next test. Monday 5pm. I have just come in and have been reading your letters; it is very nice to have such a lot to read, and to know all about what happens at home, especially all the little things, like Tibby catching a mouse, and how you have arranged the kitchen for cold weather. I expect we have had some frosts but there being no grass or greenstuff, one doesn’t notice it so much. To-day it is wet and rather miserable and I am glad to sit by the fire. I must get this done in time for the post though and get that extra vest in. Auntie Daisy has some more socks underway I believe, so I shall soon be very well off. When I have got these dried I shall send a pair and save myself some mending! Thank you for the cheese and apples too. If I ever get a day out I can take the cheese with some bread thank you also for the information about Christmas presents, but you have missed out 2 very important ones. I should like to share in your cheese savoury for dinner, that is something I should not get in any billet. Of course we have plenty of meat allowed us and most people would prefer meat to a “fussy” and dish like macaroni cheese (I wouldn’t of course). By the way we are allowed to wear shoes and so I have no worries on that score, and in lieu of slippers we use our gym shoes (plimsolls) which do just as well and don’t come off. I should not bother to send the “M.M.”, I have plenty to read and it would only get bent and battered. Perhaps you could send to uncle Jim a PC size photo of Exeter Cathedral, and there is one of the railway and cliffs done on cream grained paper that he could have. There are some of the guides to but they are not sufficiently in focus to be of much use, still send them along to him. I also meant to send Peter Wadham a 2 inch screwed rod and 2 doz. nuts & bolts for his Meccano, but that had better wait until Peter is home again. By the way 39 D. Road is opposite a little alley way and south of Banks street. Our “drill ground” is the top (blind end) of Cocker Street, not far away. The envelope I meant was a blank stamped one which you sent. It got rather bent and slightly split in the journey. Don’t let the gramophone run down after use, though of course it is inadvisable to leave it fully wound. If you have not yet done so the needle had better be changed, use one of the “Chromium” ones (silver case) they are easier to put in. It is now nearly 6.30 & there is no time to make up the parcel. I will send it next time I write (Weds). So goodbye now and love to all, from Albert.
It is a strange, but not unpleasant sensation, to feel glad that Albert is enjoying himself. The heart tunes into the truth that lingers; he may be long gone but his words reconnect me with the time when he was young, hopeful, and delighting in Northern adventures. I have never visited Blackpool (shall I ever?) but I’ve found a good guide, albeit for the town as it was nearly 80 years ago! Well Albert, I look forward to your next letter.
I have mentioned before that my uncle was a keen photographer. And being a photographer in the 1930s and 1940s meant developing one’s own photographs, with all the expense and labour which that entails. The photograph above is, I think, of such a high quality that it deserves to be the first that I share with you. Albert must have been rather proud of it too, for he included it in his 1940 album. You can see below how he chose to mount it, with a precise hand-drawn frame and caption. I’m sorry that I could not get an entirely straight shot of this page, because the album is a little warped, in spite of my Mother’s care in keeping it. Albert’s choice of title “The Quiet Stream” hints at his romantic spirit, of one in love with the English Countryside. I wonder if he ever looked at his work and dreamt of a future where his photographs graced the pages of a guide book or ‘Country Life’.
I also love the photograph below. This really is of ‘another country’; a bygone era, unknown to all but a few people now. It might be of farmland on the high hills around Winchester, if not there then I am sure that it will be somewhere in Hampshire or Dorset. These counties were his favoured lands. I have two versions of this photograph, one is a test print on a postcard and this is the final print, which he mounted in another album, preceding the 1940 one. Certainly the photos in the album are not quite so lovingly mounted, which is why I didn’t include the frame! I think it is beautiful.
On the back of the test print are some notes made in pencil. Initially I thought Albert had hurriedly set down his thoughts, for the letters slope uncharacteristically elongated and almost illegible across the card. But as I slowly deciphered the words, I realised they were by another’s hand. I had not given any thought to how or where Albert developed his photographs. Given the costs and space required, he most likely shared resources, maybe at a club. The critique below must have been written by a friend or a club member, someone who had some expertise to pass on to my uncle, but I don’t know who. Maybe my Uncle Peter will be able to recall?
‘Apparently sun wasn’t shining – so don’t expect highlights on the horses. Besides my horses were classics – these aren’t. Composition might have been improved by having sky behind house instead of a horse. I’m always doing the same thing. Plus sunshine, this might have been a prizewinner.’
