“I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one.“
It can be hard to find a suitable photograph to start these posts; I have inherited many more letters from Albert than I have photographs and I spend ages searching for an image which is attractive and relevant . I was struggling particulary to find something appealing to head up this post, when it occurred to me that it would be nice to show a photograph of the recipients of all those letters, namely my Grandparents. So I looked through the photograph albums and found this happy scene, and so apt for letters full of bicycle news. I don’t know when it was taken, but most likely before Albert (who was of course behind the camera) started his RAF service.
So here are two rather short letters, full of details of everyday life on an RAF camp, but avoiding any mention of the actual training that Albert undertook, because that would fall foul of the Censor’s Office. I imagine my grandparents were delighted to read every word, knowing that he was safe and enjoying his expeditions near and far.
Dear All , Tuesday March 17 1942
Your welcome letter came today and as I have been told that the post office is open for a short time on Wednesday, I am going to try to get the parcel posted tomorrow. I am sorry now that I did not skip off home last weekend, as I found that there is quite a good bus service between Marlboro’ & Sarum. As a matter of fact I had some idea of getting off this weekend, but of course that will be no use as you will be away. The train service from Chippenham seems to be quite hopeless; I could not reach Salisbury before 9.30, & returning on the Sunday would be worse if anything. As it is, I understand that our weekend is to be pushed forward to the week before Easter (or 5th) to avoid travelling at that time, so I shall leave coming home until then. After sending off my last letter I realised that if I was going to the Island [The Isle of Wight] I should require a bicycle, and it might have been better to have waited until the long weekend, though then it would have been none too easy as I am not likely to travel by train. I shall be able to use one of the others though. By the way, I think I have found an ideal place for keeping the bike. The huts etc are arranged like this (this is not quite accurate).
You see that in between the huts & washhouses etc, there are little patches of grass, not used by ordinary traffic, & in one of those I could keep a bicycle; leant against a lee wall it should be kept pretty dry.
Thank you for getting a fountain pen for me, Oroto is a very good make according to the place where I bought Peter’s, though it is a pity you could not get such a good quality one as the one I lost. I shall look forward to using it in the near future.
I have answered your queries about war savings, and birthday presents etc. Thanks for the cards, I quite agree that Peter’s is a good one, and the others will do, I rather like Jean’s. I have been trying to get some chocolate to send Auntie Bertha, but there is none in at the moment. It is a very poorly supplied NAAFI, I have only just succeeded in obtaining some soap (Palmolive) after having waited since Saturday. I must try to get some Pears in Calne if I can get down there before the shops close.
When I was out on Saturday I saw some of that yellow jasmine in flower, there were also wild arums coming up. The snowdrops grow much wilder here than at home; I saw a lot on the outside bank of a cottage garden and a host more in the backyard of one of the lodges at Savernake.
I have just been to the music circle meeting, I hear that the Griller string quarter (very famous) is coming Saturday, so I must make strenuous efforts to get there. I do not think I can say much else, so goodbye & love from Albert…..
Weds: I have just been out for a walk to Yatesbury village whilst everyone else is cross-country running. It rained some of the time so it was not too enjoyable, but the walk was better than the run. I went into Yatesbury church which is quite interesting – Norman and early English. There were snowdrops growing in the church yard and looking very nice.
We were today told “definitely” that our weekend is the one commencing March 28. I will warn Grandma in my birthday letter, but if you are writing sooner you had better mentioned.
Friday March 20
Dear All, I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one. I went to the music circle meeting to hear Tchaikowsky’s 5th symphony, but on arriving found that the radiogram was not working, though several ‘experts’ were having a go at it. Then the electricity failed , as it did this morning, and any future attempts at repair would have been useless. We were also told that “due to transport difficulties”, the Griller string quartet would not be able to visit us tomorrow, a great pity.
This dinner time the Yale lock and chain arrived, and the afternoon post brought the parcel of food and letters etc. Receiving the second letter first, I was not sure when you were sending it – but I finally saw what you meant.
So at about 7.30 I went to Calne, leaving the camp without lights in the growing darkness. I just missed a bus but got a lift down in an RAF truck, and arrived about 8. I went up to the station and got the bicycle, in good order, without any difficulty. I rode a little way out of Calne on the Chippenham road, & then back again & to the W.V.S. canteen to have a meat pie. Then back to camp to write this letter, which I suppose you will receive on Monday morning. I shall hope to go for a ride on Sunday, of which more later.
Such was my first thought, when reading Albert’s letter on 3rd March 1942, for he writes of arriving at camp and of his journey on ‘the bike’. Well, where had he been? And when did he obtain a bicycle? I thought that I had mislaid the letter that answered these questions until, as I read beyond the first paragraph, I realised that he must have left camp on Saturday evening and travelled back to Southampton to spend Sunday with his parents. Lucky Albert, how fortunate for him to be based 53 miles from home; a long journey in 1942 but not too long. But on a bicycle, surely not? I know my predecessors were hardy folk, but not that sturdy! Oh no, it was a motorbike of course, that became over clear when I read over the page. Whose motorbike was it? That I do not know, for Albert does not relate this information, nor the name of its driver.
I am writing this letter tonight so that I can get it and some clothes etc posted tomorrow. First of all we arrived here alright at about ¼ to 10 or 11. We went through Salisbury at 20 to 10 and to the straight road through Shrewton (by Druid’s Lodge) Tilshead, W. Lavington, Potterne & Devizes. It was beautifully bright though rather cold, and the bike was going fine. We stopped to warm up at the cross roads before Shrewton. The road up to then is very bleak and lonely. The villages look very nice places; Potterne has some half timber houses, and I may visit it one Sunday – it is not far from Devizes. The bike started missing after Devizes & stopped just after Beckhampton. At first we thought it was the petrol but it turned out that another plug was required. When this was put in it went again and we covered the last mile at a rousing pace, going in by the main gate without any trouble.
