Part Four/2 What Happened Next

Part Four  Chapter Two

What Happened Next.


The original batch of letters, photos and memorabilia bought on ebay in 2007 ended with the letter from Ena to Mum written on 19 June, 1950, listing the injuries, and diseases that killed her beloved husband.

Amongst the second batch of letters, photos and memorabilia that the author was given by Helen and Rona – one of her daughters – in March 2011, were a few letters and items that took the story a little bit further from that June in 1950. It will be remembered from Part Four/1 Wynyard Hall that Len had plans to go to France in her summer holidays, and had hoped that her parents, or her Mum, could somehow manage to go with her.  She did go to France, with Shirley, a college friend.  Mum and Dad didn’t manage because of Mum’s back problem.  Whilst Len was in France in July, 1950, Mum sent her a letter.


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mums letter 20.7.50 png


Mum letter image png_edited-1Thursday, 20 July 1950

“The Ark”  Seems like it, all the roads and paths are flooded.

Hello Dearest Sweetest Best (Not enough room in this letter for all our love),

How wonderful to hear you on the ‘phone this morn.  Dad & self were thrilled to bits and we pictured you spotting that ‘phone box or whatever it was & your saying “Ah!  I’ll ‘phone from here.”  Also pictured the colourful international crowd moving along to the ship with Shirley and yourself among them.

What’s it like in “La Belle” – Oh! if only all goes well I’ll be there next year – think I’ll start making my trousseau right now!  How does Shirley like being in France?  What is the food like – cheap and plentiful – and do you speak French all the time.

Daddy went out shopping for me this morn. – brought back fruit and a lovely chicken which I’m about to pop in ye pot now.  By dint of borrowing from Mrs. Hyslop I’ve got oatmeal & barley for soup & stuffing.  So strange to think I’ve not now got stores of those everyday things but will soon stock up when I get running around.

About champagne for me from France, if you meant to bring some over, darling, please don’t trouble as I’ll get some here if I want to.  I’d rather have the wee pinkie ring wot I spoke of to you, but if cash runs short, & I guess it will, just have the very best time & a good holiday – that will please us better than anything.

I cleaned out your beautiful handbag the other day – you’d have got a row if you’d been here – leaving rusty pins in it.  *!*!!!  I put a trace of oil on the frame & wrapped it carefully.

The weather hasn’t been dry enough to get the carpet out to air, it just rains and rains and rains!  I’ve only been out in the garden for a few minutes at a time.

I’m getting better every day, my darling, and thinking of you all the time.  The parcel of books came in this morn.  Longing to dip into “Great Short Stories.”  Bless you ever.  All our love across the sea to you.

Dad & Mum.

p.s. Looking forward to hearing of your journey from north to south of France, trying to think of the road you’ll be travelling.  Cheers and all love Mum. xxxxx


The following “Record of Work Done” written by Len is undated.  It seems that after her summer holidays the amount of teaching practice in  schools in the area increased


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Len pic for part 3 png smaller-1Record of Work Done 

Lesson I

Talk of own experiences in Egypt, including life on a houseboat on the Nile, Sudanese servants, being mistaken for Palestinian spies whilst hiking in the desert, the native market, etc.

Show Egyptian jewellery – old & new.  Nefertiti head in gamoose horn, leatherwork etc. to girls.  They are to present a picture of Egypt between them.  Suggest topics.e.g. journey there, shopping in Egypt, climate, situation, Egyptology, Egyptian cotton, current events, the Pyramids etc.  Girls make copy of this list.  Discussion as to choice of topic.

Lesson 2

Bring a classroom book containing information about Egypt, put in each book a slip stating where the relevant information is to be found in the book, which particular aspect it is about and asking questions about the important points.  Girls work on this, reading, writing out information in their own words and copying drawings.  Some girls write for further information to the British Museum and the Egyptian Embassy.

Lesson 3 

Girls continue with work from library books.  Some girls write to B.O.A.C. & P. & O for further information about the journey there, and to the Shaw Saville line.

Lesson 4

Library monitors to go to library & take books from shelves and arrange for class.  Review topics – as some people have changed them owing to lack of sufficient information, e.g. Egyptian jewellery.  Class work in the library.  Look at replies from Egyptian Embassy, British Museum and Shaw Saville Ltd.


