In St John’s Wood

Albert’s drawing of 6 Hall Road
As it is today; no white chestnut trees and an additional storey added.

Those of you who know London, or who are interested in cricket (count me out), will know that St John’s Wood is, in my Uncle’s words ‘a quite good area of London’. I might update his description with the words ‘exclusive’ and ‘unaffordable’, yet in 79 years NW8 has not changed that much at all, at least as far as buildings are concerned. Albert draws a rather good representation of his new accomodation, as you can see from the photos above. However, before he tells us about his arrival at 6 Hall Road, he has two short notes to share – one after his arrival back at camp (from leave I presume, given the gap between this and his last letter) and one from a mystery Y.M.C.A.

Friday May 22

Dear All, I forget whether I said I would write as soon as I got here or would leave it until reaching London, but here is a short note in advance.

I had an awful journey here and did not arrive until 6.45, very cross about everything. I will write at length later on. Tomorrow morning we go to London and should arrive about 11.30. I will write or send a card from there with my address. I have discovered my leggings here – I thought I had sent them long ago.

The pump is safe – my good friends here took care of it for me, and I shall take it with me to London.

I hope you are having a good time: I felt rather miserable on my return here, but feel more happy at the prospect of going to London.

Love to all, from Albert.

Saturday May 23. 4.30 pm                              Address unknown

Dear All,

Well, here I am in London, but as we are only in our present flat until Monday, I can give no address. At the moment I am in a Y.M.C.A. at Hornsey. I have been to Joyce’s house but no one was in. They may have gone away for the weekend, though since she was on holiday last week I rather doubt that. I am going back later to see, and may phone Shell Mex House to see if she is working. I may stop the night as since we are not really ‘there’ until Monday, nobody at St John’s Wood knows or cares if we are in. I will write as soon as I get an address, so until then cheerio, and love to you all at Branstone, from Albert.

P.S. It is just 12 hours since I was called this morning. (And 11 and a half since I got up).

P.P.S. If this were not Whitsun I could have gone home! (Won’t have a chance next week).

The following letter, twenty pages long, describes Albert taking advantage of what London has to offer; what a contrast to the wooden huts and windy, open countryside of Wiltshire! At last Albert’s basic training is over and he has been assigned a ‘flight’ for the next stage in his RAF career. He doesn’t sound too thrilled with the courses he has to take whilst in London, devoting much more pen and ink to his forays into the West End’s theatre land.

I was interested to read about his visit to Joyce’s house, who he knew from his work at Shell Mex. My mother told me that this Joyce (not his friend Joyce Hart) became his girlfriend, which is interesting because in this letter Albert mentions her ‘young man’ who was stationed in Andover. Well, I hope that future letters will give us more peeks into Albert’s affairs of the heart!

In researching background on why Albert was sent to London, I came across this interesting post that has lots of detail about the RAF base at the famous Lord’s cricket ground.

Monday May 25

Dear All,

Well, I have at last got an address, as a matter of fact in the same building as we spent the weekend in, but in another flat. The building is a block of service flats, in quite a good area of London. They must have been some quite good flats in usual times, the layout of ours looks like this:

It is not a very good diagram as there are numerous bends and bumps that I have not included; and I haven’t shown the windows as it is too much bother to go round counting them. The thick wall is an outside one.

This place is considerably stricter than Yatesbury, and we have to be up earlier, but since there are only four of us here who were already in the RAF before coming here, we will probably get off a bit lighter than the new recruits: I hope so.

The flat is quite a nice place with H&C water, two bathroom- lavatory –wash basin places, and the kitchenette with a sink and some cupboards.

There is not much facility for putting stuff away, I have a drawer in the kitchenette and a hook, but there is little room for one’s personal belongings.

The ‘course’ here appears to be negligible, though as yet we have done nothing. There is some morse which we have naturally done, some mathematics, which is probably very elementary, and various lectures, inoculations and some foot drill, but once again, we should not have a lot of that ahead of us. There also appears to be a chance of us getting another tunic and hat. By the way, you could perhaps send my spare trousers to be cleaned – I know they are not very dirty, but they are a bit wrinkled, and the creases, which I did under the bed, are in the wrong place.

This morning and afternoon we went down to Lord’s to be put into “flights” (that is what the 10/48 on the address indicates).

Most of the time there we were in the NAAFI or another canteen, or watching the cricket, which is Army versus Sir Pelham Warner’s XI. Quite a lot of wickets went down in a short while at the end of the morning’s play. Perhaps you heard the commentary on the wireless. A good number of civilians came in too, and some of them are now in our flats (‘Hall Place”). I expect Mr Abbess is somewhere around this way too, if he has not yet gone away.

As regards leave there is none, and they appear to be very strict on coming in at nights – 10.30pm, midnight on Saturdays.

After posting your letter on Saturday, I went to a barber’s and then phoned Shell Mex House for Joyce, and was told that she had gone to Andover for the weekend; I phoned her again for confirmation and found that they were out, so I went down to the West End.

Two members of the ATS count their change after buying tickets at the No. 1 Box Office at the New Theatre on St Martin’s Lane in London. © IWM D 17176

I had some tea & joined on a queue for the ballet at the New Theatre. Coming in the train to Leicester Square, I asked for the best station for the New of a man who turned out to be a Swiss, who had lived in the country for 20-odd years. He was quite an interesting fellow, talked to me about music, and was a great Bach fan, and finally showed me to the theatre. When I had nearly reached the door the gallery was full, so I had to search for further entertainment. It was not much use trying the theatres at 7.15 and not much fun walking around as it was raining a bit, so I joined another queue, for the New Gallery cinema.

The film was “How Green Was My Valley” together with a Donald Duck film and about 3 other shorts. I was in the front stalls (but the screen was quite a way back from the front seats) and paid 2/6 for the privilege. The next price was 4/-, then 5/6 and 8/- . If you want a really good “human” film I can recommend it to you. It is about the life of a mining family in a S. Wales village of about 40 years ago. It has happy & sad moments; some singing, few Welsh accents, but no strongly American ones, and is altogether very good entertainment. The Donald Duck (“Chef Donald”) was immensely funny, and one of the shorts was a good natural history one.

The show finished about 10, and I made my way by tube to camp, arriving without any rush at about 10.30. I went to bed about 11 and we lay in bed and talked until about 12.00. We still have no sheets, but the beds are quite comfortable, and don’t worry us much.

Interior of St Bartholomew the Great
Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday I missed breakfast, as it was too early for me. I rose at 8.30 and after messing around and nearly starting this letter, I went with another fellow to church. I went to St Bartholomew’s by Smithfield Market, and he to a nearby Catholic one. St Bart’s is an old Norman church (AD 1123) with small arches, a good roof, a sort of arched apse with Lady chapel behind, & triforium and clerestory. In spite of the ruinous condtion of most of the neighbourhood, the church (and market) are ok. The service was not greatly attended; there cannot possibly be many people still living there, so bad is the damage, but it was good with an interesting sermon, even if rather too long. I stayed for the Communion, which caused me to miss dinner.

In the afternoon I went to the Cambridge Theatre to hear a concert by The London Symphony Orchestra, but by the time I got to the box office, only 6/6 and 8/- seats remained – so I went away, rather disheartened. It was too late to go to The Albert Hall, as it was then 2.25, but I thought I might as well go along, as there are concerts in some evenings this week, and it seems necessary to book for things here. So I went by train to Kensington West, intending to walk to The Albert Hall by way of Kensington Gardens. I had not gone a great distance (I did not know if it was in the right direction) when I came across a phone box, and it occurred to me that it would do no harm if I were to phone Joyce’s house again. This I did and to my surprise, she was in, and had been stopping in all day, as in my note I said that I would call that day (that was written before I was told that she was at Andover). She asked me to come over, and I went to Kens. High Street, which was not far, and caught a 27A bus to Highgate and thence a 41 to Crouch End, where I found her in.

I had tea: they gave me egg (boiled), lettuce and beetroot, bread & butter and jam, and cake. I was quite hungry and enjoyed it.

