From Annette to Parents
3rd January 1941 (should be 1942 – marked as rec’d 4/4/42 by LJT)
I am now going to number my letters, but it went against the grain to start in the middle of the year, or to start as it were in the middle of the numbers. Now I don’t know what to talk about first, as I have really done so many things this last fortnight or so, and I regret to say that I can’t remember when exactly I last wrote.
The week before Christmas week was a very busy one, with writing letters, and sending of parcels, and then I had a wire from Aunt to say that Richard had his leave from the 19th to the 26th, so I put two days off together and got the weekend at home, which was very nice. I went on the Friday evening, and got the last bus out from Chelmsford by the skin of my teeth, as the train from the North was very late, and I missed the 7.30 from Liverpool St. However, it was a good thing I cam that evening, because I did get a glimpse of Annette Webster, who left for good on Saturday, having to go home and take a complete rest.
On Saturday afternoon Aunt, the boys and I went into Chelmsford and to the carol service at the Cathedral. The singing was not up to very much really, but they sang some very nice carols, incluing some very old ones I had never heard, although one gets to hear a lot of out-of-the-way ones at Oxford, where the choirs always try and avoid the hackneyed ones. As Annette had gone, we did not go dancing in the evening, as had at first been thought of, but just stayed in. I did not really mind at all. The band at the Chase, and indeed most dance bands, play so many slow things, which always seem to me so dreary. I enjoyed the Scotch reels party we had here in November much more than any dance I can remember for a long time. Things really go with a swing, and everybody looks happy. It’s funny the way most dance bands play so slowly, because most people seem to agree that they enjoy quicksteps and waltzes more.
On Sunday morning Richard suddenly got a fit of turning out unwanted books, and a very good thing too, but I was glad I was there, because he seized on many things that Gavin and I treasured, indeed on many things that I expect he would have regretted himself. As it was, we cleared out about 200 books for the hospital and the forces, not counting all the classical works that Richard was returning to Blackwell’s to sell. He has at the moment a great down on the classics, saying that veneration for them is a ramp, although the fact that Gavin will sit and read them for pleasure is one all too ready obstacle to his theories. But I expect he feels towards them as I do towards the French classical dramatists, and I know, and knew at the time, that any enthusiasm I managed to whip up for them was a fake. But then Christina and Helen have a real fondness for them, whereas the ‘Chanson de Roland’, which I would not mind being left on a desert island with, bores Helen stiff, and the assonances have the same soporific effect on her as the rhyming couplets have on me. Although why I babble of this here, instead of to Richard, whom it is intended to refute, I do not know. Anyhow I hope he did not throw away anything you value. I hope you don’t want ‘The life of Gladstone’ by Morley, because it’s gone. I don’t think there was anything else belonging to you that was cast forth, except, as I now remember, the three French detective stories, which we thought would also do more good in the army than at home, and they really were very bad books. Even with the rejections, there is still nor more room, I don’t quite know why, and my books mostly still remain in boxes, just as well too, I should think, if people are going round taking off paper covers, and deciding what is and what is not wanted.
On Sunday afternoon we listened to the Messiah, and on Sunday evening the Watsons came to supper, and there was plenty of chat. The black kitten called Pug was given to them as a Christmas present. You no doubt heard of Pig and Whistle, Perkin’s latest. On Monday I had just time to go to Bonds and see all the Woodham Ferrers people before catching my train to London, when they were all going to the ‘Reluctant Dragon’ as your Christmas treat. I have seen it since, and was very pleased with it, although I wish they had explained a lot more of the technical side. But the dragon was charming, and really so like Gerard Irvine and others of Gavin’s Oxford friends as never was. Most people seem to have liked the horse riding, which was funny, but much more commonplace.
On the way through London I went to Gamage’s and bought a cycling cape and sou’wester, which I think will come in useful in the winter nights, and also a rubber cushion for Mr Wills as a Christmas present from about ten of us. He has sat for years on a sort of bag of bones, refusing all others, but was, as was to be expected delighted with the new cushion, which really was comfortable, and for some days after Christmas made everyone who came into the room sit on it.
On Tuesday in Christmas week Helen and I went over to the Roscoes and had a happy day/ Barbara and Graham were there, and Betty, and Bob, a Canadian snotty who spends most of his leave with them, and I think some more, but anyway there was a lot of noise, and the ham which Mrs Roscoe had cooked against such an occasion came in very handy. I went over again on Saturday, because Barbara was only home for the one week, and there were again about eleven people to a sort of picnic lunch, only some of them were different, having come in the morning to play music, and very nice it was. They mostly went for a walk in the afternoon, but Mrs Roscoe very nobly played accompaniments to my recorder. With most musical people I shouldn’t have the face to bring it out, but as I know that neither she nor Mr Roscoe will bother to say they like it if they don’t, I don’t feel shy, and it is so good to play with other people. There was another Quaker friend of theirs that day, who had the same sort of abruptness, as though nobody was a stranger, and yet so good-hearted withal.
On Christmas Eve we worked in the day and had a little party in Helen’s billet in the evening, for which she and I prepared tasty food with Australian cheese and salted herrings and ham and celery on different sorts of biscuits, and mince pies, made by herself, and a handsome Christmas cake, set about with fat coloured candles I got in Chelmsford, and a bottle of cider, produced by Helen’s landlord. We sang carols till about 11.30 and then had coffee, and did not get away till after 12.0. That was really the only moment I regretted not being at home for Christmas, coming home alone at night, and having a
Jan 5th. 6.0 a.m. As there is a pause in the work, I am taking the opportunity of going on with this, and as you may see, making rather a hash of the spacing on a strange machine. There is now no typewriter at home, a fact much lamented by uncle, who cannot do his accounts in triplicate or his letters in an official manner, as Richard has taken his, and Annette W. has left. Her typewriter was a funny little thing, but still it was something
I left off in the middle of a sentence the other evening as I was going out to a variety show produced by the Drama group of our group of our club, to whom I object in general because they go around talking in loud voices and looking as if they thought they were the cat’s whiskers, and nobody else was. This is probably maligning them, and anyway they did a very good show, so I was glad I went. Sorry about these constant = signs, but I keep on hitting the extra key with them on instead of the shift key.
To go on with my sentence – I was going to say that I regretted not being at home on Christmas morning, instead of having to get up and go to work from a strange family, but after that it was really a very good day. There was not much to do, and everybody was very cheery naturally, and there was a very good dinner, with brandy butter even with the pudding, and then we had a coffee party, and then drifted back to see if there was any work, and there was not, so we went to church, so as to sing ‘hark the herald’, and finally had about two hours off altogether, and then it was nearly time for tea, and then it was nearly time to go. I took the office bus and got to the Laundry about 6.45, in time to change and have a drink with all the little Bevingtons before dinner. From Uncle Bous 10/-, addressed to ‘Dear little Annette’, from Aunt Cecil a lovely box of pine soap, from Pam some complexion milk, and from Betty a torch, all very nice.
They had got a fine turkey, and we ate a lot, and had a generally merry time, drinking various toasts, and after reading all the sententious mottoes in the crackers, we played picture consequences and listened to the wireless.
On Boxing day both the girls had to go to work in the morning, but I did not go till 5.0, and spent most of the day reading and knitting in front of a lovely fire, for it was the coldest day we have had so far. it has gone mild again since then, but I think I caught a little chill over that weekend, because I felt rotten for about three days at the beginning of this week, and was then fortunately restored to health.
I am going home for a week’s leave today. Gavin is going to fire-watch at Oxford tomorrow, which is a pity, but still it will mean there is somebody at home for another week, and also I have masses of mending to do, and an old skirt to turn, and a piece of the tweed of my suit to make into a bag.
Which reminds me that I have not yet thanked you for your kind gift. I have bought with your birthday and Christmas money a pair of wine-coloured shoes to go with my new hat, and make a complete outfit, and so thank you very much for them. From Aunt I had a purse, because I only had a 2d Woolworths one, from Gavin ½ lb of tea, from Romey a model pair of snowshoes, from Uncle 5/-, a token present he said, so I asked what of, and he answered ‘£5’ which was very nice.
There is some more work to do, so I will knock off for now, except I must just ask one thing while I have it in mind, and that is ‘Does Papa remember going out to India in I think 1930 with a very tall man called Hugh Foss?’ He is the man who takes the Scottish dancing, and is also a first class fencer, and he says he thinks it was Papa he travelled with on the Kaiser-i-Hind.
Also I must just thank you for several parcels of food, the one with tea and sweets, which have come in very well over Christmas, and the one with bacon and butter. The honey we have begun to eat, and it is lovely.
With much love
From Annette to Parents (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 6/4/42)
27th Jan 1942
I am sorry I did not get a letter written last week. I meant to write in the middle of the night in the supper hour, but then I mostly took a full hour over supper, because Ann had just returned from a go of flu’ and a fortnight’s leave, and I don’t often see her anyway, because she is billeted several miles out. We had quite merry times at supper, particularly the night when we observed that the Scotch cook who serves the food gave any man two bits of Welsh rarebit and any Scotch girl the same, so Ann proposed dressing up in a kilt and a beard to see what a Scotchman would get. Well, what with such beguiling nonsense I didn’t get my letter written at night, and then in the mornings I didn’t feel very energetic.
I had a very nice week’s leave at home, chiefly occupied with doing odd jobs, but it is a pleasure to do odd jobs with plenty of room. I made a bag out of the odd bits of my tweed, and turned my old green skirt, wishing Gavin were there to do the invisible mending at the knees where the pleats have pulled out, because he is so practised at mending his old coat and studying the weave and the colour and all. It will in fact soon be like that pair of pants in the museum at St. Malo, all darn. On the Wednesday evening we all went up to the canteen (I mean Friday) and saw a quite amusing old play done by the Coventry Rep. who I imagine must have been bombed out and are now touring for ENSA. I am sure it was the most finished performance, at least, that has ever been seen on that stage. That afternoon Aunt and Uncle and I had been to Braintree to see ‘Blossoms in the dust’, which was most sentimental, but full of lovely babies, and designed to wring the heart, so Polly had a nice cry.
On Saturday I went to London, and met Helen and Zoe Gauntlett, who left us some time ago, for lunch, and we had much pleasant chat, before Zoe went off to her work, and Helen and I looked around for some show to go to. We had meant to go to the Sadler’s Wells ballet, but there were only the most expensive seats, and in the end we saw ‘La femme du boulanger’ at Studio One. Raimu was the star, but as with most French films, every part was a joy, and it was especially a treat after not having seen a French film for so long.
On Sunday I went to tea with the Watsons, with the girls, that is, because Mrs Watson was in bed with bronchitis, and then on Monday I returned here. I had lunch with Miss Bertie this time. She works now in the Air Ministry Press cutting department, or rather, runs it, and so I met her at a little lunch place in Westminster, just near the Passport Office which I shall never forget. Then in the afternoon, I went to see Disney’s new film, ‘Dumbo’, which I hope you have seen, because it was delightful.
Last week I did nothing because I was working nights, but went away to see Joyce for the weekend. I actually went up to town with Sheila Legat, and we had lunch at the Spanish restaurant to which Gavin introduced me, and then went to the Anglo-Polish ballet. They have changed some items in their programme but have kept the nicest ones. They did ‘Swan Lake’, which I had not seen before, instead of ‘Les Sylphides’, but they are not so good in the classical ballets as in their own gay ones. They did ‘Krakau wedding’ again, which has mostly national dances in it, and a new funny one, from a 15th century Polish story about a woman who cannot stop dancing, and seizes on anybody to hand to dance with.
I got to Maidenhead just as Josephine was being put to bed after her 6.o’clock feed. She is a very nice baby, and as far as can be judged at present, looks more like Frank than Joyce, but anyhow, she is dark, as might be expected. Joyce says she finds very little time to do housework, because Josephine is such a slow feeder, and also has to be weighed before and after meals to see she has the right amount. But as there were Frank and Ron and I there over the weekend Joyce was at least able to have a little more leisure, because there were plenty of hands to do the odd jobs. I slept on the campbed, and after some thought, we put it in the kitchen, because it was warm in there and it didn’t matter having rather few bed clothes. Of course this meant being woken rather early, and so I didn’t really make up for lack of sleep the week before, and so felt rather tired on Monday, but I came up to London lateish, and spent the time till my train in the beautiful H.M.V. shop in Oxford St, choosing records to get with the tokens Richard gave me. In the end I got two songs from ‘Figaro’ and a song from another Mozart Opera ‘Don Giovanni’.
Another thing that makes staying with Joyce and Frank a bit exhausting is this Communism, not that I mean to decry it, because no doubt a lot of what they say is true, but I am sure they tend to see things in far too violent and clear cut colours. And even though Russia is now being made out on all sides to be perfect, and although it is obvious that a lot of things about Russia must have been consistently misrepresented in the papers all these years, I should still like a soberly written book on the subject, rather than the fanatical pamphlets that Frank and Joyce sell to the unbeliever. I do not see why the other side has always got to be villainous. No doubt there are many unscrupulous people, but surely a great deal of social evil, such as the slums, is due to ignorance and apathy, which are perhaps criminal, but should be tackled as such. it is a pity, also, though I suppose it happens most often, that people with a creed to further seem to lose their sense of proportion, in such little things. We were listening to the German wireless on Sunday morning, and there was a programme of catchy marches, and Frank said ‘That’s a good tune. Why don’t we get tunes like that?’, and Ron, the lodger, to whom communism is the only thing in the world, said quite seriously ‘Oh, they pinched that from us, of course.’ ‘us’ now meaning the Party, so I nearly said ‘Well, who pinched the Red Flag from who?’, but not being absolutely sure that the tune really was first set to the German carol ‘Tannenbaum’, I refrained. Also it would have appeared too flippant in that household. But altogether it was very interesting staying there, and it is really very funny to hear how respectable Socialism and communism have become, since we have our Gallant Allies, (and never let them forget the fact on the news or the newsreels) Frank said that his application to join the Home Guard was suddenly put through after the Russian War, whereas it was refused for months, because, as he found out, Joyce had once been selling Federal Union papers in the street, and although this was quite legal, and so on, yet they were supposed to be spreading subversive propaganda. Anyhow, Russia is now all the rage. The Internationale can now be payed at football matches, and the Soviet Union is a kind of Utopia. ‘The butter’s spread too thick’ we say as we sit in the cinema. But I only get that feeling when official efforts to whitewash the Red Menace are going on. The news from Russia is so wonderful that one cannot help feeling elated. I suppose it is, apart from anything else, the first time the Germans have come up against a country of any size whose people have got a fanatical faith equal to their own. But one thing that makes us girls mad is the way in which the women of Russia are praised for their fighting spirit, and then people get up in Parliament and say that it would be a dangerous thing if the women of this country were allowed to learn to shoot, and that camp life is unsuitable for girls (that, moreover, was said by a woman M.P) It is still this old habit of talking about women as if they were performing monkeys. Why do speakers on the wireless always sound so surprised that women can do a good job of work? Ann and I were agreeing the other night that when we hear that kind of thing we become unreasonably feminist. It does look as though in Russia the sill controversy is dead, and that a person is treated with regard to their capabilities and not to their sex. The official attitude here always reminds me of the good lady in ‘Ordinary families’, who kept her patience with her imbecile maid by thinking ‘How clever of Olive to know that soup spoons were used for soup!’ when she had forgetten to heat the plates.
