Happy Birthday to Albert

Taken in Cassiobury Park, Watford, in April 1942

My Uncle Peter posted this on Facebook today:

“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

Dear All,

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.

A de Havilland Dominie airplane © IWM MH 4577

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

Dear All,

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.”

Review of Albert’s purchase in ‘Aeronautical Journal’ March 1942. It seems Albert did not consider his instructors’ knowledge sufficient!

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.

More of Albert’s Travels

‘Fire Blitz on Bath, 1942’ © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 3052

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.

Albert included the programme in his letter.

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

Dear All,

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.

‘The Library, Inner Temple’ © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 2217

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.