In the evening we took a short walk, and talked indoors. I also had supper and after a most enjoyable evening, which turned what looked like being a miserable day into a jolly good one, I left at about 9.25.

I took longer over the journey than I need have done, as at Camden Town, where the 74 for St John’s Wood goes, I waited in the wrong place (the bus goes from a back street). Consequently I took an hour on the journey.

Joyce will be on late work this week, but her mother is alone there & would be glad of the company, so I shall go over some times in the week. Also I must see about these concerts at the Albert, Aeolian & Wigmore Halls. One fellow went to the Albert Hall on Sunday and said there was plenty of room, so I shall probably get in without booking, which is better since my spare time is a very unknown quantity.

I think that covers most of my activities up till now. I am writing this in a Church Army Canteen just opposite tot the flats. It is raining and I have plenty to write, and so shall go no further.

I believe I did not tell you about the journey to Yatesbury. Stale news, so if you are not interested, read past. I saw a Corporation bus go just as I passed the clock at the bottom, and had to wait a good 15 minutes before a Hants & Dorset turned up. I passed the Civic Centre at 1.52 & saw the smoke of a train leaving as I was at the top of the new road. That was probably it. As the ticket collector told me next train 3 something. I made for the top of 4 post hill (Hobbs) and caught the 2.0 bus to Salisbury: I might as well have gone by train. When we passed the exit of the Sarum bus station, the Devizes to Marlborough bus was in, when we had gone round the block and got in, it had gone out – missed it by the skin of my teeth again! The next transport was a Bath bus to Devizes at 4.40, which I caught. That got me to Devizes at 6.05, and after walking about a mile in sultry weather and greatcoat & kit and getting even hotter and crosser, I was picked up by about the 100th car that passed me. Glory be it was going to Yatesbury, passing by the camp, and I eventually rolled in about 6.45, very annoyed with things.

I got my £1 pay today, and have about £2, 10s left, which will probably see me through the next ten days – that should be about all we are here.

I don’t think there is much else to say. I will write again in Wednesday or Thursday. I expect letters should reach you quite quickly from here. I trust that you had a good Whitsun weekend, with not too much rain. So love to all from Albert.

P.S’s. Excuse the writing. I have a lot to write & am in a terrific hurry. It is 7.45 and I hope to get 2 or 3 letters done before bed.

Joyce had not gone to Andover (her ‘young man’ is there in the Tank Corps) and there was no accommodation available.

This canteen is in a very large and what was once posh house. It is a jolly nice place and they have good fresh cake, though no hot meals.

We also filled in reams of forms today. My RAF records must contain the same stuff in about octuplicate.

Is it just me or does Albert grow in confidence? It must have felt good at least to no longer be a new recruit, as some of his flatmates were. I sense the feeling of accomplishment he has in navigating his way east and north across London, to Smithfield and to Crouch End. Albert is becoming a cultured man, seeking out the ballet, conversing with a Swiss gentleman about music and Bach. His reason for attending church a way across town must have been to see the architectural beauty of a renouned Norman church and to express his knowledgeable appreciation to his parents, using triforium and clerestory as examples of his learning. I looked up these words for you – ‘triforum’ is space in a church above the nave arcade and below the clerestory extending over the vaults, or ceilings, of the side aisles. ‘Clerestory’ is the high space above the nave that contains a series windows. He’s a man that appreciates fine architecture and Donald Duck, I love him for that.

I enjoyed reading of the discoveries Albert made; I felt like I was going along with him. It’s a lovely gift to have all these years later. For whether your interests are in learning about wartime London or discovering what comprised tea in 1942, there is something for everyone here, wouldn’t you say?

“A League-long Tableland”

A view from Warlbury Hill, also known as Inkpen Beacon

This week I publish just one of Albert’s letters, written on a Sunday afternoon atop the highest hill in Hampshire. Take away the date and this could have been written at any time in the twentieth century; there is no flavour of war here. Indeed should you be a reader hungry for history regarding the RAF in World War Two, then I’m afraid there is little for you here. If, like many of my regular readers, you seek the common threads of humanity in the words of those long passed, then I invite you to read on.

1pm, May 3 Sunday  1942                                                  Inkpen Beacon

Dear All, I am looking down towards Hampshire from the South side of Inkpen Beacon. The best view and what a marvellous view it is, is looking north to Berks. & Wiltshire, but it is too windy to write letters there. On this side there is just enough breeze to prevent the sun from being uncomfortably hot. Even from here it is very nice looking down the road to Combe which you will see is walled in on three sides by the downs. For a good description of the village and surrounding country see “Afoot in England”. As a matter of fact it was reading that book which made me visit the place today & it certainly is worthwhile.

“The top is a league-long tableland, with stretches of green elastic turf, thickets of furze and bramble, and clumps of ancient noble beeches—a beautiful lonely wilderness with rabbits and birds for only inhabitants. From the highest point where a famous gibbet stands for ever a thousand feet above the sea and where there is a dew-pond, the highest in England, which has never dried up although a large flock of sheep drink in it every summer day, one looks down into an immense hollow, a Devil’s Punch Bowl very many times magnified,—and spies, far away and far below, a few lonely houses half hidden by trees at the bottom. This is the romantic village of Coombe…. that small isolated village in its green basin—a human heart in a chalk hill, almost the highest in England.”

“Afoot in England” W.H. Hudson

I came to Hungerford on the main London road. Although it is such a busy road, there was not much traffic today after I had passed by ‘an army convoy’ before & just after Marlborough. I started from camp at 10am, and so avoided what few joyriding motorists remain. In Marlborough I saw a good example of how the British Army carries out manoeuvres; coming down on the London road I encountered one of the light trucks leading some heavy lorries up a side road. As they came to a turning the driver put his hand out to the right, and an officer standing up behind him promptly put out his hand to the left. Apparently they didn’t know which was the right road, though there were three sorts of police fellows about and about 2 one inch maps to each car.

Along the A4 between Marlborough and Froxfield I saw what seemed to be Berberis growing and blooming by the roadside. Froxfield is quite a nice little village by the Kennet. It has some rather nice looking alms houses, called Somerset Hospital. Just a minute & I will see what “Highways & Byways” has to say about them – apparently they were built in 1691 and enlarged in 1775 “by the right noble Sarah Duchess Dowager of Somerset deceased.”

In a farmyard at Froxfield I saw an old stage coach in a very dilapidated condition. Just out of the village is the Berkshire border and from there it is not very far to Hungerford, where I left the main road. I went through a lovely common just out of Hungerford, and took the quickest road to Inkpen, which is quite a small village, some distance away from its church, which I did not visit.

Though I took it to Calne on Thursday, my 3-speed was not yet ready yesterday, so I have been running with more or less fixed gears. Just before reaching Inkpen though, I fixed the gear in middle, by means of a piece of wire & the chain I usually lock it up with. I need a lower gear than top in this part of the journey.

I reached the hill here at about 12.30, and before writing this I ate half the date cake. I took that as I thought that of all the eatables, it would travel best. Incidentally it is a very nice one. If I can find a piece of string I will now measure my mileage up to date: if I am to believe my cyclometer it will be about 25. And not very far out either, it is actually about 23. I see from the map that I was wrong in saying that Froxfield was by the Kennet; that river does not run close to the main road again until Hungerford.

Kerria Japonica

I have seen quite a lot of Kerria today, as well as wild cherry blossom and all the usual spring flowers. I saw some wild bluebells on Thursday. At the moment I can also hear a cuckoo in the woods below.

On Thursday, after I had taken my 3-speed in to be repaired (by Friday he told me) I went out of the village north-westwards, on a little road between A4 and B3102. After about two miles I turned right and went along a road which overlooks the plain of the Avon. Though the road was never more than about 410 feet high, the view was pretty extensive and as the sun was coming through the fresh green foliage, from the west, it all looked very lovely. As I only decided in Calne to go for the ride, I had not my map with me, but by various little lanes I managed to find my way to Compton Bassett, crossing the B3102 just north of Hilmarton, and keeping south and west of Highway. Compton Bassett is a very long village, which straggles along the lane for a distance of about a mile. I suppose I should not say “straggles”, as it is one of the neatest & best kept villages I have come across. Most of the cottages are whitewashed or cream washed and have tiled or smartly thatched roofs and well tended gardens, many of which are terraced up the hillside. The church I did not visit, as it was too late in the evening, but it is a Perpendicular building which looks very good from the outside.

