Albert is Coming Home

My Grandmother would have received this telegram at lunchtime on 6th February 1942. Imagine her delight at opening the golden envelope. Her son is coming home on leave.

Albert wrote a letter immediately after he despatched this glad news and I’ll share it soon. But this evening I wanted to mark this happy anniversary with you. Albert’s going to be opening the ‘warning gate’ soon, to walk through his own front door and into the arms of his Mum.

Weather, Food & Flowers

It is still possible to buy penstemons from RHS Wisley; this is ‘Red Riding Hood’.

These three subjects of the letter dated 4th February 1942, are familiar to us still in 2021 and just as comforting; topics of family conversations that form the fabric of daily life. In my mind’s eye, as I read, I could see my grandparents poring over the RHS catalogue and making their choices for the growing season ahead. The years may have changed the world very much since Albert wrote but the flowers and their beauty are essentially unaltered. I have penstemons in my garden and I think Albert would like them.

Albert also updates us on his feelings about his billet, adopting a more sanguine attitude than previously. He knows it is only temporary; after over three months in Blackpool he will be moving on soon.

The bounty of his food provisions is a source of pleasure (did he store everything under his bed I wonder?) and, thank goodness, he keeps us all updated about his socks.

Dear All,

Just for a change I will start by discussing the weather. From your description of it, written on Sunday, your weather seems to have been worse than ours. We had a good dose of snow on Sunday night, followed by heavy rain and more snow on Monday night. The roads were very slushy on Monday, but the rain soon disposed of it. Today is rather cold & grey, but as yet, nothing worse. We have not yet had any hail or thunderstorms. Fellows who have come up from the South say that there was bad snow there at the weekend.

Thanks for the Wisley list. I see that you are persevering with the heaths and gypsophila. I hope they are more successful than the last attempts. I hope the Geum will be quicker in blooming than our red ones, I hope it will not be the same one. The penstemon I see is still not the old red one, I wish you could get hold of some of them. The other Wisley penstemon has rather small flowers, of a pale mauve if I remember rightly. I think the list looks a good one, if only we can get most of them; I think it best to send it off quickly. The “unknown” plants look a very interesting lot – the spindle tree I should like to see too. Is there a wild potentilla with small yellow flowers?

I have been doing quite well for food of late. I did not go for a walk on Sunday as, the weather was much too bad, but I had bought a meat pie and a “fruit malt” loaf and with the cakes and your potted meat I have been doing extremely well. We have had some more “jam” too! I noticed that the meat contained some tomato and thought you must have opened one of our bottles. The apples are still very nice. I have been having one after dinner, and will eat the last one today. I shall look forward to some apple or apple & blackberry tart when I get home. Also some of those gooseberries, and some vegetable savouries like macaroni cheese and butter beans with cheese sauce. I have not had anything like that since I have been here; of course you can’t expect the landladies to fiddle with such things, especially as many fellows might prefer something more solid. It is a strange thing but since Hull road I have not had any brown bread or wholemeal bread.

This Sunday I think there is a Church Parade for us, but if not I may try to get a lift to Bolton to see Mr Gibson. For the last two weeks I have tried to get a pass but have failed to do so. Now I must try to get out without one, I do not expect I shall be stopped in a private car, it is the trains they watch.

Vivien Leigh (who played Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film version of ‘Gone With the Wind) in ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’ 1941.

Monday I went as usual to the Music Society concert. Last night I went to the theatre and saw Bernard Shaw’s play “The Doctor’s Dilemma” with Vivien Leigh in the leading part. It was very good with plenty of laughs, mainly at the expense of the medical profession. It was well produced too, on a very lavish scale as regards costumes, props etc. I was also rather fortunate in being able to buy some chocolate there, which I ate in the interval. Tonight there is another Music Society meeting. If I am here on Feb 14 I shall go to the Halle concert on that date.

I have sent a birthday cards to Uncle Dick and Mrs Franklin, and written a letter to Joyce. I sent her Phil’s airgraph. The letter which he promised has not yet arrived. I am enclosing a piece from the “Listener”, I hope that it is not the trouble with our plum tree.

We have heard no more about changing billets, though of course we still live in hopes. I am afraid there is nothing to be gained by complaining. The food is wholesome and good enough, the beds are satisfactory now that we have sheets, and there is a fire of some sort in the evenings, though it is generally well damped down with what appears to be earth. The general comfort or lack of it doesn’t count, so we have no grounds for complaint.

Evening: this afternoon I volunteered for a job in the office, & I spent the time making forms for leaving billets. I think that it is pretty definite that I shall be leaving this place and moving back to the old area. It is unlikely that I shall get back to 39, but at least it will be nearer there. At the moment I am a half or three quarters of a mile distant.

I shall not send any laundry until the weekend, as then I shall have another pair of socks. My feet don’t sweat much in this weather! That seems to be all my news and comments so goodbye and love to all, from Albert.

How lucky Albert was to see Vivien Leigh perform on stage. I wonder who accompanied him, perhaps one of the ‘girls’ from 39 Dickson Road. He seemed as pleased with the interval chocolate as he did with the play!

Albert did not manage to get to Bolton to see Mr Gibson ( an ex teacher colleague of my grandfather’s), as you shall read in the next installment…

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

“This is a Very Miserable Letter..”

Oh poor Albert; things take a turn for the worst in mid January, as you will read. I chose to publish these three letters together, as they document the progress of Albert’s removal week, from his cosy billet to a new, spartan abode. Although these letters are rather downcast in tone, especially concerning the food, Albert’s dry humour still shines through. And he still manages to get to the ballet, and the cinema, twice.

Weds Jan 21

Dear All, Oh dear! This is a very miserable letter written on a very very sad day. For today we moved to our billet to a long way off, and what a miserable place it looks to be. No carpet, no fire, no tablecloth, camp beds, few sheets, no room for personal odds and ends in the bedrooms. So the sooner I get home the better. I cannot speak about the food, but I am expecting nothing much. I am writing this in 39 Dickson Road. The new address is 53, Hornby Road Blackpool.

