Part Three One: Sht.Hand Typist, Porton. Transferred from Overseas Duty.
“It’s funny, but I feel at home in Scotland and definitely a stranger here among foreigners…”
Len arrived home in the U.K. at some point in early to mid February, 1949. At the interview at the administrative headquarters of the Ministry of Supply at the Adelphi, London, she discovered that she was going to be assigned to a straight-forward typing post. She recalls kicking up a ‘stink’ about this.
Kicking up a ‘stink’ had results. Still within the Ministry of Supply she was appointed to the post of Personal Assistant to the Chief Superintendent of what was then known as the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment, Porton, Salisbury. It is not clear whether it was suggested she applied for the post, with others, or whether she was appointed directly. Her temporary stint PAing in Cairo whilst Iris recovered from her horse fall, plus being appointed a Typing Supervisor at a young age presumably helped her in getting the post. She was twenty three. However, it is not known whether she got an additional allowance for being a PA, as her official grade was still Shorthand Typist.
Her plan to get out of typing, hatched in Cairo, to get health certificates from the family G.P., Dr Gilston came to nothing. It is not clear that she went to see him. Nor did she head off for the Scottish Highlands. Despite her close attachment to her parents, it seems that she did not look for a job in the Glasgow area. Noel’s plan was still to go to Canada. She spent some days with Mum and Dad in Coldingham Avenue before Noel travelled up from London. We have no idea what he made of her parents, or what they made of him. He would have brought the legs of the Cairo bought coffee table with him. And Len, somehow, would have bought the carpet.
Arriving back in the UK from Egypt she was due some additional leave. She took up the post on 17 March, 1949, so it is unclear if she worked at all at ROF Dalmuir, before travelling down to Wiltshire.
On the whole she settled reasonably well back into a bleakly austere Britain, that, apart from her short home leave in 1948, she hadn’t seen or experienced for almost three and a half years. Within a month of her starting at Porton rationing of clothes ended. The Board of Trade President, Harold Wilson, advised that clothing coupons could be assigned “to the appropriate salvage channel.” In Europe the Cold War was hotting up. Although there was no reference to the Berlin Blockade in the surviving correspondence between Mother and Daughter, the Allies had been flying in food, medical and fuel supplies since June of the previous summer. This was a response to the USSR blockading land routes to Berlin. The airlift would continue into the late Spring of 1949, when, defeated, the USSR lifted the blockade.
Although the gassing of civilians had not happened during the Second World War, the Allies and Axis countries had continued with their research and development of chemical, and also biological warfare systems, and in the years after the war the former allies, now adversaries, continued this work.
The British research and development had started in 1916 at what was known as the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment in the hamlet of Idmiston, near the village of Porton. At first it was a British Army Royal Engineers Experimental Station – a few nissen huts by the side of the main railway line between Salisbury and London. The experiments were in developing the use of gas as a form of warfare, which had already been used by the Germans and then British and French the year before, at the Battle of Loos, for instance.
Porton grew in size and importance and work that had also been developed in the London area was transferred down to the rolling countryside of Wiltshire. The research was into offensive and defensive ways of dealing with chemical warfare attacks.
During the late 1930’s all belligerents believed the other side would use gas on a mass scale, and against a civilian population, besides military targets. Gas had been used against civilian populations in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The USSR used gas in 1921 against a peasant uprising in the Tambov area, 300 miles south east of Moscow.
A year before, Churchill, as First Secretary at the British War Office, had argued for gas to be used in Mesopotaia (modern Iraq) against Arabs and Kurds who were rebelling against the British occupation of their land. It was to be used as a last resort if the British were unable to surppress the challenge to their occupation. The use of conventional bombing and the burning of ‘rebel’ villages achieved the British objectives and gas was not used. (There are still those who claim it was.)
In 1926 sixteen countries, including the UK, Germany and Italy signed a Geneva Convention committing themselves to not using gas as a weapon of warfare.
However, research and development continued by all countries, with the lead being taken by Germany.
Despite signing the Geneva Convention, Mussolini’s fascist army used gas against native Ethiopians in 1936, and the German Luftwaffe and Italian airforce specifically bombed civilian targets, the Germans for instance at Guernica, using conventional bombs, during the Spanish Civil War.
The expectation of canisters and bombs of gas raining down from overhead on a civilian population was thus reasonable, and both Germany and Britain distributed millions of gas masks to their populations, along with leaflets on how to make at least one room in their habitation ‘gas-proof’.
Curiously, there has been little discussion about why the threat of mass civilian gassing never happened during the Second World War.
After the First World War there was a revulsion about using gas, and not just amongst civilians. In his advocacy of using gas in Iraq, Churchill said that he couldn’t understand why there was a ‘squeamishness’ about its us. He was opposed by many in Political and Military administrations in British occupied countries who felt the use of gas would “have a serious implication, both moral and political”, and was seen as a last resort, to be used only if they were first attacked with chemical weapons.
Mass gassing of civilians didn’t happen during the Second War World because, it would seem, all sides had no hard intelligence about their opponents capabilities, either in types of gas or other poisons, or in their ability to deliver them. The Germans had developed some particularly lethal nerve agents, such as tabun and sarin, but believed the British chemists had also done so. But they hadn’t.
The Germans would be fearful of Soviet chemical warfare capabilities too, their Military being aware that there had been active (and very secret) cooperation in the development of chemical warfare between the German Army and the Soviet Army before 1933 during the pre-Nazi Weimar period.
All sides assumed the other side were as ready as them to launch gas warfare, and therefore both sides, it seems, backed off. In Britain the reality was that half way during the war Churchill was sending frustrated memos about the lack of shells for gas warfare, and demanding that greater effort was required to produce them.
