Part Two 11 Marriage and the Scum of the World
“Never in Egypt… The very way in which the scum of the world gather here is depressing…” Len to her parents, letter of 12 December, 1948.
2 December, 1948. Thursday.
In my last letter I was cold because that’s the way you like it, in this letter I’m still going to be cold, only this time voluntarily. I’m hurt and annoyed because I haven’t heard from you yet. But seriously, I know you’ve got quite a few appointments and not a little entertaining to do, but please try to send me a postcard.
At the moment we are surrounded by a lot of “green zombies” just in from the U.K. who are enraptured by the Middle East.
I’m wondering if the fact of your first letter arriving so soon, wasn’t just a lucky break. Anyway I hope you get this before Monday, otherwise you may think I’ve gone. But still we understood you’d come unless you heard that I’ve left.
Tony is getting really worried over our prolonged stay as he has booked a room at Torquay for himself and wife for Christmas, as a sort of second honeymoon & the prospect of Christmas here for him isn’t a happy one.
Well it’s getting on for half past seven now & it’s well past my bed time so Cheers for now.
All my love,
p.s. Please write soon.
4 December, 1948. Saturday. 156 Transit Camp.
My Darling Helen,
I have just received your Monday’s letter & consequently I’m a very happy person. I was beginning to think you’d given me the brush off.
I’ll book you in at the Leave Camp today for Monday.
Look sweetheart I hope you don’t think I take your coming and going for granted or as a matter of course. When you first came I was too staggered at the fact you’d bothered to come and see me. I’m so looking forward to seeing you on Monday. I won’t wire you or go to the B.S.D.M. character unless I’m leaving before Monday as we arranged, although I’m more than confident that I won’t be leaving for at least a couple of days after. I must confess I took your tip and moved on to a cabaret last night with Tony and another character. I can’t say I was impressed by the Sensuous Dance. It got somewhat embarrassing because one of the dancers came over to our table & kissed the character we were with.
Well Dearest I’ll close now. I’m longing for Monday.
All my love,
Noel. xx xxx xx.
p.s. Thank you very much for the Photographs.
4 December 1948.
c/o Det. APO S.299
Tired Saturday, 11ish in the morning.
People My Own,
Yes almost asleep in the office as I’m just back from a ‘do’ at TEK.
On Wednesday I went to dinner with Mark at the Metropolitan. Must tell you of the food, though it’s mean with your having so little. Before dinner we’d sherry, then: we’d two plates each of asparagus soup, then had some very tender cutlets & lots of mushrooms with spinach & lettuce dipped in caper sauce. Next came pêche melba with ice cream, followed by Turkish coffee & a Dutch liqueur – it was perfect. But I really felt uncomfortable with eating so much. I can’t eat half the amount I used to knock back with ease.
Thursday was full of excitement as we tried to foist off the landlord from taking this month’s rent – which in effect is our deposit returned to us – & also trying to get a reply from Jack as to whether he’s coming into the flat & giving us key money for doing so – this has all been postponed till to-day – in fact I must ring him in a minute (1) – the other tenant the landlord has in mind is someone Security are trying to run out of the country! Apart from the cash, if J & his pal (also a branch of Sec.) come in, I’d be able to go on living in the flat. (2) Will keep you abreast of all events.
Yesterday I went to TEK with a crowd of girls by car & came back early this morning. Had a grand evening of dancing & ‘social’ including blow football which was most energetic. Saw Noel’s C.O. there who said N. may still be in Egypt at Christmas & if so I’m to come up to their mess for the Festive Season.
Mailbags of love,
p.s. Had two letters from Noel from 156 Port Fouad.
1. Using the office phone, in office time – a classic practice.
2. “Sec.” Security.
9 December, 1948. 156 Transit Camp.
For once I am at a loss to adequately express myself on paper. I’m missing you more each moment, and hoping you miss me a lot too.
I hope you arrived back safely. I must confess I feel guilty at being the cause of you jeopardising your job, but on the other hand I’m more than glad you did.
I’m feeling very depressed today for obvious reasons. My one desire now is to go home & get it over with & then wait for you. Two months seems an awful long time.
I’m wondering if I’ll get a letter from you before I leave. I think I asked you to write to the U.K. I’m wishing I hadn’t now.
Please write & tell me how you get on over your flat & whether you get fixed up somewhere else. I hope Esme’s out of hospital now. What exactly was the matter with her. I will try & get through on Saturday, I think I’ll be on the Orbita but with luck I shouldn’t embark before Sunday. (1)
Well dearest I’ll close now please come soon & redeem your legs. (2)
All my love,
Noel. xxx xx
p.s I love you.
1. The ss Orbita, built in 1914 and scrapped in 1950. Used as a troopship throughout the Second World War. The appalling conditions on board in 1943 are online at the BBC WW2 People’s War ‘site. They were recorded by an 18 year old RAF airman in his diary at the time.
2. Coffee table legs.
10 December, 1948.
c/o Det. APO S.299
Eternal Blue Sky,
My Dearest Darlings,
Here marks the spot where I step out of chronological order to tell you something that warrants it.
I was down at Port Said to see Noel – pretending to be sick from work – for two days & we’d a wonderful time. Actually, we did nothing really, but were with each other which was all we wanted. He asked me to marry him on Tuesday 7th and I said “Yes”. The whole thing’s happened so quickly I can’t believe it myself yet, but as always I want to keep you abreast of events, so feel it’s better to give you a shock now than later. Noel’s taken the coffee table legs, but doesn’t want to go to Glasgow until I come back – he’s nailed me down to saying that will be March. His idea is to get into agricultural college then on to fruit farm in Canada, or if he can’t get into ag. coll. to dash across & have a shooft at Canada, then come back & meet me in March.
At first I thought it a bit much him not going to see you in Glasgow, but I can assure it’s only his diffidence that’s stopping him. However, he’s phoning me from Port Said this Saturday, so I’ll try to do some persuading. I do love him & I hope you will too. He’s got a super sense of humour, and lovely light touch & loves me an awful lot. I’ve no rhyme or reason for loving Noel, I mean if anything he’s an Empire Builder, but he’s definitely the person I want to live with for life.
Esme last Saturday was going straight to Fayid from TEK (where we’d been on Friday) but I came back to Cairo. I saw the agent – the fate of the flat is still not settled, by the way, and I went on afterwards to Zamalek calling at Jack’s office en route. On Sunday Esme came back at night & Jack came round & we all nattered together. I’ll tell you the full story of the flat when I come home – it would lose half it’s value if written down, but I may say the Brig. whom Jack is still running out of the country is still after the flat as well.
Monday after work I got the 2.45 for P.S. – remember my hustling you onto it Mum? As I said, I had two super days there with Noel. We were both at Port Fouad – he at 156 Transit Camp & I at the Married Families’ & Officers’ Leave Camp. I phoned Esme on the Tuesday & discovered she was going into hospital (!) but would continue to cover up for me. We knew something would come up we hadn’t thought of!
Wednesday night I came back to Cairo. Met some Italians on the train – a bloke & his mother. Invited me to his wedding in P.S. this week-end. If I’d the cash I’d have gone again. It would have been nice to have gone with Noel. Esme had sent Mark to me, so I got safely back to the flat and her note of instructions. I went to see her in hospital yesterday. Iris came to see me and we’d tea, and Jack came too. He’s sacked Abdul for us this morning to cut down on expenses. (1)
Must go now – sorry for such a scrappy letter, but I’ve a quiet week-end coming up – I think I shall write a screed then.
Every bit of love,
1. It is not clear if Abdul is an additional servant within the flat.
As will be realised, letters from Mum during this period, and until mid-January 1949, are not in this collection.
12 December, 1948.
Sullen Sky. (Yes, we’ve had some rain here recently)
My own dearly Beloveds,
Have just realised that last letter of mine was a bit sudden to put it mildly, but remember it’s only December now & we’ll have lots of time to talk about it in letters. I’m really dying to get home to have a good natter with you both – there’s so much I’ve got to say about everything.
