Part Two 7: Experimental Theatre

Part Two  7:   Experimental Theatre     

“I’ve been thinking about what I want to study and have decided that in all respects the theatre is really what I want. What I’m interested in most is the experimental theatre, poetry and broadcasting.”


Daisy's letters png

Daisy Bulbeck CU pngDear Mrs Bryers,

I’m sorry I didn’t wrote before, but time passed so quickly.  Then I thought I was going back to Cairo very soon, and all we had was to wait and wait, they always had new papers to wait for, then they told us (the army) I couldn’t go back to Cairo with my husband, no accommodation for me there.

We wrote to Cairo that there was for me, and the answer was I could go. Then another letter I cant go, London wrote again and still we are waiting.

Made me very upset all this always not knowing what to do.

Well I suppose Ill know very soon what we are going to do.

I had a really lovely time we went all over the places.

My husband bought a car and we had the most beautiful time.  But now we cant use it, basic petrol.  I don’t mind I saw everything, we went to London many, many times and I did enjoy myself.  Even we saw Elizabeths wedding dress and the present. The Dress beautiful, all flowers made with pearl, 2.000 pearls and the cost of the pearls, £1.000. And the presents I cannot tell you how very marvellous they were.

Helen wrote me and don’t know when she will be home, I hope for you to have her. She’s very nice girl and I liked her very much and always will, you cant forget good friend.  And I even saw the snow, Oh… it was wonderful we were going on one of our trips before Christmas and in a very high hill, they stopped the car and I rushed and started playing with the snow, made balls, through (Daisy’s spelling) it to my husband.  Made some pictures with snow in my hand, will send it to, as soon we take them. (1)

Please will you send me the negatives from the pictures we made at your place.  I’ll Bulbecks at 26, no mum pngsend them back to you as soon I have few printed.   We sends our best wishes for New Year, and all the best of luck for you both and Helen.  I wrote her a letter before Christmas.

My husband want to be remembered also my brother in law.  God bless you both.

Lot of love from your affectionate Daisy Bulbeck.

Daisy's address png


1. These promised photos have not survived in this collection. Despite her name, Daisy is obviously not British.  Note the continental way she puts a full stop, and not a comma on the amount of money the pearls on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress cost.  It’s a probability Tom met her during or just after the war.  The ATS, for instance, recruited women in liberated countries during 1944 and 1945.  Stores Disposals also recruited workers locally.


Five preceding letters – to this one – from Len to her parents are not in this collection.  So no follow up to the rest of her Christmas and New Year news in the Suez Canal Zone.  Also, there will be references in Len’s following letters to matters mentioned in these missing letters.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-114 January, 1948.

BSDM Cairo,
c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.

ME Twilight

My own Darlings,
Before I get into this letter properly, let me say that you won’t be getting any MoS cheque this month.  I’ve asked all my money to be paid out here as Esme wants to borrow it in case she’s going home in April, so that she can buy things.  Like Harris she proposes paying me back in U.K.  You’ve no idea how true the song is for us  “…. and when they’re running short of cash they borrow from each other.”

No mail from you since the 8th.  I expect it’s the transition from bag to APO.   However I can’t complain for everyone else’s mail is delayed too.

Monday I’d Esme to lunch, left her to have half an hours French with Vera, then we got ready and went over to the Stokes.  We took the kids and Doris to the newly opened part of Garden Groppi’s for tea.

On Mon. I went to the Y.W. before going on to the Theatre Guild. It was wonderful – we’d a rehearsed play reading of Ibsen’s “Ghosts”.  I’ve been thinking about what I want to study and have decided that in all respects the theatre is really what I want. What I’m interested in most, is the experimental theatre, poetry and broadcasting. I want to try to get into one of the big places in London, like the Guildhall, RADA, or the Central School.  The CS Course is three years, so I guess I’ll have to save like mad, but even if the Government won’t give me a grant, they may give me a loan.  Anyway, if you know you want to do a thing although it has difficulties I always feel one should plunge in then one just has to get through – e.g. the way we managed about your holiday Mum.  Do tell me your comments and any ideas you have – the theatre – or one of its branches is really all that interests me a lot and is the thing for which I have most aptitude, but as always I want to preserve an open mind and not shut myself off from all that happens around me and from which I may learn something of value.

Anyway, Tuesday, Pat came to lunch, then we walked round Gezira and afterwards she bathed whilst I washed my hair and showered. Then we had tea and I just stayed in, in the evening.  Yesterday I did my washing in the afternoon and at night  went to the Fins (1) for high tea.  Jean only was in, as John and Mr Munro were at the pictures. By the way, he’s not going now on the 20th and I believe the sailing of the Stokes’ boat has been delayed to the 24th.

However, the Fins and Esme and I are exploring the possibilities of a Med. tour, or a visit to Greece or Turkey for our last holiday out here.  Last night Jean said to me  it would be wonderful to go to the International Youth Hostel Rally.  Anyway the point I’m leading to is this – it’ll probably be held in France or Belgium, so can’t you get yourself elected (as a member of the S.Y.H.A., should not be not so difficult) as one of the Scottish delegates Dad?  Please, oh do try.   Mr Munro is to find out where it’s to be for Jean.  So do write and tell me what you know and you try to come, won’t you Daddy?

Jean was also saying that Lewis’s have nylons at 8/11 and as I don’t remember your having used up my last 6 export coupons I was wondering if you could have two pairs sent to me Mum.  ‘Bag’ from U.K. to here operates till the 31st, so if you could get them into the FO before the end of the month it would be really super.

Have you read “Middle East Anthology”? (2) ME Anthology png  It was Esme’s Xmas present to me and really provides a wonderful picture of life here so should prove interesting reading for someone like you who’s been here Mum.  That is all 26, that is all – over to you.

Masses of love flying to you chookemses.

Len xxx


1.  Fins: the Findlays.

2.  Middle East Anthology, edited by John Waller and Erik de Mauny, published by Lindsay Drummond, London, 1946.  It contains an early short story by Olivia Manning, a memoir by Lawrence Durrell and poems by Keith Douglas, amongst other selections.

mideast contents png_edited-1

Page One of the Contents, Middle East Anthology.

Three Gezira Lovelies, on page 98,  by John Ropes is a three page verse drama:

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gezira ladies 2 png_edited-1

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Three Gezira Lovelies: copyright John Ropes/Estate of.   From The Middle East Anthology List of Contributors biographies:

John Ropes:  Lt-Col in Royal Artillery.  Awarded O.B.E.  Used to write for the Gate Review before the war and in Cairo wrote for the C.A.D.M.S. ‘Revue Order, 1941’ and ‘Revue Order, 1942.’


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-119 January, 1948.

Office desk, monday morning.

My very own Ones,

No mail from you for 11 days – so I’m wondering what has happened.  I won’t send any more enclosures till I hear from you that my letters are getting through. Try as I will to banish it I still have a gnawing worry about you both.

Friday it was Pat’s birthday and I’d lunch with her and also tea, then went  to pick up the suit and blouse I’ve brought and went on to say good-bye to the Stokes.  Their boat is probably not sailing till the 24th, Mr Munro has no sailing date yet and Pat is now going in February.  She’d like to come and stay with you sometime in March if that’s O.K.?

Saturday I went to Qassasin by the local bus – Sgts Mess do.

Central Canal zone map png

Section of Suez Canal Zone map. Map by, and copyright, Richard Wooley.

 On arrival we’d tea, then a little later dinner and dancing.  I broadcast through their mike – later we’d a lovely buffet supper, more dancing and finished with a sing song. The types though not sand-happy were not exactly intellectual, however it was quite enjoyable and I met a boy who’s practically in love with Scotland though he’s never been there and so I told him I’ll give him bags of gen on hostels and the like.  What news have you Daddy apropos of the hostel conference I talked of in my last letter?

Yesterday – we stayed at the “Y” at Ish,  we’d coffee in the lounge there, did some walking and went back to Q for lunch. We took some snaps, got in some table tennis and dancing and I’d my first driving lesson, in a 15 cwt. – it was fun.

Just longing to get some letters from you.  Take care of yourselves.

My love to you darlings,

Len xxxx


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-122 January, 1948.

BSDM Cairo, c/o Det APOS.

299, MELF

My darling beloved Ones,

It’s a fortnight to-day since I’ve heard from you, but we’ve been told that all the mail has gone to Turkey by mistake – the APO haven’t got used to dealing with our stuff from England yet, so it alleviates the worry about you especially as everyone else here is in the same boat, but nevertheless it’s a bit depressing and I realise more than ever how much your letters mean.

Don’t know if I said so in my last letter or not, but a chap at Qassasin – the one who’s fallen for Scotland though he’s never seen it – said to me he thought the Edinburgh Festival was to be in August this year, do you know?  It should be wonderful, shouldn’t it?

The sheets have arrived.  Yes, they came by bag and arrived in two lots, one Monday, one Tuesday – one date – which looked like the sending off one was 22.12.47, so they must have come quickly if that was right.

Monday I’d lunch with Morris and we went to the Pyramids.  Then, we’d an ice cream in L’Americaine and I went on to the Y, where I nattered to Pat, then Esme came and we went to the CTG – Peer Gynt, which left me in a trance.

 Yesterday I did some chores and went to see the Schrachas – poor Chayanne (pronounced to rhyme with Diane) has had gyppy tummy badly, but is O.K. now. Anyway I’ve had two comparatively early nights and hope to have two more.

In the morning I went with Pat to the dentist  (this all in office time – happy thought) and then we went to the Egyptian State Broadcasting to try and crash in, we’d an interview and left our names, but influence ranks high, so don’t have masses of hope.

Longing to hear all your news, how you’re surviving January etc.  Hope they hurry up and send that mail back from Turkey – it should work out all right when they get used to it, just hope you’re getting mine.

That’s all, no more news but do take care of yourselves.

All the love in the world,

Len xxxxx


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-11 February, 1948.

Writing by a bedside lamp, but not in bed. BSDM Cairo, c/o Dep APO S.299, MELF.

My very own dearest Darlings,

Once more I’m glad of having had a few early nights, for with all the events scheduled to happen within the next few weeks I don’t look like having many.

I’m due to move about the 15th & after that my days are s’posed to be spent talking to the little Greek girl & when I went on Friday they were so thrilled to learn I was Scottish. (1)

The father’s studied in England & has been to Glasgow.  I explained about wanting to see a friend (Peter) during his leave, but after that I’d be at their disposal & they said that would be O.K.  They want me to be there all week days except one – which is to be free & when I’m on I’m to be there from 3.30 – 8.30 & as she has lessons three days a week from 5.30 – 6.30 that gives me that time to myself too.  I do as I please at week-ends, stay in or go out.  Only have vague notions of improving her English, but do hope to get her to learn “There was an old goblin in shivery pool”.

They’re also pleased I adore swimming & walking & don’t like the pictures.  However (once again) masses of things have now cropped up & 5 men of my own loom on the horizon quite apart from a friend of David’s Pat wants me to look after next week-end here.

My own 5 are Malcolm – who wants me to go down to Q the week-end of 7/8th, who wrote me again – before he’d heard from me enclosing an ordnance survey of the Lake District (could have sent nothing to please me more) & who may be coming to Cairo soon. (2)     Secondly Peter’s coming on leave shortly for he’s due to sail on Demob 18th Mar.  Thirdly (watch how they all piled up within 24 hours) I met the most wonderful Swiss architect  who wants me to look at some houses he’s building.

To-day the Findlays told me they spent most of their time in PS with Ernst meeting him at the EE & he said he’s coming to Cairo on leave the week after next i.e. 8th & that he’d be writing to me about it.  Lastly, as I looked at the paper to-day I see the ss Patrician’s due in on Alex. “about 8th Feb.” – which means I hope to see Ken Cook. Usually I manage to dovetail things without overlapping, but I seem to have had it this time.

Friday the Fs were at PS bidding adieu to Mr M.

Saturday I’d the most wonderful mail, 2 letters from you, a letter from Malcolm with the OS of the Lakes, a letter from the Central School with an application form for the autumn term (this I hope to send to you bahdin for completion) & also a friendly letter from Nan Buchanan.

 I got to know the Swiss architect who is a friend of Bernard Rice, an artist I’ve got to know from Maadi who is bad, in that he brings out the romantic in me by describing wonderful times in Yugoslavia & living on 7/- in 3 months in fishing smacks on the Dalmation coast – all carefree but really very bad as one isn’t contributing to the community.(3)

The Swiss architect  lives at Maadi, like Bernard Rice, and is from near St.Moritz, is tall & slim, 30 ish & adores dogs, music & mountains.  Although he’s travelled all over the place (& now wants to settle down) there’s something naive and diffident about him which is most endearing.  His name is Mark.  He’s the sort of person who makes one feel quite unlike a career woman.   However, a little putting-the-brake-on is indicated in all directions, so ‘nuff said re. him.

Thanks so much for sending me Joan’s letter. (4)

Take great, great care of yourselves my ain chooki-burdis .

Love, love, love, Len. xxxxx


1.  Because of the missing five letters we have no background to why Len is moving in to new digs as a companion to Lita, the young Greek girl.  It is guessed that Len is getting free lodging and board, something that will appeal to her as a keen saver of money.  Len’s  friendship with the Solovieffs and their daughter Vera – she continues to have French lessons – has not stalled.

2.  This is the first mention, in these letters, of Malcolm, a British Army officer.  He was probably mentioned in the missing five letters.

3.   Bernard Rice, 1900 – 1998.  He was a designer, printmaker and sculptor.   When Len met him he was teaching wood engraving and etching in Cairo.  He was born in Austria, and studied at the Westminster School of Art, and then The Royal College of Art.   The V & A,  the British Museum,  and the Cairo Modern Art Gallery,  amongst others, hold items of his work.  He died in Hastings, England.

 4.  This letter of Joan Brandley’s does not survive in this collection.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-14 February, 1948.

Same Firm. BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.

Most precious Parents,

To make up for the dearth of letters a wee while back, I’m now receiving both air and sea mail from you – yesterday your 249 and to-day your 245.

In the back of my mind I knew of the one thing which could just crown everything – i.e. all the people I’m s’posed to see just now, but never dreamt it would happen, however it did.  Yesterday I’d a letter from Ken-who-never-writes, yes Dixon’s on his way out.  As per request in the letter I booked a call to him yesterday (he’s at Fanara – refer to that map, what, haven’t you got one!) but as it didn’t get through in the morning I went to the EST place in the afternoon and when I eventually got my 6 mins. at 13½ pt. – he hadn’t come back from lunch!

Fanara & MELF HQ png

Section of Suez Canal Zone.   Map by, and copyright, Richard Wooley

Only after I’d put down the phone did I remember that the message that he was to ring me was pretty US as it’s very difficult to get through to a civilian number in Cairo from a military one in the Canal Zone. (1)

Accordingly I booked a call first thing in the morning and as it was so early it came through fairly soon and he was in.  He’s been here a fortnight but couldn’t remember my address till the other day – admits that was dopey.  I’m going down to Ish on Friday after I’ve had my French lesson and washed my hair and as my Swiss architect rang me yestre’en  and I’m to go and look at houses after lunching with him tomorrow, that disposes of two people, leaving Sgt. Shirley – whom I learnt came to meet the two girls in the truck last week-end hoping I’d have gone to Q too, Ernst – from whom I haven’t heard yet as to when he’s coming on leave so it shouldn’t be this week-end, Peter who also owes me a letter and old Ken who’s previously on the high seas. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken – have visions of Pete and Malcolm running into Ken and me in Ish – personally I’d like one big happy family, but people sometimes have a habit of not getting on, I mean ones friends – i.e. Pat and Esme love each other from a distance.

Yesterday I went  with Pat and we looked at more sales – aren’t they fun even if you don’t buy a thing?, and I got a bargain.  According to my basic plan – drawn up with Pat’s help – I’m s’posed to have everything classic and in three colours – navy, brown and black. The shoes I bought fit the specification as far as navy goes, but otherwise, well they ain’t the least bit classic – courts with open toes and heels and punched holes about the size of threepenny  bit – but they do look nice and should be good for dancing.  What really won me was the price – 60 Pt. or 12/- – not bad eh?


Definitely feel there’s something ‘agin me’ as far as trying to look neat and smart goes – did my washing yesterday, including hanging out of roll-on and navy skirt (I’m lengthening it and had to wash it to get rid of fuzz etc. inside old hem) and guess what, it was the one day of the year (well not quite) when it rained, so goodness knows whether the skirt’s shrunk or not – and I’d already taken it in and of course the roll-on was as wet as could be, and I wanted to wear it today under my re-modelled navy dress to look really svelte for my Swiss Mark – think I’ll have to go back to books and maps.

Talking of the former, I managed to get hold of one I’d been looking for for a long time – Cornelia Otis Skinner’s “Our Hearts were Young and Gay” – it covers a trip to Paris and is, I believe on the lines of “Gentlemen prefer Blondes” – not reading it yet though, like my ME Anthology I want to read it in the great bahdin. (1)

After my washing I went to the Companion’s and talked to Lita – I can see she’ll keep me on my toes – I’d almost forgotten the word Algebra.  It’s so easy when far away, “Yes, children are good for one”, but boy, who tires first, however, it should mean far less introspection, which is a very good thing.

They wanted me to move next week when I was there yesterday, but I was adamant, thinking of my last week of freedom and also of the “Patrician” – don’t know what I’ll do if she comes in just as I move, for I ought to keep to my bargain of staying and nattering and there’s no news of her being in the Med. yet.  If she were a fortnight late ‘twould be all right, but a week would jigger things, taking me to moving day.

I note your carpet requirements and as I’m s’posed to see Morris (2) on Monday, shall tell him all then, so that he can be on the look-out and there should be no rush at the last.

After C’s last night I went on to the WNC (3) and we’d PT, it was good fun. I am a silly, have so many encs. to send to to-day as I’m going out (with Mark) haven’t brought as many bundles as usual and have nothing by me, marleesh, ‘twill have to be next time.

Esme forgot to turn, hence the double exposure of ‘me and the lion’ at Suez. (4)

Len, Lion-a

Len in CU, Chsistmas '48 png

Will reply to the rest of your letter in my next, but have to get this in the mail – all the love in the world to my dearly Beloveds.

Len. xxxxx


1.  US : Useless

2.  Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, 1942, made into a film in 1944.  Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, 1925, made into a film in 1953.

3.  Morris Zeid, referred to by Mum in her letter of 17 December, 1947.

4.  WNC: the Christian instigated Wednesday Night Club.

5.  ‘Esme forgot to turn’ – to wind the film on.  Len is responding to a question from Mum, in a letter not in this collection.  There is a possibility that this is the only surviving photograph from when Len, Esme and Myrtle were in the Suez Canal Zone at Christmas.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-19 February, 1948.
BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.

No hint of blue in the sky, but not very chilly.

Dearest own Ones,

My quiet period seems to have passed by and again I seem to be writing brief letters – awful isn’t it?

I wrote you on Thursday, well that day I’d the most wonderful day I’ve had in the ME except for the day of your arrival Mum. Everything just flowed into everything else. First I’d lunch with Mark at Groppi’s – and it was a perfect lunch, then we drove out in his car to Maadi where he showed me the houses he was building. They really were dreams. The design of the house, the wallpaper, colour scheme and furnishings had all been thought out at the same time, so the effect was admirable. Of course the kitchens were super and everything generally was utilitarian and pleasant to look at the same time.

Then we looked over Maadi Club and had tea there and afterwards drove out to the Pyramids and had a drink in Mena House, then he drove me back to town and deposited me at the Harari’s.  He’s the bloke who gave the Psychology lecture to us and has a super wife and kids.  I looked at their kids, then went to a recital.

It was in the most super flat I’ve ever been in, gorgeous paintings, carpets etc. and we sat in chairs with side bits on (you know especially level with your head). There were chintz cushions scattered about the floor for the latecomers to sit on. Not only was it furnished with bags of money, but with exquisite taste. Those people must never see the little maimed children in the street – they live in another world.

After a while the lights went up – we’d been listening to Bach and Handel in the darkness – and some doors opened noiselessly to reveal the most super buffet I’ve ever seen – everything was really perfect. The way our host’s suit was cut it must have cost the earth.  After cutting back some of this food we left.  Really I’d have adored to have stayed, but I was so tired and couldn’t have coped without the Hararis who were leaving then, however I hope to go again soon, the only thing is Peter will be here and he looks like a child who’s been slapped if you say you can’t go out with him and although I’m only fond of him as a friend, I hate to hurt him.

Friday I washed my hair and packed and caught the 6.30 down to Ish, Ken met me and after I booked in the Y, we went to the King George where we talked and danced shwoya.

Rather he talked, for the whole week-end I listened to his experiences in Haifa.  He’s nearly round the bend, though he’s getting better now, but his nerves are in a really bad way and I got the full brunt of it.  He wouldn’t let me contact any of our other mutual acquaintances, but just kept on talking of Haifa, the mass murders, sniping, suicides of British blokes who’d gone right round the bend. (1)

Ken Dixon png

‘Ken Dixon by the breakwater, Feb. 1948’.   Len’s handwriting.

Saturday, we walked, went to the US Club for lunch, sat and nattered, had tea at the Y, dinner at the Greek Club and danced at the King G.  Sunday we walked, and I’d lunch at the Y, whilst he went to his mess, then after tea I caught the bus back to Cairo with the rest of our girls who’d been at Q.  On arrival I’d tea with the Sols and nattered to them and Vera’s girl friend who’d come up from Alex.

That’s me up to date, but I can’t go on nattering as there’s masses of work and I must get this in the mail.  Then of course I’m so involved in sorting myself out.  Phoned Peter this morning and he’s coming up Wed., I’m half expecting a telegram from Ken C to say come down to Alex., ditto a letter from Ernst to say he’s coming on leave, there are also some other bods in various places demanding letters or a ‘yes’ to their coming to Cairo and this afternoon I’m shopping with Morris, then seeing Mark at night for dinner before going on to “Lady Precious Stream”, lastly I’m s’posed to be moving at the week-end and then staying with the little Greek girl most of the time – something’s going to go somewhere, but as yet I don’t know what.

Cheerio the noo pets and keep the home fires burning.

Absolutely your own most loving, Len. xxxx


1.    Throughout 1947 (and into 1948) the Zionist terrorist group Irgun,  were indiscriminately killing British servicemen (most of whom were conscripts) in the Haifa area, besides Jerusalem and other areas within the Palestine Mandate. Servicemen (and civilians, including Jews and Arabs)  were being killed weekly. Killings were achieved by booby trapped vehicles, vehicle mines, kidnapping followed by executions, attacks on military and non-military buildings, attacks on British Army Red Cross vehicles and posts, attacks on the Cairo – Haifa train, and so on.  By February 1947 the British decided to evacuate all service families and ‘non-essential staff’ out of Haifa to Egypt, in Operation Polly.   Ken Dixon is on Len’s 1945 list of friends and music she associates with them.  The music Len associates with Ken is Melody in F


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-111 February, 1948.  (1)

Just in the office.  BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299

Parents o’ mine,

Mailless little me – haven’t had a letter from you since the 4th – the APO needs shaking up.

Pat Brown, Zam, Feb 48 png

“Pat snapped during some antics on the Solovieff’s balcony in Zamalek. Cairo, February ’48.”   Len’s writing on reverse of photo.

Monday I went down the Mousky & got Pat all her gift requirements – with Morris. She can’t bear the Mousky.  At the same time I got a little black horn deer with ivory antlers for Esme’s birthday & a goblet carved out of gamoose horn for myself comme ça –

Len goblet horn

 – imagine all out of one piece of horn & it was only 20 Pt!  Had proved an unpopular item as is doesn’t shout ‘made in Egypt’ – hence the cheapness – it’s an antique too.  I was buying masses of stuff for Pat & getting it all together helped keep prices down.

I came back & changed & Mark called for me in his car.  We’d dinner in a little Italian place, then went to see “Lady Precious Stream” which was most amusing.  Afterwards we drove over to Gezira, parked the car, went for a brisk walk by the Nile.  Then he drove me back.  He told me his age – 39.  It was rather surprising, but I s’pose the various things he’s done have taken some time.

Yesterday Pat came & looked over my clothes with advice on same – it was hectic – my pulling clothes on & off.  Then I dashed to the C’mt meeting – which I took being vice-chairman (the chairman proper Pamela (vicar’s wife) being in Upper Egypt on church work).  Then the c’mt all tea’d in Loques (just beside Groppi in Midan Soli Pash).  I went to bed fairly early.  Mark had asked me to a fancy dress ball, but I really needed that early night.


Yesterday I did my washing, then went to the Companions & talked to Lita. Gosh what a packed hour & a half.  I listened to her telling me a film story, wrote a treatise on New Orleans for her, sang hymns ditto, watched her doing exercises – let her watch me (thank goodness toe-touching isn’t beyond me) doing likewise and played tag with her.

Returned to 173.  I repaired a few ravages next by doing exercises in my split skirt – actually looked at myself, realised I hadn’t time & caught a tram into town & Peter.  We coffee’d etc & he did my French with me, then as he wouldn’t come to the country dancing I went alone.  It was wonderful, some boys of the Maadi Dancing Group came up & as well as quite energetic English dances we did a Dashing White Sergeant & an Eightsome Reel – we were in stitches half the time with laughter.  Afterwards Peter picked me up & we’d some food together before walking back to Sam (1) – what an energetic day.

Keep smiling big smiles chookums. Shiploads of love,

Len. xxxxx


1.  Len also wrote a second letter on this day (not in this collection),  11 February, for Mum’s eyes only.  She was asking Mum advice about her relationship with Mark.  (See the next chapter, Part Two Chapter 8)

2. Sam: Len’s nickname for Zamalek.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-118 February, 1948

Invigorating morning. BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.

Two best loved Ones,

Just taking the address of the Palmgren’s from your 245 and as Peter and I should be calling on Steena (my Swedish girl friend) to go to the WNC Valentine Party tonight, I’ll ask her if she knows it or them.

The Left and Right seem to be having a rare battle in the W.4 area. (1)   Doesn’t it make a difference when you know your friends lean the same way as you – neither Pat or Esme are left and it means one can’t talk on quite a lot of things.  Mark has quite an open mind on the subject.  He’s definitely Left and likes Com. in theory, but says theories don’t work when applied to human nature and cites Russia where he’s been and we’d a heated discussion about that awful book “I Chose Freedom” – written by a Russian who when in America with a Soviet Mission, ran away and wrote this book – I ask you, not only was he a traitor to his country, but a traitor to his ideals too. (2)

Must tell you that yesterday I made the great decision – should have hated to think I was being swallowed up by the ME, so when I was asked by a supervisor over the phone yesterday if I’d stay on beyond July to say the end of October I said “No”.

Just afterwards by the last of the mail I’d a p.c. from Joan Brandley in which she says her leave’s from a date in July to the beginning of Aug., but continues that she wouldn’t dare ask me to spend it with her as it’s my first summer home – of course I’d like to see her for a few days, so it’s grand her leave comes then, but I’d like to be alone for most of the time to think,  as one feels so mixed up in ones mind with being away so long.

It was lovely getting that p.c. after my great decision – you’ve no idea how the ME gets an insidious hold – made me feel how alive home is and that there were others besides you two who want to see me.  I hate to think of the £30 a month I’m saving just now for those other months, but after all, what is money and I feel I must get home in the summer – procrastination is so weak and I just can’t do without seeing you both much longer.

Appropos of your query re. the British going. Well, the troops moved out in March ’47, but since then the British community as a whole have stayed put. (3)

My social life is hectic – though my new abode is slowing it up a bit which is a good thing, but many of the girls don’t go out much and the Connaught House ones (YW) especially seem content to sleep, eat, work, read, sew – yes, they go to bed early every night.

I think it’s bad to pamper kids, but there’s nothing wrong with a little mother love – I couldn’t bear to have a wee baby and have it away from me most of the time. There’s no doubt about it this is a heck of a decadent country and people get like that living here. Shouldn’t like to have kids here – from seeing Lita and other kids I’m sure the schools are lousy as is only to be expected.

 DDT paper pngAppropos of the sheets I haven’t opened them, but have surrounded them with DDT powder  and put them in one of the trunks which has been put away.

I’ve thrown away the old expanding case which has definitely had its chips.

That’s me replied to your letters, the last being 252. I have all but 250 and 251, so things are straightening out slow but sure.

On Sunday Mark called at 9 as arranged and we’d breakfast on the “Sudan” houseboat together.  From there we drove out to Lake Karoun which is about 50 miles away.  It’s amazing the way the desert suddenly gives place to greenness, but it’s not a very inspiring stretch of water and like most, or rather all of Egypt as far as scenery is concerned left me cold. However, we nattered medly all the way and had a super lunch at the further away hotel, coming back to have coffee at the nearer one, playing some ping pong and having a walk by the lake before returning.

We’d tea at Mena House on the way in, then he dropped me in Zamalek and I went up to the Findlys where Peter foregathered too and we all had dinner together, after which we played cards to finish off the evening.  S’pose I’ll have to learn bridge as a social accomplishment, but I just don’t enjoy cards at all.

Monday I packed and moved.  Oh, but I am enjoying my new abode, I may get a bit fed up as time goes by being with Lita – but at present I can’t see how.  Don’t see what I’m doing for my keep, but I s’pose they just want someone to be with her as much as anything. Must take a photo of the view from the window to send you. (4)  Yesterday I gave Lita “Shivery Pool” to learn, showing her all the actions by saying it myself first. She was entranced. She is a lovable little girl and said to me yesterday sort of full of quiet joy “It’s our second day together”.  She’s given me some pressed pansies, and I told her I was going to send you some, which I must do.  It’s wonderful too being back to regular meals and the rest of the family seem awfully nice too.  I let the Father tell me what he thought of America and things in general – I always think men love to tell you how they’d put the world straight – did I hear a protest from you Daddy?

I stayed in yesterday, except for after lunch when I went over to Gezira to see Lita playing hockey and nipped into the Ladies’ lounge where I found Steena and asked her to the party to-night.

Had a letter from Malcolm this morning to say he’s coming up this week-end, so I wrote back feverishly and at once to say cancel it, as Peter will be here this week-end. Told Malcolm I always get involved a good while ahead and to come up on the week-end of 6/7th and to stay over to the 8th when I’m producing a rehearsed reading of T.S.Elliot’s “The Family Re-Union”.  Pray for me, the only thing I’ve ever produced before was “Christmas Carol”, admittedly it was most successful, but this is a much more complicated and highbrow affair, but in view of my future hopes I could hardly refuse when the Theatre Guild asked me to do it.

That is all, over to you. Love by ‘plane till we meet again.

Len. xxxxx


1.  Mum presumably sent the local (and now defunct) weekly paper the Clydebank  Press to Len.  Although Len talks about Left and Right, the political correspondence, at the time, in the Letters page was between local communist party members attacking the Labour Government (“a budget for big business”, and so on), and local Labour Party supporters responding by calling the communist letter writers supporters of totalitarianism who are not acknowledging the social welfare reforms the Labour Government was bringing in. 

2.  I Chose Freedom: The Personal and Political Life of a Soviet Official by Victor Kravchenko, was published 1946 in the USA, and published 1947 by Robert Hale in the U.K.  It remains a searing exposé, based on first hand experience, of the terror regime in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  It was violently denounced by the USSR, who demanded that Kravchenko be extradited back (to certain death). The international Communist Parties throughout the world (under instructions from Moscow) – with the exception of Yugoslavia who had its own problems with Moscow – ran equally violent and vicious campaigns against Kravchenko.  He had joined the Communist Party in 1929, and was a witness to the mass starvation of the Ukrainian peasantry as a result of Stalin’s forced agricultural collectivization.  As late as 1983, when the identity of his son (who’d changed his name and had lived anonymously for 37 years) was discovered, the Soviet authorities imprisoned him in a gulag for five years, simply for being Kravchenko’s son. The son spent the last three years in a gulag whilst Gorbachev was First Secretary of the Communist Party. His father had died –  peacefully –  in the U.S. in 1966.

It seems that Len had not read the book.  She identified with the cause of the Soviet Union at least until 1955.

The same week Len wrote this letter to her parents, George Orwell was in Ward 3 of Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride, fifteen miles south east of Coldingham Avenue.  That week he had just written a letter to Fred Warburg, who had published his Animal Farm in 1945 when his previous left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz wouldn’t touch it.  Orwell was very ill with TB damaged lungs, and had finished the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four in the previous autumn, October, 1947 on the Isle of Jura.

3.  Len is responding to a query from a letter from Mum not in this collection.   “In May 1946, plans were announced for the withdrawal of British Troops from Egypt into the Canal Zone. The H.Q. B.T.E. (British Troops Egypt) was moved from Cairo to Moascar, a suburb of Ismailia in the Canal Zone.  Disputes between the United Kingdom and Egypt over The Sudan led to negotiations collapsing, but the British withdrawal continued.  On the 9 February 1947, the 2 Bn. The Royal Fusiliers handed over Mustapha Barracks in Alexandria to the Egyptians. On the 28 March, The Life Guards left Kasr-el-Nil Barracks and withdrew into the Canal Zone. The Canal Zone was divided into two Brigade Areas, the northern formed by the 3 Infantry Brigade, which also was designated the Strategic Reserve.”  Sourced from, and grateful thanks to


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-120 February, 1948.

BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.

Hail, Smilers, Your 253 came in yestre’en – keeping me abreast of the news. (1)

Glad to hear you’ve made the decision to get rid of Jack – when is the day to be when he gets his marching orders?

No, I still feel slightly odd at always having to let men pay, but I must confess that I never voice my feelings nowadays.

Yes, you know I have been thinking about cutting down on everything and not knocking around doing everything and your letter’s a great help in straightening things out in my mind.  But I don’t see what’s wrong with a straw hat round the neck though, think people look most attractive like that.

I’ve never had a 2 ½  Forces letter from you yet, so don’t know about its quickness. Pat received your 6d air mail O.K.  Her sailing’s been advanced from the 29th to the 25th, so now she should sail on the Lanstephen Castle (or a name like that, she’s not quite sure) next Wednesday.

Think I told you about Mark’s houses – everything was built in, of course, in the kitchen and they were tiled shoulder high with rounded corners where floor and walls met. He’s building a boys’ club at Alex. and a school here, must see the designs. Told him of the courtyard school idea – e.g. Mounteagle and he says it’s a bad thing because of drafts, noise carrying etc. nevertheless, though it may be bad from a technical angle, I enjoyed Mounteagle. (2)

Monday I moved and stayed with Lita and her family for the whole day afterwards, but I already said that in my last letter?  By the way, I’m getting masses of green vegetables, more than I had since leaving U.K.

Wednesday I stayed with Lita, then at night went to the Valentine Party with Peter and Steena.  Thursday I’d my French, went back to 15 (my new road number) then went into town early, saw Pat, then both of us had dinner with Peter.

Yesterday I stayed with Lita during the day, playing hop scotch and doing things like that, then at night went out with Mark.  He hadn’t had dinner, so I drank a sherry whilst he dined, then we drove out to Maadi and visited Bernard (you know the artist), we’d  tea with him and nattered away, then came back to Zamalek.

Would you please send the enclosed form on for me – thank goodness the Guildhall doesn’t have an entrance fee, or rather they’ve crossed it out on the form they’ve sent me. RADA have though, so I should be sending it to you shortly too.  Take the dough from the next you get from the MoS.  Sorry for involving you in the sending of these forms, but I just don’t know how I could send the dough from out here.  I’m enclosing the 6d. stamp off your last letter as it wasn’t postmarked – ‘ave a go chum.

In case you give it to friends at any time (or you need it yourselves if that Littlewood’s (3) comes up), my new address is:

c/o Companion, Flat 4, 15 Sharia Amir Hussein, Zamalek.

And as Joyce Grenfell says in revue “And that is the end of the news”.

As always, my love through every season.

Len. xxxxx


1.  This letter 253 from Mum is not in the collection.

2.  A primary school Len went to as a young girl when living in Dagenham.

3.  Before the British National Lottery, Football Pools were the weekly popular ‘bet’ on winning a large amount of money.  Zetters, Vernons and Littlewoods were amongst the main companies.


Next Friday, 21 November, 2014.  Part Two Chapter Eight:  Marriage: No second hand or damaged material. 

 “Remember always, honey, your value (I hate to put it this way but facts are facts) in the marriage market is a very, very high one…. therefore no second hand or damaged material will be good enough….” – Letter from Mum to Len, 26 February, 1948.




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Part Two 6: Bouncing Back “Scarier, Scarier, Ra, Ra, Ra”

Part Two  6:  Bouncing Back:  “Scarier, Scarier, Ra, Ra, Ra”

Mum letter image png_edited-117 December, 1947.

Hello Chum!

It’s exactly eight days since we heard from you – that is until your 241 and 242 got here this morn. (1)

Believe me, we were getting up to high Doh and no mistake; I guess it’s all the Xmas mail that’s holding up everything, however little white lily and the Rose of Lancashire are smiling and happy once more. (2)

Glad to know you are enjoying so much fun and hope oh! so much that all your dreams come true and that you’ll have the best time ever this festive season.  I’m in the throes of sending of my Christmas Cards, and, tough work, seeing Daddy sends off his.  We are also busy doing jobs about ye hoose, and I also want to alter and wash my red woolen frock for ye festive (New Year) season.   We got a letter from Joan to say she is arriving on Dec 27th so I’ve arranged with Mr. and Mrs. Watson and Ron that they are all to come over here on Dec. 28th – the Sunday, then we plan to go to L.L.Y.H. on the 31st.

Got a card from the Findlays today just as I was getting theirs off.

Mr. Morris Zeid (3) has been so kind to you  – I really must send him a card – I’ve got everything arranged in wee groups in my mind for sending cards to.  What about the letter I sent to Pat Brown – you’ve no word of it in your letter, honey lamb.

Jack is going home for Christmas, thank goodness!  He leaves Sat. first.

Best love to you our own one. A long letter soon. Much haste. Ever your own lovingest, Mum and Dad. xxx

Sending Harris a card and letter with this post, Mum xxx.


1.  242 is Len’s letter of 10 December, 1947:   “Don’t know whether on head or heels…”.  Her 241 letter is not in this collection.

2.  Reference to Dad’s family Lancashire background.

3.  Morris Zeid has been mentioned by Len in a letter not in this collection.  There is a possibility he worked for the Ministry of Works in Cairo.  She may have met him through the Findlays, or at the Gezira.  We do not know in what way he has been kind to her.  He will appear later in the narrative.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-118 December, 1947.

My room, Christmas drawing near.

My darling very Ain Ones,

It will be Christmas by the time this gets to you & may you have a really wonderful one.  Don’t let my absence cast any note of sadness for remember I’m with you in spirit & the months are speeding by.

First I must tell you about the past four wonderful days & the grand event which has marked each.  On Monday I learnt I’d passed the CO exam – the one I sat the day before you arrived here Mum. (1)  On Tuesday the crit for our show was in the paper – it’s the best I’ve ever had.  Yesterday we’d the wonderful party I’d been planning & working on for so long – it went without a hitch from start to finish.  Today was marked by my receiving a super Xmas present from Mrs Saracha – two lizard skins to make shoes – each measuring 30” from head to tip of tail.

Passing the CO exam means giving me Clerical Officer status (though in my own interests I may not claim same till reaching the U.K. i.e. the work out here would probably be better as a SH/T).  It also means that I’ve now officer rank & can use the officers’ clubs without slinking in and out.

I think it’s hideous them having your food office in Partick – is it caused by lack of accommodation?

