From Annette to Parents (Marked by LJT as Rcd 29/1/44) Airgraph to Mrs. H.P.V. Townend c/o Standard Bank Cape Town S.Africa
Sender’s Address Miss A. Townend; Box 111, Bletchley; Bucks.
11 Jan 1944
Dear Parents, The time since about a week before Christmas seems to have gone even faster than usual, what with all manner of doings at Christmas, and then a general clear up before I went home, and then a week at home, when I meant to write lots and lots of letters, but spent most of the time sitting round and chatting, and the only thing I did get done that I meant to was to put together the brown dress. I sewed all the odd bits into a gathered skirt and turned the bodice back to front, with the buttons down the front, and I have found a Brussels lace collar with a little jabot in the big box of lace from Auntie Do’s. Also I did get all my other thank you letters written, but not the several I owe you. The parcels for the Legats, Roscoes and me arrived all right, just after Christmas, and were received with much enthusiasm. Mrs. Roscoe was particularly delighted with the green tea. I haven’t seen her since. pat Loach kindly took the parcel over, and brought me back a tin of shortbread made out a 2 lb tin of butter, which Mrs. Roscoe made, sending me half the produce. There were four whole rounds of shortbread for me to take home, so there must have been a good lot altogether. Aunt has sent you a list of groceries that would be good to bring back. You know, of course, that soap is rationed, so that it would be advisable to start with a little in hand, although the ration is ample if one doesn’t have to start from scratch, and it seems as though the quality is still good, although soapflakes are no longer pure white. Be sure ahd have pleanty of woollen clothes, if you get them, because there is no pure wool, either for knitting or cloth, and the mixed yarns are not so warm. As regards a present, mentioned in your airgraph of 14th Dec, just received, I think an overcoat would really be best, as I only have ancient ones and was think I must get a new one, and I have three or four dresses I hardly ever wear, anyway. I take 6 1/2 in shoes, but 7s would probably be good for heavy shoes for wearing socks in. Please do not bother with anything, if you at all cramped for space as I am really very well off for most things. Romey has quite set me up with four pairs of nice stockings, although I must say I should have thrown away a lot of my lisle ones before now if it were possible to buy decent ones, but the ones that aren’t fully-fashioned don’t look at all good.
Michael had a week’s leave at the same time as mine, and Gavin was home at intervals, so there was quite a full house. On Tuesday we had two very nice Americans in to help eat the goose, which you provided, and the one from Oklahoma said he hadn’t been treated so nice since he left home. I went to Witham to see Uncle George and Aunt May, who are still not on speaking terms. I gather because he is huffy about something. A pity, because they both seem to be a bit dreary, not that they could cheer each other up much. Sorry, in thinking of parcels I quite forgot to thank you for my Christmas present, which is not yet spent. I got some old books at the Red Cross book shop with Uncle Bous’s. Much love Annette
From Annette (Marked by LJT as Rcd 24/3/44)
15 Jan 1944
Even though it is already quite a while back, I will start with an account of Christmas, because it was really so enjoyable. I did not really mind not going home, as there were going to be so many people there that it would not be sad for Aunt. Also there were great doings at the office. I was supposed to be working evenings, but I came in on the morning of Christmas Eve, because it was quite obvious that there wouldn’t be much work done in the evening, with the number of parties on, so it was as well to get anything essential out of the way. We had great fun sticking up holly and mistletoe, and making a utility Christmas tree, at least, the tree was a real one, about two feet high, but the decorations were made of the inside of one of the tea packets from India, that heavy tin-foil, and the red half of a typewriter ribbon, which I had saved with great forethought when someone discarded it a while ago. The silver paper we cut into animals, and I left it and the scissors around, so that anyone who wanted could cut something out, and we had most of the signs of the Zodiac, Pooh Corner, with Pooh, Piglet (who was so small he had to be stuck onto a label to show him up) and the Haycorn, brought by Helen, also two ships, constructed by one of the people on at night during his dinner hour, with silver hulls, and matchstick masts, and paper sails. We then had fat candles to stand round the tub of the tree, which was a green papier maché wastepaper basket. We were very proud of it. I think it surpassed the one in another room, which was decorated entirely with coloured labels. Anyhow, after dinner there was carol singing organised, to which a lot of us went, and there were a lot of people who could sing well to do solo parts and such, including Ann Toulmin, and altogether it was great fun. We returned to the office and lit the candles, and gathered in some people from the highways and hedges, and drank a bottle of gin and another of white wine, and ate mince pies, sausage rolls, (supplied by Pat Loach’s landlady), apples (supplied by Barbara Wallis’s mother) and sweets (supplied by mine). Then the party went back to work, and so did we, but we finished up the evening with more carols in the candlelight round our own tree, including “God rest ye, merry gentlemen”, which suddenly struck us as very odd, as by this time there were only four girls left in the room. However, two men appeared back from several parties, saying they felt miserable, because it had been hot and smoky and not really very much fun, so we went on with four voices, and did Good King Wenceslas in style, with solos for the king and page.
I went back to Leighton in the bus with Betty at midnight. The rest of the family had gone to midnight service, so we were the only ones to get up early in the morning. After all Uncle Bous had said last year about the parson “ringing a bell and standing on his head”, I was much disappointed at its being a quite ordinary service, at least, not half as high as the one after the confirmation, which I think I described to you.
