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.

The Second Instalment

“I was able to stroll about with no hat or gas mask and my hands in my pockets without fear of being stopped.”

Albert took this photograph of Geoff How “Throwing a rock down Loose Hill” in 1936. It may be Lily How, his mother, that you can see behind him.

It seems that Albert spent more time travelling to and from Castleton, than he spent with his family there. With some relish he describes his long trip back to Blackpool, catching a train from Manchester at 1.25 a.m. (imagine that!) and arriving home well after his curfew.

This letter is a mixture of familiar domestic news and war time details that appear thankfully alien to us in 21st Century Britain – the landmine crater, a captured German’s flying suit and a two foot remnant of ordinance on display in the Scout room!

I found the photographs in my Mother’s album. I don’t know if Albert ever saw Geoff again, so I wanted to add the pictures as a tribute to him. Geoff was 16 when Albert visited, and he would follow his cousin into the RAF.

Tuesday, December 9, 1941 

Dear All, I am starting the second instalment of this letter today, so that I can catch up with the news as quickly as possible. I think I had just arrived at the station (Hope) when the last instalment closed. The train was due at 7:33 but was unfortunately half an hour late. Uncle Vic had enquired about the Manchester times and found that I should have about 10 mins to go from Manchester Central to Manchester Victoria. However, since I got into Manchester Central it was about 9:30, and since the other train had left at 9:10 there wasn’t much need to hurry! At Victoria station I discovered that there was a train to Blackpool at 1:25 am, so I went down to the Forces canteen at the station and whiled away the time eating some cheese sandwiches Auntie Lily cut for me, trying to sleep and reading some 1938 “Amateur Photographers” which were there.

At about 1 am we went along to the train and (four of us) secured a compartment in which we could lay down. The lights were out, and we kept out any would-be companions by shouting “Full up!” whenever the door opened. When the lights went on we took out the bulb and continued our rest until the train moved. I had quite a rest until the train reached Blackpool at 3:30 when I returned to the billet (the key was left out for me) four and a half hours late, and went to bed and slept until about 7:0 am.

Castleton looks much the same as ever it did, and though there are very few cars on the once busy road, I saw quite a number of hikers. The cinema and fish and chip shop are still going strong. Geoff tells me that they have quite modern films now, only about six months old. When we were last there I remember that that “Sanders of the River” was being shown. Of course there are nothing in the way of military there, and I was able to stroll about with no hat or gas mask and my hands in my pockets without fear of being stopped.

There are some excavations been carried out on Treack Cliff opposite the Odin mine for Flurospar. They tell me it is used for a flux in blast furnaces. On Treack Cliff too I saw the crater made by one of the landmines. It is not a very big one, due to the underlying rock no doubt.  They have a large piece of that mine (about 2 foot long) at the Scout Room, also a 6 foot length of the silk parachute cord from it, and a German flying suit. The blackout there is much better than at Blackpool.

I told Geoff that I would ask you to send up some films, as he is interested in photography but cannot get even ordinary films. Go to the cupboard and on the shelf, back left on some old plate boxes you will see a pile of films. I think the best ones to send are Selo “HP2:Z20” and a Kodak “Super XX”. Talking about photography, I was reminded that I have a Dufaycolor film undeveloped: it is on the very top of the cupboard where I keep all my chemicals, but I cannot say whether or not it is in a Dufay box. However, it will be labelled, and for your further information the spool is done up in red paper – you find it no doubt, so could you please send it off. Somewhere there is the old bill which states that I have 3d credit with them – try the medicine cupboard by my money box for it. As regards the picture that got bent, I am not quite clear whether it was the negative or my print. In any case there is not much that can be done, though soaking may help.

Yesterday and to-day the weather has been wet and drizzly, so I can consider myself lucky on Sunday. You seem to have had much the same week-end weather except for the thunderstorm. It would not have been good for cycling at Castleton.