In any case, Papa must now acknowledge that Russian has every chance of being as useful as Spanish, so that obviously my choice was directed by a Higher Power, although I still think my first reasons were quite good enough, especially as one Slav language is the key to the others. I find I can pretty well understand the Dutch news, if I know what the subject is, and it is mostly like comic German to read, while Italian hardly seems worth learning, it is so easy to read. Of course, Papa will say that the Slav languages are not worth knowing anyway. We were discussing the idea of a universal language the other night. Basic English, we thought, has the disadvantage of being tied up with politics. One suggestion was a kind of Basic Latin, which might be good. But we all agreed that it would be a great pity if the Germans won, because they would impose their language (which is needlessly complicated, although it has it points) and presumably their silly Gothic print, which they persist in regarding as German, because they hadn’t the sense to discard it at the Renaissance.
Did I mention my idea of a calendar of Gloomy Thoughts? The old section, where I had my companions in gloom, have taken it up, and they have on the wall a heading ‘Today’s gloomy thought’, and then select a nice piece every day. These vary from ‘Germans retake Agedabia’, to ‘Hot water bottles to be licensed’ and ‘These Men!, although I don’t know what had brought that into the category for the day.
I got back here to find that Helen is engaged. We all sat around saying ‘Blow me down with a feather’ and such, because they have kept it so dark, which was very sensible in such a scandal-mongering community. The young man also works here, and all any of us knew was that he and Helen played tennis together in the summer, and played music together in the winter (trios moreover) Anyway, they are going to be married on Saturday week. I am so glad she will not be going away because she’s such a nice person. As for him, I met him once at a musical morning at the Roscoes, and have not spoken to him since. He was always in my class of people who don’t day ‘Good morning’; the people here being of two kinds, those who do, and those who don’t. But perhaps he is very shy, as Jane Bennett said she always thought he was a woman-hater. But all this, although of great interest to me, is scarcely of interest to you.
I have the worst cold I have had for a long time, which actually isn’t saying much, because I have managed to scotch several by early measures. We had such a dismal party to the pictures the other day that it was funny. It thawed suddenly after several days of snow, and by Friday evening the roads were swimming in slush. I had agreed to meet Irene and Hilda for a cup of tea before the pictures, and so set off, having had about an hours sleep, and feeling fed up to start with (this was after the last night shift, as I didn’t go for the weekend till Saturday) and soon found that my boots leaked, the soles being porous with age, but I went on, having started, and got there to find the cafe full of people I know, all saying they wished they hadn’t come, because their feet were wet. This cheered me up considerably, I may say, to find so many others in even worse case, because at least the sheepskin kept my feet warm, though wet. Ths picture was Ginger Rogers in ‘Tom, Dick, and Harry’, quite fun, but not worth the trouble really. Also we had some Russian butter, in the shape of a very interesting film of physical culture and military parades in Moscow, wonderfully staged, with Blah by J.B.Priestly We all said we should catch our death, and so I have, in a manner of speaking, but I think it is now past the worst. There have been so many colds about I wonder I haven’t had one before. Also I ran a splinter right under a nail yesterday. It was easily enough removed with tweezers from the First Aid hut, but it was so far in that I hope the hot T.C.P reached it all right.
I send a card to Doris Holmes, to see if we could meet for lunch in Northampton, but can’t get away this week. She is leaving the old lady in February, and said it would be simpler to meet in London then some time. It is nearly a year since I saw her, which seems extraordinary, and it is really very remiss of me, because it is so easy to go there, also a great pleasure, unlike duty visits to Mokes.
Did I ever thank you for the snap of you and Charlotte and Archie? I had one, not very good, of Romey and John, this week. It was silly, of course, to be surprised at seeing Charlotte so tall.
With much love
P.S. I am sending this direct, as Aunt hasn’t room for two sheets. The address on the envelope is our official address for foreign correspondence: you might as well send my letters to it too. I didn’t both to say before, as you knew the other one.
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 25/4/42)
25th February 1942
I was going to the pictures this afternoon, but as there was nothing particular on, and as Roma Crane, with whom I was going, did not want to after all, I went for a long walk instead. The sun was out for a lot of the way, and so the wind did not feel so cold. Now we don’t go to work till 5.0 on this shift, it would really be possible to do quite long walking expeditions when we get the spring weather that is just right for it. Did I tell you that Ann and I are thinking of going to Mrs. Williams in Wales, if we get a week’s holiday in the spring?
This week end I was at home, and had a most restful and altogether satisfactory time, clearing out old papers and a few more books, and putting all the papers out of the desk into one drawer, so that the Wyllies can use it, as they have the dining room as their sitting room. Also I did out my bookshelves and removed all paper covers for salvage, and found a number of interesting things, chief of which was my butterfly wing brooch, which I was not aware of having lost, as I wear any brooches so seldom, but that one is particularly nice for scarves. Aunt has been distributing Auntie Do’s jewellery, which it is very nice to have at last. I have got a garnet and a seed pearl brooch, pearl earrings and turquoise, a pendant of a rajah set in pearls, a string of amber, and two gold bracelets, one with a lovely opal set in diamonds, so Aunt suggests I should have them made into a brooch.
I had written to Doris to suggest we should meet for lunch on Monday, when suddenly, as I was standing on Liverpool St. station on Friday morning, she came up behind me. She was going to stay with Uncle Len, but as we were both coming up on Monday, we did have lunch. She is very pleased to be back in London, as the aunt was getting so very trying, and is going to try and find work of some kind. She showed me pictures of the grandchild, which looks very sweet, and of June, so glamorous I didn’t recognise her at all, and which Doris says she dislikes for that reason. We had lunch at the Army and Navy, and then did some shopping there. All the old stagers are most distressed at the quality of the stuff they now have to sell, and of course Doris is on very good terms with them all, so we heard all their woes. A thing I did manage to get was bottle brushes for Joyce, who says they are quite unobtainable in Maidenhead. I have also found a nice pattern for the frock I am going to knit Josephine.
Aunt said she thought my eye was looking very red, and said I should go and see Dr. Corner, which I did. Actually it was really only the usual irritation from the dry and dusty air and the lack of sleep of the night shift, and anyhow he said the sockets do get irritated occasionally and need a rest. I had my other tested which I was there, and have a prescription for glasses for working in. We work in artificial light the whole time where I am now, and although complaints have resulted in a promise of fluorescent lighting, it is coming with the usual governmental slowness.
At home I read a very interesting book of Richard’s, called ‘Sons of Sinbad’, about a voyage in an Arab dhow from Aden to Zanzibar and back to Kuwait in the Persian gulf, and then about the pearling in the Gulf. I much enjoyed it, although I thought all the time ‘I’m glad it wasn’t I’.
I thought I might type some more at the office if I thought of anything to say, but I haven’t, so will send this off.
With much love
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 10/5/42)
9th March 1942
Last time I wrote it really seemed as if the cold weather had broken, and I had a lovely walk of about eight miles one afternoon when I didn’t have to work till 5.0, making a big circuit round, but this week it has almost been colder than ever until today, when it is once again quite balmy.
I had several very pleasant evenings last week. On Tuesday I went over to Helen’s digs, where as I told you, the landlady and her daughter haven’t spoken for seventeen years. The place is very comfortable for all that. Helen and Jim have got a sitting room which is half taken up by his piano, but it doesn’t seem too much when one considers the amount they use it. There were also there Biddy Sangster and a young man called Stubley, both pianists too. We had some serious music, with Biddy playing the piano, Helen the fiddle, and Jim the flute, and then an experimental quartet, with the fiddle and piano, my recorder, and Jim playing the cello part of the music on the bassoon, which he has just taken up, and it was great fun. We looked at such of Helen’s wedding presents as she had there. I am giving them two volumes of Elizabethan love songs which they got, and which I haven’t yet paid for. As a present from the office Helen chose Harrap’s bit French dictionary, which all the girls appear to think very disappointing but as she says, it will really be more useful than pink chiffon sheets, and anyway her mother is giving her all her linen. Pink chiffon sheets is an exaggeration, but it was what they said one good lady wanted to choose, seeing any wedding through the most rose-coloured spectacles. Helen looks more flourishing than ever, and it is really quite funny to see how chatty Jim has become, when he hardly used to open his mouth in a general way.
I had another very civilised evening on Thursday, to an informal sort of party with some people called Welchman. Mrs Welchman has recently come to work in our section, and her husband is head of another department, both quite young, and very nice. They have taken a house, and Katharine Welchman’s mother looks after their two small children in the day time. There was quite a large party to eat sausages and bread and cheese, and the evening mostly passed in that, with a few songs from one girl who has quite a pretty voice, but always sounds to me rather affected (she was singing at the Roscoes’ once), and a demonstration of the clavichord by Katharine. It is a most twingly-twangly little noise that it makes, very faint, but it must be fun to play by ones self. It was interesting to hear it though.
On Saturday I should have come in and written letters, but I went to see the ‘Yank in the R.A.F.’ and wished I hadn’t. It was recommended to me as good and funny, but I thought it neither, and wouldn’t have minded if all the characters had got killed off in a plane crash, the way I usually feel about detective stories, not that this was one, but you know what I mean. Then yesterday I regret to say I got so absorbed in a fascinating book I had out from the library that I again let my correspondence slide. Also I felt tired, because the office I am now in is a perfect bedlam in the day time, with too many people and such a buzz you can’t hear yourself think. Still, I am glad to be there, as it appears to be more interesting in the long run than the other. Also Helen and I are now well settled in and on good terms with everybody, so we can join in the back chat. We imported our motto from ‘Much ado’ ‘For the watch to babble and to talk is most tolerable . . .etc.’ and it met with such success that a regular series of quotations from Shakespeare goes up, including the one Roma Craze got out of the paper, and addressed to Mr. Cowan ‘on acquiring a new razor’ (he had been awfully pleased about the shave he got) ‘O, that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek.’, and the latest one which gives expression to the feelings of downtrodden womanhood in the matter of fetching sixteen cups of tea daily, entitled ‘Tea-fetcher’s lament’, also from ‘Much ado’, and which is ‘O God, that I were a man!’ This has raised a lot of laughs, but not any concrete offers of assistance.
I seem to have got a long way from the book I mentioned, which was ‘Cape Horn’ by Felix Riesenberg, an account of all the notable voyages round and about the Cape from Magellan onwards, the first part of which I found particularly enthralling. The later chapters, concerned mainly with the extinction of the natives of Tierra del Fuego, I found very depressing, naturally I suppose, but it is such unrelieved gloom that I hurried over it. I seem to remember the author’s name as having done a lot of sailing in grain clippers or some such ships.
Somebody has put the fat green edition of Marco Polo in the office library, so I have put my name down for that. I find a certain satisfaction in reading about hardships and disasters that have happened before, and in the examples of courage and perseverance found in them; I hope it would prove efficacious if we do have to endure real hardship, but there is no telling.
I had the great pleasure of a letter from Peggy Christie (I mean Blain) today. It was written of course before was broke out in the East, and she writes very happily of her husband and infant daughter. That she wrote about the society of Perth as very narrow-minded and backward in many ways I did not tell Roma, who also comes from there. She (Roma) is unfortunately one of those people who are always either up in the air or down in the dumps, and she is sick with worry about her family, and there is so little one can say to reassure her, as the only thing to do is to wait on the event. Apropos of your remarks about the people of Australia not having grown up, she agreed with me when I mentioned them. I find her way of going off the deep end about quite small things irritating at times, but she is so ‘big-hearted’ as Peggy puts it, that I feel ashamed of being irritated.
With much love
17th March 1941 (should be ’42 – marked as rec’d 13/5/42 by LJT)
As usual I have been meaning to get down to this for some days, and am in the end writing at three in the morning. On Sunday when I had thought to write Mrs Evans suddenly asked me to go to chapel with her, and this seemed such a sign that seemed such a sign that I was really accepted that I went. Also I was quite interested to see what a chapel service was like, and found it very interesting, but of course a tremendous lot depends on the minister, with a long sermon and a talk to the children and most of the prayers being I suppose extempore.
On Monday morning I cleaned my bicycle, as it seemed to be going to be a fine day, but it came on to rain, so I had to retire to rather cramped quarters in the coal shed to finish oiling and greasing. It feels like a different machine, not having been washed since last year, I don’t think so anyway, although I have of course oiled it. Even so, by the time I got to the spokes I felt so tired that I am afraid it is even now not the sort of job that Papa would approve of. However, it is in many ways a good thing to have a shabby bicycle, as it is less likely to be pinched. It is horrifying to hear of the number of things that get stolen from a place like this, where everybody who is employed has presumably to have some sort of references as to character and so on.
Yesterday morning I wrote to Dicky, after having a great turn out of papers and such, finding all kinds of things I had quite forgotten or lost, and also doing accounts of sorts. I find that I have quite a lot of money in the bank, instead of being quite cleared out by the last lot of savings certificates I bought for the Warship week at home, so I shall be able to put some into the warship week here, which starts next week.
I think I am going to the Drakes for the weekend. I haven’t yet had an answer from Christina, but I shall see her anyway, and go to Oxford if she is staying there over the weekend as she does occasionally. Of course, they may all be going away from home.
I had last Friday off, going over to Uncle Bous’s on Thursday evening. Betty is now quite restored to health, and both the girls were there that evening, and we had quite a merry time, with a lot of laughter about I don’t quite know what. Betty and I did the crossword, keeping Uncle Bous from it with great difficulty, but it was quite fair, because he had already done it at the office.
Pam and Betty both went to work on Friday, and I went up to Barbara de Grey’s and had a pleasant morning playing music. She had read that paper put under the hammers of the piano made it sound like a harpsichord, so we tried it, and really it made quite a convincing tinny sound, except right in the bass, so we had some proper old music. It is much better for the recorder, which is really not strong enough in tone to be played with the piano ordinarily. I rushed back for a hasty lunch with Aunt Cecil, and came back by train to go to the pictures with Irene Reynolds and Hilda. We saw ‘Meet John Doe’ which I somehow thought did not ring quite true, and ‘Ferry Pilot’, which was very interesting, and in fact I stayed to see it round again.
