Part Two Chapter 10: Almost Home and Noel
In the nine week gap in this collection of correspondence between Mum and Len, this is the first letter of Mum’s since her last one of 18 April, 1948. Len is about to return to the UK on leave.
Tues. Cold like January, but getting warmer.
Darling Own Cuddles,
Isn’t it strange to think this may be the last letter I’ll be sending to you before you leave Egypt! I have been counting the days – Daddy also – and judge you should just about get this one ‘ere you set sail. We can picture the buzz you must be in just now what with the jigs & reels – especially the reels – your wee heid must be going round! Never mind, honey, remember Mother’s advice, KEEP COOL, CALM and COLLECTED. We don’t understand about some girl Joan travelling with you, is she only going part way? – she has no hostel card – or has she? Funny to think you won’t have time before you leave to reply to this letter! No letter from you since last I wrote, but shall leave this one till the noon post hoping for one then.
We are very, very busy – you know me – I keep saying to Daddy “I’ll bet the honey girl has a few ‘all night sittings’ getting ready for the great homeward trek”, and then I say “and I’ll have a few ‘all night sittings’ getting ready for her homecoming”! But we are really taking care of each other and enjoying all our preparations.
When (if) you get to Naples look out for the Embassy where Nelson met and fell in love with Lady Hamilton – it’s a large red building on the hill on the left hand side as you approach the pier, try also to see the wonderful General Post Office there, and of course Vesuvius & Pompeii. Oh! it’s all so wonderful sparkling sea & fairy islands, the Sorrento Peninsula & Capri, how I want to see it all again – roll on, Littlewoods! I wonder if you’ll feel the same as I did when I got to Italy. I felt I was nearly home again and that the East was far away – it’s a queer feeling and really brought home to me (far more than when I landed at Port Said) the difference betwixt East and West. Wish all this cairry oan re. visas etc. was washed out, I’d take a job then as governess or summat.
Daddy is feeling and looking very, very well and is quite sunburned but alas! his leg, so far, isn’t reacting the way it ought, but he has been told he must have patience; he is to report at the hosp. on Sat. We hope next week he will be able to run around – he can walk alright now but the right leg gets painful. We went shopping in Clydebank yesterday and enjoyed the wee outing.
Our latest burst is in a pipe just at the front gate step where there is a hole in the pavement. The G’gow Corporation say it’s the owner’s liability so I told Mrs. Mac. who is moaning about the expense of repairs but her remedy is to sell the house (cheaply) to us – must get down to talking it all over on your return.
Let us know when you get to U.K. and also when we may expect you in ‘Dear Old Glasgow Town’. Isn’t it wonderful to think of. So thrilled & excited to bits.
12.30. No letter yet from you, honey so I’ll close this and if a letter comes in tomorrow I’ll answer if required, if not this will be the last the noo.
Mucha plenta da love, your own Dad and Mum. Oh! the joy of hoping to really see you soon. Cheers.
“My heart is in Glasgow
My heart is not here
My heart walks in streets with old memories dear,
I know all her faults, but she’s my cup of tea,
My heart is in Glasgow
And always shall be.”
p.s. The above is from an article which appeared in the ‘Citizen’ a few weeks ago. It was written by a Scotch woman who was somewhere overseas. I like the bit about “old memories dear”. Busy Sauchiehall Street & Buchanan street’s lovely shops.
As I said in my 292 of ystd’y I’d write again today if anything required me doing so, well, this morn a letter came for you with a penny stamp on the en. and of course, it was open. The letter is from the Cent. Sch of S.Y and D.A. (1) and goes on to give all the partics – copy enclosed.
Well, dearest and best, I really sent our good wishes for a happy, joyous and safe journey home in my previous letters, so I’ll make this brief. The plumbers are here and I really think they know this is your castle for I’m sure they plan to dig a moat around the old house – we have to close our eyes and jump over a huge hole when making our entrance or exit, also they keep making cupsa tea which rather holds up the proceedings.
It’s a glorious day today, brilliant sunshine and all the plants and grass are vivid green after the rain.
Hoping this gets to you in time. I’ll acknowledge receipt of entrance test form in case this doesn’t get to you in time – it’s like Paddy: “If you don’t receive it, write and let me know”. I’ll say you’ll write when you arrive. All our love as ever.
Dad & Mum.
“The Entrance Test for Stage Students will be held on Thurs. July 29th. You are requested to attend at the Royal Albert Hall at 9.30. am.
Candidates are required to –
Prepare one of the following speeches:
The Merchant of Venice Act 111 Sc 2
Paulina “What studied torments”
‘not dropped down yet”
Romeo & Juliet, Act 11 Sc.2
Juliet – “Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face” – which the dark night, etc”
Prepare a speech, not exceeding two minutes in duration, from any modern play.
Perform an impromptu scene on a subject to be announced on their arrival.
Read at sight a passage of prose.
Vera M. Sargent, Registrar.”
1. Central School of Speech and Drama, London.
With one exception, there is now a break in the correspondence, as Len returns to the UK for her leave and then travels back to Egypt. This period is approximately from late June, 1948 to 22 August, 1948: eight weeks. Her original plan was a leave period of five and a half weeks.
“I thought of leaving 31st July and returning to work on 7th September. Course so much depends on air line times etc., but I’d like to have the August Bank holiday thrown in if poss.
My idea is to spend my time as follows: week in London with you two and I can find about auditions study etc. at the same time and hold a tea party at which anyone who wants to can come – that’ll cover people I can’t or don’t want to devote time to. Then a week at 26, then toute seul – i.e. all alone I spend two weeks in the Highlands – but you two coming with me to Loch Lomond to begin with.” – Len’s letter 2 April, 1948. (Part Two Chapter 9)
It is guesswork how she travelled home to Britain. In her letter of 2 April Len had talked of airline times. Mum in her letter above of 22 June talks of her “setting sail”, but she could be talking figuratively. However, she mentions the possibility of Len arriving at Naples, which suggests a boat. She also mentions a Joan, who will be travelling with her, but asks if she has a hostel card. This will be a Youth Hostel card. There is a strong possibility that Len did arrive at Naples, and then hitched via France, with or without out the ‘Joan’ using youth hostels, to Calais or Boulogne for the cross channel ferry.
How she travelled is complicated by this letter from BOAC, replying to a letter she had sent them from Coldingham Avenue on the 20 July.
The letter is, as can be seen at the top, from the Import Cargo Section of BOAC at Heath Row, as it was then spelt. Her Personal Effects were sent from Almaza. It is possible that she didn’t fly with them. In 1948 the BOAC Flying Boat service between South Africa and Southampton,(which landed at Cairo on the Nile and Almaza on the Mediterranean on route), carried cargo, besides passengers. The Personal Effects may have been from the various items Len was accruing prior to permanently leaving Egypt. Whether it was also some way of getting around Egyptian custom restrictions is not known. Almaza on the Mediteranean coast was well west – at least over 120 kilometres – from Alexandria. It is possible that she was helped in getting these Personal Effects to Almaza by one or more of her Army friends in the Suez Canal Zone. BOAC also had an office in Cairo. Renfrew airport is now better known as Glasgow airport.
