New Discoveries from Old Letters

Once again Albert teaches me something new, for I had never heard of ‘Toc H’ before reading his letter. Initially I thought I had misread his sometimes spidery writing but no, Toc H is a Christian charity, which provided many pastoral services during wartime and continues to do so today, although its reach has diminshed. Call me fanciful if you will, but I think the ethos of the charity, which I paraphrase here, “To Love Widely, To Build Bravely, To Think Fairly and To Witness Humbly” well suited to my uncle and many of his generation.

So Albert appears to have bunked off from his sports day to explore another Wiltshire town and have some respite from the rigour and tedium of camp life. He’s returned to Avebury and likes it better in the springtime, and he’s visited some more churches and confidently shares his observations and opinions.

Then Albert takes us back to London, remarking on the normality of life in the capital in spite of the war. Another discovery he led me to – that Waterloo bridge is also known as ‘The Ladies’ Bridge’ because most of it was built by women. Work started in 1939 and progressed very slowly, for obvious reasons, with women replacing most of the male workforce by 1941. It was opened in 1945, so Albert would never have seen it completed. Strange to think that many times I have travelled over a bridge that my Uncle watched being built.

Wednesday April 15

Dear All,

I am writing this in a Toc H room in Devizes, which I have been looking round during the earlier part of a very lovely evening. This afternoon I was able to enjoy our “sports day” to the full. The sun was lovely  & warm, & yet there was a nice cool breeze (from the East incidentally) which made it ideal for  walking. I went to Avebury again over Windmill hill, and now that the spring is here, I like the village more than at my first glance. The fresh green of the grass, and the colour imparted by the flowers, give it a much livelier appearance. I saw very fine Japonica in one of the gardens. Tea was fairly early for a change and I was able to get away before 6, and had a good run down with a following wind all the way from Beckhampton. I fancy that it is less strong now, so it may not be too great a hindrance for the return journey. I have taken a look round the town, and into the church I mentioned – of St John the Baptist. It has some very fine Norman work in the tower and chancel, with a good late 15th century chapel on the south side.

St John’s Church, Devizes

Yesterday evening was also very nice, & I went down to Calne. In a barber’s there I heard the news and the budget. I don’t worry much about the beer or cigarettes tax (though Daddy won’t like paying 1/- for 10 Players) but I was not pleased to hear the 66% purchase tax on photography and gramophone records. A little later I may ask you to get a few before they run out of old stock.

I also went to Calne church, which too has some Norman work, though in the nave, and further, a very good old roof, & though not painted like the Bere Regis one, it has some smaller carved figures projecting from the bottom. I think that the churches around this district are very interesting, and often surprisingly large and richly built for the size of the village.

Speaking of churches, I believe I mentioned that the congregation at Heddington on Easter Sunday was very small; I was surprised to find that the Watford church was crowded with people, & there was only a very few empty seats in spite of being a large church.

I believe there are one or two more things I could say about London. The chief thing that struck me was the normality of everything, the same crowds in the parks, the orators at Marble Arch (though not perhaps so many), the many buses.

Dorothy making the bridge

I noticed that there is still some slow progress being made with Waterloo Bridge, it is going to be a nice looking one when they finish it. There is also a wooden bridge partly constructed about 100 yards upstream. That is quite apart from the temporary bridge and I don’t know what it is for. In Fleet Street I looked at a camera shop of City Sale & Exchange, they still had plenty of lovely second hand cameras. I wish they had been open so that I could have tried for some films and papers. I have not yet done anything about my filter holder, though I have a vague idea of how I may fix the filters on; it will involve using elastic bands.

Monday night I rode my bicycle to the post office and in doing so broke the spring on the 3-speed control. The spring operates the ratchet for the 3 positions. I have fixed it now with an elastic band & it works quite as well  as before. Lucky it was something I could manage.

I sent the programme of the Bath concert, and I think it pretty well speaks for itself. I enjoyed the concert ever so much, & also the journey there, especially where the road runs down into the valley from Corsham (where Jack once was) to Box. Bath is a pleasant looking city but crowded. We had arranged for some sandwiches & coffee, which we needed, having been without tea (I had some bread and butter before we went) and it was lucky that we did not leave it to chance, as people were queueing for suppers at the restaurant. We got back into camp at about 11, after one of the best evenings I have had here. Incidentally this course should only last another month.