When Len took up her post – although still called the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment – means of biological warfare, and its containment, had been developed on the site, at least from 1939. The development of a particularly lethal strain of anthrax had already been developed, and tested, as footnoted earlier, on sheep on Gruinard in Scotland. Photos taken at Porton in 1942 (not released at the time) show the assembly of cattle cake impregnated with anthrax. Those on the small production line seem to be locally recruited women from Salisbury and surrounding area.
Although Britain was developing its atomic weapons in relative autonomy from the American administration, (and in secrecy from the British people) in the area of chemical and biological warfare, post 1945, there was a high degree of pooling of knowledge and experience between the British, the Americans and the Canadians.
The development of biological warfare research near Salisbury was no secret – locally, anyway – by 1948. The Salisbury Times (now defunct), on 10 September, 1948, ran a short news story on an inside page:
Porton Research Station Expansion
Under Government sanction there will be a big expansion of the research department responsible for defence against germ warfare. Doctors, bacteriologists, vetinary surgeons and bio-chemists are being recruited in large numbers to work at Porton Experimental Station in what will be known as the Microbiological Research Department……
…… Dr D.W.Henderson, a prominent bacteriologist, will direct the work for which bacteriologists are needed to test the virulence of new strains of germs which may be used by an enemy; bio-chemists will try to develop antidotes for them; vetinary surgeons will make the first experiments on animals with the antidotes; and doctors will finally test them on human volunteers.
The Germ Warfare story would have been based on a Porton Research Station press release, cleared or originated by the Ministry of Supply in London. Its publication caused no interest or concern in the ensuing weeks amongst Salisbury and district readers: no reaction, no comment in the Letters Columns of the newspaper. The other Salisbury weekly paper – still in existence – the Salisbury Journal, didn’t even bother to run the story. It was only when Daily Express journalist Chapman Pincher picked up on the Salisbury Times story, and re-vamped it a year later for the Express, that the Porton establishment gained some notoriety.
There are few further references to Porton in the local press at the time, although one story of interest was in the 5 November 1948 (Gunpowder Plot night!) edition of the Salisbury Times.
BUSES TO PORTON: LOCAL COMPANIES IN OPPOSITION
Silverstar buses, a local company, was reported as having carried 70,000 passengers to the Chemical Defence Establishment over the last 12 month period. A competing bus company – The Wilts and Dorset – didn’t see why it shouldn’t have some of this lucrative trade and was objecting to Silverstar’s continued monopoly. It seems that Silverstar continued to have exclusive rights to the Porton route, despite the Wilts and Dorset complaint. A few months later Len would be taking the Silverstar bus at eight every morning, from the stance in Endless Street, by the Salisbury bus station.
It is believed that Len had never been to Salisbury before or to the nearby Stonehenge Stone Circle at Amesbury. Her friend Betty, from Dagenham, it will be remembered, had sent Len a postcard from Salisbury in the summer of 1944, a few weeks after the first D Day landings.
She and her family were staying in the town, she said, taking a rest from the Doodlebugs that were raining down on London. She thought that, with Len’s admiration of scenery and of antiques, she would love Salisbury. Betty also noted that Salisbury was crowded with Canadian and U.S. troops.
Salisbury Plain and the area around Porton was then, and still, is the largest military training area in the U.K., with the Ministry of Defence owning a substantial part of the Plain. During the war inhabitants of the village of Imber were forcibly cleared from their homes to facilitate house to house and street fighting exercises for American and British infantary, in preparation for the Allied advance through the Normandy villages. Despite a promise that they would be able to return after the war, the MOD has never allowed the villagers and their descendents to return, and the village and nearby hamlet of Par Hinton are still Prohibited Areas, ‘within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act’.
It is reported that the MOD land on Salisbury Plain is a haven of wild life, flora and fauna. Two National Nature Reserves are within its boundaries. Live artillery shells are fired on the Plain, the MOD reports, on 340 days of the year, which doesn’t seem to leave much of the rest of the year to enjoy the song of the skylark overhead.
In a strange coincidence two villages within shelling range of this area have place names associated with British military activity: Palestine to the north east, and Nomansland to the south east.
Although some military facilities have, over the years, been and gone, present installations still include Larkhill, Bulford, Tidworth and Warminister. Boscombe Down (hard by Porton and close to Stonehenge) is a RAF base, used by all three services as a Military Aircraft test and evaluation unit.
Army personal have over the years been ordered to take part in gas and germ warfare scenarios, conducted particularly at the Joint School of Chemical Nuclear and Biological Warfare Defence, at Winterbourne Gunner, a short distance from the Porton facility. Conventional gas (mustard, tear and phosgene) and a gas substitue for nerve gas were used on service personel. Most, prior to 1960 were conscripts. A ex-conscript soldier has observed on an online site battle hardened men ‘spewing their guts up’ after these exercises. (Key in JSCW Winterbourne Gunner on your browser to search for over-lapping sites)
Other servicemen in the area were exposed to chemical and biological warfare experiments under the guise of research into the Common Cold. Lawyers representing the servicemen, stated that the servicemen were tricked into taking what they believed were cold remedy tests, when in fact nerve gases such as sarin were tried out on these ‘volunteers’.
In response, the British press reported on 1 February, 2008 that the Ministry of Defence had finally made a one-off compensation payment of £3 million to ‘‘Cold War veterans who were subject to chemical warfare tests’’. A Defence Minister in the then Labour Government, a Derek Twigg said that 369 victims would each receive £8,300. This was, stated Twigg, a full and final settlement, and it was further stated that the Ministry of Defence would not admit liability, saying that mistakes unfortunately were made.
Although not a barracks town itself, Salisbury had its usual problems associated with concentrations of army personnel. Local papers of the time had a running theme of soldiers from the various barracks and bases around Salisbury in for a beer or two at the weekend beating up locals after the hops went to their head. Magistrate Court reports in the Salisbury Times repeated familiar scenarios, with familiar headlines:
PUBLIC HOUSE FIGHT
‘Soldiers used belts and boots when….’