Now for one or two things I want sent up to me – with the next washing parcel will do:
1. My filters in the black box and the homemade filter holder which they fit. I don’t know where they are but I should suggest looking on the medicine cupboard, in our homework cupboard in the dining room (I know the Actina filters are there, but I don’t want them), in my photographic cupboard, in the Sanderson case. They should be in one of those places.
2. A front stud. The one I was using has broken, and a substitute I have is not much good.
3. Look in the ‘Radio Times’ and see what Louis Kenter played in the 2.30pm concert on Sunday. It was something by Chopin, Scherzo in A flat I think, but I’m not sure. Having found it perhaps you could tick it off in the H.M.V. catalogue, or else send it up to me. I have few records of piano music and would like to get that one (or two). Any time you can get the set repaired I would be willing to pay for it & you must admit, it does want doing.
I am pleased to have the biscuits and cake to eat in our break times, they are very nice. I have not yet opened the jam as we had some yesterday (raspberry I think) and today I wanted to get away quickly to have a bath, I expect I shall have some tomorrow.
Today the weather has been very mild after quite a white frost. The morning was quite sunny but with the afternoon the clouds came and we have since dark had a little rain. I hope it is fine Wednesday afternoon for our ‘sports’, as I intend taking another walk.
I hear that there are some bicycles in the camp which may be hired, so if they do not look too decrepit I may try one. I was talking to a fellow who had been to Devizes, & he says that it is a pleasant town, & in his opinion better than Malborough.
I fear that I can’t find much else to say, as I told you most of the news on Sunday. They don’t seem to have any chocolate here yet. I got a soap coupon this week. I don’t know how often they are given out, but if it is once a week I shall be able to supply you with some soap. Our laundry came back today & seems quite satisfactory.
Weds: It has been raining hard since morning (or night) so we can’t go out this afternoon.
Goodbye then and love to from Albert.
P.S. a 4th thing you could perhaps send some Parke Davis shaving cream (no hurry). There seems to be an epidemic of mumps here.
I confess that I inferred from Albert’s postscript, that the shaving cream was a 1940s home remedy for mumps! But not so, dear reader. As far as I know Albert did not succumb to the epidemic.
In Albert’s next letter he gives his considered opinion on my Grandmother’s vegetable pasties and expresses frustration at the weather’s thwarting of a photography expedition. So Albert has his camera with him, which he must have been very pleased about. And he’s about to go motorbiking again, with his mystery companion. Don’t you feel like he’s having the time of his life?
Sunday March 8th
I hope you were not too worried at the non-appearance of my parcel on Thursday. I had it all done up on Tuesday night, but too late I discovered that the post office closes early on Wednesdays, so I was not able to get it posted until Thursday midday. You will have seen that I arrived in camp safely and without trouble.
Your parcel arrived safely and proved very welcome. I have eaten the veg. pasties but am leaving the cake until tonight. The pasties are quite nice though not so good as meat ones, I think that vegs. do not possess the right sort of flavour, or not enough of it, to go in pastry. I have been eating the jam too – I had some for breakfast this morning & I was also able to snoop some from the cookhouse, and put it in the powdered milk tin in which you put the cake. The cakes and nearly all the biscuits have gone, though I have two or three of the cheeses left.
I don’t know what you think of the week’s weather. Wednesday (“sports afternoon”) when I had promised myself a walk to Avebury, & possibly some photographs too, it rained hard so there were no sports, let alone walks. Then the wind went back and it became bitterly cold again, with snow on Thursday, some of which still hangs about. Saturday evening saw an improvement, and today I am pleased to say that the weather is fine and sunny with quite a soft wind (S). The snow is being melted rapidly, but early, when the sun was still low, it looked very lovely across the white hills and downland. Of course, the church parade prevented me from going out photgraphing.
This afternoon, at about 2 (it is now 1.30) I am going by motor bike to Chippenham. We intended going as far as Bath, but the petrol situation forbids that. I believe that Chippenham is quite a nice market town though & the weather is really quite nice for motorcycling. I will keep the leggings here for a little while just in case I need them, they will be quite safe in my locker & I don’t suppose you would use them (& the gloves too).
Whilst at Chippenham I must look at the railway times to see what chance there is of getting trains to Salisbury, they may run earlier & later than the buses.
I suppose Jean is home this week end having come by the Royal Blue. I trust that coach travel came up to her expectations. When Peter and I saw her off from the Central the last thing I told her was not to fall out of the window – as she waved to us while the train rounded the bend she leaned so farout that she must have had to catch hold with her toes. Tell her not to do that the next time. Probably she will say she did not lean out very far at all, but it looked a lot; Peter and I looked down the line after the train to make sure that she was still on the way. This weather is the right sort for learning to ride a bicycle too. By the way, I believe that Bournemouth music festival was last week – I had wanted to get there on the Sunday, but it was impossible today of course. But I believe that they have some Sunday concerts at Bristol, which is not so far away, and on the main road (which at home we are not) so I may go there one Sunday if I can find what the programmes are; perhaps there will be something of that sort in Chippenham.
As I will perhaps have little time this evening I think I will close now & write about the afternoon’s journey in the middle of the week, so goodbye now & love from Albert.
Albert tells us that he is settling in to life on the RAF camp, happy to meet up with some familiar faces from Blackpool, and his former work colleague from Hamble (it’s a shame we do not get to know his name).
His training in Morse continues, along with learning about radio operations, which he finds quite easy. RAF Yatesbury apparently had a secret radar training section from 1942 onwards; of course Albert would not have been able to disclose any information, were he involved in this. What Albert does divulge about camp life is, in some respects, rather too much information in my opinion. I don’t mind reading about the cinema and his Saturday dinner out, but I did not enjoy reading about his ‘interesting’ trip to the dentist and his soap-saving endeavours!
