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.

“Settling Down”

Class receiving instruction in Morse code. © IWM (CH 2040)

Albert tells us that he is settling in to life on the RAF camp, happy to meet up with some familiar faces from Blackpool, and his former work colleague from Hamble (it’s a shame we do not get to know his name).

His training in Morse continues, along with learning about radio operations, which he finds quite easy. RAF Yatesbury apparently had a secret radar training section from 1942 onwards; of course Albert would not have been able to disclose any information, were he involved in this. What Albert does divulge about camp life is, in some respects, rather too much information in my opinion. I don’t mind reading about the cinema and his Saturday dinner out, but I did not enjoy reading about his ‘interesting’ trip to the dentist and his soap-saving endeavours!

Wednesday February 25

Dear All, many thanks for your letter which I think I received yesterday, but there is little to mark the passage of days here, so I am never sure which day is which. I am glad that you went to the pictures with Jean and enjoyed yourselves there, I expect Jean will manage to pay for her ticket out of her pocket money. The letter which came from Dickson Road was one which I had received long ago, but they found it behind the dressing table and sent it on in case it was one which I wished to keep. I must thank them for sending it on.

I have been getting on fairly well, & settling down in this past week. The work is almost entirely in classrooms with only a very little P.T. We mostly learn Morse and the way messages are sent out, and wireless, which at the moment is elementary magnetism and electricity and accumulators. I have thus done much of it before, much more thoroughly than they do it here, so that part of it comes very easily to me. The other is not very hard but the course is much more interesting than the plain Morse and drill which we did at Blackpool. We do not do any flying here.

One of the first things I did here was to break the little comb you gave me. It could not have been very strong as I just brushed my hair when it was wet, & the comb broke in two! I still have the mirror which is most necessary, as there is none in the hut or workhouse. I have the other (green) comb of course.

On last Friday I went to the cinema, & saw some old films, including a Mickey Mouse, and a “March of Time” issued whilst America was still out of the war. It was only 6d & quite good considering, though like everything else here, the cinema is inadequately heated & too adequately ventilated! Tomorrow I may go again to see a Deanna Durbin film – “Spring Parade”.

On Saturday evening I went with my Hamble friend and two other fellows to Calne, where we had dinner in the hotel there. A very good dinner too, of soup, chicken, potatoes and sprouts, chocolate pudding and coffee. It was a very pleasant evening, and a good change from camp life, in which meals are much more roughly served than in an hotel! I must go there again one Saturday.

I have also met two of the fellows who were billeted with me at Dickson Road, and they say that they have seen three of the others up here. I have seen several people whom I met at various times at Blackpool, so this is by no means a strange place to me. Strangest of all, I met last night a chap who for two years was in the same form as me at Taunton’s [Richard Taunton Grammar School]; a very pleasant coincidence. He too is on an Observer’s course, though about a month ahead of me, so we stand a chance of going to the same place together after this.

Monday and Tuesday evenings I spent writing letters and reading books. I have already got some way with my W.H. Hudson book. As the hut is so draughty & the NAAFI reading room shuts at 9.30, I usually go to bed at about 10.00 and until lights out (10.45) read in bed. Tonight I am up later writing this letter. Tuesday I sent a towel, shirt and collar to the laundry. I don’t know what the result will be but I have taken the risk until I have a definite reason for not doing so. Whilst on the sunject of clothing, perhaps you could send up my pullover next week. I do not remember if there is a sleeveless one still about, but if there is, perhaps you could send that one. If not the other will do.

Later in the day I had my teeth scraped, or sealed, as the dental term is. It consists of removing the tartar, or lime or whatever collects of them with a miniature scapel: quite an interesting process, and my teeth feel much cleaner as a result of it. In the evening I had a bath – a good hot one too, and that reminds me that I could not find my flannel. If it is at home perhaps you would send it up with the pullover. By collecting bits which other people have left, I have not used my soap yet. The water is extremely hard here and soap doesn’t lather at all easily. As that completes the page, & I have little else to relate, I will close now with love from Albert.

That’s January Done

There is a general feeling, in this country at least, that it’s good riddance to January 2021. Lockdown continues, the death toll is alarming and the weather has been awful. Whether or not Albert experienced a similar dislike of the first month of 1942,I shall let you decide! Here are his two last letters of the month. The first one is undated, but I believe I have placed it correctly. Food, socks, concerts, cold weather and cold water – these are some of the topics covered. They are all familiar subjects but elevated out of the mundane by the glimpses they offer of a long ago England in wartime.