I am afraid I shall spend a lot of money on buying meals out & going to shows, because I don’t want to spend any evenings in that miserable hole. I shall be able to come in here of an evening that is one consolation.

Tonight I shall go to the “International Ballet” and on Thursday to a film. Friday I must come round here to write letters. On Saturday afternoon there is a concert by the Blackpool Symphony Orchestra which I may be able to attend. Sunday, I hope to be able to get to Kirkham (on the Preston road) as one of the fellows who was billeted here is in the RAF hospital there.

I think that is about all as I have neither time nor inclination to write long letters. I may put in some socks which Jean may be able to darn, though the post is slow these days (I have not had your Sunday letter). I have had a letter from Jean which I very much appreciated. Thank you Jean! I will write later, love to you all, Albert.

P.S. There is a lot of snow here and its ever so cold. I am alright now.

P.P.S The food is not too bad but not appetizingly served. Have to wash up tea & peel spuds.

Thursday Jan 22

Dear All, first of all a word of explanation – I posted the letter about 7.0pm last night & having no stamps I was obliged to get some from a machine. Since people were too mean to change two half pennies for a penny, I had to put on 3 penny stamps. It was snowing at the time & I hope the address hasn’t washed off.

I had better start off extremely miserable and get more cheerful (not much more) if I can manage it: it’s better than getting worse as I go on.

The weather is very snowy and extremely cold. It snowed hard on Monday and has snowed during last night too. It is cold and dry, & mixed with a little dirt, the snow resembles sand or demerara sugar. The trams stopped but are going again now. It is much more snow than during Dec ’40 (more than we had, that is). I hear that the trains are very slow – 18 hours from London for example, and I don’t know when or how this will reach you. I hope to include the socks and some handkerchiefs with this, but, a word of warning – take care that the colour from the blue ones doesn’t dye the white.

Our new billet is miserable. Here is a summary.

Fire – small, lit about 11.0am.

Living room – no carpet, but a couple of ‘lavatory mats’ just inside the door. The tables are like the ones you have in little tea shops, placed together to make long ones. They have American Cloth permanent tablecloths. The chairs are all wooden ones like this.

There are some high backed ‘dining room’ chairs stacked against one wall, but to ensure that we (the scum) shall not use them, the seats have been removed. The general appearance of the room is cold, cheerless and rather dirty.

Beds etc – I have a camp bed with three blankets, two of which I fold double. There is a pillow but no sheets. I put my greatcoat on the bed last night but the cold woke me up several times. Each bedroom has a small, very small, washbasin, with cold water only. For my personal effects I have a small, once again very small, drawer in the dressing table. I shall have to keep some things in a cardboard box under the bed. In a room about the size of my bedroom, there are four of us, and not enough spare room for the mice to play in. As a further diversion, the pipes are frozen and the water just trickles out, so that we have to wait to get enough in even the very small wash basin. Lights of course, go out at 11 – they can’t afford to waste money!

Meals – the food is sufficient for me and quite good in some respects. Tea is rather an unappetizing meal though. The margarine used seems definitely of the grade 3 or grade 4 type and I have yet to see any jam. Tea is poured out of an enormous enamel pot which reminds me of a watering can. Tea, milk and sugar(?) are all mixed in together. There were no saucers at breakfast time, and as it doesn’t take much to put me off tea, I have not yet had any there, nor do I intend to (I did at 39). Of course there is no supper, that, I fear, would cost too much. Two of us wash up and two peel potatoes each night.

As a footnote I may as well mention that the RAF pays £30 a week for us – 30/- per week per person, for 20 of us. [My footnote – £30 is equivalent to about £1000 today].

Turning to the brighter side of things, our old landlady still welcomes us, and if you like, you can send letters & things there. I certainly shall be looking in very often. Yesterday I dropped into 39 to get your letter, and she gave me some tea. I shall be in there tonight too, and whilst I am there, will have a good shave and wash in hot water & a decent bathroom. It will also be nice to have a good armchair in which to sit in front of a good warm fire. It is nice too to feel that I am welcome, and not just a pest which uses up the money so thoughtfully provided by the RAF.

I hope, I most sincerely hope, that I shall soon be out of Blackpool.

Last night I went to the International Ballet and enjoyed it very much. It is good entertainment & something rather novel for me. I shall try to go next week too, probably on Thursday.

I have reached the final stage of my Morse now, so that is a good thing, but have to wait my turn before I leave here. There are plenty of people in front of me, & it all depends on how quickly they send them away.

After all that length of grumbling, I hope you are getting on alright. I shall include with this, or send later, a note to Jean, as she was kind enough to write a letter to me. I fear though, that there will be no socks for her to mend in the weekend, unless the Post Office puts a sudden move on. I am afraid you will have rather a lot to do now that I have no facilities for washing. Do you see that the purple socks have come back with a hole in the toe – not where Jean mended of course!

I was very concerned to hear about Auntie Ursie’s misfortune, but I am glad that she is getting over the shock of the accident alright.

You must excuse the writing if it seems worse than ever, also if I have missed out some things but I am writing this when supposed to be doing Morse, so that I can get it poseted before the G.P.O. shuts at 6.30. I expect to post it on my way to 39 Dickson Road. From there I go to the cinema with some of the girls & possibly the blokes as well – I don’t quite know who is going.

Unless I can think of something else to say I will stop now and possibly add a little more when I have re-read your letter.

I hope you will get the bicycle tyres, as there will probably be a serious shortage of rubber in the near future. I meant to ask before if you had thought about getting them. Dunlop Fort is certainly the tyre to buy. I was interested to read the letters & amused at Uncle Dick’s. My cold is on the mend, Love from Albert.

Sunday Jan 26th

Dear All, this letter is of course written from 39 Dickson road. I have made up my mind that I shall spend as little time as I possibly can in miserable old 53, and shall write most of my mail from here or one of the numerous Forces’ canteens. Many of the canteens have rooms where you can write letters, and there I shall go during the week. (Most are shut Sunday).