I think a bottle of gooseberries would do alright for Ron, I can’t think of much else that would suit him.

I do not need any more cheese though, we have no need of extra provisions in this billet. We are now up to 6 again, though two of them are going soon. I think that Tibbles must be going mad from what you say about him. It is something to amuse you though.

I was glad to see that Peter has won a prize, he has deserved one for a long time. I think as for him registering at 16 and a half, that is nothing to be worried about. If he goes to college he will be exempt until he has taken his degree, and if it is a BSc, they will probably put him on government research. I took the “educational test” last week and went through it easily enough – it was the sort of stuff Peter was doing before he could walk properly. But this week we go up before the Selection Board which consists of officers who seem to do their best to keep us out, so I don’t know if I shall pass that part. As regards Morse, I get on quite well and I’m up to 10 w.p.m. now. We have to reach 12 here. At last that is about all, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. Don’t bother about getting a new tie clip. What with all our moving about it too might fall off and with the uniform it doesn’t show at all, so a tiepin (which I have) is perfectly satisfactory.

My Grandmother obviously worried about my Uncle Peter (the cleverest person I know) going to Cambridge University at such a young age, but Albert wisely pointed out the advantage that Peter would be exempt from conscription. What unimaginable strains the war put on families, the constant worry, for mothers especially. Geoff was Lily’s only son, her only child – how difficult it must have been to watch him go. How cruel that Geoff was killed in action on 25 March 1945, aged 20. One hopes Lily and May found some small comfort in their shared loss. But to lose your only child, all your hopes for the future – I don’t imagine she ever got over it.

Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Barnes How, 1925-1945
Last known photograph of Lily, after the war was over. How different she looks.


Colouring My Mabey Family Past

An afternoon in 1937 comes back to life

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

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

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

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

Church Parade

“We have got a cat here, a quite small one, ginger in colour. It is about the size of our Ginger”

Albert took this photo of ‘Ginger begging’ in 1937.

Albert writes his next letter on 30th November 1941, fresh from parading in front of a ‘herd of officers’, for no good reason that he could see. His mind is on Christmas presents and his afternoon out with a family friend. It’s just a little letter, but I love it for insights that it gives us, on everyday wartime life, and those family members that I never got a chance to meet. It pleases me to picture Albert sitting by the fire, his mind on the cosy details of home. I am sure that one of the ‘girls’ was in the background, making him a cup of cocoa to share with her, after he had finished writing.

Dear All, I am starting this in the morning after having been to church. After church we marched by a herd of officers,  moving at very nearly funeral pace,  while they stood in a row and saluted. I didn’t see much point in the show but I suppose it keeps someone happy.

Mr Gibson is coming this afternoon about 2, for a couple of hours, it is very good of him to come and visit me like this with petrol so scarce. I must remember to get him cigarettes for Christmas. I must also take uncle Vic some tobacco, if I manage to get there next week. I have been sending off letters and cards by the score, first saying that I was going to Castleton and then that I was not. I have already used that 2/6 book of stamps that you sent last week and shall have to buy or borrow an envelope for this letter.  I was out looking at shops yesterday afternoon and made one or two purchases. Regarding presents have you any ideas about something for Christine and Ron? I don’t think that there are any others I have forgotten. I could get an aeroplane construction kit for Ron. Would you like a calendar for 1942? I don’t suppose there will be many free ones this year and there are one or two in Boots which have taken my eye.

I was pleased to see the letter & statement from S.M.& B.P. The “ex gratis” payment made “4.4.0” was the fortnight’s advance pay which I got before leaving. The “War Allowance” is the 15% bonus. The “Provident Fund” is the superannuation affair. So if you work it out carefully you will see that next time the cheque should be for about £4. Continue to put it in the box taking out Jean’s money each week and I can put in the P.O. whatever is left when I come home. 