I’m going to break my ‘no tell’ idea right now with regard to one item – whisky. It sells at a fabulous price here & as the Forces have been cut to ¼ bottle a month it’s not so easy to get it from them, but I’ve had a letter from Peter James in which he says he’s got a bottle waiting for me at El Kirsch.  I hope to collect it when I’m in the Canal Zone.

Esme & Pat have both volunteered for Pal.  Both wanted me to vol. too, but it wouldn’t be a sound move on my part, but my conscience is clear (about deserting them in their ‘hour of need’) as I learn that all vacancies are filled.  Esme isn’t going and is mad about it.  Pat is – or at least has been accepted.  She now has to confirm.  She’s not keen to go to Pal., but from various points of view thinks it’s a good thing for her & I must say I agree.  She’ll probably be writing to you with all the gen. (2)  I should have felt awfully guilty about the worry I was causing you if I’d gone.  It is of course vastly exaggerated in the papers, the same as Egypt, but the FSA (3) is less & my ‘frugal living’ scheme wouldn’t have raked in dough for the U.K. exchequer, so I think I’ll leave re-visiting the hills of Jerusalem for another time.

Jean Findlay’s Dad hates Cairo, that is Cairo proper – can’t stand the bustle & never goes in if he can avoid it.  From all accounts he seems quite content to sit at the club and watch the polo.  Different from you Mum – I’ll say.

I’m marking down all your “souvenir & shopping” requirements as your letters come through & am doing my best ‘dinnae fear’.

I an awfully worried about your both having flu one after the other – no matter how one tries not to, one magnifies things, so do please take care of yourselves – can’t you manage at least a week in the Scilly Isles or the Channel Islands in Jan. or Feb?  It sounds silly, but I feel it’s the best insurance against further flu.  With the present lack of fuel the best plan seems to be to “Get to where it’s warmest naturally” (with apologies to “Annie Get Your Gun”).

My contract of service is not a “3 month’s extension”, it’s an indefinite extension of contract with three months notice on either side.   It means that when either the employer or employee wants to part company they give three months notice, so you know my departure date is at least three months ahead.

It’s O.K. to talk of being a well groomed woman ten years from now, but things like that do not happen suddenly.  One has to strive for years – at least I do – & remember always to be polishing one’s shoes & pressing one’s clothes.  Some women enjoy clothes & like buying them, well although I enjoy them sometimes, most of the time I’m disinterested & and as far spending money on them – I always think of the wonderful books there are.

So glad the parcels arrived O.K.  Must try to send more soon – don’t you give that Jack any please.  Hope you find them O.K. as Xmas presents, for we can’t send anything but food as yet, nothing more being heard of APO. (4)

Yes, I still want to go the Highlands, but feel I will have to use some of my leave, laying the foundations for what I want to do in the future.  I’d like to use the money I’m banking  now to stop work and study.  That’s why every month out here helps, but I don’t want to stay on & on just for dough, for I want to see you both & also can’t spend the best years of my life in the ME.

I’m with you all the way about marriage being the thing for men & women but one just can’t sit back & daydream till a bloke happens along.  Much better surely to lead a useful life & make yourself richer (mentally) person at the same time?

I’m not revolting against the CS – it’s just not what I want.  Up to now I’ve done well from it I know, but it was chance that made me a CS & not because I selected it as a career.

Unless I get this off now, ‘twill be missing the mail.  Hope to write screeds from the Canal Zone.  All the love in the world & a tremendously merry, happy Christmas.

Len. xxxxx


1.  C.O.  Clerical Officer.

2.  Pat will not go to Palestine.  It seems she changed her mind.

2.  FSA: Foreign Service Allowance.

4.  APO:  Army Post Office


Mum letter image png_edited-119 December, 1947.  Friday.

Cosy old Home.   Shall be thinking of you when the bells ring out the old and in the new

No letter from you since Wed. but guess there’s one in the post.  By the time this reaches you you’ll (I hope) be right in the middle of the Christmas gaiety and we do hope you’re having the merriest time, our wee sugar plum.

Yesterday I put that £3.15/- in your P.O. account, this was the Savings Certs, Aunt Ena sent you last (1946) Nov.  I’d let them run out of date – as then you’d no P.O account, however, got them extended (the date) and now the amount is safely in your book.  To have heard Aunt E. talk then you’d think her gift to you would have been in the region of £50 or £100 – but £3.15/- !*!  I sent a card to Mrs. Stokes, positively I’m swamped thinking of the people to whom I’ve to send cards and letters! I also got a card, no letter yet, from Ernest.

 I don’t want to sound a nasty greedy wee bisom,  but if you see any carpets lying around without owners it would be wonderful.  I don’t mean you to cliftie one but to bargain!

Think I’ll now seek my couch as I’ve to be up at 5.30 a.m. to get Jack his breakfast before he leaves for “Norroway over the foam”.   Night night , my sweetest and bestest. X.   See you in the “Morning Days”.  Mum

Sat 20th Dec.

No post today but expect shoals of letters on Mon.  It’s a glorious winter day, sunny and bright, could do with plenty like this.  Got Jack away this morn 7. a.m.  He sails from Newcastle on the Jupiter at 5.30.  Have just been giving Hutch a row for stealing bones – what a thief she is.  But such a lovely, chummy thief.  The Clyde Valley electricians were putting in a new cable yesterday (and the day before) for Clyde Valley calls for Mr. Kinloch who is a C.V. official and who lives, with his wife, at Mr. Collinsons – I asked them, ha! ha! –  couldn’t they extend the cable to 26 but they replied that’s the corporation’s job, ha!ha!  (1)

If you go to P.S. you’ll see my ghost haunting the Eastern Exchange.  Remember all I’ve written to you re. sweet behaviour there, not heavy chum stuff.  Thinking of you all the time with love of the best.  Mum.

31 December, 1947.

Hurrah, hurrah! It’s Hogmanay and we got a letter from you today!

Yes, your darling one of Dec.18th You said in it “it will be Xmas when you get this” and lo and behold its Hogmanay!  Boy! were we up to high doe! 12 days without a letter!

Just getting ready to shop, make lunch, iron, pack, bathe and a thousand other jobs before proceeding to Loch Lomond. Joan is sitting opp. as I write, taking her breakfast (noon).

Bye for now, our very best Beloved.  We shall be thinking of you and drinking a toast to “absent loved ones” as the New Year comes in.

I’ll get down to a long letter soon.  So glad you’d a good time at Xmas.

Our love is all around you,

Your own Dad and Mum.  xxx


1.  The Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company.  They supplied electricity to the greater Glasgow area.  In 1947 they had a power station on the Clyde near Lanark, and also on the Clyde near Mum and Dad’s at Yoker.  In 1948 the company was nationalised. 


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-121.12.47

Lounge, Saturday morning at Leave Camp in Port Fouad, as Camp cheer goes – Scarier, scarier, Ra ra, ra. (1)

My well Loved Ones,

Unless I start this now I’ll never get it done.  I took away with me a script to learn, gloves to make, letters to write, garments to sew and French to study and I’ve done nixus – we’ve had a really glorious time though.

I just can’t enumerate all I’ve done – can’t even remember for my diary.

Before I left Cairo I said a Xmas adieu to the Stokes, Findlays, and Sarachas.  The show went off extremely well – crit enclosed.

CDG 1 png

CDG 2 png

CDG 3 png

The Sphinx (English Language Cairo based magazine) review of the Cairo Drama Guild’s Bronte adaptations.  The Patricia Hurst mentioned is not Len’s friend Pat.  Her surname was Brown.

Sphinx adspng_edited-1

Ads in the Sphinx magazine

After the first night I met Myrtle Tandy’s friend from Fayid and we all went to the Champagne Club.  I was s’posed to be going to Fayid for Xmas, but a few days before this,  her bloke wrote cancelling it, but as Esme had providentially booked us at Seaview, we came north instead.   The last night of the show we’d a party afterwards.

 Wednesday we’d the party rehearsal, then the party proper – it really was the goods.  Went with a swing from start to finish and I really felt it an honour to be hostess.  We’d put in such masses of work it was a relief to see it go off so well. (2)

Thursday – shopping and adieues.

Friday I chored ‘medley’ and packed.   I dropped in on the Findlays and left them their presents and left some sweets for the Stokes. I also learnt of a lift going down to Ish, so took the Saturday as leave as well as Mon. Tues. and Wed.

Saturday we left Cairo at 7 a.m. – the car was a Humber and got into Ish at 9.40 which was rather good going as Ish is over 100 miles away.  I did some more sewing, then phoned Harris, went to lunch with him at his mess in Moascar Garrison and came back to finish putting the 12 yds. of tulle (ballet skirt type stuff) round my 8 yd. wide dress and then I gave it and the slip in to be pressed and bought some tarts.

Here’s how I eventually looked.

Actually I was surprised at how well it turned out and old Harris was thrilled to bits.

lens dress png

Harris went to the dance as a clergyman and had lots of fun adopting a benign attitude. I danced with pirates and cowboys and the whole evening was lots of fun.  Some of the costumes were awfully good.  The girl winners were: Mantilla Lady, Nell Gwynne and a Bint. The winning men represented: Mme Pompadour, a Chinaman and a Pirate.  There was a grand buffet and we supplemented same with my tarts after the parade was over.

The next morning I awoke with that lovely ‘on holiday and in a strange place’ feeling and after breakfast in bed got ready and went down to the station to meet Esme.  I so adore meeting and being met at stations.  There she was leaning out in her red coat. It was really fun standing there in the sunshine.  Straightaway we went over to the NAAFI for tea and a natter.  She told me that Myrtle T. had heard from this bloke at Fayid to the effect that the Xmas arrangements there were off.  Poor old Myrtle was left high and dry, but Esme had booked us up at Seaview at Port Said, so all went well. I was glad as otherwise Esme would have been at PS and I’d have been at Fayid which would not have been so hot – being separated I mean.

We went back to the Y and Harris came to lunch.  Afterwards further nattering followed then Harris petered off and we listened to the light music concert while awaiting the arrival of Peter. (3)   He duly came and again we talked furiously, then he dashed off to El Kirsh to change into Service Dress (from Battledress) and we too changed.  Then the three of us went to the Officers’ Club for dinner and from there on to the French Club for dancing, on to the King George for more dancing and back to the French Club to finish off.

The next morning we took the welfare bus to Fayid where I endeavoured to ‘phone to see if Ernst was still in the BMH (4) .  I couldn’t get through,  I discovered later he was out, so all was well. then we lunched and took photos. Afterwards we got a welfare bus to Fanara, then a DADOS (ordnance Stores bloke) PU to the Y at Suez. (5)  It’s right in the back of beyond, but they took us right up to the door and this Glasgow Captain – from the Botanic Gardens (6) carried our cases right in.  We booked in and had tea.  I’d a shwoya sleep, then we did the necessary running repair chores and went out to a CSE show – “For Export Only”. (7)   Hereby hangs a tale.

The place where we saw the show was BTD – the Base Transit Depot for the whole of the Middle East. You see 156 Transit at PS deals with people going home, but BTD deals with incoming people and once you got a footing in there you’d be made as far as contacts were concerned. Well this YW woman who took us to “FEO” said she’d take us on to the mess after the show, but when the show finished she whizzed us out of the auditorium and back to the Y without introducing us to a soul, let alone taking us to the mess.  We were rather angry, because it was sheer cattiness on her part and as we’d only two nights in Suez we wanted to get cracking, not only to get ourselves organised for those two nights, but to lay up stock as it were for future occasions.

We went to bed in a rather disgruntled frame of mind that night and the next day did masses of walking, visited Port Tewfik and took photos and then at night, the two YW women went out of the Y. for a little while and left us looking after it.  No other girls were staying there, in fact it seems to cater for, or rather be used more by men than girls, for masses come in to play the piano, to eat there and to play table tennis and the like. The ‘phone went.  I answered it.  The bloke on the other end was a Major from the staff mess of BTD (as opposed to the Transit Officers’ Mess) who wanted to give a message to one of the YH women.  He appeared enthralled at my voice and asked Esme and me out to dinner. We went and this type just didn’t conceal her fury at all at being bested.

We’d dinner at the Pig and Whistle Officers’ Club in Tewfik then later went dancing at the Os’ Club near BTD.  This Major was called Fraser – Esme was with a Loot in transit.  Major F. was old and jolly and came from Tyndrum.  He’s dying to take us to the mess some other time – it’s annoying about Esme s’posed to be going to Pal – for I’d like us to have gone together.  A young Lt. Fraser of whom the Major had told me came over for a dance.  It proved the last one and only made me all the more furious with this woman obstructionist, for although I can work pretty fast on getting friendly with people, I can’t do everything in a dance.

This bloke had only been in the ME five days and had been dancing in Glasgow three weeks before – came from Falkirk and is going to Glasgow Uni next summer!  He said how nice it was to be dancing so near Christmas with someone from around his area of home.  He also said he’d like to come to Cairo – but as I say you can’t do everything in one dance.  In all probability I’d have met him the night before if we’d been at the mess.  I mean, a contact all laid on in Glasgow for next summer.

During our walk before our outing with Major F. we’d fixed a hitch back to Fayid with DADOS’s driver in D’s PU – weren’t we lucky?

The next morning it picked us up at the Y – this horrid woman delivering snippets the while on how late it would be (and it wasn’t) – and on we went to Fayid.  Masses of ships were going up the canal and it was a wonderful sight to see them all northward bound.

This time we did not spend any appreciable time in Fayid, merely waited at Dumbarton House – yes that’s the name of the Catholic Women’s League place for the next bus to Ish.  On our arrival we went to the Y – it was Xmas Eve by this time (but in the morning as we’d started very early) and there was Pat.  She gave me all my mail – all nine bits of it and of course the three of us nattered furiously and caught up on Disposals news.  This included the withdrawal of bag facilities, so will you please go back to addressing me by APO and using the 1½d stamp. (8)   Cannot give any more gen on this just now, for the people who’re s’posed to tell us are so vague it just isn’t true. By the way, if you could study my tour, or rather read about it with a map by your side, it would make it much more interesting.  I’ve one or two good Canal Zone maps, but wouldn’t like to post them in case they were stopped and I got into trouble (9) – a decent one of Egypt should do.

suez canal zone map png_edited-1 copy

Map by, and copyright Richard Wooley.  Sourced from with grateful thanks.

Lower Egypt, 1943png cropped

Anyway I phoned Peter and asked him to lunch at the Y, couldn’t get hold of him, but his native clerk took a message and I got the girls – Esme and Pat,  who went out shopping whilst I changed, to phone from the station too, to make sure the message arrived – El Kirsh is one of those trunk calls which are difficult to make.

The girls hadn’t gone long when the ‘phone rang it was Peter on the line.  Instead of coming to lunch at the Y, he insisted on taking me to the US Club – United Services Officers’ Club.

On arrival at PS Pat, Esme and me made our exhausted way (for the bus had been no picnic with yelling, stopping and the like) to the station.  From there we were picked up by truck, taken across the ferry on same and right through the Married Families and Officers’ Camp.  You two would adore it.

They really do see you’re enjoying yourself.  There’s masses of hot water, bags of baths, washing and ironing facilities, super bars, radiograms with loads of records, quiet rooms and in fact all that one could want to make a good leave.

We’d a short tidy up, then went into dinner.  On the bus we’d met the other two girls who were Disposals-at-Seaview with us.  You see the whole of Disposals was stopping for Xmas.  Anyhow, we’d a table for four and thoroughly enjoyed our Xmas Eve dinner.  Then we dressed and attended the dance in the Cocktail lounge, a rather snazzy place built really a bit like the Paramount Cafe in Glasgow (10) except that at Married Families there’s an extra step in the middle on which the band play.  We finished with Carols and then I’d a walk by the sea in the moonlight with a RAF type. The sea did look gorgeous with breakers lit by moonlight.

The next morning Esme and I went across to PS and nipped into the Officers’ Club for morning coffee.  I tried to phone Ernst twice, but could not get hold of him. Then I tried Johnny and lo and behold old Ernst was with Johnny. We all nattered gaily over the wire and I made a tea date with Ernst. After that Esme and I walked around the town, visited the Britannia Club, took photos etc. Then we met Ernst at Gianola’s and had tea.

I must tell you – before I go any further – that after Ernst came out of hospital he learnt that he’s got to stay in the army five years to get British nationality, so will be in till gen demob in Dec ‘48, for by the time he’s had repat and leave,  it’ll bring him to April ‘49 which is the completion of his five years. (11)    Ernst remarked that Fayid was the place for crime, PS being really quiet and work confined to investigating petty pilferage’s.  He’d reason to eat his words, for just then we heard a bomb go off.

That was at 6 o’ clock.  E hustled Esme and me onto the ferry and went dashing to investigate.  We’d a wonderful Xmas dinner. They put out all the lights when they brought us in our blazing-with-blue-flame Xmas pudding.  Then we proceeded back to PS.  E had delegated Johnny to meet us and from him we learnt that between 6 and 7 there had been the bomb, plus two murders and a suicide.   I don’t need to tell you about the SIB. Mum, duty is definitely the watchword, so all Xmas Night, we were with different relays of men as others dashed off to do their bit.

The suicide was at El Ballah, one murder was at Golf Course Camp – near where Ernst is, the bomb was under the rudder of a Jewish ship, but actually didn’t do much damage, although it gave concussion to a poor old Arab who was on a lighter alongside.   And so to bed on Xmas night.

Boxing morning we took it fairly easy, but we went across to Seaview and explored there and at 2.30 I went in swimming it was really gorgeous.  Again we nipped across to PS for various odd things, including collecting our photos. (12)   I left Esme at the Officers’ Club whilst I went to see Ernst to collect our original Pyramid photos. We exchanged plans and offered each other advice, then he walked a little way down the road with me and we bade each other adieu – he says he hopes to come up to Cairo before long.

That evening we’d an informal dance at the camp and then for fun I went in swimming with a chap at 1.30 a.m.  I swam longer than I had during the day and thoroughly enjoyed it – it was heavenly swimming in the moonlight.

Don’t want to rush the rest of my story, so think I’d better leave it in order to get this letter off.

That’s all about for now, sorry for the delay in writing, but I really accomplished none of the chores I took away to do – neither did Esme.  However, I must stop this, and get it in the mail, then straightaway I can start on the rest of my chronicle, for my next letter.

My thoughts have been with you very much over the festive period and I’ve visualised Joan arriving and all the fun you must have had together.  Want so much to be with you for after all you are the people who matter so much and most and in every way with me – take terrific care of yourselves especially in the ensuing months of Jan and Feb and if you can manage a holiday in the south at all, do take it, and don’t let lack of dough prevent you for I’d like you to have some of the needy to go away.  However, ‘nuff said.

Have a wonderful time at New Year and give my love to Scotland.

Your very own loving wain, Len xxxxx


1.  Throughout her letters Len consistently spells Fuad as Fouad. So does Ernest.  

2..  The Christian Girls Club Party.

3.  Peter, the ‘Loot’ from the Royal Engineers.

4.  BMH: British Medical Hospital.  We have no idea why Ernst was in hospital.

5:  DADOS: ‘Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services’, a branch of Army Ordnance.  PU: Pick up truck.

6.  The Glasgow Botanic Gardens, in Hillhead, in Glasgow’s West End, a few miles east from Mum and Dad’s home in Yoker.

7.  CSE: Combined Services Entertainment.

8  APO: Army Post Office. Though it cost Len a 1½d stamp to send a letter by APO to the UK (the Diplomatic Bag service cost 2½d) Mum was to have to start paying 6d for an Air Mail letter to Egypt, once the DB service was withdrawn.  The Air Mail service to Cairo was re-instated within a few weeks of Len’s letter.  It had started in 1937, by BOAC flying boat services to South Africa via Egypt, and stopped when war broke out.  The Air Mail letters Mum would send would be in the same flying boat that Len used during her home leave later in the summer of 1948.

9.  These will be Army issue maps.

10.  The cafe was part of the Paramount Cinema in Renfrew Street.  The Paramount became the Odeon, which is now closed.

11.  Ernst was naturalised on 4  November, 1949.

12.  Apart from possibly one photo, reproduced in Part Two Chapter 7, none survive in this collection.


Next        Part Two Chapter Seven:  Experimental Theatre  “I’ve been thinking about what I want to study and have decided that in all respects the theatre is really what I want.  What I’m interested in most is the experimental theatre, poetry and broadcasting.”

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Part Two 5: Betrayed

Part Two   5:  Betrayed.

“For over 7 months I’ve thought I’ve been in love with & engaged to Ernst.  All my plans – with a brake on – were made in relation to him.  Now I find in the course of the week-end that maybe things aren’t so simple after all.”

                     – Len, private note to herself.  Dated 19 October, 1947.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-115 October, 1947.

My room, Monday night.

My own Ones,

I forgot to tell you that yesterday on board the ship Ken and I listened to “Land of Hearts’ Desire”.   Am I glad I’m going out tonight – I keep thinking of the West and it’s much better to fix one’s mind on some mundane Cairo activity.   As you’ll see I’ve got a bad attack of longing and feeling I need the Highlands badly – it’s all through talking to Ken, but he, poor soul, is about as badly off, for he’s not allowed away from Liverpool when they get home – I s’pose he gets a spell occasionally, but he seems rather as if he’d like a sight of the Highlands soon.


Tuesday I’d my French lesson.  Before it a bloke called whom I’d met ages ago at a dance.   I don’t want to go out with him but want to get Esme taken out, so made a date for a foursome on Sunday.  After French I did some rather lethargic ironing then went across to the Findlays, where I’d dinner and we planned their party and I helped make the games.

Yesterday I heard from Peter James, one of the RE Loots I know through Ken and John. After being home on LIAP from Pal. he’s been sent to El Kirsch in the Canal Zone and says he may be coming up to see me – seem to be hearing from, and of, masses of friends these days. (1.)

Yesterday, I Gezired, then tramped around with Esme looking at various Pensions as she wants to move off the Sudan (2.).   She took me to tea at Gezira and we nattered then I went to Mrs. Stokes.   Mrs. S.  still hopes her husband will get up from TEK this week-end despite the restrictions on travel. (3.)   She also hopes to be home by Christmas.   There’s talk of the peak of this epidemic being reached by Mid November (4).   It’s a bit of a b as far as travel goes, but whenever I say anything like that, I feel wicked thinking of the poor people who are so helpless.  Do feel I was lucky to live in Britain during the war, where things really happened and now to be here, where things have been and are happening.

The whisky and champagne shall duly be added to my list of ‘presents and souvenirs’.  It already totals about £105 in dough, so something will have to be cut out!   You’ve had it as far as stuff through Ernst goes, don’t you remember that parcel I sent through the APO (5) when you were here, just at the very last gasp before restrictions were clamped on? The Dip Bag is the only, yes the only means of getting anything out now and you know all that we’re allowed to send through that is non-liquid food.

You needn’t worry about my saving over here, I’m just managing to keep going on my FSA – keeping myself and getting stuff from the Mousky etc – but I do want the rest of the dough in the bank, after all,everyone goes abroad to make their fortune, yes, no?

Bye pets, very much love, Len xxxx

p.s. Heard from Daisy – says I’m to show her how to make broth!  Will have to re-learn myself first.


1.  ‘Loot’: Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, based in Palestine.  LIAP was  a scheme where anyone who had served for three years abroad was given a short home leave.

2.  Floating hostel like the Britannia.  The Sudan is still used as a Nile tourist boat.

3.  TEK: Tel-el Kebir. The Army base, close to the original outbreak of the cholera epidemic, was a permanently tented Ordnance camp, with a capacity for 13,000 troops.  It included a vehicle depot, military hospital, a unit of Military Police dog handlers,and  a unit of SIB.  The barbed wired and mined perimeter was 17 miles in circumference with look-out posts and searchlights.

4.  The forecast was correct. 

5.   APO: Army Post Office


In the memorabilia, but not enclosed in a letter were two newspaper cuttings from Mum from the Evening Citizen of 15 October, 1947.  The letter the cuttings would have been enclosed in is not part of this collection.  The main cutting is the news report of the launching of the ss Caronia, the largest boat built in the world – at the time – since the end of the war in 1945.  Mum was at the launching.

Elis.launches John Brown boat png

“Keep this cutting as we want it for the scrap book.  See Tait’s Smile on back – it’s a scream!  I’d a lovely day at the launch.” Mum’s writing, left hand side.

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The following is a note Len wrote to herself on 19 October, 1947, two days after she sent the above letter off.  It was written on a folded sheet of foolscap paper, and at one time had been sealed with a snip of brown gummed paper.

L notr to herself 19.10.004 png19 October, 1947

What is the truth of the matter?

For over 7 months I’ve thought I’ve been in love with & engaged to Ernest.  All my plans – with a brake on – were made in relation to him.  Now I find in the course of the week-end that maybe things aren’t so simple after all.

I have been told that Ernst had been taking a girl out.  The source of my inf. took pleasure in telling me so maybe part of it is embroidered.

At this critical point I see Ken whom I haven’t seen since July ’45.   I’m very happy with him.

Now I’m back in Cairo wondering exactly what’s going to happen.  Yes, that’s the point, instead of forcing the issue to keep the decision in my hands as I would do normally I’m waiting for someone else to make a move.  But what can anyone do?

Things go through & through my brain.  Do I feel this deep affection for Ken because of Scotland or am I suddenly – more than usually – homesick because of Ken?   If as I think the two are co-related without this fact lessening the value of either, I’m no nearer an answer.

I feel a bond with Ken which I do not think is imagined.   But my imagination will jump about, fixing the limit of that bond.

Oh, what’s the truth?

Why aren’t I cut up, or am I merely stunned at the moment.  At times I think the whole thing very funny whilst at others I’m searching for an answer, but have no feeling of being lost.

Why do I have to stay out here to get money?

I want Scotland. Scotland to love, Scotland to look at, Scotland to think in – that’s not escapism.


Jean Findlay's letter png

                                                                                 Cairo.  17 October, 1947.
Dear Mrs. Bryers,

We were so pleased to receive your letter – though you wouldn’t think so the time I’ve taken to answer it.   I hope you don’t object to a typed reply but unless I do my correspondence in the office it never seems to get done.

J Findlay's letter png

Still no news of my father coming out – Cooks have messed him about no end – but I have written to him to tell him to take a plane if he can’t get on a ship this month.  My only fear now is the cholera business will put him off as I understand the papers at home are full of it.  Needless to say, like the Riots, you know more about it than we do.  That mine of information, The Egyptian Mail, puts it on the back page.  Mind you, in these awful native villages where conditions are so bad, the position is really serious.

My friend out at Maadi (1),  Lil Thornton, was making us laugh when we were out there yesterday.   She has been having her dining room distempered – you know that spray system they use out here – and after the sprayer-cum-stirrup pump thing they use in the process had been returned, she discovered they had missed a bit of the wall beneath a window.  She sent for the painter and kicked up a bit of a fuss about it.   However, as usual, he just shrugged, “maleeshed” and assured her he would put it right.   She left him to do the job and went to another part of the house but, hearing a most peculiar noise from the Dining room, went to investigate.

She was horrified to find painter and his small boy down on their hands and knees on the floor – spraying the distemper on the wall out of their mouths.  The distemper was made up with Nile water and fish glue.  Can you imagine it?  She yelled at them and they, to pacify her, rinsed their mouths out with filthy dirty water from an old “chatty” in her garden.  She went on at them and they told her it was quite all right because they had had their “jags”.   Such is life in Egypt.

We have had several expeditions to our beloved Mouski (2) – pity we couldn’t bring it home with us (John says I’m doing my best).   The pride of my life at the moment is a set of Camel Bells a friend brought me from Damascus.  Six on a string and they have a beautiful tone.  Every time your daughter visits us we count them after she has left – I’m sure she means to “clifty” them.  The weather is lovely now.  Like lovely warm spring weather at home.  This is the nicest time of year in Egypt.

We haven’t seen Ernst for a bit as he is too busy to come to Cairo. We hear of him though.

We are in the throes of a party this week.  Helen has been a grand help to us.  The big night is tomorrow so we have our fingers crossed that everything will go off with a bang.  Hassan is having a marvellous time – cooking and baking like mad – he called me into the kitchen to “shufti tourkish”.   Not knowing whether to expect to eat, or one of his many relations I was relieved to find it was a turkey.  He loves a party and he really is a super cook.

That’s all for now, folks.   Don’t worry about Helen and the Cholera – she is perfectly well and happy – apart from an occasional bout of Home-sickness which gets us all at times.

Kindest regards to you and you “guid man”.

Yours Jean G. Findlay.

reverse JF's letter png


1.   A wealthy  suburb town south of Cairo.

2. Mouski:   this is the spelling given in the Union Castle Line South and East African Year Book, 1939.

3.  BMEO: British Middle East Office, in Cairo, part of the Foreign Office.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-120 October, 1947

Hello dearest People,

With you once more – received your 210 the other day, but your 209 hasn’t arrived, I just hope it comes in O.K.   Yes, Jean F. has heard from you Mum and wrote to you on Saturday.

Had a letter from Harris moping about my non-arrival last week-end, life is funny, ha ha, I mean.   Last week-end certainly was, however I s’pose one just can’t be in four places at once.

I’d lunch with Pat on Friday.   Afterwards we did a spot of shopping and I got some Guerlain Shalimar lotion for Jean’s birthday (i.e. Jean F. – reason for party).  Guerlain is s’posed to be much better than Worth, Lanselle or any of the other people.  I think that books are my favorite half necessity half luxury and my three favorite luxuries are perfume, furs and jewels.

Pat was expecting David up on leave, but didn’t know whether he’d get through, however when we got back to the ‘Y’ there he was, having come through with no bother and he’d had no inoculations or anything!

I taxied back and went to the Findlays. We did some furniture moving and various other things to prepare for the party and I’d dinner there.

Saturday I had tea at the Allen’s.  Bishop Allen (1) and his wife had invited lots of girls along to talk about the formation of a girls’ club.  We’d a lovely tea and the Allen’s are so charming, well if you’d nothing else to do you’d be liable to become an ardent churchgoer. Bags of ideas poured in about what the girls wanted from P.T. to Art, so it looks as if there’s bags of scope.   I’m s’posed to be taking Jean along as she can teach leatherworker.

I dashed back to change, then went to the party wearing my Peasant Dress.  It was a grand party, we played charades and loads of uproarious games.  I really ate too much, but the food was so terrific you couldn’t help it.

Yesterday I felt rather depressed thinking back on the previous week-end (2),   but went to Gezira, returned to do my washing, then changed to go out with this chap I’d met through Honey.

There were four of us, Reme, Esme, Reme’s pal – George and me.  We went to Marlins first and I’d a Sflogliatella, then George had to take the car back and dump it as his father wanted it at night.  His father’s a Bey and is to be made a Pasha soon – he’s a Christian which is quite unusual for a Bey.

We drove up to the gates of the house in Zamalek , he hooted, a servant came to open the gate and he drove up the drive and into the garage.  When we got out we were greeted by three dogs.  Afterwards we taxied out to Covent Garden on the Pyramids road and danced there.  We are lucky, for these two blokes look upon us purely as friends and George is s’posed to be taking us to meet his people, and giving us lunch.  The dancing was good fun, for they dance more or less in the English style and really move on the floor.  There were a crowd of students there who’d just finished their exams and were performing quite crazy antics on the floor – it was just like a modern ballet.

Must get this in the mail now, but as soon as I’ve got it in will try to get cracking on a really good letter.

Bye, and so much love, Len xxxx


1.   Bishop Allen was British Bishop of the Church Missionary Society of Egypt, an Episcopal Mission.  Its success at converting muslims to christianity was minimal. In a private letter written by Ronald Campbell the Ambassador to Egypt, to Allen in 1949, he candidly said “These Christian minorities here have in the past been somewhat cowed by the rather blatant Moslem-Arab political sympathy shown by H.M.G. and its officials in these parts; largely on account of our desire not to offend the susceptibilities of the Moslem world in general and India in particular.”

2.  “Felt rather depressed…”  An interesting slip, as she wrote a positive account of the weekend to her parents.


Save silver lining png

Len for Egypt letters png_edited-121 October, 1947.

Tuesday morning in the office.

My darling parents,

Must tell you about yesterday, went for my vaccination as it’s two years since it was done.  The nurse said “Where d’you want it?” I said “Will it leave a mark?”  She replied “It might”.  (1)

This interchange continued for a little, with her telling me to hurry up as she’d loads of people waiting, so I said “Leg”, whereupon she made me get upon the table-cum-couch and I bared the old leg.   She said “It’ll take a long time to go through because you’re tanned” and she was right!  I placidly looked through two “Country Life’s” whilst she scratched away at my leg, then dripped vaccine on it – never remember it taking that time before.   Afterwards she said “Did you want something else”.  Not ‘medly’ desirous of a jag I mumbled something incoherent, so she said “Well you can have your typhus” and ‘did’ me in the arm.  Contrary to expectations I didn’t feel bad at all, I’m just crossing my fingers about ye leg hoping it’ll heal O.K.

Last night I was at the CDG with Alan Withers and Trudie Grafton.  Reading from “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights” and “Wild Decembers” was the order of the day.  It’s to be done for the British Council in celebration of the Bronte Centenary – don’t know yet what the casting is, we’re hoping to hear next week.

I note your requirements from the Societe Phillipe  surplus stores and will see what can be done when I am replete with cash – it’s hopeless for me to try to buy anything after a day or two after the first of the month.

The shock about the D.W. (2) was because politics are so taboo out here that it’s sort of hectic even to mention the name (but I was so glad to get it.).  Think Jack is horrid keeping all that food to himself, but he can’t feel nice inside.

As I said,  heard from Daisy Bulbeck – she certainly has fallen for Britain.  Also heard from Nan Buchanon of “ROFD” who seems to hope her letter will catch me before I get on the boat as Simpson the Principal Clerk told her I’m due home next month.  It’s nice to know they expect me at Dalmuir.  I just hope they can keep a job for me till I’m ready to start there.  (3)

I’m enclosing the race card from the Findlay’s party.

Race card png

Race No.4    United Nations Chase

1.  Bevin’s by Egypt out of Treaty   Sudanese Prince

2.  Stalin’s by UNO out of Action  Balkan Monarch

3.  Marshall’s by America out of Dollars   European Venture

4.  UNO’s  by Britain out of Palestine   Palestine Headache


Yesterday I ‘phoned Ernst, yes I booked for six minutes and did my French whilst waiting, you see there’s generally an hours delay.  He said “Why don’t you do this more often?” but the delay coupled with the much more important fact of its being 24Pt. a time (for six minutes) is an adequate answer.

Afterwards I returned to wash and change and have dinner with the Findlays.  Jean came along with me to the Allens, as she says she’ll teach glovemaking.   I was elected onto the committee.

Must get this in the mail now.  So much love to you darlings – its overflowing.

Len xxxxx


1.  The inoculation was for smallpox.

2.  D.W.:  Daily Worker.

3.  In a letter not in this collection there has been a revision of  Len’s  Ministry of Supply Cairo contract finishing in March 1948, cutting it back  to January, 1948. However, as will be seen in the ensuing narrative, this will change again.


A letter, or letters referred to in Len’s next letter in this correspondence are missing.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-125 October, 1947.

Quite tired after late night, but not busy at work.

Dearest Ones,

Don’t know where to begin – not that I’ve any startling news, but just lots of little things to say.  On Thursday  I’d a committee meeting in the afternoon.  It was in Pamela Fedden’s flat – she’s the chaplain’s wife.  The flat adjoins the cathedral and is really ducky as is the bishop’s house.  We discussed quite a lot of things, so I hope the club will prove quite successful and allow everyone to pursue their various interests.

Yesterday morning the Embassy type  who was going to get those photos for us (whom you encountered on a dark stair and who’d just come off his motorcycle) came round and asked me if I’d bring some girls to a small dance they were having at the Security Mess last night.  Well I did so, hence my late night.   It reminded me of the time you’d been there Mum, for like you, Esme and I stayed till the last.  Everyone  enjoyed themselves.  Everyone was asking about you and wanting to know your adventures in the U.K.   Esme and I got home about 2.

This morning I went round to the clinic, the nurse said my vaccination hadn’t taken and I thought all was over, but she followed it up with “It will this time” – so I’ve been scratched on my arm this time, this was followed with the second of my typhus jags – I haven’t enough energy left to comment.

As far as I know there are no arrangements about mail in the event of Egypt being sealed off.  However I’ve heard nothing whatsoever about mail being stopped and you can always enquire at the FO if you’re ever worried.  Periodically in riots, cholera and the like, wires are sent to the FO from here to tell about the staff e.g. their being all O.K.

Please don’t get a dog, it’s so fatal to free movement – remember we used to wonder what we’d do with Hector?

Must say I’m looking forward to getting my leopard skin swimsuit – didn’t realise at first it was to be in that parcel.

All your requirements for stockings etc. have been noted, even to the two bottles of whisky – it’s getting hard to get here now at the legit price, but I’ll keep an eye open from now on.

The only bit of Elizabeth Barratt Browning with which I’ve any connection is not a sonnet – we’d a rather lovely thing of hers in “This England”, you’ll find it if you look at the script.  It begins: ”Hark the flow of the four rivers, Hark the flow”.

Your 209 is still missing – or was it a mistake in numbering?  Want to get this off now, before the week-end.

Take care of yourselves, love Len.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-12 November, 1947.

Ladies’ Lounge, Gezira.

My own dearest Darlings,

Cairo seems like a dream – no wonder of course, for it’s so far away from a normal existence.

Before I forget – could you please have masses of dark green cabbage for me?  I think I could live on it alone – for a little while at any rate – what is it the poem says about ‘this gaudy melon flower’?

What I now have to tell you is that Ernst & I have grown out of each other – in other words I’m once again “Free, white & 21”.   It’s been a rather gradual process, but I think I realised what was happening quite a while back.   I’m so thankful I didn’t yield to his pleading & get married in the summer.   No purpose is served by discussing at great length about this in a letter – I’ll tell you ‘all’, all being well when we meet.   I still feel fond of Ernst & do hope he gets on well – but I know now, it’s not to be with me.   Don’t please worry for us – for me at any rate – I don’t even grudge the time I’ve spent with him, because I had some very happy times & apart from that it’s been an experience which has taught me a lot, yet has not been unpleasant.   ‘Nuff said.

Don’t know yet any more of my date of departure.  Gradually I’m telling people I’m going & they’ve all been so nice & very helpful.  From now on I don’t propose telling you what I buy, so that the opening of my trunks at 26  may be an occasion of lots of surprises.    I’m so looking forward to seeing all my old friends & all my met-in-the-ME friends in U.K.  I’m always bludgeoning people into going to the Highlands, but we’ve never had any complaints, have we?   Remember how enamoured Bob Getchel was?

On the other hand I don’t mean you’ve not to say what you want re. bringing stuff back – suggest like mad & if Cairo has it & I’ve the time & money I’ll try to purchase.   Do you want sheets?  I’m told – though I haven’t seen them – that Societe Phillipe (hereafter known as SP) have some at 150 pt. a pair for single & 220 pt. a pair for double width.  In case you’ve forgotten Mum, in English the prices are 30/- & £2.4s. respectively.  They’re also supposed to have netting which would do for curtaining at 5 pt. (1/-) a metre.

Met a girl the other day at drama rehearsal – she’s NI, (1)  but I was talking of Cork with her & quite out of the blue she said “It’s a great city for parties”.  How I echoed her sentiment, for I remember it so well although I was only a wee girl at the time.

