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The Townend Family Letters

Correspondence from the 1930s - 1940s between members of the Townend family
HPV + LJT Letters 1929 to 1932

1932 March

From LJT to Annette

Hotel Beau Site
Ste. Maxime

March 2nd ‘32

Dont forget to address your letter
Poste Restante

My darling Annette

Thank you very much for your letter. I am glad to hear that you are back in school again. I was also very interested to hear that Mr and Mrs Janvrin had been to St Monica’s. I did not know they were in England and should like to have their address. Do you think you could ask Miss Capstick for it and send it to me in your next letter?

I am glad you go down to the “Prep” most Sundays and see Rosemary. I expect you rather like having lunch or tea there for a change, don’t you?

Our lovely spell of fine weather broke at the end of last week and we have had tremendous gales of wind and rain over the week. It was wet on Saturday, but fine on Sunday, though there was still a tremendous wind blowing. We took M. and Madame Muret out in our car after lunch, and drove up into the mountains, as we wanted to show them a specially nice walk we had discovered – and to our surprise we found ourselves in snow! It was not very thick on the road or the path where we walked – but a little higher up the mountain sides, the ground was quite white and there were lumps of snow stuck in the pine trees. In some places there were almond trees still in flower. A few weeks ago when the weather was summer-like, they looked all part of the picture, but on Sunday they looked quite dejected and out of place in the snow. It was rather fun seeing the landscape under a different guise and we enjoyed a brisk walk, although the wind was really very cold. It was still blowing hard on Monday and Tuesday and there were occasional showers of rain. Dad and I went for a long walk each afternoon but it was not the sort of weather to go out for long climbs in the mountains. Its a bit finer to-day, but still rather windy and dull. Its rather sad that our last week here should be like this, but still I would rather have the bad weather this week than next week when we shall be motoring northwards. There are some excessively naughty disobedient children staying in the hotel now who annoy us very much They behave so badly in the dining room that Daddy feels like screeching at them. They have no idea of any of the “rules” in any of the “books”!

I think I told you I had been reading a fascinating book called “the Romance of Archaeology” did’nt I? I have finished it now and found it so interesting – I was very struck by the way that discoveries in different parts of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Syria, Palestine, Crête and so on have all fitted into the puzzel of the history of the Ancient World between 500 and 5,000 BC, just like pieces in a jig saw. Somewhere in Mesopotamia – at Nineveh I think, archaeologists discovered clay tablets with a whole history of the flood. Names and details were a bit different, but the basic facts were all the same. Egyptologists discovering the mummy of the Pharaoh who was supposed to have been ruling in Egypt at the time of the Exodus of the Israelites, found that his body was covered with crystals of salt – which is most unusual, because the bodies were preserved with bitumen and other things, but never with salt. They also discovered that there was something odd about his heart – and a great English heart specialist (doctor) said that the man had been suffering from a well known disease of the heart, which causes a hardening of all the tissues and results in the person having a very narrow outlook and life and being unable to adapt himself to new ideas. Do you remember in the Bible it says “and God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not let the people of Israel go”? Also the Bible says that he was drowned in the sea – so that it is an odd and interesting co-incidence that the body of this Pharaoh should bear signs both of having a “hard” heart and of being drowned in very salt water. The book is full of interesting things from cover to cover.

Col. and Mrs. Meade came to tea with us on Saturday, and Mrs Meade was telling about her father who was a Judge in India and also wrote several well known histories of India. His name was Keene and his wit seems to have matched his name very well. One story she told us, I think will amuse you. To begin with I must remind you that the Hindustani word for peas, is “mutter” – because the point of the story depends on that. It is as follows – There was a dinner party in India. One of the guests was deaf and had to use an ear trumpet. A servant, who had been brought in to help, but did not know much about English ways, arrived to hand him the peas, just as put up his ear-trumpet to listen to something his neighbour was saying. The servant thought it had been put up to receive the peas and ladled in a spoonful. Mr Keene at the other end of the table, turned to his partner and said “Poor old Brown must be conscious of a muttering in his ear.” Dont you think that is very smart? Madame Muret brought back these feathers from the aviaries the other day, thinking you and Rosemary might like them. I have also pressed a few sprigs off the tall “heath” – a sort of heather or “erica” to give it its Latin name. Its all coming into flower all over the hills now – but though a much larger plant than our purple heather its not half so pretty.

Best love and a big hug, my darling from Mum

From HPV to Annette

Ste Maxime
Mar 5th 1932

My dear Annette.