Between Compton B. and the main road is an RAF camp which takes its name from the village. Its situation at least is much better than ours as regards immediate surroundings, and it is doubtless neither so cold or so windy.

By the way, the parcel arrived quite safely on Saturday by the second post: they seem to be a bit slower in transit of late.

Excepting that I must try to see Mr Bryan one night, and that I must go to Calne tomorrow & get my 3-speed wire (I hope) and a card for aunt Daisy, I think there is little to say in reply to your letter, so as it is getting a bit uncomfortable here, and also it is 10 past 2 and time to push on, I will be closing now.

I will post this in Combe or perhaps somewhere in Hampshire. I suppose it will not be much use sending love to Auntie Edie as she will have gone before the letter arrives, so love to all at home, from Albert.

P.S. Remember me to Mrs Churchill. I see that I have forgotten to bring the right envelopes, so excuse the one I have used, and the way the paper is folded.

In the course of this endeavour of mine, which has mostly centred around Albert’s letters (as they far outnumber those of my other Mabey relatives) I have gained a great deal; not just insights into times gone by but also an exploration of hidden memories of my own. In this letter Albert invites me to remember the Kerria that grew in the front garden of my childhood home, rather too ‘straggling’ for my Mother’s liking. Albert casts my mind back to the tall bookcase in the living room filled with faded linen covers, “Highways and Byways”, “English Downland” that I ran my fingers across on drowsy afternoons. He calls to mind the singing grasslands and dusty chalk paths we tramped along, with Mum and Dad ahead of us, four girls lost in our daydreams. Albert, dear and gentle soul, invites me to memories that are distant and sweet.

Happy Birthday to Albert

Taken in Cassiobury Park, Watford, in April 1942

My Uncle Peter posted this on Facebook today:

“Today my brother Albert would have been 100, and I can’t help wondering about what mission he had been training for on his last flight in 1944. He was the navigator of a Beaufighter and flew into a Scottish hill in cloud, after an instrument failure.

We were never told what the flight was in aid of, but when the story of our attacks on Hitler’s heavy water plant in Norway came out, we guessed that it might have been relevant, although as far as I find now, low-flying air support wasn’t used at that time.”

So today I’m thinking of my dear Uncle Peter, as he thinks of his brother. But it’s true to say I’m thinking of Albert too, feeling like I have got to know him through these letters. Once again I have fallen behind with writing my posts, so I cannot share with you what Albert was doing on his birthday in 1942, when he would have turned 21. However he chose to celebrate it, it would have been away from RAF Yatesbury as Albert’s course was due to end in a few weeks. How much Albert had already experienced in his young life – for all the hardships and loneliness that at times befell him, Albert’s life was certainly filled with adventures in these war years.

Wednesday April 22

Dear All,

I am afraid that I won’t have much to say in this letter. I am going to pack up a parcel tonight, but as it may possibly take until Monday to reach you, I shall post the letter separately.

I was going to go to Devizes tonight but the weather is rather grey and cloudy so that the ride would not be particularly good, so I shall be able to do my letter writing in the hut. Not at the NAAFI tonight, as there is a dance on.

A de Havilland Dominie airplane © IWM MH 4577

Another thing we should have done was gone on a flying trip yesterday – not much more than a joy ride, in one of the two-engined D.H. planes that Jersey Airways had, but it should have been a nice break from the usual work. The day was very misty though, & there was no flying – the first day since it began that there has been none. We hope for better luck next week.

I tried my filter on the Voigtlander & found that it does fit – rather to my surprise. You may remember that I soaked the cement out and have the two pieces of glass & the gelatine, so before that can be used I shall have to re-cement them together, but I maybe able to devise some method of fixing the other (gelatine in cardboard) filters to that filter holder.

By the way, I hope you can get my pen, as this one is behaving very badly; the joint where the nib & feed screw into the barrel leaks and whenever I write a letter I get covered in ink. I’m afraid I have no more to say, except goodnight & love from Albert.

Albert’s next letter contains details of a mammoth bike ride from Calne to Bath, there and back in one day. Knowing what I know now about Bath’s fate (see ‘More of Albert’s Travels’) it was particulary poignant to read of Albert’s pleasant afternoon in the as yet undamaged city. Later in the letter I felt a chill as I read of the ‘enemy activity’ that Albert heard in the early hours of Sunday morning. Those bombs fell not on Southampton, Bristol or Avonmouth, but on the very city that he had visited just hours before.

Sunday April 25

Dear All,

I think I will start this letter in the morning as if I go out I shall not write until tomorrow. Furthermore the weather is becoming cloudier and I am a bit doubtful about it.

I do not think that there is a great deal to reply to in your letter, except about going to Salisbury. When I said “week after next”, I should have said Sunday after next, meaning May 3rd, though actually week after next is perfectly correct. Anyway it doesn’t matter which week it is, though May 10 is fairly near the time I should be leaving here. However, I leave it to you, & will wait to see what you think about it in your next letter.

One more item is my pen. I think that it would be as well to not cancel the order, as you would have to wait at least as long to get another. At the moment though, this one is going very well, as I cured the leaks with the aid of cotton and Seccotine. I forget whether I told you that the pen I bought in Blackpool fell to bits and I bought another in Calne, still a Platignum, but with a better nib & transparent barrel. The nib is smoother and finer too.

Yesterday was our sports & spring cleaning day – something which occurs every month, though we missed the last one because we were on our weekend. On Friday I took my bicycle to the lane at the back of the camp, and parked it on the field side of the hedge. Then yeaterday I got an early dinner and whilst everyone else was feeding I betook myself across the playing fields and collected the bike. Until then it was my intention to go to Marlborough and do some shopping, but it was a lovely day, though with a strong easterly wind, and as it was only 1pm I decided to go to bath instead, especially as I should not again get the chance of going on a Sunday.

So I set off, at a good pace as I think that the road is easier in the eastwards direction and the wind was pretty strong. It was hot too & I soon took off my hat and unbuttoned my tunic. I think my times were Chippenham 1.45 , Bath 2.40 – a very rapid journey.

I parked my bicycle in one of the smaller squares or courts in the city & walked round seeing the sights. Though I had plenty of time there I did not see as much as I would have liked to have done. I delayed seeing the Abbey until after tea, and then found to my disappointment that it was shut. I did however see some of the old buildings, including the Baths and most of the shops. There are some good parks too, & in one of them I saw a good length of hedging – all forsythia. There were some lovely almond blossoms too. I spent plenty of money; apart from little things I got the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, “Highways & Byways in Wiltshire” (Like Mr Wills’ Dorset book) and a book called “Teach Yourself Air Navigation.”

Review of Albert’s purchase in ‘Aeronautical Journal’ March 1942. It seems Albert did not consider his instructors’ knowledge sufficient!

I was lucky to get some tea without queuing up for it, though it only consisted of toast and cakes. Going by the Theatre Royal I saw that the Sadler’s Wells Ballet is visiting next week but I do not see how I can possibly get ther for an evening next week – the only late trains are on Saturdays.

I had supper at about 7.30, in the same place as we went when we went to the concert there. Then, at 8.20, I left by the same main road to camp. The wind had not, as I hoped, dropped with the evening but was still strong as ever, & remained so all night. To Chippenham the journey was not so bad, as the sun was still shining & I seemed to get along fairly well. I saw a field of cowslips past Corsham and several people with wild bluebells, though I have not seen any growing, nor have I yet heard the cuckoo. I went by Chippenham church at 9.30, as it was getting darker, and from there my speed dropped rather, though I reached Calne at 10.10 or just before. Then came the worst part of the journey, from Calne to camp in the dark, all up hill and the wind getting stronger as I climbed. I should think it was about quarter or ten to 11 when I finally got inside. However, despite the ride back (which was not really too bad) I thoroughly enjoyed my day’s outing.