This is a nice typewriter, and I am getting used to having the extras in different places. The small print is rather pleasant, I think Papa’s letters look nice written in it.
I had better stop this though, because it is well after 9.0 now (I forgot to say I had left this off in the middle) and all the day workers will be arriving.
With much love
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 13/5/42)
25th March 1942
The morning I got in last week after posting my letter to you, which I am afraid was about as dreary as I was feeling by the time I finished it, I found a great bunch of letters, which set me up again completely, so that I very nearly sat down and wrote another letter on the spot, and anyhow got quite a lot of household jobs done which I before lacked energy to do. There has been another batch since, which I found on getting back from the weekend away, both from India and from Canada. Romey’s letters have been coming more regularly by ones, instead of in bunches of two or three as they did for a long time.
I told you, I think, that I was waiting to hear from Christina about the weekend, and I had a card on Wednesday, saying come to Oxford for Friday, and then go on home with her, as Mrs. Drake and Veronica were both coming over to fetch her on Saturday, as they were going to a wedding.
I took the early train to Oxford on Friday, and pottered about book shops all the morning, also buying a record of the Dolmetsches playing one of my pieces on treble recorder and harpsichord, so I have something to set as a standard to aim at. I bought a small Spanish dictionary to help in reading the Digests. The last of the year has now arrived. It is rather wonderful that not one has been lost. I see that it says in the English edition that the Spanish and Portuguese editions are not for sale in the British Isles, because of shipping space, so it is as well I didn’t tell Romey to carry on the subscription. Anyhow, in twelve copies there is still plenty to read. In Blackwell’s I also got a little anthology called ‘On foot’, all pieces which have some connection with walking, which I thought might be pleasant to take to Wales, especially as it includes descriptions of various of the mountains. Ann is going to write to Mrs. Williams and ask if we can come the last week in May.
I met Christina and Esther, and Esther’s friend Molly Kitchen for lunch and again for tea, and when Christina came out of work at 6.0 we had a quick meal at the Chop Suey, and went to see ‘Penn of Pennsylvania’, which we enjoyed very much, although sure it must be full of historical errors. I now feel I must get hold of a life of Penn, because even if half what it is the picture is true, it must be very interesting. I was very surprised that I did not feel sleepier, nor was I in such a carping mood as I usually am after staying up all that time.
Christina was working on Saturday morning, and I went round and saw Miss Bertie, who Helen had told me was going to be in Oxford for the weekend, and had a long gossip with her about all the past and present office scandal, not that there is any really that I can think of. Mrs Drake and Veronica arrived outside Balliol at 1.0, and we had a picnic lunch in the car on the way to Gerrard’s Cross, arriving just in time for the wedding. I had met the bride once in the street, so had no interest in the whole affair, and of course did not go to the reception, but went back to Heatherside and had tea with Mr Drake. Their faithful Nanny is laid up, so they have no domestic help, and Mr. Drake is very handy about the house, and has made all sorts of gadgets for keeping things in, reforming the usual rather slapdash methods. Their habit of never being in time for anything I try and school myself to ignore, but I must say I still find it difficult when it is a matter of catching buses or trains. it is really only Mrs. Drake who is so unpunctual, but it seems to affect the whole household.
On Sunday we had intended to do a day out walking, but it was so cold that in the end we just had a long walk in the afternoon, and even then it was so cold that one’s hands got cold if one stood still at all. They took Nobby, the pony, and took turns in riding him, and cantering round any suitable meadows we came to, while the rest of the party walked on. It would have been a most lovely walk, if only there had been some chance of seeing the views. Even as it was, though, I really felt all the better for it. We had tea at a pub in Chalfont St. Peter, where the good woman after having been very unwilling to provide teas at all, produced masses of bread and butter and blackberry jam, and large chocolate biscuits, so we did very well.
On Monday Christina had to be off very early, but Mrs D and Veronica came in the bus with me to Berkhampstead after lunch, intending to walk some of the way back, as it was a fine day. We had a few moments before my train, so we looked at the church, which is very fine and large, and remarkable for the outward slant of the pillars of the aisle, which I supposed have long since settled like that, as there is a 14th or 15th century tomb, so the place can’t be just about to fall down.
At the Drakes I read a very interesting book ‘Captured’, by Bessy Myers, who was an ambulance driver and got caught up in the German advance in France, and was in prison for some time before getting away. Most of the book is a diary she kept, which was a pretty daft thing to do, but it is particularly interesting for being a quite unpretentious account of the little she saw. About the most striking thing, I thought, was the complete collapse of the French, even in the hospital where Bessy was first held prisoner, where the doctors had given up all attempts to keep the place going properly, a thing could have done. Some of her descriptions are almost as bad as those of the Turkish hospital in Damascus, told by T.E Lawrence. I hope people wouldn’t just go flop here. It does not seem possible to imagine anyway, and anyway there would not be the same shock of surprise.
Very many thanks to Mother for the money to replace the Beethoven records. I had already done so, but feeling it was rather extravagant, although I should probably have got some others if I had not had to do that, and I shall probably now do so.
I had not remarked on the name of Isak Dinesen’s other book, which I must certainly read. I thought she must know a good deal about Africa, from the setting of one of the Gothic tales.
With much love from Annette
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 7/6/42)
1st April 1942
No letters from India since last week, but one from Romey, talking about learning to ski. We saw some pictured of skiing in Australia on the films, which filled us with envy, and Roma Craze told me the curious thing that skis were used in Australia before they were introduced into Switzerland from Norway. I wonder how the Swiss got about before.
We have had the most lovely weather here this week, and have been full of the joys of spring in consequence. Also, even if there has been no particularly good news, at least there has been nothing too bad. One of the greatest joys of spring to me is that the water is now not turned off at night for fear of the pipes freezing, and so I can splash myself with cold water as much as I like, and not just have one small kettleful of hot.
You know when I wrote on Wednesday I said that I had cried off going to the pictures. It was not quite so fine on Friday, so I did go. Also it was a film that I wanted to see, in spite of Bette Davis being in it. She may be a fine actress, but I usually can’t stand her pop eyes. But in the film ‘The little foxes’, I must say I thought she was very good. The whole thing was miles and away better than most of the ordinary stuff, and we thought it compared favourably with the good French films. Some people just said they didn’t like it, and didn’t see the point of making such a horrible film, but it seemed to me that it illustrated a very important question, for how is this ‘new and better world’ ever going to be made until something can be done about the ‘little foxes that spoil our vines’, who have no social conscience whatever, and are out entirely for their own profit.
I went to the pictures again yesterday, because it rained, and we couldn’t have our rabbits’ tennis, which we had planned, and saw Shirley Temple in ‘Kathleen’, a silly enough picture, but she is better now, I think, than when she was small, although still a most bumptious child.
On Saturday I went over to the Roscoes. Mr. Roscoe, was at home, just risen from flu’, but he came out in the afternoon to haul bundles of small logs from the woods. I hope to go over again on Monday, and see Barbara and Graham, who are both arriving from their respective schools today. They spend the first half of the holidays with Ba’s parents, and the second with Graham’s.
I have not done much more digging, because Mr Evans has been at home, and has done it. But he will be gone on Monday and there will be plenty to do in the garden. I must say I am very glad she is not the sort of person to get into a bad temper if she is upset, because it certainly is very worrying to have anyone about to go on the sea. He thinks he is probably going to India, but does not know. I gather that they fill up the places of clerks such as he is with Waafs. Which reminds me of a Gloomy discussion we were having the other day, whose conclusion was that even if the Russians beat the Germans and then beat us, it would at least be infinitely preferable for any woman to live under the Russian regime than the German. George Black (who, by the way, is one of the few men in the section who will go and fetch the tea in the evening as a matter of course in his turn, rather than as a favour to the poor silly creatures who make such a fuss over nothing, when it is not the fetching of the tea we object to, but the assumption that we will do so) George Blake says that I shall lead a new suffragette movement, because I become heated on the night shift on the subject of women and the War. There have fewer speeches lately, or I have heard fewer, which pat women on the head for taking part in the war effort, but there is Lord Halifax again mentioning that women are doing their part, as though it were something remarkable. I suppose the speakers mean well, but it always sounds as though women might have been expected to sit back and wring their hands or something of the sort, and also that it is most astonishing that they can learn skilled jobs, or even any jobs, the clever little thing I exaggerate, of course, but it does seem that in Russia anyway, people are considered according to their capabilities as people, and not divided sharply into sexes even in things where it has no bearing at all.
I have just read a very slight but entertaining book, and interesting if it is to be believed at all. It is by the author of ‘The healing knife’ George Sava, and about a journey through the Caucasus looking for his sister, who was abducted by a robber chief, but the whole interest is in the all too brief descriptions of the various, or of some of the most extraordinary of the various odd remnants of peoples who live in those parts. As with the film about Penn, I now feel I should like to read a trustworthy account of the country to see if it really is all true.
I have got my glasses, but as I have only had them for a day I don’t really know how they work. I think they rest the sight. Another thing that sets me off these days is the subject of lighting. If the place had been properly thought out, we should not have to work in artificial light all day, and I find it no reasonable answer to be told that in London most offices have to have lights on all the time.
With much love
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 18/6/42)
13th April 1942
No 9 (I think)
I have had no letters at all this week from any of you, but of course, they do usually come in bunches anyway, particularly from Canada. In fact, besides a short note from Aunt the only postal communication I have had was a box of sweets from Mokes with an odd little note written on a corner of an old letter of Aunt’s to her, which I think is taking paper economy a bit far.
Once more I am writing from the office after the midnight shift. I was going to write at the billet yesterday morning, but it was so fine that I went out to the woods and picked primroses instead. I must go out on Thursday morning again, and get a large bunch to take to Doris in London, as she is the only person I can think of who is still in London; - as I write, though, I remember Annette Webster, who would certainly appreciate primroses, but she would have to be sent them, as it is too far to trail out to Highgate. I might get some at home next weekend.
I shall have quite a lot to do in London on Friday, because I am making an appointment with Mr Millauro to get a new eye, or perhaps two, because even if my present one is not getting a bit rough, and I don’t think it is, I haven’t got a really nice one besides. Another thing I think I must get is a tennis racquet, as two more strings have gone in the old one of Romey’s that I had, and I may play more this summer, having found some other people who have no pretensions to playing well.
I have just discovered that I seem to have brought the wrong size of paper for the carbon copy, which is all due to being woolly in the head when getting up, but I hope Romey will be able to make something of it.
This morning, when I have finished this, I am going out to inspect my allotment which I have just acquired, and then possibly to buy some tools and some seeds, so as to get started. I bought some onion and radish seed already, because I will have rows of radishes, in case nothing else comes up. These allotments are inside the office grounds, on a piece of land which was I think grown with potatoes last year, and has been again ploughed up, so we shan’t have any heavy digging to do, which indeed we couldn’t have done, because they are a purely female concern, organised by the women’s committee which has recently been set up, and which is a very useful channel for suggestions or complaints, and consists of very active members who will really get things done, instead of letting them drift with the usual methods of offialdom, which is a word I do not like, but it expresses my feelings on the subject very well, and even more so somehow, as I observe I have written it. In the Evans’ garden they are again only growing potatoes and cabbages, and so I have said I will supplement them if possible with lettuce and such. The allotments are just near the pigsty, so perhaps we could make a lovely compost heap, and spread the doctrine wider.
I have out Marco Polo, the second volume, from the library, and much enjoy it. It is odd to be able now to read all the bits of Old French and German and so on. What a thing is education, as I say frequently. Some of the pictures I remember clearly, such as the making of salt currency, and the gathering of incense in Arabia, while others, far more striking, I do not remember at all. Particularly interesting I now find the chapter on Sakya Muni, and how he became by devious ways, a saint and the hero of the poem of ‘Balaam et Josaphat’, on which I think I once heard a lecture.
My other reading has been a most extraordinary book called ‘The poet captain’, written by John Davies in 1805, and which reads like the wildest skit of Marryat, but which I am assured by Margaret Mackinlay, who is an authority on naval history, is just a sample of the sort of sea-faring work of the day, and written in all seriousness.
I went over to the Roscoes for Easter Monday, and found a large party, including Barbara and Graham. We went for a walk in the woods and found a long springy log, balanced between two others, on which we all bounced up and down in a long line of six. Any chance spectators would have been considerably astonished, I should think. Otherwise there was nothing notable, but it was as usual, a very pleasant day.
Of course, I haven’t written since Easter. I was alone in the house over the weekend, fortunately without mishap except for burning the fat on Monday morning, which I can’t account for, as I was watching it for the crucial moment to put the bacon in. I had Roma, and Violet Carruthers, another very nice person, and Sheila Legat, in to listen to the gramophone on Saturday evening, and we played nearly through my case of records. Mrs. Evans suggested that I should have someone in if I felt lonely, so that was all right. Now I come to think hard, it wasn’t Saturday evening, but Sunday, because I went out to Helen’s on Saturday, in pouring rain and wind, but it was worth it, because her two sisters were there and we had a very merry musical evening, although unfortunately our quartet was cut short, because Jim’s bassoon reed split, and it apparently takes some time to train a new one, especially as he is not yet very expert. We then sang some of the Elizabethan songs, of which I have them two volumes for a wedding present, at least they got them, and I paid for them.
On Thursday we had a Russian evening at Dinak Paras’s, about five of us, with Margaret Ward as teacher, as it were, only she is not much good at it really, as she has simply learnt to talk Russian with her mother, without ever learning the writing or grammar in a set way. But she is most amusing, and has undertaken the difficult task of getting us to put the right amount of expression into what we say, Russians apparently being frightfully effusive. She seems to take on quite a different personality when talking Russian.
Another thing I have done this week is to learn the elements of stretcher bearing and various holds for lifting people and so on, things we didn’t touch in the first aid course I did in Oxford. This occupied most of the lunch hour for some days, but I have taken to having sandwiches for lunch, as it is less harassing, and there is no waiting in a queue, which I found more annoying than eating at work, which is supposed to be a bad thing. But the one time when there is a peaceful atmosphere in the office in the day time is when everybody is away at lunch.
On Friday we went to see ‘Hatter’s castle’, which I think is good, in spite of the triteness of every incident. I had Roma muttering clichés out of Victorian novels beside me all the time, so I can’t really judge.
On Saturday I went out to dinner, which is really a great event for these parts. The wife and son of an elderly man in the next room to us were staying for the weekend, and he invited a sprinkling of people to meet them for dinner, which was quite pleasant, and afterwards I went to the pictures to see ‘The chocolate soldier’ to fill in time before going to work, accompanied at the last minute by Bob Marshall, another of the party, and we were both much entertained.
Somebody is shortly going to want to use this machine, as it is past 10.0, so I will close.