I sent off two parcels – your Xmas ones on Saturday, but at present I’ve lost the list of what was in them – hope I find it for the contents listed on the outside are not the real ones as I didn’t want to mention anything inclined to be greasy – like dessicated coconut – as it might contravene ‘bag’ regulations.  By the way, the food in the parcels is all packed in stockings.  These are ones of mine which you might like Mum, ‘cos as you wear longer skirts than I, a high ladder wouldn’t show.

I’ve been holding court since I laid down my pen – Liz McC & Mrs Saracha.  The latter is pressing me to visit her & the former is going to try to hold up my departue for a week or two, so that more of the old ackas may accrue, etc. (2)

Have just found the list I can now detail the gen. The larger parcel contains:-

2 ½ lb Rice
½ lb raisins
½ lb Tea
½ lb Dessicated Coconut
Small tin Tongue
Small tin luncheon roll
¼ lb sugar.

The smaller one contains:-
½ lb sultanas
1 lb Crystallised Gams
1 Pkt. mixed almonds & raisins.


The only thing I may have told you wrong are the ½ lb of sultanas & raisons as packing them I was pushing around completely indistinguishable stockinged packages.

Hope the news about E. hasn’t given you too much of a shock.  Must confess I feel much more of myself again now that it’s all over – there’s so much in the world – isn’t there?

That’s all my poppets. Hope to write again with more news in a day or two.

As ever loads of love,

From your Honeychile.

Len. xxx


1. NI:  Northern Ireland.

2.  It is assumed Len is ‘holding court’ at the Gezira Club.  Liz McC is believed to be her senior in the Mission typing pool.  As will be seen as the narrative unfolds, Mrs Saracha has a connection to the actor John Gielgud.  A variant spelling of ackas (money) is ackers.


Mum's ernest envelope to Len png

Mum letter image png_edited-17 November, 1947.  Sad old Home

Our Darling Own Girl,

Your 229 and 230 came in yesterday and really I don’t how to answer the latter.

In your 229 of Thurs Oct 30th you say ‘phoned Ernest’ and in your 230 of Nov.2nd (3 days later) you say it’s all off between you;  must say the news is a complete shock to me, not so much to Daddy as he hasn’t been east or met Ernest, but even he says he is bewildered.

 For myself I feel dazed and hurt – dazed that this should have happened after your many protestations of your unchanging love for Ernest and how your meetings with him, his meeting me on the “Franconia” and all our comings and goings whilst I was in Egypt were so essentially a major part of my visit, then I’m hurt because in your letter you give no indication whatever of what the rift in the lute is – or I sh’d say what the rift was that led to a break.

Also you don’t say anything about your own feelings and the tone (or style) of your letter makes me wonder : “methinks the lady explains too little” sorta thing.

You know, darling, I am so close to you that I really feel all your emotions in myself and I really feel desolated after reading your letter.

I thought Ernest a fine chap and got very fond of him and you know we both got on well together, and your feelings for him at that time were very evident so you can understand how puzzled I am and hurt that you gave no indication before that your feelings were changing.  I must take good care to stand well away from any future “crushes” of yours, believe me, I could not stand any more shocks like this, though I never thought that Ernest was just another “crush” of yours.

Just before your letters arrived yesterday I’d written and posted a long letter to Ernest, so he’ll know that I, at least have nothing to do with the break.  I want to write to him again, but will wait for a reply from you to this letter so as I can get a better idea of just what happened.  Tell me if the first discords came from you or him, also if you are both still good friends and if you have talked it over and agreed to call off anything more than friendship.

I think you ought at least to remain good friends with E.  Somehow I cannot believe your feelings for him are entirely dead.  I know perfectly you are very wise to break off anything more than friendship (if your feelings have changed) before you got married, though in marriage one often finds a better meeting ground and more companionship than in the stormy days of courtship.

 Now, if I may presume to advise (and you know I never have done before) don’t do anything drastic – that is like not seeing or speaking to E. again or breaking finally with him – till you get home, all being well, and you see the ghastly specimens that are going around.  Going into town yesterday (and just after receipt of your letters) I was accompanied by Miss Ruddock and Miss Gibson and thought ‘what ghastly old maids’ and hoped you wouldn’t end like that, thought I do hope life holds more exciting things for you, travel and fun.  Then in town I saw some of the relics of the war, poor souls.   I do so much want your life to be gay and lovely.

Wish I could grow old and sensible myself, but it seems I can’t and I live again in you. My thoughts, since the arrival of your letter keep returning to Port Said and Ernest and you and I’m weeping all the time, but must snap out of it.  It’s just that so many of our plans have gone awry, lets hope we shall get over it soon.  I think of those ghastly Kenya and M.E. (1.) types I met on the ship coming home, no charm or intelligence or grace, only money.

Keep well and happy, honey, your happiness and well being are our chief concern. Don’t take too much notice of this letter, I’ll feel better in a day or two I hope, must keep cheery for Daddy.  It’s a nasty day of rain and fog and darkness all adding to my low spirits so excuse tears. I do so much want Ernest to come over next summer.  You do understand, don’t you, how dreadfully puzzled and hurt I am, so do write and tell me the things I’ve asked.  Over all this do let me say I know, and expect, you will act wisely as I know you have done always, bless you.

Ever with fondest love for you,

Your own Mum.

I think of all our talks on the wicker deck!

ANSWER THIS LETTER PRONTO & KEEP WELL.  Let me know if you are still friends with E. and if I’m to mention the break next time I write to him.

Cheerio!   Mum. x.

Mum's anguished letter png___________________________________________________________

1.  M.E. types:  Middle East types.


Mum letter image png_edited-19 November, 1947.

Sad Old Home. Have you got my No.220?  (1)

Our own darling girl,

No letter yesterday from you, so I still have only the one containing the staggering news (Thurs.) to think of.  However, we are very glad to learn by the radio that the cholera is on the decrease.  We hope continually for your own safety.

I am still bewildered by the news re. your break with Ernest.  My mind keeps darting to this or that event during my trip and I cannot, try how I will, find any peg to hang your very sudden change of opinion on.  To tell us its been a gradual process is futile as its just over a month since you gave him the chess set for his birthday and only about 3 weeks since you wrote of ‘my beloved Ernest’.

I really thought you had the sun and the stars and the moon – when I think of how you were always together, our talks, and what good times we had in Ernest’s company.  So many things are happening just now to remind me of him.  One thing I do ask of you and that is to remain friends, knowing Ernest’s very independent nature, I know he will find this difficult; but surely you will not leave Egypt without seeing him and (I hope) arranging to meet him over here.   I’ve been making so many plans for next summer – all of them including E.   Let me know about if you are friends and seeing him again.  Mind you, overall this I still think you are wise to make the break if your feelings have changed, it’s the very suddenness of it that dazes me.

Many thanks for the parcels which you have sent for Xmas, they sound lovely.  I don’t think it’s worth while to send or bring more food at the price it is in Egypt, honey.  Your money would be better spent on souvenirs.

Ever with our fondest love.

Your own Dad and Mum. Hope you understand why I say ‘No more food’ – it’s the same as I feel about the flowers – I’d rather have something that will last.

Love Mum x


1.  Mum’s letter No. 220 is her shocked  preceding one of  7 November, 1947.


Mum letter image png_edited-111 November, 1947.  The old Home.

Your 231 of November 6th in today. (1)  We are very glad you are well (touch wood) and that all the friends are so helpful.  Daddy and I think you’d be much better to cut out all those theatre activities as you seem to have far too many irons in the fire – a lot of your letter we cannot understand re. rushing here and there.

Since your letter telling of the break with Ernst I feel everything has so little stability.  You know I was the one to point out the cons. of the case and you were the one who pooh poohed all I said, so you can guess the shock was – well, a shock.  At the moment I cannot bear to even think of my trip.   Last Friday I was to give my talk on my trip at the Coop Party meeting but that afternoon I’d got your letter telling of the sudden break and I just couldn’t speak at that meeting without breaking down, so I didn’t go at all.

You’ll maybe think this is all very silly but I want you to put yourself in my place for a little while.  You tell us so little.  Please don’t ask any of those M.E. people to visit us here if Ernest is not to be one of our friends – I couldn’t bear their inanities unless he is there to leaven it all with his sense and good humour.


Royal marriage png_edited-1

 Cutting of forthcoming Royal wedding enclosed by Mum in this letter. (2)

Jean Findlay’s Dad was here for a few minutes yesterday to tell us he is flying over on No.22nd.  It seems he got the offer of a sea passage just after he’d booked and paid for the plane.

Sorry to write in such a despondent vein – its how I feel.  I wish you’d left things as they were till you got home.  I feel so sorry for Ernest after all he’s been through, I warned you about this when I was there.  I look for a letter explaining fully.  You see I thought that when you got home  that memories of the M.E. would be relived in our own home.

Best wishes for all you do.  Remember I love you always just the same, and I think you’ve done right if your feelings have changed but I do think you made the break hastily.  Sorry to harp on this topic, its uppermost in my mind just now, and I can’t write coherently on any other subject.

Bye for now, its very late and I’ve still some jobs to do.  Please cut out that theatre stuff, rehearsals etc. it’s such a waste of time.

Cheerio and Fondest Love, Your Own Mum. x

Must tell you I gave that order to Lewis’s on Sat. for sheets on your coupons, and they were supposed to be sending them away yesterday. Two pairs large cotton, one pair large flannelette and one pair smaller flannelette; they cost £5.17.2 and 44 coupons so hope they reach you safely. No need to buy more sheets there.
Cheerio Mum


1.  This letter not in this collection.

2.  Princess Elizabeth was to marry the Danish-Greek Prince Philip nine days later, on 20 November, 1947.  Prince Philip’s three surviving sisters who had married German princes, some of whom had had former Nazi connections, were not invited.


Mum letter image png_edited-114 November, 1947. Frosty November morn.

My darling,

This old pen of mine once wrote you such merry letters is now quite out of tune and can’t make jokes any more it seems.

 Your 232 of Nov. 7th got in yesterday and we are thankful to know you are still keeping well. (1)

Daddy and myself are quite well and keep ourselves busy as usual.  The parcel I sent you about 4 weeks ago should be there by now, or almost, and I hope you’ll like the contents.

I’m still terribly upset about the break between you and Ernest; as my mind goes back to all you told me and all our doings during my trip I get more and more puzzled and miserable.  I think in my mind I sort of put Ernest in Bruce’s (2.) place though Ernest is quite individual and his charm quite unassumed and, apart from his undoubted handsomeness he has that boyish diffidence which is so rare in a world of selfishness and people pushing others out of the way to get on and loosing all their own joy in living in the process.

Thank goodness Daddy remained unspoiled; as time goes by I find it more and more refreshing to have someone beside me who is real.

Your letters sound very feverish and unhappy, and this chasing rainbows is not you, you don’t seem even able to make your letters clear and it all makes me wonder.   After being so long away you will have built a rosy dream of Scotland and I know its difficult to get a true picture whilst you are in that land of sunshine the same as its hard for me to recall, in these days of bitter cold, that over in Egypt the sun is bright and warm.

I have already told you how I feel about Ernest coming over here next year, I shall be most terribly disappointed if he doesn’t, and I’m awaiting your letter to tell me of what his feelings are in the matter of your estrangement – was it mutual or which of you made the break?

It has all put years on me.

Will you do something for me?  That is, have a day with Ernest at Port Said before you  leave Egypt.  Have a day with Ernest, phone him and ask him what day or part of the day he will be free and go and see him and have a talk with him about the future, say how much we hope his repatriation will be to the U.K. and how we are banking on him coming to Scotland for a long holiday and anything else nice and encouraging you can think of.  Please drop everything else and do this, believe me, most earnestly after you come home  you’ll be thankful you did.   I cannot too strongly impress on you that how you see things just now and how you will view them when you get home are two utterly different things, so do, do, I beg of you, see Ernest and kind of patch things up, I know I can leave it to your good sense and feelings and thoughts of days that were to say the right thing.  Don’t let running here and there and meeting people who don’t matter keep you from carrying out this errand, make it a day for Ernest alone – You’ll always be glad if you do.

Fondest love as ever,

Your own Mum. xxx

Please, please, have that day at Port Said.  Wish I could see you for just one half hour before you leave but must leave it to you.  Fond love, Mum.


1.  Not in this collection.

Joan Brandley, Bruce Bryers, Dad & Mum.  Carbisdale Castle.  No date.

Joan Brandley, Bruce Bryers, Dad & Mum.  Carbisdale Castle.

2.  The reference to Bruce Bryers, presumed to be a nephew of Dad’s is curious: ‘I sort of put Ernest in Bruce’s place.’   There is no indication in the letters that Len and Bruce were ever sweethearts.  In nearly all the photographs of Bruce with Joan Brandley in them, he has his arm around her, whether in the 1945 photo of the hiking gang on Loch Lomond, or in the 1946 photo at Carbisdale Youth Hostel.


Mum letter image png_edited-117 November, 1947.

Frozen Scotland. Monday.

Darling Cuddles,

Your parcel containing letters and parcels or raisons and currants came in today, when the postman handed it to me he said it had been repacked and asked me to make sure it was alright, this I did.

No letter from you since Thursday, but no doubt there’s one in the post, we do hope you are well, our darling girl.  I’m still attending the clinic for treatment of my back, it’s getting lots better.  I think all homes should have those sun lamps and high frequency electric appliances, they are really good, I can’t stand the people who sit around and moan and don’t get their aches and pains attended to.

Feeling sore about your break with Ernest (tho’ mind honey, I’m attaching no blame to either).  I’ve been trying to forget Egypt, or rather my visit thereto, but like the song “Can I forget you, or will each night remind me how sweet you made the moonlight seem”.   I bought a packet of Rinso and a tablet of toilet soap (one monthly soap ration) and believe it or not the name of the soap is “Araby”.  I’ve bought a large new flower pot for the table on the half landing and the name on the bottom is “Lotus”.  We went to the pictures on Sat. night – Barbara Stanwyck in “The Other Love” – and when he was enticing her to leave the sanitorium he says “the world is full of lovely cities – London, Paris, Venice, Cairo and Rome”.  I bought a Canadian Paper and the first story I looked at was about Cairo and the Savoy Continental Hotel there!   So it’s a case of “It’s easy to remember, but so hard to forget.”

We can picture how busy you must be with all the  hoped for home coming preparations and you can bet your Dad and Mum are on their toes at this end fixing this and that and making this home as bright and cosy as we can fix it for you.  I’m really very excited and I know Dad is also, he is filling all his spare time doing odd jobs which have been waiting to be done for some time.  We have plenty of fuel and my word we need it, the weather is absolutely bitter, hard white frost for days back and snow is expected anytime.  The wind is like a knife and nearly takes the skin off one’s nose.

I’ll leave the rest of this letter over till tomorrow morn when we hope there will be a letter from you. Good night, our Own Best Beloved. xxx

Tues. morn. Nov. 18th.

Hurrah! Your 233 came in this morn.  As always we are joyed to learn you were still cholera free when it was written and do hope our darling own one keeps well.  Daddy and myself are distressed to learn of all that meaningless running around you are doing to lectures and classes and rehearsals and making yourself ill.  For our sakes cut out all that theatre stuff, etc.   I do not like diletanltes (spelling?) (2) in anything and I don’t want you to become the usual M.E. square peg in a round hole.  Dad and self don’t even try to keep track of your friends and the places you rush to – only a very few names mean anything to us, but no doubt it’ll all come in handy for your diary later on.   The P.S. September pictures were not very good, were they?  I don’t remember Ken Cook at all – what he looked like – but I see from the picture he has curly hair and sticking out ears!  Awful! (1)

So glad the parcel arrived safely.  I can quite understand the swim suits are surplus, but you can sell them, let me know if the Lareyan one fits you.  I mended the Jantzen one – notice?   Your “buys” sound very exciting and needless to say I’m filled with curiousity – but don’t tell me of anything, keep it all as a surprise.

Dad and I smiled at your mention of cold in Cairo, mai deah! everything here is completely frozen – I put a brush to soak in water last night and today I can’t get it out of the bucket!  Can’t get any washing done, everything is inches deep in white frost – frost flowers on the windows.  Bye, and our ever enfolding love.

Dad and Mum xxx

Do hope my letters are getting thro’ O.K. now I’m awaiting answers to my last four. The currants and raisons are a real treat, ta so much.


1.  Len’s letter and the photos she took in Port Said when she met Ken Cook on the ss Patrician are not in this collection.

2. “Spelling?” – Mum’s question mark.


To Mum from Harris png

24th November ’47.  14857405  Sgt. H.May,

 Library, H.Q. , B.T.E., M.E.L.F. (1)

Dear Mrs Bryers,

I have been meaning to write you since your return to England, but in Egypt one always puts things off to another day – consequently things never get done.

However, as I have just returned from Cairo after seeing quite a lot of Helen, I thought I would drop you a line and give you all the latest news.

Helen is extremely well.  How she has managed not to eat cream cakes etc I just do not know!  We had several shopping expeditions as I am also getting ready for coming home.  When Helen does arrive in England she will most certainly need a whole train!

The weather is rapidly changing now and getting much colder.  I shall be glad to get back home to some nice warm fires – and comfortable beds!

Helen has said that you will be pleased to see me when I get home – so I do hope that we shall be able to arrange something.  With luck I should travel on the same boat as Helen.

Do give my kindest regards to the family. I hope you will manage to stay clear of all the ailments at present in fashion in England.

Until we meet again, my best wishes. God Bless.

Sincerely yours,

Harris May.


1.  BTE, MELF:  British Troops Egypt, Middle East Land Forces.  The British Troops Egypt HQ was in Moascar, Ismailia, in the Suez Canal Zone.



Nov 23, 47 len letter png


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-124 November, 1947

Grey morning.   Just gone 7.30.   BSDM Cairo c/o FO, SWI.


Your 223 came in on Friday Mum, (1) but I think it’s better if I wait till I receive your answer to my letter with explanatory enclosures before discussing further on the Ernst theme.

I’ve been giving the parcel skirt big licks in the way of wear around town – it’s just the thing for Cairo at this season & so super smart.

I’m glad to hear you’re both O.K. – I hope you’re not too badly upset Mum & that your health hasn’t suffered as a result of E’s & my being friends only now.   It takes a lot of restraint not to reply to your letter point for point but I expect by the time my reply reaches you that you’ll be in a different frame of mind & want to recind your earlier viewpoint.

Thursday I tacked my blue dress ready for machining in the ‘taking in’ process.  I did some other odd things – by the way we got away from work at 12 instead of 1.30 because of the wedding. (2)   Anyway at 6.30 I went to bed, setting the alarm at 5.30 & damping all my ironing in readiness.  The one thing I forgot to do was wind my clock, so I didn’t wake till 6.40 the next morning, so as I’ve to catch the bus at 7.20 my ironing had had its chips – I much prefer doing things like that in the morning.

Friday I went for a car trip with Mr Harai & his wife & child. He’s to be our lecturer on psychology at the girls’ club.  He’s a Barrister at Law – from the Sourbonne (actual spelling) in Paris & has the most heavenly voice – the kind where you don’t need to listen to the words a person’s saying at all, just hear the music coming from their throat, O.K., enough said but you know I always have been batty about voices.

Saturday I’d a phone call from Pete James whom I didn’t expect up till 5 in the evening.   He’s one of the people I met through Ken P., is 22, a B.Sc.Eng. London University & rather sweet.   He’s been stationed in Palestine, but has had that now, for after his return from Egypt was posted to El Kirsch (Canal Zone).   I hadn’t seen him since February, when he came down from Pal. on Operation Polly (evacuation of women & kids) so it was nice to see him again. (3)

Then Johnny Kay phoned – he’s on his way home, by the way – & asked for news of Pete.   Accordingly the three of us had lunch together in a restaurant in Loli Pash, then tea in Johnny’s pension.   Afterwards Pete & I went down some back streets & did some window shopping.  We went back to his place to wash, then went to the dinner dance at the Auberge du Tarf.  It was most enjoyable & we encountered Vera & her boyfriend there & in a particularly riotous dance all four of us danced together.

Yesterday I’d a rehearsal in the morning, then Johnny & Pete played chess & we lunched on the slab.  Back at my place I showed Pete all I’d bought, then we went into town to tea at Groppi – it was an absolute deluge all day yesterday.   After tea we’d a long gharry ride as we couldn’t get into the pictures.  Got washed, had some Arabic food & finished up at the Champagne Cliff – poor old Pete must have spent a small fortune – however, I’ve promised to take him to the opera when it comes to Cairo.

As I can’t send a cheque or p.o. I’d be much obliged if you could affix the said stamp (5/-) to the attached  form for the CSC.  Never mind the mild lies in it – re, dates, etc, they’re necessary to make me eligible – and send to the CSC. (4)    Thanks.

I gaily ask for things like this, but how are you for dough?  Will love to have a natter re. my giving some help in the upkeep of the house on my return.

Cheerio poppets & oodles of love,

Len. xxxx


1.  Mum’s 223 is her 14 November, 1947 letter ‘Frosty November morn’ and ‘This old pen of mine once wrote you such merry letters is now quite out of tune…’

2.  The wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on 20 November, 1947.

3.  Palestine Post – Friday, 7 February 1947:  “With the evacuation of police dependants and civilians being completed Operation Polly was applied to Army families. Wives and families of officers and other ranks were removed from Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel-Aviv on the first stage of their journey.  Families from Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv went to Sarafand and they will leave from there by air and rail”.  When they arrived in Egypt they  were quartered in the British Army Maadi camp in the Suez Canal Zone.  (source:

4.  CSC:  Civil Service Commission


The Explanatory Enclosures:

The First Enclosure

enclosure.1 png_edited-1

23 November, 1947

Thursday morning.  Deserted office – everyone out for a break.

Nearest & Dearest,

I might have guessed you’d read between the lines, as far as my  week-end at Port Said went, well here’s the whole story.

I think it all started a few days before I went down, when I’d a letter saying mostly “how busy I am” from Ernst and on the same day a very warm one from Ken.  I made arrangements to go to P.S., then on the morning of my departure – Sat. a telegram dated the previous day – came from Ernst stating he would be at a Court Martial at Fayid and suggesting that I go to Ish or P.S. the following week-end.  Of course I’d abandoned all idea of going to Ish as I wanted to see Ken.

On arrival at P.S. we went to the SIB offices where I said “Hallo” to Ernst.   He was busy, but helped Aileen to contact her bod at El Ballah.  He was in a civvy suit – really ‘going out’ wear – it registered at the time, but I refused to let it mean anything.   He phoned the ‘Y’ to book us up there and as there was no point in hanging around I said “Good-night”.  He replied in the same way and we went to the ‘Y’.  Naturally as on former occasions I expected him to ring me, but he didn’t.  We’d dinner at the Splendide as I hoped to bump into him there.  I rang both his camp and his office – he was at neither nor expected back at the office.  By the way when I said “I thought you were at Fayid” he said “Oh, it was postponed”.

That night it was impossible to contact the “Patrician” but the following morning I contacted the British Coaling Co., who let me know I could go on board.

Before I dashed up to tell Esme to hurry, I thought I’d speak to Mrs. Wragg (1), as I didn’t want her to think I was two-timing Ernst and if he came to say something funny.

I walked over to her and said “They tell me I can go on board my friend’s ship, I just wish I’d seen Ernst for longer last night, for I didn’t have time to tell him when I saw him”, (which was the truth).

 Hold it, here it comes.

She said  “Well, now that you’ve told me that, I can tell you that he was out with a girl from here last night.”  Whereupon she proceeded to revel in the details, telling me where they’d been, that this girl had been up two or three times before to see him, etc. I’d told her about receiving the telegram from him – sort of just in passing – and she said  “It’s very naughty of him to tell lies”.  Well the ground by this time had been completely taken from under my feet, but the use of the word ‘naughty’ is funny and so too was the bit where she said “I don’t know what the relationship between you is???”

Long pause, but I just smiled dumbly at her.  I felt a bit wobbly, but Mrs. W. was obviously laying it on thick.

You can imagine how I felt tearing across P.S. harbour in a launch to see someone whom I hadn’t seen for two years, whom I’d liked very much at one time and with the thought of ‘what’s the truth’ re. Ernst in the back of my mind.

You see, before I’d gone down I’d wanted to see Ken just to be positive that I didn’t feel anything for him any more and get him right out of my mind.  Needless to say now I just don’t know where I am, but the point is I don’t feel angry, hurt or jealous, however back to my story.

For a little while after arrival the nagging thought of ‘E’s waywardness’ continued, but it was soon banished.  Ken was and is a darling, as I said previously, his sarcasm has disappeared but all his grace and courtesy remained.  He wasn’t the least bit romantic, but then he’s not the sort of person who is till you’ve known him for years. As a specimen of what my camera takes I showed him the breakwater snap of Ernst and he said “Oh, the body beautiful” and as I took it from my wallet he may have realised how things were.

Ernst:PS copy

Now, I don’t know whether it’s because of Ken I’ve had bad pangs of longing for the Highlands or because of the Highlands and our association together there I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Ken.

Well, Esme and I left the ship after a really wonderful day – what circumstances, honestly you must admit they’re unusual.

Since my return I’ve written to Ken – a polite cool note to thank him for our lovely day aboard (they got us our meals and everything).  I wrote it when I was half asleep and wonder if it being so abnormally cool has made him send no reply.  On the other hand, the ship’s on the high seas and I can’t exactly expect a normal mail service.

Naturally I didn’t write to Ernst, but on Monday had a letter from him, he apoligizes generally about the week-end, but doesn’t go into details (mind you, I wouldn’t in a letter either) but he seems to think everything’s fine and dandy.  Last night I felt in a daft mood, so phoned him, he told me to be good and I replied “You too”, whereupon he said he’d grown a halo – I ask you.

I know he loves me and realise he’s the kind of bloke (perhaps?) who needs to take some girl out if the girl isn’t on the spot.  But I do object to being lied to, I mean to say if Mrs. Ws. is right, seeing a girl – who comes about 50 miles to see you (from Fayid) about three times and sending a telegram of fictional movements is a bit much.

However, the only thing I’m worried about is not being worried.  I can see that this affects my whole future, but I just can’t summon up any worry.  My only desire is to be quite alone in the Highlands, to think and decide what I want (from what is available!).

The Second Enclosure

The Second Enclosure was a subsequent letter to the letter from him that Len mentions above. In this letter he acknowledges that he had been seeing someone else.

The letter is not in this collection.

Second enc, no letter png

The Third Enclosure

Third enc.png

len letter to Ernst png

Copy of letter to Ernst dated 17.11.47

My dear Ernst,

I was so glad to receive your last letter, for it was almost an exact echo of my own sentiments.  That’s why I ‘phoned instead of writing, as I found it so difficult to write warm letters. That too, is why I wanted to see you at the week-end as I didn’t want to do anything by letter.

It’s amazing the sense of relief I have now and how much happier I am to be “Free, white and 21” again.

Although I’ve felt this for a long time, I’ve tried to stay by you, for you’ve suffered so many other setbacks I didn’t want to let you down.   Aren’t you glad now that I didn’t give in to your pleading to get married in the summer as you wanted? (2)   But post mortems are rather silly unless they’re for some specific purpose, so ‘nuff said.  I’m sure we shall get on far better as good friends than we ever did as an engaged couple.

What have you being doing with yourself lately?  I do hope you’ve been accepted for demob in the U.K.  I appreciate how infuriating it must be having to fill in those endless forms and yet at the end you’re no nearer your goal.   I’m glad you’re not so busy due to the cholera because you’ve really been working too hard.

How’s Johnny?    Do keep me abreast of events.  Give my regards to him if he’s still in Port Said and to any other mutual friends and acquaintances whom you see.

Cairo seems to be waking up for the winter season and there are quite a number of social events.  You know about me belonging to the Cairo Theatre Guild which meets each Monday, well, quite apart from the Monday night ‘dos’ they’re producing some plays for the British Council for the Bronte Centenary Celebrations.   I’m playing Isabella in “Wuthering Heights” and find it lots of fun.

Last week-end we were lucky enough to see the Remembrance Day Parade at Moascar Garrision.  We tried to get into the Church, but couldn’t as it was packed, however we could hear the strains of Jerusalem (And did those feet…..) drifting out – the cream stone church looked perfect against a background of blue sky.  Afterwards we saw General Allfrey taking the salute at the march past.(3)   I was rather thrilled as it’s the first parade I’ve ever seen.

Apropos of shopping, have you managed to get any whisky for me yet?  It would be a real boon if you could, because the price is soaring to a really fabulous price in Cairo and NAAFI still sells at a comparatively  reasonable sum.

All being well if your U.K. release comes through O.K., do come and stay with us in Scotland and see what it’s like.  Will you be in Cairo at all shortly?  If so be sure to look me up.  Anyhow, I hope we see each other before I leave Egypt.

Write soon telling me all your news.  Hope you’re keeping fit and enjoying life.

Most affectionately yours,

(Sgd.) Helen.


1.  Mrs Wragg is assumed to be the warden of the ‘Y’ – the YWCA.

2.  It is recalled that when Mum disembarked from the Franconia at Port Said, Ernst got down on one knee and asked her if he could have Helen’s ‘hand’ in marriage.

3.  Lieutenant- General , Sir Charles Walter Allfrey, General Officer Commanding British Troops in Egypt.


Received two days before her 22nd birthday, a birthday greeting telegram from her Mum and Dad.  Her address at the Solovieffs’. is Flat 7,  No 9,  Sharia Mamal el Sukkar, Garden City, Cairo.

Birthday cable png_edited-1


 2 Dec 47 xmas franked png

 Mum letter image png_edited-12 December, 1947.

Foggy Old Home.  A cosy nest in a Foggy Fairyland. (Longing to hear all about your birthday)

Our Very Dearest Own One,

Just the business of doing the daily tasks seems to occupy most of those brief winter days even tho’ we arise at 6.30. a.m.  When darkness falls there’s dinner to see to and then the fireside calls for the rest of the evening and I try to get some mending done.

This morning I went to Dr. Gilston to get my priority for milk and eggs renewed.  Dr. G. was asking about you and wants to be remembered; he also gave me a prescription for a tonic – I didn’t ask for one – and charged me 4/6d.  What a man!  How he does know how to make money.  I hear his hotel is doing very well, it was a great speculation to make and needed some nerve to sink all that dough in it, he sure deserves success.

Then I went to the food office to get my priority line put in my Ration Book.  The F.O (1) was in Scotstoun but today I found it had been moved to Partick so I had to hop on a tram & go there, then I trammed right back to Kelso St. to the Coop as I get my rations on Tuesdays and they shut at noon, so it was quite a rush.  I dashed home to put in the shopping then off to Clydebank for our whisky ration to save for New Year. Today I got the first lot of whisky for weeks as it has all been put under seal in bond because of the budget. We only get one glass at a time so it takes some saving.

We’re so glad that you’ve met Jean’s Dad – yes, he is a pet and quite humorous, the kinda observant buddy who will enjoy all new scenes and experiences – let us know how he is doing.

Many thanks for enclosing the letter from Harris, he is sweet and says that, with any luck, you should get the same boat – that w’d be nice for you honey, but I can picture you, like myself, wanting to travel alone – always the excitement of the unknown – however, you’ll know best about that.  In his letter, Harris says that with the stuff you’ve bought you’ll need a whole train to yourself!  He also says you are much thinner than you were – remember, you’ll need a layer of fat to stand this cold!  I must send him a note.  Get his English address before you leave.

Now a further word about souvenirs.  Yesterday in the clinic I heard someone in the next cubicle talking of vacuum flasks and I at once remembered, thats another ‘must’ so honey, please add to that list “Parents – Two vac. flasks one large, one smaller, for the use of.”  This parent w’d also like a fan or fly switch or both!  Remember because of cash (the lack of) I did without a fly switch in E.  Well, now I want one – I don’t know what for in this country of cold and frost but I do want one.  Are the blue beads (china sorta) still to be had & have they earrings to match?

Except for smaller presents for friends (& so few qualify for gifts really) the idea is to buy larger pieces. When we were at Watsons a week ago, Mrs. W. showed us the souvenir which Ronnie brought home, there’s a number of nigger’s heads in ebony and smaller silver & brass stuff, but she kept moaning ‘Oh, if only he’d bought a coffee table like yours’.  So you see the idea about bringing larger stuff – of course lots of the smaller things are lovely also – it all depends.  But believe me, that coffee table makes a hit with all who see it.

I am still going to the clinic on Mondays & Wednesdays to get my back done & they say it’s getting on fine and all the fibrositis is nearly out of it, isn’t that grand?  Daddy was at work Sunday but came home at mid-day as he’d caught another chill, he went to bed and stayed there yesterday, but went to work today, as he was feeling O.K.

The weather is really past speaking about, it’s intensely cold.  I never remember a November like this, all the trees are covered in a slight layer of snow which has become frozen and the effect is incredibly lovely, the avenue looks like a fairyland.

I think this is all for now, honey.  Hope my remarks re. souvenirs will be helpful.

Clouds of love are all around you and every star holds a kiss from your own ever loving dad & Mum. xxx

p.s. There’s a birthday card in for you from Joan Brandley.  I’ll send it on to you.

Cheers & love ever.



1.  F.O.  Food Office


Mum letter image png_edited-17 December, 1947.

Quiet Sunday at Home.

Our Darling,

The two wonderful, thrilling parcels got in yesterday.   Since Thursday night I’ve been in bed with ‘flu, yes, the real genuine germ.

Daddy was busy in the house (he has been so good) when the bell rang the postman handed in the parcels – gorgeous!  You can guess what my bed was like as we excitedly untied the parcels and saw the lovely contents, and the stockings!  They will be so useful and you know I’ll make good use of them, my darling.  All that lovely food!  The rice is wizard, we haven’t had any in the shops here for years, and its such a help in cooking.  The raisons and currents are so good.  I put some currants in semolina pudding tonight tho’ I hate giving that Jack any of the goodies you send.  Many “thank yous” for the tea, honey, I do adore orange pekoe – you know I’m really a connoisseur where tea is concerned.  The coconut, desiccated, is a treat as you can guess, also the tins of meat, and we love the wee Christmas card you enclosed, thanks a million for everything, our dear, dear girl, not forgetting the sugar lumps.

I really feel grim about not having sent you a Birthday or Xmas parcel, but you know why we didn’t dear,  it’s because of your homecoming which, you and we hoped would be by the New Year, and your letter telling us not to send parcels, however, I’ve made up my mind to send one to you pronto as in your last letter written on your darling birthday (which makes it November, as we know) you tell us the news of the offer and your acceptance of the three months extension, which means, if all goes well, you sh’d be home about the beginning of March, whopeeeeee!  (1)

Actually, sweetheart, we think you’ve done the best thing as the weather is just ghastly over here just now and the days so short and dark.  We would love the spring to welcome you, tho’ in March there will still be the need for fires – we had heavy snowfalls in March last year, but the brighter, longer days sh’d be here, when you can enjoy your trip to the Hielands better – do you still want to go?

Its perfectly silly, I know, but it makes me sad to hear you talk of your “career”. (2)   I’m so odiously old fashioned. I can’t stand career women, but maybe you mean that someday marriage may become part of your career?  If so, cheers!  A woman who has a career is still, in my opinion, a failure.  But you are much too young anyway to talk of a career so lets forget it. and take no notice of the foregoing remarks, its just the ‘flu germ talking!

Why the revolt against the good old C.S? (3)   Daddy and I have talked it over and have come to the conclusion you’ve maybe heard tell of some other good jobs out there.  Yes, no?   By the way, I sent off your applic. form stamped with C.S. five bob stamp the same day as your letter asking us to do so arrived.  You are very wise to go in for exams, there’s always room at the top.

Daddy has been busy doing some jobs about the house and now we want a cuppa tea, so I’ll say ‘good night’ and put the kettle on, hoping for a letter from you in morning – no letter since Thurs. but oh! those dear lovely parcels! night-night, our own darling and best, Dad and Mum. xxx

Monday morn. Dec 8th.

Goody, goody, a letter no. 239 in from you so glad you were happy and well and safe at the time of writing and pray it continues so for you. (4)   We hear such awful accounts of the rioting and the paper give such headlines.

Palestian partition

No more news about the ‘phone except a note to say there’s no chance of getting it in soon, but I’ll gee them up sometime when I’m in town.

Oh! You are just a great baby! What I’d give to be out there beside you right now. In your 239 letter received today I can see right into your mind and its on a see-saw and no mistake. (4)   You say you wish we c’d both go out there, so do we, our honey lamb, but that’s not why I call you a baby. You paint such mental pictures of things happening as you’d like them – we all do, really – I speak appropos your idea of showing off Peter’s (5) good points to Ernest – what w’d be the use, do nobody any good.

Do hope you manage to the Canal Zone for Xmas and oh! boy! how I wish I c’d be there. Hope you enjoy it all tip-top – shall you arrange with Ernest to meet you?

 You know, my sweet, I don’t think it was really he who wrote that letter (6), no, it was the awful disappointment he felt at being again being turned down for that job – he must get really so sore about the awful frustration of everything he feels he must just hit back and I think the same applies to that woman he mentioned.   He feels a sorta queer comfort in moping in the dark morass of disappointments and she is just part of it all.  I honestly believe that if he got a job and got away from P.S. or even just had a settled job he w’d see things in a saner happier light. I glimpsed some pictures of another side of him while I was there.

How I hope everything goes well so as he can visit us next summer.  Oh! if he asks you what you told me re.your break just say you just told me the bare fact and no details, if you do this (I mentioned no details whatever when I wrote to him) it will make it easier for him to write to me, comprey?  And if he asks what I said just say I said it was a matter concerning you two only.

 I know you are overjoyed you kept yourself to your self (if you ken what I mean!) for now you can meet him quite gaily and know you have all his respect.

I really think he will be sorry now for the break, but time will sort out everything.  Go easy on what you say to him, I know you are wise wee thing and I can leave it to you.  If he or you – both of you, I mean, have a change of heart re. the future it’s always a case of ‘least said, soonest mended’.  After having discoursed at length I’ll close that subject, and you needn’t reply.

 Re. your making an evening dress, I think it a great idea, did you think of something slinky or bouffant?  Personally I love the new ballerina style, lovely with hair done in a ‘bustle’.  I saw an idea in our paper to get this effect with loops of velvet ribbon, which I must try if I go out anywhere in the evening.

There’s a new song out “Last night I dreamt I kissed you, I leaned across three thousand miles of sea”. Well, that’s what I’m doing right now, our ownest darling girl. Bless you ever.

With all our forever the same love to you, darling.

Dad and Mum.

I’ll have a look round for some good pattern for an evening dress for you. Yes, the parcel of ecru balls and linen skirt got here O.K.  Did I not say ‘Thank you’ – how naughty of me. Munching the raisons the noo!

Love and cheers. Mum x


1.  One, or two letters from Len, mentioning her now staying on – again – until March, 1948, and references further down to her ‘career’ and a ‘revolt against the CS’ are not in this collection.