The billet has improved slightly since we now have sheets, which makes sleeping much more comfortable. Also the weather is much warmer, so we are not so cold. On Thursday night two of the fellows in our room slept two in a bed to keep warm and I used the spare mattress as an eiderdown.

Even now I wear a pullover in bed and put a groundsheet (cape) and greatcoat on top of the blankets. By so doing I manage to keep comfortably warm, especially when I have blocked up the space under the door with newspaper to keep out draughts.

You will see that there is not much spare room. In my drawer I can get my clean underwear, shirt and socks and collars. My books and writing paper are downstairs in a cupboard. My letters are in cardboard boxes under the bed. The way the meals are served reminds me of Padgate. When they wash up, as at breakfast time, we have no saucers, they are used only when we wash up, and I have to ask to get water at dinner times. The ‘old boy’ there is an utter misery and already he doesn’t like me much because (as you can guess) I did not hesitate to express a certain amount of dissatisfaction. He will probably like me less by the time (not far distant I hope) when I leave. My present calculations work out that I shall be here about 3 more weeks. Certainly longer than the end of January!

As I mentioned previously, it has thawed. We had rain on Friday and Saturday, & by now most of the snow has gone, except where it is very deep. Friday though, the roads were a sea of slush. Fortunately we are issued with gum boots, which of course everyone wore, though they are none too comfortable. Now I am back to shoes again which suits me more.

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

I went to the cinema on Thursday and saw “International Lady” & enjoyed it very much. I do not know whether I would advise you seeing it but it is a spy story which is yet very amusing & not all American. This week I may see one called “The Devil & Miss Jones” which is supposed to be funny. I must go somewhere in the evenings anyway. On Thursday I shall probably go to the International Ballet again. This afternoon there is that concert by the Blackpool Symphony Orchestra. Norman Allin will be singing and the orchestral items include a Beethoven symphony and the “Emperor Concerto”. It should be good.

By the way, I hope that you have received a parcel of socks and handkerchiefs which I sent off on Thursday evening. Though letters have been arriving quite normally, I believe that the parcel post has been very much delayed.

Would you send the dates of all those birthdays, so that I can send cards. I forgot Auntie Ursie’s, or rather, thought that the date was 25th, so that I had to send a special card for people who forget. It was rather a good one though. I am afraid that I shall not be able to send much except cards, except in the case of Maggie & Christine and they are so hard up that I shall have to send something else, probably writing paper, sweets etc.

Yesterday I bought Shippam’s meat paste to help down the cooking margarine which we get with the bread. We have had only one small lot of jam since Weds. The paste was very easy to get and I shall probably buy some more in the week. I must also try to get small portions of cheese and some honey if there is any going. As there are only 4 of us from Dickson road I don’t mind sharing with them. By the way, I can get you paste if you like, and may send some to Jean too if I have any money left at the end of the week, though it goes more quickly now, as I sometimes buy morning coffee and often a bar of chocolate if the NAAFI has any.

The weather today is very windy but not cold. The sun is not shining yet. I believe I said buy Saving Certs. With all but about £4 or £6 of my money – perhaps you could tell me how many that is. Of course it is alright to continue with Jean’s money at 2/- per week. If Peter is ever hard up you can let him have 5/- or so when he wants it, though I do not think that is likely to occur! He can have money or part money for any books or other school materials he thinks it necessary to buy too. Perhaps you will let him know this. That is about all so I must waste this remaining sheet of paper. Goodbye and love to all, from Albert.

P.S. The sun is shining a bit now, & I can hear an aeroplane up – the first for some days. I hope that I can help choose the Wisley plants, though you had better not delay too long. I believe that last year they came before the closing date.

Mine is an inquisitive nature, and there is usually something that piques my interest in a letter and sends me sailing through the internet in search of answers or elaborations. The story of the ‘International Ballet’ and its Principal and founder, Mona Inglesby is a fascinating one, so try the link if you want to know more. Other details I do not need to investigate further; Shippam’s meat paste was a teatime staple for us in the 1970s.. oh the awful smell! The fish paste was the worst.

What I notice in these letters is that Albert eloquently details his discomfiture regarding his physical surroundings, yet expresses no such unhappiness about moving on from one set of strangers to another. His equanimity leads me to wonder if people were more connected in society then, talking and making bonds more readily with one another than we do now. I have formed the view that Albert was a thoughtful man who loved his books and took great solace from reading but also he liked company and enjoyed going out. What’s clear to me from reading these letters, and the few I have from others who knew him (see Let these old lives speak for example), is that Albert was a warm-hearted and easy going fellow, who rarely spoke ill of those around him…..unless you happened to put cups on the table without their saucers.

A Moment in History

You had probably got rather anxious about the fate of my socks

Raymond Delfosse Jnr., Fort Marion, St Augustine, Florida 1942

This letter records a moment in American History, as well as the fate of Albert’s socks; the momentous jostling side by side with the banal. Albert and Raymond Jnr were distant cousins on my Grandmother’s side. Raymond’s grandmother Helen Pratt (known as cousin Ellen to my Grandmother) met and married Fernand Delphosse in France. Their son Raymond was born in Paris in 1900. At some point the family moved to Ontario, Canada. In 1920 Raymond moved to Queens, New York with his French Canadian wife Reina. Their son Raymond was born in 1922. I have assumed that we read Raymond Jnr’s words here, for relating that catastrophe at Pearl Harbor with a sense of excitement rather than horror is, I think, a tendency of the young. As the photo above shows, Raymond Jnr. was willing to serve his country, following through on the sentiment he expressed below.

Dear All                                               Saturday night, 17-1-42

Now that I have two letters to reply to, I had better start soon. You had probably got rather anxious about the fate of my socks. They arrived by the midday parcel post on Friday, and by the afternoon post came the letter including Phil’s “Greetings Telegram”, though it was written 2 days later. I expect the snowy weather has delayed things rather. Usually I get your letters quite quickly, the re-addressed one from Raymond arrived this afternoon.