With much love
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 2/7/42)
26th April 1942
I have to thank you all for quite a number of letters, most of which I found in a bunch when I got home for the weekend, and since then Dicky has sent me on another lot from India, and on e from Romey which I had of course already had, the one about work mostly.
It was a pity Richard didn’t happen to get his five days leave a bit earlier, because he got home on Monday after I had left, but we met in town on Wednesday, as I had an appointment with Miss Millauro to fetch my new eye (which is I think quite a good one). I could actually have come up to town any day this week, but he probably wouldn’t have thought of it unless he had heard I was coming anyway, as it is still an odd thing to start ones day’s work at five.
The weather has been lovely, and I have spent most of my time digging, but have still not got my piece finished, because I have been double digging some of it and putting in a little manure for the peas and tomatoes, but this coming week I really hope to get down to planting things. I brought some artichokes from home, and planted one row, and had a few over, so I gave them to George Blake, who had an allotment elsewhere, and in return he is going to give me some lettuce seedlings. Papa will be glad to hear that I am starting a humus heap. I intend to cut down all the nettles on the rough bit near our plots some time to make a good layer of green stuff, and there is an endless supply of pig manure from the styes nearby, so we are going to have some fun.
I have been wearing my walking boots for gardening, as my Wellingtons have vanished. I think the sole of one of them was wearing through anyhow, and it is providential that my boots should have turned up in the wash house just now, because I have never been able to find them since we came back from Wales, although I knew they must be somewhere among all the junk. I also brought my plus fours and rucksack in preparation for the forthcoming trip to Wales, also a lot of summer clothes in case I do not go home again before the hot weather starts.
Did I mention that I had a peculiar pain in my right foot for some time, which I suspected must be a dropped arch? I went to Dr. Robertson at home, and found that this is the case. It is very odd, and he said it was a bad thing at my age. I don’t know whether I walk in some queer way, although I have noticed that I go from wearing down my left heel to wearing down my right at long intervals, but this is I gather a sign and not a cause of a dropping arch. I have a support which takes away all pain, and I hope that with excercises it will be cured, because it is such a silly thing.
We went to see ‘Fantasia’ on Saturday afternoon, which was not, as it proved, the best time to go, because all the children were there, obviously expecting an exciting picture, and they made rather a noise to start with. Also the thing I most wanted to see was left out, the Bach Toccata and Fugue, I think it is, which has only coloured shapes, not pictures of anything illustrating it. I suppose they thought it too highbrow for the provinces, or something of the sort, which is very annoying. Walt Disney’s name was obviously drawing large crowds anyway, so why don’t they take the opportunity of showing the provinces something a bit different. It seems to me that this distinction between highbrow and lowbrow is one of the things that have got to be cured if we are going to have this new and better world. I was much struck the other day when Mr and Mrs Evans said how much they had enjoyed the Trumpet voluntary and one or two other things in one of these programmes of gramophone records selected by famous people. If they had been put on with an announcer saying beforehand ‘The B.B.C. symphony orchestra will now play so-and-so’ Mr Evans would have switched off at once, but as it was a on the Forces programme, and mixed up with ‘Bird songs at eventide’ and suchlike, he listened with pleasure.
I will send this much off now, because otherwise I shall probably go and miss another mail. I got so absorbed in planting onions yesterday evening that I had not time or energy to write when I got in, because it was nearly 10 o’clock.
With much love from
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 9/7/42)
10th May 1942
This time I am writing after the midnight shift, but I don’t know that it is a very good idea, because there are already a lot of people in, and I shall shortly not be able to think, and shall also be turned off the typewriter, but on the other hand, once I get back to the billet I feel from past experience that I shall not settle down to anything.
The main thing I have done since I last wrote is to go to Cambridge to see Richard. In the end Ann did not come, as she was suddenly turned out of her billet, and had to spend Tuesday settling into a new one, but I persuaded Sheila to come to Cambridge instead of going to London, in case Richard didn’t turn up, and I was considerably surprised to see him on the platform at the station. We went to King’s and found Stephen Toulmin in. He has the most lovely room right over the river, with a bow window and wide window seat on which one can sit and watch the boats going past. We also decided that it would make a good getaway in case of need, to let oneself out with a rope of sheets. Stephen is now in his last term although barely twenty, and will presumably go on immediately to some job in physics research. We went to the Blue Barn, the place which is run by the same family as the Chop Suey in Oxford, and had a very nice Chinese dish, a mish mash of buttered egg and all kinds of things, which we ate with chopsticks, and were pleased to discover that we could still manage them quite well. It was altogether an entertaining meal, because with Stephen as with Ann one can drop into conversation touched with a slight lunacy which is agreable to us. This continued in Stephen’s room again, where he made coffee. Then he had to go to rehearse a broadcast service from the chapel, and we did a little shopping before coming back and listening to the service itself. I got a tennis racket, also three balls, but have as yet used neither, what with gardening. It was beautiful to hear the singing in the chapel, and then to wander by the river for a bit, most peaceful, especially when compared with the racket at work at that same hour of the afternoon. We really did not have much time to look about, as the last train back from Cambridge is just after six, so we went to the Whim and had a very good tea, with cakes which were nice although pink.
Sheila and I got back intime to have a snack and go to the pictures. I have forgotten the name, and anyhow it was a case of the usual wasted opportunities for making a telling picture. I shall have to pack up, I think, as my hands scarcely seem to respond to the brain.
I had already forgotten that the air over in this part of the room was so bad. There has been a great move round, and we now sit near the window, and so have daylight when there is any, and air all the time, which quite offsets the disadvantage of papers blowing about when the door is opened.
The allotment is going pretty well. I have finished all the digging, and put in a variety of things, and have now got to choose carefully what I will put into the rest of the ground. Nothing is coming except lettuces so far, and no wonder, because it hasn’t rained for weeks and weeks.
12 May 1942. It has rained, all last night, I mean the night before last, because tonight is now last night, it being 8.30 in the morning. By the time I’ve finished, I shall have written letters at every hour of the day and night.
To resume about the garden. I went out yesterday morning, and found the lettuces and radishes considerably grown, but nothing else showing. I put in another row of lettuces, but I shall not be able to do any gardening this morning, because my room is being spring-cleaned, and I must go back and move all the junk. I moved all the furniture round yesterday morning, so that the armchair which has sat in the corner farthest from the window all this time should get by the window. I don’t suppose Mrs. Evans will mind, she moves the furniture in the other rooms about from time to time.
Ann and I have now got our arrangements for leave all fixed up, as Mrs. Williams can have us from the 26th. There is a train early in the morning which gets to Chester about lunch time, and then we get to Bangor and I hope it will not be too difficult to get on from there. Philip Hunt knows Ogwen Cottage well, and has also stayed at the climbers’ hut. His grandfather used to stay at Ogwen Cottage years ago, at the time when they changed overnight from rushlights to electricity, the old man having suddenly gone and bought a turbine. I hope it still works, perhaps that is what Mrs Williams means by saying that the house is much more convenient. We thought it was something to do with the sanitation, possibly. It appears to be about time I have some leave, because I have had a septic place under one finger nail, which is a thing I have only had before when very tired at Oxford. I haven’t been aware of being run down. In fact, I have felt much more lively on the nights shifts, but I have also been so irritated in the busy parts of the day that I could scream, in spite of telling myself to cultivate detachment.
This weekend I am going to oxford. On Saturday Roma and I are going to Stratford, to see I believe ‘The winter’s tale’, although Christina was a bit vague as to that. However, we don’t much mind what the play is. I remember that all the plays on this year’s programme were ones I should like to see. I have written to Gavin to see if we could go on the river on Sunday or something, but there’s never any telling with him.
There are no more thoughts in my head, or no coherent ones, so no more writing.
With much love from
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 18/7/42)
20th May 1942
I have just been spending the morning on business, first to the doctor’s, to hand in medical card and get put on the panel. Dr. Lufkin proves to have been training at the same hospital as Uncle Roy and Eleanor. She was very interested to hear about them. Then I went to the emergency food office to get the new ration books, and to the ordinary food office for a temporary card for next week in Wales, then to the Labour Exchange to ask why they put my billet address on my reserved occupation card when I had put my home address on the form sent first. They say it is all right, but they are all quite nit-witted in all the local offices here. I finished up the morning by buying a pound of oranges. Any there are for the general public are usually all gone by half past nine in the morning, but they must have had an extra lot in. I have had about one pig of orange in eighteen months, and it is really quite difficult to think what to do with them when one has seven, though they are small.
I had a nice weekend, though not as restful as I would have wished. Roma and I were prepared for Saturday being a strenuous day, as we went to Oxford and on to Stratford. Things started badly, because the people at Oxford station, as we found out later, never tell the easiest way to Stratford, which is to change at Honeybourne or some such place on the Worcester line, but slap down the tickets with ‘Change at Leamington’. We not knowing went there, and there was no connection for Stratford till 2.38, and the matinee started at 2.30. We met a doddery old man who said he though a bus had just left for Straford and the next one went at 2.30, so we hared down the road, and got the bus which had not quite left, feeling quite ill from all the exertion after night shift. However it was such a relief to be getting there in time that we recovered soon, and enjoyed the glipse of Leamington from the bus. At Stratford we went into the first lunch place we saw, and had a very nice lunch, and then went on to the theatre and saw ‘The winter’s tale’, which we much enjoyed. But it certainly is a badly constructed play, in spite of some good scenes. It was interesting to see, because it is so seldom acted, but it doesn’t hang together much better on the stage than when read. I hope Roma really enjoyed it. She sounded as if she did. Afterwards we ran into Roger Green and a pal, which was very fortunate, as Roger knows Stratford well, and could tell us many things. Our train back was soon after seven, so we just had time to go and look at the church and walk back by the river. There are so few tourists now that it is all delightful. I must go again and less hurriedly. Of course we had not originally meant to do everything in such a rush, as we had not thought of having our day off cut out. We could have left Oxford early in the morning and had more time to look round.
On Sunday I went to hear the Litany and Communion sung at the Cathedral, and then joined Gavin and some friends at the Randolph, going on to the Mitre for lunch. It should have been a happy party but was not particularly so for me. There were only about two people with whom I could converse with any ease and interest, a youth who lives at Great Baddow called David something, and a girl called Sonia, whose surname I have also forgotten, but who seemed to be a genuine person in spite of being on the stage. Most of the others I felt quite out of harmony with, but whereas I used to think it was I, I now think it is they that are rather affected and silly; all the same, except for seeing Gavin, I rather wished I had spent the day some other way. We went up Merton Tower though, and there was a lovely view, it being a clear grey day, but I do think Lord Nuffield is the curse of Oxford, in spite of his many benefactions.
I had supper with Esther and then went to the pictures, Paul Muni in ‘Scarface’ and Spencer Tracy in ‘Sky devils’, which must have been about their earliest pictures, and were thus very interesting to see, particularly the latter, as I had seen ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ only last week. It was not as good as I expected, in spite of the many opportunities it gives of making the flesh creep.
On Monday I had lunch with Christina, who had been home for the weekend and Esther and two of their colleagues, all very nice, and then returned to work, very hot, as it had got much hotter since Friday, and I was too warmly dressed.
Everything has come up in the garden since we have had rain. I have got too many things coming on to enumerate, but I have put in nothing this week except some onions, of which I bought half a box, about thirty. I have now got not much space left, only for more lettuces, marrows and cucumbers and tomatoes. I have just bought a peice of netting to cover the lettuces, as wire netting can no longer be got, but I hope we shall not be afflicted with rabbits.
Ann and I go on leave next Wednesday, the soonest we are allowed to travel after Whitsun. I do hope the weather will remain reasonably fine. Roma has bought a complete L.M.S. time table, and we have found quite good trains, all the way to Bethesda if necessary, although I hope we shall be able to get a bus from Bangor to Llyn Ogwen. I don’t remember noticing any signs of railway at Bethesda, but it is all down in the timetable. I have bought ‘Wild Wales’ as a small and suitable book. We are only taking rucksacks, but I am going to get in some of the tinned butter and cheese for making sandwiches. Also I have saved quite a lot of chocolate to take out on walks.
I can think of no more to say, because I keep on thinking about marrows, because I want to get the marrow bed made this afternoon, so I will close.
With much love from
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 4/8/32)
26th May 1942
I have been unreasonably cast down today because it has rained steadily all the afternoon, and I thought how sad it would be if it goes on all the week, but now th sun has come out, and I say to myself that there will be perhaps be some clear times, all of which is unreasonable, since we have not even got to Wales, and there is no telling, with the weather as unsettled as it is now. It was delightful to get the map of the Snowdon district yesterday from Aunt, as Ann only had a half inch to the mile one.
We take a train tomorrow at eight, and I have been invited to go and have breakfast at the house where Ann is staying the night, at 7.0, which will make a better start to the day than getting it for myself and meeting Ann at the station. We are going well provided with cheese and tea, for which the parcels from India are responsible, and also have saved chocolate from the Naafi. By a strike of luck I got some oranges last week, as I think I told you, and I have save d those too.
On Saturday I went over to the Roscoes, and found Mr. Roscoe just about to leave for London after his day off, still fed up with having moved back to London, but resigned to it more. Many was on evenings, as I was, and we sat and listened to the “Barber of Seville” on the wireless in the afternoon.
On Friday I had an unexpected outing. Roma was given two tickets for a concert in Bedford, the girl who had bought them having got mumps, and I went with her. I had not been to Bedford before, and found it a nice town, a far nicer town than, say, Chelmsford, for a county town. The concert was all of British music which I had never heard before, the chief item a cello concerto by Elgar, which I enjoyed, but I never can tell the first time. After the concert we wandered about a bit, and Roma bought a picture of Bunyan’s statue to send to her sisters in Australia. Which reminds me of the ingenious theory we worked out once in the old office that Bunyan had written Molière or Molière Bunyan, I forget which, on parallel lines to the Bacon-Shakespeare theory. Which reminds me the we had ham on toast for tea at Stratford, and wondered why it should be called thus unless the very word bacon is banned from Stratford.
Whitsunday I spent most incongruously doing housework and mending, but I had forgotten all about its being Whitsunday or I would have gone to church, where they had a special chant composed by the elegant Mr. Grey who plays the organ, and talks just as I always imagine Oscar Wilde to have done. I forgot to say last week, a thing that will interest Aunt, that they had for anthem the lovely piece about “Who is the king of glory?” at Oxford Cathedral.
I shall probably not write from Wales, because of having no manuscript carbon, but will send a comprehensive account of our doings afterwards.
With much love from
Letter from GCT to LJT on back of Annette’s letter of 26 May 1942
Dearest Joan –
I am writing a screed to the H.D’s this week, so am only scribbling you a line on the back of Anne’s letter, and enclosing a snap of the boys with Josephine – Gav showing great heroism by holding her!