 Last night there was some enemy activity, with flares being dropped fairly close, I hope that it was not Southampton again. It seemed to be more Bristol or Avonmouth.

Today I do not think that it is suitable for going far. I had had some idea of venturing as far as Inkpen and Combe, about which W.H.Hudson write so well in “Afoot in England”, but it is rather windy for venturing that distance. Actually I suppose westwards, Chippenham way, would not be so cold, but that would mean I should have a headwind on the return journey.

As I expected I had not enough to say to fill another large sheet, hence the smaller piece of paper. You will see about where I go today by the postmark – if I don’t forget to post it! Anyway love to you all, from Albert.

P.S. Thanks for Raymond’s letter, I hope to reply to it soon and then return same to you to read. That reminds me that I have a couple of airgraphs to post to Phil.

New Discoveries from Old Letters

Once again Albert teaches me something new, for I had never heard of ‘Toc H’ before reading his letter. Initially I thought I had misread his sometimes spidery writing but no, Toc H is a Christian charity, which provided many pastoral services during wartime and continues to do so today, although its reach has diminshed. Call me fanciful if you will, but I think the ethos of the charity, which I paraphrase here, “To Love Widely, To Build Bravely, To Think Fairly and To Witness Humbly” well suited to my uncle and many of his generation.

So Albert appears to have bunked off from his sports day to explore another Wiltshire town and have some respite from the rigour and tedium of camp life. He’s returned to Avebury and likes it better in the springtime, and he’s visited some more churches and confidently shares his observations and opinions.

Then Albert takes us back to London, remarking on the normality of life in the capital in spite of the war. Another discovery he led me to – that Waterloo bridge is also known as ‘The Ladies’ Bridge’ because most of it was built by women. Work started in 1939 and progressed very slowly, for obvious reasons, with women replacing most of the male workforce by 1941. It was opened in 1945, so Albert would never have seen it completed. Strange to think that many times I have travelled over a bridge that my Uncle watched being built.

Wednesday April 15

Dear All,

I am writing this in a Toc H room in Devizes, which I have been looking round during the earlier part of a very lovely evening. This afternoon I was able to enjoy our “sports day” to the full. The sun was lovely  & warm, & yet there was a nice cool breeze (from the East incidentally) which made it ideal for  walking. I went to Avebury again over Windmill hill, and now that the spring is here, I like the village more than at my first glance. The fresh green of the grass, and the colour imparted by the flowers, give it a much livelier appearance. I saw very fine Japonica in one of the gardens. Tea was fairly early for a change and I was able to get away before 6, and had a good run down with a following wind all the way from Beckhampton. I fancy that it is less strong now, so it may not be too great a hindrance for the return journey. I have taken a look round the town, and into the church I mentioned – of St John the Baptist. It has some very fine Norman work in the tower and chancel, with a good late 15th century chapel on the south side.

St John’s Church, Devizes

Yesterday evening was also very nice, & I went down to Calne. In a barber’s there I heard the news and the budget. I don’t worry much about the beer or cigarettes tax (though Daddy won’t like paying 1/- for 10 Players) but I was not pleased to hear the 66% purchase tax on photography and gramophone records. A little later I may ask you to get a few before they run out of old stock.

I also went to Calne church, which too has some Norman work, though in the nave, and further, a very good old roof, & though not painted like the Bere Regis one, it has some smaller carved figures projecting from the bottom. I think that the churches around this district are very interesting, and often surprisingly large and richly built for the size of the village.

Speaking of churches, I believe I mentioned that the congregation at Heddington on Easter Sunday was very small; I was surprised to find that the Watford church was crowded with people, & there was only a very few empty seats in spite of being a large church.

I believe there are one or two more things I could say about London. The chief thing that struck me was the normality of everything, the same crowds in the parks, the orators at Marble Arch (though not perhaps so many), the many buses.

Dorothy making the bridge

I noticed that there is still some slow progress being made with Waterloo Bridge, it is going to be a nice looking one when they finish it. There is also a wooden bridge partly constructed about 100 yards upstream. That is quite apart from the temporary bridge and I don’t know what it is for. In Fleet Street I looked at a camera shop of City Sale & Exchange, they still had plenty of lovely second hand cameras. I wish they had been open so that I could have tried for some films and papers. I have not yet done anything about my filter holder, though I have a vague idea of how I may fix the filters on; it will involve using elastic bands.

Monday night I rode my bicycle to the post office and in doing so broke the spring on the 3-speed control. The spring operates the ratchet for the 3 positions. I have fixed it now with an elastic band & it works quite as well  as before. Lucky it was something I could manage.

I sent the programme of the Bath concert, and I think it pretty well speaks for itself. I enjoyed the concert ever so much, & also the journey there, especially where the road runs down into the valley from Corsham (where Jack once was) to Box. Bath is a pleasant looking city but crowded. We had arranged for some sandwiches & coffee, which we needed, having been without tea (I had some bread and butter before we went) and it was lucky that we did not leave it to chance, as people were queueing for suppers at the restaurant. We got back into camp at about 11, after one of the best evenings I have had here. Incidentally this course should only last another month.

I’m afraid I can’t reply to your last two letters, as they are in my locker. I hope Peter’s second operation goes well (or has gone well). I still have Jean’s drawing, which I will return next time if I remember it. My love to you all, from Albert.

P.S. I hear the birds singing from the room here. I had egg, toast and chips at the W.V.S. in Calne.

Albert wrote this next letter after a trip home for the weekend. I wonder what he wrote on the postcard that he thought he should not have? Perhaps that he misses his home and family; we will never know. It’s clear that Albert sneaked out of camp without permission, as you will discover. And good for him, making the most of whatever opportunities he had to be free.

This letter also gives us some insights into the changes that war brought. Millbrook is the docks area of Southampton. With his characteristic understatement, Albert remarks that had the bomb fallen on coal, it would have ‘made a mess.’ And just to prove that life really could carry on pretty much as normal, Albert devotes as many lines to a bird scarer as he does to that recent attack on Southampton.

Monday April 20

Dear All,

I hope that by now you have received the card which I wrote Sunday night & posted this morning. I thought, after posting it, that it would have been better not to have written that sort of thing on so public a form of communication as a postcard.

The bus to Salisbury was crowded in fact it was a relief run. The relief was to have gone back to Plaitford, but there were too many for the Wilts & Dorset bus which met us there, so it had to go all the way to Salisbury, which we reached at 8 p.m. I got something to eat in a YMCA near the bus station, & got the Marlborough bus, which leaves at 8.15 and not 8.20, so it is as well that I did not try for the 7.20 one. As on the other Sunday, Salisbury was full of people.

The bus journey was quite interesting as it was still light practically into Marlborough which we reached just as it was getting dark.

I saw where the bomb fell on Millbrook goods yard, though the shed was demolished there does not appear to have been anything in it. A few yards away and it would have fallen on a heap of coal, which would have made a mess for a few hundred yards around.

Just past Totton, in a cottage garden I saw a bird scare in the shape of a cat’s head, with glass eyes. The evening sun shining through the eyes made it quite a formidable creature.

I got my bicycle without having to wake up the householders, and left Marlborough at 5 to 10. There was a very little wind and a bit of a full moon, which made the journey very easy, & I got along at a good pace. When I put my bike away it was 10.35 & I had ample time to eat my cake & got to bed, as well as writing your card.

Apparently there was a check up on Saturday night but somebody (who was known to be in) got in my bed and covered himself with the blanket, so I was “present”, some of the others will probably be going home next week, so I shall step in to perform the same service for them, or rather, one of them.

I think the week after next would be quite a good chance to go to Salisbury for the day, if you can manage the journey then. I must go to Marlborough one day and see the bus times on Sunday mornings. I’m afraid that is all I have to say, so  goodbye and love from Albert.

I’m delighted to read that Albert had friends who were prepared to impersonate him asleep, and that he is able to plan to see his parents for a day in Salisbury. It seems that Albert is in a good frame of mind, enjoying his explorations near and far. Let’s hope that his happiness continues.