Dear All,

Thanks very much for the parcels. I got the tin of biscuits etc. yesterday, and the parcel of socks came this morning here. I think it best that you should still send mail here, as I have heard a rumour that we are being moved again. The place hasn’t improved much but I come round here quite often so I am getting on pretty well. I bought some “Diploma” cheeses on Monday to have at teatime. I must try for some “Velveeta” another time. I can’t quite remember when I wrote my last letter to you, or what I said in it. Was it the one I wrote at the YMCA canteen.

The weather lately has been very changeable with rain, sun, a cold east wind and some snow all mixed. On Monday I was put On Guard – 7 hours in all and it was rather cold at night but I’ve got over it. The only thing was that the wind caught my hands a bit and made them rough and bleed a little (probably washing in cold water made things worse) but I managed to borrow some sort of cream from one of the girls here, and now they are much better. Coming back in the morning I was able to get quite a lot of chocolate in the canteen. I shall save some of it for Christine’s birthday. Could you tell me when these birthdays are.

I was sorry to hear that you have got the wrong size tyres, though I thought that the wheels were 26 x1 ½ “. My back tyre is a 26 x 1 3/8”, though the fact that it is a “tandem” tyre makes it look much larger. I intended to get a 1 ½ “ tyre but all the shops at which I enquired said that it couldn’t be done. I suppose that it would be liable to come off when not wanted.

I am afraid that this is will be a short letter as nothing much seems to have happened since my last, and there is very little to reply to in your letters. I must put in Raymond’s letter to give you something to read.

I don’t believe I told you about the symphony concert on Sunday. Of course the orchestra was a bit ragged to the Halle etc, and was lacking in some instruments but I enjoyed it very much. Norman Allin of course was very good – do you remember hearing him sing the “Song of the Flea” many years ago at the Police Concert? I enjoyed the “Fingal’s Cave” & the “Emperor” and the symphony No 1 – all pieces I like. I have long wanted to see a performance of the “Emperor Concerto”. That I fear is all I have to say so Goodbye and love to all, from Albert.

Bowl of Apples by John Thomas Richardson

Albert’s second letter is dated Saturday 31 January 1942 and continues with his familiar themes; he is very pleased to have some apples from the garden at home! Albert feels fortunate to have the homely atmosphere of ’39’ (his previous billet) to come back to, enjoying a cup of cocoa and homemade jam tarts. And whilst Albert barely touches on the matter, I sense that he knows his life will change imminently, remarking as he does on colleagues who are moving on . Soon it shall be Albert’s turn to pack up his kitbag and leave Blackpool. I think he will be rather glad about that, in spite of any nervousness about what lies ahead.

Dear All, your parcel of handkerchiefs, potted meat and APPLES arrived at 39 today and I collected it with my laundry at dinner time. The apples are lovely. I had one after dinner today, and it was so very nice that I then had another, the little one. Although it is true that they show some signs of shrivelling, they are still beautifully crisp and fresh, a real treat for me. Despite what we and Mrs Avery (as usual) said to the contrary, they have kept very well & nearly as long as in previous years.

I believe I said in a previous letter that I should like mail to be addressed to 39 Dickson, especially now as the people at 53 have an unpleasant habit of sometimes taking our mail into the kitchen and leaving it until we ask for it. Auntie Lizzie sent some Xmas cake and though it came in the afternoon it was not until the following morning that one of the fellows noticed it outside, and I was able to claim it. There were some letters for the others too.

I shall be quite well off for food next week, besides your potted meat, I have some jam tarts for today, a ginger cake for tomorrow (and perhaps Monday) ½ dozen packet cheeses and a jar of Poulton Noel’s meat paste. There is always plenty in the shops if one can afford it.

The weather now is very nice – sunny and not much wind though a trifle “fresh”. I should like to go for a walk tomorrow though these things are not now so easy to arrange, but perhaps I could get a small brown loaf and take it with me. The trouble is that I don’t know what weather to expect. Next week there is a church parade in the morning so I cannot go far then. Did I mention that I went to Evensong last Sunday? The church is blacked out and the service starts at 6.30. After that, with two of us from 39, I went across to a concert run by the church. It was quite entertaining and they handed round tea and biscuits for those who wanted it – all free!