With some exceptions,the traditional inter-Regimental and inter-Service punch-ups within the town were dealt with by the Military Police, and punishment meted out by their own Military.
This then is the background to Porton, and Salisbury and the Plain when Len arrived in February, 1949.
When Len arrived in Salisbury to start work at Porton she stayed at first in the YWCA in Shady Bower, just up the hill to the east of the Market Square in Salisbury.
How are you two darlings and the wee Hutch? Don’t think I’m unhappy here – I’m not, but I do realise in a way I never have before exactly what you two and home mean. You see in Cairo although I had various dig’s and adventures we were comparatively wrapped in cotton wool. It’s funny, but I feel at home in Scotland and definitely a stranger here among foreigners, though I enjoy being here. I’ll write again on Monday my very own ones.
As you can see the above was written before to-day’s phone call – it was lovely to hear both your voices. Happy birthday Dad – I said it over the phone, but my next letter may not get to you before it, so I’m saying it again in this.
Before I forget Mum, there’s a sewing machine in the Y.W. here, which we’re allowed to use and could be used for altering the dress. (2)
D’you think it’s a good idea Dad, Mum coming down? She’ll be able to see how I’m making out away from home and it will be help from the dress angle.
How on earth are you going to manage for cash Mum? I mean, to pay your fare to Salisbury and buy the dress? Of course I’ll refund it all to you, but how are you going to manage to fork out the cash just now? I’d send £3 a day, but the lack of my bank-book at present prevents that. They took it at Waterloo P.O., because the page was finished and each time that happens it has to be sent to HQ Savings Bank who’re sending it to Glasgow (c/o 26 Ave.).
From what you say Mum, to buy the dress you saw rather than make one seems to be the solution and wouldn’t rush you so , then too, when you’re down, you could look around and see which place you fancy for Daddy and yourself to stay at later in the year. The Coach and Horses where I propose booking you is picturesque, rather than big and modern, or even big and old like the more expensive hotels. The woman there though seems to be a pet and said “It’s 9/6 a day though I generally charge 10/6” and I believe her from what I enquired and found at other hotels and inns.
You could eat at all the different super-duper places Mum and meet people at them. Saw the name ‘El Hakim, Iraqi Embassy’ in the Cathedral Hotel’s register. Salisbury’s a terrific centre – there seem to be a number of visitors here even now and there are no end of super places to which one can go from here.
I’m enclosing my sweet coupons as I never bother to buy sweets myself, also the Red Lion brochure and also the timetable from which you will see that you could catch the 10.00 from Glasgow, get into Euston at 6.30 and take the 7.30 from Waterloo which gets into Salisbury at 10.00. It’s a heck of a lot of traveling to do in one day, so perhaps you’d like to travel on Wed. stay with the Brandleys (3) and come on the Thursday at a time to suit you, though as I don’t finish till 5.18. I couldn’t meet a train getting in before 6.00. I’ll book you up at the C & Hs for Thurs. 24th, Fri. 25th, Sat.26th and Sun. 27th. If you want to stay longer or come later and stay longer that’ll easily be arranged. Noel will probably be coming down on the 28th to stay for two days, us both going up to town to the dance together and you may like to stay and see him.
I’ve already sent in 7 replys to adverts re. digs, but now that I’ve got over the first shock, this place isn’t so bad. (4)
Went to see ‘Paleface’ with Noel when we got in to London and it’s a joy, but not a scream from beginning to end. (5) Got to the Brandleys all right and nattered away to Joan. Then the following day, delivered Pat’s (6) tennis racket to her, bought a Jaeger non-utility slip which was expensive – £1-7-6, but is gorgeous and saw Joan for lunch, catching the 1.30 to here by the skin of my teeth. (7)
Today Daddy and I nattered after the second pips had gone, so I s’pose that means you’ll have to pay 6 mins of reversed charges – first three minutes I paid for – I’d exactly 3/11 in change which was lucky as that’s the charge. Must make my regular weekly call on the cheap rate, in case we have more 9 mins. worth. Don’t know how on earth I’m ever going to save in this country on my salary. (8)
Won’t go into details about the ‘Y’ now, as I’d better get down to the Coach and Hosses and anyway, would rather tell you when you come and you can relate it to Daddy when you get back. Will finish this letter now.
All the love in the Southern Command.
1. Forncett House is a late Georgian/early Victorian building in a residential area. It is now, it seems, converted to private flats.
2. Len has an invitation, through Noel’s sister, to the Annual Ball of RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in London, and Mum is buying her a gown and bringing it down to Salisbury.
3. Joan Brandley, and her Mum and Dad’s, in Dagenham.
4. The Salisbury YWCA and its warden has been a shock for Len. Presumably it was more spartan and not as comfortable, and had more restrictions and less of the free and easy atmosphere compared to the YWCA hostels she was used to in the Suez Canal Zone.
5. “We got into London”. It is likely that this was Len travelling down, with Noel, after her leave in Glasgow, about to take up her post at Porton. She stayed a night with Joan Brandley and family in Dagenham. Paleface, starred Bob Hope and Jane Russell.
6. Pat from Cairo, now living in London.
7. Utility clothing was introduced during the war and, although well made, styles did not vary very often. Utility clothing continued after clothes rationing was scrapped. Joan is probably working in an office in Central London and presumably able to pop out to see Len in her lunch break.
8. “My salary”. Even if Len was getting a PA’s allowance on top of her shorthand typist pay, her total pay is obviously less now that she is not getting the generous Foreign Service Allowance she had in Cairo.
Besides that Len and Mum, and Dad, talk to each other once a week on the newly installed telephone, Part Three is also shaped by the fact that Mum’s letters to Len have not survived.