We think that she flew back with a BOAC flying boat. Her memory is of the intense blue of the Mediterranean sea moments before the flying boat landed, and the foam spraying up over the port hole as she looked out. However, the return details of her journey are complicated by a reference in a letter she wrote on her return in Cairo about her sending Mum a letter from Aix-en-Provence. The range of the BOAC Short Solent Flying Boats was a reported 1,800 miles, so there was no need for them to land for a re-fuel off the Mediterranean coast of France. In addition, the memory of the Mediterranean foam is undermined by her writing, in the letter just mentioned, of a BOAC car running her into the centre of Cairo. However, it seems that the engines fitted to the Short Solent flying boats were unreliable. On one website http://www.aviastar.org one passenger out to Australia remembers the journey took 4 weeks because of malfunctioning engines. Another online memory of a journey from Southhampton to South Africa, via Cairo, revealingly mentions that engine trouble forced the seaplane to land at Marseilles where running repairs were made. So it is likely that Len was right in remembering the Mediterranean foam – French Mediterranean foam – and that she had time to visit Aix-en-France, when her plane also developed engine problems. As it is, despite their flying range, when flying out from Southampton, the flying boats first landed at Augusta, on the Sicilian coast to refuel, before flying on to Cairo and landing on the Nile.
Amongst recollections of BOAC Short Solent trips, from the http://www.aviastar.org site: (reproduced with gratitude)
Anthony Craddock, 12.04.2011
In 1950 my father and I emigrated to East Africa on one from Southampton waters owned by BOAC. Two engines had problems over France so we did a forced landing in the harbor at Marseille France where they were patched up and we flew on to the first scheduled stop in Augusta, Sicily. There we waited for a week in a hotel at BOAC’s expense for the next weekly flight to bring us out new parts. Then we continued on to Nairobi via Alexandria and I think Khartoum. I remember I was airsick over France, and then seasick in the choppy waters of Marseille harbor.
Although flying by a BOAC flying boat might seem romantic, the reality could be more like an adventure from Tintin.
Zelda Wilkins, 03.04.2013
In November 1949 I flew with my brother (14) and my parents to East Africa from Southampton. I was 9 so do not remember it very well. The weather was very bad so much so that we had to fly through the Alps because we could not gain enough altitude to go over them. We were not fed on board only when we landed subsquently because it was so bumpy we were all very sick. They ran out of sick bags! In fact my parents told me there were only two people not sick on the flight – one being my mother. Even the stewards were sick. We landed on Lake Naivasha and were transported to Nairobi in a bus with wooden slated seats. The journey took 36 hours and was one I will never forget.
As will be seen as the narrative unfolds, Len being Len, she picked up contacts and friends amongst BOAC employees.
“Let us know when you get to U.K. and also when we may expect you in ‘Dear Old Glasgow Town’.“, wrote Mum. Again, besides the change in anticipated dates Len thought she would arrive in Britain, the idea of her and Mum and Dad spending a week in London when she arrived has changed. As far as we know, Mum and Dad did not come down to London during her leave in Britain. Neither do we know whether she stayed with the Holts, or Joan Brandley and family in Dagenham, after arriving in Britain, or on her way back down to Southampton to get the flying boat back to Egypt. Nor do we know if Joan Brandley travelled to Scotland. We do know she stayed with Pat off the Finchley Road in Hampstead.
Len had travelled down from Scotland for an audition with the Central School of Speech and Drama. It seems her audition was not successful, but as will be seen, it didn’t put her off drama and the theatre, for a while. We do not know whether she also had an audition with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her audition at the Central School of Speech and Drama was the day following the date of Mum’s letter.
It’s 10 p.m. and the jobs are finished for the time being so thought I’d say a ‘how do’ to you. Out thoughts are with you all the time and we hope for the greatest success for you in all your wishes and plans.
We are sweating and sweltering here in this terrific heat and we hear this is just nothing compared to what you are enjoying in London. We’ve been listening to the radio and hearing about the crowds in London for the opening of the Olympic Sports. (1) I guess you think the Old Big Smoke is a rather busy place after all – how does it compare in your mind with Cairo, I wonder. Take note of the shops so as you can tell me.
So far the enclosed is the only letter which has come in for you, and, as you can see, it refers to the collection, etc. of your canvas bag.
I’ll leave this letter open till the morning to see if there’s any more mail for you – if any comes in later I’ll send it on or wire you the gist of it.
I was in town this afternoon, left my Pythons at Bayne & Ducketts who are to make the button holes in the straps. The shop girls were in ecstasy about my python shoes. I was quite summer gloveless so bought myself a pair in Lewis’s, very nice white thread ones ‘hand made in Italy’ price 4/4d. and containing about sixpenceworth of material – they were selling in thousands – the heat – so Italy sh’d be busy! I got quite a lot of eats in Ross’s including a remnant piece of Spam for no points! I also bought a bottle of ‘Elasto’ tablets for Daddy and do hope they’ll do him good – I worry about him. I mean to try them myself also, so sh’d you. I also bought a bottle of Blackcurrant Syrup in Boots – my Deah! – it’s the most wonderful stuff, full of Vitamin C. The dose is 2 tablespoons per day – we are weeks ahead! You sh’d get yourself a bottle at a London Boots, price 2/9d. for about a pint.
Good night now, honey, bless you always, Mum.
p.s. Gloves are off coupons so do get yourself some. Tell Pat Brown to send on the stockings you gave her for me, or you can bring them.
1. The first post war Olympic Games were held in London. The previous had been stage-managed by the Nazis in Berlin in 1936. At the London Olympics several athletes from the east and central European communist states , including four Czechs, applied for asylum.
In Len’s itinerary for her holiday in her letter of 2 April she also spoke of having a party in London. Besides Pat, other returned Cairo and Suez Canal Zone friends included Harris, Peter and Malcolm. We have no indication whether they all met up. Harris was to start at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in September. And by the summer in 1948 he should have returned the forgotten items to John Gielgud’s cousin, and perhaps have got the invitation to John Guelgud that he had hoped for.
Len in Glencoe February, 1945, with the Pap of Glencoe in the background. The concrete signpost behind her has the initials of Arygll County Council on it. In both photos there are telephone poles and wires, but no electricity. The far seeing post-war North of Scotland Hydro-Electric power scheme that was underway would change this. In the 1945 photo the curb stones at the junction are painted white to help drivers in the blackout. Their own car lights, because of the blackout regulations, would be permantly dimmed. Glencoe seems to have been one of her favourite places. From a letter of Mum’s, sent in October, it seems the whole family stayed at Glencoe. This was either a weekend holiday for Mum and Dad, or a longer holiday. They would have travelled from Glasgow by train and got off at the now closed Ballachulish station, to the right in the postcard below.
Len had said that she wanted to be alone to think in the Highlands. Being in remote and unpopulated Achininver was the perfect place to think, and figuratively, a million miles from the Auberge du Turf in Cairo, with King Farouk at the next table. We also know, from a future letter, that she had also been on Skye.
She’d also been to the far north east coast, at Dornoch. As with Mum and Dad’s visits, and Ena’s cancelled visit, we do not know whether there were relatives of theirs that they could stay with, or with friends of their former family.
This postcard view from Struie shows the Firth of Dornoch.
It is unclear what thoughts she had alone in the Highlands, and what conclusions she came to about the direction of her life, as she was coming up to the age of 23. We do know from a future letter – in Part Two Chapter 11 – that she didn’t intend to stay a shorthand typist for the rest of her life. And though she seemed to have dropped the idea of studying at a drama school, we do not know what her alternative thoughts were.
24 August, 1948. The Old Firm.
BSDM Cairo, c/o Det APO S.299, MELF.
Most dearly Beloved Ones,
Back again & how I wish it were Scotland – a leave completely spoils one for this place.
How did you get on at Motherwell – hope you got some good food there, then got back to Glasgow all right. That was the coldest train journey I’ve ever had – I chittered all the way to London – but after that I’d warmth all the way, so was O.K. (1)
BOAC’s car took me straight to Garden City, for I didn’t see Mark at the BOAC offices en route – he arrived at the flat later having waited 2 hours at the Air Booking Centre by mistake. I just said hello to him and gave him the tie with which he was overjoyed and then bode him adieu, to have dinner, do my unpacking, talk to Esme and get to bed.
