That’s January Done

There is a general feeling, in this country at least, that it’s good riddance to January 2021. Lockdown continues, the death toll is alarming and the weather has been awful. Whether or not Albert experienced a similar dislike of the first month of 1942,I shall let you decide! Here are his two last letters of the month. The first one is undated, but I believe I have placed it correctly. Food, socks, concerts, cold weather and cold water – these are some of the topics covered. They are all familiar subjects but elevated out of the mundane by the glimpses they offer of a long ago England in wartime.

Dear All,

Thanks very much for the parcels. I got the tin of biscuits etc. yesterday, and the parcel of socks came this morning here. I think it best that you should still send mail here, as I have heard a rumour that we are being moved again. The place hasn’t improved much but I come round here quite often so I am getting on pretty well. I bought some “Diploma” cheeses on Monday to have at teatime. I must try for some “Velveeta” another time. I can’t quite remember when I wrote my last letter to you, or what I said in it. Was it the one I wrote at the YMCA canteen.

The weather lately has been very changeable with rain, sun, a cold east wind and some snow all mixed. On Monday I was put On Guard – 7 hours in all and it was rather cold at night but I’ve got over it. The only thing was that the wind caught my hands a bit and made them rough and bleed a little (probably washing in cold water made things worse) but I managed to borrow some sort of cream from one of the girls here, and now they are much better. Coming back in the morning I was able to get quite a lot of chocolate in the canteen. I shall save some of it for Christine’s birthday. Could you tell me when these birthdays are.

I was sorry to hear that you have got the wrong size tyres, though I thought that the wheels were 26 x1 ½ “. My back tyre is a 26 x 1 3/8”, though the fact that it is a “tandem” tyre makes it look much larger. I intended to get a 1 ½ “ tyre but all the shops at which I enquired said that it couldn’t be done. I suppose that it would be liable to come off when not wanted.

I am afraid that this is will be a short letter as nothing much seems to have happened since my last, and there is very little to reply to in your letters. I must put in Raymond’s letter to give you something to read.

I don’t believe I told you about the symphony concert on Sunday. Of course the orchestra was a bit ragged to the Halle etc, and was lacking in some instruments but I enjoyed it very much. Norman Allin of course was very good – do you remember hearing him sing the “Song of the Flea” many years ago at the Police Concert? I enjoyed the “Fingal’s Cave” & the “Emperor” and the symphony No 1 – all pieces I like. I have long wanted to see a performance of the “Emperor Concerto”. That I fear is all I have to say so Goodbye and love to all, from Albert.

Bowl of Apples by John Thomas Richardson

Albert’s second letter is dated Saturday 31 January 1942 and continues with his familiar themes; he is very pleased to have some apples from the garden at home! Albert feels fortunate to have the homely atmosphere of ’39’ (his previous billet) to come back to, enjoying a cup of cocoa and homemade jam tarts. And whilst Albert barely touches on the matter, I sense that he knows his life will change imminently, remarking as he does on colleagues who are moving on . Soon it shall be Albert’s turn to pack up his kitbag and leave Blackpool. I think he will be rather glad about that, in spite of any nervousness about what lies ahead.

Dear All, your parcel of handkerchiefs, potted meat and APPLES arrived at 39 today and I collected it with my laundry at dinner time. The apples are lovely. I had one after dinner today, and it was so very nice that I then had another, the little one. Although it is true that they show some signs of shrivelling, they are still beautifully crisp and fresh, a real treat for me. Despite what we and Mrs Avery (as usual) said to the contrary, they have kept very well & nearly as long as in previous years.

I believe I said in a previous letter that I should like mail to be addressed to 39 Dickson, especially now as the people at 53 have an unpleasant habit of sometimes taking our mail into the kitchen and leaving it until we ask for it. Auntie Lizzie sent some Xmas cake and though it came in the afternoon it was not until the following morning that one of the fellows noticed it outside, and I was able to claim it. There were some letters for the others too.

I shall be quite well off for food next week, besides your potted meat, I have some jam tarts for today, a ginger cake for tomorrow (and perhaps Monday) ½ dozen packet cheeses and a jar of Poulton Noel’s meat paste. There is always plenty in the shops if one can afford it.

The weather now is very nice – sunny and not much wind though a trifle “fresh”. I should like to go for a walk tomorrow though these things are not now so easy to arrange, but perhaps I could get a small brown loaf and take it with me. The trouble is that I don’t know what weather to expect. Next week there is a church parade in the morning so I cannot go far then. Did I mention that I went to Evensong last Sunday? The church is blacked out and the service starts at 6.30. After that, with two of us from 39, I went across to a concert run by the church. It was quite entertaining and they handed round tea and biscuits for those who wanted it – all free!

Of the four of us who came from 39 to 53, one has already gone on his leave & another will go this week. There were two others at 39 but they have gone to good billets so we don’t see much of them. They have had no RAF at 39 since we left, so there is a good billet waiting empty. However, it does mean that we don’t overcrowd the place when we go there. They are very nice to us & last night I had my usual cup of cocoa & some very fine jam (strawberry) tarts which they had made. We occasionally get some jam at 53, I think it is intended to be blackcurrants, but that is just what it looks like, the flavour is very faint and not at all like our blackcurrants.