2. See Footnote 1. above.

3.  C.S.:  Civil Service.

4.  This letter is not in the collection.

5.  Peter James, the ‘loot’ who had been in Palestine.

6.  This is the Second Enclosure, the missing letter from Ernst acknowledging he was seeing someone else.


Mum letter image png_edited-19 December, 1949


Oh! to be in Egypt
Now that winter’s here
For whoever lives in Egypt
Finds some scrap of cheer
No frost or snow to give them falls
No fog whose murkiness appalls
We queue for hours for pit or stalls
In Scotland now

Our Dearest and Best,

Last night I c’d scarcely get to sleep thinking of your wish for an evening dress, how I wish I c’d be there to make one for you, I feel I want you to have the most wizard clothes, honey, unusual and lovely, on the other hand, honey, like you, I feel you must have a flair for dressmaking – I know you have – and that its high time you were making something on your own.   I’ll give you any instructions step by step, but it w’d be a dreadfully slow business by post.  However, I’ve thought of a frock I’d like to make for you, but why not try it on your own?  Here is a sketch of my idea, front view:

Mum's dress design - 2png

Your 240 of Dec 3rd got in today and many thanks for it and enclosures. (1)

 Who is Esme – I don’t remember meeting an Esme, she looks nice, is she English and what is her age?  She looks as if she’s wearing her nightie.

I thought you’d mentioned that the Bulbecks were back in Cairo, now you say ‘send them a Xmas Card’, elucidate pronto, please!  The Bulbecks never wrote to us since they were here, why should we send them a card?

Please, oh! please don’t refer to or speak even to me of Peter James and Harris as ‘nice children’ – (after all, they are the same ages as you) this kinda talk gives a matronly aura, very unbecoming, and unsmart, so don’t do it.

You say you are definitely not an M.E. type, take it from me, sweetie pie, you don’t know, or will not know what type you are until your return to peacetime Britain; don’t make definite sweeping statements honey, so often they don’t prove right. Good night, very Best One.

Thurs. Dec 11th
My Darling – Got to the above length when sleep overcame me on Tues. night. You know how you feel so sleepy and tired after the ‘flu.  Yes, this is now noon Thurs. and my thoughts are all, all of you today.  Hoping you are safe and well and merry for we want all your days to be happy and gay and bright.  I’m on my toes to learn your plans for Christmas and New Year, hope all your dreams come true, if you go in bathing, do please sweetheart make sure there is someone near who can come to your aid in any difficulty, you know how precious you are so do look after yourself in all places at all times in all ways.

Hurrah! There’s a letter in from Joan Brandley today to say she plans to arrive in Glasgow on Sat. eve Dec 27th and stay until Sunday Jan 4th isn’t that lovely.  We are so much looking forward to meeting our Joanie again and hearing more of her experiences in Erin’s Isle.  Seems she enjoyed a terrific holiday landing at one time at Youghal after being mixed up in a motor smash outside Cork with Max Bacon’s brother-in-law “who later introduced me to the best dressed, best looking man in Cork – an Irish Pole!”  Do you remember Youghal, Len Bryers?   You and I spent a very, very happy day there once at a sunday school treat, we got so sunburned Daddy didn’t know us when we got back to Cork at night.

I want to arrange for the Watsons to visit us while Joan is here, their son Ronnie is a very good pianist and very interested in music so their mutual devotion at the shrine of Saint Cecilia should make a good meeting base.   For New Year I want to make a plum pudding and cake and Oh! boy I’m glad I’ve got those scrumptious currants and raisins etc.  Joan says she’d like to go to Loch Lomond (Auchendennan)- for the 31st – I hope the International Students are there again this year.

I think now I’ll draw this ‘ere to a close so as to get it in the post while I’m at ye shops.

Thinking of you always and always our very own, very own Best Beloved.

Mum and Dad x


1.  Not in this collection


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-110 December, 1947.
Almost finished morning.  BSDM, c/o FO, SWI.

My own Ones,

Don’t know whether I’m on my head or my heels, between constant rehearsals, Mousky shopping, the odd bit of French, delivering tickets, roneoing tickets, arranging dances, arranging games and buying prizes. (1)   Must say I’m looking forward to a bit of quietness at Xmas.

Sunday  I’d my French lesson, then went to Gezira to liase with Myrtle Tandy about Xmas – we’re s’posed to be going to Fayid for the actual days of Xmas proper.  Of course I bumped into lots of people but eventually got back to do the odd chore before going out to Mme Saracha’s.  It’s rather wonderful, for she’s a friend of John Gielgud’s cousin. It seems he was staying with them and left some stuff behind, anyway to cut a long story short Harris is s’posed to be taking it and thus get an introduction to John Gielgud. (2)

On coming back I got ready to go out with Vera and her crowd, including a girl up from the Canal Zone PID Mission (i.e. Political Intelligence Department).  I know the girl  as she once shared my room at Claridges. (3)

D’you remember playing a game called “Putting the baby to Bed” at Labour Party dos? Well, that’s one of the games we’ve listed for our party and are ‘medly’ trying to collect dolls for this purpose.  You may like to see the ticket – d’you like the design?

party invite


I asked Joe Catt for bells and holly leaves and she drew them in pencil on the draft and I did them out on the stencil and typed same. Makes me want to run off some Xmas cards on the same lines as I don’t fancy the idea of paying out 3Pt. a time for all my extra people.

Esme’s just come in to say she thinks she’s going to Palestine – she’s certainly got around whilst she’s been out here with Baghdad, the Lebanon and Cyprus and now Pal.  Makes one think of the pros and cons.  Things have always kept me in Cairo up to now, like half expecting you all the time Mum and of course Ernst.  Of course the ideal thing is a posting like Mary Davies had – six weeks in Rhodes.

That is all 26, that is all, over to you.

Planes of Love,

Len. xxxxx


1.  This is for the young women’s’ social club – The Wednesday Night Club – started by Bishop Allen.

2.  We have no idea from the correspondence who Mme Saracha is.  Len may have met her through the Cairo Drama Group.  Besides being a friend of Ernst, Harris May shares an interest in acting with Len.

3.  Claridges is a hotel that, it seems,  BSDM and other British Government  staff such as Len were initially put up in when they first arrived in Egypt.  Some staff of BSDM continued to live in the hotel.  There is still a Claridges Hotel in Cairo.


Mum letter image png_edited-114 December, 1947.

Quiet but busy Sunday.

It’s now 3.30 pm my Beloved, and positively must get this in the 4 o’ clock collection.

No letter from you since Wed. morn. but we know there’ll be one tomorrow morn and I can hardly wait for then. We do so much hope you are well and peppy and that your arrangements for the festive season are well ahead and that you’ll have the best time for ever, ever enjoyed – its really wonderful you know, and please know it, to be your age and be in Egypt and have unknown Christmas festivities to look forward to. We shall be eagerly waiting to hear all about everything.

I worry a wee bit about your clothes and hope they will be alright, but with you to adorn them, how c’d they be otherwise!  Do please, just for me, wear your hair, just for once anyway, parted in the centre, pulled not too tightly back and the ends curled as you used to do it, believe me, its so individual and so becoming, so please do it that way once (or more) for me.

Daddy and I saw “Holiday Camp” at the Ascot last night, its a wizzo picture, absol.tip top.

This is just the wee-est note to tell you again we love you and think of you always.  I must get busy on my Xmas cards soon.  Daddy is busy doing wee joinery jobs about the house.

Bye for now, our peachy.

Cheers and love ever, Dad and Mum.


Next          Part Two   Chapter Six: Bouncing Back “Scarier, Scarier, Ra, Ra, Ra.”   

Posted in Cairo 1940s, Feminism, Gender Studies, Letters, Social and Political History, Suez Canal Zone, Womens History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part Two 4: Cholera and Riots

Part Two   4: Cholera and Riots

“Listen, honey lamb, there’s something we want you to do for us and that is, please, while this Cholera epidemic is rife send us a wee note everyday, it needn’t be long or newsy note, just a scribble to let us know how you are keeping.”

                                                             – Mum to Len, 2nd October, 1947.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-112 September, 1947.

Break time.

Hello loved Ones,

Have all your mail up to 197 received yesterday – am anxious for the latest news of your foot Mum.  I do hope it can be completely normalised by one means or another. Anyway be sure to rest it,  remember (what’s so often forgotten) that without your health you can do nothing and that with it life is a field of adventure.

Thanks for despatching that business of certs. to London and taking so much trouble over not getting them squashed.

To-day I despatched a parcel to you – I gave Mr Stokes the stuff and he made it up for me.  Unfortunately ants got into the Turkish Delight – so that’s why there is not much left.  It contains 4 balls of crochet cotton, Ilb crystallized fruit, few bits TD and about 3 or 4 lumps sugar, as well as a 1/4 lb of tea and a huckaback towel.   I hope it gets to you O.K.   Tried to get Persil, but so far can’t find any, however I’ll try some more – would you like Lux and is there anything special you want in food next time I send some and what d’you advise me to bring home with me?   As a luxury I’d love to bring one of those 50Pt tins of asparagus tips – can’t send it by bag (1) as it’s got juice round it.   I love where you say “ Home awaits you here and love” – so many people would give anything for just that.  It’s wonderful to have you in my mind and I’m so glad you’re the people in my home.   I have your letter Daddy.  It’s very interesting to learn all about your tour of Lancs and I’ll reply soon.

Give Hutch my love – you certainly do name ‘em.  I’d adore Daddy and Ernst in kilts, what tartan does Daddy want?  No more news of legacy? (2)   Discovered soignée can only be applied to dress and not about being careful oneself.

Know I shouldn’t have left this till work (i.e. break in work) for I’m always rushed – must go back to write a nice leisurely letter to you with everything in it.

All my love darling ones, Len xxxx


1.  Bag:  Diplomatic Bag.

2.  An Uncle of Mum’s had died and there were complications with his will.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-112 September, 1947. BSDM Cairo, c/o FO, SW1.

Just before the bell goes.

Hello my own Dearests,

On to replying to your 197 now – thanks so much for looking after my cheque and banking it.

The Sky High perfume sounds great, but darling don’t get any for me – you know it’s liable to get smashed in the post – you buy two bottles for yourself and what d’you want me to bring home for you “Queen of Egypt”?

How superb that you’re going to give a lecture Mum, I’d adore to be there – I bet you could tell ‘em a thing or two.  (Want info. for your notes?)

On Tuesday I did some French, and had my lesson, after which Vera and I had a short walk.  I think it was then I saw Mischa – my first sight of a real Displaced Person. He’s a Yugoslav and as he’s not a Tito fan is going to France.  UNRRA (1.) are flying him to Algiers by TWA and from there he’s going by ship to Marseille.  It makes me mad to think of him getting all that done for him and the Home Office have kept Ernst’s application a year now with narry a word, however time will show. (2)

In the evening I went over to act as ‘sitter’ to the Stokes.  It was positively embarrassing the way they practically enveloped me in luxury and were so profuse in their thanks. They gave me my tea and left me with books to read, as well as nuts, sweets, chocolate and tart to eat and lemonade to drink.  They looked so happy going out (to the pictures) it was the first time they’d been out alone since they left England.

Wednesday I did some French, then went down the Mousky with John Findlay – Jean had a cold, so stayed in the house.  After a short while I got an ivory chess set and board for Ernst – £E3.25 which leaves me budgeting like mad for the rest of the month, but as you know I love that sort of thing, so don’t worry.   It’s a really lovely set and I do hope he likes it.  Afterwards I had dinner with the Findlays.

Everybody’s been so nice to me, the Findlays, Stokes and Solovieffs – there are so many nice people aren’t there?

Thursday after work I did my washing and ironing and stayed in.  Yesterday I went to Gezira and then to the Zamalek shops but still no Persil.  After doing a few desultory things in my room, I got dressed as Vera had asked me to have tea with them.  Her parents went out to play bridge and I’d tea with Vera, Mischa and Grisha – four nationalities – Russian, Yugoslav and Italian (in the order named) and me.  Grisha works with Vera on the Journal d’Egypte. We talked, read poetry and danced to the radio, it was most pleasant.

Haven’t anything else to report except that I’m learning a French Fable by heart (I love fables) and hope to go on to the famous French poets.

The week-end has elapsed and I’m getting into the ways of my new abode, or rather  I’ve settled to really making the best of my time and not wasting it, i.e. as I’ve the time,  really having an extensive ‘go’ on my person, i.e. always looking at toenails and keeping them short, soft and clean, keeping hands really super, giving myself face packs then counteracting dryness with your Coty skinfood and also oiling my hair a little bit each night and giving it a three minute massage – it’s really improving under this treatment.  It may seem a waste of time to you in Britain, but it’s lovely to be able to use your time luxuriously.  After all, this period of quiet will probably only last a few months.  I’m actually getting on with my mending now, system being to mend everything before I wash it and doing as much other mending as I can.  Ancient swimsuit – I bought second hand here about 18 months – (for 50pt.) – I’m making into a two piece one.   The crowning achievement will be if I get the neck of my pink lace blouse altered from a V to a square, for I must get everything else done first.

On saturday I went for a walk in Gezira with Vera then called on the Stokes, who gave me my tea and again left me with nuts etc. whilst they went out.  This time they didn’t go to the pictures but wandered round the town and enjoyed themselves buying the odd thing.

I slept late the next morning, being awoken by the band of the procession for the funeral of the Iranian ambassador.   I had breakfast, nattered to Vera and Mischa and did my sewing – it was like home – sewing on Sunday and listening to the radio.   Then I went to Gezira, had an argument with the same chap I’d had an argument with before, sunbathing at the same time.   Had lunch with some girls whom I knew on the slab then set in the Ladies’ Lounge and did my French.  Then went back to the Sols. We took some photos of Mischa’s going and I wanted some of Vera anyway. (3)   Then I put on a face pack, did some sewing – of swimsuit and after some general beauty routine went to bed.

That’s all my news so I’ll get this off.  Do hope your foot’s keeping well Mum and that you’re managing O.K. at home – keep those fires burning for a wee one oot East

All my love pets, Len. xxxx


1.  UNRRA:  United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

2.  Helen (‘Len’) recalls that Ernest’s surname was Hirschberg.  She cannot recall what his nationality was.  As earlier footnoted, Ernst was born in Berlin to German parents.  Her memory is that he spoke English without an accent.

3.  These photos do not survive in this collection.


Mum letter image png_edited-116 September, 1947.  A Rainy Day.

Dear Chooks,

So glad, honey to read in your letter before your last one that you had “found yourself” and you are now your old bright sunny self. You seemed to have forgotten how to laugh & be funny and it was cramping your charm a lot.  I believe this ‘being in love’ business has a lot to do with your always wanting to be on your toes and lacking ease and I well understand for we all go through that stage – at least most of us females do!   Can’t speak for the men.   Keep on the good work of being yourself.   Don’t let anyone change you – “stay as sweet as you are”.

 Got a letter from the C.S.C ysd’y saying they hadn’t rec’d your Birth Cert.  I sent a letter off pronto saying I’d sent the B.C. and R.S.A. Cert. to them by registered post on Sept. 9th and hoped they’d rec’d both O.K. – Oh! those Civil Service people !*!

Big Ginger, the cat of Mrs Allan in Tweedvale is in the kitchen just now along with our own wee black Hutch.  The latter wants to play and tries to catch Ginger’s tail, but he is too dignified to tolerate such goings on.

Your 211 came in last week with those wizard P.S. pictures of Ernest & you & the Britannia. (1)   Re. the Brit. I think, if it is still there it w’d be a good idea to take part pictures of it like a series along its length, then they c’d be put together to form a large complete picture – see?   My grouse about the Brit. one you sent is that it doesn’t show my cabin, boo! hoo! – only my bathroom – consider doing as I suggest – thus:

Mum letter, Brit photo idea png

Was absolutely thrilled by that picture of you taken at the base of De Lessep’s Statue and I’m so glad I have some P.C. views of it for we heard over the radio that the rioters completely destroyed it – is this so?   The other pictures of you and Ernest are terrific, you both look as if you are about to speak. (2)    You can see what I mean about your hair, it is endy and broken looking – don’t tug it when you comb it and do oil it before shampooing but not with a dressing oil or brilliantine – they rot the hair.  My hair has got thinner – the sun out there certainly did not agree with it, but I’m gradually getting it back into a condition by massage and Silvikrin.   There’s a whole lot of new wee hairs growing on my head – goody, goody.  One bottle of Silvikrin does the trick.

Thrilled still by your mention of a ring for me from the Muski (arabic spelling!).   Don’t worry about the exact size as I can get it made to fit here as long as it is somewhere near.

The whole country is shocked at the news of Nancy Riach’s death in Monaco.  She had achieved so much and life seemed so full of promise for her.  That Infantile Paralysis is an awful disease. (3).

Jean Findlay’s Dad & Sister called on Sunday as arranged and we thoroughly enjoyed their visit.  The house was warm and cosy.  I had fires on in dining & sitting rooms and it was all shiny.  We talked and talked and I showed them my Egyptian pictures.  Mr. Munro is all set to go and is just awaiting his sailing date & ship – lucky man!   I offered to go with him as guide!   Jean is to meet him at Port Said.   I think he is really quite thrilled at the idea of the trip and was asking my advice on this and that.  They brought us a pot of delicious Black Currant Jam.  I made meat rissoles – mince, onion, etc – and tomatoes and I think they enjoyed the meal very much.  Mr M. will be telling you all about how we look when you meet and in spirit we shall be right there beside you.

Jack says he may be getting a bike this Saturday, well he can build a shed for it in the garden for I’m not having a bike in the house – enough work as it is.

Must now busy, it’s Tuesday & the shops shut at noon.  Our warm love is there to cheer and comfort you, our sweetest honey girl.

Cheers, Mum xxxxx.


1.  Not in this collection.

2.  Not in this collection.

3.  Swimmer Nancy Riach, from Airdrie, Scotland collapsed and died during one of her races at the European Swimming Championships at Monte Carlo, September 1947.  The streets were thronged for her funeral.  She was twenty.  In 1946 she had been the Women’s British Champion in the 100, 200 and 440 yards freestyle events, and held various records.   Infantile Paralysis, more commonly known as polio, was prevalent in the post-war ’40s.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-118 September, 1947.

In my room. Thurs. night

My dearest Ones,

Before I go on to my letter proper please, no more of these scare letters to me.  To-day’s letter – 199 – contained the only information I’ve had about anything happening to the British Consulate.   Also about P.S., if it weren’t for the fact that one of our girls has just come back, I wouldn’t have known there were riots there.   Incidentally it’s the small de Lesseps statue in the gardens that has gone not the big one on the breakwater. (1)   Please believe me, security arrangements are well in hand and I think it’s wicked the way reports seem to be exaggerated at home.  Happier?

On Monday Liz told me there was to be a cricket match on the Wed and a practice for it in the afternoon, so I went along – did enjoy it.  I’ve always thought cricket such a lovely game and it was wonderful to play.  When I returned to 173, Mischa said “good-bye” – for he was flying to Algiers that night.

At night Liz and Bill were s’posed to be picking me up in the car to take me to the CDG – Cairo Dramatic Guild, name of new organisation.  Their arrangement went wrong and they never came, so I went upstairs again (had been waiting at the door) and Mr Sol offered to take me by jeep.  Accordingly we drove off, going first to the Journal d’Egypt offices to pick up Vera (she works odd hours).  She suggested I go out with her friends and her as by this time it was late for the CDG, I agreed.  They took us by car to the Pyramids and we’d an icecream on the way back.  I couldn’t get gay, for all the time I thought of Ernst.   At dramatics it’s different, but having to sit next to these men in the car made me wish so fervently I was elsewhere and of course it was horrid to see the P’s and think the last time I’d been there had been with E and you Mum.

Yesterday was the match.  Each team was short of players, they were all out for 43 and we’d 73.  Then we declared (‘cos it was getting dark) – I’m hoping to do some more of it – it’s grand fun.  I came back, change hurriedly and went out to the Findlays.  We’d a cold dinner as their servant was out and they taught me to play ‘Golash’ – a cross between Bridge and Whist.   I’m not really interested in cards, but feel it’s a necessary social accomplishment.

The pictures of the Bulbecks and you are terrific – doesn’t Jack look nice (that is to say nicer than I thought somehow).  It was grand to see a recent photo of you Dad – I want to see you so much – and to see you looking so fit in it.  Must say you look really glamorous Mum.   Everyone looks so happy – wish I’d been there.

Bulbeck at 26 with mum png

‘Dad, Mum, Tom Bulbeck, Daisy & Jack.  August, 1947’     Mum’s writing

The curtains look so fresh too – it fairly takes me back – must fight off that homesick feeling.

D’you fancy an Alexandrette?  Knowing your liking for non-red jewellery I’m dubious, for you see it’s blue in daylight but red in electric light.  You’d better tell me if you’ve anything in mind, colourless zircon, yellow zircon, alexandrette or what, in case I came across a bargain suddenly.  And you Dad what d’you fancy, just tell me.  Mummy will tell you the sort of thing which it is advantageous to get here, e.g. jewelry.

No more word about Ernst’s movements or plans – wish there was.

Going to do some exercises, then bed – take care of yourselves as autumn comes my own ones.

Cheerio then and love as always, Len. xxxx


1.  Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805 – 1894) was a French diplomat and entrepreneur who founded the Suez Canal Company to build and run the canal.   The canal was completed in 1869.  When the Canal was nationalized in 1956 the statue was symbolically removed.


Mum letter image png_edited-118 September, 1947.

My Belushka – Ha! ha! You didn’t know I’d speak RUSSIAN! (Ask Vera about it. I got it out of a book – only hope I got it right!) (1)

It seems unbelievable but your 213 posted in Egypt on Monday last, Sept. 15th got in yesterday, Sept. 17th – TWO DAYS!!!

Now in this wee note I’m just going to answer your heart cry about why Daddy didn’t mention Ernest in his letter to you.   Well, my sweet, I gently, oh! so kid glovedly asked him first, if he’d mentioned E. – I cdn’t say outright “you didn’t mention E.”, and he said he hadn’t.   I then asked “Why” and he answered   “Just because I never thought of him when writing my letter, as the wee one asked me to tell her all about my holiday so that’s just what I did” – so there you have it, honey lamb.   Believe me, it’s nothing Daddy has against E. just simply that he hasn’t yet got it into his thoughts that anyone else comes into the family circle.   Believe me too when I say your Daddy loves you an awful lot, an awful great lot and is wearying to see you.   The other night he confided in me he is counting the time till your return as he wearies to see his darling.   Don’t say any of this when you write – he’d think I was telling!  (2)

We shall be glad when New Year is past for then we shall be keeping fingers crossed, be into the year that, all being well, will bring you home.  The only thing Dad has said re. E & you is that he w’d like E. to get his nationality – don’t say anything to E. as it w’d only worry him and the poor darling has enough of that already and it’s something we can all debate (if) when  we all meet.   Dad also said the other night you sh’d write to Princess Elizabeth asking her help! (3)

Had a five minutes visit from Aunt P. last night, she and Roderick leave tomorrow night for Abadan via Plymouth by tanker.

Wee Gordon Collinson got severely burned last Friday on his limbs and body when he pulled a hot teapot full of tea down on himself and today I was in there for a couple of hours helping to hold him while the doc. put on fresh dressings, however, the wee chap is getting on fine and is out today in his pram for the first time since the accident.

Regards to all the folk I know. I’m going down to the clinic tonight to see the doc. there about my foot, goody, goody, it only needs to be massaged.

Cheers from your own ever loving Mum. x


1.  Belushka, Mum’s stab at a Russian term of endearment, is obscure.  Belushka, geographically,  seems to be a small place in Russia.

2.  Dad’s letter is the one he wrote about his holiday, and meeting his cousins.  It seems that Len and Mum had a system of writing some letters that were for Mum’s eyes only.  In addition, it seems probable that with Mum being in the home, and Dad at work, she would be the first to see the letters  that came through the letter box – in the days when there were two deliveries a day.  And this would include saturdays, before the 44 hour week, when Dad would be across the Clyde at his works.

3.  Ernst’s application for British naturalisation had been lodged some time before.  Re. asking Princess Elizabeth for help, Prince Philip her fiancé, of Danish – Greek nationality had had no trouble in recently getting British citizenship.

Two press cuttings were also enclosed in this letter


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Make up trends prara:1 png_____

Mum letter image png_edited-121 September. 1947.  Sunday.

Sunny Lovely Day.

Our Own Cuddles,

Let me tell you the tale of last night, Love, it’s full of sensations and thrills! -I’ll say last night was full of thrills – but “tae ma tell” as Rabbie Burns was wont to say.

Jack was away visiting someone he knows in Balfron and Dad and self had been at the Odeon (“Black Narcissus’ – a good picture).   We got home latish and found Jack, who is usually in before us, had not returned.   I made supper and as we sat there a terrific rain storm came on and Mrs Allan’s big Ginger cat (by name & colour) came in.   We read and ate & waited for Jack, then decided he musta made up his mind to stay the night at Balfron and we prepared for bye byes.   Daddy closed the storm door and locked up, then I said I’d see if the wee outdoor shelter I made for the cats was quite
dry as we had to put Ginger out.   To make it clear, here is a diagram of where the shelter is:

Cat shelter drawing png
It, the shelter was really made from the old door they took off the kitchenette.  You may remember the corner just where the cellar door comes near the privet hedge, well that’s it.  I built up a kinda platform & put old jerseys etc. on it to make a cushion for any cats which might be needing shelter.

I went out and noticed that the platform bit was sorta knocked down and I took a wee box I needed for firewood and took a box of matches out to get a light to see in the corner so as I c’d build it up.   I struck the match and looked down but couldn’t see anything, then I held it up & sorta drew it along at face level (this all happening in a split second of time) and as my hand with lit match came to the corner it shone into a man’s face!!!

I have the vaguest of impressions of him drawing his hand over his face (as if waking up from sleep) and noticing he was very young, 18 or 20, hatless & coatless.   My match was still burning, so you’ll know this was all a matter of seconds, and I ran into the house making babbling and inarticulate sounds, something like, “Harry, Harry, a man, a man” – Daddy says he knew it was really a cry of terror and he dashed into the kitchenette, grabbed the bread knife and went in pursuit but by the time he’d reached the gate the intruder was at the bottom of the avenue & turned the corner in the direction of Clydebank.

When Dad came in I’d more or less collapsed into a chair & he’d to hold me tight to let me know he & I were O.K.   As I dashed in I heard very quick running & got the awful feeling the guy was following me in to murder both of us!   Picture yourself holding a match in utter darkness & suddenly seeing a face you didn’t know was there!   Mrs Collinson says she was shaking like a leaf when she heard my cry (in the safety of her bedroom).

Anything we say or think re. what the guy was doing there is all just conjecture – to me he seemed exhausted & terrified and I’ll bet he was more terrified when I gave that blood curdling & involuntary yell!   Collinsons were at their window & Mr. C. says he never saw anyone hoofing it so quickly as that guy did down Coldingham Avenue!

I went into town yesterday and fixed you up a Bank Book at the G.P.O.   You have to sign the enclosed slip in 2 places and return it to me and I’ll send it to London.   I explained to the Clerk & wrote on the application slip that you held another book which was presently mislaid.   He said that was O.K.   You can have as many books as you like provided you don’t deposit more than £500 in any one book!   All being well, by the time March comes you sh’d have a tidy sum put by.

I told you of Aunt P’s hurried visit on Wed. to tell us they were leaving on Fri.   Well, I went to St.Enochs (1) on Fri, at 5.30 to see them off.   I saw the Plymouth Express away but no P. & R. on it.   I got home and got Jack his dinner & did several jobs till about 8.45 when a ring came to the front door & it was Daddy and Aunt Kitty – he’d met her coming up the avenue – Dad was returning from work. She left again at 9.10.

 Honestly, if anyone in this world suffers from visitors who drop in for 10 minutes, it’s me!  Needless to say, I hadn’t time to show her any of our wonderful pictures.   She asked how you were and in the same breath said she’d need to run.

 Believe me, honey, re. Aunt E. and Aunt K. it’s purely and simply jealousy which makes them pay such hurried visits and show so little interest in Egypt.  It was such a lovely change last week to entertain Christine Munro and her Dad & note their terrific interest. I always console myself (if consolation were needed!) by the thought that, if all goes as we plan for next summer, and they say ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’ I can always answer I never had time during their too, too, brief visits.

Many ‘thank yous’, Beloved, for sending my Ecru Cotton and other specialities, you are a honey. You are quite right, 4 balls of cotton won’t be enough to finish the cover but you can send more anon.  Oh! and I want you to get another pair of sandals from the Muski for Dad, size 44.  Yes, “Queen of Egypt” would be wizard for my perfume.  I w’d so much like you to bring or send home so many foreign things, honey, this will maybe be our last chance of cashing in on goods from the Orient. Even the tiniest bit of anything Egyptian makes such a splash over here; a tiny bit of embroidery for a dress, or something in brass or glass.

No more word of the legacy from the solicitors, and Aunt K. was telling us they are trying to get the addresses of Uncle John’s family & that’s what’s holding up the disbursement of the sponduluks.  Uncle Donald’s landlady got £100, his landlord £100 and their daughter £50.  Mr Davis got £100 – can you beat that!!!  There were also two boxes left in care of Afflecks, the furniture people, Ayr & those were sent to his landlord.  They were two boxes containing valuables taken from the house in Ayr before he sold up.   I was the one who always had to “jump through the hoops” for Uncle D. in his tantrums, so I do think I’ll deserve my wee share.   I really don’t know why they sh’d find it so difficult to find Uncle John’s heirs – do you?

Daddy & self saw “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” last week, in it Betty Grable bursts into tears – she was so like you and made exactly the same crying noises – it was really funny to us – see & hear it if you can! I’ll say ta, ta till tomorrow morn. Bless you, Mum. x

Monday 22nd. No letter this morn., it’ll be later. Your (Identity) Nat. Reg. no. is YSEA/924/44 – check up with I.D. card. (2)

Loving you ever, Cheers, Mum. xxx

p.s.  Hope you got the Gyppo’s name I sent you to buy stuff.  Daddy says to please give Ernest his best wishes & regards, give him my love, Mum.


1.  St Enoch station, now closed, was, with Central Station, the station for trains to England.

2.  Identity Cards were mandatory in the UK from the beginning of the war in 1939.  They had an importance for the issue of ration books and cards; and for I.D. checks used by police and the military.   There was a thriving black market in stolen and fake ID cards.  They were scrapped in 1952, when most rationing was declining, sweets by 1953, and meat in 1954.


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Joan Brand.png23 September, 1947.  Glengariffe

My dear Helen,  I humbly apologise for not having written for so long; I didn’t seem to be able to settle down before my holiday.  Your Mum probably told you I was planning a hitch-hiking tour of the Co. Cork & Kerry. (1)   Well here I am in Glengariffe after hitching 60 miles from Cork yesterday in three cars and one lorry.   Saw a good deal of the place yesterday with the help of a local.   Met an English boy called Norman in Blarney on Sunday.   He may look me up here.   25/9. Am now in Kenmore after partly hitching & hiking the 17 miles of exciting mountain road.  Will write in a few more days.  Love Joan.

reverse Glengarrif ;p.c. png


1.  Joan Brandley’s reference to Mum is when she stayed in Dagenham on her way to Southampton.


The next letter is from Len, written the day before Ernst’s birthday


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-124 September, 1947.

In the office, pleasantly cool morning.

Hello well loved Ones,

Your 200 and 201 came in yesterday – it’s great to hear all your news, but oh how I long for home.  I’m remembering so much, Sunday morning – hanging on in bed till the last moment, hiding the papers from you Daddy, the local pictures and myriad little things.

Could you please post my much-taken-in skirt soon, as it’ll be the only winter thing to fit me, for I’ve lost another five pounds.

You’ve had it as far as the “Britannia’s” concerned (photos) for it’s moved away, but surely you can see a picture of your cabin in the postcard views I sent you of it ages ago? (1)

Had a letter from Lilian to say she hadn’t gone to Sweden ‘cos the hostels were closed oweing to the infantile paralysis – she must be disappointed. (2)

How’s the foot Toot?  And any more news of your lectures on Egypt?

Hope wee Gordon Collinson’s better – do give my regards to the C’s and H’s and to all the other folks I know who’re around.

 Your talking of a shed in the garden for Jack’s bike, reminds me, is that primus still there and O.K.?   Out here they use them for cooking – they’ve a set of about 5 at the Sols.

Monday I did my cricket practice and washing as well as a shwoya ironing.  Then with Trudi Grafton (you remember her giving us tea at Gezira once) I went to the play reading.  We’d a dramatic quiz and I gave an excerpt from “This Way to the Tomb” – a verse play as my to-be-guessed-for-source contribution.  Trudi and I trammed it in and back.


I was worried as I hadn’t heard from Ernst, so was glad to receive a letter the other day.  The delay was due to a combination of business – due to riots and postal hold-up. I was so thankful to hear as I’d been so worried; no doubt he’ll tell you his adventures when he writes.

 To-day I hope to catch the 2.45 Diesel to Port Said.  I’m looking forward to getting out of Cairo for a few days and needless to say I’m simply longing to see Ernst.

Ever your own, Len. xxxxx


1.  Does not survive in this collection.

2.  Lilian is a friend.


Mum letter image png_edited-125 September, 1947.

Autumn day.  Anniversary of the Battle of Loos (1)

Hello Chookie Birdie – long time since I called you that, eh?

Well, I’m just dashing off into town to send off cable to Ernest to convey our best Birthday wishes.  These days I seem to be dashing here & there all the time and don’t get much chance to settle down to “the sewing”.  Never mind, honey, I’ll get that skirt etc. off to you next week  or bust.

I’m so glad the big De Lessops monument is still O.K.  I told Daddy so much about it and hope he will see it someday.

The lady who stays at Mrs. Collinson’s has just been telling me she has won a prize – just rec’d the cheque of £9.1.10d. in a “News of the World” fashion comp. – must have a try at that myself.  They are a nice young couple, she just recently celebrated her 21st birthday – much too young to be wed.

I’m all of a doo-dah wondering what to choose from amongst the galaxy of jewels you hold before my eyes – colourless zircons are lovely, but I do like Alexandrettes and I love the blue changing to red.  Oh! Daddy says now, as you asked him, that he too, w’d like a ring, so there you are, honey.

Must now positively buzy.  Cheerio, our Best Beloved.  Daddy told me at breakfast today to be sure to include his good wishes in the cable to Ernest.

All our love is flying over the Med. to you.

Mum. xxx


1.   The Battle of Loos, 25 September, 1915 was the first time the British used gas warfare.  The Germans had used it first, on a mass scale, five months before, on 22 April, 1915.   Both sides used the highly toxic chlorine on these dates.   As a killing weapon it was not as effective, compared to bullets, bombs and shells, and it often drifted back into the trenches of the armies that had released it.  It was regarded with horror by all in the front line.  Infantry on both sides were reluctant to move forward in areas that had been cleared of the enemy by gas, as their Army issue gas masks were often defective.  Mum mentioning the anniversary of the Battle may have been prompted by losing a brother,  or of Dad losing a brother.   Of the 20,000 allies killed, there was a high proportion from Highland Regiments.     In 1949 Len would be working as a Personal Assistant at Porton Down, Wiltshire, the British government research centre for chemical and biological warfare, where in the post war 1940s  conscript troops would take part in gas exposure experiments.


Mum letter image png_edited-128 September, 1947.


Darling Cuddles,

This is the Autumn Holiday week-end (1), and we see by your last letter it’s a holiday with you also.  We wonder if you’ll be allowed to travel owing to this Cholera epidemic – you said ‘no more scarey letters” and tho’ we know you are well looked after we can’t help worrying a wee bit – tell us in your next letter what preventative action your people are taking.

After keeping on at Dad since shortly after his return from holiday in Aug. I’ve eventually got him to write & thank his cousins at Fleetwood & L’pool for their hospitality.

Talk about 9 to 5 existence – feel I c’d do with some of that there right now.  On Fri. I was all set to get on with my household jobs and shopping in the morning and go to the foot clinic in the afternoon.   About 10.30 a.m. a ring came to the door and it was a representative (Mr Ulph, what a name!) from Andrew Learmonth (again what a name!)  Property & Business Agents, to say Mrs. Mac had put the business of selling the house into their hands, but she wanted to give us the first chance to buy, etc, etc.   I said we’d already considered it & made an offer but got no further and he replied he really thought we sh’d make an offer in the region of £1,400.   I replied our solicitor poo-poohed the idea of anything over £1,000 in view of our position as sitting tenants.

Mr. Ulph replied that they, being the biggest property agents in Glasgow c’d give Mrs. Mac. alternative accommodation for us if the property was sold and he said the house w’d fetch £1,800 or even over £2,000 in the open market.   I quite agreed with him but pointed out no one w’d buy without vacant possession, then he again spoke of alternative accomm. etc.

Of course a lot of his talk was eye wash and a shot at making us do some panic buying. As I told Daddy, by the time Mrs. Mac. w’d pay them to get us alter. accomm. & they w’d find it in this district and fight a Court Case with us (for we would certainly fight) she would be glad to get £1,000. So there it is, honey.

How I wish you were here, so as we c’d get it all fixed and talk it over.  I called at our solicitor’s office yesterday but it was closed.  Mrs. Mac. is a veritable Shylock, but cheer up, we’ve got the law on our side.  Sometimes I feel like taking in a family with a dozen kids – that w’d make it difficult for old Mrs. Mac.  But with Daddy & Jack on Essential Work it makes our case good and proves she only wants to sell for profit as she already has her own house.  I’ll say cheerio till the morn.  Maybe there will be a letter from you, then. My thoughts are in P.S. today with E. and you.

Mon. morn.

No mail from you this morn, so will close this. We are not going off anywhere today as daddy has a pain in his chest and is resting in bed and I do hope the rest will make him alright. It’s a showery day but good.

All our love always, Dad & Mum. xxxx


1.  Commonly known in the Glasgow area as the Glasgow Fair weekend.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-129 September, 1947.

The office.  Morning.

Hello dearest Ones,

Are you up to high dough about the Cholera – if the radio and papers at home exaggerate about it as they do about the riots, you probably are?  I may say that everyone’s being inoculated – reminds me of Glasgow at the time of the Small Pox.  The only thing I’m annoyed at, is that it didn’t provide me with an excuse to stay in Port Said – e.g. if Cairo had been made a Cholera area.

I posted a letter to you on Friday.  You may already have got it.  Well on Friday after work I dashed back to 173, washed and changed and did my last bit of packing, then taxied to the station.  As I’d hoped, the fact that it was not a Saturday meant there was room on the Diesel.  I talked to various people, but had quite an uneventful journey down.

Ernst was on the station to meet me when I arrived – it was wonderful to see him again after such a long time.  He put me in a taxi and as usual – had to go back to work.  He picked me up a little later from the Y – and we went to the “Splendid” (literally your first ‘taste’ of Egypt Mum).  Johnny was there. (1)   He left us after a little, then we went across to the “Eastern” to dance – sat at a table with Johnny and some of his friends.  Just after midnight they played “Happy Birthday to You” – Ernst was awfully thrilled.

The next day I met him in the “Britannia” Club – had the chess set all set up – and gave it to Ernst.  It was his morning break so he’d to dash back.  In fact I saw comparatively little of him over the whole week-end.

However, at night he called for me and we went to the Casino Palace and drank his birthday toast.  From there we went on to the Splendid.  A number of people who Ernst knew were there and we all had dinner together.  Afterwards we went dancing at the Eastern.  Then this Major pal of Ernst’s took us for a car trip – he was taking his girl friend – a hospital sister – back to El Ballah a little way (about 27 miles) up the canal.  He’d a super De Soto car (2) – it was like a small house – so we’d a super ride. Finally got into the Y about 2 a.m.