Jim Pearce died a few days ago which is really rather a mercy as he had been getting more and more feeble for some time and I think Florrie is pretty well worn out. Old Mrs Burt has also departed this life which is even more of a mercy – She only took to her bed two days before she died and then they had a fight to keep her there – I think she was just on ninety!!
Barney and I went over to see Christine on Thursday and found her very well and cheery, having just had a letter from Norman since he helped to blow up oil stores at Rangoon, (in which he says Brough’s granddaughter Prudence, who was with him all through the fighting, took an active part by barking at the explosions). Criddy hopes by now he is in India. I hope he has contacted with you if he arrived in Calcutta.
Poor May Mac has had a very big abdominal op- but is going on well. She is the Chelmsford hospital and I go in to see her when I can, and she is coming to us when she comes out, till she is strong enough to travel up to her mothers in Cheshire.
Isnt it splendid of Romey to get a scholarship and a job to pay for her trip to Vancouver. I wonder if she will see Tim on the way.
Much love –
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 1/9/42)
9th June 1942
I had a most lovely holiday, which already seems almost like a dream, just as all this seemed like a dream once we had been away a day, and got the stale air all cleared out of our lungs, as it were. It is amazing how long a week can be, if one gets suspended in time away from ordinary things.
We had a good journey really, marred only by having to go down from the station at Bangor to find out if there were any buses to Capel Curig, (Mother will no doubt remember how unhelpful the station people at Bangor were before about buses) and finding there was only a market bus on Tuesday morning. So we had a cup of tea and took the train to Bethesda, feeling more holidayish at the sight of all the bluebells and campion by the line, and the mountains, and by the arrival at the terminus among trees, reminiscent of Framlingham Admiral.
We were just thinking that a five mile walk to Lake Ogwen with out heavyish rucksacks would be rather an effort, especially with not much chance of a hitch on the road now, and wondering if we could hire a car, when a voice said behind us ‘If you are going to the Yough Hostel, would you share a car with us?’, and behold, it was Mrs Williams, whom I did not recognise for a second, she looks a lot older, and her youngest daughter Megan, which was very delightful. The mountains were enveloped in rain just as we approached the, which was a pity for Anna’s first view, and we did not go for a walk that evening, but had a large tea and supper, and considered what to do. Ogwen Cottage is a nice house, and there is electricity, and running water in all the bedrooms, and of course a bath and indoor sanitation, so we had all the comforts of civilisation in the wilds. it is very nice to look out on the lake and the few trees, but of course the hills go up very steeply on all sides and there is no view as there was from the farm. It is, though, much more convenient for starting most of the climbs.
Mrs. Williams had just been returning from seeing a new grandson. All her family are now married, Megan only in February to a minister, and Sarah, to a most amusing man who works in a factory some way off, and goes to and fro every day. We much enjoyed listening to his humorous accounts of life at the works and so on, all with a strong Welsh accent of course. Various other members of the family appeared occasionally in the big kitchen, but I really could hardly keep track of them.
We were fed very well, eggs from their own hens nearly every day, and quantities to eat, and of course inexhaustible pots of tea, so we set out well stuffed in the mornings, and came back to a large dinner every day, and several times to tea too, even though it was about 6.0 when we got in. I think I said we had the oranges and chocolate and a tin of cheese to supplement the midday sandwiches.
The first evening there was nobody else in the house, although there had been 17 over Whitsun, a climbing club reunion, we heard afterwards. On Thursday there were two cycling girls, simple souls, who had not been able to get in at the Youth Hostel next door. I was very interested to hear that the Hostels are still nearly always full, and the Ogwen one takes sixty people. The Royal Hotel in Capel Curig is shut entirely, so that it appears to be mostly the humble people on foot or cycle who get into the remote places now. An old couple who arrived at the Cottage later were remarking on the democratization (a word for which I apologise) of mountain climbing in recent years. Ann and I were very pleased to meet four very towny youths on top of Tryfaen, obviously enjoying themselves in the cold mist, because we are comforted to think that this is one pleasure that will remain even if life becomes like a Co-op store. On Friday evening we were again along, but on Saturday there were eight at dinner, a young couple from Rugby, and two pairs of men, one pair schoolmasters or such, expert climbers, and seeming to know all the rocks in the British Isles like the palm of their hand, the other morose, and indeed one of them spoke no word for the four days they stayed. We thought he must be suffering from acute melancholia. The rest of us had some chat, conversation did not really get going till the above mentioned old couple arrived on Monday. They came in at tea time, both short and rosy and silver-haired, looking as if they came out of tissue paper, and said ‘Do we talk as they do abroad or remain silent like the English?’ so we talked. Their name was Jervis. The old man seemed to be closely connected with Oxford, although we were not quite sure what he did, but he is at present writing a history of Romance architecture in France, and full of knowledge on all sorts of subjects, while his wife with a delightful twinkle redeems him from a slight prosiness. So we had good company for some days, and I wished it had come sooner, partly because I am sure in another day or two we should have had more advice from the experts about easy climbs to do, and should also have made an expedition to Snowdon, which was mooted, but the weather was not good enough on Monday or Tuesday, and it would have been too much of a day without getting hold of a car for a bit of the way, because it is ten miles by road to Pen y Pass either way round, or else up and down over the Glyders, and Ann and I were hardly in training for that. But I should have like to go up the North ridge of Tryfaen, or the Gribin, the ridge between the two Glyders, both of which the experts, (one of whom was called Owen, and the other something funny I never caught properly) said are easy scrambles and good practice for the mountains in Skye, which are all rock and scrambly. But I don’t know that Ann would have wanted to do anything more strenuous than we actually did, because of course she tends to wheeze if too energetic. I had the first few days a peculiar fear of trying out anything that I had not done before, but before the end I was getting quite an itch to try new ways. Anyhow we just plodded up the simplest ways because we knew of nothing else.
The first day we did not go up at all. It was pouring when we got up, and we decided to walk to Capel Curig and look for postcards. I, for one, did not really feel the thrill of the mountains until we had gone down the valley, and gone up the lower bumps of Moel Siabod and looked at the view on all sides. We had our lunch and a cup of tea at a little C.T.C. place, and then crossed the river and stood on the bridge and looked up the valley at Snowdon, and went through the woods full of bluebells on the lower slopes of Moel. It had come out quite fine by that time, and we had a most agreable walk back up the valley to Ogwen. We came and went by the old road, which was nowhere too boggy until the very end near Lake Ogwen. My boots gave me no trouble at all, and I shall certainly try the method again of daily lubrication with vaseline, because I had no sign of a blister, and I hadn’t hardened my feet by walking or by meth beforehand.
On Friday we did a longish round, up beside the Devil’s Kitchen, which was looking very fierce with rain and hail sweeping over it, and then along the Glyders. We had fine views, although there were clouds just scraping over the tops occasionally, and Snowdon was of course quite enveloped. But clouds are rather suitable for the general effect of a dead world you get up the Glyders with all the slabs and spikes of rock. I had forgotten the extraordinary formations up there, and especially the piled-up desolation of Glyder Fach opposite Tryfaen, where I had not the slightest recollection of how to go down, but cairns on which we thankfully put stones, led us down the side, down shale and along to the neck joining Tryfaen. Actually there is apparently not too bad a way straight down the rocks onto this, but I hardly think we could have done it without guidance. We felt really washed through and through by the time we got in, and quite content to sid and drink tea in a vacuous way before a very early bed.
Saturday we thought was again going to be fairly cloudy, and Ann was very keen to get postcards, which were unobtainable in Capel Curig, so we set out to Bethesda, thinking we might get a hitch. Nothing passed us except military traffic, but it was a delightful fresh morning, and so we did not mind. Bethesda also proved to have very few postcards, and none of the mountains, so we decided to go on to Bangor by bus. There wasn’t one for half an hour so we walked down through the woods beside the very pleasing rocky stream to the bridge where the main road crosses it and waited for the bus there. By this time it was quite fine, so we only stayed in Bangor between two buses, with just time to get some cards and have a cup of tea, and ate our sandwiches later in a green meadow by the river. We walked back by the old road, which gives a superb view of the Glyders and Tryfaen from the West, and they stood up particularly bleak and rocky in contrast to the lush green valley and the woods we had just been in. We were much struck by the way the bluebells grow right out in open fields in those parts. When we got in we felt pretty hot, and had a dip in the lake, which really was just a dip in and out, it was so cold, but very refreshing, and after dinner we went down below the end of the lake and looked at the Ogwen falls, which one doesn’t notice at all from the new road, as it goes right over the top. They were a fine sight with all the water that had been falling recently, and we sat on a rock beside them for some time.
Sunday was really the high spot of the week. We did the round of the Carnedds, and had a wonderful day for it. The clouds, which had been low in the morning, lifted as we got up towards them, and we had indescribably lovely views all round for the whole walk along the top. The wind was pretty cold, but we were in sun nearly all the time, except when in a passing cloud shadow. All the tops were clear, even Snowdon being quite free of cloud, and the visibility was wonderful. I don’t know how far we could see, because we could see right outside the ½ inch map anyway. We were told that Ireland was visible, but didn’t actually perceive it at the time, but anyhow we saw the whole of Anglesey like a map set in a glorious blue sea and sky, which from 3,000 feet were exactly the same colour, and inland hills beyond hills. This was from Carnedd Dafydd. From Carnedd Llewelyn we could see the Conway valley far below, most fascinatingly small.
While we were drinking in the view there appeared an old man, who had come up on the other side from Aber, and was going down to the foot of the Black Ladders, where you may remember a man was killed when we were there before, and where he said there are lovely flowers, particularly globe-flowers. We came down by Pen yr Helgi Du, and it was less cold there, being lower, we lay in the sun for some time on top, and the view was still pretty good from there. By the time we had come back to the cottage, walking into the sun, my face was as red as a beetroot, as foolishly I had not taken any precaution against the sun, and it was just as well form me that Monday was a dull day, or I should have had no face left. Any day would have been rather an anticlimax after Sunday, but Monday was really wet, though only with a kind of fine rain that was almost unnoticeable after one had been walking in it for a bit. We went up Tryfaen, hoping for breaks in the clouds, but they were not sufficient to give any view worth speaking of, and the wind was terrific on top. Mr Owen’s friend, a large and solid man, said he was almost lifted off the narrow ridge at the top of the gulley up which they came, some time after we had gone down again, but they had the good fortune to see a Brocken spectre, their shadows in a circular rainbow against the mist. We crouched behind Adam and Eve to eat sandwiches, feeling rather cold, and came charging down fairly fast, getting in to the cottage at about half past three to hot baths.
On Tuesday, our last day, we really made rather a bad choice. It was still heavy in the morning, so we decided to go down the valley and up Moel Siabod, thinking it was more likely to be clear of clouds, being lower. As it happened, they only got thicker lower down and broke up and cleared away early in the afternoon on the high peaks. We got nearly to the top of Moel Siabod, but the clouds got thicker and thicker, and we were fed up of going up the grass slopes with nothing to look at, so we turned back, and came below the clouds to have lunch. As we came up the valley the clouds broke up more and more, and by the time we got there were only a few wisps round the Glyders, which had gone by after tea, and the evening was absolutely clear and still, with an inexpressibly beautiful light, and every single rock and crevice standing out. We sat by the waterfall before dinner, where at one point there are two flat walls of rock with the valley floor and the low hills framed like a vision of the Delectable Mountains. After dinner we went up and sat beside Llyn Idwal, joined by most of the other guests, who discussed climbs and glacier formations all round, until the sun popped down and the shadow fell over the lake and it turned chilly.
We left about 8.30 on Wednesday, Mr Owen and his friend accompanying us in the hired car to Bethesda, and in the train to Llanfairfechan, from whence they were going to walk up and over the Carnedds. The day continued like the evening before, and was sad to have to go on in the train, although it must have been very hot climbing. I had to go to work at 5.0, and I felt extremely flat, as well as rather hot carrying my rucksack, and extremely disreputable, in ancient clothes, and with a scarlet face. I was much cheered on getting in to find sweet Dicky had sent me a reviewer’s copy of Cronin’s new book ‘The keys of the kingdom’, but the flat feeling lasted all Thursday. It is of course so flat literally here. The ridge which ordinarily looks quite high, looked like a little bump, hardly noticeable. However, by Friday I was quite settled down again. We had three days as fine as Wednesday, with a blossoming of everybody into summer clothes, and since then it has been chilly again, so really we were on the whole lucky with our weather in Wales.
Mrs Williams sent her best regards to Mother.
Much love Annette
P.S. I hope you have a map to follow our walks, and that I haven’t scattered names too much.
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 8/9/42)
19th June 1942
Today we had spinach off my allotment, and it was most delicious, so I really begin to feel that something may come of it, after being despondent because all the lettuces had been eaten off by something. Apparently they did have the frost here last week that Aunt said had spoiled a lot of people’s tomatoes, but luckily mine have survived very well. I don’t know why I start on these petty details about the vegetables, but I do spend quite a lot of time just going and looking at them, to see how they grow, which isn’t very much on account of the weather being so grey and yet dry, even if there is actually nothing to do.
I don’t know whether I said that Margaret McClelland and I were going to Oxford last weekend, for me to show her round, as she had never been, and then on Thursday there was a wire from Richard saying ‘Home till Sunday, then Scotland’, so I hastily altered plans, and arranged for us to come home instead. I had meant to bring Margaret home one weekend, because she lives in Scotland, and doesn’t often get to her own home, but I didn’t mean to land an extra guest on Aunt at such short notice, but I couldn’t either just leave Margaret in the lurch, with not time to make other plans for herself. Aunt of course did not show any signs of being put about, and bade the unexpected influx welcome as ever.
It was a pity that the weather was not finer, when we could have done nothing every more pleasantly than we did. On Saturday afternoon Richard, Margaret and I went to the pictures, in Chelmsford, as we missed the bus to Braintree, and we saw two very silly films. On Sunday, it was sunny enough to sit out in the garden, and have tea there. Richard had to go after it, and Margaret and I went round to the Watsons’, just for a chat. Both the girls were at home, and Mrs Watson not in too good form, as she had had a bad headache. We duly admired Mary’s fig tree, about a foot high, but with two figs on it. I thought they didn’t fruit for about fifty years or something, if then.
On Monday we did a little shopping, and as we happened to go to the Post Office near Lewis’s, I went on round the corner to the Millauro’s place in Wigmore St, to see what had had happened to the other eye I had ordered (and paid for). Miss Millauro had thought all along I was going to come in for it, when she had said she would post it. I have been noticing for several weeks that the lower lid seems to have flopped so that it doesn’t give proper support to the eye, and she advised me to have it looked at, and possibly have the socket deepened. We tried to get onto Sir John Parsons there and then, but he is no longer on the phone, and when I went round to his house I found it had been bombed, and there is nothing on the door to say where he has gone. Of course he might be dead anyway, he was pretty old. I couldn’t remember the name or address of the other specialist I went to once, but I shall ask Aunt to ask Dr. Billingham for it, or another. I think part of the trouble is that the tear duct doesn’t work so well on the left, and so the socket gets dry and irritated in a dry atmosphere. I have noticed this winter that my right nostril drips in cold weather far more than my left.