At the moment I feel I just want a bit of grass & some chickens in the back of beyond to let me get my breath for a few years. If Esme gets up north to see you as she very much wants to do, she’ll tell you half the story. I know from your letter (1) you don’t ‘feel’ for her, but she’s O.K. really & most warm hearted – so if you could put her up for a few days & tell her about hostelling both she & I would be most grateful.
It’s lovely, for I’m alone in the flat – and you know how I like being alone in houses – & as it’s a Sunday morning it just makes it super. My energy, or rather mood for doing jobs of work dwindles during the day. In the morning I want to tackle everything, in the afternoon I’m quite keen & as soon as darkness falls (5 pm. here now) I have to stir myself to do anything.
I’ve finished boiling some of my own clothes & have washed my stockings. Now I’ve got Esme’s hankies on the boil to take into her later. She’s still in the Anglo-American. Yesterday she went to the operating theatre to have her sinuses drained. I propose walking over there in a shwoya – must remember to take in that sheet before I go, ‘cos it looks like rain – visiting her, then going to Gezira for lunch & walking back to get here before 2 p.m., as Noel didn’t phone yesterday & I said in my last letter if I didn’t hear on the Saturday I’d wait in from 2 p.m. onwards on the Sunday.
Didn’t get back here till 4.30, but am not unduly worried about missing the call as I somehow feel Noel went on the “Lancashire” bound appropriately (as the bloke who told me said) for Liverpool. (2) It sailed on Friday & would thus obviate my having a call at all if N. were on it.
Thank you so much for the little sequins on black net. I haven’t determined yet whether to use them on the back of my gloves or on something else. They’re fun and thanks a lot. Thanks too for the Silvikrin shampoos – they certainly are super.
Before I forget, with Esme going, either I buy her out of half the electric kettle, or someone (presumably the next tenants of the flat) buys us both out. Can you tell me if you think it a good thing for me to do the buying out, which would mean paying £1 for her half, or to receive £1 for my half from someone else. It’s a Swan Brand kettle & I don’t know how scarce they are at home. (3) With her being in hosp. E’s sailing’s probably being delayed to the “Maloja” on the 3rd Jan now, but if other people are coming in the flat, I’ll want to know what to do. Please reply to this straight away.
I don’t agree with you at all about the ‘house of dreams built upon the sand’. It was the tenor of your letters being like this early in the year which made me feel I had to have a leave at home to have a shooft was necessary. I’m very glad I had the leave, but only found U.K. as I had expected. I admit I had all the joys of being free all day & enough cash to be gay with it, but on the other hand, being only a visitor I didn’t reap the advantages of being of the community. Is it just the Scottish winter which makes you so keen on coming away Mum? Living abroad, perhaps yes, but never in Egypt, the very way in which the scum of the world gather here is depressing in itself.
No, to answer your question, Esme is not a Jewess. She has some Spanish blood way back, which may account for it. I always thought she had a jewish look myself – however, her eyes are blue & I think in details she looks less of a Jew than in snaps.
Can’t get over the story of Hutch & the quick mouse. I miss H, so tell her to keep herself well licked for me.
Appropos of the weather, can’t you take your holiday in the winter & go to the south of France or to Italy? I probably sound horribly impractical saying that, but surely Daddy could get a week or rather a fortnight off work on health grounds. How’s your circulation Dad? I realise you’re being most fashionable, but I’d rather you left the complaint to His Majesty. (4)
At the moment I’m sitting in the flat with my feet up. I’m wearing my blue woolen frock & also my red woolen dressing gown & over my feet is my matching blue jacket, for though there’s a fireplace we’ve nothing to burn. That’s not strictly true, for the ironing board Ned made was a fiasco & it’s out on the balcony waiting to be chopped up. We’re saving it for a special occasion – but what, we don’t yet know.
In view of the warmth, are you getting the phone put in the living room, or as is usual, in the hall? I think phones by the bed are super, but then that’s only suitable for a flat or bungalow, otherwise one would have to race medly upstairs before they stopped ringing.
Thanks for Stanley’s letter – must drop him a line. (5)
Here’s “PV”. (6)
Thanks so much for despatching the parcel. I understand about your names being in full on the cable – it’s been a requirement of the Eg. Govt. since the start of the war with Pal. (7) Remind me to send you Esme’s & my parody of “Doing What Comes Naturally”. It’s called “Doing the Para-Military”.
Lots of love to the Best People.
p.s. Picturing you at Blairgowrie – do go with or without J. (8)
p.p.s Fancy you listening to Gerald Shaw. We think he & his organ are ghastly here – it always pops up and has colours whirling all over it , just as you’re enjoying a quiet evening at the pictures. (9)
p.p.p.s One reason you ought to see the Findlays is that I gave them a bottle of Haig’s to take to you!
1. This letter is not in the collection.
2. Change of boat. Noel was originally to sail on the ss Orbita.
3. Electric kettles were still a luxury item in Britain of the 1940s.
4. King George 6th had circulation problems in his legs, caused by heavy smoking. He was to die of smoking related causes in 1952 at the age of 56.
5. Stan was the brother of Len’s friend from the SE Essex Tech College days, Joan Garnett.
6. The flat she is sharing with Esme. P.V. will be the abbreviation of the flat name.
7. A birthday telegram for Len from her Mum and Dad on her 23rd birthday, on November 29.
8. J. – Joan Brandley. It seems Mum and Dad were considering going to Blairgowrie for New Year. Blaigowrie in Perthshire is in the heart of the raspberry growing area.
9. Well known British Wurlitzer organist who continued playing into the 1970s. He must have had a short residency in Cairo as he usually played in Britain.
16 December, 1948.
Weak Winter Sunlight.
My very Rearest & Dearest People, (1)
Must tell you I was looking through an Illustrated London News at Gezira the other day & saw that Sir Iain Colquhoun was dead – did you know? (2) He was such a personality of Loch Lomondside it seems funny to think he’s gone.
Haven’t told you my chronicle since last Friday. I came back from the hospital – as I thought to a quiet evening, but Pen was in on his way back from Singapore & rang me. He took me to the BOAC mess in town & I met the rest of his crew. Can’t understand men working in something like BOAC – they’re glorified bus drivers & only seem to spend their money in bars. Pen took me home & became quite boorish when I told him I only wanted him as a friend and he went off in a huff. I’ve only stayed friends with him all this time to get my coffee table legs flown home & as Noel’s now taken those, I was hoping Pen would take the brass top, but “twas in vain.”
Saturday Stuart Brigstock rang me. He’s now a RAF sergeant but was one of the two LACs (3) who knew Betty Baxter, who came to Cairo to see us in June. He’s a Leicester lad, so if I go down to the Reids for a few days, must pop in to see him. He’d put in an application for early release to study a week before & was flying home that afternoon – if only I’d seen him instead of Pen the night before I might have got the brass top home. Both had rung when I’d been at the hospital on the Friday, but only Pen rang back later.
I’d no phone call from Noel, so expect to hear he embarked before Saturday. I’d masses of other phone calls later in the day. One was funny, from one of the rogues Jack knows in his capacity as Security Officer. Jack had given my number as where he (J) would be as he didn’t want this bloke to contact him. This bod rang me twice & during a talk on how US (4) cash was (& I don’t mean American) said “I don’t want to be a multi-millionaire” – so obviously thinking “Just a millionaire”. I refused all calls to go out & also one from the Brig. next door asking me over to their flat for a drink – talk about “Won’t you come into my parlour…” He and Jack are fighting out the matter of tenancy this morning.
Sunday I chored, went to the hospital & Gezira and had a quiet day at home afterwards.
Monday I sat in the British Institute talking and writing & went on to an amusing American night at the Guild.
Tuesday I went straight to the hospital & seemed to see half of Cairo there. Then I wrote letters at Gezira before going on to a rehearsal.