Disposals have been far more petty & nasty than I thought, but with Britain in the forefront of my mind I couldn’t care less. They’re demoting me, as Esme said in her letter & moving me from this job. (2) They’re furious about my over-staying my leave & though they don’t say so, about my having a super time.
Actually I arrived here on Sunday night, but the thought of coping with Cairo made me forget to cable at first & so I sent off news of arrival the following morning (yesterday – Monday) – hope you received it & my letter from Aix-en-Provence.
The flat is simply gorgeous & between it & my friends life here is greatly improved. (3)
What’s the latest from Uncle Bert? (4) We mustn’t let him cancel his trip altogether & in view of my official reception here I’m prepared to come back at any time to see him.
I don’t need the letter about my not being educationally qualified now, but could you please look amongst my papers for me ‘three-months-either-side’ notice. I know it’s somewhere & will look in my trunks but am not at all sure where it is. Feel I ought to have it from the point of view of protecting myself with its three month basis. (5)
Honestly though, I feel a different woman from when I left & everyone says how well I look.
Love, every bit of it,
p.s. All the trouble happened when I was on leave – things are quieter now. (6)
p.p.s Esme said Ernst was all chummy & says he’s coming to Cairo to see me – he’ll be lucky if he does.
p.p.p.s Could you please buy & send me by air mail another tartan wool tie – completely forgot I’ll have to give something to the bloke who lent me the air travel bag. Thanks a lot.
1. It is not clear why Mum would travel with Len to Motherwell, on Len’s train journey down to London. The Express would stop at Motherwell to pick up further passengers, and that is where Mum would get off. The local stopping return journey to Central Station would take 30 minutes. Len says she had a cold onward journey – and this is August.
2. What kind of demotion this was is not clear. It may be that she was taken off having a supervisory role within the typing pool. However, if so, a Civil Service letter in a future chapter, indicates she was either re-instated, or that this was not part of the demotion. The demotion would presumably effect her pay, or, delay her career advancement. She had passed her Clerical Officer exams and was on the Civil Service Establishment. It is unlikely that she was stripped of her Clerical Officer grade, and even if that had been mooted, she would have fought it, involving the local branch of Civil Service Clerical Association union, that she had helped to set up in 1946.
3. She has, on her return moved into a mixed flat. Unknown to her, she and her flatmates are about to realise they are inheriting outstanding unpaid bills from the previous tenants.
4. Uncle Bert: Uncle Albert.
5. This is the paperwork that spells out that both parties – the Civil Service and herself – have to give a minimum of three months notice to be sacked, or to quit.
6. Len is probably referring to the anti-Israel Cairo street protests and the resumption of hostilities, on 9 July, 1948, in the Arab-Israeli war.
Monday morn. Breezy Britain.
Hello Our Own Darling,
Lovely to get your 302 of the 24th this morn, do keep on feeling well and chirpy and on top of the world so that the effect of your holiday will be long lasting. So happy to read in your last para. “The flat is simply gorgeous and between it and my friends life here is greatly improved”. Keep on being happy and comfortable, my precious, in spite of the old C.S. and Disposals – remember the NORTH!
It’s pretty rotten they way they are behaving and I worry about your not staying at the Tec. Coll. till you were sixteen, but we considered it all well and at that ghastly time of raids the only thing that seemed urgent and the right thing was to get you to safety. As I’ve said before, I’m a great believer in the right moment of time, so we probably did what was right as something awful might have befallen us if we’d sent you to Somerset and we pray that your future will be rosy and gay – so many ways and so many avenues leading to happiness in this old world, and that you will find the right one is the only wish and dream of your Mum and Dad. (1)
Glad to learn Mark liked his tie, can he say “It’s a braw bricht moonlit nicht” yet? Yes, honey, I’ll get another tie for you first time I’m in town. I’ll get the shop people to wrap it so as I can send it off straight away. I’ll also look for your “Three months either side” notice.
By now you’ll have my letters giving you the gen on Uncle Albert’s sailing (August 24th from Boston, Mass). Isn’t it terrific. As you can guess I’m up to high doe! (dough!). I’m getting Daddy to write to his cousin in L’pool to be there to meet the ship. Daddy was going to write last night but just as he was starting Maud came in, yes, about 8.30 p.m. She was all done up and fully hoped to see you, amazed when she found you’d gone. Maud had on the 13 guinea hat (2), it’s a large Bangkok straw with a twist of French ribbon on it thus –
I must be on the look out for a large straw I can do up! Nothing to it at all. The hat suited me a treat, also M’s Silver foxs. It was very funny, Hutch went on the table and went close to Maud and had a good look & smell of the fox furs, then sat back a bit & took it all in.
To get back to Uncle A. I must get Daddy to write tonight – lovely if they c’d meet Albert, it would be a terrific lift and surprise for him. Worst of it is he hasn’t told us the name of the ship, and Daddy can’t presently find Percy or Grace’s addresses!!! Must have a shoofti for them mysel.
Got a letter from Trudi Grafton on Sat. to say she is in London and has the sheets and asks re. sending them on – by reg.post or via Joan Brandley or if convenient she c’d bring them (the sheets) to G’gow if I can wait for them till after Sept. 15th. I shall write back and ask her to bring them and to stay for a few days. Good to think the sheets are rolling in – I told you we got the pair via the Helensbrough man last week; it now only remains for ye coffee table and wrapping ones to come in – any news of them and it? Trudi’s address, in case you want it, is – 509 Duncan House, Dolphin Square, London. S.W.1.
Daddy and I had a wizard holiday at Dunoon on Sat. It was a glorious day of bright sunshine and the crowds at Dunoon for the Cowal Games was terrific and a very cheery lot, how we kept saying we wished you could have been there, the music and the kilts, however, we have great hopes you’ll see it all next year. Over 50 pipe bands competed and that made over a thousand pipers, a quite unforgettable scene.
The strangest meeting took place. Dad & self were in quite good time to get the 12.30 at Singer but were held up by the canal bridge being closed so we had to wait for the 1.18. I bought fruit and while walking along the platform we saw a woman in hiking kit and a bergen (3) so I went up (as is my wont!) and spoke to her, asking her where she was going and she replied “Ardgarten”. After a while she said “You’re a sister of Ena Mackay’s” and I said “Yes, how did she know” and she said she remembered me from years back. We all got in the same carriage to Craigendoran where she was to meet two pals from G’gow & change to the West Highland for Arrochar.
In the train she told us she was a foundation member of the S.Y.H.A. We went on to talk of hostels, Loch Lomond etc. and thinking of the Clarkes there I asked her if she knew the Findlays and oh! boy that started it! She knew John F. very well for years and said “He is in Egypt now” and I told her they were great friends of yours. She doesn’t remember Jean, but hopes to meet them when they return. She said John is the best comic she’s ever met & how he used to keep them laughing for days; I gave her our name and she is to send us a winter programme of the Health Culture Assn. of which she is a very active member. When I said “Bryers” she said, “Oh! you get your coal from us” and it turns out she is head of the Coop coal office, getting Mrs Wick’s job when that lady left to get wed. Be sure, honey lamb, to tell Jean & John about our meeting this girl – she’s 40ish I sh’d say (but don’t you say!) and her name is Iza Morris.
A letter from Joan B. for you came in this morn. – I’ll have to send it under separate cover, also a P.C. from Sweden. The number of letters I’ve got to write & send are really beyond telling, but they’ll need to wait as I’m absolutely too busy for words just now getting all fixed for Uncle A.
I’m giving the house it’s final beauty treatment – well, dolling it up a bit – must never be anything final for I believe in the Chinese saying “What reaches perfection perishes”. Yesterday & today I’ve been a scrubbing out below the stairs cupboard & ye kitchen dresser – I think I’ll leave the odds & ends drawer for you to tidy! Wouldn’t you love it!