By the time I had finished this eye business, it was time for lunch. Luckily Margaret had had a wedding present to choose and had been fully occupied. We had a Chinese lunch at Ley On’s restaurant, trying a dish with a long name, bamboo shoots, chicken and what not all mixed up, then delicious Chinese tea, which Margaret luckily liked. She is usually one for real strong tea. I am the only person on our shift who likes it weak. Roma likes a sort of bitter brew. Is the tea always strong in Australia? She also says they make coffee entirely with milk, a thing I had never heard or thought of.
We had time to go to Foyle’s after lunch, where I found a German novel I had been looking for in every foreign book shop for a long time, and I also got a little ‘Omar Khayyam’ for George Blake, who asked anyone going to London to get one for him to send to a pal in Libya. Actually someone had got one already, but Margery Corr bought it off me. She is a wild Irish girl, very pretty and charming, the sort of person who thaws anyone’s shyness. It is very interesting and amusing watching her humanising all the people who come into the office, all entirely unaffectedly. The Sunday before last she invited me to go to Mass with her, so I did. I don’t know whether she hopes to win a convert, not that we have had any serious religious discussion. I have avoided it rather with her, because she is obviously such an unquestioning believer; when she is there, there are no flippant discussions either, such as the one we had the other night as to which religion it is best to put yourself down for in the Army, since you are apparently now allowed to put yourself down as Atheist or Deist to Agnostic or such, on account of the burial difficulty. They are not included in Fancy Religions (the official title). Steve made us laugh a lot with his description of the C of E church parade at one camp he was on. I wished I could have taken it down in shorthand, because it beat the military articles in Punch hollow. He is an entertaining person on the night shift, once he gets talking, because he has had a lot of interesting experiences in the Air Force. He was a long time in Arabia, and gave us a most vivid description of the city of Petra, where he said they used to fly down, because the Cook’s representative kept a stock of beer in one of the caves, and it was the only cold beer in the country.
I am writing out in the garden, looking at the potato patch, because it is quite sunny for the first time this week. This also no doubt accounts for the errors and disjointedness of this whole letter. I seem to have covered quite a lot of paper, although I could think of nothing to say at first. Roma is so gloomy that I out of perversity have the role of the optimist, because it doesn’t seem that things are worse than they have been, although I suppose they will be really worse unless they get better. I have just been reading a book by an Austrian who was in a French volunteer regiment in the first year of the war, and managed to escape from prison and get to America. ‘A thousand shall fall’. The description of the mess and muddle and the lack of equipment is unbelievable, but what strikes me with horror is the calm way in which we sit and read such things.
With much move from
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 15/9/42)
6th July 1942
My not writing for so long is partly due to sloth, partly to being busy with gardening, and partly to an unexpected round of visits, which left me very little time somehow. Mary Sandison was saying the last time I saw her that she never seems to get anything done, and that then she remembers that of course she does do eight hours work a day, which does make a difference, and this is what I find too, only it is no excuse for not writing letters.
I did an extra week of evenings this month, as there were so many people on in the daytime, including three new girls being taught, so on the Tuesday I went over to have lunch with the Bous family, not seeing Uncle Bous, of course, but the girls and I lay in the sun in the garden in the morning, and all came to work together in the afternoon. They have got a fine display of vegetables. Auntie Cecil must have put in a lot of work on them. I don’t think they had any particular news, except that Uncle Bous is going to be an officer in the Home Guard, possibly, as they want someone to run the company accounts.
On Wednesday I went to see Mokes, having arranged to go on and see Mrs Hodgson, Katherine Welchman’s mother, and Katherine’s two children for tea, partly because I wanted to very much, and it would also save a second long cycle ride, because they only live about three miles from Mokes, and partly because I don’t think I could bear more than a few hours in her company, especially now she asks such deep theological questions the whole time, to which there is no answer, at least no answer that I can give with any conviction. I am sure she doesn’t eat enough, as well as worrying constantly, and she is thinner than ever. Mrs Marchant seems to be as kind to her and as cheerful as ever. it is nice that she has found somebody really good-hearted to stay with.
I not only had tea, but stayed the night at the Welchmans’, which was very delightful; all the family, including the little boy, who reminds me of Pip in the way he talks so sensibly, and can be spoken to in a perfectly ordinary tone of voice, are very nice. That bit should have gone in the middle but there is no place to put it in. Mrs Hodgson pressed me to stay for lunch the next day too, but I had promised Mrs. Evans to get lunch for Mary, as she was going out to pick gooseberries, not in any spirit of virtue, as that only appeared when I had to refuse the invitation in order to do it. We had a siren that night for the first time in I don’t know how long, and so the night was a bit disturbed, as I for one, do not sleep through them any more.
The first night of my next visit was even more disturbed. This was a really memorable stay with the Toulmins at Peterborough, which of course gets a lot of little air raids, and for the first time I heard anti aircraft fire, and the noise of the shells going up. I didn’t know what all the bangs were at first, and lay reduced to pulp, but after I saw three lovely pink stars going up I got quite interested, and nearly got up to see what was happening, only then I thought it might be unwise.
Highways 13th July
The rest of the stay at Peterborough was just a lovely lazy time. They have such a nice house and garden, and both Ann’s parents are so easy to get on with, and interesting to talk to, or I should say listen to. We didn’t see much of Mr Toulmin, because he goes to the office all day, and both evenings he had A.R.P. meetings. Mrs. Toulmin also was very busy with first aid and many committees and things. I think she has some sort of domestic, and also a parttime gardener for the large and beautiful display of vegetables, in which I now can take quite an intelligent interest.
Vegetables are largely the reason why I didn’t finish this and send it off last week. I had to spend most of the mornings trying to make a firm fence of black cotton to stop the rabbits eating everything, gnashing my teeth the while. The old man who keeps the pigs told me on Wednesday that there was wire and posts to put round the whole patch of ground, but that they couldn’t spare anybody to put it up. On Thursday I heard some of the men saying that they were going to spend the morning sweeping the paths, which is ridiculous anyway, and I was about to approach the head man to ask if they couldn’t be put onto the more valuable work of saving vegetables from the rabbits, when I saw that some had got busy on the posts, so I hope that nothing more will have been nibbled down this weekend.
It was very nice finding Richard at home. The chief topic of discussion has been Aunt Arla’s book, which is certainly most extraordinary. I should like to read it more at leisure, but Uncle seemed to be in a great hurry to send it off to Peg, I don’t know why, so I didn’t even read it all through. I have never read more than a few pages about spiritualism, it seems so often to be mixed up with a lot of jiggery-pokery, but there is certainly nothing hysterical about this matter of fact account. I feel that I have no more conception of the psychic faculty, or whatever it is, than a blind person can have of sight, but I don’t see how people can deny it flatly. I was reading a book lent me by George Blake, ‘The riddle of the universe’ by Haeckel, which he said was so good. It was odd how all that he said seemed to familiar and trite, which was no doubt revolutionary in 1880, and another thing that struck me was how fearfully intolerant this rational man of science was, dismissing the supernatural entirely, and laying down the law in the most amazingly cocksure fashion.
Apropos of science, you mentioned fluorescent lighting. There was some installed last week in part of our room. Apparently, though this hasn’t been shown there yet, most people find it a great improvement but one in every so many finds their eyes go completely to bits because of the continual flicker, which you don’t see when looking at the light but any object moving rapidly to and fro goes all wuzzy in it. This can be cured, it appears, by increasing the frequency to a point where it is not observable by the naked eye.
I bought some of the new Government utility underwear in London. It is quite strong looking and the knickers are well-cut, so I hope it was wise. It took fewer coupons that I expected, and I have still got quite a lot of my old ones left.
With much love from Annette.
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 30/10/42)
26th July 1942
On the Tuesday morning when I came up to town from home I went to see the eye specialist recommended by Dr. Billingham, Dr Rupert Scott at Bart’s, and he said I should certainly have a small operation to have the socket re-shaped, so I am now waiting to be sent for to their hospital at St. Alban’s. As I come under the Health Insurance, it appeared to be the simplest thing to go in as an ordinary patient, so I am on the waiting list and it is thus uncertain when I shall be sent for, but Mr Scott probably in about a fortnight from when I saw him, which is pretty soon. I must say I am really quite looking forward to a comparatively long holiday, if only we weren’t so short of staff. I don’t know if it is the same in all Government departments, but here certainly they never seem to make any attempt to train people up in case of emergency. I hope to get a lot of knitting done, a frock for Josephine and some new winter vests for myself.
Last week I did nothing much. One afternoon I went to see ‘How green was my valley’ and enjoyed it, but I had to agree afterwards that it was not really a good film, as though they did not quite know which bits of the book to select, and tried to get in too big a cross section.
Otherwise I just worked in my garden in the afternoons; most things are going on quite nicely, but it is rather annoying that the peas and beans should just be coming on when I shall be away. However, another allotment holder has promised to pick them, and to keep the tomatoes trimmed and water them if there is a drought, so I don’t think anything will come to harm.
This week I have done more. On Monday Mr. Christie rang up and said they were staying with his mother-in-law and would I come to tea one day, so I went on Tuesday, and had a pleasant two hours with them. John was there, now a bluejacket on a destroyer in the North Sea, instead of being secretary to the secretary of the Minister of Agriculture, and looking all the better for it, much browner and healthier looking than I have every seen him, which of course isn’t often. They had not had letters from Peggy for a long time, only cables. I think it must just be that she hasn’t written much, because Roma’s letters have been coming through very well from Perth.
Margery Corr and I had Thursday off and went down to see her sister in Sussex, rather a long way for one day, but very enjoyable. Margery’s sister is as nice and genuine as she is, with a nice husband and small daughter. Unfortunately we couldn’t go up onto the Downs because that part is now a prohibited area, but it was delightful to see them in the distance. We had to come back on Thursday evening, and I wished we could have gone straight on to Scotland on the train, the same train as Sheila and I went to Inverness on last year. I have been quite occupied in mind with Scotland through reading the ‘Life of Montrose’ by John Buchan, which I thought very well done, and particularly good at making the military campaigns clear, which are often so confusing. I was really enthralled by it, and read it so late that I found it quite difficult to go to sleep and woke with all the names of the Covenanting generals running through my head. I must read Buchan’s ‘Cromwell’ too, if I can get hold of it, and get the other side of the picture.
With much love from
(Added at end of letter)
I did not read ‘Out of Africa’ when in Wales, as I intended, because it was too big to take, but I have read it recently, and I don’t think I agree with you that there is such a contrast between it and the ‘Seven gothic tales’. I thought when I read them that, although fantastic, they have a basis of reality, as though the author were embroidering on his own experiences (not then knowing anything about the author). The same qualities seem to appear in ‘Out of Africa’ including the ironical twist that comes out for example in the story of the medals presented to the chiefs, where she says she thinks the whole thing was very well done, and that perhaps it will be something the same when our reward is great in Heaven. But perhaps you are right in feeling that this preciousness, which is only a touch in the solid African picture, gets too much out of hand in ‘Seven gothic tales’. I must admit that I only recommend the last to people of whose taste I feel very sure, while I don’t think anybody would be repelled by ‘Out of Africa’.
Your loving daughter,
From Annette to Parents (handwritten) (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 23/10/42)
Hill End Hospital
7 Aug 1942
I hope you will have got some of my letters saying I was going into hospital to have my eye socket seen to before you get this one, because it occurs to me that the address might otherwise give you rather a shock, and quite unnecessarily. This is quite a pleasant place, with nice grounds right on the edge of the country. it is actually the main part of Barts, now evacuated. This used to be an asylum before the war. In my ward the coats are hung in the old padded cell, so we shall all be able to say we have been in one. Of course this is a constant source of humour.
I have felt a complete fraud this week, because I came in on Tuesday and with two other girls who came at the sametime, am not to be operated on till tomorrow, Saturday. The eye specialist comes usually three times a week but this week he couldn’t come on Thursday, so here we have sat doing nothing. On Tuesday and Wednesday I felt very annoyed about it, although of course it couldn’t be helped, but my annoyance was partly at not getting out and about. We are of course treated as patients as regards hours, and patients who are well enough are allowed out into the town from 1.0 to 6.0, passes being obtained the night before. We were too late on Tuesday, of course, and on Wednesday afternoon we had to hang around to see the doctor and the other two are quite content to drift round the grounds and the corridors at a snail’s pace. However, yesterday I had a pass and looked at the Abbey, which Mother no doubt would not be very interested in, as the best part is Norman, and walked round the fish ponds below it. It was early closing day, which was why the other two did not come, and to fill in time I went to the pictures, and saw “The Jungle book” which was terrible. it would have been better to have it silent, but anyhow the Jungle was too good to be true. Still it was more lively than these corridors.
Today Helen and Jim Black are coming over on their day off, and I am meeting them at 1.15 in the town. I only hope we can get some lunch at that time, because apparently the place is full to bursting. Then for a few days I shall no doubt stay put, although Mr Philps said on Tuesday that he may not have to operate, but just shift the flesh thats got pushed up inside, by some kind of suture stuck through from the back, and anyhow I shall probably only have to have a local anaesthetic.
I hear from Peg this morning that Jackie Marsh’s husband Rex Marrett is now one of the doctors here, so Aunt has let them know I’m here, so I shall have some visitors anyway. I told Aunt it wasn’t worth her bothering to come all this way.
Peg also told me the good news that Pringle junior, as she expresses it, is expected next February.
I am sorry I can write no more. I hope all this has not been too disjointed, but people keep on coming and sitting down and describing their operations, some of which are very interesting but it is impossible to write coherently.
I had a big bunch of letters sent on by Aunt last week, for which many thanks, and also the parcel of sweets and tea which are about the most welcome things to me, because they can be shared in the office.