My own loved ones of the West,
I’ve been thinking about you all day to-day Daddy – was it a good birthday? Down here the weather’s been wonderful and I hope Scotland proved just as kind on your own very first day of Spring.
This has got to be brief, because one of the girls is coming to take me to some club – my first night out in Salisbury and she’ll be angry if I keep her waiting.
My phone number at work is Salisbury 2471, Ext.8. – 8.30 – 12.40 & 1.45 – 5.15. You can ‘phone if there’s anything urgent to say, but otherwise I’ll expect you Thursday night Mum – wire me when you’re due.
If possible could you please get a receipt from the taxi people who took me to town that last day in Glasgow – if you can’t bring it down, it doesn’t matter. I can get it sometime. Could you please bring a cup too? It’s for tea in the office.
What of Easter? I’ve realised it’s very close and I just can’t manage the fare to Glasgow – how about my writing to the Reids? (1) If I contributed, could you manage down there for a bit of a holiday Daddy, for I didn’t see much of you on leave. (2)
My boss is a pet. (3) Hear my name being called, so had better go.
All the love on the south to north line,
1. Easter Monday was on 18 April in 1949, just four weeks from Len writing this letter.
2. Meaning, that he was out at work, during the day.
3. Her boss was Mr A.E.Childs, Chief Superintendent, Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment, Porton. He was the first civilian superintendent at Porton. By the end of 1950 he had become Director of the Chemical Defence Experimental department in the Ministry of Supply (which was responsible for the Porton establishment).
Forncett House, Shady Bower, Salisbury, WILTS.
Dearest Own People,
What a life. Here’s £2.10s. – just hope it gets to you all right unregistered.
Please try and be here Friday night or Saturday morning, as I’m off all Saturday. I should have cash soon with bank book brought by you, Friday’s pay and P.O. made out for here.
More to say, but must get this in the post.
Every bit of my love,
Helen’s next letter (she was now numbering her letters UK I, UK 2, and so on) was written 12 days later, and in that time Mum has been down to see her daughter in Salisbury, bringing the ball gown. She stayed at the Coach and Horses.
Mum left for London and Glasgow on the Monday, the 28th of March. Although Len had written that Noel was coming down to Salisbury on the 28th, he delayed it until the following day.
Forncett House. Shady Bower, Salisbury, Wilts.
Darlings of the North,
Have your ‘4’ and ‘5’ by me and don’t know where to start answering. Firstly, thanks for forwarding everything on – I’m hoping to hold on to my ration book till I go and thus have an extra week’s rations. The old so and so who runs the place is making me pay 10/- extra on the 35/- for not giving a full week’s notice – couldn’t; I didn’t as I was in London, sure she’s only doing it to be nasty, but I don’t mind as long as I can shake the dust of this place off my feet. (1) Popping down to Mrs.Hemmons after I finish this. (2)
Can’t get over all Aunt Ena’s assumptions about Noel and I, however, it’s just like her and she is kind. (3) It’s so wonderful to be in this country, for apart from our immediate family circle, there’s the thought of the rest of our family like the Reids also being on these shores.
We did have a wonderful time in London – saw Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Paul Robeson, Getrude Lawrence, the ‘Jolly D’ man from Much Binding and little Julie Andrews the new singing discovery in the cabaret and giving out prizes. The dress – it was a perfect hit – at a do like that unless you feel good in what you’re wearing you feel miserable – I felt terrific and Noel said I looked wonderful. Didn’t see another dress there cut so superbly as mine – “Model by Madame Bryers – Glasgow and Salisbury” – can’t say thanks enough. (4)
London I liked much better than on last years leave and earlier this year, the only drawback was staying in three different places over 4 nights. Lynda’s (she’s a pet, not the least bit wild as Noel painted her – is bringing me a present back from Belgium), Overseas House and Pat’s. (5) Pat even brought me my breakfast in bed – it’s a pretty good flat by the general London standard. 25 mins. to Charing X, ‘phone, 4 rooms and kitchen – good eh? The only trouble was she and Mac – her Scots vet friend a super type – (she’s been in the States but doesn’t like it) would talk to me and I kept Noel waiting 70 mins. at Hayes – Oh.
However apart from the Rada Ball we saw “The Laughing Cavalier” – NTB (6) “Whispering Smith” – grim; visited a cartoon series picture place and saw “A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” – Good, or at least much better than the slamming crits. We also went to a dance at Overseas House on Saturday night which was most enjoyable.
Any more details of my really super trip I’ll tell you at Easter. By the way is it O.K. if I phone Saturday about 7 – or say 9 rather, thus you’ll be in from the pictures and waiting for the S.N.Theatre. (7) If some other time is better write and say so. By then I should know my exact movements at Easter.
You’ll never guess but Noel’s given me the most superb “Parker 51” – with which I’m writing this, as a keepsake. Isn’t he a pet? Noel will enjoy hearing from you Mummy. (8)
Have some superb hankies which I’m bringing up as your birthday present Daddy – insh ‘Allah.
Please get taxi receipt.
All the love off the Downs,
1. “Dust of this place”: the Salisbury YWCA.
2. Mrs Hemmons, her new landlady. Mrs Hemmons is not her real name.
3. Presumably Aunt Ena has assumed that Len and Noel are to get married, though, equally presumably, nothing has been said by Mum or Len to her.
4. “Cut so superbly”. It is still assumed that Mum bought the dress and then made alterations when fitted to Len.
5. Lynda, Noel’s sister studying at RADA. Overseas House, where Len spent one night and went to a dance was a membership organisation that in 1949 was for those from the British Empire. It is now known as the Royal Over-Seas League, membership open to those from the British Commonwealth. Its ethos is to “Support international understanding and friendship through social, musical, artistic and welfare activities”.