Yesterday the Brig. tried to woo me again. I then SOS’d Jack and there was a pitched battle between them the next morning.
Must tell you, Iris told me that the best beauticians here told her to use solid sour milk as a cleanser before she washed her face. I started yesterday & am saving the rest of my Lizzie Arden. (5) This sour milk doesn’t half take the dirt out & makes your face feel great.
Am dying to hear what you wore & how this business of jurying went – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Yes, thank you, I received the pictures of Aunt B. & Co. Sorry for not mentioning it. I thought I had.
About Noel, he was christened Arnold Duncan, his fellow officers called him Charlie & his people & I call him Noel – clear? (6)
The nougat I hope to get home with somebody, or through Jack or someone else with Bag facilities by post. (7)
I like your silliness about the birthday card. (8) That’s what I like about Noel – he can be so silly, yet is most practical when necessary.
Christmastides of love to you,
1. As spelt. Len’s pun.
2. Sir Iain Colquhoun, clan chief and 7th Baronet of Luss and Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire. He had died on 12 November, 1948, aged 61.
3. LACs: Leading Aircraftmen.
4. US: Usless.
5. Lizzie Arden: Elizabeth Arden beauty products.
6. Doubtful if Mum has replied yet to Len announcing she and Noel are to marry. The letters Len has sent since telling Mum are consecutively numbered, so no missing letter, where we would have read her reaction to Mum’s reaction.
7. Bag: Diplomatic Bag.
8. Len’s birthday card from Mum and Dad. Not in this collection.
20 December, 1948.
Start of Christmas Week in the sunshine.
Most dearly Beloveds,
As usual I’m receiving masses of Christmas Cards from lots of people to whom I’ve sent none & vica versa. It’s hectic.
Last Wednesday & Thursday were quiet, all that happened was that Jack came to lunch Wed. – the day Esme came out of hospital & Esme had a trunk call on Thurs.
Friday I went straight from work to French and then went into town to meet Esme & Morris & we all went down to the Mousky. I got some super bargains & so did Esme. My purchases included a Xmas present for you Dad – no description, surprise – and a flap over skin bag for 17/- and a short haired bag for 6/- – liquidation stock. I also got for Noel’s sister a set of silver bracelet, earrings & ring inlaid with turquoises – not real, but you know I like the stones in the blue bead necklaces. Got myself a ring of the set. They were only £2. 8s for the set of three. I also got a gong. Only 35 Pt. It has an Arabic design – the Koran, as specified by you Mum.
We came back to have something to eat at Groppi’s, then all three of us went on to a pre-Xmas party at the English Prep. School at Maadi. It was grand fun – we had modern & country dancing, including the Dashing White Sergeant. I also met an awfully nice Swiss girl, so it was a good evening
On Sunday Jack rang and he offered us two ducks which I went round to collect. I also got a letter from him to the Brig. (the rogue) who’s trying to get the flat & this made the Brig. most irate & rude, so Jack’s s’posed to be coming to-day to pour oil on the water with the Brig. & fix tenancy for himself (J) with the agent.
Afterwards Esme & I walked to Gezira where we had to contend with more rudeness in the shape of Bill Barrett wanting cash for the sheets left in the flat by them when they left. I personally have only used one of their sheets about twice, when laundering my own, so don’t intend to pay a sou, neither does Esme, who says no contract was entered into, and the main users, the Hurleys are in England. If only we can hold the fort till Esme sails I can quite truly disclaim all responsibility.
From there we went to the Wiltshires who were most cordial & invited us over there for a Xmas Day Dinner – we’re practically high and dry for the whole Xmas period – angling for, instead of turning down invitations – so it was nice to be asked so warmly & it’s grand to have Xmas Dinner with a family. Mrs W. hasn’t any children & I do feel sorry for her – d’you think you could possibly write her a note Mum, thanking her having me over there at Christmas? Thanks.
Business – is it possible for you to get a cheque for £15.7s.6d. to Mr J.Owen at Barclays Bank, Ltd., Grange Road West, Birkenhead? If any difficulties tell me! (1)
More tomorrow. As always, all my love, Len
1. It will be remembered that Len is getting her wages sent to her home address in Yoker and that Mum is paying them into a savings or bank account, and that in Cairo she is living off her Foreign Service Allowance (FSA). The cheque mentioned is presumed to be repayment for the loan of money she had asked Jack for, mentioned in her letter of 30 November, 1948.
24 December, 1948.
Christmas Feeling o’er us stealing.
Hail, Loved Ones,
Just back from a brandy (on an empty stomach) from one of the numerous ‘dos’ going on in the office this morning. Last night Esme and I stayed up till 3 a.m. checking the contents of the flat with the inventory – breaking the news to ourselves what wasn’t ‘invented’. I hope to get an ecru tea cloth (yes, motifs and good work) out of it amongst other things.
Just had the disheartening news that the APO has been closed, so shall just go on writing this letter and endeavour to post it from the Canal Zone, rather than wait till next Wednesday (it’s now Friday) when we start work.
Missing you two and Noel horribly, but there’s lots to do here – contrary to first expectations – & I must try and put my mind on it. Lovely to hear your juring experiences. (1) Can’t get over your being four days running (!) at court – it must have been a great experience.
We’re allowed to send sweets between 15th Dec and 15th Jan, so must send to you – one package ‘per person’ only though. Trudi hasn’t included crystallised cherries in her parcel as I asked her, but has everything else.
My new lampshade is getting a number of signatures on it and as I hope to get quite an international representation and it’s a better shade than Esme’s, I can’t complain.
I forgot to say, haven’t heard you mention the MoS cheque of late, is it coming in all right every month?
I love the long straight skirts with splits at the bottom, and thought of having one half cream oatmeal and half chocolate – you know, longways, then a little chocolate jacket fitting and with a very short bit after the waist and with cream oatmeal introduced somewhere on it – Yes?
So glad the Cyprus parcels arrived safely and at such an appropriate time. I know those tins of Australian cheese, no wonder you polished it off quickly.
You are so good to be so super about Noel and me. After I sent the letter, I thought it was a bit much, but just wanted to let you know. Don’t know why his family call him Noel, for his birthday’s on 18th November.
About your present Dad, it’s to do with what you’re giving up – yes, smoking. But listen. it’s a tobacco jar, for pipe tobacco, for you know a pipe’s much better to smoke if you have to smoke occasionally, than cigarettes as one doesn’t inhale pipe smoke. Esme’s bringing it with her, but refused to bring your stockings Mum as she has so much to carry already. Jack’s caused us such a lot of trouble that I’m hoping he’ll try to earn our forgiveness over the flat by taking the top of the coffee table home, as well as your stockings Mum.
Noel’s surname is King – you know, the person I dashed off to see at P.S. in response to his frantic letter.
The night before last Jack phoned me to say my parcel had arrived and he sent it round to me at the office, yesterday morning – can you believe how quickly it came – 25 Nov to 22 Dec, and you know how long ‘bag’ parcels generally take. (2) It’s a dream. The girls had me open it in front of them and as each item and rhyme came up. (3)
They said “Oh, how she must love you” – it was almost embarrassing, but you know I appreciate it tremendously and as for the birthday present itself, I was terrifically thrilled. It’s so exactly what I need and will look lovely with the ballerina. Looking forward to doing the yellow dress, but at Xmas would like to wear my ballerina, as so far, I’ve only worn it for half an hour at our party. This week’s been hectic and the thought of packing to go away is wearing with emphasis.
Monday we’d lunch out at an Egyptian restaurant with an Egyptian from the Embassy and then went back to the flat, when the agent came, and the question of who’s getting it was settled once and for all, even though Jack was there, cheeky as usual and almost put his spoke in the wheel. In fact he may not get the telephone bill till March re-paid us by the next tenant through him. All this business is too complicated to put in a letter, but Esme will tell you the whole story.