We had a great opening of presents after breakfast, and both Jean Carr, a friend of Pam’s, and I had brought ours with us, so as to have some. I really had some nice things, mostly money, but there was a book from Christina, bath salts from Auntie Cecil, a coathanger covered in crepe de chine from Mrs. Evans, a felt flower, just the colour to go with my Cashmere suit, from Pam, a diary from Betty, a little box of pot pourri from Ann, a travelling mirror from one girl in the office (which really rather embarrassed me, because I, like most people had not even started to give presents in the office, because there are too many people whom one likes, let alone the ones one doesn’t like, and who couldn’t be left out because it would be invidious) and a collection of seeds from Helen Black (to whom I gave some of the tea from S. Africa, as I have plenty). Some of the Bous family’s presents were fascinating. Uncle Bous gave Aunt Cecil a silver brandy warmer, a lovely little jug on the end of a long handle (he said it was a pity there was brandy to warm in it) and she gave him a complete set of ‘The yellow book’, which kept us busy the rest of the day. I was quite enthralled, not knowing that it was still around. I had always thought of it as a paper-covered magazine which would only be found rarely. It is extraordinary to think that it was the last word in daring and eccentricity when it was published because most of the things in it, particularly the pictures, seem so charming and innocuous. I was especially pleased to read “Stories Toto told me”, because they were mentioned in the book “The quest for Corvo”, (most of whose works were possessed by Gerard Irvine, from whom I borrowed “Don Tarquinio” and “Hubert’s Arthur”. To continue in parenthesis, I have now borrowed “Hadrian the seventh” from Gavin, and find it, like the rest, in some ways fascinating, in others repulsive.)
Back to Christmas day; we all went to church again, and enjoyed it, because we were just in front of two R.A.F. men who could sing well, and so there was good support for “Hark the herald” etc. The parson began his sermon with “My sermon today is divided into two parts” (so we all settled down resignedly) “and each part is divided into eighty-five subsections.” This was apparently the beginning of some eighteenth century Christmas sermon, and not a real threat, so we all laughed a lot, and in fact, when we went in for sherry to the doctor’s house afterwards, his daughter, who works with Pam, said that Betty and I were behaving very badly. But we were meant to laugh at that point, and anyway, we didn’t make a noise.
Christmas dinner was in the evening, so we had bacon and eggs, a handsome dish in itself, for lunch. People came in to tea. Sidney, Betty’s old bear, was brought down to keep Uncle Bous company among so many females, and one of the guests was much amused at the way Sidney was treated as one of the family. He doesn’t like me much, because I refuse to kiss him, on hygienic grounds. He even had his health drunk at dinner, just after Mr Churchill, I suppose by the association Winnie-bear-Sidney. I must quote you Freddy Warlock’s letter as an example of the Christmas spirit (this was partly addressed to Signey). “Dear Betty, Have you had the flu? I have not. I see in the paper that a thousand old men and women have died of flu in London alone.
Have you been to the pictures lately? I went with Michael and Miss Jones, a schoolmistress, to see a lovely film, all about dive bombers machine-gunning Russian girls.
I hope you have a happy Christmas.
Love to Sidney. Freddy” (Who is I believe, ten, and anyway shows a lively mind in his letters)
Well, then we had dinner, turkey, with all the regulation bits, plum pudding with rum butter, and even rum burnt round it, and dessert, apples, raisins and sweets from S.Africa, dates from Tunis from some pal of Uncle Bous’s, and Algerian wine. Then, quite stuffed, we all read “The yellow book” till bed-time.
The next day, being Sunday, was not called Boxing-day, which was kept on Monday, so Uncle Bous had quite a nice holiday. He and Pam and I went for a long walk in the morning to work off our previous day’s excesses not that I felt any the worse for them, and to make room for more turkey at lunch time, after which we three girls had to go to work.
On Monday evening we had a great party from the office to go to a dance. It was Barbara Wallis’s 21st birthday, so we also proceeded down to the pub at lunch time to celebrate, and then had a good deal more celebration in the evening before the dance.
The next two days I was frantically busy in the evenings, packing up books to send home, as I suddenly became oppressed with the clutter of things. We shan’t be able to move in the sitting-room for books, as both Irene and I accumulate them, always borrowing or acquiring more. The evening before I went home on leave I took Mrs. Evans and her mother to our local Christmas review, which was very good, but most of the high spots depend on local jokes, so I will not weary you with them. All this, however, accounts for my not having written since Christmas, because I had not a minute for thank-you letters till I got home, so I did them, and then I regret to say, fell into a lethargy, and sat in front of the fire talking to Peg, and reading silly books, although I did do some knitting to a jumper, which I have now successfully finished, and did the brown dress, which I think will also be a success. I am always surprised to find how much good leave does one. After about three days at home, not going to bed any earlier than I do here, I am quite prepared to leap out of bed in the morning, and by the time I have to come back, am just about to do all the jobs I meant to. It is surprising how much energy an office day takes.
At home, of course there were lots more Christmas presents, including Romey’s and Helen’s. Aunt has given me one packet of the noodle soup, very welcome, if ever I want to have guests. The plum cake, which we had for tea on my last day, was lovely and luscious. Another Christmas present I had, which pleased me very much, was from Irene, British Museum reproductions, one from the Luttrell psalter, of a travelling coach with funny little queens in it, and people prancing round on horses, and six dappled horses drawing it, all very fine with gold harness, and six Japanese prints illustrating ‘The tale of Genji’, which I got recently.