I told you Uncle Donnie’s great idea for a boarding house at I.O.M. I wonder what would be best – the select clientele of the north or the tougher, but just as critical masses of I.O.M. Uncle D. found out practically all about I.O.M. whilst there; went to see the authorities re. taxation and all details – he really does know the ropes – and uses them!
It’s raining now (our unpredictable weather!) and every drop is full of our love for you, darling.
Cheers, your very own Dad and Mum. xxxxxx
p.s. Be as sweet as sugar if you meet Ernest – let him see what he’s missed – I must write to him soon, a sugary letter.
1. Several London colleges and Tech Schools were evacuated en masse to Somerset when the London Blitz started, including, as an example, the Regent Street Polytechnic.
2. Maud’s 13 guinea hat was the equivalent of 1½ weeks wages of an unskilled manual worker in 1948.
3. Bergen: another name for a rucksack.
TEK. 1245 pm.
Thanks an awful lot for your kind invitation to the House-warming party tomorrow night, duly delivered this morning by someone from BSDM.
I should really like to come but I’m afraid it’s impossible, as I promised to attend a farewell dance for some four chaps at Moascar tomorrow night. I am sorry I didn’t know about your party sooner.
I am still intending to pay a last visit to Cairo before I leave, perhaps at the end of this or early next month, and to hear all the ‘Gen’ on the UK from you. Please let me know if you’re coming up to TEK in the near future. Will you be at the Riding Club Dance on the 17th?
As you may remember, I should be demobbed on the 30th of this month at the latest but am held back on a Court-martial for which no date has as yet been fixed.
Hoping to see you again soon.
1. Ernest’s return address identifies him as a Regimental Sergeant Major, in the Special Investigations Bureau of the Royal Military Police. It seems he has been transferred from Port Said to Tel El Kebir (TEK).
There is now a 6 week gap, apart from Ernest’s letter above in this collection of letters. Summer has moved into Autumn. Uncle Albert, and his banjo, has arrived from America, but he has been away for a while from Mum and Dad’s house, possibly revisiting family in the Liverpool area.
I called yesterday aft. at 99 Norse Road. (1) Mrs Ballantyne, (2) and Rory were at the Modern Homes Exhibition and Uncle D. was in the house all on his own and he showed me several of the “buys” P & he got at the sales – Mai deah! You never saw such bargains – everything that guy touches seems to turn to money. They have every conceivable gadget at 99, including two meat safes, gas boilers, two sewing machines – one brand new which Uncle D. got for 10 gns. and a beauty for 6 gns.
He says he will get four times those prices for them in Iran. However they are to keep one so that dear Aunt P. can make troosers for wee Rory. They got a three piece wardrobe for 11 ½ gns. – absolutely superb. Uncle D. had brought an incense burner (brass) home from Iran – he’d paid £5 for it there, and he bought two exactly like it at the Crown Salerooms for 30/- and sold them to P’s sisters for £1 each; he got a £7.10/- shop price perfect Parker pen gold mounted for 25/- – you just can’t believe the bargains he gets and it was wee me who told them about the sales. P has bought umpteen new dresses and got Rory a brown very expensive Burberry which doesn’t suit him nearly as well as his old blue one.
U.D. must have a wonderful salary; he bought two diamond rings at the sale, one for P. & one for wee Maggie, but I guess he’d make wee M. pay for hers. Phemie & Rory expect to leave by tanker from Greenock on Monday first and Uncle D. is to fly out on the 25th. They are busy packing, boxes and crates and trunks all over the place. I asked them if they had a spare one to put me in as far as Port Said! Aunt P’s tanker will, she thinks be calling at P.S. Uncle D. and Aunt P. were dashing off to the Alhambra later, where they had booked seats for Noel Coward’s “Perchance to Dream”.
U.D. was saying they don’t plan to come home next summer but, all going well, will return in 1950.
Daddy is away to the hospital to make an appointment to see the specialist, then he is going to the Eye Infirmary to get his eyes tested for new specs. Dad plans to go on a day’s outing to Edinbro’. It’s arranged by the boys where he works and Daddy is terrifically looking forward to it so I hope the weather will be good.
I’m planning to lift the stair & living room carpets and give them a good beating and clean down the stair case, dust walls, etc. and varnish the stair, then that will be every corner in the house turned out.
I got an Ox Tail at the butchers on Wednesday, it’ll be a great help with the meat ration. This morning I was planting bulbs and now we hope for the best results. I’ve put in two lots of crocuses, one lot each of Jonquils & snow drops (the flower for Mothers) and two narcissi bulbs – one red, one blue – they are all in the dark in the living room cupboard to wait till the green spikes appear – it’s a fascinating job planting them & watching them.
Just look at this ink! Must get another bottle. Uncle A. hopes to be back at 26 next week when we shall get all the news, he has written to you, he says.
We hope there will be another letter from you with the morning post. Dashing off now to post this & get the rations.
Bulb bowls of love ever blooming for you.
Your own Dad & Mum. xxx
1. In nearby Scotstoun.
2. Mrs Ballantyne is Phemie’s Mum, also known as ‘Wee Maggie’
Tues. morn.. Sunny Cold.
Just dashing to get this off after one of the most amazing week-ends – I’d better start at the beginning. On Friday night Dad & I were just sitting down to a cosy fire side night when a ring came at the door and it was a wire to say “Phone Newton Mearns 2155”. Daddy dashed out to the ‘phone as I’d got a bit of a cold. It was Lot Morrison to say their mother had died the day before. Daddy said we’d likely be out to see them at the week-end. On Sat. Daddy was at Edinbro’ with a bunch of boys from work. It was a lovely weather and they enjoyed the day very much, going & returning by coach.
On the same day I tried to get some sorta wreath of evergreens or flowers to take out to Lot’s on Sunday, but all the flowers I saw (in Clydebank) were a bit blown & tatty as it was Sat. afternoon. I managed to get some beautiful Asparagus Fern – cost me 6/- for 6 sprays, cheap too. On Sunday I was busy all morn. as I didn’t – couldn’t get any white satin ribbon but remembered I had some lengths of white taffetas in the house. I cut some on the cross and made the most gorgeous huge bow: Mrs. Collinson gave me some chrysanthemums, copper colour & I got some out of the garden & made a really super bouquet, twining the fern thro’ the white bow.
I had just finished & Daddy helped me to get lunch when a ring came at the door. I said ‘Oh! my’ and when I opened it if it wasn’t Ken Dixon! I wrote to tell him not to come last Sat. but he evidentally thot’ Sunday w’d be O.K! I said “Oh! we are just going out” and he replied “Oh! it doesn’t matter, I just wanted to see you”. I put him in the sitting room, gave him a whisky & biscuits & he sat and Dad & I talking to him in relays as I was really hurrying. At last as we were ready to go & he had made no signs of going so I asked would he like to come with us & he said he w’d love to, so we all hiked off to Newton Mearns.
Quite a crowd of people was there and must say the family had made Mrs Morrison look nice. She had on a beautiful pale blue satin gown & a large ivory & silver cross – the gown was trimmed with white real lace and everything was in keeping. She was 86 years of age, a wonderful woman. After what seemed ages Lot came in, she’d been into town & made us tea. By this time Ken was starving. He kept looking at the clock (which wasn’t going) & at his wristlet watch & said he thot’ he’d have to walk from Kilmarnock to Muirkirk (1) etc. etc till at last I asked him if he would like to come home with us to stay overnight and he said he that would be grand, so we got the last bus home to 26, and I had to start to make a proper meal as we only had sandwiches and biscuits at Morrisons and you know Ken’s appetite!
