“A very good Easter Sunday’s ride.”

One of Albert’s photographs

These two letters take us into April 1942, and in the absence of any war work (that Albert can tell us about) we learn a little more about camp life and, happily, Albert has a lovely day out exploring the villages and historic sites of Wiltshire.

It is such a pity that I have not been able to locate the photgraphs that Albert took on that Easter Monday. I wish I had been able to find some in amongst the albums that have been passed on to me. The photograph above was taken, according to my Mother’s note, in 1938. Hopefully Albert also saw some cherry blossom as he cycled on the country lanes in 1942.

Tuesday April 1

Dear All,

This is written on a fine Wednesday afternoon, the second I have had here, and the second I have not been able to go out. Instead of the sports, there is a “kit inspection” which should have taken place on Saturday, but we missed it then. I am therefore taking the opportunity of a little spare time to write this letter, and have just finished the parcel. The tying of it looks a bit of a mess but I hope it will travel OK. There is included the leather gloves “Afoot in England” and a tin of salmon which was given to me by someone who “found” it.

I have had no time to continue reading my new Hudson, as I was busy writing on Monday & most of yesterday evening I went to the music circle meeting. Sometime today I want to have a bath, but I do not know if there will be time to go out this evening. It is very windy & inclined to be showery, so I may not bother. We had some snowy looking rain this morning.

I have eaten up the apple tart and found it delicious, I should certainly like another if you are ever making them again. The cake is very nice too, and so is the potted meat. I am very well off for food at the moment & shall be well provided for if I am able to go out in the weekend. The only things I should not bother to make again are the salt biscuits, I don’t like them very much.

It is now evening (9pm). We had the kit inspection, and after that there was a cross-country run. As there was only a little more than an hour before tea I went down to the playing fields and watched a football match. Before that I went to the post office with the parcel, as I was told that it was open: it was not, and the parcel is still in my locker. The wind is terrific and not at all cycling weather, one blessing is that it is not raining.

On Monday night, after I had finished your letter, I cam out and found that the wind was blowing up some rain, so I put the old lagging on my saddle, and got a blanket and put it over the machine. I was glad of that later, as it rained hard during the night, but the bike did not get very wet. Tonight I have been cleaning it and polishing it with floor polish. It looks quite smart now. I have also put Vaseline on the cables, the handlebars and some of the other chrome parts.

Bother, I have just had to refill my pen on the last line! I think I will say goodnight now & love from Albert.

P.S. It is quite cold in here tonight.

Final Note: I am writing to Havant & telling them I went home, but not to Branstone: I hope that is alright.

This next letter takes us on a journey to one of the more famous historic building in Wiltshire – or perhaps I should write ‘well known’, because if you have ever watched the Harry Potter films, or Downtown Abbey, or Wolf Hall, you may well recognise the location. Not only Lacock Abbey but the entire village was given to the National Trust, ‘to be preserved for the nation’ in 1944, so it makes rather a good backdrop for a period drama, and is something of a star in its own right.

Easter Monday, April 5 1942 (Bank Holiday)

Dear All,

Sorry this is a day late, but last night I would not have had time to write sufficient for an adequate letter, and as you will have already seen by my card, I did not bother to write until now. Yesterday was in most ways a very good day, though one most unfortunate accident marred it somewhat. I have lost my filter-holder (the home made one) in Lacock church probably, or possibly it dropped out of my pocket when I got out my handkerchief at some place or another.

Before I describe the day’s outing, I had better thank you for the toothbrush which I was glad to have back again. Also for the letter and State School paper. I am very pleased at Mr B. King’s remarks.

The microscope is in my photographic cupboard, at the back of the top shelf in the cupboard part. The slide box… now I’m doubtful, it may be on the bottom of the cupboard, but anyway you should experience no difficulty in finding it.

I see from Mr Bolton King’s letter that he suggests Peter dropping chemistry. I thought that Peter rather wanted to go on with chemistry, with a view to getting a job as a chemist later on. I don’t know what he thinks about it now, and I believe that he is better at maths than at chemistry, but on the other hand it is possible that a very good chemist could earn more, and get a job more easily, than an exceptionally good mathematician. But I might be wrong and I’m sure that Mr King knows more about it than I do, but if you see him soon you could perhaps mention the point. By the way, if you all visit The Island, I could pay Jean’s fare if you find it a bit difficult. When you buy the next lot of saving certificates, leave about £3 in my box. Incidentally, I do not seem to be able to save money here any more than at Blackpool. And that reminds me that it is about time I sent my RAF savings book. I have had it since November.