I spent some of my money in the Red Cross bookshop in Wigmore St. This is a shop where they sell the books given for the Red Cross. People were asked to give decent books, and all the money goes to the fund. They have vast quantities, and one could see thousands more stacked up waiting to be sorted. One can put down for any one wants, if they aren’t there, because it is a good chance that most things will come through their hands. I put down for Fanny Burney’s “Cecilia” from which Irene and I derived great pleasure, and which of course, hasn’t been in print for years. I bought “Peregrine Pickle” printed in 1769, somewhat tattered, for 5/-, and a French “Imitation of Christ” printed in 1682, also for 5/-, and a Lamb’s Essays, which I had not got, this an ordinary cheap edition. The old books I got were just fun, but they did have a lot of really good first editions and so on, besides no end of ordinary things, from novels to medical books. I overheard one of the voluntary workers say to another “Where is the ‘Pilgrim’s progress?” “Oh, it was moved into Religion this morning.” “That new woman is always moving things where one can’t find them. it was quite all right in Fiction.” When I got in that evening I found that Irene had borrowed a first edition of Fanny Burney’s “Camilla”, which is supposed to be wonderfully dull, but has certainly some delightful bits in it, and moreover, a list of the subscribers to the original publication in the front, including Jane Austen, and other famous people. Irene has a passion for eighteenth century novels at the moment, and reads the coarsest bits of Smollett aloud to me when I am having tea. I was not turned, no doubt greatly to her disappointment. I got “Evelina” for her in the Everyman edition, second hand in Clark’s, a find, as it is also out of print. I got for myself Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English poetry, which I always meant to get, chiefly because it was the inspiration of the early Romantic movement in Germany, and also the saga “Burnt Njal”, which I find very good reading.
You will already have some slight idea of the literature I have on hand at the moment, so I might as well complete the list, with “Les homes de bonne volonté” by Jules Romains, and “The theory and practice of socialism” by John Strachey.
Yesterday I went over to Northwood to see Mrs. Petrie, staying there with Christina, who is due to go into hospital to have her baby at any minute, and was looking very well and cheerful. Mrs. Petrie seems to enjoy her work at the ambulance station very much, although somewhat troubled by stiffness. Evidently she detests her son-in-law, who I must say, sounds an excessively offhand and selfish young man, to say the least, but since Christina seems to have been quite happy with him for eight years, things can’t be so bad. However, it must be very hard for Mrs P. I left after tea, and came back to the pictures, and saw “The yellow canary”, lovely secret service melodrama, just what I like, and I knew from the beginning exactly what was going to happen, if you disregard details, and yet was delighted when it did.
I hope to go up to town with Pam and Betty next week or the week after, and meet Aunt and go to a show. Aunt has some shopping to do, and I want to be introduced to the bookshop where Uncle Bous gets all the lovely books they give each other. I have left matters in Pam’s hands, because they have seen so many things that they had better choose.
Irene has gone out this evening to the picture I saw yesterday, so I take the opportunity to typing. I hope this is not overwhelming, but being in the mood I had better go on, because it doesn’t often happen.
I don’t think I ever sent thanks for the lovely pictures of Cape Town. Much admired all round. Various stamp enthusiasts are much perplexed by the fact that all South African stamps have one side not perforated. Do they come out in a long thin strip in the two languages? I have supplied many with sets of both, except I think, for 1d stamps, or are there none? If there are, would it be possible to make a judicious assortment when stamping letters. The one off the food parcels are of course great prizes.
I won’t go on, because Irene will soon be in, and my feet are cold, and I want to put them in the fender before going to bed. Much love Annette
From Annette to Parents (Marked by LJT as Rcd 17/2/44) Airgraph to Mrs. H.P.V. Townend c/o Standard Bank Cape Town South Africa
Sender’s Address Miss A. Townend; Box 111, Bletchley; Bucks.
27th Jan 1944
Dear Parents, A-G number 26 received; I am sorry about the books. I don’t think it worth sending them again, even if the French ones do reappear, as you won’t want any unnecessary things, and they were only very light, in fact, I wonder what the buyer of the Spanish books thought of “Alice’s adventures” in French. It was lovely too, with all the points of the jokes lost. I thought I must have been Guided when I was moved to send Papa some books, but evidently it was only a machination of the devil. I have just had an idea, which is, that instead of my getting back from you the money I spent last year on my eye, you should get yourselves a present from me when eventually you set up house. My head is now continually full of ideas for the future, some fantastic, but others no doubt workable. Ann says you must go and stay with her people some time. As a matter of fact, I thought it might be quite a good thing, if, for example, life at home proved a bit wearing when Peg’s baby is very new. We were discussing at home which would be the best room for you to have, and concluded that ours would be, because it is remote from noise (which I hadn’t realised until I slept for a bit in Gwen’s room) and full of sun if there is any, and has a fire-place. There are two things I find trying at home; one is the passion for having the news on ten times a day, which is hard to escape when only one fire is lit, and the poopery icy, and the other is hope only temporary, and that is Peg always telling Aunt how much better it would be to do things in such and such a way. She goes on and on, not just making a suggestion once, but nagging away day after day. Of course she means well, and there are certainly things about the house that I am surprised they have put up with all these years, but it’s their house, so why not let them go to perdition their own way? In a letter just lately Aunt says she feels like a buffer state between Peg and Uncle, but no doubt a lot of Peg’s irritability comes of this hanging round about the baby, when placidity is the last thing she enjoys.