Wednesday February 25
Dear All, many thanks for your letter which I think I received yesterday, but there is little to mark the passage of days here, so I am never sure which day is which. I am glad that you went to the pictures with Jean and enjoyed yourselves there, I expect Jean will manage to pay for her ticket out of her pocket money. The letter which came from Dickson Road was one which I had received long ago, but they found it behind the dressing table and sent it on in case it was one which I wished to keep. I must thank them for sending it on.
I have been getting on fairly well, & settling down in this past week. The work is almost entirely in classrooms with only a very little P.T. We mostly learn Morse and the way messages are sent out, and wireless, which at the moment is elementary magnetism and electricity and accumulators. I have thus done much of it before, much more thoroughly than they do it here, so that part of it comes very easily to me. The other is not very hard but the course is much more interesting than the plain Morse and drill which we did at Blackpool. We do not do any flying here.
One of the first things I did here was to break the little comb you gave me. It could not have been very strong as I just brushed my hair when it was wet, & the comb broke in two! I still have the mirror which is most necessary, as there is none in the hut or workhouse. I have the other (green) comb of course.
On last Friday I went to the cinema, & saw some old films, including a Mickey Mouse, and a “March of Time” issued whilst America was still out of the war. It was only 6d & quite good considering, though like everything else here, the cinema is inadequately heated & too adequately ventilated! Tomorrow I may go again to see a Deanna Durbin film – “Spring Parade”.
On Saturday evening I went with my Hamble friend and two other fellows to Calne, where we had dinner in the hotel there. A very good dinner too, of soup, chicken, potatoes and sprouts, chocolate pudding and coffee. It was a very pleasant evening, and a good change from camp life, in which meals are much more roughly served than in an hotel! I must go there again one Saturday.
I have also met two of the fellows who were billeted with me at Dickson Road, and they say that they have seen three of the others up here. I have seen several people whom I met at various times at Blackpool, so this is by no means a strange place to me. Strangest of all, I met last night a chap who for two years was in the same form as me at Taunton’s [Richard Taunton Grammar School]; a very pleasant coincidence. He too is on an Observer’s course, though about a month ahead of me, so we stand a chance of going to the same place together after this.
Monday and Tuesday evenings I spent writing letters and reading books. I have already got some way with my W.H. Hudson book. As the hut is so draughty & the NAAFI reading room shuts at 9.30, I usually go to bed at about 10.00 and until lights out (10.45) read in bed. Tonight I am up later writing this letter. Tuesday I sent a towel, shirt and collar to the laundry. I don’t know what the result will be but I have taken the risk until I have a definite reason for not doing so. Whilst on the sunject of clothing, perhaps you could send up my pullover next week. I do not remember if there is a sleeveless one still about, but if there is, perhaps you could send that one. If not the other will do.
Later in the day I had my teeth scraped, or sealed, as the dental term is. It consists of removing the tartar, or lime or whatever collects of them with a miniature scapel: quite an interesting process, and my teeth feel much cleaner as a result of it. In the evening I had a bath – a good hot one too, and that reminds me that I could not find my flannel. If it is at home perhaps you would send it up with the pullover. By collecting bits which other people have left, I have not used my soap yet. The water is extremely hard here and soap doesn’t lather at all easily. As that completes the page, & I have little else to relate, I will close now with love from Albert.
After his week of leave, Albert settles into the RAF camp that will be his home for the next twelve weeks. Albert travels by train from Southampton to Calne, then waits for a lorry to take him to camp. Yatesbury could not be more different to Blackpool, it must have felt like a different world to him. Wiltshire is the neighbouring county to Hampshire, and the topography is similar. The hills of Wiltshire roll further and the skies are bigger than those Albert knew as a boy, but there was a familiarity that I’m sure he found comforting. Albert sounds more ‘at home’ in this landscape, writing beautifully about his view from Oldbury Castle (which he incorrectly names as Ogbury Camp… that caused me some confusion!)
Thursday February 19, 7.10pm
Dear All, first of all you will note that I have an address. We are told that it will not change for the 12 weeks we are to be here, so it should be quite safe for you to write. I arrived safely after quite a good journey. The carriage was a very cold and draughty one, but I was able to secure a corner seat and after Salisbury I was able to put my feet up on the opposite seat, so I did not get quite frozen. I had to wait only 20 minutes for the connection at Trowbridge, and caught the early train at Calne without delay at Chippenham. We were transported by lorry to camp, which is situate right along A4. I ate my sandwiches whilst waiting for the lorry, and the mince pie on arrival. We got here after 2pm. We were then allotted with huts, sheets etc, and given tea at about 5. The food seems quite good, and, as far as I am concerned, sufficient in quantity (so far).
The camp is much the same as other camps, with the usual wooden huts, which are really quite comfortable, but it seems they are also rather cold. The weather came out fine just as we approached Yatesbury, and now there is a clear sky and an approaching frost. The wind is slight but what there is of it is quite bitter.
The hut is rather dark at the moment, as there is only one bulb – all the others mysteriously disappeared whilst it was empty.
The view from the place is not very inspiring. To the North, West & East are just huts, to the South, the main road, and a bank of grass. Just visible from here is also the hill on which is Ogbury Camp, and an obelisk of some description.
I believe it is quite easy to get out of the camp after duty hours, but of course, there is not much time in the evening. We work all Saturday. Wednesday afternoon is “off”, but devoted to compulsory sports. Sunday is off all day, with a church parade every four weeks. After six weeks is a long weekend (Friday evening – Sunday evening)and after 12 weeks, a 7 days leave and another move. I believe short weekends (Saturday evening – Sunday evening) are also obtainable, and day passes too, but I believe that travel facilities are very meagre; however, I must see about that later. I do not think we shall see a lot of that sort of thing yet awhile.
I have already met my Hamble workmate. He seems quite happy here, but is due to go in about a fortnight. There is a cinema here, a Y.M.C.A & canteen, but not much else to do in the evenings, so I am beginning to wonder what I shall find to write about in my twice-weekly letters.