I made spaghetti on toast with piles of fried tomatoes. Ken was saying what a lovely house this is and he was in raptures about the comfort of the spare bedroom & said it’s the most comfy bed. He had no hurry to depart in the morning & says he still thinks Scotland is tops. He says he was never so entertained as at the Morrisons and what laughs he had about their twelve cats and two dogs! Ken says he’ll be writing to you & sending some snaps.
Breezes of love drifting to you from us. You are ever in our hearts & thoughts, Yum-Yum.
Dad and Mum.
p.s. No word from Findlays or from Uncle Albert.
1. At the time there was an army camp in the Muirkirk, Ayrshire area. Presumably he had a weekend pass.
It’s the limit! – I solemnly declare it’s the shirt and semmit! (1) Another unexpected visitor in the shape of dear Uncle Albert came in on Tuesday at 5 p.m. and this after I’d written to say write or wire! I said “What’d you have done if we’d been out and he quite cooly said “I’d have gone next door” ! However I’m well used to the unexpected guest by now so I take it all in my stride.
At the moment U.A. is getting ready to write another of his endless letters, and, as he has already spoiled three of my pens I’m determined he won’t get this one. The positively maddening thing is that he keeps on saying how much better the pens and ink are in the U.S.A. and how many wonderful fountain pens he has over there!
Now to answer you. Re. slimming beauty treatment, all we ask is to make sure it doesn’t damage your health in any way and for goodness sake don’t do anything just because that poor wee Esme suggests it – sounds good buying a really wizard frock – was it your idea or Esme’s? (2)
So glad you liked the snaps. (3) They are all good tho’ the Glencoe one is dim. Remember how it rained and yet we were so happy – funny how when one is really merry, weather and finance matter so little. The suit I have on, on Dunoon Pier is my old grey flannel – remember I got it years & years ago.
Good that you are to get Trudi to go with you prospecting for carpets, I think she will be very helpful and knowledgeable – tell me all partics. before buying, so as I can think it out. Trudi will be telling you all about her trip here, she really did enjoy herself and said it was such a relief to get away from Lunnon. (4)
Re. your request , I drop hints to U.A. to send you more cosmetics – where & how c’d he send them out to you? Anyway, tho’ there’s few things I wouldn’t do for you, my baby, but asking U.A. for anything I just balk at.
Please write and give us all the data re. ‘phoning you on the 29th (darling 29th!). We must remember that Cairo & Glasgow times differ & take that into account. Ken Dixon was saying the charge is about £3.6.8. Next time I’m in town I must call at the G.P.O. & ask if there’s any further news of a ‘phone for 26. I’m frightened to bits of the things but shall do my best for your dear sake.
We would like to give a party for U.A. but he must dominate the talk all the time & Daddy says he wouldn’t like his friends to meet him. We cannot go out with him as he doesn’t want to spend money at all – I’ve dropped heavy hints re. going to a show and the necessity of booking in advance but he says he’s seen all the shows from front, back and sides and they are of no interest to him. Believe me, he is heavy weather. As we are out of all the dough for his keep we cannot see we sh’d be out of pocket for his entertainment also. He wants us to have a party so as he can play his banjo – he takes it everywhere – it’s awful. We are promised pie in the sky in the shape of parcels from U.S.A.. He is a poor soul & we c’d pity him if he acted decently & not such a blow hard – here he is asking for a new pen – what shall I do? – What shall I do! I’ll hide this one.
All for now, must run to the shops. Give our best to Trudi.
All our love, Mum.
1. A commonly used Scottish word for vest.
2. This letter about slimming and a new frock are not in this collection.
3. These photos do not survive in this collection.
4. Trudi Grafton presumably will have brought up the sheets from London.
Dearest and Best,
The River has just come in from not getting his innoc. for return to U.S. and is telling me some screamingly funny joke about a Horse and Rabbit in a pie while I’m trying to scribble this to you.
You said in your 318 of Oct 19 (1) to always give U.A. your love, whether your remembered to send same or not, but, my deah, he insists on reading all your letters unless I hide them first. He says “I know there’s nothing in them I shdn’t read” so you can react as you please. I c’dn’t show the last one so he thinks you are a long time in writing. Please send one I can show him. He has just demanded tea & I’ve got to get it ready for him. Now he is asking me to go to town with him some day to help choose presents for the people in L’pool. However with the memory of his & my last day in town together (when he made me feel thoroughly miserable) I’ve said I don’t think he likes Glasgow and referred to several derogatory things he said about it on our last trip. He almost apologised & said it was because our decadent neglected towns have all been such a shock to him! I just say to myself “Oh! Bonnie Scotland, what I’m suffering you ye noo”. You say you mustn’t say anything nasty re. U.A. – please don’t – we’ve said them all. The awful thing is, we feel so sorry for him, but he makes us mad – absolutely doesn’t give out at all, in thought, word or action & has no interest whatever in anything or anyone outside of himself.
Re. what he said to me about leaving dough between you and James M. I’ve found out he has said the same (with variations) to Getchel’s boys and all the cousins, etc. so it’s worth nothing at all. His letters which he insists on reading to me, are all couched in flowery language which doesn’t mean a thing – it’s sickening.
Uncle Donnie called on Sunday. He is flying from London to Iran today & is getting a wonderful day for it. It’s a 20 hour flight. Aunt P. & Rory left last Wednesday & were to sail to Swansea first of all.
There’s a letter & pictures in this morn. from Aunt Betty . I’m trying to make up my mind to show them to U.A. but I quail as one picture shows. A.B. sitting beside U.A.’s bone of contention, Mr Hall. I think I told you, U.A. makes out A.B.’s friendship with Mr Hall is a scandal but I know the scandal is only in U.A.’s mind. Uncle Betty has sent me a coat, one of hers, isn’t that lovely, she is really a dear.
You know HOME is waiting for you right here. Home and welcome and love – this is your own place, steadfast and unchangeable. I sometimes wonder if this time next year you’ll be clad in Harris Tweed, using a shooting stick and discussing the respective merits of Shorthorns and Ayrshires! It’s worth having a go at the Ministry of Ag. when you make your much hoped for return (2), meantime save dough and buy Eastern curios, etc, and don’t forget the carpet. Above all, oh! above all, keep safe & happy.
Ever your own adoring Mum and Dad.
1. Not in this collection.
2. It seems Len is thinking about making a move from the Ministry of Supply to the Ministry of Agriculture. As we will see, she liked working on the land, and maybe she likes the association, even if she continues to work as a shorthand typist, within the Civil Service. It also indicates she has changed her mind about studying at a Drama College.
Our Bright Sunbeam,
After reading your 319 (after yr. 318) we are left gasping. In your 318 you give us the gen. re Mrs W’s freakish hospital lack of discipline, Jack’s neglect and Trudi’s fickleness, then your 319 brings us word that you have been visiting the Wilt. woman, forgiven Jack, and then taken tea with Trudi! It must be something in the Egyptian air, and we give up! (1)
Uncle A. got his innoc. for Smallpox on Wed. and Daddy told him he thot’ he (U.A.) would come under the Nat. Health scheme and U.A. has this morn found the bit in his papers where it tells him to make enquiries at a P.O. so now U.A. is quite happy thinking he may not need to pay. He says “Oh! I don’t mind paying” but believe me it’s a case of “methinks the gent doth protest too much”. He is quite right of course but what have American Citizens done that they sh’d qualify for our free health services?! They pay no visa guarantee money like my £50 for Egypt – it’s a bit much and another indication of how we dance to America’s tune.