I’m afraid I can’t reply to your last two letters, as they are in my locker. I hope Peter’s second operation goes well (or has gone well). I still have Jean’s drawing, which I will return next time if I remember it. My love to you all, from Albert.

P.S. I hear the birds singing from the room here. I had egg, toast and chips at the W.V.S. in Calne.

Albert wrote this next letter after a trip home for the weekend. I wonder what he wrote on the postcard that he thought he should not have? Perhaps that he misses his home and family; we will never know. It’s clear that Albert sneaked out of camp without permission, as you will discover. And good for him, making the most of whatever opportunities he had to be free.

This letter also gives us some insights into the changes that war brought. Millbrook is the docks area of Southampton. With his characteristic understatement, Albert remarks that had the bomb fallen on coal, it would have ‘made a mess.’ And just to prove that life really could carry on pretty much as normal, Albert devotes as many lines to a bird scarer as he does to that recent attack on Southampton.

Monday April 20

Dear All,

I hope that by now you have received the card which I wrote Sunday night & posted this morning. I thought, after posting it, that it would have been better not to have written that sort of thing on so public a form of communication as a postcard.

The bus to Salisbury was crowded in fact it was a relief run. The relief was to have gone back to Plaitford, but there were too many for the Wilts & Dorset bus which met us there, so it had to go all the way to Salisbury, which we reached at 8 p.m. I got something to eat in a YMCA near the bus station, & got the Marlborough bus, which leaves at 8.15 and not 8.20, so it is as well that I did not try for the 7.20 one. As on the other Sunday, Salisbury was full of people.

The bus journey was quite interesting as it was still light practically into Marlborough which we reached just as it was getting dark.

I saw where the bomb fell on Millbrook goods yard, though the shed was demolished there does not appear to have been anything in it. A few yards away and it would have fallen on a heap of coal, which would have made a mess for a few hundred yards around.

Just past Totton, in a cottage garden I saw a bird scare in the shape of a cat’s head, with glass eyes. The evening sun shining through the eyes made it quite a formidable creature.

I got my bicycle without having to wake up the householders, and left Marlborough at 5 to 10. There was a very little wind and a bit of a full moon, which made the journey very easy, & I got along at a good pace. When I put my bike away it was 10.35 & I had ample time to eat my cake & got to bed, as well as writing your card.

Apparently there was a check up on Saturday night but somebody (who was known to be in) got in my bed and covered himself with the blanket, so I was “present”, some of the others will probably be going home next week, so I shall step in to perform the same service for them, or rather, one of them.

I think the week after next would be quite a good chance to go to Salisbury for the day, if you can manage the journey then. I must go to Marlborough one day and see the bus times on Sunday mornings. I’m afraid that is all I have to say, so  goodbye and love from Albert.

I’m delighted to read that Albert had friends who were prepared to impersonate him asleep, and that he is able to plan to see his parents for a day in Salisbury. It seems that Albert is in a good frame of mind, enjoying his explorations near and far. Let’s hope that his happiness continues.

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.

Cycling Home by Moonlight

“The moonlight never attained the hard brilliance which you get on really clear nights, it was a good gentle light though.

In the time between Albert’s prevous letters and these, he has spent another weekend at home in Bitterne Park. Once again I wonder what did he do with his weekend, with my grandparents, perhaps my Mother? It makes me a lttle sad that I will not, through reading Albert’s letters, have any more than glimpses of his home life, nothing more substantial than that. So instead let’s enjoy Albert’s appealing narrative of his return journey from Southampton to Calne, culminating in a moonlit cycle back to camp.

Monday morning 7.30am March 30

Dear All,

I arrived here OK at about 12.30 am – late due to a bus breakdown, of which more later. It was not a bad journey though and a lovely night for cycling. I find that I have left my toothbrush (a blue one) in the bathroom, perhaps it could be sent on in the next letter. I shall write again tonight & Branstone, so love to you all for the present – Albert.