Of the four of us who came from 39 to 53, one has already gone on his leave & another will go this week. There were two others at 39 but they have gone to good billets so we don’t see much of them. They have had no RAF at 39 since we left, so there is a good billet waiting empty. However, it does mean that we don’t overcrowd the place when we go there. They are very nice to us & last night I had my usual cup of cocoa & some very fine jam (strawberry) tarts which they had made. We occasionally get some jam at 53, I think it is intended to be blackcurrants, but that is just what it looks like, the flavour is very faint and not at all like our blackcurrants.

Last night I saw “The Devil & Miss Jones” which was quite good, though not so funny as I had expected. On the other hand there was more of a story than in most comedy films and though it was not particularly original it made the film interesting and more memorable. It was about a rich man (very rich) who, to find out trades unionists in a shop which he owned, took a job in the store, and was won over to their cause against an unfair and tyrannical management. Quite good on the whole. Thursday I saw the International Ballet again & once more enjoyed it. I tried to get a programme to send you but they were all sold when I got there. Next week I am not sure what will be on. There is “Hi Gang” at one cinema, but also a Bernard Shaw play at the theatre, so I may have to miss one – shall see how funds are. The trouble about films based on radio & variety shows is that they generally lack a story and don’t “hang together” – as in the case of Arthur Askey films, & one we saw a long time ago with Clapham & Dwyer and Teddy Brown and some other people in.

On Wednesday I shall probably send some more washing, or perhaps, on second thoughts, next Saturday – I shall see how many hankies I use. If anyone would like to do some knitting, I could do with another pair of gloves – large ones that I can wear over my present pair when on Guard & on other occasions when I am likely to feel the cold very much. I have put cream on my hands every night and now they are alright.

I do not remember whether I thanked you for the biscuits etc which were in the last parcel. I ate the Mars bar the same day as it arrived, & have been eating biscuits after meals. The crisps will be very useful if I go out tomorrow. I must get some birthday cards today for all these people, but as you say will not send presents except to Maggie & Christine who I cannot leave out.

I was interested to read the gardening notes. As you say, I don’t get much of a chance to see the gardens: it is only on the outskirts of the town that there are any worthy of the name, and even there nothing like we get at home in our outer districts such as The Avenue. What a pity that you lost the beans, they would have been some nice and early ones for us. I suppose the Forsythia is showing signs of blossom by now. That is about all so goodbye and love Albert.

P.S. I am writing this from a YMCA canteen. I shall try to remember to send Phil’s cable with the next parcel. I have received another letter from Joyce, after a long silence. When I reply I shall enclose the airgraph, and the cable address. I have not yet received the letter which he promised me.

PPS A couple of soldiers have just arrived at this table & are writing in pencil and making the table wobble. I hope they finish soon as I want to get through a lot of correspondence today: I have not written much this week due to shortage of stamps. The watch goes very well & keeps excellent time. It is necessary now as there is no clock in the room.

I love that Albert mentions that the soldiers are writing in pencil – I can just imagine his dismay: do they not own a pen between them?!

Snowdrops Photo credit: Olga Subach

“This is a Very Miserable Letter..”

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

Weds Jan 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Jan 22

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

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

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

Our new billet is miserable. Here is a summary.

Fire – small, lit about 11.0am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Jan 26th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, Mr Porter!”

Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat: Albert must have heard an extract from this film on the radio.

I could have titled this post “The Sock Saga”, as Albert is a little preoccupied with sock supplies, but I thought it not the most compelling title, plus it’s hard to find a photograph of 1940s socks. Yes, I’m sure somewhere on the internet there is a vintage sock snap; I’ll save that search for another day. I hope that Albert will learn to darn his own socks in the next year. He is getting used to washing his own hankies, as you will discover.

Albert is also laid low with tonsillitis. His doctor prescribes potassium chlorate and menthol to relieve his symptoms. I was a little alarmed when I discovered that potassium chlorate is a volatile substance, which is used in fireworks and other explosives, yet it was a widely used throat remedy way back then.

January 14 Weds

Dear All, your letter has not yet arrived, but I think I had better at least start to reply, though I shall wait until the first post tomorrow until I finally seal it up. I hope the socks arrive soon as I am down to the last pair, and even they have a hole in and want washing. I suppose that they arrived too late for the Monday morning post.

I have just been listening to Moore Marriott & Graham Moffat, in the bit from ‘Oh! Mr Porter!’ I expect you heard it too.