We all say Hurrah for here is sun again after several days of gloom and cold wind. In fact I might say as you did in a letter dictated to Nannie at Darjeeling years ago “The sun is shining and I am dancing with my ribbon” – (toe heel together and up) – but I am not really. I am sitting at a small table in the window of our bedroom – second floor, with a small balcony but I’m not on the balcony as there is a fresh wind – and your mother is packing her box. For we are off on Monday; that is, in two days time. I shall be sorry to leave Ste Maxime and its little mountains which now we know so well: yet I shall be glad to go, as it will be the first stage towards getting back to work: and work is necessary almost to happiness.

I have spent the morning lately in cleaning the car. Underneath it mostly: there is a sort of bridge built out from the slope on which the garage stands with two troughs for the wheels of the car to go into and nothing between them. So one can get right under the car standing comfortably. Much better than a pit such as one sees in garages so often. Less dark and chilly. I have wiped any quantity of grease oil sand and mud off the underworks of the car but still there is lots of dirt there. Also I have polished away at the body work but still as I know there is lots od firt on it. Nothing makes up for regular attendtion. Which if I may preach is why one is so keen not to have any slackness at any time. Exercise 1100 and all that. So that, my dear, you children may be better than I am when you are turned out of the mould and dished up.

There are letters of your which I was very glad to get. I am glad and pleased when you do well at school. When you have learnt to talk French fluently I shall be able to rely on you instead of on the dictionary. Madame Muret subsides into helpless laughter sometimes when I talk to her and mix in words which I have found in the French detective stories and literal translations of English slang. But how I wish I had learnt more French at school and had kept it up.

Farewell, my child, and my best love. Also Mum’s (who will not write as I have done so.)


From LJT to Annette

March 9th

My darling Annette

Thank you very much for your letter and all its news I am so glad that Auntie is going to take you out during next week-end. Thank you also for sending Mrs Janvrin’s address. It must have been rather fun for the Guides helping to pull down the tree. I was thinking the other day, that I have forgotten a lot of my Guide work during these two years that I have been home but I suppose it wont take me very long to brush it up again. I read “The Miracle of Peille” last year when I was staying with Auntie May Townend and liked it very much. The story is beautifully told, is’nt it?

Dad and I felt quite sad when the time came to leave Ste. Maxime and say good-bye to all our friends there, as well as the different mountain peaks of which we have become so fond and which we have grown to know so intimately during the last two months. We had a lovely day to start our trip, though the strong north east wind, which, in Provence, is known as the mistral, was blowing pretty hard and slowed up the pace of the car appreciably. We stayed a night at Aix-en-Provence and arrived here yesterday morning in time for lunch. (I am so sorry I keep on writing down the wrong words. Every now and again Dad asks me a question and I try to answer him and go on writing at the same time!)

Avignon is a most interesting and fascinating town – Most of us know it so well by name from the little old French song “Sur le pont
D’Avignon. On-ydanse – On – y – danse “ but it is famous for other things than that. For many years, during the XIV and XV centuries, it was the residence of the Popes. For some reason, a certain Pope – John XXII, who had been Bishop of Avignon, decided to live there instead of going to Rome. Later there was a schism in the roman Catholic church and for a long time there were actually two Popes, one at rome and one at Avignon. Each Pope added something to the splendid fortified Palace, which dominates the town and all the country round. I cant tell you all about it in detail, because it would be like a guide book and bore you – but one little fact I think you may find amusing. There is a wide staircase leading up from the great Hall of Audience on the ground floor to the church or chapel above – and the only person who went up and down this staircase was the Pope. Everyone else went up and down stairs by narrow stairways in the huge thickness of the walls. Was’nt that an odd idea? We spent most of this morning seeing the Pope’s palace and this afternoon we drove over the new bridge over the Rhone and about a couple of miles away we visited the ruins of a monastery which used to belong to the monks of the order of Chartreuse. These monks were so strict that they only spoke three times a year – at Christmas, Easter and one other time. Each monk had a cell with three divisions – one for sleeping, one for eating and one for study, and his own tiny garden at the back. They were driven out of France at the time of the Revolution and took refuge in Spain – I found it extraordinary to see the cells where these monks lived in solitary silence, except for their church services.

The famous old bridge of the song is almost in ruins – There are only a few arches left standing – and to tell you the truth, I don’t think it in anyway uncommonly beautiful but its picturesque and one likes it for old association’s sake.

To jump to a wildly different subject – Dad thought that the enclosed cross-word might amuse you. I have fastened the solution on to the back with a bit of stamp paper, and if you cant do the puzzle, you will have to look at the answer. I would like to have heard the lecture about the Queen of Sheba’s country. I have got very interested in Africa lately and there is something very romantic about Abyssinia.