Pam and Betty and I are meeting Aunt in town tomorrow, and going to see Oscar Wilde’s “The ideal husband”, which is well spoken of. We shall doubtless find some nice foreign place to lunch. I must collect some suggestions in the office. I am going to stay the night with Christina, who has digs in Earl’s Court. I was at the Drakes’ this Sunday, and although I now find the household entertaining, I was more than ever struck with admiration at the way Aunt runs a house single-handed, with very little fuss, while Mrs. Drake is always frantically busy, but always inefficient, or at least, she does get things done, but only after great expense of time and energy.
I hope to do some buying of Christmas presents on Friday morning, and to have a session at a record shop. I get depressed, though, at the multitude of records, and now there is always “Sorry, out of stock” with the ones one really wants to hear. It will do Aunt good to have a day in town. There is very little diversion for them at home, not that they crave for it, but even a days outing is a good thing. Much love from Annette.
From Annette to Parents (Marked by LJT as Rcd 29/2) Airgraph to Mrs. H.P.V. Townend c/o Standard Bank Cape Town South Africa
Sender’s Address Miss A. Townend; Box 111, Bletchley; Bucks.
8 Feb 1944
Dear Parents, Lots of letters after a longish gap. I am surprised at Mother finding housework such a bore, although of course having to go on and on must be a bit much. As far as I know I like it, but then I only do it in fits and starts, the same with cooking, but then you get somebody like Ann Toulmin, who ran a house with two other girls for a years, and adored cooking. I think a few hours of domestic occupations is a refreshing change from office work, but it is all right only doing it when you feel like it. You will have heard from Aunt of how we went to see “An ideal husband”, and much enjoyed it. I stayed the night afterwards with Christina, and had a happy morning shopping, and got Aertex shirts and underwear, which was very satisfactory. I also got with some of my Christmas money an anthology by Walter de la Mare called “Love”. This dangerous to have about, because any visitors immediately sieze on it, and one can’t get another word out of them, let alone a useful work like winding the gramophone, which is what they are asked for. Irene says it shows they must all be repressed. Anyhow, I created quite a sensation in the office by saying “Do you think Love is worth twenty-five shillings?” This reminds me of a good remark made at a fire-guard lecture, at which fortunately neither Irene nor I were present. The lecturer said “Now, when you ladies are patrolling the streets during the alert, one of you can go in and sit down. We must keep the ladies off the streets at night.” I am feeling very cheerful these days, perhaps because of being very busy, but also we had another rise from 1st Jan, and moreover I had an indirect bouquet handed out last week, which is not all that frequent. Also social life is flourishing. Next week there is a party to which all the people in our room were invited, but to which I was not inclined, as the section sending the invitation have probably got too many females as it is, but Rush set to and got about ten men and four girls to go from our room, so I agreed to go too, and in fact, it ought to be fun. Then there are two nice concerts, one this Friday and one next. last week I was out three evenings, and on the others we had people in. Fortunately Mrs. Evans does not seem to mind how often we have guests, or who they consist of. In consequence I did not read a single book through, which is about a record. I have on hand “The great trek” by a man called Walker, very interesting and readable. It pleases me particularly to read about the people that a lot of the places you visited last year are called after. Rush has an endless supply of historical works, and has promised me next “The Portuguese pioneers” in the same series. I have also got two books of Chekhov stories, in Russian which are quite easy to read, and very short and clear to grasp, also very funny, and I have just got to the stage when I can sort of divine what is going on mostly, although I couldn’t do anything like a word for word translation. I went to see a Bob Hope picture last week, and enjoyed it, against expectation, but perhaps that was due to the cheerful company.
With much love from Annette
From Annette to HPV (Marked by LJT as Rcd 7/3/44) Airgraph to H.P.V. Townend Esq c/o Standard Bank Cape Town South Africa
Sender’s Address Miss A. Townend; Box 111, Bletchley; Bucks.
13th Feb 1944
Dear Papa, I hope that for once I am in time to wish you a happy birthday. This ought to be about right, judging from the time airgraphs take from you. I have been having great fun, getting all the people in the office to write in the Christopher Robin birthday book. Some of the remarks are, of course, quite inapplicable, but most are exquisitely suitable, either directly, such as “Sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about” or “However much you liked him, you couldn’t deny it, he did bounce”, or sarcastically such as “Kind and Thoughtful”. Talking of birthdays, did I ever mention that Peggy Blain, nee Christie, has a second baby, a son. I havn’t written to her for years, we are both bad at getting round to letters, but I exchange notes with Mr. Christie at comparatively frequent intervals, and hear all about what goes on. He has asked me to meet him for tea at the Euston Hotel some time, and an opportunity presents itself next week, when Christina has got tickets for “Hamlet”, in which Robert Helpmann, the ballet dancer, is acting, and I shall have the day off, with nothing else arranged so far. Usually tea in inconvenient, because I tend to go through London in the morning, either going to or from home. I have sent Foyle’s a letter to say that if the produce the French books or refund the money I will return the Spanish books, which are nothing to do with me. It still makes me laugh to think of the earnest student of Spanish being sent such a silly lot of books. I shan’t send them, even if they do turn up, as you may not be there when they arrive. We had a lovely letter made up, to the effect that my aged and invalid father had taken to his bed on the arrival of the wrong parcel, and was still at death’s door, and that Foyles would be held accountable, but regretfully decided not to send it. Irene has a lively, but somewhat grotesque sense of humour, also a decided taste for the macabre. Her latest idea is to make visitors’ flesh creep by embroidering on the theme that a black bag containing my fencing mask is really a ‘bag for a decapitated head’ (this was one of the phrases out of the Japanese dictionary produced by Basil). She and Ann Toulmin get on very well, as Ann also delights in anything ridiculous. Ann is in a bad way, she says she can neither sleep nor read, and becomes depressed when alone. She has been doing the same job for three years now, and says that it becomes monotonous, and they all get on each other’s nerves. I have been fortunate in changing the actual work I do quite frequently, not that I naturally go up and down to the extent that Ann does. You list again the things you have failed to do. I feel that, though it is no doubt an unworthy thing, it is more satisfactory eventually to start off things without any hope of being expert, as I do, so that one is moderately content with any slight degree of success. I do not speak of it much, because there is nothing to say, but I still potter along with Russian, fencing, and the recorder. I have at last found the ideal person to play with, so enthusiasm revives.