On Monday I went to the Music Society’s meeting as usual, & on Tuesday to a concert by the RAF orchestra. The orchestra played, amongst other items, part of the ‘Water Music’, some songs by a good soprano, and some very excellent piano playing by a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. As an encore he played the Dance of Fear [‘Dance of Terror’] from ‘Love the Magician’, much to my delight.

The weather has been still unpleasant, consisting mainly of wet snow, cold rain and cold winds. The snow has not laid properly, but it has made the roads nasty and sloshy to walk on. My cold is still with me and worse if anything, as I now have a sore throat too. I washed about a dozen handkerchiefs this evening, but have not yet succeeded in getting the blue out.

Nowadays we are back on the drill again. Not that there is any need for it, but I suppose that the idea is to keep us busy. Until then we were mainly on “route marches”, which generally consisted of about two thirds march & one third sitting in cafes.

Thursday: I am now at the billet after having been to see the doctor. He says I have tonsillitis and must stop in bed for two days. I have also to gargle, to inhale menthol & take some potassium chlorate tablets. I have not yet got to bed & don’t suppose I shall do so, because it is a lot warmer down here by the fire than upstairs, especially after the window has been open all morning. This morning was clear and very cold. About the coldest yet I should think. Don’t think that I am very ill though: as far as I am concerned I have just a bad cold and sore throat, but I think that if anything I am better than yesterday. I shan’t be able to go to the cinema tonight as planned though; I must try Saturday.

This morning’s post had only a letter from Auntie Frad for me, perhaps yours may arrive with the parcels at dinner time. I see from Auntie Frad’s letter that Peter arrived there on Monday, so I suppose that Jean has left you too. Her letter also included a 2/6 book of stamps, which is very useful, as I had run out & should have had to buy some to post this letter……….1.30pm: Nothing has yet arrived, so goodbye, Albert.

I had not heard of ‘Love the Magician’ until I read Albert’s letter. ‘El Amor Brujo’ was composed by Manuel de Falla between 1914 and 1915. I listened to an orchestral version of ‘Danza del Terror’ last night, closing my eyes to imagine my Uncle’s delight, to hear that familiar piece of music so far from home.

A Walk in Windmill Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Friends

“a sort of guarantee that things are much as they were, underneath, just as you know that a tree is fundamentally the same in Winter as when it is able to be in leaf.”

Phil Hart 1938′ – this photo was probably taken by Albert.

I don’t know when Albert would have received this short letter, surely some weeks after the date his school friend Phil Hart wrote, on 16 December 1941. However, in The Christmas Party Albert mentions receiving a letter from his school friend. If this ‘Air Graph’ took only five days to fly from ‘The Middle East’ to Southampton and thence to Blackpool, that would have been some kind of miracle. At the time of writing, these young men were only 20. Although the letter is short I loved the insight it gave me into another important relationship in Albert’s life. I was moved by the wisdom of Phil’s words, so apt not only for their radically altered lives, but the strange and uncertain world we live in now:

Dear Albert, This is just a “filling in” missive, not my much-overdue letter to you; that will arrive later. I hope you’ve seen everything that has arrived home from me. I am aware that you’ve been in the RAF for several weeks now. Unfortunately, I am not in possession of your new address yet, so this will go via No 38. I received a letter from you a short while ago, written in Devon. I enjoyed your holiday. It’s strange how you do enjoy such things by proxy, when you’re separated from them. It seems to be a sort of guarantee that things are much as they were, underneath, just as you know that a tree is fundamentally the same in Winter as when it is able to be in leaf. My sister, for instance, writes, “Albert wrote to me last week – don’t think he’s very happy, fed up with drilling etc. So write and cheer him up. Muriel, Sheila and I, walked from Compton, via Oliver’s Battery and Tegdown to Dene and Sparsholt and back to Winton for tea last Sunday. There was a tremendous wind and the Downs looked all silvery and lovely. I do wish you could have been there.” So, of course, do I, and you with me, but meanwhile isn’t it cheering to hear of these familiar places thus? I can’t supply this fare, as you did for me before you entered the RAF but you should receive a better letter from me about a fortnight after this arrives – cheerio for now – Bill.