On Ist November, 1950, Dad writes to Len at her college, sending a postcard from the seaside town North Berwick, down the East Lothian coast from Edinburgh.

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Dad letter png1 November, 1950.  North Berwick

Dear Len,

Having a real good time and the weather has been very good and both Mum & I have been out every day.  We can see the Bass rock from all points of the home and do think our visit here has done us both good. (1)

Love Dad.


1.  The use of the word ‘home’ may be revealing.  Have they been staying at a trade union or S.C.W.S (Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Society) seaside guest or rest home?  The 1st November in 1950 was a Wednesday.  Besides Mum’s back problem, had Dad been having health problems?


A fortnight after Dad’s postcard above she is typing to her Mum and Dad from the Library of the college at Wynyard Hall saying “Still no news exactly when I’m going to London for interview…. Do hope they can bring it forward from the 7th of December.”

Interview letter png

As noted in Part Four Chapter One, the Emergency Teachers Training Course was a 13 month  course.  The end of December, into early January 1951 will see her finishing her training.  Going for an interview will be for a place at a school in London.


Len was successful in securing a post as a primary school teacher in London.

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26 January, 1951.

Wynyard Hall Training College, Wolviston, Billingham, Co.Durham.

Dear Old Student,

I trust you are now happily settled in your school.  Probably you have already written to your Advisory Tutor giving particulars of the name of the Authority and the name of the school to which you have been appointed, but as only three members of staff are back in College with me the information is not available for the office records, and is required by he Ministry of Education.

I would be grateful, therefore, if you would complete the slip and return it to Miss Burton immediately.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

E.BRIDEOAKE.    Principal.


In early March, 1951 Len is being put up by a teaching colleague whilst she looks for her own accommodation.  She is staying in Adelaide Road, off Finchley Road in Swiss Cottage, north London.

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Len pic for part 3 png smaller-18 March, 1951.

160 Adelaide Road, London N.W.3

Evening.  Soup on the hob.

My Charming Fair Ones,

Climaxes & convolutions.  Have been home to-day as I woke up in the night with cramp, my foot couldn’t bear my weight.  Have sprained a muscle in my calf through wearing high heels!  It’s much better already, but I think I’ll take tomorrow off to get it completely better & go acc. hunting.  C.S. (1)  give time off for that sort of thing, but though teachers have such wonderful holidays, odd half days for personal business are well nigh impossible to get…….


 1.  acc.: accommodation.  C.S.: Civil Service.


Len taught at the William Tyndale Infant School in Islington, north London.  In 1954, whilst leaving the folk song centre Cecil Sharp House in London, she met her future husband, an industrial chemist.  It turned out that they realised that they were both members of the Young Communist League, a section of the British Communist Party. (Membership was open to those up to the age of 30.)  They married in August 1954.

Harry, Len’s Dad, died of lung cancer, at his home in Coldingham Avenue in August 1955.  He was 66.  His death was registered on the day he died by Len.  That Len was up from London suggests his death was anticipated.

In the 26 August, 1955 edition of the Clydebank Press the following Intimation was placed:

“Bryers – At his home, 26 Coldingham Avenue, Glasgow W4 on 19 August, 1955, Harry Bryers (late of King Aircraft Corporation, Hillington) dearest beloved husband of Helen MacKay and father of Helen.  He lived to do good.”

Changing his job from the India Rubber Tyre Co to the King Aircraft Company, presumably around 1950 0r 1951 meant he longer had to cross the Clyde by ferry to go to his work.

A copy of Flight magazine from 1953 gives us a description of the work his firm were involved in.

“King Aircraft Celebrate

As briefly recorded last week, King Aircraft Corporation recently held their twelfth anniversary celebration in Glasgow. Some 60 people from all branches of the aircraft industry were guests of the Corporation.

Before a dinner and dance on the Saturday evening, the guests were taken for a tour of the works at Hillington, where, in addition to seeing the ramjet helicopter which we described last week, they were able to inspect a variety of work. Items included the well- known King toggle fastener, of which there are now over 20,000 on order, welded-tube chairs for B.E.A., pipe valves for atomic work at Harwell, flexible couplings for fuel lines, a new crash- release harness (utilizing the Sturge Whiting coupling described in our issue of June 27th, 1952) and a new automatic-locking inspection plate which lies flush with the surface but can easily be released, even by a gloved hand, no screwdriver being required.”