Raymond’s letter I will return after I have replied to it. It is very interesting since it was written on Dec 7 and 8, just when the Japanese “declared war.” He writes about his newsreel film job, which he could not have, due to not being able to learn to drive in time:

“……in making a turn in reverse I smashed a pole and knocked over a mess of garbage [dustbin I suppose]. That was the end of that. It was too late for another test. “Holy Smoke!!!” a news bulletin has just come over the air stating that the Japs have attacked Hawaii. This sure is a surprise to me & sure is going to change a few plans over here…..Well I guess we’re ‘dyed in the wool’ allies now, and I’m going to drink to it & to you.”

That is really a thrilling letter I must say.

I should have said before how glad I am that the socks arrived, and must thank you for doing them, not forgetting Jean’s great services. I am now wearing a pair which she did (the mauve ones) and really Jean you have made a very good job of them (I expect that pleases her)…. If only you could make an equally good job of your arithmetic (I bet that doesn’t!). However, I will send the other socks on Weds. and when I come home, I must get Jean to teach me darning.

I am quite alright now (not that I was ever very bad) except for a cold in the nose which means I can’t taste much. I was sufficiently well to get to the cinema tonight to see the “Reluctant Dragon” which is a very unusual picture. It goes behind the scenes of the Disney studios and shows how the cartoon films are designed and made. The “reluctant Dragon” part is a Silly Symphony rather longer than usual and quite good; but best of all I liked a Goofy one on horse riding which is included in the the film. I laughed more than I had for a very long time at that one. For the next fortnight there will be the “International Ballet” at the New Opera House, and I shall probably go 2 or 3 times.

The weather is still cold and rather windy, but not, I think, so cold today as yesterday, when I should imagine that it was a bit colder than your 12˙ of frost a week ago. Is that the coldest you have registered this winter? We have had no more snow or rain since about Wednesday and I don’t wish to see any either. I expect there is some up in the hills, but as there is no promise of any sun, I shall not go out all day tomorrow. I will probably go for an afternoon excursion nearer Blackpool, after stopping in bed a bit late this morning. I will probably write a letter or so in the evening. I wrote to Jack this afternoon and have also sent to Maggie and Havant, so what with one thing and another I have not much of Auntie Frad’s book of stamps left.

Thanks for the 2/- that reminds me, I heard they had some “Players’ in the NAAFI today (but only 20 each) so perhaps supplies are returning. It has been all Woodbines & Star lately. Thanks for the chocolate too. Of course I like “Mars”, though having a cold, I have not yet eaten them. Do thank Mrs Churchill for taking the trouble to get them for me.

I suppose we shall be losing our railings soon, which doesn’t worry me much, as I never did like them much. We shall lose our ‘warning’ gate too I suppose but even that is not a very serious loss. It will show up the shabbiness of the wall though!

I hope Peter will be able to get Jean a geometry set. One of the shops here has some drawing and draughtsmens’ instruments – I saw a pair of dividers at 15/- – so I didn’t look much farther!

I set the watch right by Big Ben tonight. It had gained 4 mins since 6 o’clock last night. Now it is time for cocoa, so I will say goodnight. Love to all, from Albert

My dear Mother was only 10 in January 1942, but clearly old enough to be proficient at darning. I’m glad her efforts were appreciated although Albert still teased her about her arithmetic! I’m sure my Mum would have enjoyed the Reluctant Dragon too, but I don’t know if she ever saw it. And Albert seems oblivious to my Grandmother’s feelings about the ironwork being removed to help the ‘War Effort’. ‘The warning gate’, e.g. a creaking gate that alerted you of an approaching visitor, harks back to a time when it was unthinkable not to answer the door, so you needed a signal to give yourself time to check appearances in the hall mirror. How times have changed.

There will be more news from the American cousins in 1943, when Albert travels over the Atlantic, for a life altogether unimagined in January 1942.

A Walk in Windmill Land

It was Albert’s reference to the windmills that caught my imagination, and had he seen this book (first published in 1916) I’m sure he would have read it avidly, as it’s all about the landscape that he walked in. Sadly, of the many windmills Albert would have seen, very few remain. I have included a link to the Singleton Mill at the end of this post.

Albert’s letter is dated 6 January 1942, and yes, 79 years later to the day, I send his thoughts out into the world. One of the reasons why I ceased posting on this site in 2020, was that I felt ‘out of sync’ with Albert. Publishing his Christmas commentary when I was basking in the late Summer sun didn’t feel right. I hope to get closer to Albert’s lived experience through reproducing his letters on the anniversary of their creation.

Albert lived through strange times, and now we do too. In bleaker moments I wonder if ‘normal’ will ever return – did Albert think that too? I’m sure he must have worried, but he kept his concerns to himself and filled the pages with the comforting munitae of daily life and the joys of an afternoon’s walk; therein lies a lesson for us all!

Dear All, for once we have a fine sunny day, though it is very cold, especially at night.  There have been some moonlit nights too, though by now the moon is in the morning rather than at night.  There was plenty of frost on the rooftops and railings this morning too.

 It was a pity that it was not so dry and sunny on Sunday, when I went for a walk after dinner. At quarter to two, I took a bus to Hardhorn Corner, near the village of that name. It was quite sunny then and I walked along the road to where it runs nearly parallel to the railway. By that time it was getting cloudy, but it was still pleasant walking. This time I did not try any cross country walking. As even the side roads were in a muddy state and I did not wish to repeat the experience of Christmas day. I have taken my shoes to be repaired and have not yet got them back (they should be ready today) and one pair of boots is at the RAF repair shop, so I have only one pair of boots. The shoes want new tips to the heels and one requires a new sole, so that will mean two soles and a pretty hefty bill to pay.

I walked under the railway, over a little canal and to Great Singleton, where I took the road by the church, which I passed as the clock struck 3. I stopped there a little while and ate the remaining few of your biscuits. There was a little plantation of trees there and I stood underneath and enjoyed the singing of the birds. I walked to the main Poulton road, which I crossed and went up the smaller road by the Wyre and rejoined the Poulton road at the crossroads. By then it was nearly 4 p.m. and beginning to rain, so I hailed a passing car and returned to a part of Blackpool from which I caught a ‘bus.

