What I Hoped For

..from the Isle of Wight to Western Australia

Rev. Francis Bamford on the left of this group depicting the ‘Pageant of St George’. I don’t recognise any Mabey faces but one might be lurking under a (fake) beard.

Today I sidestep the story of my Uncle to tell you another, one which started more than 100 years ago. What I hoped to do, when I determined to publish the letters I inherited, was to rekindle family connections lost over time, to get to know the forgotten in my family through the words they shared. If you have accompanied me in this endeavour, I think you will agree that Albert walks amongst us again – his weekly letters have been the almost exclusive subject of my site for several months.

But as I say, I’m sidestepping away from Albert to share the sequel to a post I published in January 2018. In Believe Me I shared my Grandfather’s letters of recommendation. My Grandfather starting teaching on the Isle of Wight some time after 1911. To gain a position, and any subsequent promotion, testimonials of his good character were essential. So my Grandfather had quite a collection of such letters, which he kept carefully all his life. I wrote that I was particularly taken by the letter from Francis Bamford, vicar of All Saints’ Church in Newchurch. It was not only the freshness of the letter itself – thick, black ink on white, cloth paper – it was also the sincerity of his words:

I have very great pleasure in bearing witness in the highest terms to his moral character and intellectual achievements. I have known John Mabey for nearly fifteen years and have watched him grow out of boyhood to manhood.

This particular post did not get so many visitors but recently Francis Bamford’s Great-Grandson Hugh happened upon it- so another connection has been rekindled, which is more than I ever hoped for. It feels almost miraculous!

The lives of the Mabeys and the Bamfords were, for several decades, intertwined. My Great-Aunt Frad was a teacher at Newchurch School, my Great-Uncles, Great-Aunts and Great-Grandmother sang in the church choir. Great-Aunt Norah taught at Sunday school. Francis Bamford, a respected and much-loved vicar, presiding over church and school, would have known the Mabeys well. I guess I must have had an inkling of this strong connection, for why else would I have copied pages from the oral history book “Newchurch Remembered” that pertained only to Francis Bamford? This little book, which I found in the Isle of Wight Records Office, has several mentions of my relatives, of the shop they kept and the work they did, and so understandably I took copies of those pages. My reasons for photocopying two pages about Francis Bamford are less clear to me now, although I know the recollections held my attention; I am always drawn to kindness.

So I shall return the Bamford letter to Hugh, who lives in Australia, and I’ll send him those stories too. Let me share this one with you, for I think it gives a flavour of the man:

“When Peace was declared on November 11th 1918 there was a kind of mini Pageant in the Church Room and a tea party…. In the evening of this particular day everyone expected a dance in the Church Room (Mr Bamford presided over these dances himself all through the winter months) and so no-one could understand why on that night of all nights he should refuse them a dance. Some time later someone came up with a possible explanation that could well have been the correct one. Right opposite the Church Room, in The Square, lived Mr and Mrs Frank Smith whose son did not return from the War, and perhaps the Vicar thought the sound of music and dancing would have hurt the couple. Sheer speculation but I have a feeling it could be true.” (Recollection of Mabel Groves).

Frances Bamford, vicar of All Saints’, Newchurch, 1896 – 1934. You can view the stained glass window dedicated to him here

Colouring My Mabey Family Past

An afternoon in 1937 comes back to life

The Mabey family at home, Branstone, Isle of Wight c.1937

When Val of Colouring The Past offered her followers a free colouring of a photograph, I jumped at the chance. Val selected this photograph of three generations of my Mother’s family, that first appeared in my post Your Dear Little Self, which I posted last August. I am so happy with the results! Val has done such a careful and sensitive restoration, these figures seem to glow with life. Val has meticulously followed the information I could give her about clothing, hair colour and the house and garden. I was able to give Val a copy of Albert’s hand-coloured photograph of my Mum, in the very same dress, that he took in 1937 – serendipitous to say the least.

I hope that you too like Val’s rendering of the photograph, and of course I encourage you to delve into the many fascinating works on her site. There is something hypnotic in the transformation of black and white images into ‘real’ colour – to me it’s as though the dream world of the past blooms and expands into life.

I see into my Mother’s childhood world, a world that of course I never knew. They are posing for my Grandmother, one spring afternoon, perhaps during the Easter weekend, at Headley House. There stands my Grandfather, standing tall, and by his standards informally dressed (as he is without a jacket). There sits my Great-Grandmother, in her habitual black and spotless white apron. My Great Aunt Frad beams at the camera, no doubt a cheeky quip on her lips. She lays a gentle hand upon my Mother’s arm, just to keep her still whilst the Brownie camera focuses and clicks. Then little Jeannie can go, go and find Blackie, go and play in the sunshine for a while, before she is called in to wash her hands for tea.

