Albert writes on the 3rd of June 1942, ‘very annoyed’ that he will be leaving London soon. And whilst Albert will miss the concerts and the vibrancy of the capital city, I am in no doubt that it is Joyce’s company that he will miss the most.
My mother put this photograph in the album she made of her Mabey family. Joyce did not marry Albert, but she was placed within the album as a homage to how important she was to my Mother’s brother, or could have been had things turned out differently.
I have some news – according to what we have been told we leave here on Saturday for an unknown destination which might be anywhere. I am very annoyed at that as I had promised myself at least a further week & though I get fed up with it, the next place will in all likelihood be worse, and there are so many things that I want to do. I am annoyed about it.
As to actual news, there is little that I can say. Last night we were firewatching and could not go out. There was an air raid warning at about 3.15 or 2.45 am but the all clear went soon after. I half expected a ‘reprisal’ raid on London.
Tonight there is a concert at the Albert Hall but I shall go to Joyce’s instead as time is so short and I have not been there since Saturday.
By the way, I shall probably want my other vests and shirts (RAF) sent along when I arrive at the next place, together with the trousers if they have been done.
I have just been down the road and have come to the conclusion that I am sorry indeed to leave London, as I am just beginning to find my way about & enjoy myself in the evenings if not during the days.
I am afraid I can’t think of anything else to say, except goodbye and love to all from Albert.
We learn in the next letter that Albert gets to spend the Wednesday evening at Joyce’s. In the short time in London he has been a fairly frequent visitor. I can’t help but wonder what Joyce told her ‘young man’ (he of the tank division) of Albert’s visits.
By the time Albert writes this second letter, he knows he is headed for Torquay in Devon, on the South West coast; a seaside resort quite the antithesis of Blackpool.
Albert mentions visiting Teignmouth (pronounced ‘Tinmouth’) as his uncle Jim Mabey lived there and the family visited during the summer holidays. Excepting that, when I looked at the 1939 Census records, I found that my great uncle Jim lived in Dawlish, a smaller town along the same stretch of coastline. His occupation was registered as ‘army clerk’. Jim survived World War 1, whereas his brother Lloyd did not. Jim always looks rather dapper in the photos I have of him. This one was taken in the late 1930s outside the family home at Branstone, Isle of Wight.
Friday June 5
Dear All, here is a short note before I leave this benighted dump. I am afraid that we have had an awful time the last couple of days, what with inspections and parades and the heat; which is the real London tropical weather. Talking of Hall Road, I shall be glad to get out of it, but sorry to leave London. I have been here a fortnight and have been to the Albert Hall only twice and the Cambridge Theatre not at all, though I did hear Wednesday’s concert over the radio when I went to Joyce’s.
I had a nice quiet evening there on Weds; how sorry I am to leave here. We are officially confined to camp tonight, the night before we leave, but if it is at all possible I shall slip off and pay a farewell visit.
Our destination tomorrow should be Torquay, of which I must make the best, though on the RAF side I understand that it will be a rather bad job. Ron says it is not a bad place at all, but I expect that he would put up with discipline and that sort of thing rather better than I should. One hope is that they will not want us until Monday and I shall be able to push off to Teignmouth for the weekend. I do not know anything else – how long we shall be there, what we shall do, where we shall go afterwards or anything but that the destination is Torquay or thereabouts.
If we are there for 10 weeks it would be worth having the bike sent down. In any case I must have my map with me. I believe the most suitable ones are a 1 inch of Exeter and a ½ inch of Plymouth and district. There is also a 1 inch of Torquay which was being sold in Teignmouth last summer. I wonder if I could get that still.
Looking in my exposure book I see that the holiday was less than a year ago – but what a long year it has been (the dates were June 16-27).
I have mentioned the heat, and I expect that you are getting it warm and the garden must certainly be doing well now. Of course London heat is worst than most, and in that respect I shall be glad to leave, though there is no prospect of Torquay being much cooler. Someone has had a grain of sense and we are going round in shirt sleeves, but the service trousers are very hot & of the marching pace (same at T), I believe I have already complained.
Many times I could have done with a good draught of Branstone water, the London stuff is very insipid and warmish, and Devon water is just the same!
The parcel arrived yesterday, with the contents intact, and many thanks for the chocolate and the pen (writing this now) etc. I shall send the other pen to Jean when I am able but must warn her that it is liable to let out blobs of ink from time to time. We are now moving to another lot of flats – just for tonight!
