Part Two 6: Bouncing Back: “Scarier, Scarier, Ra, Ra, Ra”
It’s exactly eight days since we heard from you – that is until your 241 and 242 got here this morn. (1)
Believe me, we were getting up to high Doh and no mistake; I guess it’s all the Xmas mail that’s holding up everything, however little white lily and the Rose of Lancashire are smiling and happy once more. (2)
Glad to know you are enjoying so much fun and hope oh! so much that all your dreams come true and that you’ll have the best time ever this festive season. I’m in the throes of sending of my Christmas Cards, and, tough work, seeing Daddy sends off his. We are also busy doing jobs about ye hoose, and I also want to alter and wash my red woolen frock for ye festive (New Year) season. We got a letter from Joan to say she is arriving on Dec 27th so I’ve arranged with Mr. and Mrs. Watson and Ron that they are all to come over here on Dec. 28th – the Sunday, then we plan to go to L.L.Y.H. on the 31st.
Got a card from the Findlays today just as I was getting theirs off.
Mr. Morris Zeid (3) has been so kind to you – I really must send him a card – I’ve got everything arranged in wee groups in my mind for sending cards to. What about the letter I sent to Pat Brown – you’ve no word of it in your letter, honey lamb.
Jack is going home for Christmas, thank goodness! He leaves Sat. first.
Best love to you our own one. A long letter soon. Much haste. Ever your own lovingest, Mum and Dad. xxx
Sending Harris a card and letter with this post, Mum xxx.
1. 242 is Len’s letter of 10 December, 1947: “Don’t know whether on head or heels…”. Her 241 letter is not in this collection.
2. Reference to Dad’s family Lancashire background.
3. Morris Zeid has been mentioned by Len in a letter not in this collection. There is a possibility he worked for the Ministry of Works in Cairo. She may have met him through the Findlays, or at the Gezira. We do not know in what way he has been kind to her. He will appear later in the narrative.
My room, Christmas drawing near.
My darling very Ain Ones,
It will be Christmas by the time this gets to you & may you have a really wonderful one. Don’t let my absence cast any note of sadness for remember I’m with you in spirit & the months are speeding by.
First I must tell you about the past four wonderful days & the grand event which has marked each. On Monday I learnt I’d passed the CO exam – the one I sat the day before you arrived here Mum. (1) On Tuesday the crit for our show was in the paper – it’s the best I’ve ever had. Yesterday we’d the wonderful party I’d been planning & working on for so long – it went without a hitch from start to finish. Today was marked by my receiving a super Xmas present from Mrs Saracha – two lizard skins to make shoes – each measuring 30” from head to tip of tail.
Passing the CO exam means giving me Clerical Officer status (though in my own interests I may not claim same till reaching the U.K. i.e. the work out here would probably be better as a SH/T). It also means that I’ve now officer rank & can use the officers’ clubs without slinking in and out.
I think it’s hideous them having your food office in Partick – is it caused by lack of accommodation?
I’m going to break my ‘no tell’ idea right now with regard to one item – whisky. It sells at a fabulous price here & as the Forces have been cut to ¼ bottle a month it’s not so easy to get it from them, but I’ve had a letter from Peter James in which he says he’s got a bottle waiting for me at El Kirsch. I hope to collect it when I’m in the Canal Zone.
Esme & Pat have both volunteered for Pal. Both wanted me to vol. too, but it wouldn’t be a sound move on my part, but my conscience is clear (about deserting them in their ‘hour of need’) as I learn that all vacancies are filled. Esme isn’t going and is mad about it. Pat is – or at least has been accepted. She now has to confirm. She’s not keen to go to Pal., but from various points of view thinks it’s a good thing for her & I must say I agree. She’ll probably be writing to you with all the gen. (2) I should have felt awfully guilty about the worry I was causing you if I’d gone. It is of course vastly exaggerated in the papers, the same as Egypt, but the FSA (3) is less & my ‘frugal living’ scheme wouldn’t have raked in dough for the U.K. exchequer, so I think I’ll leave re-visiting the hills of Jerusalem for another time.
Jean Findlay’s Dad hates Cairo, that is Cairo proper – can’t stand the bustle & never goes in if he can avoid it. From all accounts he seems quite content to sit at the club and watch the polo. Different from you Mum – I’ll say.
I’m marking down all your “souvenir & shopping” requirements as your letters come through & am doing my best ‘dinnae fear’.