Love and birthday wishes Annette
From Annette to Parents No 6
19 Feb 1944
Irene says that if she can’t endure to hear me typing for long, she will let out an eldritch screech, so I shall probably have to take to a pen. However, I shall go on as long as possible like this, as I have a lot to write about, and feel like writing it, in fact I feel quite cock-a-hoop, and shall probably come to a sticky end in consequence. My two principal bits of news are that I helped to win a famous moral victory in the office, and secondly that I have been put in charge of a section of about five people, with a sort of directing interest over about twenty more. This all came about really by accident and force of circumstance, but is nevertheless quite a feather.
No more of that, but the moral victory is really of more interest to me, as I have lost several good nights’ rest over it. It was a question of somebody being unfairly passed over for promotion, no actual business of Helen Black’s and mine, but as we had worked with the person concerned we summoned up courage and went to the next boss above and said “You may throw us out, but we thing such-and-such” and he said to me “But X. said to me that you approved and said it was all right”. Now this was not so much a misrepresentation of what I had said, as a downright lie, because what I actually said was that the people who had arranged the matter were a set of blithering idiots who should have their skulls cracked together, though as he was one of them, I didn’t exactly repeat my words in his presence. However, he said he had stood aside in the matter, as not knowing the girl concerned, so Helen and I resolved to go to the next boss up. She had to go off to hospital before we got to him, for which I was very sorry, because she has more poise than I have, and also more persistence, but I continued along, having started, and behaved like the importunate widow for two days, this man being always in conference and extremely elusive, and finally got to see him.
I was very glad, because he said he had almost decided to reverse the original decision before people started bothering, but he wanted to see if it was all talk, or if anyone would have the conviction to to on with the business. So I really felt that we had helped to reverse a miscarriage of justice, and also to ensure that such a thing may not occur again, because the words of several people, who had, I consider, given very unfair and ill-considered judgments, will not now be taken at their fact value. Also I am quite pleased to discover that if I really care about a thing, I am prepared to go on with it, which is really the conclusion that all this rather cryptic account has been leading up to. Altogether I am becoming stuffed up with pride and vanity.
Strange to relate, I have not had a day off for over three weeks, in fact not since I met Aunt in Town, and all the nervous excitement of screwing courage to the sticking point, added to a lot of work, because of having as my opposite number on the other shift a girl who is new to the particular job, and takes about six weeks to become useful any new job (being like the proverbial horse with the water) reduced me by last Wednesday to a state of pulp. This was a pity, because there was the party for which I had got my pink frock from home. However, by the time I had got changed and had tea, and Irene had said “It’s wonderful what a change clothes can make to a person.” I got cheered up and set out, and it was actually the best party I have been to here, not that I have been to many. There was a good floor and an excellent American army band, good food and drinks, including a gin punch made by an American which set me up no end, and a lot of pleasant people whom I knew, so that there was either dancing or pleasant chat the whole time. The high spot of the evening was to hear one of the band singing “Pistol-packing momma, put that pistol down”.
There has been quite a lot of social life lately. Last Friday there was a really lovely concert by the Jacques string orchestra, and other nights we have had people in, always a pleasure, except when they are too earnest. Not that there is not serious talk, as the other day at lunch-time when there was some discussion about the by-election in which Lord Hartington has just been defeated, and I repeated Papa’s remark about the public school type and the civil service, which aroused hot debate, though this had to be broken off unfortunately, as time was up. But there are some earnest people whom we have to ask as times, and Irene finds it something of a trial. She offended one the other day, when told to go to the pictures so as to leave us to play the recorder, by saying “I’m not going out in the evening for months and months, and anyway playing the recorder is the last resort of seedy intellectuals.” Directed at me, of course, but Brenda took it seriously. Irene has just told me to keep my velvet glove, even if I am going to use the iron hand, because I may need it to butter somebody up with, which I like as a mixed metaphor.
This week I am going to have the day off, and go and see “Hamlet”, for which Christina has got tickets. I have just written to Mr. Christie, to see if he can meet for tea before it. Next week I am going to stay with Ann for two days. I told Papa in my last airgraph how she was in a bad way, unable to sleep or read, and feeling sad, and I must say I sympathised with her, except that I don’t feel sad, as on the whole my life gets fuller of incident, and she has got a fortnight’s sick leave, and then her leave at the end. She asked me to go to the Lakes, but I cannot, and anyway I shall save my spring leave till the last minute, in case you get home before the period is up, so I am going to Peterborough for a couple of days.
I have promised to play Irene the Second Brandenburg concerto by Bach as a reward for enduring this clatter, so will close,
with much love
From Annette to Parents (Marked by LJT as Rcd 16/5/44) Airgraph to Mrs. H.P.V. Townend c/o Standard Bank of SA Cape Town South Africa
Sender’s Address Miss A. Townend; Box 111, Bletchley; Bucks.