10 Girls, and Real Birds

“Our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times.”

32 Dickson Road as it appears today. A very different place to Whiteley Bank (see below).

Two days later, on 4th November 1941, Albert writes another letter home from his new billet. He is sounding really rather chipper, his excitement about his new lodgings leaps off the page. He finds himself in a hotel where there are more ‘girls’ than airmen, a dream come true for a 20 year old man far from home, I am sure.

He has a sense of purpose too, for his specific training has commenced and he is learning Morse code. He writes that his efforts can be seen on the paper. I searched and searched and saw no dashes and dots, until I tilted the first page and saw the impressions of code besides the address. I cannot reproduce it here and if there is a secret message contained therein, well I’m afraid I shall not be investing in fingerprint dust to decipher it!

Later in the letter he relates his visit to Stanley park where he saw ‘Real live birds!’ and enjoys the softness of the grass beneath his feet. He wishes he had walked from Whiteley Bank back to Branstone with his family, back to Headley House where there have been worries about money. How dear he was, to offer a contribution from his wages to help his Grandparents and the Maiden Aunts.

I very much enjoyed this letter, Albert came alive as I read his news. I hope you enjoy it too.

Dear All, you will note the change of address! Apparently our old billet was too far from the parade ground (about 12 mins), so we have been moved here, which is about 10 minutes nearer. We got back to billets at about 6p.m. and were informed that we should move after tea! It is now nine o’clock!

Fortunately this billet is, I believe, even better than the last. For example, our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times, none of which we had at Hull road. Two of use from Hull road came here, and joined five other airmen who have been in Blackpool about 8 weeks I understand. There are also 10 girl Civil Servants, who are working at the Ministry of Works and Buildings, which has moved up to the Hotel Metropole here. There are other Ministries here, including Pensions and Health. They have naturally got the biggest & best hotels in the place.

We have begun to work in earnest this week. We work from 8 or earlier, to 6 with about an hour for dinner. There is the usual drill, and now we do Morse. Yesterday I had my first acquaintance with the Morse code and instead of going to the Music Club I learnt, or partly learnt the code – you will see that on the top of the page over. This evening I missed Handel’s Oratorio Judas Maccabeus by moving here. To-morrow I mean to make the greatest efforts to get to the music meeting. And on Thursday I must see my Hamble pal again – he was out when I called last week.

I received your letters this afternoon. I was sorry to hear that you had so tiresome a journey, though I would be pleased to walk from Whiteley Bank with you! I am very pleased to hear that the bother over the money has been settled, but perhaps you would like to take say 5/- per week out of my S.M. & B.P [Shell Mex and British Petroleum, Albert’s employer]. Or I could make an allotment of 7/- a week to you or them, and you could have as much as you require. Don’t be afraid to take the money if you want it. I am glad that their wireless is alright, and that Peter is better now. I suppose Jean is still in the same billet; I shall try to send her some chocolate or sweets and perhaps some meat paste.I believe there is a laundry service that we can avail ourselves of.

On Sunday I went to Stanley Park which you will find on the map with a pond in the east part of it. I believe it is the only park in Blackpool, but it is quite a nice place and I was joyful to have some grass under my feet, & trees on either side, and even some birds – real live birds! I walked to the eastern gates and out to a field nearby, where I actually saw some cows.

If I can manage a day pass to get outside the 5 mile limit, I should like to go to Garston on Sunday. Garston (I hope that is the name) [No Albert, you meant Garstang] is a village under the Pennines and I can do a little walk from there.

The fellows here say that it is not always the case that leave passes come when they should so whilst we can live in hopes, it is not advisable to hope too much! I have tried some shops for 1/4″ map of the district. There was a 1/2″ available but it did not show Castleton or the Lake District. I shall keep trying though. Boots have a very good shop and quite a nice selection of books. The apples have all gone – I was wrong when I said they were not so good – I had only had two of the little ones when I wrote – the large ones were much better & I shall always be pleased to see some more. That had better be all so goodnight & love from Albert.

P.S. I should not send any more envelopes you can see what happens to them!

What did happen to the envelopes I wonder? This letter, like many others, did not have an envelope. Albert’s letters were most likely censored. I know for a fact that some later ones were, as I’ve found little windows on pages, signifying the removal of a potentially treacherous word or two. Goodnight Albert, enjoy your cocoa and the sound of the “girls'” laughter.

Whiteley Bank, looking towards Canteen Road, which my Grandparents would have taken to Branstone.

