“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.

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.

Closer to Home

Albert Arrives at RAF Yatesbury

Nothing remains of RAF Yatesbury. This flying school occupies land that I think was once part of the camp. The Lansdowne Monument is visible in the distance.

After his week of leave, Albert settles into the RAF camp that will be his home for the next twelve weeks. Albert travels by train from Southampton to Calne, then waits for a lorry to take him to camp. Yatesbury could not be more different to Blackpool, it must have felt like a different world to him. Wiltshire is the neighbouring county to Hampshire, and the topography is similar. The hills of Wiltshire roll further and the skies are bigger than those Albert knew as a boy, but there was a familiarity that I’m sure he found comforting. Albert sounds more ‘at home’ in this landscape, writing beautifully about his view from Oldbury Castle (which he incorrectly names as Ogbury Camp… that caused me some confusion!)

Thursday February 19, 7.10pm

Dear All, first of all you will note that I have an address. We are told that it will not change for the 12 weeks we are to be here, so it should be quite safe for you to write. I arrived safely after quite a good journey. The carriage was a very cold and draughty one, but I was able to secure a corner seat and after Salisbury I was able to put my feet up on the opposite seat, so I did not get quite frozen. I had to wait only 20 minutes for the connection at Trowbridge, and caught the early train at Calne without delay at Chippenham. We were transported by lorry to camp, which is situate right along A4. I ate my sandwiches whilst waiting for the lorry, and the mince pie on arrival. We got here after 2pm. We were then allotted with huts, sheets etc, and given tea at about 5. The food seems quite good, and, as far as I am concerned, sufficient in quantity (so far).

The camp is much the same as other camps, with the usual wooden huts, which are really quite comfortable, but it seems they are also rather cold. The weather came out fine just as we approached Yatesbury, and now there is a clear sky and an approaching frost. The wind is slight but what there is of it is quite bitter.

The hut is rather dark at the moment, as there is only one bulb – all the others mysteriously disappeared whilst it was empty.

The view from the place is not very inspiring. To the North, West & East are just huts, to the South, the main road, and a bank of grass. Just visible from here is also the hill on which is Ogbury Camp, and an obelisk of some description.

I believe it is quite easy to get out of the camp after duty hours, but of course, there is not much time in the evening. We work all Saturday. Wednesday afternoon is “off”, but devoted to compulsory sports. Sunday is off all day, with a church parade every four weeks. After six weeks is a long weekend (Friday evening – Sunday evening)and after 12 weeks, a 7 days leave and another move. I believe short weekends (Saturday evening – Sunday evening) are also obtainable, and day passes too, but I believe that travel facilities are very meagre; however, I must see about that later. I do not think we shall see a lot of that sort of thing yet awhile.

I have already met my Hamble workmate. He seems quite happy here, but is due to go in about a fortnight. There is a cinema here, a Y.M.C.A & canteen, but not much else to do in the evenings, so I am beginning to wonder what I shall find to write about in my twice-weekly letters.

Things are a bit upside down & I have yet to get my stuff out. We have lockers (which need to be kept locked I believe) and unless they are taken from us, they will give plenty of space. Since I have been writing, another bulb has been put in, which should enable me to read in bed. It is so chilly that I shall go to bed fairly early. I expect Jean will be home when you receive this, so love to all 3, from Albert.

P.S. I am frozen!

Albert’s second letter describes his first walk in the area, taking the track up to the Bronze Age hill fort of Oldbury Castle. I am quite certain we visited it when I was a child. I would have raced up and down those same ramparts with my sisters, whilst Mum and Dad strolled on the path below us. And we would have clambered further up the hill to scrutinise the strange monument, puzzling over the motivations of its creator and the purpose of its being.

View looking south from Oldbury Castle.

Sunday Feb 22

Dear All,

I commence my 2nd letter from here in quite a happy frame of mind, as I have just been for a most enjoyable walk, to Marlborough. I got my dinner as soon as possible & by 12.30 I had left the camp.

I went up the little road which climbs up Cherhill Down towards Ogbury camp & soon was on top of the hill, in the labyrinth of ditches & ramparts of which the camp is composed, and I climbed to about the highest of these fortifications and surveyed the wide view which the camp commands.

The day was inclined to haziness, & I could not see clearly into the distance, but I could see, especially to the south, several ranges of the downs, rolling away in troughs and crests, like the sea with a rather heavy swell; not a rough sea, they are too gently undulating for that, just a gentle rise and fall of the green disappearing, or rather fading into the blue distance.

There is an obelisk (Lansdowne column says my map) on the hill, but I did not bother to investigate it this time, I continued along my track until I came to a Roman Road, and turning left followed this on its course to Beckhampton. There I came back to the world again, as there were plenty of RAF on the road, which, however, I cut across, taking the Swindon Road which passes through my next objective, Avebury. At Beckhampton it was about 1.20. At Avebury I stopped a while and looked at the megalithic temple, the centre part of which is conveniently & pleasantly situated on a sort of village green. It is just at that point that the earthworks are most imposing, and they and the massive sarsen stones make quite a grand spectacle. The circle is by….

Oh no! Sadly the second page of this letter has been lost, so we shall never know what further thoughts Albert had of Avebury, just as we shall never know for certain why people chose to erect a great stone circle thousands of years ago. One thing I do know, is that the stones stand now much as they did in 1942, and doubtless they shall stand, dear reader, long after you and I are gone.

A view of Avebury in January 2009, when I last visited.