I an awfully worried about your both having flu one after the other – no matter how one tries not to, one magnifies things, so do please take care of yourselves – can’t you manage at least a week in the Scilly Isles or the Channel Islands in Jan. or Feb? It sounds silly, but I feel it’s the best insurance against further flu. With the present lack of fuel the best plan seems to be to “Get to where it’s warmest naturally” (with apologies to “Annie Get Your Gun”).
My contract of service is not a “3 month’s extension”, it’s an indefinite extension of contract with three months notice on either side. It means that when either the employer or employee wants to part company they give three months notice, so you know my departure date is at least three months ahead.
It’s O.K. to talk of being a well groomed woman ten years from now, but things like that do not happen suddenly. One has to strive for years – at least I do – & remember always to be polishing one’s shoes & pressing one’s clothes. Some women enjoy clothes & like buying them, well although I enjoy them sometimes, most of the time I’m disinterested & and as far spending money on them – I always think of the wonderful books there are.
So glad the parcels arrived O.K. Must try to send more soon – don’t you give that Jack any please. Hope you find them O.K. as Xmas presents, for we can’t send anything but food as yet, nothing more being heard of APO. (4)
Yes, I still want to go the Highlands, but feel I will have to use some of my leave, laying the foundations for what I want to do in the future. I’d like to use the money I’m banking now to stop work and study. That’s why every month out here helps, but I don’t want to stay on & on just for dough, for I want to see you both & also can’t spend the best years of my life in the ME.
I’m with you all the way about marriage being the thing for men & women but one just can’t sit back & daydream till a bloke happens along. Much better surely to lead a useful life & make yourself richer (mentally) person at the same time?
I’m not revolting against the CS – it’s just not what I want. Up to now I’ve done well from it I know, but it was chance that made me a CS & not because I selected it as a career.
Unless I get this off now, ‘twill be missing the mail. Hope to write screeds from the Canal Zone. All the love in the world & a tremendously merry, happy Christmas.
1. C.O. Clerical Officer.
2. Pat will not go to Palestine. It seems she changed her mind.
2. FSA: Foreign Service Allowance.
4. APO: Army Post Office
Cosy old Home. Shall be thinking of you when the bells ring out the old and in the new
No letter from you since Wed. but guess there’s one in the post. By the time this reaches you you’ll (I hope) be right in the middle of the Christmas gaiety and we do hope you’re having the merriest time, our wee sugar plum.
Yesterday I put that £3.15/- in your P.O. account, this was the Savings Certs, Aunt Ena sent you last (1946) Nov. I’d let them run out of date – as then you’d no P.O account, however, got them extended (the date) and now the amount is safely in your book. To have heard Aunt E. talk then you’d think her gift to you would have been in the region of £50 or £100 – but £3.15/- !*! I sent a card to Mrs. Stokes, positively I’m swamped thinking of the people to whom I’ve to send cards and letters! I also got a card, no letter yet, from Ernest.
I don’t want to sound a nasty greedy wee bisom, but if you see any carpets lying around without owners it would be wonderful. I don’t mean you to cliftie one but to bargain!
Think I’ll now seek my couch as I’ve to be up at 5.30 a.m. to get Jack his breakfast before he leaves for “Norroway over the foam”. Night night , my sweetest and bestest. X. See you in the “Morning Days”. Mum
Sat 20th Dec.
No post today but expect shoals of letters on Mon. It’s a glorious winter day, sunny and bright, could do with plenty like this. Got Jack away this morn 7. a.m. He sails from Newcastle on the Jupiter at 5.30. Have just been giving Hutch a row for stealing bones – what a thief she is. But such a lovely, chummy thief. The Clyde Valley electricians were putting in a new cable yesterday (and the day before) for Clyde Valley calls for Mr. Kinloch who is a C.V. official and who lives, with his wife, at Mr. Collinsons – I asked them, ha! ha! – couldn’t they extend the cable to 26 but they replied that’s the corporation’s job, ha!ha! (1)
If you go to P.S. you’ll see my ghost haunting the Eastern Exchange. Remember all I’ve written to you re. sweet behaviour there, not heavy chum stuff. Thinking of you all the time with love of the best. Mum.
31 December, 1947.
Hurrah, hurrah! It’s Hogmanay and we got a letter from you today!
Yes, your darling one of Dec.18th You said in it “it will be Xmas when you get this” and lo and behold its Hogmanay! Boy! were we up to high doe! 12 days without a letter!
Just getting ready to shop, make lunch, iron, pack, bathe and a thousand other jobs before proceeding to Loch Lomond. Joan is sitting opp. as I write, taking her breakfast (noon).
Bye for now, our very best Beloved. We shall be thinking of you and drinking a toast to “absent loved ones” as the New Year comes in.