I know that Phil survived the war, I don’t know why he signed himself ‘Bill’ though. Any readers familiar with the area around Winchester will be impressed by the distance Phil’s sister (Joyce) and friends walked in an afternoon, I’m sure it would take me a whole day. And, in a time of limited freedoms, it is cheering for me to hear of the silvery Downs and imagine a walk with family or friends in that familiar and essentially unchanged landscape .

Wishing you all a Happy New Year, with better times ahead.

Gas Masks, Face Masks

“Blackpool, 1941, Gas Drill” by Tom Keay https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/14646

As I drove to the supermarket this morning, I realised that seeing people wearing facemasks feels just so normal now, and I guess in 1941 it felt just as commonplace to see people carrying around their gasmasks. Whilst I won’t compare the current pandemic in the UK to the upheaval of a world war, I see similarities in the hidden, unpredictable threat faced and how society shifts into new, previously unthinkable, patterns of protective behaviour.

As I was thinking about the parallels between war and pandemic, I looked up the number of British civilian casulaties – 43,000 people killed between 1940 and 1941. Currently the number of Covid 19 related deaths in the UK is 41,429 – not far off – in 8 months.

In 1941 due to censorship, people did not hear about how many of their fellow citizens had died as a direct result of war. Albert would have participated in gas mask drills (he could even have been a model for this sketch) but his letters omit such details. There must have been many, many things he did, which he could not share with his family. And I am sure also, there were feelings and concerns he would have wanted to share, about his life, his purpose and the unpredictable world he was living in. As such candour was impossible, Albert details the munitae of his December days, in the dull lull between Christmas and New Year.

Monday Dec 29. 1941

Dear All, I hoped to write a long letter about a walk which I intended to take yesterday, but by the time I awoke it was 10 o’clock and the ‘bus left at 10.20 – so it was not much use hurrying to catch it. The weather was cold and rather grey looking, though no doubt I should have enjoyed myself had I gone. I was going by ‘bus to Garstang, and then to walk up to the hills and moors, using my new book of maps. I must try that walk before I leave here, though I fancy there is a church parade next week.

In the afternoon I borrowed the “Monopoly” board which belongs to the people here, and had a game lasting for the afternoon and the earlier part of the evening, then I wrote some letters. I heard some “bits” of music during the day, including Everyman’s music in which they played the 1st part of The Water Music, much to my delight.

This morning your letters, posted on Boxing Day, arrived, and I was pleased to hear that you had a very good time at Xmas, with the usual Christmas fare and games, & quite a large party to join in with them.

I did not know that Jean had been to the clinic during her exam period, nor did I know that she did so well for Drawing, she is quite good.

As you seem to have such quantities, I am not sending any cigarettes this week. I had 40, but sold them to the man here, as he is not always able to get them; I can do with the money too, as I have not yet got over Xmas! (financially that is). I wonder how you got on travelling on Monday. Several of the girls who have gone on Xmas leave were due back to-day, but none of them has turned up. The fellows who had weekend leave say that the trains from Euston were packed, & very many of them could not get on the night train, and have had to travel later in the day.

It has turned much colder this week, and tonight it is slightly foggy, with a moon shining, and a sharp frost in the offing. The roofs were quite white this morning, which was also rather cold. This is the first really cold weather we have had; it probably is getting ready for next week when I am supposed to have some guards to do!

“Squad Drill on the Prom, 1941” by Tom Keay https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/14652

I am sending along “English Downland” which I am sure you will all like. I have put some remarks in the margin, so I won’t say anything much about it here. The part I like best of all is the description of the road over ‘Old Winchester Hill’, which he does very well, and in addition it is one of my favourite roads. If you have a spare Sunday in the Spring when the violets are out, you really must go along the road from West Meon station to the top of the Hill. I think it is best to go up the road, as then you have to walk and can see the full beauty of it. You could continue along Tegdown to Hyden Wood and thence either home or to Havant.

To-day it is still cold and foggy, I expect it is something like that at home, judging by the weather report from Dover. I hope you are all well: my love to you both & Peter and Jean – Albert.

P.S. I saw a car (Morris 10 or 12) with a ‘COW’ registration number. I took my shoes to be mended today so for the next week I shall clump round in boots for evenings. We should have church parade on Sunday.

And that is the last letter of 1941. What will 1942 bring Albert Mabey? I don’t know much more than you, for I have made a point of not reading ahead, prior to posting these letters. Soon I’ll pull the bundle of letters out from the box and we can discover the next chapter together.

Christmas Eve 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Bad News

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

Written with an inferior Platignum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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