Saturday I got a letter from Jean which I shall enclose if I remember to do so. I should write to Peter in the week, though I have no idea of what I shall write about. Just before I forget it, I must tell you that I have my savings book and I believe the RAF money goes in every three months. I don’t think I know David Trim, but I used to know the Bickers boys. I believe Ken is the boy I know best. As for Phil,  I shouldn’t think he would be at all near the front.  You remember that they were well in the vanguard of the retreat from France, so I should think he will be well in the rearguard of the advance in Libya, I very much hope so.

Some of the fellows here have just been complaining that they do not like Sunday morning because there is nothing to do! I am only too pleased to have nothing to do, although I always have a letter on hand to start or finish.

Sunday Evening: I had quite a nice afternoon with Mr and Mrs Gibson.  He arrived at about 1.30 and we went to Fleetwood for the afternoon. He has a nice little car, a Morris 8, and it was very nice to have the afternoon with them. He had to leave early of course, to beat the blackout, and went at 4. I went out some way with him and walked back reaching the billet at 5. It was quite a fine afternoon, though there was a sharp NE wind blowing, which made it chilly to stand about. 

Fancy having some primroses out! I believe they were late last year too. I saw some violets for sale in one of the shops, and wondered if they have any out at Branstone. Auntie Daisy sent the other pair of socks during the week, and in her letter said that she had picked some raspberries which were quite nice. I wonder if you have had any other bottled fruit yet. (I am wearing the socks which are alright).

I had some unpleasant news today, a good many of the air-crew have been moved from this part of Blackpool, to where we started off and possibly we may go too. I sincerely hope not, and if I can I think I should lodge a complaint – though I don’t suppose it would do much good. We have got a cat here, a quite small one, ginger in colour. It is about the size of our Ginger, but of course the tail is different,  and it has more white in it. Yesterday he caught a mouse and was playing with it on the kitchen floor.  At our first billet there were scores of mice. I saw one running about in one of the cupboards in the scullery, where they sometimes kept with provisions, and that didn’t please me very much you can guess! I don’t think there is enough news for another sheet, so goodbye and love from Albert.

Ron was the son of my grandparents’ neighbours. He spent much of his childhood with my Mum and her brothers, joining them on holidays, and trips to the Island. We know him as ‘Uncle Ron’, always cheerful, always smiling. He made a career from his love of aeroplanes, working in the Concorde factory in Bristol. He was a dear friend to my Mother, almost like another brother to her.

“Not a very satisfactory letter”

The photograph shows the envelope in which I found the following letter, along with three others. My Grandmother would have sent them all on to Headley House, for my Great Aunts and Great-Grandparents to read. They would have been read by the oil-lamp’s light, for there was no electricity. The envelope originally contained a letter addressed to my Great Aunt Daisy. Daisy Nutt was the only daughter of John and Jane Mabey to marry, in 1919 I believe. But the marriage did not last and, unusually for the times, Daisy divorced and returned to live with her sisters and her parents. Why she chose to leave Ryde and her sailor husband I do not know.

Albert starts his letter on an inclement Sunday evening, rather brooding on the failed meeting with Mr Gibson and apologetic that he has not procured any cigarettes. He shares, again, his memories of Hampshire countryside and the melancholy of his words reached me all these years later; I wonder if you shall feel it too?

Sunday, November 23 

Dear all, 

I will try to write as much as I can tonight, though I fear that I may not be able to finish it. It is not a very satisfactory letter I am afraid, for one thing, I have no cigarettes, which is not very good since, I received some stamps with your last letter! I will see what I can do in the week. Also I have to say that Mr Gibson did not turn up today -perhaps you miscalculated, or perhaps my letter put him off, for when he suggested that he might come to see me, I wrote that he ought to perhaps to drop me a line so as I should not be out. I stopped in all to-day but he did not turn up, though I should not have walked far, because yesterday I had a nasty blister on my left little toe. I put some Acriflavine on it last night and it seems alright now.