The day before we left Ste. Maxime, we went to tea with our friends, Col and Mrs. Meade and there we met some other English people whom we found very interesting. The man was a geologist and his wife was very interested in his work too: He told us that as the French had scarcely studied the Montagnes des Maures at all from a geological point of view and he had come down to investigate them. He told us that once they were part of a chain of very high mountains, one of the oldest chains of mountains in the world, which ran right up through France into Cornwall. Before there were any Alps this great chain of mountains were in existance – Tremenous upheavals had taken place and the granite of which the old mountains were made, was so crushed and squeezed, that its nature became quite changed and it turned into a yellowish flaky friable stone which is what we see now everywhere in the mountagnes des Maures, with occasional seams or boulders of ordinary granite still remaining here and there. We did so wish we had met these people before, because they were exploring the country on foot and were greatly hampered by the lack of a car with which to get into the mountains – We could so easily have taken them and it would have been interesting to hear more about the rocks and stones.

I am very sleepy this evening because we actually went to see a film last night and did not get home till past mid-night and I was woken very early this morning by the noise of traffic in the street and the sound of the bugle in the barracks next-door – Best love and lots of kisses, darling – and please note this address for your next letter:- Poste Restante – Orleans – Loiret. France


P.S. I think Miss Capstick is going to let me have you home on Sat 2nd or Sun 3rd so that you can have a few days with Dad before he leaves for India.

From LJT to Annette

March 16th 1932

My darling Annette

Thank you very much for your most interesting letter, which was safely waiting for me when we arrived here to-day. I also had a nice letter from Auntie telling me of the visit she paid you. I am so glad you had a nice day and a happy time with her. I am very sorry that I have not been able to come to see you this term, but our visit to France has been very well worth while, because it has done Dad such a lot of good.

Now about your extra pocket money; will you give the enclosed little note to Miss Capstick, asking her to give you 5/- and put it on the bill? I cant get an English postal order out here. I wrote to Miss Capstick yesterday and sent her a subscription towards the furnishing of the new Common Room. Its nice to hear that it and the swimming bath are both to be ready for use next term. They much be working very quickly at them.

During the last few days we have passed very definitely out of the “South” and since leaving Paray-le-Monial the country has been more like typical English country than we have seen in any other part of France. The houses and cottages have been more English looking too. To-day week we shall be at Calais and that is where I think you had better send your next letters –
Poste Restante
France – after that we shall be at Highways till March 29th and then with Uncle Bous till the 2nd on which day I think you are coming home. I am getting so excited about seeing you again!

Its very interesting hearing about your Guide Work and you seem to do interesting things. I have never arranged a tracking test. Perhaps you will be able to give me a lesson in the holidays of how to do it.

My difficulty in writing letters at the moment is not that I have no news to give you, but that I have so much. To describe the things that we have seen since I wrote last week would take pages and pages – and I can only just mention a few things. If you look at your map you will see that from Avignon we drove up the valley of the Rhome through Valence to Lyons. Lyons is the second largest town in France – but we did not find driving through it at all bothersome, as we were able to follow a beautiful wide road along the bank of the river the whole way – From Lyons we went in a north easterly direction to Bourg, where, as I think I told you on my post-card, we saw a very lovely church and marvellous tombs. The weather was fine but cold, but has gradually got warmer, till to-day it has been almost summer-like. We are very lucky to have it so fine and warm.

From Bourg we turned westward, crossed some very pretty hills and spent a night at Paray-le-Monial – quite a small place with a splendid “Romanesque” church. From there we had a very pretty drive, mostly on the banks of the Loire to Nevers, which we reached by lunch time on Sunday. There also there is a fine Cathedral and old church as well as interesting old houses and towers.

On Monday we drove very fast along a straight straight road to Bourges, where we stayed two nights, so as to have plenty of time to see the splendid cathedral – which is one of the best in France and which has wonderful stained glass windows, most of them dating from the XIII century, when the coloured glass windows which they made were like jewels and had a beauty which modern art has never been able to copy. I hope I shall be able to take you to see some stained glass windows some day and explain the different periods. Sad to say our old English churches and cathedrals had most of their beautiful glass smashed by Cromwells soldiers. Dad and I went down into the crypt under the cathedral at Bourges and also climbed up 397 steps to the top of one of the towers from which we had a wonderful view.

There are a lot of interesting old houses in Bourges which was at one time a very important town. In fact it was actually being used as the capital of France for a few years, before Joan of Arc, roused the king and the army to drive out the British. We went over a really wonderful old house which was built by a wealthy merchant “Jaques Coeur”, who became Treasurer of France under Charles XII, to whom he lent a great deal of money to enable him to carry on the war against the English, as Joan of Arc urged him to do. I have bought a lot of post-cards of the house, which I think will interest you.