The Last Birthday Wish

“Your Dad would endorse all I have said, you must take it as said from him through me”

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Great-Grandparents Jane and John Mabey, with Great-Aunt Ursie peeping over the hedge.

In 1941, when my Grandfather turned 52, it was my Great-Grandmother alone who sent him birthday wishes, for my Grandfather’s Dear Old Dad had passed away the summer before. She signs off with the lines quoted above, which reminded me of something my Mother said about herself and my Dad – that over the years they ‘really did become as one’. They nearly got to 60 years together, my Mum and Dad. Such a long-lived union I won’t experience myself, but it seems that my Great-Grandparents certainly did. This is the last birthday wish I have in The Letters; Great-Grandmother died in 1944, so it seems just chance that this note survived. The ink and paper are so fresh and clean, the letter could have been written last month.

Branstone Oct 27th

Dear John, I must write a line specially for yourself on the occasion of your birthday. I wish I could do it with a lighter heart – but the distressing times we are living in are against it. I can only wish and hope that in the near future the dark cloud of war may have passed away and the sunshine of peace and good will may shine for you and yours. You can look back with satisfaction on the years that have passed. you have been a good son, husband and father and I pray God that the years to come will bring joy and happiness to you and yours. The war has prevented me from giving my usual gift of chocolate but I know that you value more my love and good wishes. Your Dad would endorse all I have said, you must take it as said from him through me.

Your loving Mother

And on the back of the letter, to alleviate the air of melancholy she may have detected in her writing, Great-Grandmother copied out a horoscope to amuse her son. “‘Ware women teachers I spose”, translates as “beware women teachers I suppose” – a little example of Isle of Wight dialect!

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‘These are The Days of The Unexpected’

IMG_1906Just as I was about to start on Albert’s letters, Great-Grandfather makes another appearance! I found this letter from 1940 as I was collating Albert’s. Looking at the letter propped up against my computer, it seems to come from a different age. I suppose it does, for what did my Great-Grandfather, born in 1858, know of the trappings of my modern-day, connected world? I wonder what would he make of it all.

Great-Grandfather writes, as he did in October 1939, to wish Grandfather a happy 51st birthday. How different their lives are now, compared to the year before; Grandfather has been evacuated to Dorset with his school and bombs are falling on the Isle of Wight:

27 October 1940

Dear John – just a few lines to wish you all the Best for your 51st Birthday. How Time Flies &co. I suppose that you will not spend this B’day at Home as you were Home last Sunday. Well last Sunday JIM and Olive were here. What a lot of unexpected things have happened this last Month &co – all for the good we hope. These are the days of the unexpected for just about half an hour ago, we – Mah, Elsie, Daisy and Norah were in the kitchen busy talking &co when all at once THE LAMP jumped – THE WINDOWS rattled and the house SHOOK &co and 5 Bombs dropped, seemed Quite Close. Caused quite a consternation but have no idea where they dropped possibly WINFORD WAY? Shall possibly hear about it Tommorow? So must leave it at that!!! But we must be thankful that we do not live in London – or any large TOWN &co. Well let us hope that by your next B’DAY THE HITLER GANG will have THEIR TEETH severely DRAWN &co. Well GoodBye Cheerio “OUR CHINS are Still up” DAD.

Wouldn’t the world have been very different, if Great-Grandfather’s hope had been realised and ‘The Hitler Gang’ were defeated within the year? Great-Grandfather seemed unaware that Southampton had already been attacked by Nazi bombers; 23 September 1940 is widely reported to have been the first night of The Blitz. Perhaps information was kept to a minimum. Southampton was very heavily bombed because it was a major port and the Spitfire factory was located at Woolston. A good account of Southampton’s Blitz can be found here The Blitz. As a naval base, Portsmouth was also targeted and often bombs were discharged on the Isle of Wight as  planes returned to Germany.

Periodically I ask myself, when sifting through my box of letters, why a particular letter was saved from the vast correspondence Grandfather received in his lifetime. In the case of this little letter the reason is clear, Great-Grandfather died in 1941. This was the last time he sent birthday wishes to his son.

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“Your Dear Little Self”

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This little letter, the good quality notepaper and envelope all of a piece, was written and posted on the 27th December 1939.

Dear Jeanie,

Thank you so much for the pretty Xmas card. Your Aunties were very pleased with theirs especially Auntie Daisy and Norah with their picture of Blackie. I do miss you running about the house but am so glad you are enjoying yourself with your dolls – what a large family of them you must have!

I expect Daddy’s holiday is going all too quickly – if you had stayed here another week you would not have been able to go home for Xmas because of the fog – wouldn’t that have been sad? Give my love to Peter and thank him for his letter. Love to Albert too. I hope he is well. Lots of love to your dear little self from Grandma.