On the Saturday I tried to get to my beloved Gamil’s Beach.  But as transport was restricted I went to the French Club beach at Port-Fouad with Myrtle Tandy (an Embassy girl I know who was at P.S. on leave).  Afterwards we’d lunch at the Officers’ Club, then went to Gamil’s.  Myrtle wasn’t keen, but I adore it – it’s cleaner than Port Fouad, is lovely and quiet and as it’s on a peninsula has gorgeous breakers.  Myrtle left before me to go down town.  At night she came out with Johnny, Ernst and self. We followed the usual Splendid – Eastern routine.

Yesterday instead of going by the late Welfare bus, I got the Naafi truck out to Gamil’s at 9 a.m. and came back about 12.  Met Ernst in Gianola’s at 1 and found he’d been trying unsuccessfully to arrange a hitch for me.  We’d a lovely lunch, then walked along the beach.  After sitting on deck chairs for a while we adjourned to the Y.W. for tea, then walked to the station.  I was to meet Pat in Ish (3) between 6 and 8 and as there were no hitches, proposed getting the 5.15.  When we arrived they blithely told us it had been cancelled – as it was a local train – on account of the cholera.

We tried to hitch, but as there was nothing Ish-bound, I went back to his camp with Ernst and waited there.  We watched it grow dark – it was lovely out in the desert, then he put me on the 7 p.m. train.

Patricia was on the station at Ish. By the time I saw her I was already out of the train – not wanting to go on to Cairo alone – but she’d come to the station on David’s advice (and with him) as he said I’d be on board.  Our blokes knew better than us, for Ernst said Pat would be at the station.  Anyway I got back on the train with her and stayed at the ‘Y’ last night in Town, not wishing to go Zamalek alone.   I so enjoyed my week-end, but now I’m just longing to see Ernst again.

Any more gen as to whom the sleeper in the garden was? It must have been awfully frightening.

Thanks for POSB (4) card, I’m returning it herewith. Want to get this off now, to let you know I’m O.K.

Loads of love, Len xxxxx


1.  Johnny: Johnny Walker, a friend of Ernst’s, who had met Mum at Port Said, and in Cairo on her visit.

2.  Manufactured by Chrysler of America.  

3.  Ish: Ismailiah, where the RAF base was.  David, mentioned further down in the letter, is assumed to be a RAF boyfriend of Pat’s.

4.  Post Office Savings Bank.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-12nd October, 1947.

Balcony of the Office, Thurs. morning.

My own Ones,

Wish you’d get Uncle Donald’s dough – don’t see why the landlady etc. should have had theirs paid.

Ernst was intrigued with the one of the house in the snow – I’m sure he’d like it a lot.

Back garden in snow png

‘Home’. Mum’s writing.  This is the back garden.  No date but probably the winter of 1946/1947

Yes, almost six months and I will be home.  Will you manage off work to come and meet me Dad?  I’d like to jump right off the gangplank into your arms – how I wish you too could have come here on holiday.  However take care of yourself so that you look good for my return.

To finish my birthday weekend with Ernst, as I told you I stayed at the Y on Sunday night.  On Monday I went straight from work to 173.  I felt really awful without Ernst and as the only way you can’t think is by sleeping and I was tired anyway, I slept.

About thirteen past five I awoke with a start to realise that I’d an appointment to catch the car to take me for the inoc at 5.15.  Accordingly I dashed medly down for it and woke up en route for the clinic.  Everything was extremely well organised – a week later we’re supposed to go for a second one.  I expect the papers at home are giving it big licks, but honestly, Glasgow had an epidemic in ‘42, so it’s not so awfully unusual. (1)

That evening I called on the Stokes – she always returns from the club before dark – but got no answer, so I presume that as the TEK road’s closed Mr Stoke’s couldn’t get back after the week-end. (2)  Bet he’s glad.

Trudi Grafton called for me to go to the CDG, but when we trammed in, we found a policeman on the door and the lecture off. (3)   Trudi wanted to do a flick, but I wasn’t keen, however I could see she wanted to go, so went.  And am I glad, for the film was “Monsieur Beaucaire” with Bob Hope – I was in stitches and nearly fell out of the seat – oh, I did enjoy it.   I think the last film I saw was “Brief Encounter”.   Wish the good ones always followed on like that.  Have you seen “Msr. B.”?

On Tuesday I slept in – when showing Trudi my alarm the night before I must have pushed it in (it only goes off when out), so I slept on blissfully.  As we’re not busy, I walked in and got here about 9 a.m.  Wish I’d got someone to walk with in the mornings, for I really love it.

I’ve discovered a good food item, tins of kipper snacks at 5pt. each, they make a good meal. Makes you wonder about Norway, being able to export as cheaply as that and I understand they’re only 4½ pt. in town.

As it was St. Vera on Tuesday the Sols. had a party, really an eating do, with the most wonderful cakes and my diet went completely to heck, however the cakes were worth it. I’ve been at Gezira earlier and came back to help arrange things for the party then went to bed after it finished.

Yesterday, I learnt that the “Patrician”, Ken C’s ship was in Alex. or maybe en route for Haifa.  Anyway I sent him a telegram, so hope to find out soon what’s cooking.

In the afternoon I went down the Mousky with the Findlays and Johnny Walker. Johnny got a suit length. (4)     I got two brass candlestick affairs (not ordinary candlesticks) and half a dozen big wine glasses, as I’ve got some Cyprus hankies too (a girl brought them back for me) I’m well started on souvenirs.

Had dinner with the Findlays – jolly good.    Must get this off.

Very much Love, Len. xxx

p.s. Don’t you adore the enclosed effort of APH? (4)   I showed it to Ernst.

What Have title png

What have:1 png

What have:2

Wht have:3

What Have They Done to Her  copyright: Estate of A.P. Herbert.


1.  As Len would have known, the ‘epidemic’ was small pox, not cholera, and it wasn’t an epidemic.  Despite what Len says, the scale of the cholera epidemic in Egypt in 1947 was very unusual.

2.   TEK:  Tel el Kabir, a major British Army camp.  The outbreak of cholera occurred in a village just a few miles from the camp.  An attempt to isolate the outbreak was made, hence the ‘TEK road’s closed’.

3.  CDG:  Cairo Drama Guild.

4.  It seems that Johnny Walker may have been Cairo based.

5.   APH:  A.P.Herbert.  Len is referring to ‘What Have They Done to Her’, a poem by him, torn out of a July 30, 1947 edition of the humorous weekly Punch.  Mum and Len had a shared liking for poetry, and A.P.Herbert seems to have been a favourite.  Besides being a poet, a dramatist and a novelist he was also the Independent M.P. representing Oxford University.  A campaigner for the reform of the marriage and divorce laws he played an important role in the passing of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1937.  The Act removed the male gender imbalance of the previous Act of 1857.


The 1947 Cholera Epidemic in Egypt

The outbreak of cholera, and its scale was very unusual, and it is difficult to know whether the local English and other European language newspapers gave it significant weight.  It is also interesting to speculate the extent to which Europeans living in Cairo were mostly oblivious to life around them for most Egyptians.

While there had been small localised outbreaks of cholera there had been no major epidemics of cholera west of Afghanistan since 1923.    The first reports of a cholera epidemic in Egypt in 1947 were notified to the Interim Commission in Geneva (the body responsible for setting up the then new World Health Organization).  The outbreak occurred in El Koreen, a village almost equal distance between Cairo and Port Said, and within a few miles of the major British Army garrison at Tel el Kebir.   What was first thought to be food poisoning was quickly suspected to be cholera by September 22.

Despite isolation of the village the outbreak was not contained, and became an epidemic that panicked neighbouring countries who shut their borders. Even the transfer of mail across borders was banned for fear of contamination, in some instances.   Most cases were in rural areas with no sanitation.  In one day in October, at its height, there were 500 deaths and 900 new cases reported.

The Interim Committee of the WHO coordinated the sending  of huge amounts of vaccine and medical supplies into Egypt.   The epidemic was finally controlled after six weeks.

10,277 people had died.

In a post epidemic report it was suggested that the probable cause of the outbreak was Egyptian labourers returning home from India where they had been working at British air bases.

Within some Arab communities it is still believed the outbreak was the result of  Jews poisoning wells.



Mum letter image png_edited-12nd October, 1947.


Good morning, honey.

No mail from you this morn. but the news says 49 deaths in Egypt from Cholera – we shall certainly expect to get these daily bulletins from you – start right now, my darling.

Dad is on night work this fortnight, so here we go, both of us off to ye solicitors, must go and put on some braws, and mustn’t forget to take my ever constant companion i.e. a shopping bag, for the matter of food is ever at the back of one’s mind these days.

Remember, sweetheart, to give us your news & views on how much we sh’d offer for house and any other relevant advice you can think of.  The important thing is to let us know you are well.

Fondest love, our darling.

Ever your own Dad & Mum. x

10 p.m.

 I just have to write listen, honey lamb, there’s something we want you to do for us and that is, please, while this Cholera epidemic is rife send us a wee note everyday, it needn’t be a long or newsy note, just a scribble to let us know how you are keeping.

On the one o’ clock news today it said the epidemic was now in Cairo – I was sewing for you at the time and felt really grizzly at the news.  So a wee bulletin from you each day will do much to give us peace. We hear the cholera is now in the Canal Zone and know you’ll be worried about Ernest, we also hope so much for his safety and well being.

We are longing to hear about your week-end & if you were allowed to travel, we heard on the radio that travel there had been banned.   I’ll stop here till tomorrow morn.  Nothing on the 9 or 10 o’ clock news about the epidemic.

Good night & love, Mum.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-15 October, 1947.

My room – Sunday morning

Hello my own Ones,

How are things at home – I bet it’s getting cold now – how’s the fuel situation?  It’s still presently warm here but sometimes a cardigan has to be worn in the mornings or evenings.

Did I tell you that on Wednesday I heard from our shipping dept. that the “Patrician” was either at Alex. or Haifa bound?   Well I telegraphed Ken but received a reply to say the ship had sailed – that’s the first of my just-missed-someone tales.   I haven’t got over the second one yet.  Had a letter from Stanley written for the last mail boat leaving the “Strathowen”.  It was posted from Port Said on the 27th! and I was actually in P.S. on the 27th!*!

Of course many are the ‘if only’s’ I’ve used. e.g. if only I’d looked at the embarkation lists Ernst always has (I would have loved them to meet) but after all although I was expecting Stan to go through soon had had no word of his departure.  He expects to be demobbed early in October and asks me to write him at 249.   Somehow I’ve an idea he’ll be visiting 26 en route north before long.  Please commiserate with me on missing him. (1)

Yesterday I posted a packet of old letters home.  I left work early as I’d a touch of gyppy tummy and stayed in bed all day.  I feel O.K. now.  The Sols. were most solicitous and one of the girls from the Zimmer popped in to see me.  In between these attentions I read “Pride and Prejudice” so quite enjoyed my day in bed.  Must go and get some breakfast now.

Much amour, Len xxx.


1.  Stan is probably Joan Garnett’s brother, as the ‘249’ Len mentions is 249 Joan G. letter image pngBoundary Road in Dagenham, from where Joan wrote her letters to Len about the London Blitz.


Mum letter image png_edited-15 October, 1947.

Is this “St. Luke’s Little Summer”? A glorious Sunny Autumn Day.

Our Own Best Loved One.

Here is the latest about the house.  We’d an app. at the solicitors for 10.30. Friday.  We toddled along and I told him of the visit of Learmonth’s repres. and asked him what Mrs. Macs. purpose w’d be in going to L’s and taking the business out of the hands of her own solicitor and he replied it would be because her solicitor w’d tell her what he (our solicitor) was telling us now, i.e. she sells at our price or not at all.

Mr Semple said we were to be quite easy and not worry a bit as our position is absolutely secure and the idea of us being offered alternative accom. is ridiculous as the only time that can be done is if the owner requires the house for his own occupation.

He also said our only advantage in buying just now w’d be for money making if we wanted to sell again.  Houses of three apartments, yes, 2 rm.& kit. flats, are selling for £1,200 with vacant poss.  In last Thursday’s “Citizen” Daddy & I saw “Yoker – 5 apt. semi-detached villa for sale – apply Learmonths”.  We guessed it was 26 and we were right for yesterday morn. a ring came to the door & it was Mrs Ryan – wee Claude’s mother to ask were we going away as she had replied to the advert.

I told her the position – we were not going away and had already made an offer for the house and there would be no possession for any buyer but if the house were sold it w’d simply mean for us, a change of landlord.

Mrs R. was in for nearly 2 hours and we’d a rare old chat. She is very nice but desperate for a house, she greatly admired your piano and the picture of Dante & Beatrice at Florence and the Holbein you gave me, also our ancient China dugs , and she thinks the house is lovely.

Her sister Allison got married lately and is going out to S.Africa when her gold mining husband settles on one of three jobs there but it may not be for another year yet and her sister Jessie is getting married at Xmas and will be bringing her husband to the family home and as Ryans had already a house but foolishly gave it up & came back to the old home as they already have Claude and another baby arriving any day they feel it’s incumbent on them to get another house.  I was saying Mr & Mrs Rae next door are anxious to get a house but Mrs. R. said the Raes are in a much better position as they are in with her mother.

I’m telling you all this to give an idea of the most crying out need of Britain today – before food even – that is, houses.  This house here could easily be converted into two quite self contained flats if desired, just needs a little extra plumbing to get water up from bathroom to have a basin in a bedroom.  Daddy & self have decided to leave things as they are until your  return. (1)   The sol. said our offer (£850) was more than Mrs. Mac. w’d get in peace time so why sh’d she want to make more money out of it now.  As we’re sitting pretty she can’t do anything.  Houses are worth more than diamonds nowadays, but I love diamonds! – and houses too!!

We are so glad you managed to P.S. and enjoyed the visit so much even tho’ Ernest was so busy; we are sorry he didn’t get our cable of Birthday Wishes and wonder what c’d have happened to it.  I was so careful to send it on the Thurs. to arrive on the 26th.  I’ll enquire at the G.P.O. about it, but hope you told E. we were sending it.  You don’t say anything of Ernest’s reactions to the chess set present – did he like it?  The card of the “Splendid” takes me back – oh! how it takes me back – to that first wonderful first arrival night at P.S.

Splendid bar png

 Well, now we look forward to reunion in the good old U.K., where there – you & E. – won’t be any feverish rushings to & from the Eastern Exchange & Splendid!  Oh!  Just wish you & I c’d have one of those “Ernest” natters like we used to have on the “Britannia”.

Jean Finlay’s Dad will be there by now I suppose and will be telling you of how we look.

Re. the clothing coupons, so many things like material by the yard, brassieres or other body supporting garments and Utility goods are subject to export licence and retailers have to get a licence before they can get the coupons, but I’ll take the form into town someday & enquire what we can get.

Must now “get on with my sewing”.  Our love is all around you all the time, everywhere.

Cheers. Mum. xxx

p.s. Regards to Stokes and  all the people I met.


1.  Len would be returning to the UK in late March, 1948


Mum letter image png_edited-17 October, 1947. Tues.

Darling Own one.,

Yesterday I got the sweetest letter from Ernest saying he rec’d our Birthday Cable on the Monday – we are so glad he got it O.K. even tho’ that guy at the G.P.O. assured me it would get there on the Friday – maybe it did and the delay may have been at the P.S. end.  Ernest enclosed a snap of himself and his jeep and speaking of it, he says ‘do you remember the first morning after your arrival at P.S. when I met Helen & you walking near the Casino Palace Hotel?  I was driving a truck which you thought was a jeep, well I’m enclosing a photo of me & my jeep”. (1)    I think it’s awfully sweet of him to remember like that – shows that first morn of my arrival must still be fresh in his memory, bless him.

He seems to have thoroughly enjoyed his birthday and tells us all about it; he says you seem happy in your new abode and he hopes to get a 48 hour pass sometime this month & looks forward to seeing for himself.   He says not to worry about the cholera outbreak (we do a bit all the same, bulletins please!).

Ernest says his parent’s plans are still vague.  He has been busy putting in applications re. repatriation, etc, and his letter sounds cheerful and bright; glad he liked the snap of 26 in it’s winter mantle of snow.  Oh! my sweetie pie, it’s good to know you are well (touch wood) and we do hope the innocs. will keep you safe, also Ernest.

These cuttings were enclosed by Mum

Naturalisation figures png

Go to Australia png

Birth of a Baby png

Daddy will love that bit in your letter where you say you wish you could jump off the gangplank into his arms.  Oh! & do get a bot. of whisky & a bot. (or more) of champagne to bring home – I seem to recall you said you’d get some stuff sent thro’ Ernest’s mail – don’t worry about saving much doe there as you’ll find the stuff you buy or bring or send home will be much more valuable over here than the cash – people go into raptures about my coffee table – another & bigger one is a ‘must’.

The ‘What Have They Done to Her’ bit by A.P.H. was quite good or I think I ought to say ‘funny’.

I’m making broth, wish I could send some in this letter to you.

Loving you as always ever your own Mum. xxx

p.s. I enclose a letter from Aunt Ena which will explain the diff. between ‘legacies’ and ‘estate’.  Just burn Aunt Ena’s letter when you’ve read it as I don’t want it back.

Cheers & love, Mum. x


1.  Not in this collection.


2 Hilders Place, Leicester. Thurs. 2nd Oct.

Dear Nellie,

I have just received your letter 5 mins ago and as I have been going to write to you for some time passed – here goes.

I had a Glasgow Herald dated 26 Sept (Friday) with a big solicitors paragraph re Uncle Donald’s will.  Maybe you would be able to get a copy of the Herald.  Ian’s wife sent it on to me and said I and my family should claim.  I sent the cutting from the Herald to Kitty, otherwise I would have sent it to you now.

Anyway the gist of it is that anyone having claims must claim before 1st Dec. otherwise it will be divided between those who have claimed before that date, and especially wanted were the family of Uncle John.   Now Kitty says that Donnie wants to see if he can get some of the stuff back from the landlord, but I don’t think there is any chance if it was specified in the will.   Kitty has sent for a copy of the will.   It’s a bit unlucky for us that Uncle John’s children should get a share considering the residue was left to Ma, but evidently it is the English law.   Kitty says the solicitor told her we should get about £500 between us.   This means between the four of us and does not include the half of the estate which is to go to Uncle John’s family, it’s about £1,000 in all.   Personally I will be very pleased as I never expected to get anything after the tin spoons I got for a wedding present.

I expect we will get the money about Xmas.

You see when anyone dies and leaves a will the legacies are paid out right away, and the residue is the stuff that takes the time.   When Bill’s father died on 14th Feb. we got the legacy a few weeks after, but although the money in the residue was all very straight forward we did not get it until 31st Dec.   So we may not get Uncle Donald’s money until the end of the year.

Glad Len is so well and very glad your foot is O.K.  Kitty hurt hers somehow.  Doesn’t she look well. S he said she had visited you, and you both looked in the pink.  M.R. (1) has a bit of a cold, most people here have.  I have made her the most lovely drindle skirt out of her old school tunic.   Len would look lovely in one.  I put 1” wide braid round it, 2” inches apart at the hem, then I made a broad buckram belt covered with the same colours of braid, and a navy blue leather purse sewn on.  It looks a picture.  A zip fastener up the back. It is the nicest thing I have ever made.

MR's skirt png

Your kitten sounds nice.  Tommy won’t touch fish at least he will only eat one square inch. He likes cakes and buns best.  Thanks for the papers & letter.

Love to you both, from all,


p.s.  Do you still get your parcels from Australia?  I get some grand parcels.  My lady is a gem.  (2)


1.  MR:  Marie Rose, their daughter.

2.  All the parcels (food, etc) that Mum mentions in the course of the correspondence come from North America. 


Gt Newtownhead p.c.

reverse Waterford p.c. copy

Joan Brand.png7 October, 1947.  Waterford.   Dear Helen,   Am returning today after a really good holiday. Broke my train journey to Waterford yesterday and spent my last night here as a change from Cork. I dread to think of work on Thurs. and the old routine. I’ll miss hitching around, but especially the wonderful ‘eats’.  Cheerio for now – Joan.  Have met some wonderful Irishmen!


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-18 October, 1947.

 Evening in my room, Wed.

My dear own Mum and Dad,

 I know what you’re saying “Wot, no daily bulletin!” but listen anything at home must be exaggerating like mad, for, except for getting two jags one pursues exactly the same sort of routine.  And before I forget I have had both my inoculations – hope that makes you feel better.

Don’t know what I’m doing at the week-end or with whom I’m doing it.

D’you remember  Ken C’s sailings and me trying to get in touch with him?   Had had a reply back to say it hadn’t been delivered as the ship had sailed, well had a letter from him to-day at 173 – seems he wrote twice to my former add. and has just got my new one from a letter I sent to Liverpool.   From Alex he went to Haifa, from thence back to Alex. and he’s s’posed in P.S. on Friday and Saturday.  As I say I don’t know what I’m doing.  Heard from my darling Ernst to-day – he’s been terribly busy as usual – I’m longing to see him again and see if there are any more developments to the various irons he has in the fire.

Your papers came in to-day, Mum.  Propose giving the mags to Mrs S. – who seems to have so little and the papers to the Findlays and am showing other people various odd bits – how they make me yearn for home.  Got a shock to find the D.W. (1) in the bundle – needless to say it was a pleasurable one, I must see if it works the oracle at all with Ernst.

How are you Daddy? I hope that pain in your chest disappeared completely and that you’re ready again to help me battle my way through the British Customs!

Thanks again for doing my banking Mum.

You know how I feel about us having a phone – unless steps are taken now it might not be installed on my return.

Jean Findlay has given me a brown skirt which the dhobby (2.) shrank and consequently is no longer of any use to her – it’s a very nice one.

My parcel of letters came back as they wouldn’t let it through, so I sent it off again to-day – mostly letters but two 1/2 lb pkts. of sultanas and raisons, so don’t be mistaken when it says a larger quantity of food on the outside. (3)    Got two more ecru balls for you to-day Mum and hope to despatch fairly shortly..

Did I tell you I’d a p.c. from Joan B.  in Eire, merrily hitching 60 and 70 miles alone and I was once worried about taking her hiking! – this is only a fraction of what I want to say, but want to close this for sending off to re-assure you two, that to all intents and purposes, Cairo’s normal.

Very much love, Len xxx


1.. D.W. :  Daily Worker, newspaper of the British Communist Party.

2.  Dhobby:  washing woman.

3.  ‘They wouldn’t let it through’ – because of the cholera epidemic.  After the initial panic response mail was allowed to be sent out of Egypt.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-110 October, 1947.

Almost first thing Friday morning.

Hello Precious Ones,

7.30 and top o’ the morning to ye.   Yes, I got up just after 6.30, went to the bathroom, then hearing the suffragi – Mustapha – knock, I let him in. Back in my bedroom I did some vigorous exercises, then got dressed and had stewed apples and prunes, followed by ‘cawfee’ for breakfast, then out to catch the early bus (wanting to get this written to you before starting) and doing some French whilst waiting for it.

Had your 207 yesterday, how wonderful your application for a telephone is in – yes, I’m smiling and thank you so much. (1)

Ernst got your cable of birthday wishes on the Monday, it seems you have to allow more than one day.  He said in his letter to me that he’s written to you, so you should have bags of gen from him about P.S. and his news generally.  I note what you say about Johnny and I s’pose I agree, but being so nuts about efficiency, I can’t help thinking his unfortunate marriage was rather unwise and then I’m very slightly jealous of his being with Ernst so much.  I don’t mean it in a snobbish way, but he’s not one bit pukka and one’s judged so much by ones friends, that I don’t think the association is altogether a good thing. (2)    Do I sound rather horrid about the foregoing?

Jean Findlay’s furious, because after all these months her Dad’s been told by Cook’s that he must have a priority.   I advised that he go through a shipping company direct like you, but they say unless he comes soon, it’s no use as they expect to be going home in January.   It seems he’s most disappointed at getting this news from Cook’s – no wonder.   Somehow, although you came out in the summer, I thought it was a good thing Mum, and felt we were right to act as we did, I can see that you might never have got at all, if we’d left it till just now, with the Cholera etc., and as you’ve had your trip, nothing can detract from the fact that you’ve been ‘East of Suez’ now.

Coupons – I believe the big shops have export licenses already, but please try and work the oracle, for remember ‘taint s’posed to be so long before I’m homeward bound and all the jookery pookery’s got to be done with the shops and the goods despatched here, and their travelling time before then.  (3)

Monday I went out to an excellent dinner with Trudi Grafton at night, after which we taxied to the CDG (4) – they’ve new – much better premises – in the Masonic Hall.  Here we listened to a lecture on the theatre in London, which made one realise what one misses in that line by being out here.  Afterwards Trudi and I trammed back.

On Tuesday we’d our second inoculation, I’d my French lesson and did some odd chores, then went across to the Findlays, as I was having them to supper at the club. We’d a lovely supper with gorgeous silver out under the stars.

First there was gorgeous thick soup, then a choice of fish, roast beef, or assorted cold meat.  John had roast beef, but Jean and I plumped for the assorted cold meat.  The vegetable was spinach – as you know I go for it in a big way, so knocked it back.  The sweet was creamed rice with red jelly on top and we finished with coffee, rolls, butter and cheese.  Then we walked back and nattered in their flat.

Yesterday I spent half the morning arranging my week-end, getting a telegram sent off to Ken Cook, seeing Esme, getting our jag certs. copied in Arabic (for free passage) etc.(5).   I’m trying not to be excited and still don’t know when I’m going, just hope Ken hasn’t sailed by the time we arrive and that everyone’s one big happy family (i.e. Ernst doesn’t get mad at me wanting to see Ken).

In the afternoon I met John Findlay at Wilcox and he whisked me off to have tea with them and plan a party which they’re having on Jean’s birthday, a week on Saturday.  They’d planned on going to the pictures, then changed their minds, consequently as Hassan had gone off, John was out buying things for tea.  I did enjoy being with them, helping to cook the tea, then planning the party – wish Ernst could come up for it – must give him a pressing invitation from the Fs. this week-end.

Remember pets I love you and want to see you so much – so keep those home fires burning.

Good morning and loads of love, Len xxxx


1.  This letter is not in the collection.

2.  Mum’s comments about Johnny are in the missing letter.  Johnny was a Sergeant.  It is not known what Ernst’s rank was, but in general Len preferred the company of Officers.

3.  Len’s departure date – at this point – for her return to the UK is still March, but organising and sending cases and trunks home will become a pressing concern.  Her departure date will be brought forward to January, but will then change again.

4.  CDG:  Cairo Drama Guild.

5.  Because of the cholera epidemic all travellers had to have permits and proof that they had been inoculated.


Mum letter image png_edited-112 October, 1947.

A soggy groggy rainy day
Full of clouds all weird and grey
The “brown October” no more is brown
But wears a dreary, dripping gown.
(A poor thing but mine own).

Dearest Very own One,

Sunday eve. and Dad & I are wondering how your week-end went after your “don’t know what I’ll do at the week-end” letter rec’d yesterday.  Lovely to get another letter from you after getting one on Friday, and thanks a million, honey, for trying to put our minds at rest re. the Cholera.

I do truly sympathize with you about just missing Stanley, but, as you say, in any case there wouldn’t be anything you could do about it except perhaps wave to him from the quay for I don’t suppose troops would be allowed ashore at P.S.  Lovely if you can meet Ken Cook – Dad & self await your next letter eagerly.

The way we are told everything is going off our home markets it seems to me that you spending on necessary articles in Cairo is very wise indeed just now. (1)

Why did you ‘get a shock to find the D.W. in the bundle of papers’?  I believe I sent one in a bundle I sent to Ernest, I’m always trying to do good and be a ray of sunshine!

Next time you write please let me know if you have any of Elizabeth Barrett’s poems – I listened to some on the radio the other day and I seemed to remember hearing you say the same one, so reply pronto please.

 With running to the clinic three afternoons a week it just seems  I’ve no time for anything outside my household duties and food finding is such  a difficult job these days.  This is the end (tomorrow begins a new 4 weeks period) of this 4 weeks period and as our jam went done about the second week,  I went scrounging for spread for bread and bought a 12 once tin of “H.M.Forces” Jam – Cherry & Plum at 1/2d. and one point – it’s ghastly stuff and it says on the tin something about “expiring May 1947”.  Well, I’ll say that expired alright.  Fancy charging 1/2d. for 12 ounces and it surplus!

I didn’t give your regards to Jack as he really is a pain in the neck. (2)    I believe he would be alright if it wasn’t for his loving mother.   That woman doesn’t know what an important part, I, his landlady, play in his present life, nor does she realise he will never again get as good digs as he has here.  Last week a huge box of food arrived for him from Norway and he never as much as gave us a tin of sardines or a bit of fat and I know it’s his dear Mama who puts him up to keeping it all to himself, or sharing with his Grandma in Hyndland. (3)

I used to tramp my feet off to get extras for the table and made all his food with the extra trimmings, such as sauces, etc., but never again after that display of selfishness – everything is now served plain Jane & no frills and all extras I get I keep for Daddy & myself.

Jack’s room is stacked with food from Norway – fats of all kinds including margarine, and as last week was our ‘fatless” week I hadn’t any to cook with,  so gave him his sausages “fried” in water! – after many hints that I was short of fats for cooking, he guzzles away in his room – it’s really sickening.

He was telling me his mother told him not to go home by air as it is too dangerous!  We must get rid of him before you come home  as we shall require all our rooms I think, don’t you?

Isn’t it exciting to begin to plan! and believe me, sweetie pie, my head is full of plans!   Re, plans of Cpn. Bulbeck, he said something about going to Kenya for 6 months.  Is Daisy back in the office yet?  Good night now, our darling.  More tomorrow.


A letter from Uncle Donnie this morn., that’s all the mail; rushing like Billy-O.  It’s a wonderful sunny day – such a change from yesterday. Loving you ever and ever.

Mum. x


1.  ‘Going off the home markets’ – A result of the export drive to earn much needed sterling.

2.  The letter Mum refers to is not in this collection.

3.  Hyndland is in Glasgow’s West End, and was, and is,  still considered a moderately posh area of mostly spacious tenement housing.    The nature of Jack’s family is not known.  We do not know if his Grandmother was Norwegian, or if she was a Scot who had married a Norwegian.  Nor do we know why he and his brother were in digs, and not staying with their grandmother. 


Although not mentioned in Mum’s letter, the following correspondence from the GPO was enclosed:

Post office phone letter png


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-113 October, 1947.

After the weekend.

Hello Pets,

 I’m just back from a really wonderful week-end.

On Saturday with Esme and Aileen (also going away for the week-end) I went to Cairo Main for the 2.45.  We went straight from work and secured seats by about 2 p.m.  We sat in trepidation, for we’d heard so many stories about travelling being restricted because of the cholera, in fact our Security Officer had forbidden us to go to Ish.

After being away we’re really furious, for we find things are exagerated tremendously in Cairo and you’d hardly know there was cholera down there. Aileen was really angry, for she went all the way to P.S., then back to El Ballah and if she’d known earlier she could have got off at Ish.

When we arrived we went to the SIB (1.) to find out about Aileen’s bod (for he’s an M.P.) and Ernst was able to get her in touch with him.  He was very busy and those few minutes were all I had of him for the weekend.  He was on courts of enquiry and all sorts of things, had in fact sent me a telegram telling me not to come, but I had to go and see Ken anyway.

The three of us booked in at the Y. and as Aileen couldn’t contact her bod that night and it was too late for me to get hold of Ken, we went out to dinner.

The next morning I phoned up the British Coaling Co., who told me the “Patrician” had been in two days.  Their information was very good , for they told me I could get aboard by launch, where the boat was, etc.   I rushed to tell Esme and we launched away.   I went on board and was conducted to Ken’s cabin and when I went in and saw him, I felt I’d just left it 5 minutes before.   I said Esme was still on the launch and would have to be brought on board and so she was.   We’d a wonderful day.  We were on board from just before 10 to just before 6 and had morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and high tea on board.

This is only the “Patrician’s” second trip – she’s a beautiful new ship and the passengers’ and officers’ dining room is a dream.  Ken’s 5th engineer and has a super cabin, so goodness knows what the captain’s quarters are like.  The latter by the way is a dear – a Dublin man, who was most friendly without even a suspicion of patrony.   We were going to go for a trip in the lifeboat, but it was the first time it had been put in the water and as the wood hadn’t expanded it leaked, so that was off.

While I nattered for hours to Ken in his cabin, Esme was having a wonderful time with the rest of the crew in the smoke room.   In fact they practically tried to Shanghai us at the end, but our sensibility came to the fore, demanding that we take the evening train and not the early morning one.  Needless to say, to-day Esme and I almost wish we’d stayed and given in to their persuasions  – it’s not often that one gets a chance of seeing people that way.

It was wonderful to see Ken again. He’s just the same as ever, minus the sarcasm which is rather good – he was recalling Carbisdale Castle and is obviously just as much in love with Scotland as ever. (2)

Joan Brandley, Bruce Bryers, Dad & Mum.  Carbisdale Castle.  No date.

‘Carbisdale.  2.8.46. Joan, Bruce, Dad & Mum.’  Mum’s writing

That’s all my news for the moment, except to ask you once again not to worry about me.   I’m only sorry for the poor people who will be quite unable to take precautions, without sanitation or any conditions of living conductive to health.

Wish I could see you and have a natter, but let’s hope it won’t be too long now.

All my love darlings, Len xxxx


1.  SIB: Special Investigations Branch, a department of the Royal Military Police.  In Britain its civilian equivalent would be the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).   It worked in plain clothes and unmarked cars.  In Egypt, one of its jobs was detecting and recovering misappropriated War Department property, which, it has been claimed, amounted to millions of pounds worth.

2.  Carbisdale Castle was an early twentieth century pile built by a member of the then largest feudal owner of land in the far north east of Scotland – the Sutherlands.  The Sutherland family owned significant amounts of land around Dornoch, where Mum was born.   Carbisdale Castle was bought in 1933 by the Norwegian shipping owner Theodore Salvesen, and it was used as accommodation by the King of Norway during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  Immediately after the war, in 1945, Salvesen’s son gifted the building to the Scottish Youth Hostel Association.  It was used as a youth hostel until 2011.


Next is one of the few surviving letters from Len to her Dad.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-114 October, 1947.

Typing and buzz of French.  Tuesday morning.

Hello Dad dear,

At last I’m replying to your letter of the end of August.  I was thrilled to get a letter direct from you and learn of all your holiday doings.  So glad you caught the good weather down there – I can just imagine how pleasant and health giving your holiday down there must have been.

I’m so thrilled that our application for a telephone is in now – it’s good for getting in touch with people and them contacting you.  We always seem to have people popping up and maybe they could forewarn us by means of a phone.

I do love 26 – know you do too and just hope we can get it all right.   Tell Mum thanks for explaining it so clearly.

I note that you want another pair of sandals and would like a ring ,(1)   but is there anything you can get out of the my 50 coupons – it would be good if Mummy and you thought about this and what about sheets, then you could spend your frugal ration on other things.

Being on the “Patrician” on Sunday made me think of you and your Merchant Navy days.  Where else did you call in besides Montreal and how many trips did you do?

What are your plans about going West now?  Is there any possibility of going with your firm, anyway Albert seems most eager to help – I really would like to have a shufti at ‘over there’. (2)

This follows up a letter I sent yesterday and I hope it stops you worrying.

Keep well so that we can do the garden together.

Your most own loving, Len. xxx


1.  This was mentioned in a letter from Mum to Len.

2.  The India Tyre and Rubber Co. was owned by the Dunlop Rubber Co.  Dunlop had a manufacturing base in the U.S.A.


Next     Part Two Chapter   Five: Betrayed.

“For over 7 months I’ve thought I’ve been in love with & engaged to Ernst.  All my plans – with a brake on – were made in relation to him.  Now I find in the course of the week-end that maybe things aren’t so simple after all.”   

                      –  Len, private note to herself.  Dated 19 October, 1947.


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Part Two 3: Life as Medicine

Part Two   3:   Life As Medicine

“Some of the English girls don’t seem alive at all – they take life as a sort of medicine.”  – Vera, a young Russian, quoted by Len, 28 August, 1947.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-118 August, 1947.

Hello my Darlings,

You’re such a joy to me, for when I hear from you I realise more than ever how much you both mean to me.  Your letters are – well it’s almost like talking to you and believe me that’s what I need.  18th of August, one says the date to oneself, thinks of ones longing for ones people and the U.K. and on the other side the need for money and the other things which keep one in this Lotus Land.

I know how you feel about the “10lb look” (apologies to Barrie), but I really do want to lose it and E. is the only person who agrees with me – everyone else says I’m alright and that once plump always plump, which is a fallacy and inspired by lazy defeatists.   I do need some one else to want me lose weight too and the incentive of the studio portrait is a help.   Also re. dignity, it’s there O.K., you needn’t worry about that and he knows it.  After all, I’ve told him to be charming and outwardly he hasn’t taken any offence and really that’s an awful lot more for him to do than me to lose 10lb and put on some nail polish.  N’est ce pas?

In his last letter Ernst mentions Canada with quite a lot of keenness, I’m rather glad.    He received your letter Mum and told me he was replying in a few days, I expect you have his letter by now.

Buying the house – what’s noo?    I want us to have the house, and us all (inc. E) to go to Canada. The house is an asset and why shouldn’t we be ‘men of property’ even if we’re elsewhere. Our schemes are nebulous, but it’s better to have such schemes which can be adapted or suddenly clarify than no scheme at all.

Thanks so much for all your letters, I have them all to 187.  It’s grand to get the dough, I’m exchanging some of it with U.K. bound people like Betty Mac who think they’ll find it useful.  The Black Market could not be found, so I changed all my dough at the ninety seven and a half touch, found it maddening, but what could I do.  (1)

Pat was at Ish  at the week-end. (2)    As you know I don’t propose going away till Ernst’s birthday at the end of September , so sometime in October I want to go to Ish.

Right now I’m busy collecting addresses in U.K. for everyone seems to be going that way, naturally I’ve given our address, so you’d better prepare for people popping in.

On Sunday after breakfast – which we had about 8.30 I went over to the Stokes.  I talked to them for a while, then walked with them across to Gezira – whilst they went on to Wilcox.

Guess who I met in Gezira – Major Wallace. You remember I met him in the Fort William-Glencoe bus in September, 1945 and on the steps of the “Britannia” gangplank for a few minutes on the morning of a riot in February 1946 (3)

He’s a gem of a man and one to whom the adjective charming can be fearlessly applied.   I do wish you could meet him Mum, for honest you’d get on together so well. He went into raptures when I said you came from Dornoch.   I s’pose I said it in a cold Anglified way and when he repeated it after me, (in rapture) he really rolled it around his tongue and practically made a poem out of the word.

He was telling me his daughter of 18 has just left Roedean (you know, the school) and was starting on a tour of Scotland with her cousin and was also going to the Musical Festival at Edinburgh (the people I know who are going there – lucky so-and-sos – Ethel Wilson, Olga Rundall, co-voyager-out, etc.). (4)

He also told me about her playing the violin, whereupon I said “Oh, was it her picture in the Sphinx”.  And it was.  (5)

 Mr Wallace as he is now took me out of the sun for this conversation and got me one of those gorgeous jugs of shandy.  He was telling me that some pals and he have 16,000 acres in Cyprus and export to Britain and all about.  As it’s a Crown Colony they have Imperial Preference etc.  He told me too of all the car trips all over Europe which he’s done and was giving me various alternative itineraries for hitching home.   I was talking to him also of the Summer Isles out from Gruinard Bay in Wester Ross and of Barrie’s “Marie Rose” being centred around one of them. (6)

He’s a pensioned official of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada and now acts in a freelance capacity.  I just wish I could really get in with his family.  I’d be car-ing home then next year if I’d my way.  However, he made a most charming companion for a short while.