At night we went to dinner at the Wiltshires, but they’d thrown out the ducks which J. had given me and which they’d offered to cook, and fed on another duck they’d bought. After which we went to the CTG and had great fun with guessing games in mime. I had to do ‘Crime Passionel’ and ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’ which were both quite energetic.
Tuesday I went from work to French – where Vera told me I was fluent, then to Gezira for a bath (no hot water in the flat) and back to PV where Morris came to tea. Then I went to Cook’s with Esme to arrange (as per my idea) for her to get off at Marseilles and meet her sister of the CCG in Germany in Paris. (4)
Evening at P.V.
Back from the office to-day & went to bed to catch up on sleep. Then I got up and Esme started nagging me about going out & I can’t stand nagging. She was in a hurry & flapping about getting to Cooks, so I suggested she phoned them. She did this and learnt they were closing shortly after, so she just went out of the door of the flat and hasn’t been seen since. As we’ve got an international Xmas on, starting with dinner at the Bougrains to-night & I’ve very little money, I’m most annoyed. You see, with another you can tram & walk about the streets, but now I think I’d better get a taxi as the Bougrain’s street isn’t a main one & anyway I don’t like the fireworks they throw under your feet in Cairo at Xmas. To make matters worse I rang the duty officer at the office & learnt he’d just left & he could have given me a lift into town by car. Thanks for letting me moan.
Back to the earlier chronicle – Tuesday and going to Cooks with Esme, afterwards we called for Helga, the Swiss girl I’d met the Friday before at Maadi & all tootled along to an Embassy dance which was quite enjoyable & at which I jitterbugged as I haven’t for years. (5)
Wednesday we’d Trudi to lunch – don’t wonder, only spinach & scrambled egg cooked by me. Then the Pool came to tea. (6) We provided tea, milk, sugar & lemon & they the grubstakes – plain and fancy pastries.
Then we chored & phoned Fanara & they seemed most keen on us coming to the evening dress do on Sunday. Hence our international Xmas – French people to-night, Americans to-morrow (we propose going off on our own to Suez later tomorrow) & English on Sunday.
Yesterday I walked over to the Swedish legation on the other side of the river, and had to walk round that awful part where we had our Great Fright Mum, as the road across the island was closed. (7) I had with me a letter from Steena, Swedish girlfriend which Ulmar was sending through their ‘bag’ & my lampshade to be signed – all as per phone call with him – he’d said ‘Come any day’. Lo and behold he was off sick, so Ieft the letter at the legation and had to cart my lampshade all the way back to the Garden City on foot in the gathering dusk, after my vision of super French coffee and a lift home.
Last night we went to the recital at CDG and learnt one of the people there may be getting an exit visa & he’s thrilled beyond measure as he wants to study medicine in U.K. He also said ESR (8) may have a small part in a radio play for me shortly, so here’s hoping.
I’m having to cut this short, as much as I hate to, as the French Christmas Dinner calls. A wonderful New Year to you my poppets – insh Allah we’ll think of one another.
Christmastides of love & kissses from Len. xxxxx
p.s. The letter I am enclosing is rather interesting & I’d like you to keep it for my scrapbook please.
1. Jury service. “Juring” – Len’s spelling.
2. “Jack sent the parcel round…” The parcel has been sent by Diplomatic Bag to the British Embassy in Cairo.
3. “Rhyme came up.” Len’s Mum would often attach a small piece of paper to an item with a verse relating to it.
Len on Luneberg Heath, looking towards the Russian occupied zone, summer 1949.
4. CCG: The Control Commission for Germany. Germany was divided into four occupied zones after the defeat of the Nazi regime in May 1945. The British zone extended to Flensburg and the Danish border in the north, and covered cities such as Dortmund, Essen, Dusseldorf and Cologne to the south. Bremen, Hannover and Hamburg were in the centre, with Lüneberg Heath one of the areas butting onto the USSR occupied zone to the east. The United States and France occupied and administered the other zones to the south in Germany.
5. An early form of rock n roll movements, with more scope and more vigour. It developed in the US in the late 1930s. Many dancehalls in the UK banned it when it first arrived in Britain from America with the U.S. D Day troops in 1944.
6. “The pool”. Len’s typing pool.
7. The Swedish Legation was across the Nile, to the east of Gezira island.
8. ESR. Possibly Egyptian Services Radio (Forces Radio), which tends to be confirmed in references in Part Three.
_ _ _ _ _
“Blue Sky over” California.
7 November, 1948.
I was glad to hear that your trip to the U.K. was such a success. We too were caught by the “sciopero” in Italy. (1) As you will remember, we left Cavi di Lavagna at about 1 P.M. on July 14. (2) We arrived in Pisa at 7 P.M. and started toward the “Leaning Tower”. After walking a few blocks, we noticed that all the shops, theatres, restaurants & bars were closed and that the streets were full of well-dressed, expectant looking people. When we reached the bridge through the centre of town we saw huge groups of police & ambulance attendants. Then we found the cause. Large posters all over the main square told the people that Togliatti had been shot & that the “sciopero” would be effective at 6 the next morning. (3)
We managed to get a dinner in the back room of a little side-street restaurant with the help of a perfect stranger who did not sympathize with the “Commies”. We ate by candle light in the middle of the hushed, frightened voices. Finally we finished, paid the bill & after the lights were extinguished we were ushered out into the dark street where we scurried back to the railroad station.
At midnight a train left “for Rome”. They told us it probably wouldn’t get through. We took a chance. After sitting up all night, we were still moving toward Rome at 6:15 so we thought our worries were over. Instead at 6:30 our train was stopped in Civitavecchia by a singing, marching mob carrying red banners. (4)
Our train was held in this little town for 1 and a half symbol days during which time we had two roles, (5) a piece of cheese full of maggots & a glass of boiled milk. The mob went through the train but fortunately we were in the 3rd class section & they didn’t bother with it.
Of course we made many new friends during this time – you should see the list of people with whom I now correspond in 7 languages & in 12 countries. That besides my school work keeps me very busy.
My latest project is playing the lead in an Italian production of “La Locandiera” by Goldini. (6)
I’m also putting a great deal of time to a study of Shakespeare this semester.
I was pleased to hear you found such a wonderful apartment in Cairo. If I ever do get down that way, I will surely let you put me up for a few days. My latest plans are to return to Switzerland next Sept. for a year at Zürich University.
1. “Sciopero” – strike.
2. Cavi di Lavagna is down the coast from the port of Genoa. This tends to confirm that Len on the outward part of her UK leave sailed to Europe, and then hitch-hiked to the French channel ports.
3. Togliatti, leader of the numerically large and politically powerful Communist Party in Italy had been shot three times by a lone assassin that day, 14 July, 1948. Critically ill in hospital the assassination attempt created momentary political turmoil in Italy, with a General Strike called for the following day. A few days later, from his hospital bed, he called for calm.
4. Civitavecchia is on the coast, north west of Rome.
5. “Roles” American spelling for the British spelling “Rolls”.
6. La Locandiera, written 1751 by Italian dramatist Carlo Goldini. This suggests Bob and Len knew each other through the Cairo Drama Guild.
_ _ _ _ _
Mum’ writing on the back of Helen’s above letter.
I keep six honest serving men
They taught me all I know
Their names are why & what & when
And how & where & who
26 December, 1948.
Lt A.D.King. R.A.S.C
c/o Grindlays Bank Ltd
59 Parliament Street
My Dearest Helen,
I arrived here a couple of days ago, complete with legs (1).
I left very suddenly on the Lancashire on the 11th instead of the 13th & that’s the reason I didn’t phone at 2 on Saturday. I hope you understand. The ship didn’t stop until it reached Liverpool. We got off at night & travelled to York for a day & I was demobbed forthwith.
The trip was pretty deadly. We ran into a gale in the Bay so I went to bed for a couple of days. (2)
The weather here is chronic, cold as hell, there’s a thick frost & fog outside at the moment. I just leap into bed, clothes and shoes on.