March 30

Dear All, I hope you received my short letter on Tuesday morning. The journey you will have guessed, was not a very good one as regards speed. I got on the Salisbury bus, with a seat, and travelled there as per timetable. There was a relief run, but it turned back at Plaitford and after there quite a number of people were unlucky. There were great crowds at Salisbury bus station, and in the town itself. Salisbury appears to be quite full of army and air force on Sundays. There was too much of a crush for me to eat my sandwiches in the waiting room, but I did not feel hungry. The Marlborough bus was not filled until some way out, but before we reached Upavon they were passing waiting people.

Two old Southampton buses

At Upavon the bus went on to Devizes & the Marlborough passengers had to change to a single decker. There our troubles began as we were told that the bus had to go along the Devizes road to pick up some Marlborough passengers from a bus which had broken down. We went nearly all the way to Devizes, to the railway bridge, & found that there were only about 2 passengers for Marlborough. We took some Upavon ones too. The bus then went back almost to Upavon and on the main Marlborough road.

I did not look at the time at Marlborough but I should think that it was about 11.30pm when we arrived. I went down to my garage and knocked up the people. At first I got no reply, & began to wonder if I was in for a walk, but eventually the woman came & unlocked the door. She did not seem to mind my being late though.

I tied the parcel on the carrier & left at what I suppose was 11.45.

I did not hurry and it was a perfect night for cycling – no wind, warm & light. I enjoyed the journey in spite of the late hour. The clouds gradually cleared as I went along, although the moonlight never attained the hard brilliance which you get on really clear nights, it was a good gentle light though.

I saw a few cars on the road and several lorries travelling in the opposite direction. About halfway along I came across 3 Army Bren carriers, one of which had broken down, & was being hitched up to another. I saw and heard several peewits which seemed to be quite active in the moonlight. Two of them were certainly performing all the usual acrobatics.

THE HANDY BREN CARRIER“The Handy Bren Carrier” © IWM (H 23492)

I arrived at camp at 12.30, being one of the last to arrive, except those who missed their train and did not turn up until this morning. I ate two of the sandwiches, leaving the others for this mornings break. I feel a bit sleepy today but not really tired, as I might have expected.

I think I was very lucky as regards weather, as today is quite misty and damp looking, though not unduly cold. I should not be surprised to see some rain though, and must put on that saddle cover tonight. That reminds me that I did not bring my pump with me. Also that I could have done with an oilcan, as the dynamo sounds as if it’s a bit dry. However, I can borrow these things.

I suppose Peter will have had his teeth done when you receive this; I hope he is alright. I hope Jean is well and happy too. Goodbye, & my love to you all, from Albert.

P.S. I hope you get the parcel sent on Weds, possibly Tuesday, but I shall probably not write until Thursday & even then cannot think that there will be much to say – so prepare for a short letter!

Later: I have just written to Branstone, telling of my journey.

Even Later: I have just, in spite of opposition, managed to listen to the latter part of the broadcast od “Love the Magician.” Had I known it was on, I should have listened to more, though no doubt opposition would have been greater.

Credit: Photo of moon by Herrmann Stamm on Unsplash

The Bicycle Arrives!

I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one.
Albert’s Mum & Dad enjoying a bike ride.

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.

Goodnight now, and love from Albert.

P.S. lights on now.

Did I miss something?

A photo of Potterne’s half timbered houses

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.

Dear All,

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.

Through the magic of the internet I can confirm that the Chopin Scherzo was in C sharp minor.

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

Dear All,

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.

P.S. I expect the gardening is doing well today.

“Settling Down”

Class receiving instruction in Morse code. © IWM (CH 2040)

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.

Closer to Home

Albert Arrives at RAF Yatesbury

Nothing remains of RAF Yatesbury. This flying school occupies land that I think was once part of the camp. The Lansdowne Monument is visible in the distance.

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.

View looking south from Oldbury Castle.

Sunday Feb 22

Dear All,

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.

A view of Avebury in January 2009, when I last visited.

“I feel ever so happy about this..”

Oxford Street, London in 1941. Albert would visit the HMV store here one year later.

© IWM D 2105

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.

Dear All,

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.

I was ever so happy to read this letter too!

Albert is Coming Home

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.

“This is a Very Miserable Letter..”

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.

Albert may have considered this film too racy for my grandmother!

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.