This town of Orleans, though its associations are historically very interesting, is, in itself rather dull. It is a busy modern town, with just a few old houses left – and the cathedral is modern and not very good. Do you remember that it was to the relief of Orleans that Joan of Arc led the French armies? It was here that the French began to regain all they had lost to the English. Joan of Arc is a great cult here. There is a fine old house still standing, where she is supposed to have lodged after the French entered Orleans. There are lots of statues to her in the town and streets and hotels and cafés are called after here in large numbers!

Now I am not going on to another sheet – for I have Richard and Rosemary to write to this evening and Auntie as well, if I have time. Its thrilling to think there are only two more weeks for writing letters to you –

Best love, my darling –

from Mummy

From LJT to Annette

March 23rd ‘32

My darling Annette

This is the last letter I shall write you from France and I shall not post it till we get to Dover to-morrow. I am so excited at getting home again and feeling that I am so much nearer you. Before I forget it, would you ask Miss Capstick what train she will send you up to London by on Saturday 2nd and whether it arrives at London Bridge or Charing Cross, so that I may know just where to meet you and what time. I did ask that your boxes might be sent in advance, but I am telling you too – in case there is any doubt about it. It is lovely to think that I shall see you in a little over a weeks time. We are to be allowed to fetch Richard on Saturday 26th.

Now to answer the questions in your nice letter which was waiting for me here. I should love you to go to the Guide camp at the begining of the summer holidays. I shall have gone back to India and you will be spending the holidays at Highways with Auntie – so I don’t suppose there will be any reason to prevent you going. I did not get your postcard about the Gym Display at the Albert Hall on May 21st. You may certainly go if you like to.

School seems to be full of events and excitements for you just now and it sounds as if you are going to have a very nice Easter. It was not any use my sending anything in the way of Easter Eggs to you from France, because of the duty on such things going into England, so I have written to Mrs. Dunn and asked her to choose something for me and have then sent to you and Rosemary. I don’t know whether they will both be in your parcel or in seperate ones – but you will see when they arrive. I hope she will choose something that you will like.

I suppose my last letter must have been written to you from Orlèans and a post-card from Beauvais. We have seen so much in this week that Orleans seems a long way away. Since then we have seen beautiful and adorable Chartres, about which I think I told you something on my post-card – and Beauvais, which was to be the biggest Cathedral in France – but which was never finished. Its huge and lovely choir and transepts are there – but no nave. yesterday we were at Amiens – one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in France. it would be even more lovely than Chartres if it still had the glorious XII and XIII century stained glass windows like Chartres has – but alas! scarcely any of them remain and it loses a great deal of beauty by not having those splendid jewel-like stretches of colour all round its walls.

At Amiens we were very very interested in XV and XVI century stone carved groups, painted and gilded; the figures being about 2 ft high – telling different stories. One series, and it was the best – was the story of Saint Firmin, who had a great deal to do with Amiens. Another series illustrated the life of John the Baptist. There was a big group showing Christ turning the money changers out of the Temple and some others I did not have time to look at. I do wish you could have seen them! They were so full of life and so simple and direct. The people were all dressed in the clothes of the period in which the carving was done. St Firmin was begun in the year 1499 – when (unless my memory deceives me, Henry VII was on the throne of England) and the scenes seemed like a bit of history come to life. There are splendid carved wooden choir stalls too, at Amiens – hundreds and hundreds of little figures and groups representing stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament, told in great detail.

In the midst of all these things, taking one back hundreds of years, it was quite startling to see memorials to the English, American, Australian and New Zealand soldiers, who lost their lives defending Amiens from the Germans in the Great War. We were reminded of the War too at Beauvais, because it was in the Town Hall there that the Generals of the different Armies, who were allied to fight against the Germans, made over the supreme command to the French General - General Foche. it was the event which many people think was the turning point of the War. Yesterday we drove through a little town called Montreuil which was the English headquarters when Sir Douglas Haig was Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France. It is the quietest looking little French Town in the world, with narrow cobbled streets and a big market square, with a statue of Haig in the middle of it. Its hard to realize what a busy and important spot it was in the early part of the war, when it was, so to speak, the brain of the great body of British troops. Do you even know the names of these great men, who were so constantly in our thoughts during the few years before you were born? It is good to remember them as they were the men who did so much to save Europe from German militarism.

The weather continued kind till 2 o’clock yesterday, when we were almost at Calais, but it has been raining ever since. it has not mattered much. We have been arranging about shipping the car – and we have both had our hair cut and shampooed – and now I have a nice quiet time for writing letters. I am glad you had a nice lecture on ‘Joan of Arc’. I shall be able to tell you something of Orleans and Rouen, with which she had much to do.

Best love. Mum

Please write on Sunday to Highways