Things are a bit upside down & I have yet to get my stuff out. We have lockers (which need to be kept locked I believe) and unless they are taken from us, they will give plenty of space. Since I have been writing, another bulb has been put in, which should enable me to read in bed. It is so chilly that I shall go to bed fairly early. I expect Jean will be home when you receive this, so love to all 3, from Albert.
P.S. I am frozen!
Albert’s second letter describes his first walk in the area, taking the track up to the Bronze Age hill fort of Oldbury Castle. I am quite certain we visited it when I was a child. I would have raced up and down those same ramparts with my sisters, whilst Mum and Dad strolled on the path below us. And we would have clambered further up the hill to scrutinise the strange monument, puzzling over the motivations of its creator and the purpose of its being.
Sunday Feb 22
I commence my 2nd letter from here in quite a happy frame of mind, as I have just been for a most enjoyable walk, to Marlborough. I got my dinner as soon as possible & by 12.30 I had left the camp.
I went up the little road which climbs up Cherhill Down towards Ogbury camp & soon was on top of the hill, in the labyrinth of ditches & ramparts of which the camp is composed, and I climbed to about the highest of these fortifications and surveyed the wide view which the camp commands.
The day was inclined to haziness, & I could not see clearly into the distance, but I could see, especially to the south, several ranges of the downs, rolling away in troughs and crests, like the sea with a rather heavy swell; not a rough sea, they are too gently undulating for that, just a gentle rise and fall of the green disappearing, or rather fading into the blue distance.
There is an obelisk (Lansdowne column says my map) on the hill, but I did not bother to investigate it this time, I continued along my track until I came to a Roman Road, and turning left followed this on its course to Beckhampton. There I came back to the world again, as there were plenty of RAF on the road, which, however, I cut across, taking the Swindon Road which passes through my next objective, Avebury. At Beckhampton it was about 1.20. At Avebury I stopped a while and looked at the megalithic temple, the centre part of which is conveniently & pleasantly situated on a sort of village green. It is just at that point that the earthworks are most imposing, and they and the massive sarsen stones make quite a grand spectacle. The circle is by….
Oh no! Sadly the second page of this letter has been lost, so we shall never know what further thoughts Albert had of Avebury, just as we shall never know for certain why people chose to erect a great stone circle thousands of years ago. One thing I do know, is that the stones stand now much as they did in 1942, and doubtless they shall stand, dear reader, long after you and I are gone.
This letter was written on 6th February 1942, as Albert prepares to go on leave, and he will not return to ‘horrid’ Blackpool. His happiness fairly leaps off the page; imagine how delighted all the Mabey family were to receive such news.
This letter is a supplement to the telegram which I sent off this dinner time. We had received the glad tidings this morning, though rumours to that effect had been floating around for some days. I leave here on Thursday probably by the 2.30 train, but my London friend, or rather her mother, has kindly offered to put me up for the night. (Joyce Herman, the one who used to work at Hamble – you remember I went to Bournemouth with her). As the train will not arrive in London before 8 or 9, I shall do this and take a midday train from Waterloo. I am not quite sure of the trains to Southampton so I cannot say which one I shall catch. I want to buy some records in London – hence the request for money – and I don’t want to do too much dashing in the dark with them. Of course I could not get them in the evening and they probably will not be stocked at home.
Well I feel ever so happy about this, I expect you do too. I want to see Peter and Jean if that is possible. I am afraid that I shall not be able to get over to the Island though. I should like my bicycle to be taken down and the tyres blown up. I think the 3 speed is still wonky so if there is time I should like them to be done by Alec Bennett’s.
We shifted billets again this afternoon. I am writing this during Morse instruction and have not yet had a meal there, but though there are plenty of rules and regulations, it is a clean, well furnished house, with a pleasant looking dining room (with tablecloths) and we do not feel so much in the nature of outcasts. Of course, I am still keeping 39 as my postal address.
I shall send home all of my personal gear and some RAF things, so as to lighten my burden as far as possible. I have sent off some socks and hankies today and when I get my laundry tomorrow, I shall send the stuff I am using now.
I do not know what has happened to my clothes but I shall change into them as soon as I arrive home. Actually the pass includes permission to wear civilian clothes.
The only snag is that after a week I shall have to go back, but to Yatesbury, Wiltshire which is better than Blackpool. My Hamble workmate should still be there, and of course most of the fellows I have met here. I shall leave for Yatesbury on Thursday morning, Feb 19, to be there by 3p.m. Now here is my diary, which doesn’t include much else.
On Wednesday I went to the music class and, incidentally, heard a “Messiah” record that I should very much like – must see about that. I shall go as usual, but for the last time, next Monday. I shall miss the Halle concert too. Yesterday evening I went round to 39 for the first time this week. I hear that there is a Church Parade on Sunday, so unless I can get out of it, I shall not be able to see Mr Gibson before I leave. If I am unable to get there, I must write him a note saying I have gone. I shall also have to write to the Island to let them know. That, I think, is about all. I have not received your midday letter, so cannot reply to it. Love to all – Albert
P.S. I sent a Greetings Telegram because (a) I didn’t want to worry you by sending the other (bad news) sort. (b) It is quite an occasion for Greetings anyway.
My Grandmother would have received this telegram at lunchtime on 6th February 1942. Imagine her delight at opening the golden envelope. Her son is coming home on leave.
Albert wrote a letter immediately after he despatched this glad news and I’ll share it soon. But this evening I wanted to mark this happy anniversary with you. Albert’s going to be opening the ‘warning gate’ soon, to walk through his own front door and into the arms of his Mum.
Oh poor Albert; things take a turn for the worst in mid January, as you will read. I chose to publish these three letters together, as they document the progress of Albert’s removal week, from his cosy billet to a new, spartan abode. Although these letters are rather downcast in tone, especially concerning the food, Albert’s dry humour still shines through. And he still manages to get to the ballet, and the cinema, twice.