As I’d had a lot of sun I slept for a little in the Ladies’ Lounge after looking at my French verbs, then went across to Wilcox for tea with the Stokes.  It was lovely sitting there under the trees and they insisted I go back to supper with them.

My Digs.   Of course I knew snags were bound to arise and they’re arising.  The room is excellent and so are the breakfasts.  However here are some points of interest, and of complaint, three of them:

1. This morning her clock was wrong and her watch was wrong, – about 20 mins. to half an hour. In consequence I missed the bus.

2. Last night I got in from the Stokes about 11.30 (as you know Mum, early for Cairo). She’d given me a key , but lo and behold although it turned, I couldn’t get in for the door was bolted.   Of course she let me in, but this morning suggested I let her know when I was going to be late, I said I didn’t know, where upon she said I could phone her, but I intend doing no such thing, for it’s not as if she’s got to alter meals, my having b&b.

3. The other night she suddenly intimated she wanted her money in advance.  I mentioned this in passing to the Stokes.  I’ve 50Pt. to pay for this fortnight (i.e. the balance of £5, half of the month’s dough – from 15th to end of the month), and Mr Stokes says I should pay this at the end of the month and tell her she’s getting the rest of the money at the end of each of the month and not in advance.  Her argument is that she pays for everything in advance.  Mr Stokes says that’s not my worry and they pay everything in advance, but Mr W. pays them at the end of the month.  He says too she can’t hold a pistol to my head as they are all desperate for people just now, not like the war years when they had the upper hand.  He says I stand to lose a month’s dough and the principle of the thing’s bad.

The Stokes were dears the way they championed my cause unasked and they also said if she says I’ve got to go I can bunk in with them for a while, so I intend to stand firm – wish me luck.   I don’t mention all this for sympathy, but because I know it’ll interest you. I t’s part of the growing up process I hadn’t encountered before.

 People keep on asking for bulletins about you Mum, they’re not content with knowing you got home safely at all almost want day to day bulletins.

Anything you want from the Musky , as I hope to go down there at the beginning of next month? (7).

I was nearly ill when I read the description of your accident on the DM.(8).   Please take care of her Dad.  Remember all those lovely plans can mature without money, but one must have ones health, for you can’t fight without that.

Good gracious, is the leopard skin ready all ready?  Don’t work too hard at it Mum. Unless I receive your wee slip giving gen on thread I won’t get it on Thursday, for I daresay I’ll be going into town again pretty soon, after that.   Thanks so much for your letter of comfort (re. E and me) I feel a new woman. (9)

I don’t mind you telling the people you said you’d tell about my homecoming and am with you in what you say about them – they are nice types.  It’s just this dislike of the Reid-Ballantine clan which overwhelms my outlook – sorry.   I know how you feel about the announcement angle Mum and can sense you’re feeling of wanting to tell the world we’re doing all right, but just ignore that clan, we don’t alter our behaviour for them. (10).   I feel so strongly that E must have a good long holiday (and only hope he does) in our lovely land and that it will do him so much good and take away all that ME (11) tension and you know it’s with this thought in mind and the hope that it’ll be gratified that makes me feel a bit tense myself waiting for the months to slip by, wanting UK, wanting the dough I get out here to save and wanting E and you two all at the same time.

Must close this letter now and get it off – it’s 19th now.

Your own most loving Len xxxx


1.  Len is converting her British sterling to Egyptian Pounds.

2. Ish: Ishmailia, seventy miles to the north east of Cairo, on the west bank of the Suez Canal.  Nearby was a RAF camp, which today is used by the Egyptian airforce.

3.  From a news report of the time, 21 February, 1946:  ‘Riots Erupt in Cairo.  British troops in Cairo today opened fire on angry crowds demanding an end to foreign influence.  Twelve people are reported to have been killed and over 100 wounded’.  There had also been protests in the Suez Canal Zone, beginning in December 1945.  The protests reached their peak in Cairo, as reported above, in February, 1946.    The Turf Club in Cairo, for instance, was set alight by protestors and eleven members died.  British Army casualties during this period have been put at 33 soldiers killed and 69 wounded.

4.  This was the first Edinburgh Festival.

5.  A Cairo English language paper for the Brits.

6:  Unknown to either of them, Gruinard Island, in Gruinard Bay, had been lethally toxic since 1942, and remained toxic until declared safe in 1990.  Scientists from the Chemical and Biological Warfare Station at Porton Down, Wiltshire, had released  a virulent strain of anthrax on the island, killing sheep that had been tethered.  The conclusion was that anthrax bombs dropped on German cities would be very successful, apart from the problem that the cities would remain toxic wastelands for years.  Len, in 1949,  would be working at Porton Down.

7.  Musky: the Arab market quarter. Variant spellings exist.  Cecil Beaton in his Near East (1943) spells it Moski.

8.  Mum had tripped or fallen and pulled a ligament.

9.  This letter of comfort is not in this collection.

10.  Mum’s sister Ena was married to Bill Reid.  Their brother Dennis was married to Euphemia Ballantine – Aunt Phem.  The cause for Len’s dislike of them is unknown.  The ‘home coming’ is when Len’s tour of duty in Cairo would be over; the ‘announcement’ is more than just her returning to Scotland – Len and Ernst were engaged. 

11.  ME: Middle East.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-1August 23, 1947.

Morning Break.

Hello my own dear Ones,

I have your 188 and 189.

You’ll be wondering about the enclosure, well you’ve probably guessed, I’d like you to send the RSA Cert. and my Birth Certificate to them and I’ll forward the envelope for so doing in my next letter.  Thank you so much. Aren’t they awful to want all those things, but I s’pose they just want to be sure. (1)

RSA request png_edited-1
On Tuesday I went to my French class, then to the Findlays, where I did some developing with John – we didn’t do much, but I’ll send you some of the results soon. He’s got a wee dark room rigged up in the bathroom.(2)   I’d dinner there and was by this time – the darkroom stuffiness helped – in the middle of the most horrific cold.

The next day I went into work but really felt grim. I went to Gezira afterwards and lay in the sun – it makes me feel better. I’d a date with the Stokes and had to go there anyway. They came across, but on return I didn’t go in with them, went back to the flat and had a hot lemon, and a hot bath and nipped into bed.

The next day I stayed in bed most of the time, but did a shwoya sunbathing on my balcony and did some washing, and in the evening I did my ironing at Mrs Stokes, going to bed pretty early to work again next day.  By the way I won the battle about dough in advance with the landlady, so that’s that settled.

What do you think about UNO and Egypt, wonder how it’ll affect us?  We’d certainly have plenty of disposing to do if the Army moved out altogether! (3)

Bulbecks at 26, no mum png

‘Daddy, Tom Bulbeck, Daisy, Cptn Bulbeck & Jack’ August 1947′.   Mum’s writing

As for the news in your 189, it’s terrific.  I was so thrilled to think of the Bulbecks and the Bryers meeting in Scotland.  Isn’t it wonderful.  All being well I’d certainly like to call on them in Southampton if I come home that way.  I hope Daisy thinks the weather in Scotland is always like that.  I told all the girls who knew her and they’re thrilled, the one question is, what does Daisy think of Britain and I’d like to ask too, are they coming back? (4)   He was s’posed to be civilianized in Hirings and coming back in a few months.

Must go now poppets, for a change we’ve bags of work and I’d better do some.

Your ever loving and adoring, Len xxxx


1.  This is part of the process of Len being on the Civil Service Establishment.  The RSA certificate was issued by the Royal Society of Arts.

2.  These prints are not in this collection.

3.  Despite resolutions tabled at the U.N. for the withdrawal of British troops by the Egyptian P.M. Mahmud Nuqrashi, the situation was covered by the binding terms of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which was to run for twenty years.  In the treaty there was the provision for either party to look at its terms after ten years.  Partly driven by economic realities the Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced on 7 May, 1946 that the Government intended a withdrawal of troops from the Suez Canal Zone.  Winston Churchill, it was reported, ‘drew loud cheers from his side when he said that the only way of keeping the Canal open was to have British troops garrisoned there’.

The awareness of alternative British bases in Cyprus to the north, and in Aden to the south, would have been a factor in the Labour Government’s calculations. However, negotiations with the Egyptian P.M. for the planned withdrawal stumbled over Egyptian claims to Sudan.   Mahmud Nuqrashi turned, unsuccessfully, to the U.N.   The treaty ran its full course.  In 1955 it had been estimated that two thirds of Europe’s oil was annually passing through the Canal.  The last British troops left in July, 1956.   Shortly afterwards the Suez Canal was nationalized by President Nasser.   In October, 1956, British, French and Israeli forces invaded Egypt.  In equal measures it was a military success and an international political defeat.

4.  Daisy had worked in the same Cairo typing pool as Len. 


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-126 August, 1947.

Just before lunch.

Hello dearest Ones,

Mail today has been letter from Ken Cook telling me his boat’s called in at Glasgow and he still hopes to come to Alex. 27.8.47.

On Saturday I went to Gezira and swam most of the time with Liz, Bill and Johnny Kay.

We’d a political argument with some other people.  Of course L, B, J and I hold the same views and it was the first time I’ve exercised my powers of rhetoric for months. When I said – “Egypt reminds me of Devon and Cornwall during the war – then people were escaping from war work – and now out here they’re escaping from reconstruction” – there was a deathly silence, but it is true, isn’t it? (1.)

At night I stayed in.  On Sunday I’d breakfast in my room, did various odd things and got to the Club about 11.  I did loads of really energetic swimming with Liz and Bill and did masses of practice dives – it was fun.  I got back pretty early and spent the rest of the day indoors doing French, etc.

On Monday I went straight to the “Y”, had lunch, tea and dinner there and waited for Honey,talking to Pat the while.  Well there was s’posed to be a play reading on, but when Honey came she said the atmosphere was tense and we’d better not go down Malika Farida. (2.)   Accordingly, as I’d already told my landlady – ‘cos of the situation – that I might not be back, I went to Garden City to her place with Honey to stay the night there, as neither she nor I wanted to go back to our respective places alone.

We’d a grand time, for she stays with a Syrian-Egyptian girl and her brother and we talked French.  It was a lovely friendly atmosphere and I slept in the same room as the S-E girl and we nattered, she was nice, really modern, intelligent and emancipated.

The next morning we cooked our breakfast ourselves and walked round the corner to work. (3)

Yesterday I talked to Madame Branton and she said she couldn’t sleep ‘cos I’d had the light on, why hadn’t I eaten my egg (almost raw, so you know why!) etc, etc.  Well twice she’s made me spend 15Pt. on a taxi by being late with the food, and when this culminated with her reiterating that she wanted her dough in advance I thought it time to call it a day.

I dashed straight to Mrs S. with my tale and she said she’d take me in if I didn’t get anywhere.  Then I introduced a Mrs Stone (wife of a Disposals bloke) to my French teacher for lessons and after she went I told my French teacher my tale of woe.  Then it happened, she said they’d a spare room, asked her mother about it and it was O.K.

I’m so glad that it’s almost over with my landlady, for now that I don’t have to think it funny I realise it wasn’t.  I feel happy about where I’m going for I really like Vera and her mother looks nice.  They haven’t got running hot water, but I can heat some when I want it and she’s only charging me £8 a month.  Then too I shall have a chance to practice French all the time, which is a boon, the thought of being with the Solovieffs  – they’re Russian you know – is a joy.  Fancy a Scot living with Russians in Egypt and speaking French!

More of my new abode when I write next.

All my love darlings, Len xxxx


1.  This is a reference to her farm work holidays during the war.  By ‘reconstruction’ Len is talking about the re-building (in all senses) of a post-war Britain.

2.  Malika Farida:  a street in Cairo.

3.  As opposed to the house servant cooking their breakfast.


There now is a letter from Betty Baxter,  the  friend from the time Len and family lived in Dagenham.  She sent Len the postcard from Salisbury in the summer of 1944 when she and her family were taking a break from the doodlebugs.


28 August, 1947.

Library House, Stamford Road, Dagenham, Essex.

Dear Helen,

I always thought you were nice, but I didn’t expect even a saint to write to me after all this time.  Evidently you surpass a saint, therefore I’m quite sure you’ll permit me to plunge straight into the letter without the usual introductory excuses.  I’ll only say how pleased I am that you still bother about the rat that I am.

Well, you can imagine how thrilled we were to see your mother again “after all these years”. (1)   Perhaps one day we could all meet, either in London or Glasgow.

Anyway, she told us how luxurious the living was out there and what a marvellous time she had with you, and made us green with envy.   Just the same, I can imagine that she was pleased to get back to good old England, that is, Scotland.   I expect you’ll be glad to get back too – I know the feeling.  (I can swank now!)

It was really a lovely week that I had in Belgium, not only for the abundance of food and glory of the shop windows, but for the exciting feeling.   Isn’t it funny when you see little children who look quite normal, and they begin to speak in some mysterious tongue?   Your first thought is “Gosh! Aren’t they clever!”    Another funny feeling is that of being a foreigner, and something strange, yourself.   As they talk mainly Flemish among themselves in Belgium, anyway in Bruges , we felt more strange than perhaps we would have felt in a place where we could understand the language.   Of course, in shops they can either speak English or French, so we had no difficulty there – except lack of money.   I bought a few things, plus fruit and chocolate, but not really much.   I was pleased to see what a good opinion they all seemed to have of England, though I thought they imagined we were much worse off than we really are.

Bruges is a delightful place – all canals and cobbled streets.   The houses are very tall and narrow, and often look filthy from the outside, but are beautifully clean inside. The mediaeval glory atmosphere permeates the place, although the shops are filled with the most modern goods.   The only thing I didn’t like was the Catholic influence – you know, the bigger candle or statue you buy for your patron saint, the better place you gain in heaven.

We happened to be there while they were doing their fire yearly pageant.   It is called the “Pageant of the Holy Blood”, and centres around a golden phial containing the Holy Blood, supposed to have been brought to Bruges by Joseph of Aramathea.   (You can see them go and kiss it in the Chapel of St. James). There are 3,000 in the cast, as well as a full orchestra and choir, and it is staged in the market square, on steps and a facade built against the belfry.  (We climbed the belfry – it has a lovely chime – “Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree”, every quarter of an hour!).

The audience sit on seats in the market square and the whole tower is floodlit, while a procession with horses and flaming torches winds round the front.

Then there are the cafes.  Everyone comes out at night and either walks about or sits and drinks various brews in the open air.  We went to Brussels one day, but were travelling most of the time and were tired and hungry & then we couldn’t go out after supper to explore on our own – the lodging was awful that night.  You can guess I can’t say much about Brussels.

We all felt that a week was far too short, but were glad to get back to the place where “English is spoken” naturally.  The trip assuaged the wanderlust urge a bit, but as you say, only temporarily. I want to go to Switzerland or France next.  I have a pen-friend in Neuchatel, who says he will come and stay with us next year, so perhaps I will go there.

What do you plan to do when you get back home?  Do you think you will go abroad again?  I have an idea there is a MAN in the picture now.  Do write and tell me how things are – I don’t expect you to write promptly, or anything like that, considering my way of corresponding, as long as you do write.

Do you still go in for acting and poetry-reading?  I was in a play at school which we produced on our own, that is, Benedict House, and the adjudicator presented us with the shield and me with the award for best female performance.  I was Mrs. Bennett of “Pride & Prejudice”!

Nell, (2) I really can’t give you an unbiased view of the “crisis”, because you know that I’m staunch Labour.  The moaning is the destructive work of those against it, and the government really is up against a lot.  I still think it’s doing the best that any government possibly could, although it’s unfortunate that Attlee fails to be inspiring. What I’m really worried about is the foreign situation.  Tell me your opinion of Russia, U.S.A., and Gt. Britain, and any other others you’d like to mention.  You might be able to see things in perspective.

Well, this is all at the moment. “Hoping this finds you as it leaves me at present”.

Yours, Betty,


1.  On her way down, and possibly on her way back up from Southampton and Egypt.

2.  Like her Mum, whose name was also Helen, ‘Nell’, and ‘Nellie’ is often used as an alternative for ‘Helen’.


Dad letter png29 August, 1947.   Ye Old 26, Sailing up the Clyde

My Dear Len,

You will notice I have neglected my writing to you since Mum returned home but I know our Mum has been writing you and giving you all the news from the homestead and for myself I have been very busy in the garden trying to get it in order or keep it in a somewhat respectable shape.   I have cut down all the privet all round the back garden also the front to just over 3 feet high in some cases.   I had to use the saw as it was so thick you may remember the privet at the coal box and the living room window?   I have got it cut right down to the top of the coal box so now you only have to look out of the window and you can see all the garden.   Mum says it is a great improvement, if you had seen your dad you would have thought it was a scene from McBeth with the moving of Burnham Woods with your humble self carrying armfuls of privet to the top of the garden for a bonfire.   Do you remember the bonfire we had when we were all together down in London?   When I set fire to one here it reminded me of those happy days, not to say that these days are not happy or those of the future for all our days are happy, trying to get the most out of life is our motto.

Now my dear let me tell you how I got along on my holiday.  Let me tell you that I enjoyed every moment of it. I set off from ye old Central Station on the saturday morning.   Mum came up to see me off.   It started raining as the train moved off and it was very dull all the time we were travelling until we arrived at Lancaster where I had to change for Morecambe. It began to clear up a little while there and when we got to M it was just a drizzle.   I tried to get a taxi.   After getting four and giving them up to parties of women with children so got a bus to the digs in time for tea and settled myself for a week in this lovely town.   After tea I had to get out and get my bearings, so put on the old raincoat.   I could have done without it for all the rain it had to take after that I never needed my raincoat as it was all sunshine all the rest of the holiday.

I was wakened on the sunday morning with the sun shining through my bedroom window, as if to say Come on, big boy, I want to meet you, so I put on the white shirt you sent home with mum also the sandals and my flannels and out I went after breakfast and mixed with the merry throng for a few hours then back for dinner which I thoroughly enjoyed.   The food at the digs for the whole week was really tops and the service was all that could be expected.  I only payed 14/6 per day while they paid 21/- at the next house and did not get the same service as we did.  (1)

I spent the rest of the week enjoying all the pleasures that Morecambe could offer – funfairs, dancing, morning and evening shows, also the free and easy at the pubs with its sing songs and the swimming pool.  I was there every afternoon for two or three hours.  It was great.  On the Wednesday they had a beauty contest in which 41 girls took part from all parts of Britain.  It was a great afternoon, with a diving display added, also a comedy act to entertain the 8000 people, a record for the pool, who had come to see the show.

I also arranged for a dip at midnight from the boarding house and got a party of 12 to take part in same.  This splash was a great success and enjoyed by all for two or three nights.   I was well supplied with shirts and ties for each occasion but when I put on my tartan tie with the white shirt all the girls went daft for the tie but for all that it was still in my case when I got back to no. 26 along with the E.W.S (2) which set off the tartan tie.

I left Morecambe by car with some friends I had made on the saturday for Lancaster.   I left them there and got the bus to Blackpool arriving there on Bank Holiday saturday.   What crowds, I never saw so many people in all the places I have been, with so many people coming in and so many people going away one could hardly move, not in comfort at any rate, and had to queue for everything, so I did not stay so long there but hiked myself to Fleetwood in search of my two cousin, M.E. and Hannah.  I got their address from the Post Office in Fleetwood and arrived at 38 Barrowdale Ave in the early afternoon.  They were very pleased to see me and made me very welcome. I stayed with them until the Tuesday morning when I left for Liverpool.  While I was with them I gave them all the news of our family, letting them know of you being in Egypt.  They were very interested and pleased to hear that you had done so well for yourself.

The house they have got in B. ave is in a row of houses with the same accommodation as we have at No.26, only the rooms are much smaller, also the garden it is smaller but as they say, it is big enough for them as there is only the three of them.  “Oh yes”, Ellen the maid is still with them.  Trixie the dog is dead but they have got another one, the same kind only a different colour.  This one is brown instead of black and white.  He made a great fuss of me and I of him while I was there.  My two cousins have aged a good since I saw them last, as you understand having nothing to interest them in their old age except themselves.  It seems each of them have an illness now and then to give themselves something to do.

Cousins crop

Believed to be Hannah and Mary Elizabeth, the two cousins living in Fleetwood

Mum, Len, Dad, Hector the dog, and possibly two cousins of Dad's from Lancacashire.  Unknown beach, but probably on the East or South East English coast

Mum, Len, Dad, Hector the dog, and two cousins of Dad’s from Lancashire.  Unknown beach, but probably on the East or South East English coast .  Early to mid 1930s.

I got to Liverpool on the Tuesday in time to get to the races, so went into the racecourse for a little while to bring back many memories of years ago when I was there.   It was very thrilling mixing with all the crowd, watching the horses and backing a winner.   I got a great kick out of this.

I then set off to Leopold to see my cousins.  I met one of them, Laura, who was pleased to see me but did not invite to stay for the night so set off to see Mum’s cousin at Stoneycroft.   It was getting on in the evening when I arrived there but again I was unlucky in not getting put up for the night as they had no room.  They were very nice and were very pleased to hear that you were doing so well out east.  I left their place after ten and had to go into the City and get fixed up in an hotel for B&B in the morning.   I set off to New Brighton for a sail on the Mersey, just to say to myself this is the same place my little girl sailed from when she went out into the world, also the place where your aunt Lizzie sailed from when she left Britain. (3)   I had a very pleasant morning at N.B. and then came back to Liverpool and called on my cousin Grace who’s address I had got from Laura and boy did she make me welcome, I’ll say she did.   Nothing was good enough for your Daddy and I spent the rest of my stay in Liverpool with them.   I also saw other cousins and were all so pleasant to see me and to hear how we were all getting on.  Altogether it was a very pleasant and enjoyable stay there.

I left Liverpool on the Friday midday and arrived in Glasgow about 10 at night.  Got home and found that Mum had gone up to meet me but we missed each other but Mum came along later and we sat up late talking to each other till the sma  hours, me telling Mum all about my holiday and Mum letting me know more about her trip out East.  So you see my dear that ended for me a very pleasant time for my holiday for 1947.

Since then as I told you at the beginning of this letter I have been in the garden.   In between the holiday and today we had a strike at the work but I am pleased to say that it did not last a week and that we gained all the points that caused the stoppage of work.   Since mum came home I have to take my turn on night work, that is, a fortnight on day work and then a fortnight on nightwork.  This is my second week on night work.  It’s not so bad for Mum now that Jack is here while I go out to work at night as there is someone with her.

We went to Dunoon yesterday to the Cowal Games and had a smashing day. (4)    The sun was shining all the time and we both made the most of it.  Need I tell you how we got on, when both your mum and I get cracking we are some show “says you”, no doubt mum will be letting you know more of it in her letter to you.  I hope my dear that you are still keeping well and that the trouble out there does not effect you in any way. (5)

 Take care of yourself my dear for both your mum’s and dad’s sake as all our love goes to you my dear and all my best wishes to you my dear from your own loving Dad. XXXXXXXXXX


1.  ‘Payed.’  As spelt.

2.  EWS:  Possibly ‘Egyptian White Shirt’.

3.  Aunt Lizzie was a relative on Dad’s side of the family.

4.  The Cowal Games were, and still are the largest Highland Games in Scotland.

5.  Protests continued in Egypt over the British presence in the Suez Canal Zone, and also in support of Arab claims to Palestine.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-129 August, 1947.

Break time in the Office.

Beloved own Ones,

Well, here’s the main piece of my news.  I’ve been told I shan’t be going home before next March, so I’m singing “In 7 more months I’ll be out of the calabush” .   I feel better now I know more definitely what I’m doing.  It’s hard the thought of being away from you for these extra months, but in the circumstances I think it’s the ‘sensible’ best.

About being tense, haven’t thought about it lately and now that letter brings it to mind, must say it seems to have gone.  The thought of a fairly definite going home date helps and also that I’m moving to somewhere, where I really want to go.

Isn’t my PO Savings Book in the Mahogany Sideboard?  I’ll tell you something else too, from October onward I want to live on my FSA (1) so intend to have my whole salary sent home for banking to swell the old account.  You talk about my not answering queries, what about the phone?  I really do want one, so please have one if poss. and pay what it costs from my dough.  What about the house, d’you need any money for it, anyway tell me the position.

Wednesday I’d my usual day at Gezira with the Stokes and went back for a cuppa tea with them.  Mrs Stokes has just awoken to the fact that I don’t go to Church and I’m sure she half wonders if I’m a bad influence on the kids – well, it’s up to her whether I associate with them or not.  They’re 4 and 5 respectively and still have to be dressed and taken to the lavatory – it’s not good enough, is it?   I think that parents who tie children to them by not letting them be independent, start in their children a feeling of annoyance at them.   After all, one can make a child independent and still shower it with love.  I’m so glad that I’ve you as parents, you may not have read any books, but you’d your psychology on upbringing to a fine art, for the tie that binds us now is love and respect – nothing could be finer.

Yesterday I again went to Gezira, Pat was there (she sends her love) and so was Honey.  Later I joined the Stokes and took the kids up to my room when I got back, whilst Mrs S. got the tea ready. (2)   That’s the second time I’ve done it.   In those brief moments (insidious from my influence if Mrs S. did but know it) I told them how to touch and speak to dogs, where Iraq was, where Russia is and also danced for them.  The Nile’s rising and the temperatures shot up about 100 again, so this dancing was a bit hot, but the kids loved me doing high kicks and singing and asked for an encore – did “My old man says follow the van” – we’ve a lot of happy memories associated with that.

To-day is moving day.   Never told you where my new habitation is – 173 Rue Fouad in Zamalek, that is a flat in the same entrance as the Zimmer Pension – you remember, Mum, where we went to dinner and you saw the ship in the bottle?   Don’t think there’s a phone number, but when I find out what it is I’ll give you the Zimmer’s, for if anybody turns up in Cairo and phones one of the girls there, they’ll soon give me a message.

Ernst’s birthday is Friday, 26 September.  Isn’t it thrilling news about Ernst’s parents, yes it would be grand if you could see them and have them at 26 – sure you’d all get on well together.  As they’re s’posed to be leaving China in October I was wondering if they’d be here for my birthday – I’m looking forward to seeing them.   Ernst must be terrifically excited, not having seen them for about 7 years.  (3)

Hope you’re resting your leg Mum, so sorry to hear of the torn ligament – do hope it gets well and you must make it do so, by taking care.  Never, never, take a step unless you’re sure what you’re stepping on is sound – please be careful.  Since learning French I’ve learned that soignée means not smart as I thought, but careful, i.e. a woman carefully dressed and chic’s smartly dressed, so you be soignée with your leg. (4)

How’s that grass Dad?  Don’t let it grow too high during the winter please, ‘cos I ain’t done anything like that for a while and want to be able to manage it.  Remember the way I never looked at it in the winter then suddenly on a spring day looked out and saw with horror it was about a foot and a half high and had to ask for your help to get it back into shape.

What were the Highland Games like?  I’ve never seen ‘em they must be terrific.  Bet you met some people you know.

Is there any chance of your encountering the Reids or are they south of the border again?

John Findlay wants me to do an itinerary of Scotland with him and as I’ve no more news, I’d better go.

You both take care of yourselves – one never knows how busy one’s going to be and may suddenly need to go flat out.  Anyway I wish was with you, but in the meantime I’m there in spirit.

Ever your own loving, Len xxxx


1.  FSA:  Foreign Service Allowance.

2.  “My room”.   It is not clear whether Len is still at Madame Branton’s, and it is close by, or whether she has taken up the offer of Mrs Stokes to temporarily stay with her family whilst Len moves her things to the Solovieffs. 

3.  Ernst, then, would not have seen his parents since his late teens. It seems that his father was a doctor. His mother’s occupation, if she had one, is not known.  Whether they had got caught up in Japanese occupied China, or in the civil war between the Chinese nationalists and communists is also not known.  They were German and had left Germany in 1933, when Hitler came to power.  Ernst was born in Berlin in 1917.

4.   Len hasn’t got this quite right.  She gives the real meaning of soignée in a letter she writes Mum on 12 september, 1947.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-11st September, 1947.

Patricia’s room in the Y., Monday evening.

Hello dearest Ones,

My favourite month and I’ve so much to tell you, not big things but little happenings.

First, I’m a much happier woman, for I really feel at home where I am now, the Solovieffs are our type of people, that’s the reason.  They put down food in big dishes, not like these Y.W. pots which I’ve met everywhere else as well in the Y.  You know I feel a lot closer to the S’s than I do to most English people.

You say I’ve grown too quiet and serious Mum, well now I realise the reason.  When I first came out they taunted me and called me ‘baby’.  This naturally had a quieting effect and, as well,  everybody spends so much time standing on their dignity they don’t sing or run or laugh.   When I confronted Pat and Marcel with it today they said “Oh well we must remember we’re English.”

All along that sort of thing happened and when I feel all the bubbling inside and somebody acts like that it’s like a slap in the face.  Now Vera is a different person.  We went for a walk on Saturday and ran and laughed and sang.  With everyone going in for this decorum constantly I’d begun to think I was wrong, but now I realise I’m not. Vera said “Some of the English girls don’t seem alive at all – they take life as a sort of medicine.”  I thought it an excellent simile and it’s only too true. Anyway all this is to say I’ve found myself again.


Yesterday I received your air mail from Naples Mum, posted on 14 July! (1)

My moving day was Friday and honestly it was horrid, the henna haired woman tried to make me give her the 44Pt. balance of £E5 I owed for half the month.  Naturally as she was turning me out two days before the end of the month and had only given me three days’ notice, as well as making me spend 30Pt. in taxi fares as her time was wrong in the morning I said “no”.  She went to the extent of ordering the servants in Arabic not to take out my trunk, but when she saw I was adamant retired to her bedroom and I got them to take it out.  They (i.e. suffragis) said she was macnoon – mad.  As you’ll understand I was glad to get out of that.   Here is  my landlady’s note to me – don’t you think it’s priceless?.

Landlady letter png_edited-1

Almost straight away in my new place I started to unpack, for it’s so nice and I hadn’t the funny feeling of not wanting to unpack the way I had before.  Then the family asked me to tea and we talked for ages after the meal – a journalist friend of Vera’s was there too.  It was more like home than anything I’ve encountered here so far.  Then I did shopping and came back to go to bed fairly early.

On Saturday I went to the club again, where I’d a rather hefty luncheon.  I didn’t go in swimming ‘cos of the sinus in my cheek, but a Disposals bloke came over to where I was sitting – some distance from the edge of the pool, picked me up, carried me to the edge, stood nattering to me for a few minutes, then thought better of throwing me in and walked back to put me down where I’d been sitting.  All this is to prove that I’m still losing weight. I should mention too, the bloke was just back from Shaibah – near Baghdad – where he’d been suffering from heat exhaustion!  (2)

I went back to 173 (3), then Vera and I went for a walk, en route we popped into the club for a drink and I saw Constance Hurling an ATS Jnr. Cmdr (4) I haven’t seen since January and Rudy Weins the American I met on my Luxor trip in Easter ‘46.  It seems he’s been to India and America and has brought his family out.  He said he’d introduce me to his wife sometime and I’d like that, for I’d like to talk to an American woman to get her slant on things.

Then as I’d been asked by the family I went to the pictures with them and a bloke off the Journal d’Egypte (5) – Vera’s paper.  We saw an Italian film with a gorgeous singer and “Intermezzo”.  You should have seen me at the back of the cinema trying to read the French captions on the Italian film – you know how I like to sit well forward at an English film!  We went and came back in the jeep Mr Solovieff uses for work, it was fun and the best Saturday I’ve had for a while.

Yesterday I went shopping with one of the women from work after lunching at the Y.W. and had tea with her.  I got your Ecru balls Mum, 4 for 30Pt.  I don’t s’pose this will be enough, but at the beginning of each month, all being well I’ll buy you some, for I’m skint now.

I don’t exactly say I was extravagant, but had better put it that I indulged my luxurious tastes.   I got an iron – 125Pt which wasn’t bad.  The second utility thing I needed was a clock and that’s where I really went to town.  You see the first morning I was at the Solovieffs I just woke up and while washing heard the suffragi at the door, so let him in – the rest of the family don’t get up till late.  The next day was Sunday and on the Monday, Mr. S. was up early as he’d to go to Banha (you know Mum on the P.S. route) to do some work, but both times nothing woke me, so you see a clock really was necessary.

The one I bought cost 425Pt., but it’s a humdinger, the back opens to reveal the winder and at the same time forms the bit that makes it stand up and the front has a bit which slides over the face like a roll top desk.  It’s American (which makes me feel really guilty) (6) and is called a Travalarm.  It’s ivory coloured, has a gold band round it and as well as having an alarm is luminous.  I know I could have bought a non-glamourous alarm at a much cheaper price, but it wouldn’t have given me half the joy which this lovely little thing has already.

Last night though was a fiasco.  As Vera didn’t finish work till 10 I’d arranged to meet her and go late to the play reading.  I left the Y and stood waiting for her, but she didn’t come.   I felt awful just standing at that time of night in Cairo and went back to the Y as I wouldn’t get a taxi back alone.   I stayed the night there.  Heard this morning that the Sols stayed up till 2 a.m. and were awfully worried – people say “You’re lucky to have someone to worry about you out here” – and it appears that Vera was there.  I’ve to ring her in a minute when she gets to work to tell her I’m O.K.  Maybe we’ll find out where our arrangement slipped.

Discovered that Vera – have just rang – dashed down to the other Groppi’s as I was a minute or two late.  I waited quarter of an hour then went, then she returned to the original Groppi’s (7) and of course I wasn’t there. Feel awful at having caused them anxiety, but I just couldn’t have taxied back alone.

If I don’t get this off now something’ll stop me I fear, so had better stamp it and give more gen and reply to your letters shortly.

 Take care of yourselves my poppets,

Your own honey chile, (and verra lovin’)

Len xxxx.


1.  Posted by Mum on her way back by boat to Britain.  The airmail letter took six weeks to arrive.

2.  Shaibah, in Iraq, was an airforce base in 1947.  In early 2010, post the American/British invasion of Iraq in 2003,  it was being used by the British MoD as a dog training camp. 

3.  173:  her new digs with the Solovieffs.

4.  An ATS Junior Commander was the equivalent of an Army Captain.

5.  Journal d’Egypte: French language newspaper, founded 1936.  It folded in 1994.

6.  Britain was near bankrupt, and in debt to America.  Len was feeling bad she hadn’t bought a British made product.

7.  Groppi’s cafes are a Cairo institution. The original Groppi’s was a favourite during the Second World War of British Officers who would take tea on the terrace. Lower ranks and Egyptians were banned.


The same day – 2 September, 1947, Len writes a second letter to her parents.



Len for Egypt letters png_edited-12 September, 1947.

My own dear ones,

Have just despatched a letter to you I know, but must get down to the business of replying to your letters, cos things are beginning to crowd in and I want to be there with a letter for you – you’re certainly keeping me supplied with ones from you. (1)    By the way, how’s the heat wave.   It was only 91 here yesterday, so I think you must be almost hotter than us!   Hope something has eased the drought by now.  You’d certainly been having a record summer by all accounts.

‘Fraid you’ve had the stuff from the Mousky this month, for as I said after my expenditure yesterday I’m skint.  I’ve had an advance already, but that’s got to do, French lesson fees,  food,  trip to Port Said,  Ernst’s present,  shoe repairs etc. and I may just manage to exist till we’re paid,  so I’m afraid my Mousky shopping will be for Ernst’s present.  It would be a good idea to go down the Mousky once a month, but it would have to be just after pay day!

Aunt Betty seems to be a star as far as sending stuff goes, as for asking about corsets, I think that’s terrific. Doesn’t it all make you want to go to the US terrifically just to see her.

Have you seen Swedish Elizabeth?  Wonder if how and when we can fit the Scandinavian countries in?  I’m dying to see the various people over there and of course the scenery.

Longing to see the snaps of the Bulbecks and you.  D’you know if and when they’re coming back here?


Eight years to-day since war broke out, incredible, isn’t it.

Before I forget, what are you doing with my clothing coupons?   Do please use them for sheets for you and that Lumley Jantzen for me.  At any rate use them, for I’d much rather get stuff from home than from here – you know the way I feel about British goods.  As I don’t feel they should be spent on anything specific – other than the Jantzen and sheets, I suggest that if you see a remnant or bargain, you get it sent to me and debited against those coupons.  I think material not made up – unless you see a good made-up bargain – would be the best.  If you see something you want yourself and can hold out for it until either I send it back to you or bring it back with me – all being well, do get it, the same applies to things for Daddy.  Please too, can I have back my very-much-taken-in zipped up the back skirt, for it’s my favourite dressy winter one.

Ah yes, my new room is smaller than my other, but it’s funny, I’m not really keen on big bedrooms and there’s something about this room which is making me tidy and I’m sure – or hope – will continue to do so.   Mrs Sol. is awfully like Mrs. Brandley (3) and she’s made me two cushions for the little chairs and then the bed is covered during the day with stuff of the same material (it’s green, a lovely light colour) and has cushions of the same material along the back making it like a divan settee and the armchair is done in the same stuff too, so the whole effect is jolly good.   I’ve a tree outside my window, a pelmeted curtain, beside lamp and of course my own little clock so you see how cosy and luxurious it is.

Yes, the new food cuts sound grim.  D’you think the corner will be turned by the spring or summer of ‘48? (2)

I hope the fuel isn’t too bad for you this winter, so that it helps you to get to the turning point.  As long as people don’t blame the Government it’s not so bad – I’d love to fight to bring us back a Labour Candidate in the next elections, we certainly haven’t got such a big majority to counteract this time.  ‘Fraid old Ernst doesn’t like the thought of my doing door to door canvassing, but once I get that feeling inside I don’t think I could hold back for anything. (3)

What’s Uncle Albert’s latest address please?

Tuesday I went to my French class, then went down the Mousky with the Findlays.   As usual it was interesting, she was telling me how you loved it and also of your terrific thirst and assuaging of same by questionable bottles of cola-cola!   As I’d not called on them till late it got dark quickly and we had to get out of the M. before it got dark, so I didn’t get my chess set for Ernst.   Hope to get it another day though.  Jean got a smashing ring £2.10s an Alexandrette (is red in electric light and blue in daylight) with white sapphires on either side – the vendor was an Indian.  It seems he’s a stone dealer and not really s’posed to sell rings, well I’m keeping him in mind for a ring for you Mum (unless I get a windfall it’ll have to be a zircon, not a diamond) and also for myself, you know how I like jewellery and want to get some from here before I return.

 When I got back – about 8, Vera came and asked me if I’d like to go out.   I went to a lecture on Beethoven in Russian.  The only bit of it I understood was when other composers were mentioned and also the word metronome ‘cos I have one (is it still there?), but afterwards there was a recital by one of the blokes who used to play at Music for All and who’s going to study in Paris.   V’s Mum and Pop were there. A bloke Vera  knows took us to the Sans Souci (Carefree) Cafe for an icecream.  We talked for ages, had a coffee and eventually got home after her parents – it was a lovely night.