We had been on Church Parade on Sunday morning, and when I got up it was raining quite hard, but it stopped by the time we were out.

There are a great many windmills in this district, due to the flatness of the country I suppose. Of course, none of them are working now, but a good many still have the sails intact. They tend to be rather squat building though, and not so nice as the few at home, especially the one near the A3 where Chalton road branches off.

Evening: This afternoon it has again clouded over, and when I came in a little while back, there were a few spots of rain falling. On the way from our bath, I called in and got my shoes back. They cost me 5/9 and are rather a rough job, heavier than before, not such good looking leather or workmanship and the soles are nailed on, not stitched as before. However I am glad not to have to wear boots after duty hours.

This weekend they have put me on a guard 10am Sat to 10am Sunday. Normally I should not mind unduly, though of course it is a nuisance at any time, but this Saturday afternoon there is a concert by the Halle orchestra. I don’t know yet what the programme is, but just for the purpose, it is probably an extra good one with some of my favourites like a Mozart & Beethoven symphony, or a Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto. (In my next letter I will give the programme and you can see how accurate my forecast has been).

Wednesday Jan 7 (Dinner time): Your parcel has just arrived, and I have skimmed through your letters from home, though not the others. I have looked at the apples, which are looking very nice, and glanced at the watch, which of course was stopped. I have not yet come across Mr Mitchell’s Xmas card, I wonder if you put it in.

I am glad that Peter and Jean are still home, I hope that they are with you for quite a while yet (you don’t say when they go home). I have not time to write to Peter and Jean, but I was interested in Peter’s Meccano models. I didn’t know though that the electric motor was still going, I thought that the brushes were missing. The transformer I suppose is the one from the doll’s house; it will do but I don’t think there is enough output to get the motor going really well. I expect Jean enjoyed her stay at Bishop’s Waltham, it must be a long time since she saw Jean Bryan.

Today it is sunny (at the moment) but quite a wintry sun it is. Until a little while ago the roads were mostly covered with slippery ice, as it rained slightly yesterday and then froze very hard last night. It was perishing cold this morning too. That is about all, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. Thank Mrs Churchill for the chocolate, it is a long time since I saw as much as that. Once again I have nearly got rid of my cold, but I don’t know how long for. I washed many handkerchiefs on Monday. I found much to my dismay that the colour was coming out of at least 2 of the blue ones; whether Peter’s or Ron’s I cannot say, and had tinted the white ones, including one of my nice ones. I hope the blueness will disappear with subsequent washing. I was interested to see how you did “my” chestnut tree, though I don’t mind now if you cut it down if you want to. I still think it won’t be in the way.

This how Albert finishes his (otherwise splodge free) letter.

I found some photographs of the Singleton Windmill, which you can view via the link. Using Albert’s directions it was easy to find the Chalton windmill that sits atop of Windmill Hill in Hampshire. It is now a nice looking home.

I’ve never visited the countryside around Blackpool, yet via the internet I have seen plenty of pretty photos of Singleton; when it lost its ‘Great’ness I do not know! I was pleased to see, via Google Maps, that the woods around St Anne’s church remain. It’s nice to think of Albert enjoying the respite of nature, as many of us have learned to do in this time of pandemic. Let’s hope the birds start singing again soon, giving us hints of Spring.

Christmas Eve 1941

Postmarked on Boxing Day, which is remarkable, although Albert complains of the slowness of the post.

Wartime and pandemic: My uncle knew the former and I the latter. I think about the similarities, the uncertain future, the constant but low-level sense of unease. Most of all I think of how both Albert and myself were taken by surprise, to experience a familiar world so suddenly altered.

This is Albert’s first Christmas away from home. He updates his family on the success of the the Christmas party, paying particular attention to the food. If there was any kissing under the misletoe, then Albert kept it to himself.

Once again I am touched to read Albert’s remarks to my Mother Jean, albeit a mild reprimand for doing poorly in her arithmetic test. My Mum excelled at many things, but maths was never one of them.

 A Merry Christmas to you all and here’s hoping to see you all very soon in the New Year.

 Dear all (Mummy and Daddy and Peter and Jean, and Aunties Lizzie and Bertha and also  Berty and everyone else).

 This is a strange 24th of of December and Christmas Eve but it will be another day of rest tomorrow, which is one pleasant thing. We had our party which was really quite enjoyable and the cakes excellent then also trifles with real cream on top I don’t know where ever it all came from there must have been nearly a pint in all. During the afternoon of Sunday I heard the first part of the broadcast of the Messiah and wondered if you to heard it. Now that we have some new people catering for us we have the wireless since they have brought their own, an all mains Murphy with ABC tuning, something like the Bryan’s, a very good set.  What we have is a speaker attached to a rediffusion system which seems to be very common here as there are wires across the streets,  right and left.  I am able to hear the news now and shall probably hear the King tomorrow.

 I don’t know when you will receive this, being posted today. Your letter ,written on 19 December, did not arrive until yesterday and mine, which you have not received, was posted on the usual day I believe. I was rather disappointed that you did not put in those Dufoy prints. I was anxious to see what they turned out like – after having remembered that I still had the reel.   I also had a letter from Castleton in which Geoff thanked me for the films. They included a 2/6d book of stamps. As regards the 5/- from Uncle Bernard,  perhaps you could send it on if the postal order is still intact, otherwise don’t bother . But after buying my Christmas presents, few though they were, I have very little ready money left.

 As for chocolate, we get some but not a great deal and just now there are great queues outside the NAAFI for cigarettes and chocolate, although not such large and disorderly ones as at Portswood.

 I was very interested to see Phil’s letter and read what he has being doing.  It seems that he is in quite safe area and that he is not having too bad time, in spite of what he says about it.

Dec 25 11am: We have just had breakfast and are listening to the church service on the home program . They are singing “Hark the Herald Angels sing” and it brings back to me happy memories of the many times I have been to Havant church on Christmas day; the same carols, the lesson from Isaiah and the Gospel from Saint Luke, about the shepherds at Bethlehem  – it does make it a little like Christmas.