Oh but I think it absolutely is a prizewinner, Uncle Albert!
“Our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times.”
Two days later, on 4th November 1941, Albert writes another letter home from his new billet. He is sounding really rather chipper, his excitement about his new lodgings leaps off the page. He finds himself in a hotel where there are more ‘girls’ than airmen, a dream come true for a 20 year old man far from home, I am sure.
He has a sense of purpose too, for his specific training has commenced and he is learning Morse code. He writes that his efforts can be seen on the paper. I searched and searched and saw no dashes and dots, until I tilted the first page and saw the impressions of code besides the address. I cannot reproduce it here and if there is a secret message contained therein, well I’m afraid I shall not be investing in fingerprint dust to decipher it!
Later in the letter he relates his visit to Stanley park where he saw ‘Real live birds!’ and enjoys the softness of the grass beneath his feet. He wishes he had walked from Whiteley Bank back to Branstone with his family, back to Headley House where there have been worries about money. How dear he was, to offer a contribution from his wages to help his Grandparents and the Maiden Aunts.
I very much enjoyed this letter, Albert came alive as I read his news. I hope you enjoy it too.
Dear All, you will note the change of address! Apparently our old billet was too far from the parade ground (about 12 mins), so we have been moved here, which is about 10 minutes nearer. We got back to billets at about 6p.m. and were informed that we should move after tea! It is now nine o’clock!
Fortunately this billet is, I believe, even better than the last. For example, our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times, none of which we had at Hull road. Two of use from Hull road came here, and joined five other airmen who have been in Blackpool about 8 weeks I understand. There are also 10 girl Civil Servants, who are working at the Ministry of Works and Buildings, which has moved up to the Hotel Metropole here. There are other Ministries here, including Pensions and Health. They have naturally got the biggest & best hotels in the place.
We have begun to work in earnest this week. We work from 8 or earlier, to 6 with about an hour for dinner. There is the usual drill, and now we do Morse. Yesterday I had my first acquaintance with the Morse code and instead of going to the Music Club I learnt, or partly learnt the code – you will see that on the top of the page over. This evening I missed Handel’s Oratorio Judas Maccabeus by moving here. To-morrow I mean to make the greatest efforts to get to the music meeting. And on Thursday I must see my Hamble pal again – he was out when I called last week.
I received your letters this afternoon. I was sorry to hear that you had so tiresome a journey, though I would be pleased to walk from Whiteley Bank with you! I am very pleased to hear that the bother over the money has been settled, but perhaps you would like to take say 5/- per week out of my S.M. & B.P [Shell Mex and British Petroleum, Albert’s employer]. Or I could make an allotment of 7/- a week to you or them, and you could have as much as you require. Don’t be afraid to take the money if you want it. I am glad that their wireless is alright, and that Peter is better now. I suppose Jean is still in the same billet; I shall try to send her some chocolate or sweets and perhaps some meat paste.I believe there is a laundry service that we can avail ourselves of.
On Sunday I went to Stanley Park which you will find on the map with a pond in the east part of it. I believe it is the only park in Blackpool, but it is quite a nice place and I was joyful to have some grass under my feet, & trees on either side, and even some birds – real live birds! I walked to the eastern gates and out to a field nearby, where I actually saw some cows.
If I can manage a day pass to get outside the 5 mile limit, I should like to go to Garston on Sunday. Garston (I hope that is the name) [No Albert, you meant Garstang] is a village under the Pennines and I can do a little walk from there.
The fellows here say that it is not always the case that leave passes come when they should so whilst we can live in hopes, it is not advisable to hope too much! I have tried some shops for 1/4″ map of the district. There was a 1/2″ available but it did not show Castleton or the Lake District. I shall keep trying though. Boots have a very good shop and quite a nice selection of books. The apples have all gone – I was wrong when I said they were not so good – I had only had two of the little ones when I wrote – the large ones were much better & I shall always be pleased to see some more. That had better be all so goodnight & love from Albert.
P.S. I should not send any more envelopes you can see what happens to them!
What did happen to the envelopes I wonder? This letter, like many others, did not have an envelope. Albert’s letters were most likely censored. I know for a fact that some later ones were, as I’ve found little windows on pages, signifying the removal of a potentially treacherous word or two. Goodnight Albert, enjoy your cocoa and the sound of the “girls'” laughter.