I was interested to hear that the primula sikkimensis is in blossom, I expect that the helianthemum will soon be out, and doubtless the tomatoes are by now planted.
Well, I think there is little else to say, and in any event little time to say it, so goodbye for a while and love to all from Albert.
Albert waits for a reply from home, wondering (can you imagine?) if the wait is due to bombs falling on his home town. And some of my readers have been waiting a long time for this post; the delay was not due to any act of aggression I can reassure you. My thanks to Brad of tokensofcompanionship for giving me the nudge I needed to get going again.
So, in Albert’s world the year remains 1942 and he remains in London awaiting news of his next posting. In the meantime Albert spends more time with Joyce, who begins to feature more in his letters, and takes advantage of the musical programme offered to lift the spirits of the population, at the famous hall that shares his name. Although actually most people called my uncle by his middle name, John!
Friday May 29
Dear All,I have not yet received a reply to my letter written on Monday night. I hope that it reached you safely. I heard that Southampton was bombed on Tuesday morning, so hope that’s had nothing to do with the delay. I understand that it was the docks.
The delay in writing this one is partly due to not having heard from you; chiefly due to my forgetting how the days has gone. Well, on Tuesday evening I went to Joyce’s again. She works until 7.30 this week and does not reach home until about eight, that her mother and one of her friends were there and I talked and later had supper, making an enjoyable evening of it. I have got the correct buses and so forth all right now and did not take so long on the journey as before.
On Wednesday night I went with another fellow to the Albert Hall and heard the concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the second half of which was broadcast. I am sending the programme so you will see all about it. There are also the items of Thursdays concert which I also heard, and possibly you did too.
We got 1/- seats and sat in the centre floor, and rather annoyingly heard the famous echo to full and devastating effect. However, we enjoyed it very much especially the Tchaikovsky (my latest records). It is an easy journey to two 2d buses, changing at Hyde Park Corner. Maida Vale Road, at the bottom of Hall Road is the main road to the Northwest suburbs and there are plenty of buses running. Along there too are our nearest shops, though a good number of them are blitzed.
Last night I went alone, as the other fellow was going out with his father (he lives in East Ham). First I went to Leicester Square to get a ticket at the Cambridge Theatre for the piano recital on Sunday. That place doesn’t appear to want my patronage as the box office was then shut, and so I made my way via Leicester Square, Haymarket, and Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace, and thence to Hyde Park Corner, where I caught the bus.
It was very pleasant walking under the trees there, the London Parks are not vastly different, in spite of the barbed wire and barrage balloons.
I had lingered too much though and arrived a trifle late. Dashing up to the box office one of the doormen asked me if I was going to get a ticket for “upstairs”. I said “yes” and he handed me a complimentary ticket for the gallery (2/6). The echo was not so bad there and since the seats are in tiers, one has a better view of the proceedings. There were not a great many people up there, and I had a bit more leg room than on the floor, so altogether I had a very enjoyable evening’s outing for only 7d!
The weather has lately been very showery, especially towards the evenings, but one fortunate thing is that there has been a fair amount of wind to prevent the weather from being too warm.
Well, I can’t think of much else to say, though I seem to have been doing enough to keep all my time occupied. This afternoon we got a ‘maths test’ which, from all accounts, is of quite an elementary nature. Most of our time though is quite wasted, and often we get pretty bored with the place. A rumour was going round that we should be here until June 20 at least – that will be quite long enough, and quite expensive enough too. The next payday I understand to be on Thursday, though I am alright so far as regards money. The chief trouble is the amount spent on fares etc, it is about 4d to get anywhere.
The mail has just come up, and again nothing from you. I expect this will arrive tomorrow some time. Well love to all etc, from Albert.
In Albert’s next letter we hear of another visit to the Albert Hall, a visit to see his friend Joan and a visit to Joyce’s. Albert also visits Hampstead Heath, and his comment comparing the famous heath to the not so famous Southampton Common, reminded me what a lovely place the latter is. My father said it was untouched since mediaeval times, which might not (knowing my Dad) be 100% true, but it is certainly a beautiful sem-wild expanse of green, filled with Hampshire oaks, in the heart of the city.