6. NTB: Not too bad.
7. SN: Saturday Night Theatre on the BBC Home radio service.
8. Mum writing to Noel, presumably in the way she used to write to Ernst.
Please write to: 7 Barton Road, Salisbury from now on. ‘Phone Salisbury 8003. (1)
Sit’n’ by the boiler in the ‘Y’ for peace and warmth.
Now, sitting at peace, I can say all the things I didn’t put in last nights’ hectically rushed letter – anyway as I raced down to the Market Place and started to cross it, the church began to strike the hour, so though I dropped it in the box only about a minute earlier, p’raps your letter wasn’t collected with the 8 pm (and the last) post despite all my rushing.
Mum, have you made any enquiries at the SYHA offices about working parties in Norway or Sweden. But also there are some wonderful and incredibly cheap WEA classes abroad this year – might switch to one of them. (2) Are you two interested?
Please could you book me a sleeper from Glasgow for the night of Sunday 17th April – thanks. Thought to get to London about 3.30 – 4 (we stop at 12.45 here) on the Thursday, spend the rest of the day with Noel, catch the Thursday night train and have Friday, Saturday and Sunday with you at home, spending the Monday in London with Noel and catching a very early train to here on Tuesday morning. That’s if Noel can’t come up North too. (3)
Gave Mrs. H. my ration book, so that she’ll get this week’s rations, so (unless they withhold my butter and sugar to-morrow) that means I get two rations this week – though only consuming one myself and similarly last week with my r.b. and emergency card – the latter was given me by Mrs. Blatchford – the warden here, just as I was leaving the ‘Y’ for London. As an institution, she can issue them. (4)
Have you seen Tabriz – source of ye Tabrizi carpet of ‘26’ on the map of Iran? (5)
Yes, I plan to take up your case at Easter – insh ‘Allah. Glad you enjoyed the pictures with Mrs. Bovey – how much per day did they eventually charge you with teas etc. thrown in? (6)
Forgot to tell you, Noel wants me to knit him a pullover – maroon, polo necked. Daddy’s is so exactly what he wants, but can’t visualise myself knitting anything as super as that. Is it 4 ply, quicknit or double knitting? Feel I’ll have to warm up first on a pair of gloves.
I’m enclosing one of the two receipts for the carpet. Believe this is the one saying it’s Egyptian and bought in ‘46 for the benefit of the customs authorities, however you may like to have it. Sorry for the shorthand on the back. (7)
P.C. Beavan rang me at work full of enquiries about Ernst, so if you have occasion to write to E, p’raps you could mention this bod and say he’s most anxious to get in touch with Ernst. (8)
Noel’s phoned and I’ve missed the post. Says he’ll have to miss out Easter and come down this week-end (to-morrow – Friday), seems he’s got a job in the offing and wants to know what I think of it – and if he starts work, would probably be working over Easter. Anyhow, you may have my phone call before you get this letter and I should know most of our ‘ mov. control’ by then. (9) Have just realised, Noel should be with me when I call you, so you’ll be able to have a word with him too – nice, eh. Just off to post this and book him at the Coach and Horses.
It’s been snowing, but now the sky’s blue.
Love my own ones, Len. xxxxx
1. This is the (fictional) address and telephone number of her new digs in Salisbury.
2. WEA: Workers’ Educational Association.
3. These are Len’s plans for the Easter week-end.
4. “Mrs H.” – her new landlady. An Emergency Card, also known as an “E” card, was an emergency food rationing card for when the recipient was away from their usual suppliers i.e. on holiday, on honeymoon, and so on.
5. Tabriz, Iran. The carpet seems to be a genuine Persian that she bought in Cairo.
6. “Taking up your case”. Mum, whilst in Salisbury, ordered a hat for herself. (Shades of Maud’s hat.) Mrs Bovey is the landlady of the Coach and Horses. It is assumed she and Mum went to a matinee film performance one day when Len was at work.
7. The receipt is not in this collection.
8. These enquiries are assumed to be in connection with his application for British Naturalisation, which was to be successful, and was issued on 4 November, 1949.
9. ‘Mov.control’ – using the military term and name of the camp in the Suez Canal Zone.
At my office desk. Monday,
Dearest Pets in Glasgow,
To begin with, if I sound mopey in this letter, take no notice, for its just that I suddenly feel awfully alone in Salisbury. You see Noel came down and stayed Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, so I don’t feel at all bright and gay now that he’s gone, but propose to go to bed early tonight, so as not to have to think.
It’s nice at ‘No.7’, but the way I feel here makes me wonder how I managed without loved ones around me all that time in Cairo. Think I’ll stay here a year then ask for a transfer to Glasgow and home – s’pose I’m contrary, being thrilled at first at the thought of coming south. I know I felt shocking at first in Cairo, but can’t imagine this feeling wearing off and if I go away week-ends comparatively often, it’ll be U.S. for establishing myself with people and organisations in Salisbury – yer pays yer money, yer tikes yer choice.
I’m still, all being well sticking to my plan of spending Thursday afternoon with Noel, night train to Glasgow, then Fri, Sat and Sun. with you and night train back to spend Monday with him. Yes, I’m still sticking to my original plan, despite the fact that Noel’s suddenly woken up to the fact that he won’t be seeing much of me at Easter, but he says he doesn’t have the ackers to come north. (1)
Thanks so much for writing for the taxi receipt I’m hoping gradually to get my personal business affairs straightened out. I’ve sent the cash owed to Jack Owen so feel better now about that. (2)
Mark’s address is:-
c/o Speco, Ltd.,
32 Sharia Malika Farida,
Mrs. Bovey says thanks a lot for the card.