Weds Jan 21
Dear All, Oh dear! This is a very miserable letter written on a very very sad day. For today we moved to our billet to a long way off, and what a miserable place it looks to be. No carpet, no fire, no tablecloth, camp beds, few sheets, no room for personal odds and ends in the bedrooms. So the sooner I get home the better. I cannot speak about the food, but I am expecting nothing much. I am writing this in 39 Dickson Road. The new address is 53, Hornby Road Blackpool.
I am afraid I shall spend a lot of money on buying meals out & going to shows, because I don’t want to spend any evenings in that miserable hole. I shall be able to come in here of an evening that is one consolation.
Tonight I shall go to the “International Ballet” and on Thursday to a film. Friday I must come round here to write letters. On Saturday afternoon there is a concert by the Blackpool Symphony Orchestra which I may be able to attend. Sunday, I hope to be able to get to Kirkham (on the Preston road) as one of the fellows who was billeted here is in the RAF hospital there.
I think that is about all as I have neither time nor inclination to write long letters. I may put in some socks which Jean may be able to darn, though the post is slow these days (I have not had your Sunday letter). I have had a letter from Jean which I very much appreciated. Thank you Jean! I will write later, love to you all, Albert.
P.S. There is a lot of snow here and its ever so cold. I am alright now.
P.P.S The food is not too bad but not appetizingly served. Have to wash up tea & peel spuds.
Thursday Jan 22
Dear All, first of all a word of explanation – I posted the letter about 7.0pm last night & having no stamps I was obliged to get some from a machine. Since people were too mean to change two half pennies for a penny, I had to put on 3 penny stamps. It was snowing at the time & I hope the address hasn’t washed off.
I had better start off extremely miserable and get more cheerful (not much more) if I can manage it: it’s better than getting worse as I go on.
The weather is very snowy and extremely cold. It snowed hard on Monday and has snowed during last night too. It is cold and dry, & mixed with a little dirt, the snow resembles sand or demerara sugar. The trams stopped but are going again now. It is much more snow than during Dec ’40 (more than we had, that is). I hear that the trains are very slow – 18 hours from London for example, and I don’t know when or how this will reach you. I hope to include the socks and some handkerchiefs with this, but, a word of warning – take care that the colour from the blue ones doesn’t dye the white.
Our new billet is miserable. Here is a summary.
Fire – small, lit about 11.0am.
Living room – no carpet, but a couple of ‘lavatory mats’ just inside the door. The tables are like the ones you have in little tea shops, placed together to make long ones. They have American Cloth permanent tablecloths. The chairs are all wooden ones like this.
There are some high backed ‘dining room’ chairs stacked against one wall, but to ensure that we (the scum) shall not use them, the seats have been removed. The general appearance of the room is cold, cheerless and rather dirty.
Beds etc – I have a camp bed with three blankets, two of which I fold double. There is a pillow but no sheets. I put my greatcoat on the bed last night but the cold woke me up several times. Each bedroom has a small, very small, washbasin, with cold water only. For my personal effects I have a small, once again very small, drawer in the dressing table. I shall have to keep some things in a cardboard box under the bed. In a room about the size of my bedroom, there are four of us, and not enough spare room for the mice to play in. As a further diversion, the pipes are frozen and the water just trickles out, so that we have to wait to get enough in even the very small wash basin. Lights of course, go out at 11 – they can’t afford to waste money!
Meals – the food is sufficient for me and quite good in some respects. Tea is rather an unappetizing meal though. The margarine used seems definitely of the grade 3 or grade 4 type and I have yet to see any jam. Tea is poured out of an enormous enamel pot which reminds me of a watering can. Tea, milk and sugar(?) are all mixed in together. There were no saucers at breakfast time, and as it doesn’t take much to put me off tea, I have not yet had any there, nor do I intend to (I did at 39). Of course there is no supper, that, I fear, would cost too much. Two of us wash up and two peel potatoes each night.
As a footnote I may as well mention that the RAF pays £30 a week for us – 30/- per week per person, for 20 of us. [My footnote – £30 is equivalent to about £1000 today].
Turning to the brighter side of things, our old landlady still welcomes us, and if you like, you can send letters & things there. I certainly shall be looking in very often. Yesterday I dropped into 39 to get your letter, and she gave me some tea. I shall be in there tonight too, and whilst I am there, will have a good shave and wash in hot water & a decent bathroom. It will also be nice to have a good armchair in which to sit in front of a good warm fire. It is nice too to feel that I am welcome, and not just a pest which uses up the money so thoughtfully provided by the RAF.
I hope, I most sincerely hope, that I shall soon be out of Blackpool.
Last night I went to the International Ballet and enjoyed it very much. It is good entertainment & something rather novel for me. I shall try to go next week too, probably on Thursday.
I have reached the final stage of my Morse now, so that is a good thing, but have to wait my turn before I leave here. There are plenty of people in front of me, & it all depends on how quickly they send them away.
After all that length of grumbling, I hope you are getting on alright. I shall include with this, or send later, a note to Jean, as she was kind enough to write a letter to me. I fear though, that there will be no socks for her to mend in the weekend, unless the Post Office puts a sudden move on. I am afraid you will have rather a lot to do now that I have no facilities for washing. Do you see that the purple socks have come back with a hole in the toe – not where Jean mended of course!
I was very concerned to hear about Auntie Ursie’s misfortune, but I am glad that she is getting over the shock of the accident alright.
You must excuse the writing if it seems worse than ever, also if I have missed out some things but I am writing this when supposed to be doing Morse, so that I can get it poseted before the G.P.O. shuts at 6.30. I expect to post it on my way to 39 Dickson Road. From there I go to the cinema with some of the girls & possibly the blokes as well – I don’t quite know who is going.
