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.

“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!

Lloyd

IMG_0770My Great-Uncle replies to my Grandfather’s letter in March 1912. He has left The Island. This is a letter full of puzzles, which no-one living can solve for me. I know that Edie and Elsie were the older Mabey sisters but why and where did they meet with Lloyd? I will never know who “Daisy of Ashey” was, nor what she knew of Lloyd’s state of mind. The 1911 Census records Lloyd as living at home and working as a nurseryman. One year later he is 19 and in West London; there are no clues to the cause of this separation. Lloyd chides my Grandfather for ‘certain practices’ suggesting  something sexual and not entirely wholesome. It seems my  Grandfather has given him unwanted advice about finances that still smarts – “That is hardly my nature.” Yet Lloyd wishes still to impress his scholarly older brother, for he writes that he will be submitting an article to ‘John Bull’ the following week, although he alludes no further to its subject matter. I wonder if he felt too shy to give details, or maybe there was no article to speak of.

It seems a jolly letter on first reading – brother to brother, worldly opinions, talk of horse racing and tobacco. But I sense a loneliness beneath the young man’s bravura. There is no mention of friends, his occupation or his lodgings. Lloyd is miles away from home, his “mental equilibrium” underlined and therefore, it seems, in question. I imagine his downcast expression as he breaks off from writing – “I suppose I shall be right out of the picture” – to stare into the fire.

Lloyd stirs from self pity and returns to his letter, to write about football, the increasing number of aeroplanes (which would have been a rare sighting over the Isle of Wight) and finally world politics;  “I really believe that before 10 years we shall have a most frightful state of affairs.” I gasped when I first read that, for I knew his end. Poor Lloyd would live to see his chill prophecy come true. What he foresaw, if anything, of his part in the looming war we shall never know.

Park Royal
Willesden
London NW

March 6th 1912

Dear John,

Thanks very much for your kind epistle. I am indeed glad to hear that you ARE alive and well. I beg humbly to apologise for my letters being so indigestible of late but trust that after regaining my mental equilibrium my literary efforts may be well patronised and meet with generous response. You must ask Daisy of Ashey all about the mental equilibrium. I am glad to hear that you have changed your practice, for certain practices during Xmas gave me to think that you went very much “behind the bushes”. However be that as it may, I am very glad that you have condescended to renew old acquaintance.
Re stopping here I can assure you that it will be only my fault if I leave, at least whilst Mr Wallace is here.
Thanks for your tip about living extravagantly. That is hardly my nature.
I am glad that your prospects are improving at school and hope that you’ll get on better with your smarter and smaller class. If you don’t – well they’ll smart-ER!!?
Do you really wish to make me jealous by detailing the Ashey Races? I suppose I shall be right out of the picture because I can’t dance – however manners mayketh man.
I was very pleased to meet Edie and Elsie. Edie looks jolly well but Elsie doesn’t look so full in the face.
You must excuse my scribble but I’m sitting by the fire writing on my knee.
What do you think of the German airship scare in France? Quite laughable n’est pas.
Isn’t it funny that every power is trying its hardest to make peace in the Balkans yet are taxing their own inhabitants for armaments.
Never has there been such dissension amongst the Powers and I really believe that before 10 years we shall have a most frightful state of affairs. At all events Germany is fairly asking for it.
I have seen lots of aeroplanes here lately and by the way – what do you think of the new “Daily Mail” prizes? I don’t think the Atlantic £10,000 will be won in a hurry.
I suppose you still keep your eye on Crystal Palace. They are running well but I think they will have to be satisfied with a second or third place.
People about here are wild at the weak form of the Queens Park Rangers Club.
I am now a constant reader of John Bull and think it a jolly sound investment – I am sending them an article this week. I must now close not forgetting to congratulate you on taking to a PIPE – but don’t overdo it.
Excuse writing and take my advice.
Goodbye love etc etc xxx
Lloyd.

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