Despite Noel’s moans at trailing him around the shops, I went to the Food Office on Sat. – Mrs H. couldn’t get my book changed as they needed my date of birth, then went to the Co-op self service and got my rations – but no ‘divi’, for you have to quote the letters representing the Soc. to which you belong. By the way have ¼ of tea for you and 1 sugar ration, having given the rest to Mrs. H. Also got gorgonzola on points which I ate on the way to Stonehenge – I love cheeses. Noel doesn’t, so I happily ate the ¼ of gorgonzola neat! Before getting the bus to Amesbury and walking on to Stonehenge, I dragged Noel into Style and Gerrish where I found from that charming Mrs.Gale, that your straw hat is in the making, but they have their doubts as to whether it will be ready by Wed – as I’ll be going straight from work on to the train on Thursday – insh ‘Allah.
Have you yet booked me up for a sleeper for this Sunday night – please do, otherwise I’ll be going about London in a daze – I’m relying on Noel to do likewise for me so that I’ll arrive full of joie de vivre in Glasgow all being well.
Hope to catch 11.35 getting in at 9.35 Friday morning, then want to go shopping, but in any case will wire you on Thursday. All love speeding to you.
1. She is writing on the Monday – the Friday of that week is Easter Good Friday.
2. Jack, in charge of security at the British Embassy in Cairo.
3. This is Mark, the Swiss architect
Enclosed with the letter, but not mentioned by Len, are details of the WEA courses that she has sent for.
Note that Len has ticked the Anglo-German School in Gohrde. As can be seen in the prospectus below, Item 1, the summer school in Gohrde is about Adult Education, and how to develop it in Germany, tentatively basing it on the Folk High School idea.
Len’s next letter to her Mum and Dad is written on the Thursday of the same week as the Easter Monday. She has been to, and returned from staying in Coldingham Avenue. It seems that on the Easter Saturday Mum and Len went down to Ayr for the day. It is assumed that her Dad had to work the Saturday morning at the factory.
The Office, 9.20. Thursday morning
Well Loved Ones,
Sorry I didn’t get this off last night, but by the time I’d done my washing, nipped up to the YW to make arrangements for going to see the ‘Desert Song’ with Collie – one of the girls, next Monday, then came back and had cocoa with the Hemmons – just in, it was late – for England – and I did want to get to bed.
I ached all over on Tuesday with coughing so much I went straight to bed after phoning you. Yesterday the aching had gone but I had an awful headache, however, having gone to bed shortly after ten last night, the aching and headache’s gone and I’m only coughing a little.
Having tea (high) at the Cadena with Pamela Lennard (the flat girl) to-night. (1)
Picked up the phone this morning with my usual “PA & CSP” and lo and behold it was Esme on the other end sounding completely lost. She was phoning from her office – Atomic Energy, Didcot, Berks. (2) A good job I’ve fixed up to go up to town to see Noel the week-end after this, as she was trying to get me to fix something up, so it’ll have to be after that.
As I’m going away on Friday (to-morrow) insh ‘Allah and then on Monday am at ‘Desert Song’ with Collie one of the girls from the ‘Y’ and Tuesday hope to start Dressmaking at night school, I’ll phone you Wednesday, for Thursday I’ve French and then on Friday am away to London again. As Noel’s working Sat. it’s better for me to go up. After this we might meet halfway, or he’ll come down here again as he’s probably stopping work when his father comes home and I can’t pay 22/9 return to London as gayly as I would have done on a Cairo salary. (3)
Received my account with interest slip last night on that £1 banked in ‘38 – it’s now £1-5-5d – good going, eh? Hope to put it in present account. By the way, you know ‘me and money’ and I’ve completely forgot how much I owe you two. There’s the dough I borrowed from you for material Mum, then there’ll be the shoes when they come out of the Co-op, and the sleeper and the £5 you lent me when I left here for London. (4) Feel sure I’ve missed out something, but you put in anything else you remember and bring it up in the next letter, then I’ll attempt to pay back some of it between now and your holidays and the balance when you’re down in the sunny (we hope) south.
Mr Bovey was standing in the doorway of the C and Hs. as I went up to the ‘Y’ last night, so I showed him the photos and he thought they were good. (5) Are you two staying there for the hols, or would you like Mrs.H’s front room – haven’t said a word to her. On thinking more of it, the Bovey’s or somewhere in the centre of Salisbury would be best, as I’ve a season bus ticket and could come in and out from ‘No.7’ on HMG, (6) whereas you’d have to pay two fares all the time, besides which it wouldn’t be so easy for you to make your way to the surrounding countryside. (7) Should Lynda’s fail as the ‘opening week-end’ resort, we could go to Central London YH in Gt Ormond St., or to the Highgate YH – the latter’s like being in a village in the centre of London and you can see St.Pauls and lots of London spread out before you from the dorm windows. (8) Write and say what you think.
Look, I’m not living out of tins and during the summer I intend to eat masses of green stuff. (9) I do eat my fats and will ask Mrs. H. for a chop occasionally for breakfast, but remember each time I go to the canteen or British Restaurant I get meat. (10)
As a concession, let me take sacs. for six months? (11) Here again, I get sugar in my tea or cawfie at the canteen, but though I’m not a pudding or almost any kind of dessert fan, will probably buy sweets now that they’re coming off the ration. (12)
I feel very unsettled, I’d love to have a husband (only Noel), home of my own, kids and dogs, but as it is, I shouldn’t like to cook in Mrs. H’s kitchen. I don’t mind about washing and ironing, but otherwise, I’ve got an all or nothing feeling.
Why not let the front bedroom with advt. as following ”Spacious, light room available May and June in W.4 district. No attendance. ‘Phone. 25/- (or 30) per week.” That would be about £10 for two months.
Love your story of your aga-day and am looking forward to hearing full details of your great coincidental meeting – you should write to ‘Woman’ about that – a guinea a letter. Don’t worry, I’m thinking hard how I can earn one for myself and to think once I would have scorned a guinea prize! (13)
‘Bout the dress, told you over ‘phone Noel was worrying me to go out and wouldn’t let me sew. So I wore the Rembrandt – which he liked a lot and the Zephry will be coming back to you très vite (being quickly – had to say it in French to suit its nationality).