2nd May 1944
Dear Parents, I am a disgrace. I don’t know where the time has gone to. I feel like a top that has just run down. I was so busy for about six weeks what with people being away ill, and then either people being on leave, and one thing and another that it feels quite odd to be working normal hours again, and I just sink into a lethargy. I should have found time for letters all the same. I meant to write a lot when I took a very hasty two days at home, but then I was lazy. I fear it is just laziness anyway, because I should find time for just a word, although there is no news and not energy enough to write letters without news. It is infuriating that one gets so tired after more than about nine hours work a day, if it is kept up for any time. Luckily the return to normal life has coincided with lovely weather, so this week, if it keeps up, the sun and air should be a complete refreshment. I lie when I say there is no news, because I went home, as I said, only that was already nearly a month ago. Also I have been to three parties all of which I much enjoyed. Also I went over to Northampton to see Peg, and hope to go again tomorrow. They are staying at a very nice rectory with a most congenial family. Peg seems to be in fairly good spirits.
I was very glad to get the letter from Mrs. Hamilton. Jock has had an amazingly adventurous career. I was thrilled to read of it. I hadn’t written to Audrey for so long that I was almost afraid to, not knowing what had happened to any of them. I should think she will look very nice in a Wren officer’s uniform, although now I come to think of it, I don’t know what the tropical kit is.
Thank you for letters from Elgin and from Cape Town again. It must be so tantalising, to be waiting all this time, ready to go off at a moment’s notice. I think the plan about Byways is excellent, because it is quiet and self-contained, which are the needful things. It has really been a great blessing all round that Uncle Harry had it done. Incidentally, when they talk of Winsome getting a house with Nurse and Charlotte, do they realise that all able-bodied women under fifty are called up? Surely Nurse is younger than that? I suppose they know, but I suppose it is difficult to realise the practical implications of war-time regulations of that sort. Mr. Evans has come home from the Bahamas, and he had a fortnight’s leave, so Irene and I moved out into the civilian hostel, which usually houses people who are waiting for billets. It was really quite comfortable, except for the plank beds, to which I was just getting used, but it is a funny aimless existence, eating in the canteen always, and having no inducement to stay in one’s little cell except for sleep. Actually it came in quite handy to be so near the office, because I had to go back to work after dinner most evenings anyway. We are very glad to be back, and to have the sitting-room, and start asking people in again. Of course, for some who have had awful billets, the hostel is a haven of peace. I hope now you will have left before the time this gets out. Much love and apologies from Annette
From Annette to Parents (Marked by LJT as Rcd 14/6/44) Airgraph to Mrs. H.P.V. Townend c/o Standard Bank Cape Town South Africa
Sender’s Address Miss A. Townend; Box 111, Bletchley; Bucks, England.
31st May 1944
Dear Parents, Thank you for numerous letters, and two parcels, also the parcels for the Drakes and Roscoes. Sweets and dried fruits I find the nicest things to have, because they go the farthest among people, and I usually produce both when we have people in in the evening. The sending of the china tea was a fortunate mistake; it seems very much appreciated by all. Since I last wrote I have been to see Joyce and Frank, and enjoyed it. Josephine is very nice, and of a generally happy disposition. A friend of Frank’s was there in the evening, and the talk turned of course to politics, and this man, having met Peg the week before, seemed amazed to find me so ”broad-minded”. It is really lack of decision, not breadth of views, but Peg does tend to be rather prickly Conservative with them, I think. Frank has such energy himself that I don’t think he allows for the essential apathy, if not active forwardness, of the majority of people towards doing anything. I am reputed to be energetic, but there is already an amazing number of things that I just don’t do, or can’t be bothered to do. This attitude is no doubt due in part to not getting leave. The Forces’ leave has been stopped for the last two months, and ours was too, although this varies from one department to another. Christina’s people in London, are getting theirs, for I just had a postcard from her in Scotland. Also I think there is a general feeling dullness in the prolonged waiting for something decisive to happen. It is difficult to take a real interest in anything else. About the leave business, I expect to get a second wind shortly, just as when missing a day off, but I have been feeling slack of late. The weather has been strange. After the fine spell in April, it turned dull and cloudy, and so cold that ten days ago we got out thick overcoats again, and now it is so hot that I have been coming from work at midnight with a cardigan over a cotton frock. Yet I don’t enjoy the summer weather as usual. There is always this unease at the back of my mind, the suspense of the war mixed with the suspense of knowing what is happening to you. As Aunt says, it is almost a disappointment to get letters, and particularly airgraphs, because they show you haven’t left. It will be sickening if a general travel ban comes in now. I have done little of note. Irene and I were asked to a dance unexpectedly, and to produce partners, which I managed to do, from the comparative superfluity of men in my section, and we joined a party which proved delightful, a wonderful mixed bag invited by Eleanor Robertson, who had started to get fears they wouldn’t mix, which were quite unfounded, because everybody seemed to have a wonderful time. There was much entertaining conversation, and I danced a quick waltz with someone who could do it, so my evening was made. Another pleasant evening I had was in sandpapering the walls of Neil Webster’s house, with a distempering party, as he is bringing his family here to a house he bought. Other things I do, but not amounting to much. Much love from Annette.
From Annette to Romey
17 Nov 1944
I hope you are having a nicer day for your birthday than it is here. It has rained all day, but is remarkably warm after the cold weather of the last week. I came back yesterday from my week’s leave in London, about which Mother has probably already told you something. it went quickly, and as always, I was just getting really used to the whirl of gaiety when back I had to come. It was indeed a whirl of gaiety. We went to the ballet three times, to four plays, and to ‘The beggar’s opera’, which was bad, but it was fun to hear the tunes.