 I do not know when this letter will reach you. Again I do not know where to send it. By the general slowness of the post I think I shall have to send it home. I will now thank you for the presents which I opened this morning.  I am wearing a tie which is better one than our issued article and which I shall save for ‘best’  wear.  The handkerchiefs would of course be very useful, though I have not quite so much use now as I nearly got rid of my cold, which has been rather troublesome. 

So today I have eaten the cake and I must say that it is very nice and although I believe you said it was without eggs or something.  I should not have thought so to eat it.  It was lovely and fresh too, in spite of having been kept for a week.  I have been eating the biscuits during the week too.  I think the Chinese ones are the best, although the chocolate ones are almost or equally as good. The honey biscuits have a good flavour, although they  are not so crisp and ‘biscuity’ as the others.

 I have just been reading your letters and it is a pity I did not read them before, because I have not been to church and now it is too late to go to any of the morning services. You see, I have to get someone to wake me up if I want to get up earlier than about 10. I was called at 10 this morning.

 As regards the rest of my present I think it would be best to get my watch done if that is possible.  The ‘Hampshire Scene’ is in the Portswood library, the author is John Vesey Fitzgerald.  I have an idea that folder of maps is a smaller scale than the books.  I believe I have seen them.  Anyway, as Phil has the Bartholomew’s book it will be nice for me to have a different one. They will also be able to revive memories of home and holidays for me,  as well as help me to find my way around wherever I may get sent to.

 As regards presents and things, I have not a great deal to show for this Christmas.  I have had five cards up to date, though I have sent off a great deal more.  I sent a card and letter to Mr and Mrs Gibbons in which I enquired about Jack. It is a good job that I did not send to him at Thorney Island.  I have had two books from the girl who used to work at Hamble – one is a Dictionary of Photography, the other on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. I have the one from Havant some while back, and last week Ron sent some handkerchiefs.  I have just told you about Auntie Lily’s present and that I think completes the list.

 This morning is fine and sunny and if the afternoon is as nice I may take a short walk in the country, though I must first of all write a letter to Joyce, who has been waiting about a fortnight or more for a reply to her last one.

 My love to Peter and Jane Peter must tell Jean for me that even if someone has to be bottom for Arithmetic and even if we are not surprised, it would be better if she got more for it and does a bit better next time especially (I am sure Peter can tell her this) for so important subject as Arithmetic.  I know she can do it and have no doubt that the trouble is only carelessness, so buck up Jean!  I am glad that she has done so well English, French and History and that she takes an interest in the Art Club and enjoys it so much. There do not appear to be any marks for drawing or suchlike. But Jean, I don’t like your green ink although I like reading your letters!

 I don’t know whether I can fill the rest of this sheet now. I have not even got some old men to talk about like Jean has, so I will close now, with love to you all from Albert.

P.S.  This stamp on the envelope is the one off your letter before last! (saving paper).  And give my Christmas greetings etc to Mrs Whatmore and Mrs Churchill (!).

The Christmas Party

“It will be good to use a camera again”

(There is of course no such thing as ‘White Bovril’)

It may be September 2019 as I write this, but reading Albert’s letter I feel a frisson of the festive excitement he felt on 21st December 1941. It is the day of the Christmas party and Albert is rushing off a letter to his parents so that he can get on with the more pressing business of setting up his camera. How I wish that he had been on the other side of the camera, so that I had a photograph to show you. I hope he developed his prints so that he could give them to the girls; a memento of their happy times. I’m sure the photographs were treasured by their recipients. Is it too much to hope that somewhere in this world a photograph survives?

The letter also mentions the progress of Phil Hart, Joyce’s brother and Albert’s friend from school. Phil’s whereabouts were unknown in Church Parade and my Grandmother was obviously concerned, perhaps more so than Albert was! Whether Albert allays her fears through writing, “The Middle East is a very horrid place”, I don’t know. I think my Father would have disagreed with Albert, as he served most of his time in World War Two in Egypt and the Western Sahara, and said it ultimately changed his life for the better.

Poor Mrs Hart was obviously a woman teased by the whole of the Mabey Family, as you will discover.

When I was younger I too visited the White Horse at Otterbourne and it’s still there, although more of a restaurant than a pub now. It is some distance from Southampton, so if Albert and Joyce did not cycle I wonder how they travelled there. Its nice to imagine that Albert might have taken a walk down Kiln Lane, as I used to, to visit the supposedly haunted old churchyard. It nice to think of he and Joyce picking flowers by the tributaries of the river Itchen, before deciding to go and have a ‘brandy’ in the pub.

Dear All, I hope this letter will reach you before you leave home, I want to post it to catch this afternoon’s post. I have sent your cards and Peter’s present to Havant. I’m afraid that I have nothing for you, I have bought a present but unless I can find a very strong, large box I do not wish to trust it to the post. I hope to be able to take it home myself about a month or so hence. I sent 4/- postal order to the Island, and that is about all -I am afraid  my presents are very few. I have had a letter containing some handkerchiefs from Ron, and writing paper from Auntie Lizzie.

I was surprised and pleased to see your last letter which arrived on Thursday, only the day after your Sunday one. As you surmised, I read Phil’s letter before anything else, even before I looked at the other letters. I was very pleased to learn that he is still alright even though he is not enjoying himself very much – but then he never does! However I should imagine that the Middle East is a very horrid place,  I’m sure that of all foreign countries, Egypt,Palestine & Libya are about the last I want to visit I must send him an airmail very soon. I hope that your next letter will contain Phil’s letter, or your copy of it. I am eagerly waiting to read what he says.

I can just imagine that Mrs Hart would nearly believe that you had brought her white Bovril. I remember that on several occasions we have made her believe, or half believe all kinds of curious things. Joyce will doubtless remember the time when we had been out for a walk and on coming back nearly persuaded Mrs Hart that we had had some brandy (!) at Otterbourne (The White Horse is it?) Actually the brandy was cider and of course Mrs H. said that she knew we were leg-pulling all the time! I imagine too that  they would be most interested in your Rizla machine, though I am surprised that they had not seen it before.