Monday June 1st (glorious)
Dear All, I have just packed up a parcel, containing dirty underwear, socks, handkerchiefs & the leggings. I have also just noticed that I still have the map here. I must send it next time (if I remember that is). You will see that most of the bulk of this consists of the letters by Phil and Raymond, which I have at last remembered, and which I have yet to reply to. I believe I forgot to tell you that Phil’s letter arrived safely, on Tuesday or Wednesday I believe it was.
Your parcel arrived on Saturday morning or Friday evening; the delay was doubtless due to the ‘Road/Place’ of the address, as I have just received your letter of May 30 and you seemed to have got my letter in good time. By the way, do not worry if the parcel does not arrive as soon as this – I do not know when it will be posted: it depends when the local Post Offices shut. I was going to send a card on Saturday evening to say that the parcel had arrived, but when I got to the post office found that the last collection was at 6.30. Apparently that is usual: at Blackpool there was one at about 9pm.
Yesterday I went to Watford as my friend was home for “Whitsun” leave. After a good dinner we went back to London and tried to get in to the Albert Hall, but were unsuccessful, so then we went to a Lyons and had teas and then to Hampstead Heath & back to Watford & billet respectively.
I wonder if you had the thunder shower we had at about 3pm. It rained quite heavily for 20 minutes or more and then left off abruptly and the sun started to shine, after which the weather was very good and the evening was really lovely. We had a church parade in the morning (Every Sunday morning here) and the weather then was none too promising.
You may remember that I said last week I was told that there was plenty of room in the Albert Hall. This week the whole musical population seemed to have turned up in force, and were queuing for miles around the hall and in front of the box office. They must have been there early too, as one fellow who got there even earlier said he was unable to get in. I suppose it is because Tchaikovsky is so popular.
Nonetheless I quite enjoyed it after the rain finished, and Hampstead Heath is a pleasant place in fine weather, rather reminiscent of The Common in places.
On Friday and Saturday I went to Joyce’s. One of those days I had a tomato – the first for this year. They had just got some tomato plants and put them out on Saturday morning. I expect yours are in by now. Afternoon on Saturday I spent watching the gardening and helping a little, but not too much, for fear my efforts might not be too successful. Then in the evening to Studio One to see ‘Fantasia’. It was a long wait to get in and by that time the only part of the programme left to be shown was ‘Fantasia’ and the news, but it was even then a 2 hours programme and a very enjoyable one too. You would probably not like all of it, but it is of such an unusual nature. It is all very interesting and some of it, the “Nutcracker” suite (Sugar Plum fairy etc) was delightful, and one of the best things I have seen for a long time.
The Micky Mouse “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was very funny, more on the usual Disney lines of course, and so was the “Dance of the Hours”, a burlesque of it really, with ostriches, elephants, hippopotami and crocodiles doing the ballet. If it is on for long I might go again.
This week there are two concerts at the Albert Hall, but I do not know if I shall get to both. We are also due to be on guard at some time, Tues or Weds most probably.
I was glad that my pen has at last arrived, and am looking forward to seeing it in the next few days.By the way, do you still want cigarettes (at the high price I’m afraid) as I think I can get fair quantities of them, also tobacco, so if you are short let me know before I leave London. Leaving London reminds me that it appears that the course will be three weeks here.I believe I have said all that before, but that is an indication that I have no more to say, except goodbye and love from Albert.
Those of you who know London, or who are interested in cricket (count me out), will know that St John’s Wood is, in my Uncle’s words ‘a quite good area of London’. I might update his description with the words ‘exclusive’ and ‘unaffordable’, yet in 79 years NW8 has not changed that much at all, at least as far as buildings are concerned. Albert draws a rather good representation of his new accomodation, as you can see from the photos above. However, before he tells us about his arrival at 6 Hall Road, he has two short notes to share – one after his arrival back at camp (from leave I presume, given the gap between this and his last letter) and one from a mystery Y.M.C.A.
Friday May 22
Dear All, I forget whether I said I would write as soon as I got here or would leave it until reaching London, but here is a short note in advance.
I had an awful journey here and did not arrive until 6.45, very cross about everything. I will write at length later on. Tomorrow morning we go to London and should arrive about 11.30. I will write or send a card from there with my address. I have discovered my leggings here – I thought I had sent them long ago.
The pump is safe – my good friends here took care of it for me, and I shall take it with me to London.
I hope you are having a good time: I felt rather miserable on my return here, but feel more happy at the prospect of going to London.
Love to all, from Albert.