 The only thing that annoys me is that Vera’s friends speak such excellent English, I haven’t the heart to try out my bad French on them, must natter to her Mother, for she really knows no English.  It’s amazing how like Mrs. Brandley she is.  Don’t you think Mrs.B. looks foreign.  I think I remember telling her once she’d some Spanish in her – maybe Joan’s voice is a throw back. (4)

Yesterday I saw the Stokes at Gezira.  Mrs S. and I were talking of perfumes and she said she always meant to ask you what perfume you wore Mum, as she thought it was so nice.  I know you didn’t always use the old Libyan Rose, so I was not able to enlighten her.  I remember now how we got on it now though, it wasn’t really perfumes really proper.  I put some Pond’s cold cream on, as my hands felt stiff after swimming followed by a bath, she remarked on the perfume.  I told her what it was and mentioned how you swore by their vanishing cream and then the conversation ensued as aforementioned.  For my inf. please, to what do you attribute the perfume?

Went back to the flat and got to bed at 7.30.  My little alarm woke me at 6.30, so I’d plenty of sleep.

 Just had a shorthand call, so must go, but please don’t worry about me.  Had your letter where you’d just got the news on the radio – as you can see UNO seem to be procrastinating a lot. (5)    Wish I could write more, but must go.

Your most loving chile.

Len xxxxx


1.  These letters from Mum, mentioning the summer heatwave in Scotland, and the parcels received from Aunt Betty are not in this collection.

2.  On 6 August, a month before Len wrote  this letter,  the Labour Government had introduced the Supplies and Services Bill – the Conservative opposition called it the ‘SS’ Act. It was further legislation to grapple with the bankrupt economy.   Some Americans  in the Senate had been  critical of the Chancellor, Hugh Dalton, for – they alleged – diverting part of the American loan to allow ‘Egyptian pashas to spend dollars on mink coats for girl friends’.   The ensuing rationing  in the UK included bread, which had never been rationed during the war.  On 10 August the Prime Minister Attlee broadcast to the nation, appealing for a wartime-style national effort to tackle the economic crisis.  ‘I have no easy words for the nation. I cannot say when we shall emerge into easier times’.

3.   Len is  wrong.   David Kirkwood, the MP in the Dumbarton Burghs constituency – that covered Yoker – had had a healthy majority of 7587 in 1945.  Nationally the Labour Party had not lost a single by-election since their landslide election in 1945 and individual Labour Party membership increased year on year during the postwar 40s.   In 1950, when the constituency was divided and he stood for Dunbartonshire East he beat off opposition candidates, with a majority of 4576.  His Conservative opponent was an ex-Major from the Scots Guards, who had been in Palestine, and resigned his Commission in 1946 to run the Family Estate. He would later become Home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister under Margaret Thatcher. His name was William (‘Willie’) Whitelaw.  David Kirkwood had been one of the three imprisoned in 1919 along with Manny Shinwell and Willie Gallacher  over their part in the alleged ‘Bolshevik Uprising’ in Glasgow.

  4.    In Len’s 1944 list of her friends and songs she associates with them, Bizet’s Habanera from Carmen is associated with Joan.

5.  As noted earlier, the motion at the UN from Egypt was rejected.


Mum letter image png_edited-19 September, 1947.

Autumn Day of wind & rain

Hello Cuddle dear,

I saw the specialist yesterday & he says the X ray shows nothing broken or seriously wrong with my foot & some massage and electric treatment sh’d make it quite O.K. again.   I have to see him again in a month’s time.   I don’t know how much he charges per consultation but if you hear of me selling up the home you’ll know it’s to pay his fees, ha! ha! (1)

Got a letter in from Mrs Stokes this morn. – typically Mrs. Stokes, saying she finds so little time to write and hoping Mr S. will be sent to the U.K.   However, she says the children love you & you them & I think she thinks a real lot of you and I know she is very grateful for your offer to sit with the children anytime Mr. S. & she want to go out.

I’m writing to Ernest with this post and have said we’d love to have his Mum & Dad visit us here, it would be fine if they could as I’m sure they will be very tired of travelling.

You sure ‘went to town’ with your clock purchase – sounds a smasher.   I see they (the Americans) are putting an alarm watch on the market – it’s supposed to be on sale here at Xmas and is to cost £25.-.

It was thrilling this morn. to hear the name of the “Empire Rival” on the radio as being the second ship to disembark the Jews at Hamburg – I can picture Cptn. Speirs and Mr. MacCaskill – remember the night we didn’t go to the Maltese Club with them! (2.)

Enclosed newspaper cutting to let you see what happens to people who send B.of E. £1 notes through the post!

£46 sent to Italy png

Hutch is on my knee just now making wild grabs at my pen so writing is difficult to say the least.  Must busy off to the shops as it’s early closing day.

You are ever in our thoughts, our own darling Best Beloved.



1.  The house had not been bought.  The Health service in the UK was still private, hence the reference to consultant fees.  The National Health Service was to begin the following year,  on 5 July, 1948.

2. The Empire Rival was a British Ministry of War Transport ship, that remained in Government service after the war.  Jewish nationalists blew a hole in its hull at Haifa in 1946.  Repaired, it was one of the three boats used to transfer the Holocaust refugees from the Exodus, and return them to British occupied Hamburg.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-19 September, 1947. Break time in the office

Dearest Ones,

Well, to-day’s the day for the UNO to decide – but the question is ashenay, or rather what (not why).   Probably they’ll postpone it for another long while, hope to re-visit the Mousky to-morrow, so hope the news doesn’t give the Egyptians cause for annoyance.

Sunday I got up about 8.30, mucked around in my room, had brekker and showed Vera – who’s a cold, how to make up a boric lotion and insisted she bathe her eyes in my solution to sample it – she’s now a convert to bathing her eyes regularly.  Then I went over to the club, sunbathed did my French and had a political argument with a former dramatic colleague.  I lunched with Patricia, afterwards, Maj.Wallace joined us and we had a shandy with him.  After he left P & I had tea in another part of the club. Then we parted and I’d a walk with Vera..  We came back from our walk and I listened to music on the radio with her and did my sewing, then the family insisted I joined them for high tea and when I said that was all right but I’d have to arrange to pay for it, they poo, pooed the idea, which just shows that everyone here isn’t mercenary.

Yesterday I lunched at Gezira and washed my hair in the showers there, then I returned to do sewing and French.   At night I went to the play reading which was O.K., but I’m not desperately enamoured. On my return I found a D.P. (1) a Yugoslav at 173.  He’s going to France, but doesn’t seem to feel mad about the Sov. Govt. in Y as the press makes us believe. (2)   This morning I’d a coffee and fruit – grapes, dates and another kind of Egyptian fruit for breakfast.

Must go now.

Cheerio darlings, Lots of love, Len xxxx


1.  DP: Displaced Person, a term that covered all those up-rooted in the aftermath of the Second World War.

2.  ‘Sov. Govt in Y’: Soviet government in Yugoslavia      Len is using the expression ‘Soviet’ to characterize the Communist Regime in Yugoslavia, and not referring to the USSR.  Stalin, in fact,  became extremely hostile to communist Yugoslavia the following year – 1948 – because of Tito’s independent stance, and it is now known that Stalin considered invading the country.


Mum letter image png_edited-111 September, 1947. The Old Home.

Our Dear International,

We are feeling very perturbed tonight after hearing the news re. the going on in Cleopatra’s land and are hoping so fervantly that you are safe and keeping well out of danger.   Thinking of the Consulate and remembering my visit there to enquire my visa dates.   I’m hoping the damage was not extensive.   I know you’ll be worrying about Ernest as we are here and hoping for his safety.   I sent him a letter on Tuesday.   Fancy them destroying De Lesseps monument.   It was so wonderful in that unique position it had and long before the “Franconia” reached P.S. Sister Craig had told us about it & said it w’d be our first glimpse of Egypt, she had done the trip dozens of times and always looked out for De. Lesseps.

 Anyway, glad we saw it and I have some P.C.’s of it.


We know Ernest will be bothered about your safety also, and Dad & self will be glad when we hear, as we hope to hear, that you are both safe.  One never knows when or where, these bomb throwers will turn up next.  I suppose your security people will be busy & will give you instructions re. travelling to & from the office, etc.

As you asked for Uncle Albert’s address, in your 210, rec’d yestd’y, here it is honey.

Mr A.E.Bryers,
c/o Jos. Howlett,
956 N. Lewis Avenue,
Illinois, U.S.A. (1)

Also I’m enclosing the address of the Egyptian merchant (or whatever he is) who said he could tell us where to get stuff.  I’m enclosing the actual address slip he gave me as I cannot decipher the name. Tell him I hope he will visit us here.

9 p.m. news just on, it says ‘Cairo has been relatively quiet’, it’s good to hear that. Hope all mail to & from will get through safely.

Got a letter from the specialist to take to the clinic so my massage & electrical treatment is the next thing to take up my time but won’t mind that if it does good.

I was listening today to a talk on the radio re. immigrating to Canada, the speaker had counted 12 columns of adverts. (in the Can. papers) wanting women workers & 10 wanting men – bricklayers were getting 10/- per. hour with double pay for overtime.  He said Canada is a good country if one can stand the cold but, if you can’t do that, think twice before going there as, tho’ Canadian houses are well heated they can be very, very cold.

Friday 12th Sept.

I’m sending a P.C. to Ernest, it must be awful in P.S. & do hope you will both be O.K.

I always forget to tell you, talking of perfumes my Libyan Rose and a box of hankys  – remember my lovely georgette & silk ones I’d kept so carefully for ages – were stolen out of my zip bag when I left it at the left luggage office at either Charing Cross or Euston – well, I suppose one has to make some sacrifices to the Gods!  Was wild – fancy bringing them all that length & then getting them pinched – I felt so ghastly ill at the time I just didn’t care. (2)

Must now fly to the shops. Our thoughts and love are all there beside you, to take care of you & bring you joy.

Cheers & love,



1.  Uncle Albert has moved address since his calling card from the Second World War era.

2.  Because of her leg.


Next      Part Two  Chapter Four:  Cholera and Riots

“Listen, honey lamb, there’s something we want you to do for us and that is, please, while this Cholera epidemic is rife send us a wee note everyday, it needn’t be long or newsy note, just a scribble to let us know how you are keeping.”

                                                                       – Mum to Len, 2nd October, 1947.

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Part Two 2: Quick Ripening of Intense Feelings

Part Two    2:  Quick Ripening of  Intense Feelings

“In the few spare moments when I have time to think of personal things, my thoughts inevitably wander back in your direction. The quick ripening of our intense feelings for one another and the fact of this temporary separation seems to increase my longing for you, both physically and emotionally.”    

– Ernest to Len, written in Port Said, 7 April, 1947


Mum letter image png_edited-124 March, 1947. Monday morn.

Dearest Bestest,

Your lovely newsy 161 just got in – mucho gracious, as Jack says when he wants to air his Argentine speech.

Re, visa, it appears the corrob. from Cairo is not required, it’s all done thro’ L’pool.  I wrote there again re. dates last Wed. and got  a reply back on Fri. to say the visa is valid for 3 months from the date of issue.   Last Thursday I called at the Ellerman City Line and a very helpful man there told me there may be a ship of theirs sometime soon but they never know from day to day just what the Gov. are doing with their ships as all lines are now in a pool – have been thro’ the war and still are.  I put my app. for registration in at their office but its really all one where its handed in as its all a pool.

This week I’m going to get innoculated all being well.  The man at the City line offices advised me to write to the E. Con. at L’pool and to ask them to hold my visa ready until I inform them I have a passage & then I can get the visa sent here pronto.  In the meantime I must get the machinery moving to comply with conditions required for getting a visa, i.e. telling the bank to write and tell the E. Con. that a guarantee of £50 has been set aside for them and to get the Provost or someone to say I’m a householder with permanent interests in this country and must also guarantee to not take a job in Egypt.

I really feel mad at Cooks for wasting so much of my time and my sincere advice to a traveller would be “Stay away from Cooks”; they told me the Consulate takes no notice for weeks of apps. for visas and yet I got replies in a couple of days!  Ah well! – one lives & learns and it means we don’t have to pay Cooks any percentage – good! Have a gorgeous time at Cyprus (1)   and keep your self safe.  You can understand how busy I am, Sunbeam honey, so I’ll say ‘ta, ta’ keeping my fingers crossed to be seeing you soon.

Ever your loving Mum. x


1.  Len is sailing to Cyprus for a  holiday.


Mum letter image png_edited-124 March, 1947

I note I sent the ‘Kestos’ on Mar.10th, letter no.158, so hope you have it by now & that you feel ‘uplifted’, ha! ha! a week joke, y’know.

Now, amongst my thousand and one other jobs I’ll have to see Mrs. Findlays Mum some day soon.

Hurrah! the sun is shining – first time for ages.  Loving you all the time – you should see me hurrying with my sewing.  Should I take my fur coat? – or is this a joke?  Please tell me.

Your own Mum. xxxxxx


Mum letter image png_edited-128 March, 1947 Birthday Morn.

Hello Cuddles!

Hope this gets to you, honey, before you leave for Cyprus.  We hope you have the most wizard holiday in that far fair land.  Also hope my 158 with bras. arrives before you leave.

Here’s your Mum, 21 again and I don’t feel a day over 18! (1)   Got a lovely card from Daddy and it’s on the mantlepiece beside the sweet one from you, so, as I look at them I know there’s two people who love me.

All this week seems to have been taken up with making arrangements to give the guarantee of £50.  On Tues. I went to the Coop to ask them to send an advice to the Con.  However, the Coop told me they are not a bank in that sense,  but only a share and loan Society & suggested I deposit £50 in another bank for the purpose of guar.  I said O.K. when c’d I get the £50?;  they said they got their money from the bank on Thurs., so again I said O.K. I’d call Thurs.

Yesterday morn. I went to the Commercial Bank at Kelso Street, Dumbarton Road corner, and the man there asked me to call again at 2 p.m., as the manager would then be in.  I called at 2 p.m. & saw the boss who, after reading the letter from the Con. ‘phoned head office for their advice, result they want me to write to Con. asking for more specific details of what is required re. how is the money to be put in my name, etc and if it’s a bankers guarantee they want.  The manager took endless trouble.

People (some) say to me – kinda amused – “any more word of when you are going to Egypt” as if it’s something quite imposs.  Well, for them I have a grand technique of buttonholing them and telling them a terrifically long story in minutest detail so they are glad to get away from me and don’t mention Egypt again!  I get a laugh!

I have my new teeth, they are kinda sweet – not much different from my others, built out more and not like a mouthful of false teeth, if you follow.  I met Millie’s Mum yesterday, she got some new teeth some little time ago – well, all I can say is, some folk are easily pleased!  Two rows of tiny even teeth, not filling out her mouth at all.

Must now say ‘ta-ta’ and get that letter to the Con. away.

Keep smiling & happy, and kiss your wish ring to bring me out.

Loving you ever, Mum. x – A birthday kiss.


1.   Mum was 53.  She was born on 28 March, 1894.  Her father, Roderick Mackay, who registered the birth in Dornoch, is described as a butcher.  The ‘Maiden Surname of Mother’ is McBain Smith, her married name Annie Mackay.  In the Spring, 1894 Registrations of Births in Dornoch in the County of Sutherland  the fathers’ occupations either side of Roderick Mackay’s are William Sutherland, ploughman, and Donald Ross, fisherman, the latter’s signature recorded as ‘his X mark’.


Mum letter image png_edited-12 April, 1947

“Fair is April, Fair the Morning my Beloved, my Beloved”.

Well, this April morn is fair enough, my Beloved, the sun is shining and the birds are singing but there’s frost on every thing and it’s very cold.

Lovely to get your very long (19 pages) 163 and your unnumbered one of March 24th.

A dozen times yesterday we said ‘I wonder what the wee one’s doing & where she is’ – we are thinking of you all the time & hoping for your safety & joy.  The papers & radio are full of the ‘cairry ons’ at Haifa & we wonder if you got through. (1)

Ever with fondest love. Mum. xxxxxx


1.  The boat that Len was on would have docked at Haifa, the main port in Palestine, on its way to Cyprus.  Haifa had been developed in the 1920s onwards  by the British as a port to handle their export of oil.  Palestine, under British Mandate since 1920, was in the throes of  Jewish terrorist group attacks against the British, and Arabs.  A month before Mum wrote her letter, on March 2, 1947  the British declared Martial Law  on five Jewish areas, including Tel Aviv and Haifa, after twenty British soldiers and civilians were killed.  


Ernest, heaf and shoulders copy pngPort Said, 7 April, ‘47.

My darling Len,

My very first mail I had in my new station is from you – a good omen don’t you think.

Ernst army stationaryYour two letters arrived this morning – though one with its address in strange handwriting puzzled me a bit but I quickly caught on when I associated its stamp with you and the fact that your boat called at Haifa.  By now you’ll be hiking the mountains and valleys of Cyprus, thinking I hope as much of the 18th as I am.

I’ll do that little job for you at the YMCA, probably get down there sometime this evening.  I keep forgetting it’s Easter but must admit I haven’t taken much of a holiday.  In fact, life has been pretty hectic these past few days and work has piled up steadily.  In order to keep my desk cleared for action Ernst army stationary up rightwayand loathing to see my in-tray fill up I had to do a bit of overtime.  Being busy makes the time go quicker only 11 days to go till I see you again.  In the few spare moments when I have time to think of personal things, my thoughts inevitably wander in your direction.  The quick ripening of our intense feelings for one another and the fact of this temporary separation seems to increase my longing for you, both physically and mentally.

It’s a good job it’s only temporary, I’d find it very hard indeed if you’d sailed anywhere but to a holiday destination.  I feel quite confident about the immediate future, meaning the next few months

Army stationary from the Second World War was still being used

Army stationery from the Second World War was still being used

beyond your return to Egypt – the time when you will be reading this letter. We would be able to see each other at least one weekend a month, perhaps two.

Rumour has it now that Cairo will be in bounds to personnel in Civvies and what with the Findlay’s (1) very kind offer, I should be able to manage a trip once in a while. Then you’ve got your mother coming to look forward to.  I do hope it will materialise all right.  By meeting the boat at Port Said you might “kill two birds with one stone”.   My old specialty.

Since Wednesday and the dance which, by the way, was a terrific flop, I have not indulged in any exciting social activities, although I have been in town every night.  I dislike being on my own in a mess with only a permanently inebriated L/cpl Mess Caterer as company, apart from year old mags and periodicals. So I tramp into town, 25 minutes at a brisk pace. As the evenings are cool enough for battle dress, this is a pleasant walk, part of which leads past the infamous Arab Town, which is of course out of bounds. Then the “Sea, Land and Air Club” and the Eastern Exchange Hotel seem to be the only social centres and I must admit they don’t improve on acquaintance. The former place has got “rackets” written all over it, a fruitful field for investigations, and the latter is a constant source of trouble with merchant seamen and junior ranks trying to get in.

Put 3 blokes in house arrest Friday night after which I went to the railway station and collected 3 more bodies who were being escorted from Cairo by the Civil Police.  They all claimed to be Merchant seamen or stowaways, without any means of identity. After a couple hours of “persuasive” talk in the Port. Police Station they admitted to being escapees from 51 Military Prison at Fanara near Fayid.  (2)  Two of them were once friends of ours.   I knew of them but had unfortunately never seen them in person when they disgraced our Guardsman at Bab el Hadid (3.).

But more of my adventures when I see you. Gosh, that can’t be too soon for me.  Don’t let the Khedios Mail Line (4) do you out of a precious couple of days by being late in arriving. I hope you will let me know when you’re expected in, and the name of the ship so I can meet it.  I am well in at the Docks, have been spending hours and hours down there getting to know everything.

Darling Len (I do like this abbreviation) don’t forget when you’re reading this in your cabin on the “Britannia” that my love for you is growing steadily.

Kissing you lovingly, Your Ernest.


1.  The Findlays presumably offered Ernest a bed if he was to visit Cairo.

2.  Fayid is 69 miles to the north east of Cairo.  It was the GHQ of British Middle East Land Forces.  It was also the important RAF air base in Egypt.  The camp and airbase are now abandoned.

3.  Bab el Hadid is the location of Cairo’s main railway station.

4.  The boat company she is sailing with.


Mum letter image png_edited-110 April, 1947

Darling Cuddles,

Wot a rush!  Got fixed up at the Commercial B. of S. yesterday re. £50 deposit visa guarantee and today I’m writing to the Con. giving my promises not to do and to do this & that.  Now I’m dashing into town to post letter and to enclose £1 visa fee & postages (various).  Then I’m going to ye shipping office to enquire re. passage on any ole boat at all so long as it takes me to you – yipeeee!

The people Robertson over the road – you remember, the girl got wed a few years back – have gone to Vancouver for a holiday.  They left Good Friday morn. in two cars.  Mrs H. next door was telling me they had been messing about with Cooks for ages & getting no forrarder when they spoke to some man in their restaurant mentioning their brother and he put them on the right path & they were all set in a few weeks.

Hope you are enjoying a wizard holiday and getting loads of sun & fun.  That ole postman ain’t called at our ‘ouse all week!   But while you are well & happy we are content.

Must een  dash away. (1)

Ever all our love, darling own. x.  Mum.


1.  Scots:  Een: used here in the sense of ‘now’.


Mum letter image png_edited-115 April, 1947.  A real April Day.

Darling Own One,

I think this letter sh’d be headed “GOOD NEWS RE TRIP” but, being the canny Scot I am I’ll just say I’ve got good news for you – like that. I’d better give you the details in a practical way.

I didn’t get along to the shipping office on Fri. as I was late in getting to town and it came on to rain like Billy O and my business in the P.O. getting the data away to the Consul took so much time with Q’s at all counters.

On the Thursday I deposited the £50 at the Commercial Bank and the manager said he’d write pronto to the Consul.

On Friday I sent the Con. a letter saying the bank w’d be communicating with them and enclosed letter from Cooperative Cashier saying I have interests in this country & that I’ll definitely be returning here (as if he knew!).

Must give that Con. points for promptness for on Sat. I got a letter from them saying they’d got the letter from the bank.

Yesterday I went to the City Line Offices – they are wonderful there – really take an interest, not like that ghastly Cooks.

Now here is what I think is good news. The man at the S.O. said there’s the City of Hong Kong leaving on the 18th or 19th April – but he didn’t think I’d get a passage on it as it’s all folks for the Far East, but if I did c’d I be ready?  I said I c’d with a scramble & left a ‘phone number – Smellies shop, over the road.

There’s been no news this morn. but at the one o’ clock news I got the tail end of the news on the radio & heard something about “all those on leave from the M.E. (1) must report at Southampton on the 18th”, so I guess that one is all booked.

However the S.O. man said he thinks there’ll be another ship at the end of the month, if so, that’ll be bonnyo.   They never know from day to day where their ships are going.  You can guess, honey lamb, I’m up to the ears preparing.  We shan’t have cash to gallivant about a lot, but just to see you and Egypt is all I want, and oh! boy, how I look forward with joy just to that.

Ever with fondest love. Mum.

p.s.  I heard a good bit in a film about “not thinking poor”.  I thought it was very good as so many people do “think poor” – not me.

p.p.s  No swimsuit so far, called at Arnott Simpsons yesterday and they only had one ghastly affair.  I’ve written Aunt Ena to try one for you in Leicester and I’ll still try here.


1.  M.E:  Middle East


Ernest, heaf and shoulders copy png18 April, 1947. 1800 hrs


I am so sorry I couldn’t get down to meet the ‘Talodi’ but have some very urgent reports to finish off.  You’re booked in at the YWCA. (1)   Phone me as soon as you can (330 Military). I’ll try to see you as soon as possible.

Love Ernest.


1.   It is assumed the boat berthed at Port Said.


Franconia notepng



 174 Mum letter

Mum letter image png_edited-122 April, 1947.  Tuesday.

Darling Best,

Just had my innocs. and may have to go back next Wed for more – hope to leave Thurs next, yes I know, I sh’d have had it done long ago, but the whole diff. of a visit to Egypt is to make all dates coincide, if you comprey.

Innocs note pnh

I’m off now to wire the P.O.Co. to keep my passage for me and I’ve already written to the Consul for my visa – I explained to you I’d asked them to keep it in readiness – its all just breathless!!!

Aunt Phem. called on Sun. night – they arrived a week today.   I couldn’t wait any longer to see Roderick and so called at 99 (1) on my way from the doc.   Oh! honey, he is just adorable and threw his arms around my neck whenever I went in – his grandma says he will never give her a cuddle – – just proves the old saying that blood is thicker than water – just remembered, she is his Mum’s Mum – but you know what I mean.

P. gave me nylons and Daddy socks – lovely.  You never saw such stuff as she brought home,  hundreds of pounds worth in carpets and food and P. drips with hand wrought gold watches and bangles.   Uncle D must have a terrific salary; (2)  she says it’ll cost me a rare lot in tips on the trip – well, if it does I’ll have to swim home for I’ve only my fare, but tra!la! tra!la!. I’ve a merry heart – thank goodness.

Must now busy – what I’ll have to tell you of my rushing when we meet!!  No one to root for me – done it all my wee sel so have the band out and a medal ready.   Shall write in a day or so to let you know the latest.

Ever your loving Mum


Wearying to hear from you – its been a long time no news.


1.  Aunt Phem’s mum’s house. 

2.  Dennis worked for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company  in Abadan, Iran.  At the time it was the largest oil refinery in the world and remained so until  1963  by which time Anglo-Iranian Oil had had a name change and was known as BP, British Petroleum. 

Before the First World War John Brown and Co. of Clydebank had developed the oil fired Brown-Curtis turbines.  There was a direct link between this and Uncle Dennis’s future job in Iran.  The oil fired turbines, and the company’s shipbuilding skills impressed the British Admiralty, and HMS Hood, Tiger, Repulse and Barham were built at Clydebank for the British Navy.

Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, was aware that the new generation of British Warships, (which sailed the High Seas protecting the interests of the British Empire) were oil burning, rather than coal burning.  To guarantee and protect the strategically important supply of oil he concluded a deal in 1913 with the recently formed Anglo-Persian Oil Co., the early forerunner to British Petroleum. The Government acquired a controlling interest in the company, and invested £2 million.

The intimate relationship between the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, its directors and the British State was underlined when Sir Frederick Black, Director of British Navy Contracts resigned his position in June 1919 to become managing director of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. (Daily Mirror June 16, 1919).

The British control of oil in Iran was to have consequences throughout Len’s life. Churchill, as Secretary for War and Air, and then Colonial Secretary in 1917 is credited, by the Churchill Centre, with drawing the boundaries of the modern Middle East.

'Abadan 1946.   Rod.  19 months.  Taken in the baby pool.  It was just filling up.'  Aunt Phem's writing.  With Dennis.

‘Abadan 1946. Rod. 19 months. Taken in the baby pool. It was just filling up.’  Aunt Phem’s writing. With Dennis.

The following extract is from All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer.

“The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company… reported in 1947 an after tax profit of £40 million, and gave Iran just £7 million. To make matters worse, it never complied with the committment under the 1933 agreement with Reza Shah to give labourers better pay and more chance of advancement, nor had it built the schools, hospitals, roads or telephone system it promised.  Manucher Farmanfarmaian, who in 1949 became director of Iran’s petroleum institute, was appalled by what he found in Abadan:

Wages were fifty cents a day.  There was no vacation pay, no sick leave, no disability compensation. The workers lived in a shanty-town called Kaghazabad, or Paper City, without running water or electricity… In winter the earth flooded and became a flat, perspiring lake…When the rains subsided, clouds of nipping, small winged flies rose from the stagnant waters.. Summer was worse..The heat was torrid, the worst I’ve ever known – sticky and unrelenting… . In the British section of Abadan there were lawns, rose beds, tennis courts, swimming pools….”


Mum letter image png_edited-125 April, 1947. Friday.

Cold and wet here but I dream of sunshine

Darling Bestest Own one,

Excitement’s terrific.  Just going to settle down to a dizzy evening’s sewing last night when the bell tinkled and it was Dr. Khalil and Miss Muir.  Did I tell you I met him on the No.9 (I’ll soon own those No. 9’s, the times I’ve been into town lately!) and he was telling me he was almost booked to go to P.S. on the Cameronia on May 4th? – sailing from Glasgow.

This was too much for me and next day I dashed wildly up to town (again on a no 9) and saw ye guys at ye Anchor line who didn’t know a thing about it – they never do.  Shortly after that I got the letter from the P.O. people and on advice from the City Line people accepted the passage – they told me it’s a chance in a thousand and it would be very difficult to get out in Oct.  Look how I’ve wandered from what I was telling you!

When the Doc. and Margaret got here my trunk was in the hall and I said gleefully “just ready to get my trunk ready as I’m hoping to sail on May 2nd – tra,la, tra la” and they both said in chorus  “May 2nd?” I said “Yes.” and they both said in chorus “On the Franconia?” and on my answering “Yes” the doc. said “So am I” and Margeret said “So is he” – Now isn’t that a coincidence. We, including Daddy, were all talking at once.

It seems the Cameronia sailing was another glorious Cook’s mistake – honestly they are quite hopeless at Cook’s here.  My visa, which I wrote for on Sunday arrived on Tuesday, so that was speed; it is dated 21st April and is an entry visa for 2 months only, I was going to send it back to L’pool but asked about it at the Post Office and the man there said it means two months in Egypt and I have a letter from the Con. to say its valid for 3 months from the date of issue and as you wrote it can easily be extended I decided just to hang on to it as I might rub them the wrong way if I quibbled – did I do right?

I also sent off my acceptance of passage yesterday – I’d wired previously – and a bank draft for £40 – single 1st class fare.  What you had to do to get away was a walk over compared with my effort for a 2 months visit.  I could write a book about it and Daddy says he’d have given up long ago, but no’me, Ah’m the wee determined wan!

The doc. says to write and tell you not to worry about me at P.S. as he is travelling right on to Cairo and will see me alright on the train – about this, you suit yourself honey girl, but don’t worry about me as the doc. will see I’m O.K. through Customs, etc, as he knows all the ropes out there, being a native, and he said to be sure to tell you he will look after me if you are not at P.S. and you can meet us at Cairo if not at P.S.

Remember the “Franconia” leaving Southampton about 2nd May – you can look for it in the papers, ain’t it thrilling!

Lot Morrison called over on Wed. eve. wanting me to take in a wee stray dug (I didn’t see it) but I told her I really couldn’t just now.

Lot was very interested in my trip and wanted to help and took away that leather apron you gave me to make a travelling bag for me – that will be a help.

I hunt for Jantzens  each time I’m in town but no luck but again saw the girl at Lumleys who confirmed my name is down for one.  However, Daddy will get it for you if one doesn’t get here before I leave and I have a plan to make one for you.

No news from you yet and I look for a letter every post but I know one will be on the way to us.  You’ll not have time to reach me here by letter but please send a line to Daddy, he is going to write to thank you for his lovely shoes, they are just wonderful and a perfect fit , he is busy just now doing the stencil for my trunk.  Daddy had to file the lock off to get keys for it as the key was lost as I told you.

A thousand jobs to do yet as you can imagine.  Hoping I’ll not be sick and able to eat all the food on ye ship sailing the ocean blue.

Fondest love ever, Mum. xxx


Some days after writing this letter Mum travelled down by train  to catch the Franconia sailing from Southampton.  It seems she broke the journey by staying a night, or two, with old neighbours in Dagenham, possibly the Baxters, the parents of Betty Baxter who had sent Len the postcard from Salisbury in 1944.


The Cunard liner the  ss Franconia was launched at the John Brown Clydebank shipyard in 1922, three years before Len’s birth.   There have been claims made that Churchill used it as his base during the Yalta conference, February 1945,  when he, Roosevelt and Stalin discussed Europe’s post-war political re-organisation. An alleged sighting of a Churchill double on the Franconia sailing back to Britain has added to the story.  However, Churchill, Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, and Moran, Churchill’s doctor were staying in the Vorontsov Villa in Yalta.  The Franconia, anchored in Sevastopol, was the base for support staff, including cipher officers. Churchill was, immediately after Yalta, flying secretly to Greece, where he was concerned about the influence of Greek communist partisans, and their influence in a post-war Greece. In 1947  the Franconia was being used as a troopship, with some accommodation for civilian passengers.

Immigration stamp png

Francona note to passengers.png                         Franconia Berth cardpng Franconia menu pngThis strikingly luxurious on board menu, for Thursday, May 15, 1947 would have been unavailable in even the best of restaurants in a food rationed Glasgow of 1947.

Franconia hairdressers png Franconia Revue png Franconia disem cardpng It seems from the date of departure and the length of the voyage there and back, and from details in a letter Dad wrote on 14 July that Mum was in Cairo for approximately seven weeks.  We know from a future letter that Mum stayed in a spare cabin on the floating hostel the Britannia.

Len & Mum png

Taken by a street photographer in Cairo, July 1947

She met Len’s work colleague friends, and the Findlays and many others at the European only Gezira Club, with its swimming pool and other relaxing facilities.   The Gezira Club will feature in the ensuing narrative.  And she met, and approved of Ernest.  She also heard that the Britannia would soon no longer be a floating hostel.  It is possible that the Britannia and the other former Nile cruise ships were being returned to their pre-war Tour Operators, of which Thomas Cooks was one.

Photostudio,Cairo png The Norma Photo Studio who employed the street photographer printed four 6 x 9 cm enlargements from the  negative.  It was taken on a 35mm format camera probably originally ‘liberated’ from a German POW, or a dead German serviceman.  The 35mm format camera had been developed in pre-war Germany.Mum and Len neg, Cairo png

The negative has been carelessly treated – at a guess – in the hurried darkroom processing.  The print shows a crease, the top has a light leak, and there is curious spotting, probably chemical, near the bottom.  But it was an important memento of Mum and Daughter together in the summer dress heat of a Cairo street in July 1947.  The invoice date is 4 July.  Within the week she was sailing home. Her length of stay in Cairo would be partly determined by when she could get a return civilian berth.


That berth was on the ss Dominion Monarch, a luxury liner built for the UK – Australian trade in 1939, by Swan Hunter in Wallsend on Tyne in the northeast of England.

Domion Monarch The Dominion Monarch was requisitioned in 1940 to be a troop ship, and was still sailing in that capacity when Len’s Mum boarded it at Port Said.  The trip home was via Naples.   In 1950 Len would be writing to Swan Hunter, asking to visit their yard, as part of her teacher training course in nearby Co.Durham.


Dad letter png14 July, 1947.

My Wee Lovely Lass,

Just got mums letter tonight letting me know that she is on her way back home and think she will be back at No 26 in about another weeks time and say honey am I going to have a hectic time getting No 26 in something like a shipshape condition for her return.

I have all the floors to do also a lot of dusting not counting the garden by the time that is done and I have got mum settled back here again I reckon that I will have earned my holiday but do you know honey girl it has been worth every effort we have all made so that the trip for Mum would be a success so don’t fret too much about mum having to leave you my dear as you know it will only be a few months till you will be seeing us both again in the meantime put on the old record and listen to your mum and dad talking to you again. (1)

This is just a wee letter to let you know that I have received all your mail and to let you know that I am still keeping in the pink but must now draw to a close as the midnight hour approaches and I must go to the land of nod so bye bye for now my dearie hoping that you are keeping well and looking after yourself.

Goodnight sweetheart and all my love to you, from your own dear Daddy. xxxxx


1. Record shops offered a personal recording service on a shellac 78 r.p.m


 Dad letter png22 July, 1947.

My Dear Len,

This is to let you know that I have received your last two letters – the one that Ernest posted at P.S. and your No 193 and was very pleased to hear that you saw mum off on her return journey and that you are getting settled down again.  I am sure my darling that you will miss her ever so much but keep the old chin up and always keep that big smile going for it sure keeps up that old morale.

So far I have had two telegrams from London to let me know when our mum gets into Glasgow. One last night to say that she was getting the one o’ clock from London so up I goes to see what time it arrived at the Central. (1)   They told me that there was no train at that time from London so tonight when I got home was the other telegram to let me know that mum was leaving on Wednesday morning at 10 and was due to arrive in Glasgow at 6.35 so will again get to the Central to meet our mum I hope.

I can tell you now that I will be ever so pleased to see her for I have missed her while she has been away and it made me think of you both ever so much.  I believe I missed you more while mum has been with you than I did while she was at home but it wont be long honey until we will both be seeing each again and I think we will have one of those parties like what we used to have as soon as you return.

I have been very busy this last two weeks both at the work and at home getting the place that is No.26 tidied up for our mums return.  Remember how we went to it at Canonsleigh Road when Mum was coming home after her operation. (2)   This time I have not got it in such good order but somehow I think our Mummy will be pleased even if it is only to be back at No 26.

The factory is on holiday and this is our busy time and I have worked late Friday night, Sat off, Sunday Monday and Tuesday until 7 o’clock each night so feel a little tired somewhat but will be full of beans tomorrow night to meet my darling sweetheart and to hear all the news about you my dearie. (3)    I have received a post war credit note for you for the sum of £9.8.6 which we will keep here until you return as there is no sign of them paying it out for a while yet it is for the year ending 1945 so you should have another one for the year 1946 if your overseas service counts make inquiries regarding this. (4)

This is all the news at present except that I am looking forward to my holiday this weekend.  Will drop you a card from Morecambe so bye bye for now my dear and good night and God Bless you.

As ever I remain your loving Daddy. xxxxxxx


1.  Central Station, Glasgow.

2.  Canonsleigh Road, Dagenham.

3.  This suggests that Dad was a maintenance engineer at the factory.  With the production line stopped for a fortnight it would give the maintenance engineers time to permanently fix running repairs, and overhaul and service machinery.

4.  Because of the increased costs of Government spending during the war, tax free allowances were reduced. However a calculation was made by the Inspector of Taxes on the additional amounts individuals had to pay and was credited to the tax payer as Post War Credit Notes.  In 1948 they could not be cashed in until the age of 60 for women and 65 for men.  On this basis Len wouldn’t have got her money until 1985.  Subsequent changes in the Finance Act meant they were cashed in mostly by 1973. The sums received were paltry.


Morecambe p.c. png

‘This is the part of Morecambe where I am staying at.  I have marked it with a cross just above the place where I am boarding at.  Daddy’

Dad letter png29th July, 1947.  ‘Aldro’, Morecambe.

My Dear Len,

As you will see from the above address I have arrived here for my holidays and so far I am enjoying myself immensely.  I arrived on saturday night when it was raining but it cleared away by the sunday morning and since then the weather has been lovely so much so that I am getting quite a nice tan getting out with just my flannels and a short sleeve shirt. I have already worn the one you sent home with mum.  It was just the right size and quite a success.

This is a very good house I am staying at.  It is near the front just like what we had when we were at Hastings and the food is all that could be desired.  The visitors are a very mixed lot from all parts of England and Scotland and we have a very good pianist from Manchester who keeps the company going with the assistance of your darling daddy and between us we keep them all in good humour which makes for the pleasure of all.  So you see from what I have told you can rest assured that I will enjoy the rest of my visit here.

 I was very pleased to see Mum before I left for my holiday and to hear some of her holiday experience but as she said it will take long enough to let me know all that happened while she was out in Egypt visiting you so when I get back home I expect that Mum will just start again where she left off.

Will write you again when I get back home so bye bye for now my honey girl.

With all my love from your Affectionate Daddy. xxxxxx


Fleetwood pc png

Reverse, Fleetwood p.c png.‘4 August, 1947.   Dear Len, I am spending a few days here with my cousins before going on to Liverpool to see my other relatives.  Have had a lovely and enjoyable holiday.  The weather has been fine except for these last 2 days when it has been a little unsettled but it has not kept me indoors.  Will write you a letter when I get home and tell you all about my holiday. Love Daddy.’