On Tuesday Nadine was coming through London, so I asked her to lunch, and Mr. Pilcher came too, and we went to a French restaurant “La Coquille”, very good, but the wine-waiter looked daggers at us for not drinking anything. Nadine went off afterwards, and Mother and George (as he asked me to call him, only it still seems odd) and I went into the National Portrait Gallery, which is open with just the pictures they have been given in the last two years, and I fell for the picture of the first Lord Brougham and Vaux, and would have got a picture postcard of him for a pin-up boy, only of course there wasn’t one. He was apparently a great opponent of Pitt, as I found out later from Papa. After a cup of coffee in the Kardomah café in Piccadilly, it was time for George to go to work, and we were very fortunate in getting seats for the ballet, and saw “Les Sylphides”, “Miracle in the Gorbals”, which is a most curious and interesting piece about the Glasgow slums, with a theme rather like “The passing of the third floor back”, and “The prospect before us”, a light fantasy, in the style of Hogarth’s sketches, about two 18th century managers who kept on burning down each other’s theatre and luring each other’s best dancers away.
Papa came up to the dentist on Wednesday, and we met him for lunch, after which Mother went shopping, and looked round for books to spend a book token, and became more and more depressed at the sight of dozens of books I didn’t want to buy. However, as a present from Aunt I got a little edition of Browning’s poems, containing all the shorter ones I like. I have become quite addicted to Browning recently, but had only the Penguin selection. Mother and I went again to the ballet on Wednesday evening, leaving papa to go to the Jenkins’. We again had Lyons 1/9 high tea, which one can get much quicker than sitting and waiting for the waitress to come round, and can then eat without fuss. We had it several days, and varied it by going to the Brasserie, which is rather more gay. The ballet that evening was “Comus”, “Carnaval”, and “The rake’s progress”, copied from the Hogarth series. Mother said she thought the last scene, where the Rake ends in a madhouse, was too dreadful for ballet, but I think they were aiming to get the contrast between the horrors of Bedlam and heartless fashionable people coming round to laugh at the madmen’s antics and the devotion of the girl who saved the Rake once from his creditors, and still tries to save him now. This was danced very touchingly by Margot Fonteyn. (I hope all this about ballet is not boring, but I am making a copy for myself, as a diary, so you can skip it. Ballet is hard to describe, but I find it becomes more and more fascinating. I think a lot of the charm to me is to see movement so perfectly done and meaning such a lot, when generally it means nothing. After the ballet we twice went to have a snack at Lyons, and while waiting in the queue and watching people go in and out I kept on expecting to see them break in a dance.)
Thursday Papa had no appointment with the dentist. We met Mrs. Dunn for lunch, and then went to “La kermesse heroique”, which we all enjoyed. it is so long since I saw it, it was almost like new. In the evening after dinner we went round to the Jenkins, of whom Mother has written so much. He is very nice, not that she isn’t, but she has a very sharp tongue, and is always squashing him, I suppose without being aware of it. The two daughters, Dorothy, who is dietician at the Royal Free hospital, and Katherine, who is a statistician in some government department, were both there. Both very pleasant.
On Friday Mother and I went to Miss Millauro’s about an eye. Mother agrees with me that she behaves just like someone in a hat shop trying to make you believe some frightful hat suits you. We went into the Stationery Office and got the government insurance White Paper, and various other pamphlets, and went into India House and Africa House to look at the halls with paintings. Mr Pierneef’s paintings have gone from Africa House, which is a great compliment, as only things that aren’t considered very valuable are left up.
We had lunch with Mr. Pilcher and Papa in Fleet St., in the Old Cock tavern, where we had a very good old English lunch, roast mutton with onion sauce and everything as sound and good as might be, instead of the rather made-up dishes which are more normal now. Papa then went to the dentist and off home, while we had a conducted tour of the bomb damage round about, very interesting, because George knew the whole district so well, and just walks about saying, “That was Hutchinson’s, and that was Blackie’s, and that was such and such a pub” when all you see is a space with odd bits of ruins, and great holes in the ground, and cellars now getting quite overgrown with moss and willow herb and a few other plants. We then went into St. Pauls and up to the whispering gallery and outside onto the gallery round the base of the dome, and George pointed out the landmarks all round. From that height the damage isn’t so impressive, but you can see how bashed about the whole City is. Before tea we still had time for a walk across Southwark Bridge, and along the river to Blackfriars Bridge, passing all sorts of wharves with quaint names, and Wren’s little house just beside Cardinal Cap Passage, where he lived when building St Pauls. it was nice, with a rivery smell and the funny gulls all about.
That evening we went to “Hamlet” with Mrs. Dunn. Mother had got seats in the front row of the dress circle, very posh. They both said they didn’t think the production as good as some, and particularly not a patch on the Old Vic “Richard lll”, which we had all seen recently, and I didn’t think it as good as the Old Vic “Hamlet”, with Robert Helpmann, which I saw last February, I think. I thought that was wonderful at the time, and I now think it was even better, and I also think Helpmann’s Hamlet, at which most of the critics rather sneered, was better than John Gielgud’s. I was interested to hear from Aunt that this was also Gavin’s opinion. There must have been something about Helpmann’s performance that appeals to the young. Anyhow, this is being very carping, because to see two such performances of Hamlet in one year is unlooked-for good fortune.