Last night I saw “The Devil & Miss Jones” which was quite good, though not so funny as I had expected. On the other hand there was more of a story than in most comedy films and though it was not particularly original it made the film interesting and more memorable. It was about a rich man (very rich) who, to find out trades unionists in a shop which he owned, took a job in the store, and was won over to their cause against an unfair and tyrannical management. Quite good on the whole. Thursday I saw the International Ballet again & once more enjoyed it. I tried to get a programme to send you but they were all sold when I got there. Next week I am not sure what will be on. There is “Hi Gang” at one cinema, but also a Bernard Shaw play at the theatre, so I may have to miss one – shall see how funds are. The trouble about films based on radio & variety shows is that they generally lack a story and don’t “hang together” – as in the case of Arthur Askey films, & one we saw a long time ago with Clapham & Dwyer and Teddy Brown and some other people in.

On Wednesday I shall probably send some more washing, or perhaps, on second thoughts, next Saturday – I shall see how many hankies I use. If anyone would like to do some knitting, I could do with another pair of gloves – large ones that I can wear over my present pair when on Guard & on other occasions when I am likely to feel the cold very much. I have put cream on my hands every night and now they are alright.

I do not remember whether I thanked you for the biscuits etc which were in the last parcel. I ate the Mars bar the same day as it arrived, & have been eating biscuits after meals. The crisps will be very useful if I go out tomorrow. I must get some birthday cards today for all these people, but as you say will not send presents except to Maggie & Christine who I cannot leave out.

I was interested to read the gardening notes. As you say, I don’t get much of a chance to see the gardens: it is only on the outskirts of the town that there are any worthy of the name, and even there nothing like we get at home in our outer districts such as The Avenue. What a pity that you lost the beans, they would have been some nice and early ones for us. I suppose the Forsythia is showing signs of blossom by now. That is about all so goodbye and love Albert.

P.S. I am writing this from a YMCA canteen. I shall try to remember to send Phil’s cable with the next parcel. I have received another letter from Joyce, after a long silence. When I reply I shall enclose the airgraph, and the cable address. I have not yet received the letter which he promised me.

PPS A couple of soldiers have just arrived at this table & are writing in pencil and making the table wobble. I hope they finish soon as I want to get through a lot of correspondence today: I have not written much this week due to shortage of stamps. The watch goes very well & keeps excellent time. It is necessary now as there is no clock in the room.

I love that Albert mentions that the soldiers are writing in pencil – I can just imagine his dismay: do they not own a pen between them?!

Snowdrops Photo credit: Olga Subach

Twelve Years Later

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The house in Bitterne Park, Southampton, on a tapestry by my Mother.

In the intervening years between 1919 and 1931 my Grandfather moved off The Island to live in Southampton, he married May and they had two sons. By 4th January 1931 May was carrying their third child, who was to be their first and only daughter, my Mother Jean.

In spite of these significant life events (including the tragic death of Patrick Herbert Redvers Mabey), I have no letters that mark them. Letters from home, before the telephone was cheap and commonplace, would have come at least weekly, so why do none remain from this period? Possibly my Grandmother or my Mother burnt some of the old correspondence after Grandfather died, making one ponder on the significance of the letters that were spared.

Great-Grandfather wrote this thank you letter and gave it to Edie as she passed through Southampton on her way to The Home Counties, where she worked as a Nanny. She also gave Edie apples and potatoes, home-grown of course. Poor Edie must have had a good deal to carry, loaded up with produce from the gardens.

Though the content is sweet and loving my Great-Grandfather was not an accomplished letter writer. His handwriting looks laboured and unschooled. Sentences ramble over several lines and there is the odd spelling mistake too (‘Anno Domino’ gives some amusement). I imagine that ‘Mah’ usually wrote the letters from home, her script flows freely and eloquently in the few letters I have of hers. This note was perhaps treasured for being a rare, tangible token of love from father to son. A treasure (I know) that grows more precious as the years extend and the beloved author fades from view to dwell in one’s memory alone.

Dear John

I am sending you just a line per Edie to thank you very muchly for yours and May’s kind thought &co for Xmas. It was indeed a fine BRAND of TOBBACO  – none to equal it in the I.W. leastways not as I have “sampled.” I have had some truly that was very good this XMAS but NOT quite so GOOD. You surely will have to take to a PIPE again &co. I hear that you are making GREAT PACE in the GARDEN. Umpteen Rows planted ?? WHATTA??

Well I hear that you have got on fairly well this XMAS and managed to finish up with a cold. Why indulge in such luxuries &co?? As Frad will have told you we got through XMAS fairly well, without colds – no regrets &co on that score.

We missed you and family but these things occur in all families more or less, and the TIME comes when none of us can go or come where they like and it came to us – your Mother and me – and it STAYED with us a MIGHTY long TIME and we were and are happy although ANNO DOMINO has STOLEN on us, but not too unkindly but makes us both feel that we cannot do as we have done &co, &co.

I have sent you and May a few apples &co and one or two POTATOES to BAKE for May’s supper &co.

And now I must close up wishing you, May and the children a Happy and Prosperous new Year. GOODBYEE from your “Old Dad”

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