Sorry for the brevity, I feel gracious inside, but as always am rushing to catch the mail.
Will phone S. and G. re. your hat to-morrow, Mum.
All my love south of the border to my Northern Delights, Len. xxxxxx
p.s. Never said over the ‘phone – thank you for all you did and for giving me such a lovely Easter.
p.p.s. We went to see Disney’s latest “Melody Time” which was lovely.
1. “Pamela Lennard, the flat girl”. Not clear whether this is a YWCA met acquaintance. With the weekly telephone calls some things mentioned in the letters will be relating to information already given in a previous ‘phone call. The Cadena, now a bingo hall, was in Chipper Lane, as was the main Post Office and the Library. Endless Street and the bus stop to Porton Down was at the bottom of Chipper Lane. On September 10th 1948, in the same edition of the Salisbury Times that had the news item “Germ Warfare: Porton Research Station Expansion” the advertised band at the Cadena was the Merry Macs Dance Orchestra.
2. One of those extraordinary coincidences that whilst Len was working at the Chemical and Biological Warfare Research station at Porton, her Cairo colleague Esme was working for the AWE predecessor of the secret development of the British atom bomb at Harwell, Didcot. The work was transferred on 1 April, 1950 to the newly opened Atomic Weapons Establishment on the site of a RAF airfield at Aldermaston, Berkshire.
3. 22/9 = £1.13p
4. It’s assumed she took a pair of shoes into the Clydebank Coop store for repair.
5. Apart from the one of Mum leaning out the window, the rest have not survived in this collection.
6. HMG : His Majesty’s Government.
7. Where Len was in digs was a 20 to 25 minute walk into the town centre.
8. “Should Lynda’s fail” i.e. staying in Lynda’s flat in London.
9. “Living out of tins”. Len has either had a discussion with Mum on the ‘phone, or when she was staying with them at Easter that has concerned Mum about her daughter’s eating habits.
10. British Restaurants were introduced by the British Wartime Coalition Government in the autumn of 1940. Because approximately 70% of Britain’s foodstuffs were imported, and because the Nazi U boats targeted vessels bringing in food, food rationing had been introduced that year. Restaurants were exempt from rationing. They offered a decent meal at a budget price. Because food rationing became ever more severe in the post-war 1940’s British Restaurants continued.
12. Three days after she wrote this, on April 24, 1949, chocolate and sweet rationing, in place since July 1942, ended. It was a brief honeymoon, though. Because of the continuing financial crisis in Britain Stafford Cripps reintroduced sweet rationing, at 4 ounces (93 grams) per person per week 3 months later. Chocolate and sweets did not become freely available until 1953.
13. In 1949 Woman was the best selling women’s interest magazine in Britain. It was edited by Mary Grieve, who was brought up in Hyndland, Glasgow, where Jack the Norwegian’s grand-mother lived. Hyndland is just a few miles from where Mum and Dad lived in Yoker.
The Office Tuesday lunch hour
Nicest People, Hello,
At last I’m getting down to the epistle I meant to write yesterday, though at the moment I feel uncomfortably full, but that will pass off. Thanks so much for your lovely and long Sunday epistle received this morning. Thanks for your enquiries, but my cold and ‘hacking corf’ have completely gone now.
Don’t make me envious by describing your food. I just can’t get near the shops to get anything green, but I’ve a free morning in London this week-end all being well, when I hope to buy a lot including masses and masses of lettuce. It is difficult finishing work, or rather being back in Salisbury after the shops close and I hate being beholden to anyone.
Before I forget, you didn’t say how much I owed you all in and no don’t forget to add on two thirds of the telephone bill. Now please add up what I put in my last letter and tell me – no shinanegin’.
My address in full would be (mind you, it’s you who hated, or thought silly abbreviations being explained, but here it is:) Personal Assistant to Chief Superintendent (Porton), Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment and the rest is in plain English.
Really struck a blow at the thought of not seeing you at Whit, but I guess you know best about your own finances and at present I really would like to get myself a bit straight before going gay with mine as I would like. (1) However, if some or most of the cash I owe would get you down there, do let me know. This I really mean, so tell me and cash is cash and I do owe you a bit, so tell me. If you feel badly about it, remember I wouldn’t think twice about coming to you if I needed even a very large amount of cash at any time – think of it as an investment for me if you like, but at the moment it’s on my conscience and I’d be happier if it weren’t.
Could you send the repaired shoes as I’d like to wear them with my navy dress, especially if I’m to be at the Reids for Whit. I feel almost scared at the thought of Noel and I being there without you two, but daresay we’ll manage if we get an invite! Do please write to Aunt Ena Mum, as I’d like to know whether or not it’ll be O.K.
Another thing is Style and Gerrish, I’ve never been in the shop since last Sat. I went into the shop with Noel the week before Easter and they don’t like us making private calls from work, but I think I’d better in this instance. (2)
Listen, is the rhubarb still being given away quite a bit and is 26 the ‘Grand Central Phone Booth’? (3) I paid the Hemmons an extra 2d. for my call to you, as I think it’s only fair as in a call box it would be 2d. more.