The first thing I did yesterday was to see if there was any mail for me at the Bank.(3) I think they’re pretty clueless as they must have sent any mail to my unit. I suppose I’m to blame really as I should have written to them. Anyway I’ve told them now.
This isn’t a very inspiring letter, because to tell you the truth I’m more than browned off, as you know I didn’t want to come home & the first day back more than confirmed my viewpoint. The only thing I want more than anything at the moment is to see you Darling.
All my love, Noel
xx xxx xxx xx
1. The coffee table legs.
2. “The Bay”. Assumed to be the Bay of Biscay.
3. This is Christmas Day, unless the cold is affecting his memory, and he means Christmas Eve.
30 December 1948.
Almost the end of the year.
Nearest & Dearest,
Honestly, it’s a disgrace sending a short note like this, but feel it’s better than nothing. However I’m sure you’ll understand that between Christmas, Esme going, us winding up the flat, me packing, finding somewhere else to live & Hormanay coming up to-morrow, I’ve no time to stand & stare. That promised long epistle is coming up though. Sorry you couldn’t make Blairgowrie but hope you have a super Hogmanay & all you wish for in the New Year.
Calenders of love,
Len xx xxx
Royal Military Police, Tel El Kebir. “One we didn’t go to.” Len’s hand writing on reverse of invitation.
I January, 1949
LT. A.D.King R.A.S.C
c/o Grindlays Bank Ltd,
59 Parliament St.,
My Dearest Darling,
I have just received three letters from you & don’t quite know where to begin to answer them.
I must say I feel pretty mean for not sending you a Christmas card, but I hope you understand. I get more browned off as the days progress. I’m glad you’ve got yourself fixed up. No I won’t contact Esme till after the fifteenth & I think it was very sweet of you to go to all that trouble, please tell me how much I owe you (1). As it is I owe you more than I can ever repay. I think that’s rather poetic.
I more or less told you my impressions of the U.K. in my last letter. At the moment it is hailing outside & the blasted buses have gone on strike so one has to travel by train or walk.
Please send me this long awaited photograph of you to remind me. Send it to my Bank address, you know how it is with me, no fixed abode & sponging on various relations. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no such people as friendly relations.
Last night I went with my cousins & sister to kick the gong around as it was New Year’s Eve. We went to a very conservative hotel & they took a somewhat dim view of me starting a Conga.
I’m glad you’ve given the Brig. the brush off. I never did like the sound of that character.
I hope you’ll excuse this letter but the room is full of people doing and saying all sorts of things & it’s not exactly conducive to letter writing.
I hope this Swiss woman doesn’t turn out to be another affair like the Greek one.
They seem to be running out of Prime Ministers in Egypt, I hope you are staying away from all the trouble. (2)
I wish you wouldn’t keep reminding me of your ex friends, and the ex European tour, you make me feel a heel. However I must confess I want you all to myself, do you think that’s bad?
When are you coming home honey chile? At the moment I’m finding out the form about the College.
I’ve just realised with horror that I forgot to number my previous. Finally a quotation from a poem which I learnt the other day. “Sweet Helen made me immortal with a kiss.”
Please write soon my darling.
Noel. xxx xx
1. We have no idea what Len has done on Noel’s behalf.
2. Crises were continuing in Cairo in relationship to the defeat of the Egyptian intervention in Palestine.
The back of the envelope that Noel sent his letter in. He’d run out of space on the front for the ha’penny stamps he was using to send the letter. Plus shorthand notes written by Len.
3 January 1949.
Full of Homeward Bound Thoughts.
Most dearly Beloveds,
Yes, this morning I was told I’m almost on my way. Of course I’m fighting for the first week in Feb. from a financial aspect, but feel somehow I’ll be lucky if I get put on a boat at the end of Jan. for they wanted to know if I was prepared to go on the “Caledonia” on 9th!
Isn’t it too wonderful to be true? I’m just dying to get home to see you two again, to see Noel, to be in Britain & see the rest of my friends. I’m just marshalling all my forces for the changeover from living a full life here to devoting all my time to home-going preparations & getting my affairs in order – you know, clothes mended & the like. You see we get £30 FSA a month – a £1 a day & I’ve just put in for all my salary to be paid out here this month, but the earlier in the month I go, it means the less FSA I have & oh boy, the things I ought to buy according to my list. However I shall borrow out here & pay back in the U.K., rather than go short on stuff. It’s the carpet I’m thinking of most & I want to try to get it first.
My one horrid thought is – “Will this mean Esme coming up to see you when I’m there?” I’m sure she’d grasp at the opportunity of coming up to Scotland when I get home and was there & she’s so possessive I couldn’t bear it. I thought a shwoya hiatus would occur ‘tween her departure and mine, meaning we could have ‘drifted apart’, but as things are, it’s negligible. Perhaps you could say you’ve got to nurse a sick cousin in Sweden, but as an excuse I must admit it sounds a bit steep.
All being well I hope to play ducks & drakes with the Civil Service before I resign from it & just hope Dr.Gilston will give me nice certs. re my arch & my shoulder – just couldn’t bear the thought of typing again in Britain. (1)
Now Sweden. Daddy, you simply must get a week’s or preferably a fortnight’s leave in Feb for the three of us to pop across there – I’m fed up going places without you.
Haven’t told you of Xmas yet, have I? Xmas Eve we’d masses of parties at work, then I slept a little before getting up to write that last letter to you. Then came the Bougrain’s where we’d pork jelly, mutton, nuts & lots of things, then we went to the midnight service at the Cathedral & came back to champagne, finally getting home about 3 am.
We got up at 9 & got ready for going away, taking our bags with us to the Wiltshires where we’d a Christmas dinner, though actually it was the duck. Then we caught the bus to Suez where we saw what a ropey town it is, then as the Welfare Bus service had collapsed two MPs took us out to the YW by jeep. There we’d a quiet night singing carols & the next day hitched on to Fayid. There we went to the mess at Fanara to which we’d been invited & I wore my ballerina. It’s skin tight & by the time I’d eaten a real Xmas dinner of 9 courses with turkey and all the trimmings I didn’t dare to sneeze. We congaed, did the old fashioned waltz & the Grand Old Duke of York. E & I were rather gay, so that our original escorts took offence & other people brought us home. We got back to the Officers’ Club at 7 am, slept till 1.30 then we just played around till the evening, when we went to the O’s Club dance with the blokes who’d taken us home the previous night. We danced till 4.30 am, then this bod & I went in swimming, coming out to a big breakfast. He left & I went to bed about 6ish, getting up at 10, then E & I went to visit a BSDM bod in hospital there before bussing home. We met a bod on the bus, a Cpl in the RAF who was flying home to get married the next day. We had him up to the flat for a drink.
Wednesday E & I did a bit of the inventory of the flat, then I went out to a Swiss woman where I thought of letting a room. Came back to chore & so to bed early.
The next morning (30th) it was really funny as E & I have taken all the stuff surplus to the inventory – though I may say I forgot the eye lotion & that adorable little yellow eye bath you gave me. If you see another Mum, d’you think you could get it for me? Maybe you think it’s bad leaving something behind, but the struggle in that flat would make people forget more than an eye bath. Amongst my share of the surplus was a little ecru lace tray cloth & three solid silver – I think & hope – fish forks.
Anyway the combined surplus was lying on the table early in the morning, when the bell went. Thinking it might be the agent, we raced to & fro shoving forks & the like into dresses. By the way an old pouff was amongst the surplus & I emptied it of the stuffing & posted it on Hogmanay, though it looks now as if I’ll be there before it.
Mark and Helga came to lunch that day & he brought my Bernardelli (2) and a little rug which I must also send home as ‘personal effects’. As for the carpet proper, I’ll just have to try & borrow the money for it & use my judgement of choice of colour etc., but I’ll try not to rush it.