Saturday May 23. 4.30 pm Address unknown
Well, here I am in London, but as we are only in our present flat until Monday, I can give no address. At the moment I am in a Y.M.C.A. at Hornsey. I have been to Joyce’s house but no one was in. They may have gone away for the weekend, though since she was on holiday last week I rather doubt that. I am going back later to see, and may phone Shell Mex House to see if she is working. I may stop the night as since we are not really ‘there’ until Monday, nobody at St John’s Wood knows or cares if we are in. I will write as soon as I get an address, so until then cheerio, and love to you all at Branstone, from Albert.
P.S. It is just 12 hours since I was called this morning. (And 11 and a half since I got up).
P.P.S. If this were not Whitsun I could have gone home! (Won’t have a chance next week).
The following letter, twenty pages long, describes Albert taking advantage of what London has to offer; what a contrast to the wooden huts and windy, open countryside of Wiltshire! At last Albert’s basic training is over and he has been assigned a ‘flight’ for the next stage in his RAF career. He doesn’t sound too thrilled with the courses he has to take whilst in London, devoting much more pen and ink to his forays into the West End’s theatre land.
I was interested to read about his visit to Joyce’s house, who he knew from his work at Shell Mex. My mother told me that this Joyce (not his friend Joyce Hart) became his girlfriend, which is interesting because in this letter Albert mentions her ‘young man’ who was stationed in Andover. Well, I hope that future letters will give us more peeks into Albert’s affairs of the heart!
In researching background on why Albert was sent to London, I came across this interesting post that has lots of detail about the RAF base at the famous Lord’s cricket ground.
Monday May 25
Well, I have at last got an address, as a matter of fact in the same building as we spent the weekend in, but in another flat. The building is a block of service flats, in quite a good area of London. They must have been some quite good flats in usual times, the layout of ours looks like this:
It is not a very good diagram as there are numerous bends and bumps that I have not included; and I haven’t shown the windows as it is too much bother to go round counting them. The thick wall is an outside one.
This place is considerably stricter than Yatesbury, and we have to be up earlier, but since there are only four of us here who were already in the RAF before coming here, we will probably get off a bit lighter than the new recruits: I hope so.
The flat is quite a nice place with H&C water, two bathroom- lavatory –wash basin places, and the kitchenette with a sink and some cupboards.
There is not much facility for putting stuff away, I have a drawer in the kitchenette and a hook, but there is little room for one’s personal belongings.
The ‘course’ here appears to be negligible, though as yet we have done nothing. There is some morse which we have naturally done, some mathematics, which is probably very elementary, and various lectures, inoculations and some foot drill, but once again, we should not have a lot of that ahead of us. There also appears to be a chance of us getting another tunic and hat. By the way, you could perhaps send my spare trousers to be cleaned – I know they are not very dirty, but they are a bit wrinkled, and the creases, which I did under the bed, are in the wrong place.
This morning and afternoon we went down to Lord’s to be put into “flights” (that is what the 10/48 on the address indicates).
Most of the time there we were in the NAAFI or another canteen, or watching the cricket, which is Army versus Sir Pelham Warner’s XI. Quite a lot of wickets went down in a short while at the end of the morning’s play. Perhaps you heard the commentary on the wireless. A good number of civilians came in too, and some of them are now in our flats (‘Hall Place”). I expect Mr Abbess is somewhere around this way too, if he has not yet gone away.
As regards leave there is none, and they appear to be very strict on coming in at nights – 10.30pm, midnight on Saturdays.
After posting your letter on Saturday, I went to a barber’s and then phoned Shell Mex House for Joyce, and was told that she had gone to Andover for the weekend; I phoned her again for confirmation and found that they were out, so I went down to the West End.
I had some tea & joined on a queue for the ballet at the New Theatre. Coming in the train to Leicester Square, I asked for the best station for the New of a man who turned out to be a Swiss, who had lived in the country for 20-odd years. He was quite an interesting fellow, talked to me about music, and was a great Bach fan, and finally showed me to the theatre. When I had nearly reached the door the gallery was full, so I had to search for further entertainment. It was not much use trying the theatres at 7.15 and not much fun walking around as it was raining a bit, so I joined another queue, for the New Gallery cinema.