By the way, on Monday, after work, I returned to ‘No.7’ to find Mrs. Hemmons in bed. It’s dreadful, but she has hardly any sight in one eye and when the eye started to go funny she’d a sort of nervous breakdown at the same time. All this was some time ago – before she was married, but last week her eye started to ache – the other one – and worrying about this made her all strung up, so she has the pain in her eye as well as being nervously sick too. A sister at the hospital (think it’s a gross breach of Medical etiquette for a sister to so speak) told her in all probability the same thing was happening to her good eye as had happened to the other and Mr. Hemmons had to phone the doctor for her in the middle of the night as she was all quivering. Poor soul, so you see as I was going out to the ‘Desert Song’ last night with a ‘Y’ girl – date I couldn’t break, I felt I had to sit with Mrs H. from 6 when I came in, till 7, when I had to leave to catch my bus. She seemed fairly normal, yet underneath, I felt she was pitifully glad to talk to me. I felt so ineffectual, for it’s not like comforting someone about having a broken leg. (4)
Mr. H. (who’s proved nicer than I thought at first), said she’d probably be taken to her people in the country or to hospital and of course my mind instantly sprang to the fact that I couldn’t be alone in the house with him – the kids are with her mother. (5) But he said he’d be practically shutting up house, but that I could stay on and do for myself if I liked. The idea has just struck me, that if I’m to do for myself completely, that I can get my ration book changed, for if one’s registered with the NAAFI here one gets a permit to shop there, but not for casual shopping. Then I could nip out during working hours to shop. You see, there are no other people in my position as far as I know, men from elsewhere yes, but their wives shop for them. I’m the only office girl posted from elsewhere as far as I know, so hope they’d let me nip out. Say I changed to self-catering, should I pay the same amount? No breakfasts, but all the cooking facilities instead? Please write and let me know – your reply won’t get to me till next week though, as I’m leaving here Friday night, straight for London and I may not be able to ask you on the ‘phone tomorrow.
People up here go out picking flowers – it’s an activity which would never occur to me – and you? The head messenger, sometimes brings me flowers and occasionally a chocolate, but every day he brings me an apple and says I can go and help to pick them in the summer. As I adore apples this is quite jammy. The messenger I should add has no ulterior motive that I can see as he was at Gallipoli or something in 1900, but he’s sweet. (6)
At the moment I’m very, very angry at Noel. You see he said “It’s your turn to write” and exhorted a promise from me to write last Tuesday, which I did. Narry a letter did I receive, but as per promise sent him a p.c. from Bournemouth, giving him the times to ring me last night, as we’d agreed he should ring, but I didn’t know then, or rather realise I was going out to the ‘Desert Song’, well he rang and sounded tragic as only Noel can sound tragic, saying he’d only one letter from me and hadn’t been able to write to me because I hadn’t put my address at the top. It was written from the Office, so in my usual way, I’d just put ‘Office, Morning’, thinking he’d have or remember my ‘No.7’ address from my other letters. These he said he couldn’t leave lying about, so he hadn’t got it and was on the point of writing to you for my add. Mum! We spent most of the three minutes explaining things to each other very quickly and completely misunderstanding them, but it’s so difficult to be slow when one only has three minutes, for he’d no more change and I forgot to say ‘Reverse the Charges’ going on to do more talking.
I don’t know where I’m staying or what we’re doing, as to save the expense of O’seas House, or upsetting Lynda, I suggested we both stay at a London YH – either Gt.Ormond St., or Highgate (by the way what about us there in the summer?), as this conforms with the proprieties, be cheap and save him nipping all the way in from Hayes. (7) He said this blessed job of his didn’t give him a minute and in the rush I forgot to say “phone them”. I dictated this address to him here in the E for Ethel fashion, but as I’ve had no letter this morning wonder if he got it down all right and anyway has made me more angry at there being no mail from him yet. He did call me ‘darling’ more than I did him, and did sound tragic, but Oh Noel. I know he can organise, because he was an Army Officer and produced revues, but I wish he’d organise me!
Hope you two aren’t getting too rash over your spring-cleaning and straining yourselves at all, and also that you’re keeping well. In view of the foregoing, this is a contradiction, but if you could spare a minute to write to Mrs.H. thanking her for looking after me so well and hoping that she’ll be better soon, I’d be most obliged, and I think it would cheer her up.
Looking forward so much to talking with you to-morrow night. You’re the most wonderful people I know and I love you.
1. Whitsun in 1949 was on the week-end of June 4th to 5th. It seems that Len had planned that Mum and Dad would come down and be with her and Noel at Aunt Ena’s.
2. Style and Gerrish department store, in Market Place, Salisbury. Style and Gerrish in 1949 also advertised their Funerals and Cremations service, with “Private Mortuary”. Debenhams now occupies the former Style and Gerrish store.
3. Rhubarb in Mum and Dad’s back garden. And the telephone is being used by Mum and Dad’s neighbours in the avenue.
4. A news story in the Salisbury Times in autumn 1948 had reported that a 33 year old doctor had been appointed as a “Mental Health Officer” for the town. Mental Health Officers were an innovation throughout Britain, created as part of the implementation of the new National Health Service. Mental illness was still for many a taboo subject, and mental healthcare provision was still very limited. Anti-depressants were not developed until the early 1950s and specific medication for anxiety was also not developed until the 1950s. Before then some very unsuitable medications were prescribed, amphetamines being one example. The relative youth of the appointed doctor may suggest that more senior medics did not regard it as a plum or worthwhile appointment. Although there were some outstanding exceptions, the British Medical Profession in general were not that concerned with mental health, and amongst some medics there was also the attitude that many who became mentally ill were emotionally or morally ‘feeble’. During the Second World War, for instance, a RAF bomber crew member could be discharged for LMF: Lack of Moral Fibre, which would be stamped on his pay book, and the disgrace could haunt him for years. The Americans had a more enlightened and humane approach: a USAAF bomber crew member would be rested because he was suffering from ‘Combat Fatigue’.
6. Len’s date is fifteen years out. Gallipoli is on the Turkish coast. During the First World War Turkey was an ally of Germany. Gallipoli had a strategic importance and at Winston Churchill’s urging, British, French and Anzac troops landed at Gallipoli on May 1915. They were faced by the Turkish army. There were to be heavy Allied casualties and the Allies finally withdrew in December, defeated.
7. The Great Ormond Street and Highgate youth hostels no longer exist.