More of Albert’s Travels

‘Fire Blitz on Bath, 1942’ © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 3052

Albert writes his first letter of this week on the evening prior to a trip to Bath for a music concert. Had Albert travelled to Bath at the end of April he would have surveyed a very different, devastated city. In my search for a suitable picture for this post, I discovered that over the weekend of 25-27 April 1942, Bath suffered terrible bombing, part of the ‘Baedeker Blitz’ targeting some of England’s most historic cities. The following quote is from Wikipedia:

“The first raid struck just before 11 pm on the Saturday night and lasted until 1 am. The German aircraft then returned to France, refuelled, rearmed and returned at 4.35 am. Bath was still on fire from the first raid, making it easier for the German bombers to pick out their targets. The third raid, which only lasted two hours but caused extensive damage, commenced in the early hours of Monday morning. The bombers flew low to drop their high explosives and incendiaries, and then returned to rake the streets with machine-gun fire.

417 people were killed, another 1,000 injured. Over 19,000 buildings were affected, of which 1,100 were seriously damaged or destroyed, including 218 of architectural or historic interest. Houses in the Royal Crescent, Circus and Paragon were destroyed and the Assembly Rooms were burnt out. The majority of Bath’s churches were greatly damaged, including St James Church on Stall Street and St Andrew’s Church, both of which had to be demolished.”

I include the above information in this post to bring a sense of how very close the war was to Albert, although the content of his letters may lead us to think to the contrary. Albert and his friends may have walked along those beautiful, graceful streets that were, just over two weeks later, to be ravaged by fire. He may have passed by people who were to die in that inferno, or who would have to live with terrible injuries. It makes me wonder, to what end? What good ever comes of such brutality?

In this letter Albert misses home and his family, feeling ‘rather out of the way of things.’ His helpful nature comes to the fore again – with advice on home electrics. I have always had a healthy fear of electricity, believing that any association with wiring and circuits is best left to the professionals, a sentiment my Uncle clearly did not share.

Tuesday April 7

Dear All, It is only last night that I wrote the last letter, but tomorrow I shall not be able to write much as I am going to Bath for a concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The Music Circle is running a coach there, & the whole lot, coach fare and admission is only 6/-. I may be able to get out for a walk tomorrow afternoon, and will probably leave this letter for posting until then , when I can add further detail. If the weather is like today’s, I shall not go. I suppose one might say that today’s weather has been “seasonable” but it has been much too seasonable for my liking, and we have had some very heavy showers. I have been thankful that a strong wind and an old sack have kept my bicycle fairly dry, but it will need another polish up as soon as the weather becomes a little drier.

There is not much more in the way of news, but plenty to answer in yours which I received today.

I was pleased to see Peter’s report & Jean’s papers. It seems that his Chemistry result has already answered my query, as it would not be wise to keep that in favour of the Applied Maths at which he obtained 88%. You do not say what college you put down but I quite agree that he is more likely to find the necessary tuition at Cambridge than Oxford.

Jean too is doing well, and her drawing of the Norman Castle struck me as being particularly good. I suppose there are none of her art papers to be seen. I am very pleased at the progress Peter has made since his operation, Jean seems to be the ideal companion for him in these difficult days. It makes me feel rather out of the way of things to read all about these goings on, and not to be able to see what is happening. I have had a letter from Grandma in reply to mine, & today one from Havant. Auntie Lizzie said that you had not mentioned my coming home, but supposed that was because you were worried about Peter, so that is alright.

Now as for the larder light, the little Bakelite transformer will do quite well, I should think that off load it will take so little current that it could be permanently connected to the mains, with the switch in the 6v circuit. That is how they are meant to be used as bell transformers. I should not advise putting mains through so exposed a connection as the door switch. The bulbs must be connected in parallel, definitely not series, as in that case you could not light them separately. The circuit would then be:-

In addition there could be a switch in the mains circuit which could be switched off when we go away. If you are making the connection from the upstairs plug, you could repleace the present bell transformer by the Bakelite one and have low voltage going downstairs to the bell switch and larder lights. In that case, due to resistance of the wiring you could safely use 6v, and perhaps even 8v (see the brightness of the bulbs) with the 4.5v bulbs.

I had hoped that your parcel would arrive today, as my pyjama jacket is torn. I shall change my underclothes tonight as the laundry comes on Tuesdays, but not send the parcel until I get my other pyjamas.

It is just 10pm so I will close unitl tomorrow – goodnight all.

PTO – Nothing to report this afternoon; I did not go out as we had a heavy shower early on. I must hurry now for the concert. Love – Albert.

Albert included the programme in his letter.

In this next letter Albert ventures further afield. I’ll let you discover where he goes, via all manner of transport, and with little care for the trouble he’d be in if he was caught without a pass! This is the first mention, by name, of one of the ‘girls’ (see my post 10 Girls and Real Birds) who Albert met in Blackpool. Joan had become a firm friend of my Uncle’s, and after the war she remained close to my grandparents. My mother became a godmother to Joan’s daughter Helen, and, I am pleased to tell you, we remain in touch today.

Monday April 13

Dear All,

This is a late letter, but, I imagine quite a surprising one. As usual I will start by telling you about my weekend journey, but instead of the usual, this weekend I went to London! This is how it happened.

Many weeks ago one of the Blackpool girls said (and I agreed) that from Yatesbury I would be within weekend distance of her home. Last week I had a letter saying that she would be home (Watford) for Easter leave (they call hols. ‘leave’ in the Civil Service) and inviting me there for the weekend. As there were two of the chaps gong home for the weekend I said I would come, so on Saturday, after ‘school’ two of use started off for Beckhampton corner. This is how the journey went:

Of course we could not go by train for fear of the service police, but several had got to London by hitchhiking on their long weekends.

We stood at the corner for about 20 minutes but there seemed little traffic and there were so many there that nothing was willing to stop. A large 60ft RAF wagon passed us there. So after a while the three of us continued walking along the Marlborough road and at a café just before Salisbury we discovered the 60ft trailer, and on going in & enquiring of the driver, I found that after tea he would be going as far as Reading. We went outside in the hope of getting an earlier lift but nothing stopped, so we went on the trailer. By the time the driver had finished tea there was quite a crowd (20 perhaps) for the lift. We got to Marlborough at 7pm and kept up a good speed through Hungerford & Newbury to Reading and just beyond.

By the time we got through Marlborough, the sun had come out and the country looked very lovely in the evening light. I stood up in the back and enjoyed it all very much, as it was quite warm in spite of the wind. I took the date cake and found it very welcome on the journey. (It did not look so good as the last one, but there was not much difference in the flavour. The apple was very good too).

Just beyond Sutton’s nurseries, we stopped, at quarter to nine. I had intended going to Slough and thereby bus to Watford, but quarter to nine at Reading was too late for that, so I had to go into London. We got a lift from there to Maidenhead, where we got to the station in time to see the London train go out. The next one was 10 something, so we decided to try for a lift, and, if unsuccessful, get the train. As it happened, we got a car to stop, though it was about 9.30 and nearly dark. He brought us in to London, to, I believe, Morden tube station.

I went by tube to Queen’s Park station. The train stopped and there were no more that night but there were 9 of us who wanted to get to Watford way, and so we all piled in the same taxi and got out en route. My fare was 4/-. From Watford I walked the remaining few minutes.

In the morning I was up fairly early & had a lovely breakfast of bacon, egg and marmalade. I thought of what those at Yatesbury were “enjoying”. Then we went to Watford parish church for the morning service, which was quite a nice one with a good sermon. The church itself is a good old one, flint outside and with some interesting plaques and memorials inside.

After a good dinner, with some lovely baked potatoes, we took a bus into town, getting off at Hyde Park Corner. The crowds at Marble Arch seemed just the same as in peace time and despite the bombed houses of Park Lane & the guns in the park, there were still daffodils along by the path. The railings have been taken down & it looks much better, as do our parks.