The film was “How Green Was My Valley” together with a Donald Duck film and about 3 other shorts. I was in the front stalls (but the screen was quite a way back from the front seats) and paid 2/6 for the privilege. The next price was 4/-, then 5/6 and 8/- . If you want a really good “human” film I can recommend it to you. It is about the life of a mining family in a S. Wales village of about 40 years ago. It has happy & sad moments; some singing, few Welsh accents, but no strongly American ones, and is altogether very good entertainment. The Donald Duck (“Chef Donald”) was immensely funny, and one of the shorts was a good natural history one.
The show finished about 10, and I made my way by tube to camp, arriving without any rush at about 10.30. I went to bed about 11 and we lay in bed and talked until about 12.00. We still have no sheets, but the beds are quite comfortable, and don’t worry us much.
Sunday I missed breakfast, as it was too early for me. I rose at 8.30 and after messing around and nearly starting this letter, I went with another fellow to church. I went to St Bartholomew’s by Smithfield Market, and he to a nearby Catholic one. St Bart’s is an old Norman church (AD 1123) with small arches, a good roof, a sort of arched apse with Lady chapel behind, & triforium and clerestory. In spite of the ruinous condtion of most of the neighbourhood, the church (and market) are ok. The service was not greatly attended; there cannot possibly be many people still living there, so bad is the damage, but it was good with an interesting sermon, even if rather too long. I stayed for the Communion, which caused me to miss dinner.
In the afternoon I went to the Cambridge Theatre to hear a concert by The London Symphony Orchestra, but by the time I got to the box office, only 6/6 and 8/- seats remained – so I went away, rather disheartened. It was too late to go to The Albert Hall, as it was then 2.25, but I thought I might as well go along, as there are concerts in some evenings this week, and it seems necessary to book for things here. So I went by train to Kensington West, intending to walk to The Albert Hall by way of Kensington Gardens. I had not gone a great distance (I did not know if it was in the right direction) when I came across a phone box, and it occurred to me that it would do no harm if I were to phone Joyce’s house again. This I did and to my surprise, she was in, and had been stopping in all day, as in my note I said that I would call that day (that was written before I was told that she was at Andover). She asked me to come over, and I went to Kens. High Street, which was not far, and caught a 27A bus to Highgate and thence a 41 to Crouch End, where I found her in.
I had tea: they gave me egg (boiled), lettuce and beetroot, bread & butter and jam, and cake. I was quite hungry and enjoyed it.
In the evening we took a short walk, and talked indoors. I also had supper and after a most enjoyable evening, which turned what looked like being a miserable day into a jolly good one, I left at about 9.25.
I took longer over the journey than I need have done, as at Camden Town, where the 74 for St John’s Wood goes, I waited in the wrong place (the bus goes from a back street). Consequently I took an hour on the journey.
Joyce will be on late work this week, but her mother is alone there & would be glad of the company, so I shall go over some times in the week. Also I must see about these concerts at the Albert, Aeolian & Wigmore Halls. One fellow went to the Albert Hall on Sunday and said there was plenty of room, so I shall probably get in without booking, which is better since my spare time is a very unknown quantity.
I think that covers most of my activities up till now. I am writing this in a Church Army Canteen just opposite tot the flats. It is raining and I have plenty to write, and so shall go no further.
I believe I did not tell you about the journey to Yatesbury. Stale news, so if you are not interested, read past.I saw a Corporation bus go just as I passed the clock at the bottom, and had to wait a good 15 minutes before a Hants & Dorset turned up. I passed the Civic Centre at 1.52 & saw the smoke of a train leaving as I was at the top of the new road. That was probably it. As the ticket collector told me next train 3 something. I made for the top of 4 post hill (Hobbs) and caught the 2.0 bus to Salisbury: I might as well have gone by train. When we passed the exit of the Sarum bus station, the Devizes to Marlborough bus was in, when we had gone round the block and got in, it had gone out – missed it by the skin of my teeth again! The next transport was a Bath bus to Devizes at 4.40, which I caught. That got me to Devizes at 6.05, and after walking about a mile in sultry weather and greatcoat & kit and getting even hotter and crosser, I was picked up by about the 100th car that passed me. Glory be it was going to Yatesbury, passing by the camp, and I eventually rolled in about 6.45, very annoyed with things.
I got my £1 pay today, and have about £2, 10s left, which will probably see me through the next ten days – that should be about all we are here.
I don’t think there is much else to say. I will write again in Wednesday or Thursday. I expect letters should reach you quite quickly from here. I trust that you had a good Whitsun weekend, with not too much rain. So love to all from Albert.