At night we stayed in. The next day – Hogmanay – I went to French, then visited Chayanne & did some odd jobs in Zamalek before going back to PV to pack. After we’d had a good session at this we went out to the Bougrain’s & I thought of you as the old year passed. We all sang “Old Lang Syne” & drank champagne, then later went on to the flat of one of the sons & his wife.
We eventually got back about 4, having Henri, one of the brothers as a first foot – he gave us a Libyan note each as his threshold gift. We packed till 6.15, then went to bed till 7.30, when we got up & I washed my hair before going to work.
There were more parties in the office & we finished at 12.30. Back at the flat the agent came up to take the inventory & we were kept by him & had to sign a thing saying we’d pay the electricity bill – that flat gives me the willys.
We got away at last, but so late it meant we didn’t get to TEK till it was dark, so hitched into the garrison – as no transport was there – our benefactor being Col. Kirkpatrick – a Scot. Then we danced – I wore my ballerina & Helga had a grand time. E. had gone into a tantrum when I’d suggested taking Helga, yet on the Sunday when I got back to the C of S about 6 & went to bed early, E never tried to contact me – she was at another mess. Helga & Dorothy the only two other girls had gone, but as E. was with a bod she was quite happy – so much for our “last evening together”, with all the stress she’d put on it. Her behaviour certainly was an eye opener for me.
Yesterday morning I bade her adieu & got a hitch – whilst I was waiting for the bus – with some French people, right to the door of Disposals.
About 12 or so, they broke the gladsome news to me & half of me’s been in the U.K. since. However I want to see Vera to cancel my french from now on & also went out to see Major Wallace who’s not well, but this chap told me he thought the Wallaces had to go out that evening, though Major W’s not fit, so we just had a coffee, then I came back to bed. (3)
So that’s the end of my news. I’m not going out tomorrow night so will endeavour to reply to your letters.
Write to tell me any musts in the buying of Egyptian ware or food which occur to you, though as far as I can see I’ll be practically on the boat – wonderful thought – by the time I get a reply.
Forgot to say that Trudi was offering me asylum for a few weeks till I found a room, so called at the flat yesterday to collect my trunks & moved to her.
All the love from the bit of me that’s here – the rest’s already with you darlings.
Len xxx xx
1. Although it looks as if Len is planning leaving the Ministry of Supply, and giving up being a shorthand typist we have no inkling on what she is planning to do, now that she has gone off trying to get into a drama college.
2. Likely to be a Bernardelli fashion item, rather than a Bernardelli hand gun! Helga may be be a new female companion of Marks’. Len had previously said she met Helga in Maadi, and Mark lived in Maadi too.
3. This is the Major Wallace who Len first mentioned in her letter of 18 August, 1947 where they had talked about Gruinard Bay, and who was running an Export scheme via Cyprus, besides working in insurance.
5 January 1949.
c/o Det. APO S.299,
Waiting for tea at the Solovieffs’ – Vera gone out to buy bread.
Dear Beloved Ones,
How goes it in Yoker? Cairo reporting t’ards end of tour of duty. Here’s the name of my ship “subject to confirmation & authorisation” – as they told me – the “Moreton Bay”, Commonwealth ship, tourist class of 15,000 tons, stopping at Malta & docking at London (do they mean Tilbury or really the Albert Dock?).
Isn’t it exciting, was offered a first class passage on the “Lan” – something, on the 21st, but that extra 9 days gives me almost £E.9 (FN £E) more FSA, so it’s worth staying for and tourist class should be good fun & as I came straight through coming out, I’d like to stop somewhere on the way back. (1)
What I’m wondering at the moment is will the ‘phone be installed by the time I arrive all being well approx. Feb. 10th? Wouldn’t it be super, then I could ‘phone you on arrival? Would you like to come down and meet me? At present I propose to have Noel meet me on arrival, then after spending a few hours with him, take the train north, for a week alone with you two before he comes up for a week with us all – after that my plans are fluid.
So funny to hear of Glaswegians celebrating Xmas – it certainly makes up for an exhausting time.
The electric kettle has little feet & can be used on the table, but I shall try to sell it for £E.2.50 or £E 2 & if I can’t sell it at that price, bring it home.
About Esme, as you know my approx. date of arrival now, unless you’ll be well clear of her by then, write to her to say I’m coming home, and that you two are coming to meet me & therefore can’t have her. At all costs I don’t want to see her, so if she’ll be in London at the time the boat docks, please don’t give her the name of the ship. Thanks. I’m sorry the way I always seem to wake up to what people are really like at the most awkward moments. (2)
Wonder why the Findlays brought you ‘White Horse’ instead of the ‘Haig’ I gave them? They probably drank the latter & have been searching for another bottle in replacement during the intervening months.
Trudi hasn’t got your letter yet, it seems they’re sending a lot of their mail by sea bag now, hence it’ll take ages. I sent a BOAC card to Marie Rose showing the ‘Solent’ – my type of flying boat and wishing her well. (3) Would like to visit the Reids during my leave & also the Frasers (but not so much), the only people I’m not thinking of going along to are the Ballantynes (4). Talking of that name I saw a rose twinset by Ballantynes of Peebles for £E.12! in a shop last night! (5)
Regarding despatches, I sent about 3 lbs of sugar & one or two barley sugars as “B.S’s & sugared almonds” on the 5th, as we’re not allowed to send anything in the food line but sweets. On the 6th I sent a small Persian rug Mark gave me for you Mum. Remember I told you?
Don’t want to reply to some of the bits in your letters as I feel I’d rather hold on & discuss with the two of you bahdin. Fancy it snowing so early in the winter – keep yourselves wrapped in cotton wool for me. Dying to go to the local pictures with you – so hope the Ascot, Odeon, Bank & Empire have good shows on – ‘shuffle ‘em up’ as they say when they play housey-housey out here.
This office is like Euston Station, (6) so I’ll give you news of my doings shortly. Suffice to say for the moment I’m in a broadcast play – & they say, why didn’t they know about me before, so I gently explained about the three years I’d been trying to get on E.S.B!.
All the love from the East to West.
Len. xxx xx
1. £E: the symbol for Egyptian Pounds.
2. Len’s antagonism to Esme will blow over, as will be seen in Part Three.
3. The Short Solent flying boat.
4. Len’s antagonism to the Ballantynes continues. As she refers specifically to the Ballantynes ( and not the Mackays, the surname of her Uncle Dennis) she must be referring to Phem’s Mum known as ‘Wee Maggie’, who lived close by in Scotstoun. Uncle Dennis and Phem were back in Iran. The Reids seem to have been rehabilitated in Len’s affections.
5. Ballantynes of Peebles are still manufacturers of fine woollen wear (at the time of writing, 2014)
6. Euston Station, London was the terminus for those travelling down from Glasgow Central station.
10 January, 1949.
June in January.
My own Darlings,
How are you there in the snow & melted snow – funny that it came so early this year. Just hope there’s some left for me as I’d like to do some ski-ing. D’you think one of you could find out for me when the Scottish Ski Club are having meets – I ask you to do it now ‘cos one might start shortly after I get home. Having leave in the winter I might as well turn it into an advantage.
Your letter is just in Daddy & the description of Uncle Albert made me laugh no end. I’m absolutely furious about that whisky & am only glad I hadn’t given back the sleeping bag I used on the journey over – at least I believe I hadn’t. I’ve been asked by a friend of theirs to take a pair of stockings & some ashtrays to Jean – I can’t very well refuse, but there had be a darn good explanation given as to what happened to the ‘Haig’ before they get them. You don’t think it was all a joke do you, & the ‘Haig’s’ still forthcoming? (1)
On Saturday – 8th – I sent off some books, in fact most of my books as I want to have as little as possible to put through the censor.
Haven’t told you of my doings for a while – last Tuesday I rehearsed on & off (for the ESB play) most of the day & also went with Raoul – whom I know from recitals & who got me into the play, to his house & looked at his study-cum-laboratory. He’s got a wonderful microscope & I looked at masses of diseases on slides through it.