From Hyde Park Corner we went through Green Park to the Palace, and through St James’s Park (much the same as usual) to Parliament Square. We would have liked to have gone in Westminster Abbey or the Cathedral, but could not as Joan had no hat.

‘The Library, Inner Temple’ © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 2217

So we walked over Westminster Bridge, along the embankment to the Temple & its church, right down to Blackfriars Bridge, and then up to Fleet Street. From there we went by bus the Charing Cross and on another to Paddington, which I left by the 7.25 train. There were such great crowds of airforce there that it is not possible to check for passes, and so I bought my ticket &  walked on.

It’s nearly “lights out”, so I must rush. The train is a good one, and I was soon at Chippenham, where I found some of the others. To Chipp. I was in the first carriage in which there was plenty of room, though the rest of the train was crowded.

There was a long wait at Chippenham but eventually we got to Calne & by bus to the camp, after what I found to be a good weekend.

I had hoped to come home this weekend, but some of the fellows got caught, & so there may be a check up next Saturday.

That’s all I have time for, so goodnight and love to all from Albert.

“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.

Cycling Home by Moonlight

“The moonlight never attained the hard brilliance which you get on really clear nights, it was a good gentle light though.

In the time between Albert’s prevous letters and these, he has spent another weekend at home in Bitterne Park. Once again I wonder what did he do with his weekend, with my grandparents, perhaps my Mother? It makes me a lttle sad that I will not, through reading Albert’s letters, have any more than glimpses of his home life, nothing more substantial than that. So instead let’s enjoy Albert’s appealing narrative of his return journey from Southampton to Calne, culminating in a moonlit cycle back to camp.

Monday morning 7.30am March 30

Dear All,

I arrived here OK at about 12.30 am – late due to a bus breakdown, of which more later. It was not a bad journey though and a lovely night for cycling. I find that I have left my toothbrush (a blue one) in the bathroom, perhaps it could be sent on in the next letter. I shall write again tonight & Branstone, so love to you all for the present – Albert.

March 30

Dear All, I hope you received my short letter on Tuesday morning. The journey you will have guessed, was not a very good one as regards speed. I got on the Salisbury bus, with a seat, and travelled there as per timetable. There was a relief run, but it turned back at Plaitford and after there quite a number of people were unlucky. There were great crowds at Salisbury bus station, and in the town itself. Salisbury appears to be quite full of army and air force on Sundays. There was too much of a crush for me to eat my sandwiches in the waiting room, but I did not feel hungry. The Marlborough bus was not filled until some way out, but before we reached Upavon they were passing waiting people.

Two old Southampton buses

At Upavon the bus went on to Devizes & the Marlborough passengers had to change to a single decker. There our troubles began as we were told that the bus had to go along the Devizes road to pick up some Marlborough passengers from a bus which had broken down. We went nearly all the way to Devizes, to the railway bridge, & found that there were only about 2 passengers for Marlborough. We took some Upavon ones too. The bus then went back almost to Upavon and on the main Marlborough road.

I did not look at the time at Marlborough but I should think that it was about 11.30pm when we arrived. I went down to my garage and knocked up the people. At first I got no reply, & began to wonder if I was in for a walk, but eventually the woman came & unlocked the door. She did not seem to mind my being late though.

I tied the parcel on the carrier & left at what I suppose was 11.45.

I did not hurry and it was a perfect night for cycling – no wind, warm & light. I enjoyed the journey in spite of the late hour. The clouds gradually cleared as I went along, although the moonlight never attained the hard brilliance which you get on really clear nights, it was a good gentle light though.

I saw a few cars on the road and several lorries travelling in the opposite direction. About halfway along I came across 3 Army Bren carriers, one of which had broken down, & was being hitched up to another. I saw and heard several peewits which seemed to be quite active in the moonlight. Two of them were certainly performing all the usual acrobatics.

THE HANDY BREN CARRIER“The Handy Bren Carrier” © IWM (H 23492)

I arrived at camp at 12.30, being one of the last to arrive, except those who missed their train and did not turn up until this morning. I ate two of the sandwiches, leaving the others for this mornings break. I feel a bit sleepy today but not really tired, as I might have expected.

I think I was very lucky as regards weather, as today is quite misty and damp looking, though not unduly cold. I should not be surprised to see some rain though, and must put on that saddle cover tonight. That reminds me that I did not bring my pump with me. Also that I could have done with an oilcan, as the dynamo sounds as if it’s a bit dry. However, I can borrow these things.

I suppose Peter will have had his teeth done when you receive this; I hope he is alright. I hope Jean is well and happy too. Goodbye, & my love to you all, from Albert.

P.S. I hope you get the parcel sent on Weds, possibly Tuesday, but I shall probably not write until Thursday & even then cannot think that there will be much to say – so prepare for a short letter!

Later: I have just written to Branstone, telling of my journey.

Even Later: I have just, in spite of opposition, managed to listen to the latter part of the broadcast od “Love the Magician.” Had I known it was on, I should have listened to more, though no doubt opposition would have been greater.

Credit: Photo of moon by Herrmann Stamm on Unsplash

Two Short Letters

There is a windmill on the hill, but very tiny in this photo!

Albert’s letters this week are a little short on substance, yet they contain some amusing and puzzling details. I was amused by the egg and puzzled by Portsmouth’s contribution. I shall say no more about either, Dear Reader, and let you discover for yourself.

My photographs to accompany this post are from the very welcome trip I took to see my dear friend Clare, and her little girl. It was the first time I had been out of the city this year. Clare said to me, ‘let’s go and see Albert’s windmill‘ and so we met and climbed Butser Hill but the windmill couldn’t be seen from that vantage point. We clambered to the top of the hill and the three of us had a picnic under a bare-branched tree, looking out across the water of the Solent to The Island. We made a game with sticks and chalk stones and talked about our plans for when the world opens up again.

I left them later to walk on my own through the beech woods, seeking a view of the windmill. And as I walked deeper into the wood and the roar of traffic from the A3 subsided, I sighed and settled into a slower pace. Soft earth underfoot, not hard tarmac. Sounds only of birdsong and the gentle breezes of fresh air. I saw wild violets. I saw yellow gorse and yellow flowers I do not know the name of, perhaps coltsfoot that Albert also saw.

Then, as I came to the chalk path of the South Downs Way, I saw his windmill on the brow of a far off hill. With the beech trees and the violets behind and no planes in the sky, I felt I was experiencing life in that moment just as Albert would have. I sensed his presence, pointing a way. A way that sits outside of time, intangible but close at hand.

March 22 1942

Dear All,

This will be another short letter I am afraid, as the weather today is really too cold and miserable for me to venture out. There is quite a strong and unpleasantly cold east wind, and the top of the hills are over-hung with cold mist, and even in the hut there is a definite wind blowing across the back of my neck. So I am stopping in the camp for the whole of today, writing and reading and generally messing about.

Yesterday was very nice until the evening, when it became cloudy. I cycled to Calne early in the evening and did a little shopping. Then I took a look around the town which I had not previously seen in daylight. It is about the size of Botley but rather better, and with some good old stone houses. I took a little road which led me westwards out of the town, and soon became a footpath, which led to an old mill. From there I turned back along the riverside to Calne again. The walk was no distance but the birds were singing rather nicely & it was very quiet and peaceful looking across the river meadows in the twilight. Coming back in the dark I noticed that there was a new moon, which should be quite bright by next week, if I have to travel in the dark.

I had some supper last night in a W.V.S. canteen in Calne, as a very clean place. For sweet that had some sort of pudding with homemade plum jam on top, it was really lovely. I have put the bicycle in between the huts, and this afternoon I shall try to find some old sacks or blankets which would keep off some rain (which we shall get before long no doubt).

I have also bought some Vaseline which I can smear over the handlebars and 3 speed wire. I had better move the machine round to the east wall whilst the wind remains in this quarter, though I suppose this wind will not bring so much rain as the south.