I’ll get down to a long letter soon. So glad you’d a good time at Xmas.
Our love is all around you,
Your own Dad and Mum. xxx
1. The Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company. They supplied electricity to the greater Glasgow area. In 1947 they had a power station on the Clyde near Lanark, and also on the Clyde near Mum and Dad’s at Yoker. In 1948 the company was nationalised.
Lounge, Saturday morning at Leave Camp in Port Fouad, as Camp cheer goes – Scarier, scarier, Ra ra, ra. (1)
My well Loved Ones,
Unless I start this now I’ll never get it done. I took away with me a script to learn, gloves to make, letters to write, garments to sew and French to study and I’ve done nixus – we’ve had a really glorious time though.
I just can’t enumerate all I’ve done – can’t even remember for my diary.
Before I left Cairo I said a Xmas adieu to the Stokes, Findlays, and Sarachas. The show went off extremely well – crit enclosed.
After the first night I met Myrtle Tandy’s friend from Fayid and we all went to the Champagne Club. I was s’posed to be going to Fayid for Xmas, but a few days before this, her bloke wrote cancelling it, but as Esme had providentially booked us at Seaview, we came north instead. The last night of the show we’d a party afterwards.
Wednesday we’d the party rehearsal, then the party proper – it really was the goods. Went with a swing from start to finish and I really felt it an honour to be hostess. We’d put in such masses of work it was a relief to see it go off so well. (2)
Thursday – shopping and adieues.
Friday I chored ‘medley’ and packed. I dropped in on the Findlays and left them their presents and left some sweets for the Stokes. I also learnt of a lift going down to Ish, so took the Saturday as leave as well as Mon. Tues. and Wed.
Saturday we left Cairo at 7 a.m. – the car was a Humber and got into Ish at 9.40 which was rather good going as Ish is over 100 miles away. I did some more sewing, then phoned Harris, went to lunch with him at his mess in Moascar Garrison and came back to finish putting the 12 yds. of tulle (ballet skirt type stuff) round my 8 yd. wide dress and then I gave it and the slip in to be pressed and bought some tarts.
Here’s how I eventually looked.
Actually I was surprised at how well it turned out and old Harris was thrilled to bits.
Harris went to the dance as a clergyman and had lots of fun adopting a benign attitude. I danced with pirates and cowboys and the whole evening was lots of fun. Some of the costumes were awfully good. The girl winners were: Mantilla Lady, Nell Gwynne and a Bint. The winning men represented: Mme Pompadour, a Chinaman and a Pirate. There was a grand buffet and we supplemented same with my tarts after the parade was over.
The next morning I awoke with that lovely ‘on holiday and in a strange place’ feeling and after breakfast in bed got ready and went down to the station to meet Esme. I so adore meeting and being met at stations. There she was leaning out in her red coat. It was really fun standing there in the sunshine. Straightaway we went over to the NAAFI for tea and a natter. She told me that Myrtle T. had heard from this bloke at Fayid to the effect that the Xmas arrangements there were off. Poor old Myrtle was left high and dry, but Esme had booked us up at Seaview at Port Said, so all went well. I was glad as otherwise Esme would have been at PS and I’d have been at Fayid which would not have been so hot – being separated I mean.
We went back to the Y and Harris came to lunch. Afterwards further nattering followed then Harris petered off and we listened to the light music concert while awaiting the arrival of Peter. (3) He duly came and again we talked furiously, then he dashed off to El Kirsh to change into Service Dress (from Battledress) and we too changed. Then the three of us went to the Officers’ Club for dinner and from there on to the French Club for dancing, on to the King George for more dancing and back to the French Club to finish off.
The next morning we took the welfare bus to Fayid where I endeavoured to ‘phone to see if Ernst was still in the BMH (4) . I couldn’t get through, I discovered later he was out, so all was well. then we lunched and took photos. Afterwards we got a welfare bus to Fanara, then a DADOS (ordnance Stores bloke) PU to the Y at Suez. (5) It’s right in the back of beyond, but they took us right up to the door and this Glasgow Captain – from the Botanic Gardens (6) carried our cases right in. We booked in and had tea. I’d a shwoya sleep, then we did the necessary running repair chores and went out to a CSE show – “For Export Only”. (7) Hereby hangs a tale.