Now about yesterday. I got up in good time, as one always has to to get breakfast (7.30-8.0) and after that had a bath and then packed up my dinner – some good thick slices of brown bread and butter with a good lump of cheese, which I had been saving for the purpose. I thought that the morning was perhaps a little too fine, but when I later saw the clouds being blown away, I decided to risk going without a coat, so I packed the food and my book of road maps on the carrier, and put my camera in my gas mask. I did not look at the time I left, but it could not have been long after 10am, and as there was rather a strong wind, I thought it would be rather a good opportunity to keep off the high grounds and go down to Lacock.

Once again I went down the road towards Calne, and took the left turn through Blackland and to Heddington. Heddington was rather off my route but at the crossroads near I saw the church tower above the trees, with St George’s flag flying from the flagstaff, and I thought I should like to go to the service, so as it was about 10.30 I went along the road to Heddington, which I reached at quarter to 11.

I just had time to take a photograph of the church tower, and then go inside for the 11 o’clock service. Although there were not a great number of people present, it was a very friendly and pleasant service. We sang “Jesus Christ is Risen today” and another Easter hymn, accompanied by a tiny hand-blown organ. The church is a very interesting one, and it was lovely and peaceful there with the singing of the birds faintly audible. After the morning service I stopped for Holy Communion.

It was gone 12.30 when I left Heddington, and before I had gone too far, it commenced to rain so I stopped to shelter in a little shed affair, & ate my bread and cheese there.

After that I continued, in sunshine, to Verlucio [site of a Roman camp] and then up the main road to Sandy Lane, a pretty little village, and left opposite the Inn towards Lacock. Just before the village of Bewley Common, where the road comes off the high ground like this [Albert has added a little diagram which allowed me to pinpoint the spot exactly], there is one of the loveliest “surprise” views that I know.

This land at Bewley Common is owned by the National Trust, and so the view is essentially unaltered since Albert’s time.

Where I have drawn the line across the road, it starts to descend steeply, and taking a small bend between high banks on either side, one is suddenly confronted by a wide view of the Avon valley, seemingly at one’s feet. And as one takes the corner by the church, there are cottages separated from the road by a wide green, and not far below is an old mansion, actually Lacock Abbey. In the distance I could see the Mendips and Cotswolds.

Soon I was in Lacock, which is surely one of the most delightful of all villages, equally as old & quaint as Cerne, but not so dead looking. I first took some photographs, and then went into the church, which is lovely. It has some fine Perpendicular clear glass windows, through which one can see some rather fine old farm buildings.

An added attraction was that I was able to go into the tower, and out on the roof. From the roof of the North Aisle I took photographs of the village. That was my last photograph for the day, & I remember taking off the filter in the church afterwards, so I expect I left it there. I did not take any in the abbey as the army are there and I did not want to risk any trouble, but now I wish that I had taken one, & I should then have discovered my loss. Now there is no chance of recovering it, and I must see if I can do any improvising with paper or cardboard & glue, as I do not wish to be without filters.

Last of all I went to the Abbey. It was converted at the Dissolution into a residence by its buyer, Thomas Sharington. Much of the old abbey is still intact, though it has 16th Century and later work built on. The only missing part is the church, which probably was used to build the stables. Later, the house was inhabited by the Fox-Talbots, one of whom was the famous photographic pioneer, and it was one of the oriel windows there that he made the subject of his first photograph – the first of all photographs.

Due to its heterogeneous styles and diverse uses to which it has been put, the building does not make a really good whole but some of the parts, such as the windows, cloisters and other parts of the vaulting are very good. Now, some of the lower rooms are used by London evacuees as a school, and I am told that A.T.S. girls  are going to use the place soon. Certainly it is a home which has kept well in the main current of changing history. One of its possessions is an enormous copper cauldron, which must be a good 3 feet in diameter, and to the eye, at least, it appears to be perfectly spherical. Considering that its period is medieval, it is a marvellous piece of work. It was made in Malines [Mechlin, Belgium].

After seeing the abbey I bought the cards which I thought you might like. I would have bought a guide book, but had no change. From Lacock, I turned right just before Bewley Common and went along to Melksham Forest. During a short shower I sat under a straw rick & wrote the cards and ate my remaining piece of bread and cheese. From Melksham forest I went to Bromham which I reached at 10 to 6. I would have gone into the church, which I must definitely see, but there was a service about to commence, and I did not have time to attend it, so I went to Devizes. I found Devizes to be a larger town than I thought, and the church I saw  was not apparently the main one, which is more in the town and looks even better than the other. I shall spend more time in Devizes when it is not so crowded with soldiers and airmen. There were too many for me to get anything to eat, so I returned to camp for supper. I had a very strong following wind along the nearly level road to Beckhampton & went at a terrific pace, making a good finish to a very good Easter Sunday’s ride.

Another fellow and I were intending to go to Devizes tonight, but as it rained this evening, I am writing this letter here instead of there. I think I had better not start another page, so goodbye & love from Albert.