It’s with much alarm we read in your letters of raids, etc. Do, do keep safe darling. (2)
How are your finances? It’s very bad to get a £20 advance unless for the purchase of some big bargain. entertaining, phone calls and all the quite unnecessary (and uninteresting) trimmings are such a drain on dough. I have to keep a tight hold on finances here as catering for one extra (used to American food) for a period of two months takes up any surplus there might be. I’m leaving any further criticism of U.A. until we find his reactions when he returns to the U.S.A.. At present his whole idea seems to be not to spend. We could have given him such a wonderful holiday if he had shown any signs of generousity. Daddy & I contrast his behaviour with yours – the way you were so good to us and so kind and you were a very splasher of dough compered to U.A. After all, after nearly 40 years absence you’d think he’d want to stand us a meal out or something! We keep telling him you and Uncle Donnie took us to the theatre, etc but he just doesn’t bite. As you know Daddy and I can take ourselves to a show etc. but if he’d only show willingness!
Got a sweet letter from Aunt Betty two days ago, she is quite settled down in Phila. and she thinks she might be there till the spring when she may sell up Willow Grove to go west to her sister in Calif. A.B. sent us several pictures. I’m enclosing two for you, darling, you can send them back any time to us or keep them to look at to cheer you up. In all the pictures they look so happy. Betty’s brother, Andy, has quite a look of Bruce I think. Ruth is Andy’s daughter, isn’t she lovely! Note the new look shoulder draperies on her and her mother’s dresses.
Aunt Betty looks very well we think, she tells me she has sent me one of her coats, I am delighted as I can do with another one – the one James Mitchell sent turned out to be a treat, a lovely blue and all wool but the weight is more suited to warm weather as it is a fairly open weave; I made several alterations to it and it really looks smart, here is a wee scrap to let you see the colour, etc
The weather is bitterly cold and U.A. is miserable about it as he cannot walk far or do much to keep himself warm – he is lucky to have a good big fire to sit at.
Ta-ta just now, our own only dear one, all blessings on you always.
Oceans of love.
Dad and Mum.
p.s. Yes! Dad had a grand day & grand weather at the outing to Auld Reekie.
p.p.s. Aunt B’s pictures were taken at Willow Grove in the garden.
1. Mrs W – the “Wilt” woman is American. She and her husband will invite Len and Esme for a meal at Christmas. We do not know how they and Len first met. Trudi is Trudi Grafton, and Jack is someone Len has met on her return from her UK leave, who is part of an Army group providing security cover at the British Embassy in Cairo.
2. The war between Egypt and Arab allies and Israel was continuing, and there was unrest in Cairo and the rest of Egypt.
There is now a three week gap in the collection of this correspondence.
c/o Det. APO S.299,
Eyes turned to England. (1)
Best Beloved People,
Your 322 needs to be replied to (2) & I must tell you also of super week-end – not because of activities but because of the super type I met – a most unusual combination – you know he’d a light touch & was attractive yet is good too. Nearly always one gets attractive bad people or good unattractive people & the combination (of the better qualities) leaves me gasping a little.
However to your 322. Uncle A’s conduct leaves me speechless – you get those medals all right. Now have your “Entertainment of American Visitors” up in my room beside “Whit’s she up in the air aboot noo?”
Had a p.c. from you Daddy today, you know your Liverpool one. Not quite with you about trip ‘cos from letters it appears you went down after Uncle A., yet saw him off?
Impossible to do anything about parcels from Cyprus – but here’s hoping they’ll turn up yet. Esme proposes to give me a collar & cuff set in lace for Christmas from there, so it too will be ordered for despatch to England, perhaps if & when it arrives you could hang on to it for me – you see it’s no good getting it sent to Egypt as it means customs & lots of things.
Dorothy sailed on Saturday, complete with your crochet cotton Mum, so I hope it won’t be long ere she arrives and despatches it to you. Will now see what I can do about the silk stockings – I’ve just had a phone call from Pen – in Cairo again on the Singapore route this time, so if he doesn’t take the legs of the coffee table, he ought to take the stockings. (3)
There are three of us in the flat – 3rd= Maureen’s father-in-law. (4) He’s stayed with us ever since he was posted here from BSDM Alex. We’ve tried everything to find a girl but as yet no-one wants to join us. I’m stony because Ned ran up terrific bills before they left, from which we’ve not yet recovered & I wash my sheets because I don’t want them ruined by the dhobby. You see there ain’t no sheets with the flat & up to now we’ve used Bill’s and E’s and me own, changing with one of theirs now & again when one of mine’s in the wash. Bill wants the sheets back & we’re wooing all Army & Embassy personnel we know, for the loan of 3 pairs to enable us to cover ye bodies & allow enough for laundering too. The third of my sheets is wrapped round the brass bits of the coffee table which is finally covered with some black-out cloth. So just hold on & I hope they’ll all gradually go west – in the best sense.
PLEASE DESPATCH THAT DRESS – Mummy, I asked you to do it there and then without putting anything else in – won’t go on, ‘cos I’ll only rage & you know my sudden gusts – & I know you for shoving everything in parcels. (5) However, you are wonderful, but I don’t want to get parcels of stuff over here, & then sell the clothes I don’t want, “tain’t economic ducks” – after all, labour is the most precious commodity & plenty needs to be spent to sell anything in Egypt.
Well honestly, it was terrific to say the least. We bussed down, went to the mess for food (different Sgt’s mess each time) and then to Church of Scotland to rest and wash & change. (6) Less than two hours later as we were departing for the dance, Mr West (the man who looks after the C of S canteen & hostel) said to me “The boy’ll be over in the morning.” Golly, I thought the morning coffee was becoming a habit with Ernst, but never thought he’d exercise remote control in that direction.
We went by truck to the dance where a ghastly sergeant stuck to me – I vaguely saw Ernst who was most pally – then had the idea of announcing through the mike. The people looking after us thought it a good thing so I was duly told by the band what the next dance was & did my stuff. I turned round to drift back when a young subaltern asked me for a dance. I danced with him & found he expected me to stay with him. At this time I was not enthralled, but he was a pleasant companion which the other bod was not. Then Ernst excused himself at one stage to draw me aside & ask me to come with E & Dorothy (English Embassy girl, not the one taking the e. cotton) to a party at their mess. I said “Yes”. You see Esme was fed up & had no-one, which meant she would come back to Cairo the next day (Sunday) leaving me alone to come back this morning. At the party I thought she’d meet someone. Later I told the sub. I’d have to leave early as I had to join a party which had been pre-arranged. He said I left him a broken hearted man, but this I did not greatly heed.
On we went to Ernst’s Mess, where instead of there being a party we had to open it up. I fumed at him for bringing us down on false pretences (a thing I’d never have done when enamoured) & he said other people were coming & to complete his appeasement gave D, E & me a ½ lb box of Rowntrees chocs each. I nearly fell through the floor to be blunt – first thing Ernst’s ever given me & the first time I’ve given him a row!?! The people did come & I went into the cookhouse & made tomato sandwiches & we’d a grand sing-song lasting till about 3.30 am. Ernst drove us back in his jeep accompanied by Lettie & made a date with me for 11 the following morning. (7)
We slept well & I got up at 9.45 & phoned the MO who without a murmur arranged transport for us this morning – a difficult thing to do, as the checkpoint where we pick up the bus is outside the Garrison.
Then I went to meet Ernst – was wearing the ancient but super navy skirt & the jumper of the twinset for the first time – I looked O.K. & the jumper really does things for one.
Ernst nattered away furiously & when I said I expected to be on the boat shortly said “You can’t do that, you can’t go before me, it isn’t done”. However, despite his pleas I said I wouldn’t be in TEK for a while, so he said he’ll next see me in Cairo. I told him he’d better leave me then, as it was 11.55 & I was due to see Duncan at 12 noon (subaltern of the previous evening).