Unless I can think of something else to say I will stop now and possibly add a little more when I have re-read your letter.
I hope you will get the bicycle tyres, as there will probably be a serious shortage of rubber in the near future. I meant to ask before if you had thought about getting them. Dunlop Fort is certainly the tyre to buy. I was interested to read the letters & amused at Uncle Dick’s. My cold is on the mend, Love from Albert.
Sunday Jan 26th
Dear All, this letter is of course written from 39 Dickson road. I have made up my mind that I shall spend as little time as I possibly can in miserable old 53, and shall write most of my mail from here or one of the numerous Forces’ canteens. Many of the canteens have rooms where you can write letters, and there I shall go during the week. (Most are shut Sunday).
The billet has improved slightly since we now have sheets, which makes sleeping much more comfortable. Also the weather is much warmer, so we are not so cold. On Thursday night two of the fellows in our room slept two in a bed to keep warm and I used the spare mattress as an eiderdown.
Even now I wear a pullover in bed and put a groundsheet (cape) and greatcoat on top of the blankets. By so doing I manage to keep comfortably warm, especially when I have blocked up the space under the door with newspaper to keep out draughts.
You will see that there is not much spare room. In my drawer I can get my clean underwear, shirt and socks and collars. My books and writing paper are downstairs in a cupboard. My letters are in cardboard boxes under the bed. The way the meals are served reminds me of Padgate. When they wash up, as at breakfast time, we have no saucers, they are used only when we wash up, and I have to ask to get water at dinner times. The ‘old boy’ there is an utter misery and already he doesn’t like me much because (as you can guess) I did not hesitate to express a certain amount of dissatisfaction. He will probably like me less by the time (not far distant I hope) when I leave. My present calculations work out that I shall be here about 3 more weeks. Certainly longer than the end of January!
As I mentioned previously, it has thawed. We had rain on Friday and Saturday, & by now most of the snow has gone, except where it is very deep. Friday though, the roads were a sea of slush. Fortunately we are issued with gum boots, which of course everyone wore, though they are none too comfortable. Now I am back to shoes again which suits me more.
I went to the cinema on Thursday and saw “International Lady” & enjoyed it very much. I do not know whether I would advise you seeing it but it is a spy story which is yet very amusing & not all American. This week I may see one called “The Devil & Miss Jones” which is supposed to be funny. I must go somewhere in the evenings anyway. On Thursday I shall probably go to the International Ballet again. This afternoon there is that concert by the Blackpool Symphony Orchestra. Norman Allin will be singing and the orchestral items include a Beethoven symphony and the “Emperor Concerto”. It should be good.
By the way, I hope that you have received a parcel of socks and handkerchiefs which I sent off on Thursday evening. Though letters have been arriving quite normally, I believe that the parcel post has been very much delayed.
Would you send the dates of all those birthdays, so that I can send cards. I forgot Auntie Ursie’s, or rather, thought that the date was 25th, so that I had to send a special card for people who forget. It was rather a good one though. I am afraid that I shall not be able to send much except cards, except in the case of Maggie & Christine and they are so hard up that I shall have to send something else, probably writing paper, sweets etc.
Yesterday I bought Shippam’s meat paste to help down the cooking margarine which we get with the bread. We have had only one small lot of jam since Weds. The paste was very easy to get and I shall probably buy some more in the week. I must also try to get small portions of cheese and some honey if there is any going. As there are only 4 of us from Dickson road I don’t mind sharing with them. By the way, I can get you paste if you like, and may send some to Jean too if I have any money left at the end of the week, though it goes more quickly now, as I sometimes buy morning coffee and often a bar of chocolate if the NAAFI has any.
The weather today is very windy but not cold. The sun is not shining yet. I believe I said buy Saving Certs. With all but about £4 or £6 of my money – perhaps you could tell me how many that is. Of course it is alright to continue with Jean’s money at 2/- per week. If Peter is ever hard up you can let him have 5/- or so when he wants it, though I do not think that is likely to occur! He can have money or part money for any books or other school materials he thinks it necessary to buy too. Perhaps you will let him know this. That is about all so I must waste this remaining sheet of paper. Goodbye and love to all, from Albert.
P.S. The sun is shining a bit now, & I can hear an aeroplane up – the first for some days. I hope that I can help choose the Wisley plants, though you had better not delay too long. I believe that last year they came before the closing date.
Mine is an inquisitive nature, and there is usually something that piques my interest in a letter and sends me sailing through the internet in search of answers or elaborations. The story of the ‘International Ballet’ and its Principal and founder, Mona Inglesby is a fascinating one, so try the link if you want to know more. Other details I do not need to investigate further; Shippam’s meat paste was a teatime staple for us in the 1970s.. oh the awful smell! The fish paste was the worst.
What I notice in these letters is that Albert eloquently details his discomfiture regarding his physical surroundings, yet expresses no such unhappiness about moving on from one set of strangers to another. His equanimity leads me to wonder if people were more connected in society then, talking and making bonds more readily with one another than we do now. I have formed the view that Albert was a thoughtful man who loved his books and took great solace from reading but also he liked company and enjoyed going out. What’s clear to me from reading these letters, and the few I have from others who knew him (see Let these old lives speak for example), is that Albert was a warm-hearted and easy going fellow, who rarely spoke ill of those around him…..unless you happened to put cups on the table without their saucers.
“What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say.”
My uncle was a modest man, I have learnt this much through reading his letters. His success at the Selection Board is not mentioned in this letter until almost the very end. Before he shares this news, Albert’s focus is on Christmas gifts gathered and the ‘absolutely wonderful’ concert he attended at The Tower. If Albert was accompanied by one of his female Civil Service friends we shall never know. Nor shall we ever know who the ‘Hamble friend’ was, or what became of him, for Albert never mentions him by name.