I have since learnt that it was Scorton that I went through last week, though I don’t know about the other places. If we have any snow this winter, I shall certainly do my best to get out into it. I remember well a ride with Phil out into the Forest after we had had a slight fall – most of the snow had melted by the time we arrived, but that field on the left up Hunter’s Hill still had snow on it because the winter morning sun had not yet got to it. I also remember going with him to Avington Park & Ovington (one of his favourite rides) and there was quite a bit of snow remaining on the road between the east of Avington Park and Ovington, the Bell Inn I believe. And that reminds me of the time I went to the Island (early this year I believe) and went out before dinner to Bobberstone way. I went towards Fighting Cocks and left down the Bathingbourne Road, and near the Godshill Road I got off and walked across some fields which were white, with one of the whitest frosts I have seen and especially nice because the sun was very yellow and shining through the trees and on some horses in the field and the horses were steaming in the frosty morning. It was very nice and I walked up the field and looked across over the frosty fields. I remember too that I had my blue overcoat on and it was too warm for me.

Ratty & Mole, “The Wind in the Willows”

We got paid on Saturday and to my great surprise I got £2, some of the others who are putting the same into P.O. Savings  got only 30/- and I believe there were a few who received £1. I suppose I should get about £1 next fortnight. However  I have ordered a chemistry textbook for Peter’s Christmas present, I hope it will suit him. As regards myself, I think that watch repair would be quite nice, it would be useful . Most certainly I do not want a new hairbrush! For Jean you might get the “Wind in the Willows”‘ it is a book most children enjoy, and should read, but she may have better suggestions. By the way you can tell her that I for one do not approve of her green ink,  and she had better get some more if she wants to write to me! Just before I go, I got your letter with stamps. I had bought a 5/- book, so I won’t want anymore for a little while at any rate perhaps you had better send a P.O. next time [Postal Order] when it amounts to enough to send. When the Hamble money arrives you had better save it up for a bit because I shall want some about Christmas time. 

We do not seem to have any alerts here we have not had a warning since my first week up here. I remember they were ploughing the park by Brambridge House and now they are doing The Avenue.  I expect you will see a lot more downland being put under the plough this winter and spring, and a lot more beech woods going down -what a shame it is to see those lovely trees being cut up and carted off.

I got the Shell Magazine on Friday, but no letter inside – perhaps they could not afford the stamps.

Owing to money shortage I did not see the Marx Bros film and so cannot give you a first-hand account of it, though I have heard that it was not up to the usual standard. This week there are no films of great interest or plays etc.  Saturday evening I saw “The Cherry Orchard”, a Russian play by Anton Chekhov. It was a most unusual play, every so often one of the characters made a most peculiar speech addressed more to empty space than to the other characters or the audience.  However though very odd, it was very interesting too and quite amusing, so I enjoyed it more so than the Tauber thing. Somewhen in the future there are some Gilbert and Sullivan operas which I should very much like to see.

It is now Monday and once again dull and drizzly. We seem to have a lot of rain here in Blackpool or perhaps you are getting a lot of rain at home too. I must write to Mr & Mrs Gibbons and Jack. They must wonder what has become of me. I suppose you have not seen anything of them since I left. That seems about all I have to say, so goodbye and love from Albert.

P.S. Excuse the scribble I’m in a hurry. If anyone with a spare coupon wants to buy me a Christmas present,  they could get a black tie, I think mine will be wearing out soon.

I wonder if my Mother received “The Wind in The Willows” as her Christmas gift from Albert? And if so, was it the same copy that she gave to me to read, when I was 7 or 8? I loved that book. I raced through the story by torchlight, under the covers as my sisters slept. So I agree with my uncle when he writes (sounding rather older than his years) that ‘it is a book most children enjoy, and should read.’

Those of you that are familiar with Southampton will know that The Avenue is the main route into the city centre from the east. It passes through Southampton Common, which (assuming Albert’s report is correct) must have been ploughed up during the war. I cannot find any reference to this though. Let me know if you have any information about it.