The place where we saw the show was BTD – the Base Transit Depot for the whole of the Middle East. You see 156 Transit at PS deals with people going home, but BTD deals with incoming people and once you got a footing in there you’d be made as far as contacts were concerned. Well this YW woman who took us to “FEO” said she’d take us on to the mess after the show, but when the show finished she whizzed us out of the auditorium and back to the Y without introducing us to a soul, let alone taking us to the mess. We were rather angry, because it was sheer cattiness on her part and as we’d only two nights in Suez we wanted to get cracking, not only to get ourselves organised for those two nights, but to lay up stock as it were for future occasions.
We went to bed in a rather disgruntled frame of mind that night and the next day did masses of walking, visited Port Tewfik and took photos and then at night, the two YW women went out of the Y. for a little while and left us looking after it. No other girls were staying there, in fact it seems to cater for, or rather be used more by men than girls, for masses come in to play the piano, to eat there and to play table tennis and the like. The ‘phone went. I answered it. The bloke on the other end was a Major from the staff mess of BTD (as opposed to the Transit Officers’ Mess) who wanted to give a message to one of the YH women. He appeared enthralled at my voice and asked Esme and me out to dinner. We went and this type just didn’t conceal her fury at all at being bested.
We’d dinner at the Pig and Whistle Officers’ Club in Tewfik then later went dancing at the Os’ Club near BTD. This Major was called Fraser – Esme was with a Loot in transit. Major F. was old and jolly and came from Tyndrum. He’s dying to take us to the mess some other time – it’s annoying about Esme s’posed to be going to Pal – for I’d like us to have gone together. A young Lt. Fraser of whom the Major had told me came over for a dance. It proved the last one and only made me all the more furious with this woman obstructionist, for although I can work pretty fast on getting friendly with people, I can’t do everything in a dance.
This bloke had only been in the ME five days and had been dancing in Glasgow three weeks before – came from Falkirk and is going to Glasgow Uni next summer! He said how nice it was to be dancing so near Christmas with someone from around his area of home. He also said he’d like to come to Cairo – but as I say you can’t do everything in one dance. In all probability I’d have met him the night before if we’d been at the mess. I mean, a contact all laid on in Glasgow for next summer.
During our walk before our outing with Major F. we’d fixed a hitch back to Fayid with DADOS’s driver in D’s PU – weren’t we lucky?
The next morning it picked us up at the Y – this horrid woman delivering snippets the while on how late it would be (and it wasn’t) – and on we went to Fayid. Masses of ships were going up the canal and it was a wonderful sight to see them all northward bound.
This time we did not spend any appreciable time in Fayid, merely waited at Dumbarton House – yes that’s the name of the Catholic Women’s League place for the next bus to Ish. On our arrival we went to the Y – it was Xmas Eve by this time (but in the morning as we’d started very early) and there was Pat. She gave me all my mail – all nine bits of it and of course the three of us nattered furiously and caught up on Disposals news. This included the withdrawal of bag facilities, so will you please go back to addressing me by APO and using the 1½d stamp. (8) Cannot give any more gen on this just now, for the people who’re s’posed to tell us are so vague it just isn’t true. By the way, if you could study my tour, or rather read about it with a map by your side, it would make it much more interesting. I’ve one or two good Canal Zone maps, but wouldn’t like to post them in case they were stopped and I got into trouble (9) – a decent one of Egypt should do.
Map by, and copyright Richard Wooley. Sourced from suezcanalzone.com with grateful thanks.
Anyway I phoned Peter and asked him to lunch at the Y, couldn’t get hold of him, but his native clerk took a message and I got the girls – Esme and Pat, who went out shopping whilst I changed, to phone from the station too, to make sure the message arrived – El Kirsh is one of those trunk calls which are difficult to make.
The girls hadn’t gone long when the ‘phone rang it was Peter on the line. Instead of coming to lunch at the Y, he insisted on taking me to the US Club – United Services Officers’ Club.
On arrival at PS Pat, Esme and me made our exhausted way (for the bus had been no picnic with yelling, stopping and the like) to the station. From there we were picked up by truck, taken across the ferry on same and right through the Married Families and Officers’ Camp. You two would adore it.
They really do see you’re enjoying yourself. There’s masses of hot water, bags of baths, washing and ironing facilities, super bars, radiograms with loads of records, quiet rooms and in fact all that one could want to make a good leave.
We’d a short tidy up, then went into dinner. On the bus we’d met the other two girls who were Disposals-at-Seaview with us. You see the whole of Disposals was stopping for Xmas. Anyhow, we’d a table for four and thoroughly enjoyed our Xmas Eve dinner. Then we dressed and attended the dance in the Cocktail lounge, a rather snazzy place built really a bit like the Paramount Cafe in Glasgow (10) except that at Married Families there’s an extra step in the middle on which the band play. We finished with Carols and then I’d a walk by the sea in the moonlight with a RAF type. The sea did look gorgeous with breakers lit by moonlight.