Time shows that Albert achieved the position of Observer, as we can see the brevet on his uniform in this photograph . I’ve not been able to find out much about the role, other than the Observer was considered second in command to the pilot and was most often the navigator and radio operator of the crew. It seems then, that my childhood description of the ‘big black compass’ may have been apt.
Saturday 7 pm December 12
Dear All, unlike last week I’m starting this letter early since I’m spending the evening indoors. We were inoculated for the second time today and my arm – the left one – is feeling rather stiff this time, you may recollect that it had practically no effect last time. Probably the fact that I have a cold has something to do with it, but you must not think that I am by any means ill (or I would not be writing this letter). I think I have been lucky to escape for so long without catching a cold.
Yesterday I said goodbye to my Hamble friend, who has finished his training here and is going for five days leave to Warsash. It will be a bit lonely now he has gone because it was very nice to be able to talk to him about our work and the people who are, and were, at Hamble. I hope to see him later on, when I get moved from here though. I received your parcel to-day, many thanks for it, though as yet I have not sampled the eatables or opened the Xmas gift, which I intend keeping until the day. I have spent the 3/- and a bit more besides. I think I have got nearly all the Xmas presents and cards settled, though I have not paid for Peter’s book yet as it has not arrived. I bought a small chocolate cake, which I hope to send to Havant if I can find a box for it; I hoped to use the one your stuff came in but it is not big enough. Someone here will have one no doubt. I have looked for some farm animals for Christine but they do not seem to be any, so I have bought a couple of exercise books since she seems to be short of paper and I shall send some sweets as well. On Wednesday I shall send you your tin box. By then I shall have enough cigarettes (wrapped separately!) and other things to fill it. I suppose I had better send your cards to Havant, though I don’t know how long you reckon to be there. That reminds me, I must buy a stock of 1d stamps for these cards. I suppose I should buy a card for Peter so as not to leave him out. If he is able to get his exam papers I should like to see them.
“We had a mince pie with our tea one day this week so the Castleton one was not the last of this year“
On Thursday I went to The Tower and saw ‘The Messiah’, it was marvellous, absolutely wonderful and I enjoyed it more than anything I have heard for a long time. There was a very good chorus of about 120 I should say, a good sized orchestra and an organ. The place was packed, far more people than were at the Halle concert and I had to pay two shillings to stand. I very nearly did not bother to go in, but having heard it I would willingly pay twice as much to hear it again.
Sunday Morning: I am feeling rather better now and sure I’ll be alright tomorrow. I am something like I was when I was inoculated last year. I had a letter from Grandma and Auntie Ursie during the week. Auntie Ursie says that their daffodils and snowdrops are beginning to show, I wonder if ours are coming out yet. She also drew my attention to the fact that they come from Poulton-le-Flyde, which of course I know, though I do not recollect Brown’s Nurseries.
On Thursday I went up to the Selection Board who took me without any difficulty as an Observer. It will make no difference to me for some while, as I have to go through the whole wireless course, though not the gunnery. What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say. I am sorry to hear that Jean is not very happy in her billet, though she is a good girl not to complain. It seems to me that she got on best with the Hollybrook children. I hope she will have some nice companions when she is moved. I have not written to her lately but I don’t seem to have much time, or much news. I suppose that she will be spending some time at Havant after you have left, or will you be there the whole week? Well that seems to be about all I have to say, so goodbye and love from Albert.
P.S. I was interested to hear about Mrs Hart and the solitaire board, I remember that they used to play it at Landford. I could do with some stamps for the next lot of cigarettes.
In some other post I will tell you what I know about cousin Christine and her family. Her grandfather was the catalyst through which my Grandparents first met; when I discovered this I was glad to solve the mystery of how, in 1917, a man from the Island could have met a woman from Havant.
There must have been so much more to Albert’s new life that he did not share with his Mum and Dad – the chats with fellow lodgers, the training, the thoughts and longings he had. This letter jolted my own memories of writing home, when I was at university. It was a little unusual, in 1981, to write a weekly letter, for public phones were commonplace. I wrote letters because my Mother wrote to me, and she could not hear well on the phone. I kept all her letters, it seemed a wicked thing to contemplate destroying them. And my Mother, as we discovered after she died, kept all of mine. They lay with Albert’s, in the same big box. Maybe one day, when I am an old, old lady, I shall marry them up – I couldn’t bear to do that now. Maybe one day, much further on in time, a relative of mine shall read of the duet we danced to, and marvel at the lost world we inhabited.
Albert called my Mother “Jeaneth Bird.” Recently I found a Christmas card he sent her, in which he wrote “I had hoped to find a picture of the Jeaneth Bird in flight.” How tender that phrase appears to me, a sweet sentiment that brings forth the image of little Jean soaring like a skylark in a pale blue sky. Perhaps on the 24th October 1941, as he sat to write to his little sister, he imagined her amongst the migrating birds described in his letter to his parents and missed her too.
It is almost inconceivable now, in these always connected times, that a twenty year old man would trouble to write a two page letter to his ten year old sister. Or that a young man’s evenings would taken up with family correspondence and yearning for his bicycle and his gramophone records. In this letter Albert portrays Blackpool a little more favourably, editing out his homesick laments to his parents, but he shares his disappointment about the sustenance on offer. Food, the abundance or lack thereof, is a recurring theme in Albert’s letters.
Dear Jeaneth Bird,
I received your letter to-day and I have now started to reply to it. When I am moved to a more permanent billet, I shall send it along to Branstone. Now there are 3of our family in billets, and only two left behind at home. In our billet there are 8 of us, and we have to do our own washing up. And we have to sweep our rooms etc, and we get up at 6am too.
I hear that Sybil and Barbara are thinking of getting moved, and you want to be with them, so they cannot be quite so bad as you sometimes make them out to be! I hope you are still getting “Excellents” for your French, and no order marks now. But your English is not always so good, and I am sending back your letter with corrections (If I remember to put it in that is). I am very glad that you now have a bicycle, you must hurry up and learn to ride it so that you can go out for rides with Mummy and Daddy. Do you know what make it is?