A few of the sites and viewpoints remain, through preservation, the same today as in Albert’s time, and there’s a pleasing comfort in that. A quick search on the internet shows that the church at Heddington still has a flagstaff and its environs look unchanged. Oh, but the roads are filled with cars now, and few people visit church for Easter Service, not in these quiet village churches that’s for sure. So I’m grateful for my uncle for taking me on a journey with him and showing me his lost lanscape, and I hoped you enjoyed it too.

Did I miss something?

A photo of Potterne’s half timbered houses

Such was my first thought, when reading Albert’s letter on 3rd March 1942, for he writes of arriving at camp and of his journey on ‘the bike’. Well, where had he been? And when did he obtain a bicycle? I thought that I had mislaid the letter that answered these questions until, as I read beyond the first paragraph, I realised that he must have left camp on Saturday evening and travelled back to Southampton to spend Sunday with his parents. Lucky Albert, how fortunate for him to be based 53 miles from home; a long journey in 1942 but not too long. But on a bicycle, surely not? I know my predecessors were hardy folk, but not that sturdy! Oh no, it was a motorbike of course, that became over clear when I read over the page. Whose motorbike was it? That I do not know, for Albert does not relate this information, nor the name of its driver.

Dear All,

I am writing this letter tonight so that I can get it and some clothes etc posted tomorrow. First of all we arrived here alright at about ¼ to 10 or 11. We went through Salisbury at 20 to 10 and to the straight road through Shrewton (by Druid’s Lodge) Tilshead, W. Lavington, Potterne & Devizes. It was beautifully bright though rather cold, and the bike was going fine. We stopped to warm up at the cross roads before Shrewton. The road up to then is very bleak and lonely. The villages look very nice places; Potterne has some half timber houses, and I may visit it one Sunday – it is not far from Devizes. The bike started missing after Devizes & stopped just after Beckhampton. At first we thought it was the petrol but it turned out that another plug was required. When this was put in it went again and we covered the last mile at a rousing pace, going in by the main gate without any trouble.

Now for one or two things I want sent up to me – with the next washing parcel will do:

1. My filters in the black box and the homemade filter holder which they fit. I don’t know where they are but I should suggest looking on the medicine cupboard, in our homework cupboard in the dining room (I know the Actina filters are there, but I don’t want them), in my photographic cupboard, in the Sanderson case. They should be in one of those places.

2. A front stud. The one I was using has broken, and a substitute I have is not much good.

3. Look in the ‘Radio Times’ and see what Louis Kenter played in the 2.30pm concert on Sunday. It was something by Chopin, Scherzo in A flat I think, but I’m not sure. Having found it perhaps you could tick it off in the H.M.V. catalogue, or else send it up to me. I have few records of piano music and would like to get that one (or two). Any time you can get the set repaired I would be willing to pay for it & you must admit, it does want doing.

Through the magic of the internet I can confirm that the Chopin Scherzo was in C sharp minor.

I am pleased to have the biscuits and cake to eat in our break times, they are very nice. I have not yet opened the jam as we had some yesterday (raspberry I think) and today I wanted to get away quickly to have a bath, I expect I shall have some tomorrow.

Today the weather has been very mild after quite a white frost. The morning was quite sunny but with the afternoon the clouds came and we have since dark had a little rain. I hope it is fine Wednesday afternoon for our ‘sports’, as I intend taking another walk.

I hear that there are some bicycles in the camp which may be hired, so if they do not look too decrepit I may try one. I was talking to a fellow who had been to Devizes, & he says that it is a pleasant town, & in his opinion better than Malborough.

I fear that I can’t find much else to say, as I told you most of the news on Sunday. They don’t seem to have any chocolate here yet. I got a soap coupon this week. I don’t know how often they are given out, but if  it is once a week I shall be able to supply you with some soap. Our laundry came back today & seems quite satisfactory.

Weds: It has been raining hard since morning (or night) so we can’t go out this afternoon.

Goodbye then and love to from Albert.

P.S. a 4th thing you could perhaps send some Parke Davis shaving cream (no hurry). There seems to be an epidemic of mumps here.

I confess that I inferred from Albert’s postscript, that the shaving cream was a 1940s home remedy for mumps! But not so, dear reader. As far as I know Albert did not succumb to the epidemic.

In Albert’s next letter he gives his considered opinion on my Grandmother’s vegetable pasties and expresses frustration at the weather’s thwarting of a photography expedition. So Albert has his camera with him, which he must have been very pleased about. And he’s about to go motorbiking again, with his mystery companion. Don’t you feel like he’s having the time of his life?

Sunday March 8th

Dear All,

I hope you were not too worried at the non-appearance of my parcel on Thursday. I had it all done up on Tuesday night, but too late I discovered that the post office closes early on Wednesdays, so I was not able to get it posted until Thursday midday. You will have seen that I arrived in camp safely and without trouble.