The next morning Esme and I went across to PS and nipped into the Officers’ Club for morning coffee. I tried to phone Ernst twice, but could not get hold of him. Then I tried Johnny and lo and behold old Ernst was with Johnny. We all nattered gaily over the wire and I made a tea date with Ernst. After that Esme and I walked around the town, visited the Britannia Club, took photos etc. Then we met Ernst at Gianola’s and had tea.
I must tell you – before I go any further – that after Ernst came out of hospital he learnt that he’s got to stay in the army five years to get British nationality, so will be in till gen demob in Dec ‘48, for by the time he’s had repat and leave, it’ll bring him to April ‘49 which is the completion of his five years. (11) Ernst remarked that Fayid was the place for crime, PS being really quiet and work confined to investigating petty pilferage’s. He’d reason to eat his words, for just then we heard a bomb go off.
That was at 6 o’ clock. E hustled Esme and me onto the ferry and went dashing to investigate. We’d a wonderful Xmas dinner. They put out all the lights when they brought us in our blazing-with-blue-flame Xmas pudding. Then we proceeded back to PS. E had delegated Johnny to meet us and from him we learnt that between 6 and 7 there had been the bomb, plus two murders and a suicide. I don’t need to tell you about the SIB. Mum, duty is definitely the watchword, so all Xmas Night, we were with different relays of men as others dashed off to do their bit.
The suicide was at El Ballah, one murder was at Golf Course Camp – near where Ernst is, the bomb was under the rudder of a Jewish ship, but actually didn’t do much damage, although it gave concussion to a poor old Arab who was on a lighter alongside. And so to bed on Xmas night.
Boxing morning we took it fairly easy, but we went across to Seaview and explored there and at 2.30 I went in swimming it was really gorgeous. Again we nipped across to PS for various odd things, including collecting our photos. (12) I left Esme at the Officers’ Club whilst I went to see Ernst to collect our original Pyramid photos. We exchanged plans and offered each other advice, then he walked a little way down the road with me and we bade each other adieu – he says he hopes to come up to Cairo before long.
That evening we’d an informal dance at the camp and then for fun I went in swimming with a chap at 1.30 a.m. I swam longer than I had during the day and thoroughly enjoyed it – it was heavenly swimming in the moonlight.
Don’t want to rush the rest of my story, so think I’d better leave it in order to get this letter off.
That’s all about for now, sorry for the delay in writing, but I really accomplished none of the chores I took away to do – neither did Esme. However, I must stop this, and get it in the mail, then straightaway I can start on the rest of my chronicle, for my next letter.
My thoughts have been with you very much over the festive period and I’ve visualised Joan arriving and all the fun you must have had together. Want so much to be with you for after all you are the people who matter so much and most and in every way with me – take terrific care of yourselves especially in the ensuing months of Jan and Feb and if you can manage a holiday in the south at all, do take it, and don’t let lack of dough prevent you for I’d like you to have some of the needy to go away. However, ‘nuff said.
Have a wonderful time at New Year and give my love to Scotland.
Your very own loving wain, Len xxxxx
1. Throughout her letters Len consistently spells Fuad as Fouad. So does Ernest.
2.. The Christian Girls Club Party.
3. Peter, the ‘Loot’ from the Royal Engineers.
4. BMH: British Medical Hospital. We have no idea why Ernst was in hospital.
5: DADOS: ‘Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services’, a branch of Army Ordnance. PU: Pick up truck.
6. The Glasgow Botanic Gardens, in Hillhead, in Glasgow’s West End, a few miles east from Mum and Dad’s home in Yoker.
7. CSE: Combined Services Entertainment.
8 APO: Army Post Office. Though it cost Len a 1½d stamp to send a letter by APO to the UK (the Diplomatic Bag service cost 2½d) Mum was to have to start paying 6d for an Air Mail letter to Egypt, once the DB service was withdrawn. The Air Mail service to Cairo was re-instated within a few weeks of Len’s letter. It had started in 1937, by BOAC flying boat services to South Africa via Egypt, and stopped when war broke out. The Air Mail letters Mum would send would be in the same flying boat that Len used during her home leave later in the summer of 1948.
9. These will be Army issue maps.
10. The cafe was part of the Paramount Cinema in Renfrew Street. The Paramount became the Odeon, which is now closed.
11. Ernst was naturalised on 4 November, 1949.
12. Apart from possibly one photo, reproduced in Part Two Chapter 7, none survive in this collection.