Len’s Mum moved down to England in late 1959 to be near her daughter, who earlier in the year had had her second child.  Len – no longer teaching – her husband and by now their four children eventually lived in Guildford, Surrey.  “Granny Bryers” lived close by.

Over the week-end of 12 & 13 March, 2011 when the author first met Helen, and Rona,  he made notes and taped, with their permission,  some of the discussion about Len’s (Helen’s) life.  Some of the conversation was taped whilst Rona looked at the collection of new material discovered in Helen’s Exmouth home.  As has been noted in the Introduction, Helen has significant memory loss, so details are fragmentary.  The short tape has been re-arranged in a chronological order.

Helen: My Father had two brothers and a sister. The two brothers and the sister emigrated to the States. There was so much emigration going on…My Father taught me all the physical things. He taught me to skate, he taught me to dance. In those days, long ago, girls went to the dances with their parents, and my girlfriends would much rather dance with my father than with the boys. He was such a superb dancer. He was a beautiful singer. He was a tenor….. Anything to do with language I get from my mother….   I went to Ireland when I was about four.

Rona: So the boat that you went on to go to Cork, you were on it long enough to have sheets on the beds

Helen:  Yes.   When we lived in London I was dying to join the Labour League of Youth…. It’s funny, I can see Canonsleigh Road where we lived and Goresbrook Road where Joan lived, and then there was the green belt and the Ship and Shovel Pub, and that’s where the buses came. We played on the green belt… (Moving from Dagenham to Glasgow)  I can remember leaving Euston in the train. It was so dark, because of the black out. You couldn’t have lights on……

Rona:  When you were first going out to Egypt someone said to you “You’re very young” but you said, “Yes, but I’m very sensible”.

Helen:   In Cairo I was a shorthand typist and also superintendent of the typing pool. When I came back they wanted to put me in a typing pool in Glasgow.  I made a fuss about this so they made me a PA.

Ernst:PS copy

“Ernst, Jamil Beach, 1947.”

Rona:  Oh there’s an amazing photograph here, Mum. (Reading) ‘Ernst, Jamil Beach 1947’ – look at that Mum.

Helen:  He had a gorgeous body….   When my mother arrived in Egypt he got down on his knees in Cairo and asked her if he could marry me.

 Rona: Ten men asked Mum to marry her.

Helen:   Sunbathing on the boat from Alexandria going to Naples, that’s when I was on leave, I had to go into a cabin because the sun was burning, and the captain visited me and –

Rona: Came onto you.

Helen:  Yes. So I had to dissuade him…. When I went from Glasgow to London a lorry driver –

Rona: When you were a teenager –

Helen: – tried to put his arm around me…  I was down in Suez and this Squadron Leader wanted me to go in his car back to Cairo. He gave me a gun, in case I was attacked. What I was supposed to do with a gun I don’t know.

Rona: (Rona is reading a wedding congratulations card from the staff)  Oh, this is where Mum taught, and it is William Tyndale Infant School, Sebbon Street, Islington.

Helen:  I liked the drama in the teaching most…

Rona: You got married when you were 28, in 1954, but you weren’t 29 until November.

Helen: We were all left wing.  My father gave me a row because we put our engagement notice, saying we were in the Young Communist League in the Daily Worker.

Rona: So why did your Dad – ?

Helen:  I don’t know. I still don’t know why he gave me a row. Perhaps it was because it was proclaimed in the Daily Worker.  Perhaps he would have been worried about his work.

Rona: Get victimised? (1)

Helen:   Yes.  My Father was not as left wing as my Mother.

Rona: Grandma was always having operations, wasn’t she Mum.  She didn’t have any money.  She didn’t have any property.  Aunt Kitty had problems with her eyes. I remember she came down to Moorfield Eye Clinic….She stayed with us. She was a night owl, like me.

Helen:   I’m a planner and we wanted our children to be two years apart.