From Annette to Parents (handwritten) (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 29/10/42)
Hill End Hospital
27th Aug 1942
I hope that is the right number, but I can’t remember, as it is so long since I wrote. I just hadn’t the strength of mind to write as though nothing had happened, and I couldn’t bear to write anything about Dicky at first or until I knew you had been told about him. Aunt rang up Jackie Marrett, Jackie Marsh that was, and got her to break the news to me, which was a very good thing. I should have found it much more difficult to keep collected if I had just got a letter. Not that in many ways the news was a shock, at least not a shock of surprise, because one is always prepared to hear that anyone who flies has gone, but oddly enough I had not been actively worried about Richard at all just lately. Uncle writes that he has a conviction that he is all right, but I have no conviction either way. I just feel very dreary, not of course all the time, but suddenly waves of depression come over me. The first week, when I was still not used to hospital hours, I found the evenings after the black out was done and we were supposed to go to sleep, between 8.30 and 10.30 very trying. I do not cry when I think of Dicky so much. Lately he was so strong on fatality. When I happened to say once or twice that it was a pity things hadn’t happened otherwise, he said always “What is written, is written” or words to that effect. But I can still not help crying when I think of you or of all the happy things we planned to do after the war. All last week I tried not to think at all, and succeeded pretty well, as after the anaesthetic I was quite woolly feeling for some days, because crying would not do the new skin graft any good, but the evening before last I could hardly refrain from tears, and yesterday after my bandage was off, I sat and cried into the fried fish, literally streaming,. Partly of course reaction from the suspense of waiting to know if the graft had taken and from the pain of Mr Philps putting in a glass shell, and luckily the only other patient with eyes good enough to see put it down entirely to that, and took no notice. I am sorry for digression about myself, but it was such an extraordinary feeling.
As it is, I can find nothing to say to you in the way of comfort, beyond the fact that I am sure Richard was contented and at peace in his own mind. I suppose I should not write as though he were dead, and indeed I keep that reservation in mind, that people turn up after months and years, as no doubt you do, seeing all these extraordinary escapes from Burma. But I do feel very sad, more so for you than for us, as it is so long since you saw him. I only wish I felt convinced that all the lives of these young men are not being thrown away, and that there really will be a new and better world. All I feel is that I suppose it would be worse if they weren’t.
Aug 28th. I had to come in for supper at that point. I am afraid I am writing in a most foolish and disjointed manner, but I’ll leave what I’ve written.
You will be a bit surprised to see how long I have been here. I am quite surprised myself when I think about it. I had the stitches in the bottom lid, which went very well, but when I went after a week to see what sort of an eye they could fit, Mr Philps found that there were a lot of adhesions right at the back of the top lid, which made it too small for any decent fitting, so he said he would do a skin graft in the top lid to make it come further forward, which has duly been done.
I had to have a proper anaesthetic this time, instead of just a local, which, by the way, was quite interesting because of being able to hear all the discussion going on over one’s head. Anyhow, the second one went off very well. I had one injection in the ward, and then in the waiting room for the theatre an intravenous injection in the arm, and in two seconds was right out, so there was none of the unpleasantness of breathing through a mask and waiting to lose consciousness. When I came to, I thought at first I must be in the theatre waiting to breathe in ether, but I wiggled my eyelids and it hurt so I realised it was all done, most satisfactorily. Our day nurse happened to be off duty that morning, so she went down to the theatre to see the operations done, and was thus able to describe mine to me. They sliced a piece of skin off inside my left upper arm, and wrapped it round a short of shape which was inserted at the back where the adhesions were cut, the lids then being sewn together to keep it in. The bandage was not moved for a week by which time it was beginning to stink, at least there was a most odd smell the whole time which has since gone. On Thursday Mr Philps put in a shell, which feels quite safe and comfortable apart from a little soreness. it is a relief to have something in that doesn’t feel like falling out every minute. I don’t suppose I shall be many days longer now.
I was only in bed two days the wholetime, but it was not till Monday I really felt like getting up and going out. It is extraordinary how long the effects of the anaesthetic last. Also I had not to move my head much, and if I moved my right eye at all sharply, it tweaked the left one, so it was simpler to stay in bed. The inpatient feeling of the first few days, which I expressed in my last letter, went off once things got going, and I am now so used to sitting about and wasting time that I shall become incurably lazy. I daresay it is quite a good thing to be able to do nothing, or it would be in peace time. I have finished a jumper, made a frock for Josephine, and half a winter vest so far. Also I have read “Claudius the God” and “South Riding” and other things, and the house surgeon, Mr Perkins, has given me his County Library card for the moment, because he said he really oughtn’t to read other things, with another exam in October, but it is very kind of him. He is a nice person, both as a doctor, and to chat to in a general way, as he has many interests. He paints and sculpts, and plays the piano, I gather all fairly well, and is also an enthusiastic yachtsman, and moreover mends clocks and anything else anyone cares to give him. The nurses are all very nice to talk to as well, a “nice type of girl” as they say, and so conversation is not restricted to “my operation” and all my relations’ operations etc, as it is with many of the patients. We have had three children in the ward this week, one of only four, a little girl who was very good and sensible on the whole, although occasionally difficult to deal with; the trouble is that one doesn’t know quite how the parents deal with any trouble. She was in to have a squint corrected, as are most of the children. Most eye patients, nurse says, are either over seventy for cataracts, or under five for squints, so I am slightly out of the ordinary. I think my being here has been rather a good thing for a lady in the bed opposite, who has had a great deal of trouble with her left eye after an operation for neuralgia, one of those described in the Readers Digest in February. Eventually Mr Philps said there was so much the matter with the eye that she had really better have it out, and I think it was far less of a trial to her to make the decision with me hopping about with only one. She has had it out, and going on pretty well.
Although it is a bit wearing to hear people endlessly describing their own symptoms, it has been very interesting being here and hearing and seeing about all sorts of interesting cases. All the wonderful developments described in the Reader’s Digest seem to be a matter of course. Do you remember an article about a treatment for sending people’s temperature up by inoculating them with one thing so as to kill off other infections? This they do for eye infections here constantly. And of course bone-grafting and plastic treatment and such are all simply the order of the day. One nurse says I am like the Awkward Child for asking questions, but they are very nice about answering them when they know there is an intelligent interest behind; not that I would flatter myself. Of course a lot of the patients have no idea what is being done to them, let alone why. One old lady here does not seem to grasp at all that she will not be able to see clearly until she has new lenses to replace the ones removed in the operation for cataract. I say old, she is only about sixty, and very spry.
I don’t know if I mentioned that Rex Marrett, whom we used to meet at dances, now Jackie Marsh’s husband, is the head anaesthetist here. I went to tea with her twice and once met her in the morning for coffee. I must go round and see her now I am able to walk without holding my head as if it were made of china, as I don’t expect she can get out much, her baby being almost due to arrive. Rex gave me the prick in the arm. He is a nice gentle person and I should think would inspire confidence even if one didn’t know him. It is odd though that a rather abrupt person like Mr Philps, who mostly talks over the patients’ head to the nurse and doctor, so that you feel like a bottled specimen, should also inspire confidence. He is very gentle with his hands, though, if scarcely so in manner.
I have had a lot of visitors from the office. Helen has been three times, which is very sweet of her, and has brought me various things, last Wednesday a lovely bunch of mixed asters. I have had other visitors though some most unexpected, such as Steve, who buzzed in for about five minutes last Sunday, leaving half a dozen eggs, at which I was both pleased and touched because he always affects a certain hardness of heart.
The Monday before the second operation I went and saw the Roman remains, the museum and the theatre, for which I wished I had more time. Still, it is oppressive looking at too many remains. it would be nice to have several visits. I also dropped in and looked at the Bacon monument, and admired the epitaph. St Alban’s is certainly a nicely arranged place, at least on that side, not so good where it has just spread and spread, over in the direction of this hospital for example.
I seem to be maundering on a lot, but you will gather that everything is going on well with me, apart from the lack of news about Richard which makes nothing go well. I haven’t written to Romey yet. I must do so. It is a great blessing that she is with such really nice people and who are not strangers to the rest of the family.
your loving daughter,
From Annette to Parents (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 13/1/43 via India)
4th September 1942
It seems much longer than a week since I wrote. I am quite surprised looking back to think it was last Friday only. I came home on Wednesday, not knowing till Tuesday that I could come. On Saturday Mr. Philps said that the eye I had in was tilting up, so I was to take it out and wait a few days and he would think about me. So I was in some suspense till Tuesday, his next visit, when he tried a variety of glass shells, and my own eye that I have had for three years, which was fairly satisfactory, but he said that it is still not right, and that after I come back and see him in four weeks time he will probably have to do some more to the upper lid, which is still not free enough. So I came home on Wednesday, and shall go back to work next Wednesday. I only discovered when I got down to my last few shillings that the almoner will not cash cheques, so I had to give on to Roma, who came to see me on Monday, to cash for me, and send the money registered; it was due to arrive on Wednesday, but I couldn’t wire home that I was coming, in case the money didn’t come, and so I just turned up without letting them know. It did come all right, so I settled up and departed. The first thing Aunt said when I got home was ‘hadn’t I been frightfully bored?’, but I hadn’t, although I did rather feel as if I had come back to life in having to think for myself, instead of waiting on the doctor’s next visit. Anyhow I am glad I can go to St. Alban’s to see him, instead of going to Bart’s as an out patient because you may have to wait any time there, and I don’t want to have to spend a whole day off hanging around, whereas at Hill End Mr Philps has more time to spend on each patient, and only stays for the morning, so there is a limit to the time one has to wait. Also it will be nice to see people I know, instead of being just another case.
Since getting home I have not been nearly so depressed about Dicky. I had not heard of what they were doing that night before, and I agree with Aunt that it is odd to say ‘missing, believed killed’ when nobody knows what happened to the plane. it will be a long time before we need give up hope that they may have reached the Dutch coast. I was sorry to hear from Peg how very much the news upset Aunt, in the sense of being a surprise. My first thought, and she says hers too, was, ‘So it’s happened’. So many people talk of the Fleet Air Arm as the suicide service that I was prepared for the worst at any time, almost as a sort of insurance against fate. Aunt appears to be her usual self now, but she said she felt more distracted than ever in her life when she had Peg laid flat on her back, plums coming in by the 100 lbs, and was edge all the time for the phone with more news of Richard. I am glad Gavin is home for a bit, because he both helps in the house and does gardening furiously, although of course in some ways his presence in no doubt distressing. He has just heard he has not got one job he applied for, so he is going to try again tomorrow in London, at some scholastic agency. Peg and Aunt were going on at him this morning to do non-combatant work, because it will be so hard for him after the war, but I quite see his point that he cannot do that now, on such grounds as those.
I have been cutting the lavender, and weeding hard yesterday and today, and I think gardening has caused me to be more settled in mind. Dealing with plants one somehow feels reassured and peaceful.
Yesterday was the National day of prayer. Against my custom I went to the service at the Village hall in the evening, chiefly because I wanted to thank the Rector for a letter, and was most agreably impressed. I thought the form of service very good, and was glad they had avoided the usual bombast entirely. It didn’t come into the service, but I also thought the Archbishop of Canterbury’s prayer ‘Lord, make us worthy of victory’ was about the best I have heard yet. Aunt was talking about men who find themselves praying hard during a battle or such, as though it were a sign of the truth of religion. I hope she was not distressed at our disagreement when we said that to repeat ‘Lord have mercy on us’ or ‘Hail Mary’ or whatever it is, is often more a method of dulling all other thoughts than a sign of grace.
6th I meant to go on with this another time, because I was overcome with sleep, but I cut two fingers on a piece of glass yesterday, slightly but inconveniently, so will send off this much.
Your loving daughter
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd on 27-2-43 via India)
25th September 1942
Did I tell you that I was going to London with Sheila Legat last Wednesday? We had a very successful day, only spoilt for me slightly by a cold I had, which was making me feel very thick in the head. In the morning we pottered about looking at all the expensive clothes in the shops, and as Sheila wanted to buy a frivolous nightie, I had all the pleasure of picking and choosing too without spending any money. I only bought four large and lovely handkerchiefs at Robinson and Cleaver’s, for use for colds, also my sweet ration in chocolate from Fuller’s and Fortnum’s. It is an odd thing that since the sweet ration has been assured, I have hardly had any desire for sweets. But it was chiefly when I got in in the morning after working nights that I sat and ate any chocolate there was about. I have been working evenings ever since I cam back, because there hasn’t been a chair in the day time. I am on a new job, as I think I said before, and am enjoying it, but it is tiring concentrating all the time learning new things. Well, to return to our outing, we had a very good lunch at a Chinese restaurant, where they now no longer serve tea, which is a pity. I wonder they don’t make do with Indian tea. We then went to see John Gielgud in ‘Macbeth’, which I have never seen done professionally before, and thought very good. I had thought that Gwen Frangçon Davies would not be at all right for lady Macbeth, but at the performance I found nothing to strike a false note.
After the play we were just meandering about, and saw a sandwich man advertising a sale of railway lost property in Piccadilly, so we turned in, and there I found what I have been wanting for a long time, a leather bag with a zip top, a bit larger than the blue cloth one that Mother gave me now five years ago, and which still is much used, but like all my suitcases too, very tattered. This imitation pigskin bag had also a zip pocket at the side, and was new, being part of a lost consignment, and a lot cheaper than such a thing would be in a shop, where they are now reserved for officers only anyway. So as I have never bought anything with Uncle Bous’s 21st birthday present, I fell for this bag. It really was a bit of luck, and Sheila got a small pigskin suitcase too, so we both felt extravagant but pleased.
We had a snack at the Coventry St. brasserie before walking up to Euston for our train, and so back.
Since then the only and great agitation has been over the question of the house. There are no end of regulations you run into now if you want to take a house, here, having to get the permission of the local council, and our billeting officer. He is a very plausible man, not I think dishonest at all, but naturally working for his own ends, which are to put somebody in a house that falls empty who must have a house. Well, he advised me against taking a lease, and I thought at first it sounded too much of a good thing, and he said he would put some teneant in, some man and wife who would keep me as a bilettee, and only people whom I as well as Mrs. Evans approved of. He came yesterday to see Mrs. Evans, and said firstly that she could not keep her front room for storing things in, and secondly that very likely I would not be able to stay, after all his smooth words to me, so I thought ‘The cloven hoof is showing. He must have somebody in mind’ In the afternoon Mrs. E and I went over and consulted her mother and mother-in-law and friends, who explained about being able to take a yearly or six monthly agreement, terminable at a month’s notice on either side, which I should be quite prepared to take up. They also said that there was no reason why she shouldn’t store in her parlour if she wants to. The thing is that if I and two friends had the house, we shouldn’t want the other sitting room really, because one can’t have a fire in more than one room, and it is a cold and dark room anyway. Also, the Evanses only wanted a friendly agreement with me, and not particularly to let their house to complete strangers. it is not essential for Mrs. E to go away, but it sounded such a satisfactory arrangement all round. So we have now taken a stand, which is that she will not go unless I can be her tenant. The billeting officer says that it is not to his advantage to have three girls taking a house, when married couples can’t get settled, and that he can’t consider the individual, and that he won’t lift a finger to help me get the house. I quite see his point, but I am not going to give in, because he does not seem to realise that we are not two people trying to get the better of each other, but who have worked out a plan to our mutual advantage. He says of course he will get me comfortable accomodation elsewhere; firstly, I don’t know where he will find it, because anyone who has a good billet these days has the sense to hang on to it, and I refuse flatly to be billeted beyond two miles away, so that I am independent of the office transport which is a strain on the nerves and temper, and a waste of time. Secondly, a billet is not just a room you stay in, but a family you have to get on with, and I have in two years, by the excercise of considerable tact and patience for me, gained the confidence of the Evanses, so that even Mr. whom I always thought disliked me, wants me to take the house. He is now in America, so of course she is very worried about doing the best for him too. She knows the head of the Council and many members of it, so she is going to consult them and ask if they would consent to her letting the house to three war workers rather than to a man and a wife who is not a war worker. Then we will see. If we can’t get our plan through, Mrs. E is going to stay and have another billettee, so that really we have the billeting office in a cleft stick. I was pouring out all this tale to Helen in the office yesterday, and one of our senior women simply blew up and said that it was against the order about this being a closed area to bring in anyone who wasn’t engaged in essential work, and that to say they must have a house because some great man wouldn’t condescend to come and work here unless they found a place for his family was sheer tyranny, when three people who have been working her two years already have found a place for themselves and want to get off the hands of the billeting office, so she is going to take the case up. I am glad in a way, because I should carry no weight personally if I went to a higher authority than the billeting office, as I had half a mind to do. But anyhow, I seem to have stirred up a hornet’s nest all unwitting. Another thing is that I don’t want Mrs. E badgered into letting her house to somebody all through my making enquiries about whether Sheila and Betty would be allowed to move.