Your parcel arrived safely and proved very welcome. I have eaten the veg. pasties but am leaving the cake until tonight. The pasties are quite nice though not so good as meat ones, I think that vegs. do not possess the right sort of flavour, or not enough of it, to go in pastry. I have been eating the jam too – I had some for breakfast this morning & I was also able to snoop some from the cookhouse, and put it in the powdered milk tin in which you put the cake. The cakes and nearly all the biscuits have gone, though I have two or three of the cheeses left.

I don’t know what you think of the week’s weather. Wednesday (“sports afternoon”) when I had promised myself a walk to Avebury, & possibly some photographs too, it rained hard so there were no sports, let alone walks. Then the wind went back and it became bitterly cold again, with snow on Thursday, some of which still hangs about. Saturday evening saw an improvement, and today I am pleased to say that the weather is fine and sunny with quite a soft wind (S). The snow is being melted rapidly, but early, when the sun was still low, it looked very lovely across the white hills and downland. Of course, the church parade prevented me from going out photgraphing.

This afternoon, at about 2 (it is now 1.30) I am going by motor bike to Chippenham. We intended going as far as Bath, but the petrol situation forbids that. I believe that Chippenham is quite a nice market town though & the weather is really quite nice for motorcycling. I will keep the leggings here for a little while just in case I need them, they will be quite safe in my locker & I don’t suppose you would use them (& the gloves too).

Whilst at Chippenham I must look at the railway times to see what chance there is of getting trains to Salisbury, they may run earlier & later than the buses.

I suppose Jean is home this week end having come by the Royal Blue. I trust that coach travel came up to her expectations. When Peter and I saw her off from the Central the last thing I told her was not to fall out of the window – as she waved to us while the train rounded the bend she leaned so farout that she must have had to catch hold with her toes. Tell her not to do that the next time. Probably she will say she did not lean out very far at all, but it looked a lot; Peter and I looked down the line after the train to make sure that she was still on the way. This weather is the right sort for learning to ride a bicycle too. By the way, I believe that Bournemouth music festival was last week – I had wanted to get there on the Sunday, but it was impossible today of course. But I believe that they have some Sunday concerts at Bristol, which is not so far away, and on the main road (which at home we are not) so I may go there one Sunday if I can find what the programmes are; perhaps there will be something of that sort in Chippenham.

As I will perhaps have little time this evening I think I will close now & write about the afternoon’s journey in the middle of the week, so goodbye now & love from Albert.

P.S. I expect the gardening is doing well today.

Another Country

Where Albert’s heart was..

Albert’s Photograph of Sutton Poyntz, Dorset, August 1940

I have mentioned before that my uncle was a keen photographer. And being a photographer in the 1930s and 1940s meant developing one’s own photographs, with all the expense and labour which that entails. The photograph above is, I think, of such a high quality that it deserves to be the first that I share with you. Albert must have been rather proud of it too, for he included it in his 1940 album. You can see below how he chose to mount it, with a precise hand-drawn frame and caption. I’m sorry that I could not get an entirely straight shot of this page, because the album is a little warped, in spite of my Mother’s care in keeping it. Albert’s choice of title “The Quiet Stream” hints at his romantic spirit, of one in love with the English Countryside. I wonder if he ever looked at his work and dreamt of a future where his photographs graced the pages of a guide book or ‘Country Life’.

I think Albert must have spent hours making this page in his album.

I also love the photograph below. This really is of ‘another country’; a bygone era, unknown to all but a few people now. It might be of farmland on the high hills around Winchester, if not there then I am sure that it will be somewhere in Hampshire or Dorset. These counties were his favoured lands. I have two versions of this photograph, one is a test print on a postcard and this is the final print, which he mounted in another album, preceding the 1940 one. Certainly the photos in the album are not quite so lovingly mounted, which is why I didn’t include the frame! I think it is beautiful.

Taken probably in 1938 or 1939, possibly near Winchester.

On the back of the test print are some notes made in pencil. Initially I thought Albert had hurriedly set down his thoughts, for the letters slope uncharacteristically elongated and almost illegible across the card. But as I slowly deciphered the words, I realised they were by another’s hand. I had not given any thought to how or where Albert developed his photographs. Given the costs and space required, he most likely shared resources, maybe at a club. The critique below must have been written by a friend or a club member, someone who had some expertise to pass on to my uncle, but I don’t know who. Maybe my Uncle Peter will be able to recall?

Apparently sun wasn’t shining – so don’t expect highlights on the horses. Besides my horses were classics – these aren’t. Composition might have been improved by having sky behind house instead of a horse. I’m always doing the same thing. Plus sunshine, this might have been a prizewinner.’

Oh but I think it absolutely is a prizewinner, Uncle Albert!