I shall probably eat the egg today, for supper probably, not for a meal somewhere away towards Aldbourne as I had hoped. It seems almost a waste to eat it in camp, but will be doubtless very nice. The eggshell got rather cracked, but I think that was due to the spanner and things, which also broke up some of the biscuits. The chocolate biscuits were very nice, so is the cake which I have not yet finished. I really cannot think of anything further to say, so goodbye & love from Albert.

P.S. I have put on my pullover, after leaving it off for over a week.

Is this perhaps the same flower that Albert mentions in his travels?

Tuesday March 24

Dear All, I have just sent off a parcel, containing a jam jar, a pullover and some handkerchiefs. As parcels posted on Thursday do not seem to arrive until Monday, I must take to posting them off on Tuesdays.

Today has been really lovely, just the sort of day I would like for a Sunday. Had it not been the Music Circle today, I should have gone for a ride in the twilight. Tomorrow we are working all day as the sports afternoon is (as once a month) on Saturday, which will be very annoying in view of last week’s unkind weather. Another source of annoyance is that for this week we are having our tea later at 6 to 6.30 instead of 5.30 to 6. However, unless the weather is bad I shall go to Marlborough to find out where I can park my bicycle over the weekends, and also how long it takes me to get there.

I have got your letter written Sunday night, and am glad to see that we reached our War Weapons total; it really is a lot of money, I think that Portsmouth’s objective is only £2,250,000. I’m glad that the school did so well. [I transcribed the amount just as Albert wrote it. However that seems an extraordinary amount; was it perhaps £22,500?].

I suppose that Peter will be home when I go to the Island this weekend. I hope though that he will be alright when I see him on Saturday. I don’t know when I shall be home, by 9pm I trust. I don’t think there is time (it is 10.30pm) or necessity to say anymore except goodnight for a very little while from Albert.

The Bicycle Arrives!

I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one.
Albert’s Mum & Dad enjoying a bike ride.

It can be hard to find a suitable photograph to start these posts; I have inherited many more letters from Albert than I have photographs and I spend ages searching for an image which is attractive and relevant . I was struggling particulary to find something appealing to head up this post, when it occurred to me that it would be nice to show a photograph of the recipients of all those letters, namely my Grandparents. So I looked through the photograph albums and found this happy scene, and so apt for letters full of bicycle news. I don’t know when it was taken, but most likely before Albert (who was of course behind the camera) started his RAF service.

So here are two rather short letters, full of details of everyday life on an RAF camp, but avoiding any mention of the actual training that Albert undertook, because that would fall foul of the Censor’s Office. I imagine my grandparents were delighted to read every word, knowing that he was safe and enjoying his expeditions near and far.

Dear All , Tuesday March 17 1942

Your welcome letter came today and as I have been told that the post office is open for a short time on Wednesday, I am going to try to get the parcel posted tomorrow. I am sorry now that I did not skip off home last weekend, as I found that there is quite a good bus service between Marlboro’ & Sarum. As a matter of fact I had some idea of getting off this weekend, but of course that will be no use as you will be away. The train service from Chippenham seems to be quite hopeless; I could not reach Salisbury before 9.30, & returning on the Sunday would be worse if anything. As it is, I understand that our weekend is to be pushed forward to the week before Easter (or 5th) to avoid travelling at that time, so I shall leave coming home until then. After sending off my last letter I realised that if I was going to the Island [The Isle of Wight] I should require a bicycle, and it might have been better to have waited until the long weekend, though then it would have been none too easy as I am not likely to travel by train. I shall be able to use one of the others though. By the way, I think I have found an ideal place for keeping the bike. The huts etc are arranged like this (this is not quite accurate).

You see that in between the huts & washhouses etc, there are little patches of grass, not used by ordinary traffic, & in one of those I could keep a bicycle; leant against a lee wall it should be kept pretty dry.

Thank you for getting a fountain pen for me, Oroto is a very good make according to the place where I bought Peter’s, though it is a pity you could not get such a good quality one as the one I lost. I shall look forward to using it in the near future.

I have answered your queries about war savings, and birthday presents etc. Thanks for the cards, I quite agree that Peter’s is a good one, and the others will do, I rather like Jean’s. I have been trying to get some chocolate to send Auntie Bertha, but there is none in at the moment. It is a very poorly supplied NAAFI, I have only just succeeded in obtaining some soap (Palmolive) after having waited since Saturday. I must try to get some Pears in Calne if I can get down there before the shops close.

When I was out on Saturday I saw some of that yellow jasmine in flower, there were also wild arums coming up. The snowdrops grow much wilder here than at home; I saw a lot on the outside bank of a cottage garden and a host more in the backyard of one of the lodges at Savernake.

I have just been to the music circle meeting, I hear that the Griller string quarter (very famous) is coming Saturday, so I must make strenuous efforts to get there. I do not think I can say much else, so goodbye & love from Albert…..

Weds: I have just been out for a walk to Yatesbury village whilst everyone else is cross-country running. It rained some of the time so it was not too enjoyable, but the walk was better than the run. I went into Yatesbury church which is quite interesting – Norman and early English. There were snowdrops growing in the church yard and looking very nice.

We were today told “definitely” that our weekend is the one commencing March 28. I will warn Grandma in my birthday letter, but if you are writing sooner you had better mentioned.

Friday March 20

Dear All, I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one. I went to the music circle meeting to hear Tchaikowsky’s 5th symphony, but on arriving found that the radiogram was not working, though several ‘experts’ were having a go at it. Then the electricity failed , as it did this morning, and any future attempts at repair would have been useless. We were also told that “due to transport difficulties”, the Griller string quartet would not be able to visit us tomorrow, a great pity.

This dinner time the Yale lock and chain arrived, and the afternoon post brought the parcel of food and letters etc. Receiving the second letter first, I was not sure when you were sending it – but I finally saw what you meant.

So at about 7.30 I went to Calne, leaving the camp without lights in the growing darkness. I just missed a bus but got a lift down in an RAF truck, and arrived about 8. I went up to the station and got the bicycle, in good order, without any difficulty. I rode a little way out of Calne on the Chippenham road, & then back again & to the W.V.S. canteen to have a meat pie. Then back to camp to write this letter, which I suppose you will receive on Monday morning. I shall hope to go for a ride on Sunday, of which more later.

Goodnight now, and love from Albert.

P.S. lights on now.

Albert’s Travels

When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery
The Lesser Celadine, harbinger of Spring.

It was lovely to read about these pretty flowers, and the wild violets, and then to see both of them on my run today, thinking how Albert experienced the same pleasure and optimism in seeing these early spring flowers proliferate across the land.

These two letters continue Albert’s themes of exploration of his surroundings and observation of the natural world, which he clearly cherishes. Sadly, were I able to follow in his footsteps this March, (which I cannot do as we are still in a national lockdown) I fear I would not hear so many songbirds in the skies, nor see so many beautiful beech trees. However one day I would like to do that, take the same walk or the same cycle ride. It would I think be quite easy to do, for he gives us detailed directions.

Oh, and we learn that the motorcycle belongs to Bob.

Wednesday March 11 1942

Dear All,

Another wet Wednesday, once more we stopped inside cleaning up and doing other odd jobs of work – I was afraid this would happen when the wind changed. Let’s hope that the weekend will be finer.

You will have seen that I got to Chippenham alright from my last letter’s postmark. As I believe I mentioned before, it was a lovely day, warm compared to my last motor cycle trip and I enjoyed it no end. The country to the West (off the hills) is more like it is at home, with hazel copses – I saw some catkins – winding rivers, and hedge-enclosed fields. We saw a lot of trees being felled too, beeches I believe they were.

Chippenham is not a very large town, about as large as Havant, but more of a marketing town. It has one main street, with a square at one end, and, near the other, a bridge across the Avon. Further on is the station, which is the junction of three G.W. lines. There is a market, where there is also a NAAFI canteen, where we had tea. There are some fine old shops in the town, but there are no really interesting ones, such as at Winchester, or even Marlborough. The main business of the place seems to be concerned with the Nestles milk & Westinghouse electric factories which are there, & they are probably responsible for the council housing estate on the Bath side of the town. That part of Chippenham is quite uninteresting.