Nipped away to freshen up & came back to find Duncan waiting. He insisted on taking the girls to the mess as well for lunch, after which Dorothy came back to Cairo with the CO by car & another bod who suddenly took a fancy for city air. Esme was with Tony another sub & Duncan & I were getting on like a house on fire. He’s half English, half Scottish like me & and is 5’ 10”, blue eyed, 22 & full of quips. Later we drove around, had tea in Tony’s tent & a mock seance, then went to the C of S to change, came back for dinner & went to see “Jassy” at an open air cinema – yes, it was cold despite my stockings, but not too cold. Then as it was part of Tony’s duty we toured the perimeter (wire fence around the Garrison) in an armoured car after which they took us back & we said good-night. (8)
The tragedy of it is that Duncan (Lt. King) goes into 156 Transit camp at Port Said on Friday whilst awaiting ship to U.K. He’s to try to come to Cairo & anyway I’m s’posed to be going to P.S. week-end after next – if he’s still in 156. This week-end we’re expecting people up from Fanara. Jack wanted to see me this week-end, but I told him of the bods coming up & mentioned the following week-end, but if all goes as planned I’ll have to postpone it still further – Pen in Cairo 5 days and rehearsals make further complications. At the moment I just want to see Duncan ‘cos he’s so darn nice & I like him, but I daren’t drop everything else impulsively. Thanks for bearing with me once more, but you must admit I haven’t raved about anyone since Mark which was a long time ago. Duncan’s got a sister at RADA & lives at Esher (nr. London) just now & plans to go to Agricultural University before going to Canada to fruit farm.
Has that phone been installed? – I’ve told everyone we’re expecting it to be installed shortly & am just waiting to give them the number. It would be grand if it could be installed for a week today, but from what I hear the time lag between hearing you’re going to have one & actually having it goes into months – I bet Maud’ll keep you on the end of the line for hours at a time. (9)
Must sign off now kittens – love you as much & more than ever.
1. “Eyes turned to England” – possibly a reference to her Ministry of Supply Civil Service employers in London, who would determine when she is posted back to the U.K.
2. Mum’s 322 letter is not in this collection. She wrote several letters to Len high-lighting Uncle Albert’s ‘behaviour’.
3. Pen is part of BOAC aircrew, and Len probably met him on her BOAC flight.
4. Esme is the other flat mate.
5. The letter in which Len asked for this dress is not in this collection.
6. Esme is part of the “We”.
7. Lettie is probably Ernest’s fianceé. Ernest married Arlette P.J.M. Packham in London in 1949.
8. As footnoted elsewhere, the barbed wired perimeter fence around TEK was 17 miles in length.
9. “Grand if installed… a week today.” That would be on Len’s 23rd birthday, 29 November. There was a telephone in the Cairo flat she was sharing.
30 November, 1948.
c/o Det.APO S.299,
Uncalm Cairo (1)
What a St. Andrews Day!
Most well loved People,
What are you to think of me? Haven’t written since the 23rd I know & this won’t get posted till the first, but I hope you’ll forgive when you hear what’s happened in the interim.
Well I’ve been busier at work than I’ve been for a long time which has almost precluded writing there & the rest of my time has been hectic.
Last Tuesday I Frenched & saw “Message for Margaret” put on by CTG & I forgot to say Pen of BOAC dropped in for a morning coffee. Wednesday Jack came to lunch & Pen to dinner but we spent the time quietly indoors. Thursday I stayed in to sew and at night refused a BOAC invitation as I was taking a friend of Jack’s to the recital for Security observations & they never came, so I didn’t go out.
Friday I went to Vera for French & from there to rehearsal at Hope Clayton’s. She’s one of the cast, runs Cairo’s best pension & gives us wonderful teas. She’s a grandmother married to a Brigadier, & as well as acting she sings & toured America as a Wightman cup player – not bad eh?
At night stayed in to get ready & also collect some cash Jack is giving me out here that I may transfer to him in England. You see I meant to gradually cut down my advances to nothing, but they’re stopping them altogether this month which is a bit of a bind & necessitated my action as above much as I hated doing it. I shall give you the amount & name of his bank account in due course, when I’d like you to send him a cheque. Please Mum – don’t say I’m awful please, because it’s the flat wot’s done it.
Saturday I’d a busy morning at work, but got away all right & went straight to the station accompanied by one of Disposals local bods who insisted on acting as my escort. I should explain I’d a super letter from Noel (formerly Charlie, Noel’s what his family call him) (2) on the Friday saying he’d adore to see me at the week-end if at all poss. & that he expected to sail on the Tuesday – it was written from 156 Transit at Port Fouad. As the people coming up from Fanara were on a scheme & during a trunk call said they’d come the following (i.e this) week-end, it meant I was free to go to Port Said, so I did.
When I arrived at P.S. I asked the RTO if there was a Lt. King at 156. (3) He got on the phone, stayed on it for ages enquiring, then said “He’s not there.” When I replied “Yes” to his query of “Did you come to Port Said especially to see him? – there was a mingled chortle & guffaw from the BOR’s also in his office for they thought it a great joke. (4) However they looked up their books & he didn’t appear to have come through the station, then they rang the Embarkations Staff Officer, but got no reply, then they wondered if he’d gone straight on the boat & finally they phoned TEK, who said – yes, a Lt.King had left on the Friday. “Well what’s happened to him between Port Said & here” I asked. They didn’t venture a reply but took me down to the quay – beside the famous customs shed & there we waited for a launch ordered for us on the old-boy basis. Eventually its lights twinkled & it arrived.
We boarded & it whizzed away – being a speedy craft to Port Fouad & the back of 156. We got out & on to the black desert & walked forward. The enormous black back gate loomed up & a voice said “Halt, who goes there?” I was with two RTOs & they halted themselves & me & one yelled “Friend” – “Advance friend & be recognised” the sentry replied, so he did & left us outside whilst he went in to enquire. He was gone ages & I began to think Noel was halfway across the Med., when he came out to say he was there. We went in and right across the place that breathes discipline. At about 6 am. each morning the loudspeaker says – it’s a well known fact out here – “All ranks will rise from their beds, wash, shave and be properly dressed for breakfast.”
However on we went to “A” Officers’ Mess & there Noel was, just finishing his shift of guarding a deserter. I arrived in P.S. at 7, & contacted Noel by 8.30, but I learnt later the RTOs didn’t get out the camp (156) till 10.30! as I wasn’t with them – having gone to the main gate with N.
We walked over to the Married families & Officers’ Leave Camp, where we had dinner, then I at last managed to find the receptionist and booked up. I’d taken my ballerina with me, but there was nothing on to which I could wear it, so just wore (after washing) another dress, then we went to P.S. and danced in the Eastern Exchange. We eventually said good-night over at PF about 1.30 a.m., despite the 156 rule of “All Ranks must be back in the camp by 2259 hours” – 11 p.m. He was going straight on duty at 2 a.m. to 9 a.m., guarding a deserter, whom he told me was a very reasonable bloke.
Sunday I got a super breakfast, then Noel arrived at 11 a.m., a bit late, because they wouldn’t allow him out of the camp whilst the church parade and service was on. We walked on the seashore – where our famous photo was taken Mum – then went across to the Officers’ Club for lunch and boy, did it rain. Then we’d a walk along the breakwater, right past de Lesseps statue before coming back into town to have tea at Gianola’s. Then we ferried back and we sat for a little while in the lounge of the MF & O, before I packed. We went back to the ferry via 156, where Noel attempted to go in for his greatcoat as it was darned cold and I was wearing my Motoluxe (5), but they wouldn’t let him in as there was another church parade on and if he’d gone in he couldn’t have gone out. He saw me off by the 7 p.m. train to Cairo – remember us sleeping in it Mum? – and I’d an uneventful journey back to Cairo.