Rona:   I was born in Hythe, which is part of, near Southampton.  My Dad, at the time, worked at Fawley which is the oil refinery at Southampton…  I suppose I found Guildford quite, quite – conservative and I suppose because our parents were both left-wing I thought about it as – well, you talked about as being like the Bible Belt didn’t you Mum – it was conservative with a big ‘C’…  Mum’s always been very involved in canvassing, in campaigns and one of the things she got involved with when we were children was how important it was to have smear tests for women. And there was this story, which I think you told me Mum, was the headmaster of our school said to my Dad “We have to keep our women quiet”, or keep them contained, or held back. In other words it wasn’t OK that my Mum was going around to get people to sign a petition, to get women, or to get them aware of smear tests.  So he tried to get Dad to haul Mum back in. That would have been in the sixties. That’s when we were in primary school.


1.  As noted in the above Flight magazine article about the King Aircraft Company, the company manufactured pipe valves for the Atomic Energy Establishment at Harwell.  It is reasonable to assume that Dad would be uncharacteristically angry with his daughter because less than four years before, the atomic scientist Klaus Fuchs had been supplying important information of the American and then the British development of atomic weapons to the U.S.S.R.  Fuchs was sentenced by a British court to a 14 year prison sentence.  Immediately prior to his confession Fuchs had been working at Harwell.


In an email from Björn to the author in 2011 Björn wrote “She had a very active life.  While raising a family of four she did her MSc in Educational Psychology and worked in that field for many years.”

Len started studying, already with the aim of being an Educational Psychologist,  initially doing night classes for her A levels. She was doing her A levels when her first child was doing her O levels.  Rona  was embarrassed at the time, she says, that her Mum was a mature student. Rona’s friends’ Mums didn’t go out to work.

Rona says – and Helen concurs – that her Mum started studying because she was becoming unhappy with her marriage.


Rona:  All four of us, that is me and my sister and brothers, and Mum went up to stay with the Findlays in Glasgow for a holiday, and on the way up there we said ‘Where are we going to sleep?’, and Mum said, ‘I don’t mind where, as long as I’m horizontal’. And Joan Findlay showed us the beds and Mum said ‘I’ll have the double bed’.  They took us out to Loch Lomond.  I remember swimming there, and we had a picnic there. I was about late primary or early teens

Joan B& D story crop

From a feature in the Barking & Dagenham Post, 2011.

Helen:  (Re. Joan Brandley)  No, I don’t know what happened to her.

Rona:  Yes, I don’t remember you talking about her when we were young,  Aunty Shirley, yes, but  I never heard of Aunty Joan.  That Shirley that Mum met at Wynyard Hall was in our lives.

Rona:  When Mum was in her sixties she used to run up the stairs at Clapham Junction with a rucksack on her back, and overtook people younger than her, and she said she felt sad when she got to a stage where she was not able to do that any more. Mum’s always been very energetic.

 Helen:  Although I used to walk 15 miles on Dartmoor I’m a very slow walker now.


Helen’s Mum, still living in Guilford, died in her 80s.  Ena died in 1990 at the age of 86.  Her death was registered in Swansea.  Despite a follow up feature in the Barking and Dagenham Post in 2011 we have no knowledge of what happened to Joan Brandley, or how successful Betty Baxter’s course of treatment for her TB was.

Helen lived with her second husband in Ham, Richmond Surrey, and latterly in Exmouth.  Björn in the same email mentioned above, wrote: “I last saw her (Helen) in 2001 at her home in Exmouth, Devon.  She had a lovely house backing on the Exe Estuary – at high tide you could go for a swim from the back garden.”

Helen changed her political support from the Communist Party to the Labour Party.  It is speculated this was over the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 when many members left the British Communist Party in bewilderment or disgust.  She has remained a supporter, and member, of the Labour Party since.  Her second husband was a Liberal Democrat supporter, and in their small bay front window at times of local council elections and General Elections, they would have opposite Labour Party and Liberal Democrat posters in the window.  In Exmouth they shared an enthusiastic enjoyment of walking and canoeing.  She also ran therapeutic  workshops with the title “Life is Too Short to be Serious”.

Her second husband died in 2007.  At the time of writing (January, 2015) her first husband still lives in Guildford.

As she said to the author when he met her first in March, 2011:  “I am only interested in the present and the future.”


Len Aug. 2012 png

Helen (“Len”) outside her home in Exmouth, August, 2012.     Photo: Pete Grafton.

Helen died in Exmouth on 28, August, 2017.  She was 91.


This entry was posted in Britain Austerity 1940s, Feminism, Gender Studies, Letters, Social and Political History, Teachers Emergency Training Scheme 1040s, Womens History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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