I saw some snowdrops and crocus in bloom in the school garden at Chippenham, I expect the Branstone snowdrops are well out now. Up here the spring will be later than at home but if I look around now I expect I shall see some Lesser Celandine out (I first saw it about March 3rd last year) and soon there should be wild violets & primroses, at home if not here. There is not quite the right sort of place here for large numbers of primroses or bluebells.

I was pleased to receive your letter yesterday, I hope this one is not so late in arriving as my last parcel. I have written to Jean, it was really past time I wrote to her. I think it is quite a good idea to get her a silver chain for her cross, but I think I could afford 5/3d on my own, & Peter could get her a little something else. If you can get me a pen, she can have my old one too. And you must find out what Peter would like – if he knows himself that is. For Auntie Bertha I shall get some chocolate if there is any available.

I do not yet know when our long weekend is. It should fall on Easter Weekend, but since there are travelling restrictions it may be altered to a week before or after. When I next go to Marlborough or Devizes I shall try to get hold of the times of buses to Salisbury.

I do not know what I shall do on Sunday. If this wet weather continues it will be rather damp and sticky for walking, so I may try to hire a bicycle. As I sit here & write this letter, the prospect of cycling seems very attractive, & if I get a bike on Sunday & all is well, I may yet ask you to send mine – there are a number of places in the camp where they can be stored away – Bob kept his motor cycle here quite successfully.

Thanks for the parcel by the way. I have eaten the cake (v. nice) but some of the jam still remains. We have been having a little jam most tea times, so I generally take mine at breakfast time. I think that will do for tonight, so goodbye and love from Albert.

The Cherhill White Horse

One detail that caught my eye in Albert’s next letter was his reference to ‘the now black white horse.’ I suppose that during wartime having a huge chalk horse near an RAF camp was a bit of liability, seeing as it would have been highly visible from the air, even in low light. So it was given a make over to suit the times. I remember as a child looking out for this horse as we drove along the A4, perhaps on a visit to relatives in Bristol. Wikipedia tells us that, “The figure at Cherhill was first cut in 1780 by a Dr Christopher Alsop, of Calne, and was created by stripping away the turf to expose the chalk hillside beneath. Its original size was 165 feet (50 m) by 220 feet (67 m). Dr Alsop, who was Guild Steward of the Borough of Calne, has been called “the mad doctor”, and is reported to have directed the making of the horse from a distance, shouting through a megaphone from below Labour-in-Vain Hill. His design may have been influenced by the work of his artist friend George Stubbs, notable for his paintings of horses.”

Sunday March 15

Dear All, many thanks for the parcel, which was very welcome, though most of the stuff I have eaten already. The cheese paste is very nice and I can always do with some of that, though at the moment there is some left.

As regards Peter’s present, if you cannot find out what he would like, you will have to give him money – about 5/- will do. If he wants books or something that costs more than 5/- it will be quite alright to order them. I suppose the warship week will be soon, when it comes off get me some savings certificates to leave about £2 in the box – I think that should be sufficient.

Yesterday evening I walked to Calne, up the hill to Oldbury camp and across some fields to Blackland, from which I followed the lane to the main road, which led me into Calne, where I had some supper and caught the bus back to camp.

It was growing dusk by the time I had climbed the hill, and after a sunny afternoon, ragged grey rain clouds had filled the sky. However, the wind was still Southerly & warm, and it was very, very pleasant on the top. The Wiltshire chalk does not seem prone to forming well-defined ridges of any length, but like the hills just here, like those which are the northern boundary of the Vale of Pewsey, do rise sharply from the general shapelessness of the Downs. On the North side of the hill is as steep as any chalk hill I know of, almost a precipice, and as it falls away sheer from the 800ft height, one has a fine view of the village of Cherhill and the road, dotted with tiny people & cars beneath. The camp is mercifully hidden by the curve of the hill (on which is the now black white horse) and the treed landscape, with the long fields, the cottages and church, & on the other side, the rolling downs stretching far away to the south, the crest of each hill capped by its little beech clump, is very enjoyable, one of the finest views I have come across in Wiltshire. When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery.

I walked on, passing a small, geometrically-planted square of beeches and descended to the fields, across which I walked towards the Blackland Road. In one of the fields I picked up the head of the first wild flower I have seen this year, possibly pecked off by a bird, as there were none other of its kind near. It was a smallish brilliantly yellow thing, after the style of a dandelion but not much larger than a daisy – you probably know what I mean. [‘Coltsfoot’ is wriiten in the margin, in my Grandfather’s hand]. There were many birds singing, mainly blackbirds I think, but also chaffinches, robins, larks and some others, and the air seemed filled with song. It was getting dark after I had descended the hill, & by the time I reached the Calne road it was quite dark. In Calne I had some sandwiches & meat roll in the W.V.S. canteen there – a very good place too, I think they must get a lot of stuff from Harris’s.

Harris’s sausage factory at Calne

Today I have been out cycling. I queued up for one of the camp bicycles, for which I paid 1/8d and by about 10 was out of the camp, going down the road towards Calne. It was a very unpromising morning for a cycle ride; true the wind was South but the hill was hidden from time to time in mist, and after I had gone a little way it began to rain. I continued in spite of it, and turning to the left, again through Blackland, got on the Devizes road. After a while the rain ceased, and at the top of a hill, I took off my gas mask and tied it to the back stays of the bike. My road crossed the Beckhampton – Devizes road and led me on through Bishop Cannings, which as the photograph suggest, is a pleasant little village. I followed that road over the canal and through Allington, Alton Barnes and Alton Priors to Wilcot. I stopped where the road goes nearest to Rybury camp and climbed the hill, though not going right up to the camp. It rained again whilst I was there, and then there was a fleeting patch of sunshine which crossed the Downs from south to north. In Wilcot I took a wrong turning (I’m not sure how) and instead of coming out in Pewsey I arrived on the main road a couple of miles on the Salisbury side. Again it rained and I sought shelter in an inn near North Newton (on the crossroads between 2 rivers [Avon]).

I ate my dinner, which consisted of all the biscuits which remained, spread with cheese paste. By the time I left (1.30) it had stopped raining, and once more the sun was shining, as it continued to do for quite a while. I turned back towards Pewsey, which I reached quite quickly with a following wind and from there I took the road to Savernake. Pewsey is quite a pleasant little town about the size of Bishop’s Waltham. I crossed the A346 and the railways at Savernake station and went on the road through Savernake estate. To my disappointment the WD [War Department?] have Savernake forest, and the Grand Avenue (photograph in ‘English Downland’) which I intended to take to the A4, is closed. I had to carry straight on, and struck the London road a mile or so further east, and along it rode to Marlborough. I had some tea in Marlborough & looked at the bus timetable – there is an hourly service to and from Salisbury – and went to one of the churches. Then I returned to camp along the main road, in sunshine & after a very enjoyable day, though due to the smallness of the bicycle, my legs felt a bit cramped.

So enjoyable was it that I should like to have my bicycle here, so that I can enjoy the full pleasure of cycling. Rather a change of opinion you may think, but it will be so nice to be independent of other means of transport, especially as one has to queue up for hired bikes, for buses, and hitchhiking! So perhaps you could send mine to Calne station, “to be called for” – by passenger train I suppose. But first buy a lock and chain (not Woolworth’s – everyone has keys for them) and remove the saddle bag. Perhaps you had better send some tools, the puncture outfit, my adjustable spanner, tied underneath the saddle (so that the railway people don’t sneak them). I leave it to you whether you send the pump. I think that is all so goodbye now & love from Albert.

P.S. There was a red sky tonight and I saw some smoke going straight up. I saw lots of snowdrops – almost wild, & heard lots of larks.

Today is my Uncle Peter’s birthday. I spoke to him earlier on the phone, as we cannot see each other under the current restrictions. He reminded me that Albert would have been 100 this year, being 5 years older than Peter. My uncle was kind enough to tell me that he enjoys reading these letters and remembering those times, which is a great incentive to keep on with my posts. Happy Birthday again Uncle Peter, I hope we can see each other again soon xx.