P.S’s. Excuse the writing. I have a lot to write & am in a terrific hurry. It is 7.45 and I hope to get 2 or 3 letters done before bed.
Joyce had not gone to Andover (her ‘young man’ is there in the Tank Corps) and there was no accommodation available.
This canteen is in a very large and what was once posh house. It is a jolly nice place and they have good fresh cake, though no hot meals.
We also filled in reams of forms today. My RAF records must contain the same stuff in about octuplicate.
Is it just me or does Albert grow in confidence? It must have felt good at least to no longer be a new recruit, as some of his flatmates were. I sense the feeling of accomplishment he has in navigating his way east and north across London, to Smithfield and to Crouch End. Albert is becoming a cultured man, seeking out the ballet, conversing with a Swiss gentleman about music and Bach. His reason for attending church a way across town must have been to see the architectural beauty of a renouned Norman church and to express his knowledgeable appreciation to his parents, using triforium and clerestory as examples of his learning. I looked up these words for you – ‘triforum’ is space in a church above the nave arcade and below the clerestory extending over the vaults, or ceilings, of the side aisles. ‘Clerestory’ is the high space above the nave that contains a series windows. He’s a man that appreciates fine architecture and Donald Duck, I love him for that.
I enjoyed reading of the discoveries Albert made; I felt like I was going along with him. It’s a lovely gift to have all these years later. For whether your interests are in learning about wartime London or discovering what comprised tea in 1942, there is something for everyone here, wouldn’t you say?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
This letter was written on 6th February 1942, as Albert prepares to go on leave, and he will not return to ‘horrid’ Blackpool. His happiness fairly leaps off the page; imagine how delighted all the Mabey family were to receive such news.
This letter is a supplement to the telegram which I sent off this dinner time. We had received the glad tidings this morning, though rumours to that effect had been floating around for some days. I leave here on Thursday probably by the 2.30 train, but my London friend, or rather her mother, has kindly offered to put me up for the night. (Joyce Herman, the one who used to work at Hamble – you remember I went to Bournemouth with her). As the train will not arrive in London before 8 or 9, I shall do this and take a midday train from Waterloo. I am not quite sure of the trains to Southampton so I cannot say which one I shall catch. I want to buy some records in London – hence the request for money – and I don’t want to do too much dashing in the dark with them. Of course I could not get them in the evening and they probably will not be stocked at home.
Well I feel ever so happy about this, I expect you do too. I want to see Peter and Jean if that is possible. I am afraid that I shall not be able to get over to the Island though. I should like my bicycle to be taken down and the tyres blown up. I think the 3 speed is still wonky so if there is time I should like them to be done by Alec Bennett’s.
We shifted billets again this afternoon. I am writing this during Morse instruction and have not yet had a meal there, but though there are plenty of rules and regulations, it is a clean, well furnished house, with a pleasant looking dining room (with tablecloths) and we do not feel so much in the nature of outcasts. Of course, I am still keeping 39 as my postal address.
I shall send home all of my personal gear and some RAF things, so as to lighten my burden as far as possible. I have sent off some socks and hankies today and when I get my laundry tomorrow, I shall send the stuff I am using now.
I do not know what has happened to my clothes but I shall change into them as soon as I arrive home. Actually the pass includes permission to wear civilian clothes.
The only snag is that after a week I shall have to go back, but to Yatesbury, Wiltshire which is better than Blackpool. My Hamble workmate should still be there, and of course most of the fellows I have met here. I shall leave for Yatesbury on Thursday morning, Feb 19, to be there by 3p.m. Now here is my diary, which doesn’t include much else.
On Wednesday I went to the music class and, incidentally, heard a “Messiah” record that I should very much like – must see about that. I shall go as usual, but for the last time, next Monday. I shall miss the Halle concert too. Yesterday evening I went round to 39 for the first time this week. I hear that there is a Church Parade on Sunday, so unless I can get out of it, I shall not be able to see Mr Gibson before I leave. If I am unable to get there, I must write him a note saying I have gone. I shall also have to write to the Island to let them know. That, I think, is about all. I have not received your midday letter, so cannot reply to it. Love to all – Albert
P.S. I sent a Greetings Telegram because (a) I didn’t want to worry you by sending the other (bad news) sort. (b) It is quite an occasion for Greetings anyway.
My 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
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 mentalequilibrium 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.