My Hamble  friend came up here somewhen in August or early September but he did not go to Padgate. With luck I may get away sooner than he did, but all these things are so vague and indefinite that I cannot be very precise. The end of January should see me out of Blackpool though. This morning about six of us went to the 11 o’clock service at the parish church. They did not have any carols though, which disappointed me – they come in the evensong, when of course we shall be having our party.

I have seen the cakes which are iced, and the trifles and the iced sandwich cakes and the cream cakes and the little fancy buns, mostly home-made and all looking very nice.

We are having some photographs taken, as one of the girls had a camera as a leaving present from her office and I have bought a couple of Soshalite bulbs which I can fire from my torch, for which I have bought a new battery –  I couldn’t get an Ever-Ready though. It will be good to use a camera again. I bought “Photograms of the Year” 1942 yesterday – it has gone up to 7.6d but there are some good pictures in it. I do not think that it is quite as good as the last one though. I had better close now as the post is going soon so goodbye & love from Albert.

PS your letter was not postmarked, or rather your stamp was not – they postmarked the used one instead.

No Bad News

“There is little hope of recovering it I am afraid.”

Written with an inferior Platignum

Albert writes a happy letter on Wednesday 17th December, 1941, although his first line sent a jolt of panic through me, a shadow of what my Grandmother felt, I’m sure. Oh, but is not truly bad news, not of the life and death variety, yet the loss of one’s writing pen was, in wartime, perhaps akin to losing a mobile phone today? Maybe not quite so bad as that, most people I know would freak out if they lost their phone. Albert was not of the freaking-out generation, so he laments his loss and then gives my Grandmother copious instructions on what to do to find a replacement, in that slightly presumptive tone that young adults reserve for their parents. So, once I appreciated Albert was not in immediate danger, I enjoyed this letter, which details preparations for Albert’s first Christmas away from his family.

Dear All, first of all I have some bad news, so brace yourselves. I have lost my lovely fountain pen. The pen that I liked so very much and so many other people admired. I am writing this with a Platignum I bought to-day for 2/2d. There is little hope of recovering it I am afraid. I don’t know if I told you that the clip had broken almost as soon as I arrived at Blackpool but I have been carrying it loose since then and it must’ve dropped out somewhen. Whilst searching my pockets for the pen I found the missing tie clip but I am afraid the pen will not turn up so easily, so perhaps you will look and see if there is a “Relief No. 7” for sale anywhere and with a fine or medium fine nib, if so buy it, if not see what the nearest equivalent is but don’t buy it in case I can procure one elsewhere – if I cannot, I shall have to do with what I can get. Anyhow I want one, so spare no expense! The Shell money should have arrived by now. 

I am now busy looking forward to our Christmas party. The management of the billet changes hands on Monday and two of the girls have been transferred to Bristol and go on that day, so we are having a farewell party on Sunday. There are a man and wife taking charge now and from what I have seen of them they are very nice people. They bought a Christmas tree (artificial) with them and the man, who used to be a baker or something is going to make us a cake. We have been busy decorating the room too, and it looks fine now, though it is not quite finished yet – I have some more ideas to put into practice! I had a fine time yesterday thinking of schemes of decorations. I cut out the letters in yellow crêpe paper “Merry Xmas” and hung them in front of one of the mirrors so that you can see them twice, and we have got bits of cotton-wool, like snowflakes, making “HAPPY NEW YEAR” on another mirror and there are still two more mirrors to experiment on. We have got red white and blue paperchains, like our red and green ones, across the room, and green ones draped across the mirrors & unused fireplace. Some of the more horrid ornaments have been camouflaged with coloured paper, tinsel and streamers, and some holly which was beginning to look a bit dusty we have gilded over, and it looks very nice. 

On Monday Auntie Lizzie’s present arrived – some nice writing paper (not this) and envelopes. With this lot I am sending the cake, which I have managed to pack in a shoebox. I have also been getting my cards ready to send, I expect I shall post them during this week because it looks nice to have a good show on the mantelpiece. We have quite a lot here, though there are none of mine as yet. I find that I am sending off quite a pile, about a dozen altogether. I am afraid that this will be a late parcel again as it is now 11 pm so I shall not finish it tonight. On Monday I went to St John’s church for a choir service by the Ministry of Health choir and I enjoyed it very much. I had a programme but it seems to have disappeared somehow.

Thursday: it has just occurred to me that you may be going away on Saturday or soon after so I had better post this with as little delay as possible. I am interested to read about the scarves, they must look very gay and it’s a good idea of Joyce’s. It pleases me to hear that the Forsythia is out now – it has beaten the New Year this time! As for the bicycle tyres, I don’t quite know what to do, though I should imagine that new tyres would keep better than old ones. When storing rubber I believe it is best to keep it in the dark. If you can afford it I should buy them, if you have the money though, because the “Fort” is a very good tyre. The films you sent Geoff were the oldest there were, bar the Agfa, I remembered the sequence of dates. I think I shall keep the Agfa for peace celebrations! 

I have just seen that you go to Havant on the 24th, so that disposes of that query. I hope you will not have too awkward a journey. Yesterday evening we had some records I enjoyed very much – Mozart’s 41st (“Jupiter”) symphony. That is a work I have wanted for some time and it gave me very great pleasure to hear it again, and made me want it even more.

The weather is quite fine and not too cold here now, and if it is anything like that at home the gardening should be proceeding apace, though of course it gets dark too quickly to do anything in the evenings. My cold is still with me and I cannot taste things very well, so I have not had any of the biscuits though the apples are very nice to eat. 

Just a few lines penned whilst I am at Morse. I’m afraid it is not very good paper but properly it is a scribbling pad. I was interested to read about Auntie Lizzie’s Hampshire books, that is just the sort of thing I should like to look through. It is especially good because they deal with just the part of Hants that we know best. You must let me hear more about them. By the way, I have been through “English Downland” for the second time and will send it along next week. To-day is very cold (or at any rate this morning) and foggy, but I think it may be quite fine once the sun gets up. My torch is getting very dim so I must get the first new battery. It has done well though, and I have used it a lot. Well I think that is all, so goodbye & love to all, from Albert.