In the evening I went to the British Embassy dance – in the same place where you came Mum – with the Wiltshires. It was one of the best I’ve been to there & the W’s were overwhelmed. Jack stopped being cheeky for a little while & introduced Mr.W. to Sir this & Lady that, and Mrs.W. got really gay in the Paul Jones. Aftrewards Mrs W. said she ‘Never knew the Bridish could be so frenly’ & it was the best ‘purty’ she’d been to & the American parties weren’t good & not at all ‘frenly’.
Thursday I’d lunch with Helga, went down the Mousky with Morris (no news of purchases, all to be a surprise), then to the Ballet with Jack & Co. – we were five and had a box – I wore my ballerina, green cape with fur collar & black elbow length gloves with Esme’s diamanté over the gloves at my wrist. Yes, the ballet itself was good – ’twas at the Opera House.
Saturday I’d rehearsal, then tea with the gang – of the play – they’re awfully nice & shopped. Then at night I went to see “The Man About the House” with one of the announcers – enjoyed it, but not enamoured.
The mail’s almost on it’s way, so must run.
Planes & planes of love to you.
Len. xxx xx
1. Len’s antagonism to the Findlays (and to Esme) may be an outcome of stress she is feeling in getting the asked for carpet for Mum. The Findlays had been good to her during her stay in Cairo. In 2011 Helen indicated that Mum had not been entirely appreciative of the carpet when she finally brought it home – that it was not large enough. That Helen’s memory of those years is not good, yet she remembers this detail is probably significant. In the 1960s Helen would visit the Findlays in Glasgow, with her children, so as with Esme, her riled feelings would blow over.
17 January 1949.
My dear Nell,
First of all forgive me for not having send you greetings for Christmas, but I was so sure I did sent you, and I’ve seen your and few others letters written for Christmas and not sent. Oh! I know you are sweet and will forgive me.
Your letter made me so happy as usual, and those pictures reminded me those lovely days we had in England and Scotland, I do thank you very much. Yes, I would like to see Scotland again, I hope it will be not next summer but the next one. I did promise and I will keep my promise, and we will be 2 couples, my husband and me, my brother in law and wife, because I just had the news that he is engaged to a nice girl. He’s a nice boy, they make a nice couple. They are going to marry end June or July, what is troubling them is the flat, cannot find anything as they like to live in town, anyway I suppose they will find something with the time. And I hope food rations will be much better.
You wrote having your brother in law, I suppose you must have had a hard time with him, (I share a brother with the name Albert and I like it). Pity he did came in winter and felt so cold, I personally felt just the job, I got crazy when I saw the snow, and the snow lasted nearly 10 days, and I was all day out, my husband brought me with the car everywhere, we stopped nice places (very high hills) and I did play with the snow like mad, throwing snow balls to my husband like children, and every place we could find more and more. We went near the sea shore and the snow was blowing terribly. Oh! I was happy, and I did enjoy every second. My nose was red, my face too, my mother in law was sorry for me (but not me!…..)
I’m glad your husband is much better, its so sad see people you love suffering, you want to do so much for them.
You certainly had a good time when Helen was home, you are lucky to have such a sweet girl like this, joy full, gay, smiling all the time, and you are right we are talking (and how!) like parrots!…. in a gay mood. And we are very sorry she is leaving, oh! I’m not selfish I know what it means for you but we are going to miss her terribly especially I do like her so much, she is very good heart, soft, understanding, in a word she is perfect, a sugar to eat. We do talk about England, and I feel English because I feel terribly upset when someone say something about it I don’t like. I do jump like a cat. And believe me they don’t talk twice with me to upset me.
With Helen it’s nice to hear her talk, she likes cooking, sewing, isn’t she nice, you have a cold and she wants you to be in bed, she is a darling. She look so radiant when she have one of your letters, she run, she read, laugh, tell us always how nice, sweet you are, loves you, and kiss and kiss that letter, she certainly loves you, its so nice to see you loving each other like this.
Its nice to see Christmas and New year, shops busy lights everywhere, crowds everywhere. I’m sure Scotland was very busy but you should see Cairo, made you feel so happy just to see such crowds, and the lights. I wish you a very happy New Year, it will start very well with Helen back to you, it’s a good start. I hope she finds a nice weather and have a lovely time.
I’m writing this letter in the office, as we have not much to do, oh!… I did like sitting near the fire writing in England, I remember myself sitting near the fire writing all my letters in the evenings. I was writing or sewing, my husband reading, my father in law reading, in a word everybody was doing something, and lovely plays or songs in the radio, 20 Questions never missed, (1) and we gave the answers before them, not always right our answers, my father in law guessed nearly always, and you can imagine, it was fun, oh! it was lovely times, I never forget, we like each other so much.
My Mother, she is so happy, because they love me so much all of them. They are so good, if it was not for my Mother, I would not so much want to stay here, England is a lovely country, my husbands family are all as sweet, and he is a dear husband. My sister and family they will go to America, sure with God help. And so if I have the opportunity to stay with her, my mother, that is what I do. We love each other so much. (2)
Well dear Nell I suppose I have to stop writing, I could go on and on, but I have to stop. I wish you and your husband so good and happy New Year, good health and prosperity, and all the best luck in the world. Helen is thrilled to see you soon. I’m staying with her in those last few exciting emotional days, you need someone to help you mentally.
Again many good wishes and many kisses, and may God bless you all.
Yours affectionately, Daisy Bulbeck.
1. 20 Questions: a popular BBC radio quiz.
2. Although Daisy’s mother may be Egyptian it is more likely she is European. Besides the British and French ‘colonies’ in Cairo there were others, including a sizeable Greek population estimated in 1940 to be 250,000. They had their own Greek language periodicals and mostly lived in Alexandria and Cairo. They were mostly the descendants of mid nineteenth century immigrants. During the Second World War there were volunteers from the Egyptian Greek community who fought with, or assisted, the Allies. It will be remembered that the Companions and their young daughter Lita were Greek.
British Stores Disposal Office, Cairo. This ‘get carpet’ letter is not in the collection. Other ‘Get carpet’ letters are.
At last, the telephone has been installed at Coldingham Avenue.
19 January, 1949.
Tel. Clydebank 2138
Wed. Like being in NOAH’s ARK in Gales of wind and rain.
Our Dearest Very Best beloved,
We are getting very excited and we see its just three weeks tomorrow till you may be setting foot once more on Britain’s shore – wonder if you’ll be singing “I see the old homestead & faces I love, I see England’s valleys & dells” or will it be “My heart is in the heart of Loch Lomond, with the hearts that belong to me” or maybe just “I belong to Glasgow”. Daddy and myself are running around in circles, assisted by Hutch, wanting to get this & that done before your much hoped for homecoming. We keep saying we wonder what you’ll think of the climate!*?!!!
Yesterday I “coped” with some washing, what a business! I’m still drying everything off in relays in front of the fire.
On Monday I was in town & came home drenched & cold & miserable and it was a great comfort & joy to find your 338 & 339 both on the mat, I read them while the kettle was boiling for a cuppa.
Lucky girl to have been at the ballet at the Opera House, how I’d have loved to have seen both – did you know I’m very interested in ballet, I think its a wonderful medium and I am also very interested in Cairo’s Op. House ever since Mr Serafi told us of its amazing history. Tell yer the trewf, mate, I’d love another trip to Egypt.
Maud was over last night. I gave her her “New Year” – first of all some real Haig and then some of that ghastly concoction John F. brought & it nearly knocked her out altogether!
About what you are buying before you come home, please concentrate on the CARPET. Have you bought it yet? No, don’t tell us if you mean it to be a surprise. Re. tweeds, suitings, etc,. well, I’d say don’t buy any of those, after all, Britain leads the world (ahem!) in their manufacture and there are a few items creeping back into the shops and we sh’d have plenty of coupons. Don’t buy anything for Collinsons as we are giving wee parting gifts to Joyce & Gordon before they leave next week. Get some wee gee-gaw for Maud, something personal I think (she worships anything from abroad) a brooch, ring or string of beads, if you can get anything very cheap. Go over this page carefully, honey, as this will be my last opp’ty of giving you buying instructions.