Auntie Frad will write to you.

Auntie Frad stands behind my Mother in this photograph, with Great-Grandmother and my Grandfather. It was taken in the front garden of Headley House, on a spring afternoon I imagine. My Mother is possibly a little younger than eight years old – but it is the only photo I have of them both together. And you would imagine her a rather miserable soul, would you not, from her expression? Thankfully we have her letters and see the sunnier side of her character. There is another tiny photograph of Great-Grandmother cuddling a little cat, perhaps it is Blackie? I shall find that and share it soon.

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Rereading this note stirred the futile desire to have had a Grandmother myself, to have received such little notes – life-long treasures of family love.

I photographed the letter outside in my garden, taken by a strange notion to let the paper and ink feel the warmth of the sun once again. It is my morning habit to make a tour of my garden, which takes no more than five minutes due to its small size. It’s a daily pleasure to watch bees diligently visiting the flowers, to see leaves stirring in the breeze, and simply to be in the sunlight.

Recently I moved the original blueberry bush, which Mother and I bought at the nursery she loved. It’s in a better spot now. We only managed to get one, there being just a single variety on sale. She told me we should find another type, otherwise the flowers could not pollinate and there would be no fruit. That was in the summer. We had no further opportunity before autumn came. “You had better take it” she said in October. “You had better take it, for now.” I remember catching her eye and we silently acknowledged the falsehood of ‘for now.’ My Mother died two weeks later.

So I took the blueberry bush and I bought another. My Mother was right, of course, and I have been eating blueberries from my garden every morning, in this hottest of English summers.

Grandfather’s 50th Birthday

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‘Hope, family, the everyday ordinary’

Yesterday I walked with my friend on along the shore at Southsea, looking out across the glittering water to the Island, constant backdrop to our promenade. I realised that I have been so long in London that I forget the sea.

Southsea was a place I visited as a young teenager, travelling by train from Eastleigh to Portsmouth Harbour. Days of roller-coasters and minor misdemeanours. I am not sure I have been back since.

The sea was magnificently indifferent to my forgetfulness, continuing to cast spangles in the air. The same sea as in my Great-Grandfather’s time. Same sea, same sky – all else altered.

I have neglected my writing. A letter from Great-Grandfather has lain forgotten amongst my papers for many weeks. But the letter, like the sea, pays no attention to my oversight. It has existed unread for decades and thus it remains, patient for my return.

Great-Grandfather’s letter, dated  24 October 1939, was written on the day Headley John Mabey, his eldest son, turned 50. Sadly I only have this first page, the second page has been lost so I don’t know how Great-Grandfather ended his congratulatory epistle.

24 -10-39

Dear JOHN –

This is your 50th B Day and thought I must write you a line or two to congratulate you on your 1st Half Century &co NOT knowing if you will complete the NEXT. You will have many things to relate &Co if you do. 2 of the Mabeys of my TIME and Born at Knighton of the Older Generation Has reached 96 but of the later ones about 84 & 85 the Highest, my Grandfather 82 – but that leaves you a long way to go. Well 50 years ago was a FINER day than this and I was a happy man- that day- to learn that I had a SON – after several daughters &Co not that I was ever unhappy on this account, only Old Dr Foster told me when Daisy came along – Mabey you are going to fill up your house full of GIRLS trying &Co.

One thing I hope and wish for is that if you live to my age 81 is that you may be as well as I feel at the present – and I may say that until last March when I had the Flue &co I had never felt that I was an Old Man but I have SINCE but am NOT GRUMBLING. I’ve had a good innings and can still stand up at the Wicket although some of the Batting has been Good, BAD and INDIFFERENT. Well so much for that. We are not quite sure if you will be at Soton [Southampton] TOMORROW Re 1/2 TERM? At any rate you will get this at some place sometime. Our LITTLE Mah is keeping fairly well but this last week or so of Cold EAST and NE WINDS has not been for much getting out round the GARDEN &Co. I have not done much spade work &Co. I keeps on “POTTERING about My Son” as Old Uncle Jim WHEELER used to say &Co. Well I cut a bit of GRASS and to a bit of Hedge clipping &Co – as long as tis something…

Being one born so much later, I read Great-Grandfather’s words sensing the chill of sorrows that the long war, only just begun, would bring. He wrote in October 1939 not knowing how long the conflict would last, nor with any sense of dread at what would be taken away. He wrote unaware that he had few years left and that his son would not live to be 81, as he wished him to.

My dear Great-grandfather wrote in hope, writing of family and the everyday occupations of an ordinary life. Hope, family, the everyday ordinary – these continue unaltered, under the same sky and circled by the same sea.