[SUNDAY] You are doing quite a lot of travelling by yourself now, more than I used to do when I was your age, though I suppose there is somebody to meet you at each end of the journey. Blackpool is quite a large town, and there are plenty of shops and lots of cinemas and theatres. There does not seem to be such a shortage of things here, although the apples we get are not at all good. If I am able to, I shall get you some hair clips! Then you will have no excuse for wearing those other old things. Blackpool is not very dark at nights either. There are some dim street lights, and the blackouts are very poor, but no-one seems to mind much. The trains & ‘buses run very late too – until 11 at night I believe. We have the trams outside our house, so it is quite like home in that respect. To-morrow, we are being moved to another billet, which, I hope, is better than this one. We have no supper at nights and not really enough at other times. It is quite chilly up here now (I expect it is warmer at home) and we have no fire, so I shall be glad to get out this afternoon.
I think I shall post this to-day but if you want my address, Mummy will have it: you can let them send any letters to me, though I expect you will be too busy to reply yet. Give my love to Ped, & Grandma and all the Aunties and Uncle Dick.
xxxxxxx lots of love from Albert
My Mother was such a clever woman, it’s quite disconcerting to read Albert’s opinions about her academic abilities! I admire his modesty in not mentioning that he has gifted the money for her bicycle from his savings (see my previous post). He was a kind man and no doubt his words made her feel a little less lonely as she travelled alone from her ‘billet’ in Bournemouth to the Isle of Wight or Havant and back again. (My Mother was evacuated with her school to Bournemouth for most of the war).
I am sure this letter must have meant a lot to my Mum; she kept it for the rest of her life after all.
“You see Blackpool is not like Bournemouth or the seaside towns we know…..even the sea is the colour of tea.”
It is fair to say that homesick Albert did not think much of Blackpool. In fact should you hold a fondness for that place, I suggest that you think twice about reading further! This is the earliest letter I have. It may not be the first he wrote, but I do know he started his training in the autumn of 1941. The letter is 6 pages long and what follows is the first three pages. Blackpool seems a strange place to start one’s flight training but apparently the town was full of new recruits in 1941; no wonder the shopkeepers put their prices up…
I received your letters this morning, and am replying this morning without yet having read all the other letters. Yesterday afternoon we were inoculated, and have to-day off to “get over it”. But in my case there is practically nothing to get over, and though, strictly speaking, it is not permitted, I shall go out at least to-night.
Now I am fairly happy here. On Wednesday morning, the day after we arrived at Blackpool, I was very miserable and homesick because this is a very spit and polish place and we go drilling on the promenade, which I do not like at all, even now. Strangely enough it was the afternoons gym period which cheered me up! I thoroughly enjoyed it, because it allows one more freedom I suppose. After that I have been getting on much better, though I still dislike drilling etc and always will I suppose. Our billet is quite a good one, though we have no supper. We are allowed out until 10.30pm and lights out is 10.45pm but there is polishing to be done morning noon and night, and life is one long rush.
Blackpool I think is a nasty place. There are few good shops – one camera shop (good) one bookshop which I have not yet seen and about one music shop. There are many, very many such places as oyster and whelk bars, dirty, dingy tea rooms and restaurants, cheap jack shops that sell all manner of old junk and Woolworths etc. Everything is very expensive and the supposedly good-natured Lancashire folk seem very willing to “do” people, and to get rich as quickly as possible. I paid 5d each for dusters the size of pocket handkerchiefs, 1d for 3lb for very poor Cox’s pippins all scabby and some bruised and maggoty. It will be worth while for you to send some from home. I saw cream buns at 4½d each, some small pies 2½d -4d each. The large show places here such as the Winter Gardens, The Tower and The Palace are very ugly buildings, and dirty outside. Nothing modern and clean except perhaps the Odeon cinema and I don’t like that either!
The good thing about Blackpool is the number of shows going. This week the Sadlers Wells opera company is here and I have got a ticket for Saturday night to see the “Marriage of Figaro” by Mozart. Joyce has the “M. of F.” overture, it is in the left hand compartment of the record cabinet, a light blue 12″ Columbia record in, I believe, a blue case named “J.Tee”. Try it, it is a good overture. Since I was late booking, I had to pay 6/6 for a ticket! To-night I shall try to get in to the “Barber of Seville” by Rossini, but must get there early so as to be at the front of the queue. You probably know the overture to that too & probably one or two of the songs. Next week, also from London, is a Russian opera and ballet. I have booked for that already, and got a good seat at 2s6d for Saturday night. Ronald Frankau is also on at the Palace.
At Warrington we were not allowed out but here we get Sunday off and once training begins, a 48hour leave pass each month with permission for travel to a 50 mile radius, so I shall be able to go to these various places. Our chief chemist’s parents are at Cleveleys near here (see map, I believe there is a Blackpool town plan in your atlas) and I can go there of a Sunday. As I have said, my old workmate is here training, and yesterday I called on him. One of the fellows at his billet was being posted to an aerodrome and in his honour, their landlady treated them to dinner. I was invited too! and at the Tower restaurant: about the best in town. We had a grand dinner of hors d’oeuvres, soup, chicken with fried potatoes and brussel sprouts and ices and coffee. There was also sherry and beer to drink, and I tell you we had a fine time. On Sunday afternoon I am going to see him again and we shall go to Cleveleys together, he has been and says that they entertain very well. Incidentally, I have not seen a bit of green open country since we were in the train on Tuesday, and so far have seen no parks in Blackpool. Certainly there are some near the front, and the “Winter Gardens” are gardens in name only, in fact they compromise a cinema, restaurants, dance hall & I think, a theatre. No gardens. You see Blackpool is not like Bournemouth or the seaside towns we know and far from being so clean and smart, I find it dirty and dingy: even the sea is the colour of tea.