About meeting you sweetie pie, you say its up to us and you have arranged for Noel to meet you. Dad & myself have talked it over & decided that as someone is meeting you & you want to spend a few hours with him and as you then will most likely be coming straight to Scotland it would serve no purpose for us to be there as well. We are quite matter of fact about this, my darling, and not the least bit offended or put out by Noel’s meeting you, indeed it is very kind of him as he can see you thro’ customs etc. at Tilbury if you come in through there. Daddy & myself will meet you at Glasgow, oh joy!; we can then leave on good fires so as to give you a cheery welcome home – your own home. I plan to get both your own wee room & the big bedroom ready so that you can “take your pick” as the hostess said when she offered her guests home made rock cakes! Of course all and any of the foregoing arrangements can, and may be altered at practically a moments notice by telephone by either party.
I got a lovely long letter from Ernest yesterday, he says he must be in U.K. by the end of March, he said he got a note from you & will try to see you before you leave, but in any case he hopes to call & see us all in Scotland. Just be airy fairy with him if you see him in Egypt – I mean don’t tell him any of your plans, its much better than laying all your cards on the table, believe me.
Hope your plays are a great success and that you manage everything before you leave. Don’t bother with people or things that don’t matter – concentrate on the necessaries & above all, do keep well and happy. Hope you manage ye carpet without too much bother.
Gales of love to you, our darling.
Dad & Mum. xxx
p.s. Boy! You should see the rain & hear the wind! Hutch is getting nearer the fire. All our love. xxxx
p.p.s. Got a letter from Aunt Kitty this morn – wonders will never cease, truly. They are moving upstairs at Kelvingrove to another flat; they got a Christmas card from you and Aunt. K says she will write to you. xxx (1)
1. Kelvingrove is only a few miles from Yoker. It seems Kitty is not so close to her sisters and brother. ‘They” may refer to a woman companion of Kitty’s as there has never been a mention of a husband.
Letter 341, Mum’s last since Len arrived in Cairo in November 1945.
21 January 1949.
A hint of Spring in the air
Hello! Very Best Beloved of ours.
I wonder if this will be my last letter to you at BSDM also I wonder if it will get to you in time. We can just guess (or can we?) at how busy you’ll be with all the very last minute matters which will crop up no matter how we try to arrange everything beforehand. My head is full of “wonders” but will try to keep calm. I wonder if I sh’d start to paint the kitchen – I want to do it Dutch Blue – I wonder sh’d we spring clean the living room before your hoped for homecoming – guess I’ll leave it all so as you can lend a hand – would you like that?
This noon a lovely parcel came in from Aunt Ena – our Christmas gifts a bit late on account of M.R’s op. There’s a lovely big cake with marzipan & walnuts on it, 2 tins steak & kidney pud. and 1 plum pud. very tasty, very sweet. We’ll keep the cake for you. Must tell you Maud gave me a lovely shoe lift & button hook combined and a glove stretcher all in ebony for Xmas.
S.O.S S.O.S S.O.S Please bring a piece of stone (or something like that) from the Pyramids & Sphinx. I was reading of a man who built a fireplace in his house with stones from all over the world – a great idea; I don’t say we’ll build anything but I’d really love a piece of the Pyramids & Sphinx. All those souvenirs will mean so much as time goes by so do try for a lump or lumps.
I feel I’ve so much to say but cannot seem to get my thoughts collected so guess it’ll have to wait till we meet. Needless to say our thoughts and love will be all around you on every mile of the journey home – “the journey home” doesn’t it sound good?
May every wave on your homeward sea tell you of our love.
Your very own Dad and Mum – and Hutch. xxx
This letter shows that three weeks after her ‘demotion’ for over-staying her UK leave she has been made supervisor of the typing pool of BSDM in Cairo. However, apart from getting an allowance for her supervisory role, it does not promote her on the career ladder of the Civil Service. There is no mention of her demotion, so it is still not clear what form this took, unless she was down-graded from Clerical Officer. She clearly isn’t a Clericial Officer at the time this letter was written.
In a curious coincidence, after three years in Cairo, Len’s last letter is also her three hundred and forty first, as is Mum’s above.
BOAC Augusta Sicily
Gezira Sporting Club Cairo
24 January, 1949.
Still without a Ship
Dearest, Nicest, Most Delightful Parents,
Your 340 in this morning & all instructions noted.
Everything’s too much up in the air for me to write about anything but as soon as/& if the position clarifies I’ll write a screed. Excuse my unloading ancient photos etc. on you with every letter, but I want to have as little as possible for the censorship. (1)
Once again, all news as soon as I know myself, Best Beloveds – Oh, in case I forget to say later, our instructions are to report to London if our homes are there or if we arrive there. As all the ships on which I’m likely to travel are scheduled to go into London, this means I’ll have to go to Adelphi for an interview before going north & may necessitate my staying in London overnight if the office is closed when I disembark. I’ll ring you from the first phone I see after landing. You should know to be in for the call, when all being well I tell you the ship, for then you can follow its movements through Cook’s in Glasgow.
Over to you Scotland, over to you. Don’t, repeat, don’t work like demons. That’s the good thing about not telling people you’re coming – they can’t prepare, so please take it easy. All instructions have been noted. Part reason for not replying is fluid state & part surprises for you two.
Ever loving, your Len. xxx
1. No photos survive in this envelope.
As the Minister of Supply, G.R.Strauss, had said in early 1949 in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning the Stores Disposal Mission in Egypt:
“On Ist January, 1949, 1,328 people were employed. Salaries, wages and allowances were at the rate of £267,000 a year. By 1st April, 1949, the number will be reduced to about 265 and the rate of annual expenditure to £87,000. During the last two years 772,000 tons of surplus stores and 29,000 vehicles were disposed of, bringing in £18,700,00. In addition, about 208,500 tons of stores and material in short supply were sent to this country. It is not practical to give the cost of production of the goods sold”.
From Len leaving Cairo in late January in the eight weeks to the 1st April deadline the British Stores Disposal Mission personnel would be slashed by 80%. She was not the only one returning to Britain. The Sergeants and Officers in the Suez Canal Zone would suddenly find even less women to invite to their dances, or to fall in love with. (Other ranks may have availed themselves of brothels in Port Said and Alexandria, if any survived from the Second World War.)
As noted before, the Suez Canal Treaty ran until July 1956, and most of the facilities that Len had visited were still in place and needed until then. The conscripted British military forces were still fighting colonial movements against British rule – Malaya, Cyprus and Kenya, are examples. It was the post-war Labour Government that continued conscription after the Second World War and it was a Conservative Government that announced the phasing out of conscription in 1960.
Four years after she returned to Britain the Egyptian Army “Free Officers Movement” co- led by Gamal Nasser overthrew King Farouk who fled to Monaco. Even before the intervention of British, French and Israeli forces in October 1956 over the Egyptian State nationalisation of the Suez Canal, rising Arab nationalism was changing the nature of the European communities in Alexandria and Cairo. The Gezira Sporting Club was nationalised and by 1958 significant numbers of those from the Greek community – as one example – were leaving for the United States and other countries. What had been an estimated population of 250,000 Greeks in Egypt in 1940 is currently (2014) estimated to be just 1,000.
Apart from the former RAF airbase at Fayid, used by the Egptian airforce until the 1980s, the other British army and airforce bases have mostly left no trace, with the desert, for instance, reclaiming what was the huge Tel El Kebir camp, close to the outbreak of the cholera epidemic, and where Len in November 1948 had inspected the perimeter fence in an armoured car.
Next Thursday Part Three Chapter One : Sht.Hand Typist, Porton. Transferred from Overseas Duty.
“It’s funny, but I feel at home in Scotland and definitely a stranger here among foreigners…”