I have certainly run on, and I don’t expect you can make head or tail of all this, but anyhow I am not quite enjoying myself, now that we have our ‘Either-or’ worked out.
The only other thing I have done was to see ‘Mrs Miniver’, good in parts, very good, but in others I felt that it was too much seen through rose-coloured spectacles. I was soured at the start by the sweet peaceful England of before the war, the legend now seeming to have got well under way. It is just ridiculous, when one remembers how worried most people were all that year after Munich, and how in all the villages people were rushing round and becoming wardens and doing gas and first aid courses and so on. I was interested at home at the little points in the film that Aunt and Uncle cavilled at, such as that in a small village you would never have a flower show all flowers, but mostly vegetables and fruit. To my mind, the village was too like a garden suburb, anyway. But I suppose it was a good effort for Americans, and the air raid scenes were far more authentic in touch than the beginning. And somebody said that the fact they could get nobody but Americans to play the husband and elder son did seem to show there couldn’t be many Englishman skulking in the States.
I knew there was something I had forgotten to say last week, and that was to thank you very very much for the lovely stuffs which arrived the day I left home, so I just had a look at them. We were immediately full of plans for making them up. I shan’t have mine made up just yet, but have a look round for some really nice patterns. The red will make a lovely frock with fullish skirt, and the flecked I think of having made into a suit with three quarter length or long coat, according as to how it works out, because I didn’t even look to see how wide the stuff is. Pam and Betty were thrilled to hear that stuff had arrived for them at the customs, which I expect they will have got by now.
With much love,
7th October 1942 (LJT pencil note: Rcd. 19-3-43 via India 24-2-43)
It is very nice to hear of Mother’s official appointment and high-sounding title, which give me great satisfaction as a feminist. It amazes me how many women still make it the height of praise to say of another ‘She does the job as well as a man’, as though every man were automatically better at everything than the most gifted woman. Of course, as Ann and I were saying the other day, we no doubt protest too much because we have the lurking knowledge that most women are somewhat feather-brained. Yet I think that is to a great extent due to being brought up to be so.
Did I tell you that I had a rise at the end of July? Helen and I have apparently found sufficient favour in the eyes of our present immediate bosses to be put forward for another slight increment, which I don’t suppose we shall get, but anyway it is pleasing, especially as these two bosses are about the most cruelly intolerant people I have seen here, and that is saying quite a bit. Talking about money, I did some accounts the other day, and was agreably surprised to find I have a considerable margin in the bank, after paying all my hospital bills, and buying my leather travelling bag. I paid the full hospital fees, because I thought they might just as well have it as the War Savings.
Last Tuesday I went over to St.Alban’s to see Mr. Philps, who was very pleased with my eye, and said that it really looks very good now, and that it is not worth tinkering about with any more for the present. He was quite chatty for once, and asked me who did the original operation, so I told him Sir John Parsons, and he said he has taken on most of his patients, as he is no longer practising, so I was evidently fated to go to Mr. Philps. I was glad to hear that Sir John had not been killed by the bomb which fell on his house. Mr. Philps final shot was that the left eye looked a lot better than the right, to which I retorted that I wanted it to look the same, and so it does pretty well, now that the swelling of the lids has quite gone. I shall not go and get a new eye for six months anyway, to see how it goes on, because actually it needs a slightly bigger one and a slightly lighter colour than my present one.
Not being a patient any longer, I was permitted to go over to the nurses’ home with Nurse Lougher and take a cup of tea. Several of them were so nice I have every intention of going over again some time and looking them up. When I next have any shopping to do I might as well go there as any other town, in fact, it is a lot nicer than most.
At the end of the week I had two musical evenings. On Friday we had the Griller quartet for a very delightful concert, one of a series that various enthusiastic members of the recreation club have got up, and on Saturday I went out to a little party to hear Sheridan Russell play the cello, and enjoyed that perhaps even more. But he said that it is agony to him to play, both physical and mental, so I said ‘Why do it?’ and he said he supposed it must be vanity.
After work tomorrow I am going over to stay the night with Christian, and to some play she has tickets for. She has moved her digs, but otherwise goes on as before.
The business of the house has all blown over, having risen to fever pitch just after I last wrote, when they even put our administrative officer on to persuading, nay, behind his smooth words, frightening me into making Mrs. E let her house to strangers. I had thought so much about it that I found my case came out clearly and smoothly, with an effective counter to everything he said, but I could have bitten the carpet with wrath when I got in a midnight. However, Mrs. E had decided anyway not to stir after all, because of the emergency powers that are in force, so that she would have no say in the house if once she left it. I was glad really, because I should alway have expected to be turned out even if we got it. As it is, there is now another quite pleasant person billeted here, and we have taken the other sitting-room, so that I hope to be able to invite a few people in from time to time.
I don’t know why Papa is always complaining about his typing being bad, because mine seems to get worse and worse. This letter is about all I do, so it is not surprising.
I was very pleased by the tale of the soldiers putting on extra stripes, and of the teller who felt so soft when made to dance. No doubt there were other things in letters that I should comment on, but I am too lazy to get up and look for them.
With much love from
From Annette to Parents (Airgraph – typewritten in block capitals)
To: Mrs H.P.V. Townend
c/o Standard Bank of South Africa
From Miss A. Townend
Gt. Leighs: Chelmsford
I had from Aunt yesterday a copy of your telegram to say you are coming home. It is a pity such a delightful event should come about because of Papa’s continued ill-health. I hope that he is feeling less tired by the time you get this. In other ways of course, I am also sad to think that this will not be the entirely happy home-coming we had hoped for. I suppose we shall not hear anything of you until you are there, on account of the secrecy about movements of ships. I hope the voyage will not be too long, and sufficiently comfortable. I am going to have lunch with the Bous Family tomorrow, and shall tell them the news, but I expect some other member of the family will have rung up by now. I have but little news, and that seems to have been put quite out of my head. I had a quietish sort of day in Oxford last week. I arrived over on Thursday evening, just in time to go to the theatre to see Cronin’s play “Jupiter laughs” which was good enough to make the evening pass pleasantly. Esther had come round when we got back to Christina’s house, and we chatted for a while. On Friday I pottered about and bought odd things in the shops, and saw an amusing display of old advertisements and books on education and that sort of thing in the Bodley, and met Christina and Esther for lunch and tea in the intervals. Also I went to Somerville, thinking I might call on the Dean, but it was the first day of term, and the place thick with freshers, and I found it odd to reflect that it was five years since we too were there saying to each other “Didn’t I see you at the interview?”. But anyhow, the Dean was busy, so I came away again. I did meet Miss Starkie, however, in the street, and she said “Are you staying the weekend?” and I said “No” and that was that, slightly disconcerting for a complete conversation after not having met for over a year, but still I think better than too great effusiveness. I came back that evening, and have since then done little, but I had a lot of domestic things to do that have taken up most of my time. Yesterday I had the evening off, and spent the day at the Roscoes’. Mary is thrilled because she is now certain she is going to have a baby, and the conversation about this child was very similar to that at home about Peg’s when she was there. So much so that Mrs. Roscoe’s mother pretended to be very shocked at the frankness of the younger generation, but her granddaughters just laughed at her, knowing her horror to be affected.
I am spending next weekend with the Drakes, and not going home, as it is one of the rare occasions when Christina and I both have a weekend off at the same time. I am going to take them to a show in town on Saturday as a birthday treat from you; which you may be surprised to hear, but it is the only way I can get them to let me take them out at all.
With much love
From Annette to Parents (Note by LJT: Rcd direct 1-2-43)
29th November 1942
I think that after this gap in letters, I had better do the same as Aunt, and start again at the beginning with numbers. I am sorry there is such a break in mine, but you heard of our misunderstanding of your cable. Now I am afraid that no letter will be time for Christmas.
After so many weeks, I hardly know where to begin, but first of all thank you very much for such a nice birthday present. I am getting the first volume of the recording of ‘The marriage of Figaro’ and hope to get the other two in time. I ordered it in Oxford about a fortnight ago, and shall have to fetch it when I go over again, because they won’t post things now. I went over the ‘The magic flute’, done by the Sadler’s Wells opera, and much enjoyed it, but I had no idea it would be so funny, both intentionally and unintentionally. I was sorry I hadn’t gone over a day later, because then I should have been in Oxford on Sunday morning, and heard all the bells ring, which would have been most exciting. It was exciting enough just hearing the one church pealing.
Actually it seems difficult to recall doings here, because the war news really does occupy one’s attention again. I was reading ‘Greenmantle’ by John Buchan again the other day, and it really is extraordinary how pale all its fantastic adventures become compared with the things we hear of every day, and often take so little account of.
The Sunday the bells rang, I went over to lunch with Mokes and Gavin, who is about as from her on the other side. I was glad he was there, because he has a most admirable knack of managing her. Apparently she was displeased with me, because I didn’t look sufficiently afflicted. This I saw because I was at home last weekend and read Gav’s letter. He is going to supervise the packing of the goose she is sending for Christmas, so we hope it will arrive all right. I have got my leave at Christmas, not that i mind very much for myself, but I thought it would be better if at least two of us were there. It is doubtful now if Peg will be home, because Michael’s plans are changed.
I really went home to go to the dentist, but luckily there was nothing to be done. I saw Uncle Len at his office, and had lunch with him. He seemed well enough, and said that his foot isn’t too bad. It was altogether a very quiet weekend, but nice. Aunt and I went for a walk on Sunday afternoon, and visited the Seabrookes, and then I had tea with the Watsons, both girls being at home.
This week I have been very lazy. The weather has been grey and damp, and Mrs Evans now brings my breakfast up to me when I am on till midnight, because she says it is less both with another person in the house to get breakfast for, and so I have no inducement to get up but the sun, or some definite thing to do. Thus I have got up very late, except for one morning when i went over to the Roscoes, and had lunch there. The Waaf officer who was here has left, rather to my relief, because she talked so much, and all about things I am not in the least interested in, and there has come instead Irene Reynolds, whom I have no doubt mentioned, and with whom I know I get on well, in spite of our being just as different from each other, in most ways, as I was from the other girl. That sentence is a bit involved, but I think clear. Actually I haven’t seen Irene yet, because of being in different shifts, but this coming week we are both on days.
So many people had said to me ‘Are your parents going to stay in South Africa?’ that I was hardly surprised to hear after all that that is what you are doing, sad though it is to hear we shan’t see you as yet. But the winter would really be no time to arrive, especially as there is a lot of economy in fuel, although nothing in the way of hardship. Of course it hasn’t been really cold yet, but even so the allowance seems to be very reasonable, except perhaps for people with large rooms and old-fashioned ranges.
With much love
From Annette to Parents (Note by LJT: Rcd on 28-1-43)
13th December 1942
Thank you very much for the letters enclosing the snaps of you and H.D. and Winsome. I had a picture of Romey, too, a few days ago, which no doubt she has also sent you, looking like a most dazzling blonde.
I have been doing nothing much since I last wrote. last week I did go twice to the pictures, to see ‘Holiday Inn’ which I didn’t think was anything like as good as the old Irving Berlin pictures, and ‘The first of the few’ which I enjoyed very much. Pat Loach and I fitted in this and a very pleasant concert by the Jacques string orchestra into one evening, by taking sandwiches and eating them at the pictures. This was chiefly because Pat is billeted some way off and it is quite a business arranging transport. We are going to the pictures again this Monday, to see I don’t know what, but it is to celebrate Margaret McClelland having got her commission. I don’t know whether there are fewer good films of late, but generally I wish I hadn’t gone. I expect it is just me, falling into gloom. A lot of people look gloomy. Some of us were having coffee after lunch in the club room the other day, and we looked round and saw so many people just sitting and looking vacant and depressed that we burst out laughing and were considerably revived in spirit ourselves.
I went over to see if I could get any Christmas presents last Monday, before going to have lunch with Auntie Cecil and Betty. All I got was a toothbrush for myself. I think the only thing is to ask them at home what they want, everything in the shops is shoddy and very expensive, or else quite useless. I am surprised to see so many little oddments still about, but they are such a price I wonder anyone buys them at all. I haven’t sent Rosemary anything, because I have seen nothing anywhere that would be a nice surprise, and even books are now so expensive and on bad paper, so it doesn’t seem worth sending them abroad, anyway.
It was a lovely day yesterday, so I went over to the Roscoes, and took them a tin of butter, because Barbara had said her mother was going to do a lot of baking, and use up all her dried fruit in cakes, in the hope that this will be the last Christmas of the war, so I thought the butter would come in very well for that, and shortbread too.
I had the evening off on Friday, and went out to see Helen and Jim Black. We felt very civilised, having sherry and walnuts to finish off our supper. This was supposed to be a celebration of our second anniversary in the place, but it is now more like two and a half years, it has been put off so often, or else the anniversary of our going into our present section. Anyhow, whatever the occasion, we had a nice evening listening to the gramaphone, and Jim was quite chatty. It has seemed to me lately that he had fallen back into the habit of saying nothing, as he used to be before his marriage, but he is obviously like that, so it is not worrying.
Well, this is all very scrappy, I get so lazy sitting and and arm chair in front of the fire that I don’t even have any beautiful thoughts to fill up with
With much love from Annette.