On Saturday we set out lateish and met Rush for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and then went to the Old Vic “Peer Gynt” (They are doing a repertory, as also is Gielgud’s company, which means that one can see about six good plays in the time one would generally see two). Ralph Richardson did Peer Gynt, and Sybil Thorndike his mother. I don’t know if you know it. I have never read it, I just heard a bit of it once on the wireless. It was again a wonderful production, and a fascinating play. Papa is very fond of it, and it is a pity that he really cannot face up to seeing such a long performance, because mother said she thought he would have likes it. It is interesting to see Laurence Olivier (who did such an electric performance of Richard III) and Ralph Richardson on the stage after seeing them in pictures. There is so extraordinarily much more life and character, although they are both good on the films, but I should think the awful process of repeating each little bit about fifty times would take the life out of anything. Rush had brought the Norwegian original of the play and told us which scenes were left out. I now feel urged to learn Norwegian, which is quite easy, and Rush says he will teach me, a lunch-time occupation. Of course, papa always says “What good is it?”, but as he is learning Malay, which is no earthly use, and hasn’t even got a literature, I take no notice. Learning, or rather, dabbling in languages, is just a vice, and is always as entertaining as crossword puzzles.
Rush went off to get a train, as all restaurants seemed crowded, and Mother and I went back to Kensington and found a little place to have dinner, and spent the evening rather coldly in the hotel, which had no lounge that wasn’t also several corridors.
On Sunday we went to Putney and had lunch with George Pilcher, before a delightful walk over Wimbledon common to Kingston. It was quite still, and unfortunately there were none of the beautiful views we should have had, but there was a curious quiet mistiness, with bare trees and dull brown bracken, that had a great charm too. We were lucky in that it did not rain until we got onto the bus for the last bit into Kingston, where we had tea, and came back by bus. Mother and I went to supper with Mrs. Dunn, who has a tiny flat, but full of all her treasures, and lovely books, from which it was hard to tear ourselves to get the last bus. She made us laugh by saying that she has banished the photo Percy Brown, of whom Mother has also written a lot, and whom I met once, to the bedroom, because he is enjoying himself in Kashmir, while she has to stick in London.
On Monday Mrs. Drake and Christina and Marjorie Corr came to lunch with us at Peter Robinson’s. Marjorie was very late, and came in with a young man to make her apologies. He had turned up unexpectedly, and very bravely came to face the crowd. After he had gone it was revealed that he is a Russian prince, and Marjorie appears to be wavering about marrying him, but, as she said “It is such a big thing”
Mother took the Jenkins to the “Beggar’s opera” at Hammersmith in the evening. it was fun to hear the tunes, but it was very badly done. We had supper at their flat afterwards, which was really the best part of the evening.
On Tuesday we went into the Victoria and Albert museum, where I got quantities of nice cards to the pre-war price of 2d and looked at the photograph of the Bayeux tapestry, before meeting Frank for lunch at a little Italian place near Victoria. Before meeting Uncle Bernard we looked in at Westminster Cathedral, which is a funny place, in a way. It is mostly brick, with bits covered in mosaic on gold ground, and others with marble, but I suppose they intend to do it all one day.
With Uncle Bernard we looked at exhibition of oil paintings, all bad, but it was enlivened by his remarks, which are most amusing, and just the sort of humour that pleases me. One doesn’t think of him as being over sixty. He can be just as silly and in the same way as any young people like us. But of course it is also great fun to hear his reminiscences of his life in London a long time ago. He is very cheerful and speaks quite happily and naturally about his wife, who, as Mother no doubt told you, was killed so horribly early this year.
We went to the Old Vic “Arms and the man” which was lovely fun, and must be a complete holiday for everybody, and indeed, they looked as if they were enjoying themselves. Afterwards Uncle Bernard took us to Scott’s in Coventry St. for supper, and we had lobster salad and mushrooms on toast, all delicious, and the whole place has such a comfortable atmosphere. Nice to have enough money to do things in that style. However, I daresay it is more pleasure even to us, whose normal haunt is Lyons, than to people who always go there.
On Wednesday there was a great lunch party, with Aunt, Papa, up again for the dentist, Uncle Bernard, and Freddy Temple, the brother of the late archbishop. There was interesting conversation between Papa and Freddy, and a number of silly stories which I think Mother is telling you. Aunt and I then went to see “It depends what you mean”, and entertaining play about a village Brains Trust, with Alistair Sim as a perfect Army Padre. Aunt went off at once after it, and I met Mother and Uncle Bernard, for coffee and sandwiches before going to the ballet (Sadler’s Wells again) to see “Lac des Cygnes”, which I liked before, and thought was wonderful this time. uncle Bernard was much impressed by it, and said he thinks the company has a very high standard, fit to be compared with the old Russian companies, and he has been a ballet enthusiast since 1914. It was a lovely finish to my leave.
The real finish was rather marred, though. I had arranged to meet Mr. Roscoe, so that he could be introduced to Mother and Papa. I expect it was my misunderstanding, but he thought I had meant Wednesday, was gone, and had apparently waited a long time on Wednesday. He is like Papa in hating to be kept waiting, and that kind of thing, and I felt terrible about it. It was so disappointing I could really have sat down and cried. Things always go wrong when Papa is concerned, and I gather from Mrs. R that Mr. is like that too. It’s funny how a small thing like that upsets me often much more than something really important.
I will stop there, as I think this is quite long enough. I hadn’t ???? about air letters. Thank you for yours and also for an ordinary ?????