P.S. I have not got a calendar as they all seem to have disappeared (and so has my money!) I want a pen so that I can see how much ink I have left. 

“I think I shall keep the Agfa for peace celebrations”, that poignant line causes me once again to reflect on how short a life my Uncle lived and how sorely he was missed. Albert didn’t see the peace, he did not resume his career in the petrochemical industry. Albert did not marry Joyce, buy a house and have children, who would have been my cousins.

When I go too far into this type of melancholy, I remind myself of the facts of my Uncle’s life, that he experienced happiness and adventure, and like most of us, he did not know his end. In December 1941 my Uncle was enjoying cosy evenings in the company of clever young women, listening to the gramophone, sharing cups of tea and Players cigarettes. He was free to do as he pleased, away from home and family duties. I see him laughing at the ‘horrid ornaments’ with the girls, huddling round the fire to compare progress on their paper chains and snowflakes, delighting in their warm smiles and appreciative looks (both for his musical knowledge and scissor skills). I know that Albert’s RAF career gave him qualifications he would never have acquired in peacetime and sent him to distant destinations he was unlikely to have visited otherwise. He lived out some of his dreams, which is as much as any of us can hope for.

The RAF Observer

“What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say.”

My uncle was a modest man, I have learnt this much through reading his letters. His success at the Selection Board is not mentioned in this letter until almost the very end. Before he shares this news, Albert’s focus is on Christmas gifts gathered and the ‘absolutely wonderful’ concert he attended at The Tower. If Albert was accompanied by one of his female Civil Service friends we shall never know. Nor shall we ever know who the ‘Hamble friend’ was, or what became of him, for Albert never mentions him by name.

Time shows that Albert achieved the position of Observer, as we can see the brevet on his uniform in this photograph . I’ve not been able to find out much about the role, other than the Observer was considered second in command to the pilot and was most often the navigator and radio operator of the crew. It seems then, that my childhood description of the ‘big black compass’ may have been apt.

Saturday 7 pm December 12

Dear All, unlike last week I’m starting this letter early since I’m spending the evening indoors. We were inoculated for the second time today and my arm – the left one – is feeling rather stiff this time, you may recollect that it had practically no effect last time. Probably the fact that I have a cold has something to do with it, but you must not think that I am by any means ill (or I would not be writing this letter). I think I have been lucky to escape for so long without catching a cold.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my Hamble friend, who has finished his training here and is going for five days leave to Warsash. It will be a bit lonely now he has gone because it was very nice to be able to talk to him about our work and the people who are, and were, at Hamble. I hope to see him later on, when I get moved from here though. I received your parcel to-day, many thanks for it, though as yet I have not sampled the eatables or opened the Xmas gift, which I intend keeping until the day. I have spent the 3/- and a bit more besides. I think I have got nearly all the Xmas presents and cards settled, though I have not paid for Peter’s book yet as it has not arrived. I bought a small chocolate cake, which I hope to send to Havant if I can find a box for it; I hoped to use the one your stuff came in but it is not big enough. Someone here will have one no doubt. I have looked for some farm animals for Christine but they do not seem to be any, so I have bought a couple of exercise books since she seems to be short of paper and I shall send some sweets as well. On Wednesday I shall send you your tin box. By then I shall have enough cigarettes (wrapped separately!) and other things to fill it. I suppose I had better send your cards to Havant, though I don’t know how long you reckon to be there. That reminds me, I must buy a stock of 1d stamps for these cards. I suppose I should buy a card for Peter so as not to leave him out. If he is able to get his exam papers I should like to see them. 

We had a mince pie with our tea one day this week so the Castleton one was not the last of this year

On Thursday I went to The Tower and saw ‘The Messiah’, it was marvellous, absolutely wonderful and I enjoyed it more than anything I have heard for a long time.  There was a very good chorus of about 120 I should say, a good sized orchestra and an organ. The place was packed, far more people than were at the Halle concert and I had to pay two shillings to stand. I very nearly did not bother to go in, but having heard it I would willingly pay twice as much to hear it again.

Sunday Morning: I am feeling rather better now and sure I’ll be alright tomorrow. I am something like I was when I was inoculated last year. I had a letter from Grandma and Auntie Ursie during the week. Auntie Ursie says that their daffodils and snowdrops are beginning to show, I wonder if ours are coming out yet. She also drew my attention to the fact that they come from Poulton-le-Flyde, which of course I know, though I do not recollect Brown’s Nurseries. 

On Thursday I went up to the Selection Board who took me without any difficulty as an Observer. It will make no difference to me for some while, as I have to go through the whole wireless course, though not the gunnery.  What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say. I am sorry to hear that Jean is not very happy in her billet, though she is a good girl not to complain. It  seems to me that she got on best with the Hollybrook children. I hope she will have some nice companions when she is moved. I have not written to her lately but I don’t seem to have much time, or much news. I suppose that she will be spending some time at Havant after you have left, or will you be there the whole week? Well that seems to be about all I have to say, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. I was interested to hear about Mrs Hart and the solitaire board, I remember that they used to play it at Landford.  I could do with some stamps for the next lot of cigarettes. 

In some other post I will tell you what I know about cousin Christine and her family. Her grandfather was the catalyst through which my Grandparents first met; when I discovered this I was glad to solve the mystery of how, in 1917, a man from the Island could have met a woman from Havant.

There must have been so much more to Albert’s new life that he did not share with his Mum and Dad – the chats with fellow lodgers, the training, the thoughts and longings he had. This letter jolted my own memories of writing home, when I was at university. It was a little unusual, in 1981, to write a weekly letter, for public phones were commonplace. I wrote letters because my Mother wrote to me, and she could not hear well on the phone. I kept all her letters, it seemed a wicked thing to contemplate destroying them. And my Mother, as we discovered after she died, kept all of mine. They lay with Albert’s, in the same big box. Maybe one day, when I am an old, old lady, I shall marry them up – I couldn’t bear to do that now. Maybe one day, much further on in time, a relative of mine shall read of the duet we danced to, and marvel at the lost world we inhabited.