I let myself into the flat and found your cable perched against the telephone – it was lovely to get it and thank you so very much – I must have got home just about midnight or after (as the train was late getting in), so yours really was the first greeting on my birthday.
Next morning found Esme’s present of the diamanté bracelet and also a card and a rhyme separately. At work the pool bought me the most superb enormous bunch of flowers, barley sugars – Barker & Dobson’s, and some nougat. I’ve been giving out some of the barley sugars, but as I’m not a sweet fan, will send the nougat to you. Then Esme and I toured the town in the afternoon and we’d tea in Groppi jardiniere – me treating her it being my birthday. ‘Tea’ is an overall term, as she’d meringue with coffee ice cream and French Coffee and I’d a sfogliatella and a hot orange squash.
I also put a deposit on a dress. You’ll be glad to know it’s not dark and restrained – one of the girls was lecturing me about wearing brighter things and I think her words coupled with your own must have had some effect. Esme says “Yes, it gives you a wonderful line, but I think it looks like a blanket”, however, as I don’t think much of her dress taste I’m not worried by that. It’s a big check – really big – but like you Mum I take no notice of those theories, which are very rarely applicable. The bodice is cut on the straight and fits perfectly with a dart not coming up the front but from half way up the bodice on the side seam, it has an ordinary plain collar of the material – not peter pan, but ……. like that.
The colour by the way is a turquoise and black with a yellow bit in it too. Don’t be put off by the t & b, for I’m sure you’d like the colours – sort of tartan effect. I must admit the skirt is cut on the cross, which is the only bit I’m chary about, but it does fit like a glove, but all over my dee-yah. The sleeves are slightly bouffiant finishing in a highwayman’s cuff – O.K., I admit I made up the expression, but you must admit is sounds O.K. comme ça …… – it has three gold buttons on the cuff and also a gold buckle on the belt. The reason for the superb fit, is that it zips up from below the waist at the back. price – £5. 19s., which you must admit is not extortionate for a woollen dress – the shoulders, I will admit do not slope, but are not determinedly square. I’m dreadful, for I hope to pay the balance – deposit was £2 – at the end of the week, and at present don’t know where I’m getting it from – just can’t summon up worry about cash.
I forgot to say about the week-end that Noel, wants me to jump on the next boat for U.K., and is horrified when I talk of March – which is the quoted departure date at the moment, but London cables could get me home at any time. Yes, he’s most keen to say the least and I do quite a lot of reciprocating. You shall be kept fully appraised of further chapters.
Told you about Noel’s sister being at RADA, didn’t I?
He himself is 22, 5’ 1o” – or rather that’s my guess and has been in Burma and helped evacuate the people from Haifa. (6) His father’s a Colonel in the Indian Army, but N, though he knows Hindustani – having been in the Indian Army himself – wants to study agriculture, then go and fruit farm in Canada. (7)
After town we went to the Embassy to interview the new servant in Jack’s office and we found him O.K. (the servant.) (8)
Yesterday was hectic as we were busy beyond belief at work and the axe came down on a number of people, including Esme, for she was told she’s to sail on the 23rd of this month! As you can imagine we’re moving heaven and earth at the moment to get rid of the flat and get some key money at the same time. Of course what I’d like is to have Jack and Bob Shields (his pal, also kind of security) come in and let me stay on – we’re just waiting for their decision. Otherwise I’d perhaps move in with Trudi as she’s asked me to do – sink me pride – I would if it was convenient, or go back to bed and breakfast. I’m hoping that although my finances are in this state at the moment, even if I stayed on in the flat, it wouldn’t be as expensive as it is at the present, as J & B don’t want a cook and if I can stay on in the ME another month or two, perhaps I’d begin to see the light. (9)
I’d to cancel my French lesson, to have this conference with Jack when he came, so hope to go to-day instead. I’d Miss Sullivan – a friend of Liz Lawson’s to tea – who is also interested in the flat, comforted Esme, wrote a bit of this letter to you two and at night went to a rehearsal. They tell Esme if she can find a later boat in December she can take it, so she proposes to haunt all the travel agencies. She’s coming to me for aid like the Dickens and practically doesn’t want me to leave her side – yes, looked suicidal till I agreed to go to an Officers Mess dance at TEK on Friday. The idea is to go and come back to Sat’s work by a bus about 6.30 a.m. I’ve also got the household accounts to do this month, though it’s not my turn and of course Esme wants our full up lampshade – we started another yesterday. I’m a bit peeved about it as the visitor’s book and lampshade were my idea in the first place and many of the all-over-the-world signatures, we won’t get again, however I am sorry for her being axed so suddenly and suppose I must put on a good face on it, though this possessive helplessness is a bit wearing.
I was a bit disappointed about your not phoning, but feel with you about the usage of our phone and would have hated to think of your stamping about to keep warm in the GPO in George Square. (10) Feel it’s not worth while having a Trans-Continental call now, as I don’t know when I may get the order of the boat – you see when I suggested the birthday call that was some time back, for a special occasion and before the situation became as fluid as it is now.
About the Cyprus parcels, after all this time, Esme tells me it was only fruit parcels which went direct from Cyprus. The order for yours must go first from Cyprus to Australia, from where they are eventually despatched and reach U.K. about 5 or 6 months later, so at least that’s more hopeful, December is the fifth month after ordering. (11)
All being well I will try to get some of my photographic friends to do some dark room work on my Syke negs. (12)
Could still go on for another three pages, but that would mean my missing yet another mail, so will make this finito.
Always in my thoughts darlings, all the warmth from here to you and all the love,
p.s. Received the birthday card. L.
1. The demonstrations were still continuing in Cairo, and elsewhere.
2. Duncan – Charlie – Noel. All the same person. Len attempts a fuller explanation in a letter to come.
3. RTO: Transport Officer.
4. BORs: British Other Ranks.
5. Motolux was a British made moderately fashionable full length coat available in fur or llama wool.
6. Operation Polly, as footnoted elsewhere.
7. Noel – Arnold Duncan King – was born in Kanpur, Bengal in 1926.
8. It seems that Jack is going to become a flat-mate. Despite her financial hardship it seems Len, and flatmates, are taking on a new house servant. This indicates the low rate of pay for such Egyptians.
9. “Begin to see the light” – financially.
10. The large main Post Office was in George Square, Glasgow, where Mum would be able to make a Trunk and Trans-Continental phone call. The George Square Post Office closed in the 1990s.
11. Sending parcels via Cyprus is assumed to be another way of getting goods to Britain and avoiding paying Egyptian Customs duties.
12. Negs: photo negatives.
156 Transit Camp, Port Fouad. M.E.L.F.
Wed. 1. 12. 48.
My dearest Helen,
Apart from the start of this letter, I shall continue in a cold & aloof strain as you don’t approve of people who are warm in letters & cold in reality.
Why I have been so long in writing this letter is because to be quite honest, I lost your A.P.O. address & have been tearing the tent apart trying to find it, luckily I did.
Although you say I’m over expressive in letters I honestly can’t express in this one how glad I was to see you again & how mystified & flattered that you bothered to waste your week end & come & see me. Nobody has ever quite taken that interest in me. I must say I felt that it should have been I who visited you in Cairo & you know I would have done if it had been possible.
This blasted Transit Camp gets daily more depressing, I think I’ll do someone an injury if I’m here much longer, only the memory of seeing you here last week end & the thought that you’ll be here next Monday makes life tolerable.
I won’t warm up any more, but at the risk of offending you I’ll say Please Write soon.
All my love,
p.s. Ref. your joy through strength friend, you too can have a body like mine if you’re not careful.
Next Part Two Chapter Eleven: 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.