Mum letter image png_edited-15th August, 1947.   Coldingham Avenue, Glasgow W.4

Darling Cuddles,

No more from you since your S.O.S re. cheque.  I can guess how busy you must be just now with ‘moving day’. (1)    Do hope you managed to buy another trunk as I know you would need it.   The weather is quite cold here – at least that’s how I feel it tho’ all the non-Eastern travellers think its very warm.

On Sat. just after posting the doe to you I was in the lift at MacDonalds going up to lunch when someone passing said ‘Hello’ and it was Lot Morrison, we both went to the restaurant to find lunches ‘off’ so we hiked to Lewis’s and Lot made me promise to call on them either Sun. or Mon.

 I went over yesterday and saw Mrs Morrison – it was her birthday – for the first time in years, she is 86 – a wee shriveled person but I should have recognized her anywhere. Mrs M and Maud and Lot and May (the patient) are all going to Braemar Highland Gathering today, tho’ how they were going to get Mrs the MacBraynes bus station for the Highlands at 9.15 a.m. beats me!   You should see Maud and Lot’s houses! Crowded out with junk – at least it looks junk because its so crowded and the houses are bungalow types – Lot’s is a real bungalow whilst Maud’s has two sloping ceilinged bedrooms up a tiny staircase and boy! do they think they are good!   I like suburbia, but! Newton Mearns is supposed to be posh – well, all I can say is – give me Yoker everytime and how thankful I am that I live at 26 Coldingham Avenue and not at Newton Mearns – millions of bungalows all looking exactly ‘alike’.

Daddy is still on holiday.  Got a P.C. from him yesterday to say he’d found his cousins, Hannah and Mary Elizabeth – at Fleetwood and was staying there a day or two then going on to Liverpool.   He left Morecambe on Saturday.   He says the weather is splendid and he is enjoying every minute of his holiday.

Jack returned from Norway yesterday afternoon, he looks well and sunburned and says he spent 2 weeks of his holiday mountaineering but somehow I can’t picture him climbing.

There is much to do in the house and now I must fill in those new ration books – pages of ‘em, but as I can’t get grub without them I must get down to it.

Herewith the second instalment of cheque doe – £4.  Cheque was for £15 – 15/-.

Please tell Findlays if they ask, I hope to deliver their stuff this week.

All love from your very own Mum. X



Last og the Few png

“The Last of the Many on the ‘Britannia’. Cairo 1947”  Len’s annotation on back.

Len & Mum

There is a possibility that Mum is on the left, middle row of the above Britannia photo.     Composite photo: Chiara Grafton


New Brighton pool pngReverse, New Brighton png

“7  August, 1947.    Dear Len,  Have got round a lot this holiday and have enjoyed myself very much.  Spent 3 days with my cousins H & ME  at Fleetwood and have been to see some of my relatives at Liverpool.  Will soon be getting back home to hear all the rest of the news from Mum re. her holiday, while I relate mine to her.  You can’t see me in this snap as I am on the far side of the pond.   All my love Daddy. xxx”



Mum letter image png_edited-1Friday, August 8th, 1947.  Busy old home.

Dearest Own one,

The last post has passed for today and no letters at all!   Your long one of Aug.Ist came in on Tuesday 5th – some speed!    You don’t mention a lot of things I speak of in my letters so hope you are getting all our mail, honey.  You’ll know by the numbers.   I sent a wee letter to Ernest yesterday, hope it arrives O.K. and that he is well.

I know my opinion wasn’t asked for, but must say – forget it if you like – I don’t think its a good line (technique, way, idea, etc, etc) to say you’ll lose 10 lbs. if E. gave you a studio photo.  I don’t think that joke is funny, sort of destroys the old dignity (elusiveness, undiscoveredness, etc, etc) but you know best – its just my idea and maybe you like making jokes about weight & I’ll agree they’re alright sometimes.   Just laugh it off, ha! ha!.

Was much interested in your account of your hunt for digs – are Stokes and Findlays both off?   Please tell Mrs Stokes I sent her a letter – made a bang at the address from the plan you sent me of where your new digs may be – addressed it thus – Mrs Stokes, Flat 10, 26 Hassan Pasha Sabri St., Zamalek. (1.)

I seem to be swamped in jobs – housework, sewing, and letter writing and visiting.  I’ve shoals of letters to write.  Got a lovely letter from Aunt Betty who has sent us another parcel and got Aunt Lizzie to send one also! Aunt Betty really is a darling. Also got some good pictures of them all.

Daddy is not home yet, got another card to say he found his cousins, Hannah and Mary Elizabeth – remember them? – at Fleetwood.   So I look forward to hearing a very interesting account of the meeting.  Dad is also visiting his other cousins at Liverpool and also Alice and family – I’ll bet my sweetheart is having a grand time and he really deserves it, he did so well while I was in ye orient.

Herewith £2 (two pounds) more tomorrow. This makes £10 I’ve sent. (2)

Cheers. Fond love darling from Mum xxx


1. Zamalek was and is a smart Cairo residential district on Gezira island.   Apart from the Findlays, already mentioned, the Stokes will feature in the ensuing narrative.  They were people that Mum met at the Gezira Club, amongst many others.

2.  Mum is sending Len amounts of money.  It is not clear if this is repayment for Len helping with Mum’s fare out to Cairo, or with her return fare to Britain.


Here is the first letter – in this collection –  from Len to her Mum since her letter of 6 April, 1946    From now on there will be continuous correspondence from Len.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-112 August, 1947. BSDM Cairo, c/o FO, SWI.

Dearest ones,

First of all, let me say that I’ve sent the photo to Thompson.  I put the photos in Photolux, but it wasn’t till yesterday I’d the dough to get them out and by that time, Thomson had left the boat, however, last night I gave the photo for T. to the Chinese-looking suffragi who said he’d give it to Thompson .  (1)

Ernst got your p.c. O.K. and should have written to you by now. (2)   I’m hoping to hear that you two have established a flourishing correspondence soon, for I feel that Ernst needs more rations of you for your combination of sanity and softness.  He’s so frightened of anything sentimental, seems to think it’s going to bite him, if only he’d believe that things can be pleasant and true at the same time.   However,  I’ve pursued this theme before and further words will only mix me up.  You know what I mean.

By the way, you can tell Joan Brandley  as much as you like about Ernst , for, well you know the way I feel about Joan.  She’s almost like a sister to me and I wouldn’t mind her knowing, the only thing is, don’t tell her by letter, please wait until you see her at New Year.

Just this minute I’ve had a letter from Ken Cook. (3)  He’s gone to sea and lo and behold has been all around, Haifa, Cyprus, Tel-Aviv etc. and he hopes to come to Alex. next trip. (4)    You’ve no idea how excited I am, for he’s really a super type and I’d love a natter with him again.

 Unless I close this letter now, I’m sure something else will eventuate to stop me getting it off, so I’ll close now, but will get down to a really long and comprehensive one soon. Good-bye darlings, do take care of yourselves for me – remember how I love you.

As always, your most loving child,
Len xxx

p.s. Ken sends his regards to you two, quoting the address of the old home, which shows he hasn’t forgotten.


1.  Suffragi: servant.

2. Ernst signs his letters to Len in the Anglicised way ‘Ernest’.   Len refers to him in her letters home as ‘Ernst’.  Len was correct: his name was Ernst, but he preferred the anglicised form.

3.  Ken Cook was on Len’s 1945 List of People and Songs she associated with them.  Ken is associated with Twilight is Falling on Bonnie Loch Leven.

4.  Alex: Alexandria, which was also the Royal Navy’s base port for Mediterranean operations.


Ken Cook envelope png

Ken Cook’s letter to Len, 7 August, 1947

                                                                             7th August, 1947.  Liverpool

Dear Helen,

You must excuse the fact that this letter will be dirty.  As are my hands.

Ken Cook letter png_edited-1

We arrived here this morning and I am on duty all day and so on until tomorrow morning.   We have just arrived back from a tour of the Med., having been to Mersin in Turkey, Jaffa, Tel-Aviv and Haifa in Palestine and Limassol , Larnaca and Boghaz in Cyprus.

‘Dipping deep for Famagusta and the hidden sun
That ring black Cyprus with a lake of fire’.

Do you know that Helen?  Flecker’s ‘Old Ships’

‘I have seen old ships, that sail like swans asleep
Before that village, which men still call Tyre
With leaden o’ercargoed, dipping deep’, etc.

I love ‘o’ercargoed’

Sorry, both my writing and spelling all to blazes.

So you are studying French. Well, well!

Do you know the song from Marie-Rose which answers him when he calls.  I was singing songs of the Highlands in the Med. with a braw Highlander, by name McKenzie.

At Mersin I was talking French (my conversation in French is slightly better than my writing of it) to two girls who were at a party we had in what I imagine was the Turkish equivalent of a German beer garden. I t was very interesting because although it was a big party, me and an Arab named Hannal Naddy from, believe it or not, Kings College, Newcastle on Tyne, returning to his home in Palestine, two girls and myself had a small one of our own.  One of the girls spoke French and one of the girls spoke French, Turkish and Hannal spoke Arabic and English.  I spoke English and some French.  ‘The natives appear to be hostile’.  Your knowledge of foreign language will give you an idea of the difficulty and the fun we had.

The wireless operator on this ship is a Glaswegian. (I hope that is the correct term). We will probably be going to Alexandria next trip so shall see your Egypt first hand.

We were in Haifa when the President Wharfield, the Jewish immigrant ship came in. (1)   They put the ship next to us after they transferred the Jews and I was rather amazed to think that 4,500 people could have been housed in such a small ship.  The British have a peculiar habit of casting searchlights over the harbour through the night and patrol boats go around dropping depth charges.  This is very disconcerting when one is trying to sleep.   But after we left, the same evening I believe, the Jews, (I presume), put a time bomb in a British ship and made a bit of a mess.

If you wish to have a reading list:

Algernon Charles Swinburne, poems;  Ernest Dowson, poems;  Arthur Symons, poems;  William Morris, poems & prose;  D.G.Rossetti, poems;  Ernest Hemingway, prose;  Ezra Pound, poems;  Charles Baudelaire;  Francois Villon;  James Elroy Flecker, poems;  Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, etc;  Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici;  Sir Ronald Storrs , Orientations;  T.E.Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  And, if you have a deep interest in English literature – The Cambridge Lectures,  Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

I think that is enough for now.

Give my regards to your mother and father at 26, Coldingham Avenue, Yoker, etc when you write.

Vaya con Dios,

Address:- E.K.Cook, 5th Engineer, ss. Patrician, c/o Ellerman & Papayanni Lines Ltd., Tower Buildings, 22, Water Street, Liverpool.3.


1.   The President Wharfield is better known as the ss Exodus.  It had sailed from Hamburg with Jewish Holocaust survivors who had no legal immigration certificates to land in Palestine, with the intention to berth in Haifa.   The British Royal Navy, following instructions from London, seized the ship off the Palestinian coast and the occupants were transferred to three boats that returned them to Hamburg, in the British Occupied Zone.


Len for Egypt letters png_edited-113 August, 1947.

Hello Darlings,

First of all, let me say thanks Dad for the p.c. from Liverpool. Isn’t a coincidence in all the time I’ve been out here I’ve never had any mail from Liverpool before, and to-day I’d two, your p.c. Dad and Ken’s letter (postmarked Bootle Liverpool) and both posted on the same day.   Ken Cook is 5th Engineer on the s.s. Patrician so I’ll be studying the shipping charts (or whatever they’re called.) ‘medley’ to see where it’s bound for out east and when.  His letter is most interesting.   I’ll send it to you when I’ve replied to it all being well.

Tell me Daddy, d’you know a man called Milne who was in progress at R.O.F Dalmuir? He was one of our Storeholders and just flew back the other day.  ‘Twasn’t till after he’d gone I knew he came from Dalmuir.   If I’d known earlier I could have asked him if he knew you.   There must be a number of storeholders with us from the Scottish R.O.F.s.   Haven’t you heard anyone you know say they were going out here?

I’ve got both, or rather,  two of your dough letters now and so Little White Lily is happy again. (1)   You were a darling Mummy to send it so promptly – again thanks.

Here’s more of my news since I saw you off, Mummy.   After me taking the photo of the ”D.M.”  when I got ashore from her after lunch P.S was Out of Bounds and on the way to the Eastern (2),  boys were trying to run me over with bicycles – cycling on the pavement etc. and really not doing it in a funny (ha,ha) way.   You see the character of a town changes entirely when there are no British troops in it.   I hopped into the E. quick as I could and checked up on Ernst’s booking for me at the Y., then taxied there with my baggage.  You see I didn’t want to go on foot in the town again for them trying to run me over interlude made me rather scared.  After I’d been at the Y. a little while, E. arrived for tea.  I asked him how he’d been able to come when it was O of B, and he said in his own words “Don’t look a gifthorse…” etc., then I took the photo from the balcony.

Ernest balcony png

I told you in my earlier letter didn’t I of my return to Cairo in the car with Liz and Bill, then spending the afternoon fixing up French lessons with Russian teacher.

On the Wednesday I went straight to Gezira (3)  and talked to Myrtle Tandy, a girl who also does “B & B” and I learnt all the ins and outs of living that way from her.

The Stokes generally get over to the Gezira at 3.  As we stop at 1.30. I get there about 1.40 and have something to eat and sunbathe whilst waiting for them.  Lots of girls at the Club whom I don’t even remember meeting you are enquiring as to your whereabouts and wellbeing Mum, so think well of yourself.

On the Thursday Patricia came to lunch and we went to Mrs Branton’s (4) for tea – as per invitation.  Then, well old Pat was going to see “Brief Encounter”, and she must have seen the longing in my eyes,  for she insisted on my coming and also on treating me.  You see P & I were in the play version of it “Still Life”, P played the gossipy woman and I played the barmaid.   I knew “Brief Encounter” had gained an award and was reckoned on being an extremely good film.  I certainly found it so, best I’ve seen since I came out here – what acting, everything was so completely true to life.  You agree?

On the Friday I again went straight to Gezira, where I again talked to Mrs Stokes.   I’m always trying to get away to do some sewing or something, but she insists that I stay and I practically have to make a dash for it when I eventually go.  Don’t know what she has in common with me, I s’pose she just likes another woman to natter to.  She received your letter all right Mum and let me read it.   It certainly is a lovely one and Mrs Stokes was thrilled to receive it and to think you’d remembered the address.

On the saturday I took out the pins I’d put in to take in the green pinafore dress and put on some tacking, then went for a walk as well as doing some washing.   All the emphasis on washing and ironing is ‘cos I want everything up to date when I move as the Britannia facilities are rather exceptional and landladies are all s’posed to be a bit stuffy about you doing your washing. Anyway I’ve got to buy an iron, so you see why I’m doing everything ‘medly’ just now.

The girls from the “Sudan” came over to talk after dinner. You remember the “Sudan” houseboat don’t you?

On Sunday, my last Sunday on board,  I’d breakfast in bed, then attempted to get down to sewing the seams I was taking in,  on the machine. That bullet spool got me and not knowing it was only the case I tried to wind the thread round it by hand. However Joy Cooper came down to help me and we managed between us to get it going all right.  I got the job done O.K., then went across to the club to sunbathe.

Patricia came back with me for lunch.  I then started to do my ironing  on the wicker deck – there’s a new arrangement whereby it’s plugged in there and the ironing board is put across two tables.  It’s not nearly as hot as the other wee place and you can talk to your friends (you slaving and they reclining on ye wicker chairs) as you iron.  I’d two phone calls to break this pleasant pass time.  One from an Egyptian journalist.  Knowing that Egyptians just don’t get the brotherly attitude, I did a thing I’ve never done before in my life – I cut him off.  I don’t want to get involved in anything and you know me, I get friendly with people, then they get too friendly and suddenly I find myself in a web half of which I’ve spun unwittingly.

The other was from Mrs. Branton asking me to tea.  How I cursed, for I was enjoying my chores day, but didn’t think it polite to refuse.

Monday came with its usual routine, Gezira, talk to Mrytle, wait for the Stokes.  Mrs S. told me they hope to be leaving Cairo in another three months, as her husband’s got a posting elsewhere, but I don’t know any more as yet.  She expects to get more gen this coming week.  I left them to go to town where I got a grammar book for my French etc., then the ironing and sewing.

On Tuesday it was John Morton’s 21st birthday.  He’d said he’d take me out for some Arabic food and when by accident I picked on his birthday day he wouldn’t change it.

 In the afternoon before John and I went out,  I went to my French class.  My teacher’s a dear.  She’s young, says she is a colourless Russian (5) but wants to go there (notice not ‘go back’ for she was born here), as she feels their theory is good.   I’m looking forward to seeing more of her. Then I bought two bottles of chianti wine at 18Pt. each for John. They’re in those lovely wicker basket efforts and you can sort of sling them over your shoulder and hold by the raffia handle – lovely and silly.

Back to the Britannia to change, then he came and we went into town, had some cold Ovaltine, then saw “Two Smart People” at the Metro, John Hodiak and Lucille Ball, n.t.b. (6) and quite passable as light entertainment.  Afterwards he discovered he didn’t have enough money for Arabic food and as I was in my usual state of penury I couldn’t help, so we’d sundaes at L’Americaine, then taxies back to the “Britannia” where we’d sandwiches and a bottle of chianti (only a pint in said bottle) between us. He let me keep the bottle.  I simply adore it’s little half basket.

Yesterday I Gezira-d and introduced Mrs S. to the Wilemans and Mr W. was teaching me to dive, I think doing exercises ordinarily helps with diving, for I seemed to get the straight leg bit quite well.   Mrs S. does madden me a bit though, for she didn’t attempt to get friendly with the Wilemans.  We did have fun in the water yesterday and now I know Gezira better,  it’s losing its stuffed shirt atmosphere for me.

I returned to the “Britannia” to learn about our moving off on Friday instead of Saturday- I’d got my dates mixed up – so speeded up my programme a bit by more energetic washing and a shwoya packing. (7)

Did I tell you I’ve now 5 in my pool at work?  Three U.K. based and two locally engaged.  One of the U.K’s is away on a court of enquiry job at the moment.  Although, as I told you before, the types are older I find it comparitively pleasant on the whole.

Without further ado though, I must call it a day.

Oodles and oodles of love, Len xxxx


1.  Little White Lily:

‘Little White Lily Smells very sweet;
On her head sunshine,
Rain at her feet
Thanks to the sunshine,
Thanks to the rain,
Little White Lily is happy again…’

–  George MacDonald, 1824 – 1905

2.  PS/Eastern:  Port Said; Eastern Hotel.

3.  The Gezira Sporting Club, with its racecourse, golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts and croquet lawns was – along with Shepheards Hotel – the place for Europeans in Cairo, and as such has featured in poems, novels and recollections by them.  It is on Gezira Island on the left bank of the Nile, and shares the island with the exclusive Zamalek residential area.  In 1947 membership was by election, but British Army Officers were automatically made members.  When Len was writing, membership was exclusively European, and non-members could get a day pass for a few pesetas.
    When King Farouk was overthrown in 1952 by the Free Officers Movement, co-led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Gezira was nationalized.  These days, with its football stadium, horse racing, swimming and golfing, it is described as Egypt’s ‘greatest outdoor attraction’.

4.  Len had already agreed to B & B with Mrs Branton.

5.  Colourless Russian: neither Red Bolshevik or White Opposition Russian.

6.  ntb:  not too bad.

7.  Shwoya: a little bit.


Next     Part Two  Chapter Three:  Life as Medicine

“Some of the English girls don’t seem alive at all – they take life as a sort of medicine.”  – Vera, a young Russian, quoted by Len, 28 August, 1947.

Posted in Cairo 1940s, Feminism, Gender Studies, Letters, Social and Political History, Suez Canal Zone, Womens History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part Two 1: Fresh and Innocent

 Part Two   1: Fresh and Innocent

“I’m so happy you are as you just are, so fresh and innocent and yet with that wee bit of worldly wisdom which is such a safeguard.  Your stay in the East will educate you and show you ‘all is not gold that glitters’ and we tried to give you a certain armour of confidence & self reliance before you went away.” – Letter from Mum to Len, 14 March, 1947.

Egypt map png Len recalls that her Mum travelled down from Scotland to Liverpool to see her off.  Len also recalls that she forgot to pack sanitary towels, and that on the voyage out she noticed how everyone ate their soup with their right hand.  She was left-handed.  As there was still a stigma about those who were left-handed,  surreptitously she started  to eat her soup with her right hand.

The first surviving letter in the correspondence between Mum and Len (and occasionally Dad) during her time in Cairo is from April, 1946.  Because they numbered their letters – a left-over of Second World War Two practice between many overseas troops and their families back home – we can work back from the April 1946 letter to a probable date in early November 1945 that Len arrived in Egypt.  She was almost 20. She was still working as a shorthand typist for the Ministry of Supply (one of the forerunners of the present Ministry of Defence), but now for their British Stores Disposals Mission.

The ‘disposals’ were the huge amounts of war surplus material that were left over after the World War that had ended only three months after Len had arrived in Cairo.  The surplus not only included the sale of surplus WD film stock, gas masks, clothing and tents but also lorries, pick-ups and other material, that in the context of unrest and conflicts in British colonies and British ‘areas of interest’ (i.e the Middle East) was a potential political hot potato.  There were also sensitivities about their disposal as some items were from the United States Lend Lease programme.  Questions about alleged sales to Trans Jordan and other Arab countries would be raised in the House of Commons.   In early 1949 the Minister of Supply, G.R.Strauss, would give a written answer concerning the Stores Disposal Mission in Egypt.

“On Ist January, 1949, 1,328 people were employed.  Salaries, wages and allowances were at the rate of £267,000 a year.  By Ist April, 1949, the number will be reduced to about 265 and the rate of annual expenditure to £87,000.  During the last two years 772,000 tons of surplus stores and 29,000 vehicles were disposed of, bringing in £18,700,00.  In addition, about 208,500 tons of stores and material in short supply were sent to this country.  It is not practical to give the cost of production of the goods sold”.

When Len arrived in Cairo in November 1945 Egypt had had a kind of independence from the British since 1922, but informally and formally was still an uneasy, and unequal partner with London.  The 1936 Suez Canal Zone treaty with King Farouk guaranteed British presence until 1956.  The indulgent, womanizing and gambling King Farouk was not liked by secular or religious Egyptian nationalists, and demonstrations against western interference in Egyptian and Arab affairs were common.

Besides the Suez Canal and oil, the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt was a vital link for the British Empire with important logistic bases and transit camps and recreational facilities for its forces.  These forces – all services – were deployed in the Middle East, the horn of Africa, East Africa, the Indian Ocean, India (until independence in 1947), Singapore, Malaya, the East Indies, Hong Kong and the Pacific.

"Left to Right.  Moi, Doreen, Des & Joan.  The prow of the good ship.  May '46"  Len's annotation on back of photo

“Left to Right. Moi, Doreen, Des & Joan. The prow of the good ship. May ’46”    Len’s annotation on back of photo

Some of Ministry of Supply admin staff were quartered in floating ‘hostels’  (often former Nile tourist cruiser boats), berthed near the Gezira Island in Cairo.  The boat that Len was on  was the Britannia. This is the first surviving letter from Len in the Cairo correspondence:

Len for Egypt letters png_edited-16 April, 1946. B.S.D.M, G.H.Q, M.E.L.F. (1)

Dearly Beloveds,

I received this morning your 46 and envelope containing Amami shampoo – all jolly good.

Thursday afternoon – blissfully – I did nothing except natter to Patricia. (2).   In the evening I talked to her a wee bit, but went to bed comparatively early.  Yesterday afternoon I attended a meeting at one of the girls’ flats about starting up the C.S.C.A. and other Union machinery out here and I believe that shortly things should start moving. (3)   Last night I read to Gillie who is again sick with food poisoning and went to bed early.  Today work and glad of receipt of mail from you.


Before I go any further I must say how welcome & how wonderful the parcel was. Before hand I was wondering what to do, as my make-up etc was running low, but now I’m very much O.K. in that line.   It was lovely to see my green coat again.   I told you didn’t I that it cost me 45 in duty & 25 pt. in maintenance costs; that’s 15/- so the “bag” definitely seems the best way. (4)

I did a colossal wash this morning – stockings, blue jumper, white American blouse, make up rags, face flannel, flowered apron, white cooking apron, wee tea aprons, 2 brassieres, navy gloves, nine hankies, pair pads, red & yellow scarf, nightie, pair silk pants, pair wooly pants, slip, camiknicks & suspender belt.

Last night I went to the Y.W.C.A. dance & it was pretty grim.

I’m enclosing a photo of me on a camel.   It’s not glamorous, but I think rather funny – I’m sitting at that peculiar angle as I was scared of falling off by leaning forward – my hand is clutching a fez, in fact my face appears to be the only composed part of my body! (5)

I hope to go down to Luxor on a Y.M. tour at Easter (the week-end after this) and up to Tel-Aviv to Aviva in June, but of course it’s all up in the air.  Over here one seems to decide to do things quickly and I’m sure that long booking in advance for holidays etc. is unheard of over here.

I’m beginning to feel not so much of a stranger in Cairo ‘feeling at home’ describes it more accurately, except that I could never feel at home here.  This feeling though of being in things and knowing one’s way around has come suddenly and without the realization that it was coming.

Did you go to the opening of L.L.Y.H.?  Is the open road seeing or going to see much of you two these days? (6)

Please don’t say the “sober grey U.K.” it’s just the most wonderful place on earth.  I envy Aunt Kitty off to Skye for 3 weeks, but as Patricia said, when you feel homesick think “I’ve got the rest of my life to live at home, so I’ll really enjoy everything while I’m here.”

Your 47 – first by A.P.O – got here O.K. and really I think that Tait’s Smile about the floating Eastern carpet is priceless. I simply must stick it up in my cabin. (7)

Au ‘voir my beloveds and wrap yourselves in cotton wool for me.

All my love for you, Len.


1.  British Stores Disposal Mission, General Headquarters, Middle East Land Forces.

2.  Patricia: Pat Brown, a work colleague friend of Len’s, who will occur  in the narrative through to 1949 and London.

3.  CSCA: Civil Service Clerical Association.

4.  “Bag” is sending mail by the Diplomatic Bag service.

5.  Not in this collection, unfortunately.

6.  L.L.Y.H:  Loch Lomond Youth Hostel.

7.  APO: Army Post Office service.  The Tait’s Smile cartoon is not in this collection.

One of Len’s holidays in the summer of 1946 took her to the Lebanon:

Beirut envelope front png

Beirut env, reverse png

Len for Egypt letters png_edited-14 September, 1946.  B.S.D.M., G.H.Q., M.E.L.F.

Dear Mr. Mathews,

Much time has elapsed since the end of my holiday but I’ve never written to thank you for your kindness to me.

It was really necessary for me to get to Beirut quickly & I must thank you very much for seeing that I got down from the mountains, first in your car, then in a taxi.

I hope you are completing your mission successfully & that life is going well with you.

Once more I’m enveloped in Cairo’s whirl, but I cannot forget how kind you were to me. Thanks once more.

Yours most sincerely, Helen Bryers.

"Fawn in Cairo Zoo".  Len's writing on back

“Fawn in Cairo Zoo”. Len’s writing on back


Part of the whirl of Cairo was going to the Cairo zoo, and to music concerts


programme detail 11 Nov 46 png Music for All png

In the thirteen months that Len had been in Cairo, since November 1945, Mum had written her one hundred and twenty-seven letters.  This is one hundred and twenty-eight, the first that survives in this collection: IstMum letter cairo png   128 Mum, letter png

Mum letter image png_edited-1Thursday, 12 December, 1946.

Darling Cuddles,

Here is the latest about the house – I called, as appointment, at the Abbey B.S. & saw the manager on Monday, he was very reassuring re. our position & says if the owner doesn’t sell to us she cannot sell, with vacant possession, to anyone else and our job is to try to get the house for as little as possible.

After my talk with him I realised how some people make fortunes tho’ at the beginning they have no cash as he told me of a couple who bought the house of which they were tenants for £800 – a house like ours – and after doing some repairs sold it for £2,300 with vacant possession and, after paying for repairs and legal transfers, etc. made a clear profit of over £1,200!  A little nest egg like that would take us travelling a bit, eh?

Glad to tell you my ownest Sunbeam I got a brassiere for you – not a Kestos (1)  but the very nearest in a Q. in the corset shop in Sauchiehall Street to get it & will post it to you next week, my darling, do hope it suits.

This is just the wee-est note to tell you the latest events and send our never changing love.  Must now put on my armour and sally forth to ye shoppes.

All our love to you across the sea. Dad & Mum.


1. American designed bra, popular from the 1930’s to the early 1950’s.

21st png

Mum letter image png_edited-1Sunday at Home.  1.30 p.m.  15 December, 1946.

Darling Best,

So glad the birthday present arrived safely, honey, and delighted everything pleased you so much and that the ring fitted.  You know I’m an old fuss pot about that sorta thing, and boy! did we put some thought into that ring! – the fit and design, it meant many calls from the jeweller umpteen wee bits of paper with this & that suggestion re. design.  You see all jewellry is by law made in the shops only in just 9ct gold and, as we particularly wanted 18 ct. for your ring, it had to be done “off the books” and we were very lucky to get it, as you can be sure it was all strictly illegal!

I remember long ago you said you would like a ‘wishbone’ ring and I thought it would be the best thing for your birthday, the design is different from the shop ‘wishbone’ ring and makes for greater strength and is quite unique; it is meant by us to make all your dreams & wishes come true, our darling girl, so kiss it when you wish, & presto!

I note what you say re. my trip, pet, and I’m getting forward with forms, etc. & will be getting my passport pictures done this week.   On the form I’ve got & which is stamped “Orient Line” by Cooks, it asks ‘have you a passport’ & ‘have you obtained a visa’ and also asks reasons for travelling, re. this last I want you to answer this by return & say what I sh’d put there.

I think I’ll drop a line to Mrs Findlay’s Ma, as it wouldn’t be gracious – and you know what a stickler I am for doing the gracious thing! – to accept help from Mrs. F.  re. speeding up the passage for me & not see her Mum – am I right begorra?  (1)

I’ve heaps of sewing to do – when am I ever other than that? – and I can see many night shifts in front of me, but as long as I see Cairo, I shan’t mind.  No, I’m not getting a lot of new togs just enough to make me comfy – the coupons are the snag and my mind is exploring here & there wondering who’s ear I can bite.  (2)

Jack’s father wrote to tell his brother & he that there’s a Norwegian ship in dock somewhere on the Clyde & Jack has gone off to find it and send messages home by the Captain.  Jack says he is going to get us some goats milk cheese from Norway. (3)

All our love is always yours, Your ever loving Mum.

p.s. Regards to all your boyfriends.  Tell them I’ll let them take me out by turns (when I arrive) to show me the Mysterious East!

Cheers & love.  Mum.


1.  The Findlays were a couple in Cairo who had befriended Len, and will feature occasionally in the narrative. They had  had a connection to the wartime Glasgow Scottish Youth Hostel Association group.   The mother and father, and sister, of Jean Findlay lived in the Glasgow area.

2.  Clothing coupons, which included dressmaking material.  See Guns Before Butter below.  

3.  Jack was a young Norwegian, lodging with Mum and Dad.


Guns Before Butter

At a time when Britain was close to being bankrupt,  and was already committed to repaying the United States for war loans, and a huge post-war loan, the Labour Prime Minster Clement Attlee, a few weeks after Mum wrote her letter above,  secretly started the programme to build an independent British nuclear bomb, in January 1947.  The estimated costs were around £40 million.

Clothing (as mentioned by Mum above) and food were two prominent examples of the extreme rations imposed by the post-war Government.  Bread, never rationed during the war, was to be rationed in 1947.  Many goods were being made for export – cars, for instance, as a way of earning currency, whilst imports were being cut back.   John Hall, a contributor to the 1948 Daily Mail Year Book (which went to press  late 1947) explained  “Britain was spending more than she was earning.  The nation was like a man spending £30 a week when his income was only £21 a week and tiding over by drawing the other £9 from a loan granted by a “rich uncle”  In Britain’s case the loan was from the United States – the £937,000,000 loan negotiated by the late Lord Keynes in 1946 – and it was running out rapidly.”

In October 1946 Hugh Dalton, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, had told Attlee and fellow Cabinet Members within GEN75 – the secret committee set up to look at nuclear energy – that the costs of developing an independent nuclear weapon were not  sustainable.  Attlee reacted by excluding them from the next GEN75 group that he  chaired three months later when the decision was taken to go ahead.     The final cost of developing the British atom bomb was closer to £100,000 million, not the original estimated £40,000 million. (For a full account, see Cabinets and the Bomb, Peter Hennessy, Oxford University Press.)

If Parliament and the electorate had known, the Nazi expression Guns Before Butter would have had an interesting resonance in post war austerity Britain.  However,  Mr Winston Churchill and his Conservative Party were delighted to discover the covert development of the British atomic bomb by their Labour colleagues, when they came to power in the 1951 General Election.  The first British atomic bomb was exploded in October, 1952 on the Montebello Islands, off the Western Australian coast.


Letter from Canadian serviceman png Enclosed in the envelope that Mum sent Helen was a letter from an ex-Canadian serviceman, one of the north American servicemen befriended by the Bryers during the war.   Mum has written at the top:  “I’ve answered this so destroy after you’ve read it.  I’m writing to all Can. friends in view of trip there sometime.  Mum”

Tecumseh, Ont.  Nov 13/46. (1)

Dear Mrs Bryers –

That last one did it.  I hereby humbly beg your forgiveness for not writing sooner, and I will try to rectify the habit in the future.  I honestly didn’t realise how long it was since I last wrote, and I am ashamed.  Thank you so much for persevering and bringing me around.

I’m very glad to hear that Helen is enjoying herself so, and particularly that she is not worrying over the present trouble there.  I suppose you do enough worrying for both and I don’t blame you.  Helen is certainly seeing an interesting part of the world and I do envy her.

It will be grand if you can find a spare passage out, and spend some time there with Helen.  Surely you people who build the ships have some influence with the shipping office.

Our papers too were full of the news of the Queen Elizabeth, and the pictures of the interior made me realize what a lot of work they have done in refitting her. She was an awe-inspiring ship in wartime so I can well imagine what a wonderful sight she is now.   I thoroughly enjoyed my trip across in her, and would like to repeat it in the future. (2)

 My latest bit of travelling was by air, sort of a last fling while I still had my gratuities from the service.  I blew all I had on two weeks vacation and thoroughly enjoyed the change.  On very short notice I got a plane reservation from Detroit to Seattle on the west coast.  The trip was smooth with lovely weather.  The trip only took one night. Even yet I find it hard to realize that in less than twelve hours I travelled nearly two thousand miles.  From Seattle to Vancouver B.C. was only a few hours by bus, and I stayed there for a few days visiting service friends.  Then on to the Okanogan Valley in B.C. where most of our export apples are grown.  Nearly all my paternal relations live there, and that was first and only visit with them.  It was very short, for time was rushing.

I went on by train through the heart of the Rockies (real mountains if I do say so myself), ending up in Edmonton Alberta, where I visited more relatives and spent a few hours in the little town nearby where I was born.  On again in two days to Calgary, visited friends for a few hours only, then spent the next three days on the train in order to get home in time to go to work.

Looking back I realize it was a lot of travelling to jam into two weeks but I got that restless feeling out of my system and paid a lot of visits that have been waiting for years.

And when Helen comes back from the East you can all fly to Montreal or New York overnight, or are you going to stick to the good old ocean?

Outside of my personal news there is very little.  We have been having a lovely fall, much warmer and dryer than is usual.  Seems as if you are getting all our rain over there.

All our large strikes were settled last month and about time too.  The workers have done themselves and their country a lot of harm through these long strikes, and they will feel it this winter.  In the States, just five minutes (3) away from us here on the border, they have many shortages and a great deal of inflation which makes us realize how fortunate we are.  We have plenty of food, reasonable prices for these times and a fairly sane government.  All we need is a great number of houses to make everyone happy.  Our housing shortage is quite acute for a country which had no losses due to the war, and the building trades aren’t being very successful in their efforts to help the situation.  Even a year from now will not see enough houses built.  Thank heavens I have no worries on that score, for we have our own little place and it looks good these days.

I do enjoy hearing from you and I hope everything goes well with you and with Helen.

Best regards to all, sincerely, Bob Brooks.


1.  Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada is a five minute car ride across the bridge that links it to Detroit – the Motor City – and would take the driver onto the Edsel Ford freeway.

2.  The world’s largest liner when launched at John Brown’s Clydebank yard in 1938, the Queen Elizabeth had just been refitted for civilian use after being used as a troop ship during the war.

3.  Mum’s underlining.


Mum letter image png_edited-122 December, 1946.

Dearest Cuddles, Wuddles, Puddles (Longtime since I called you this!),

“Let me tell you the tale of my life, sir, its full of sensations and thrills.” – Well, after all the excitement of your life in the east I don’t know, but anyway exciting enough for here.

It’s days since last I wrote, honey, but you’d understand how busy I’ve been as all the arrangements had to be made for the house valuer coming here on Friday.  Well, he came along in a huge car, very posh, & so it sh’d be when his fee is £3.10/- for about ¼ hrs. work – if you can call it work!  As I was showing him around he asked how much the owners valuer had assessed it at & I said £1,200 for us and £1,750 for anyone buying with vacant possession and he turned & said it would be a bargain for us even as sitting tenants at £1,200 as its a valuable house, so now we are waiting to hear what the Building Society advise & how much their solicitor can get the house for, for us.

On Tues. there was an advert in the Citizen  ‘Fur Coat, Musquash, for sale, suitable for repair work’, so I answered and kinda forgot about it in all the shopping, etc. Yesterday was my Coop U.C.B.S (1) meeting in Glasgow & I dashed there & dashed back to the Daily Worker bazaar in Bothwell Street and then to the G.P.O to Air-mail Xmas cards – so many to send – then down home.

Jack was out, but Daddy was in and greeted me by saying he had had a report to make as our kitten was missing – yes, we have the most adorable ginger kitten – I found him in the Coop grocers on Wednesday and he is lovely looking but was half starved when I found him – you sh’d see him now, lovely – and so clean, he follows me like a puppy.  I was ghastly tired & weary & felt like weeping but when I called out ‘Hope’ to him, he came running in so all was well.

Daddy had a visitor shortly after I went out – a ring came at the door and when he answered it was a man who works over beside him, with a suitcase and lo & behold!  it was in answer to my answer to the advert for the musquash coat, he had brought it along not knowing it was for someone he worked beside, so Dad had taken him in & they had a chat.

Since writing thus far we’ve got the dinner past, Roast Beef, Yorkshire Pudd. & Spinach followed by Custard a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit each – “awfa guid, Maw”.

Jack has gone to see Blithe Spirit at Unity’s Film Show with complimentary tickets I got at the Coop Party meeting on Friday, he was to call at his brothers to see if he would – could – go also.  I’ll let you know how they enjoyed the film – remember it?

Now, about the Musquash Coat – the woman who had it must have abused it a lot as the skins are torn and the lining all pulled out, I don’t know how it got in this state -certainly not with fair wear & tear and it is not so old – quite modern indeed and it is the most wonderful fur, beautifully soft golden skins – you know that very becoming shade, the lining is complete & perfect & is all embroidered round the bottom, the coat is medium small size, but I can enlarge it by using the bottom row of fur – same as my black seal – and making wide sleeves.  Guess what they are asking for it? – between £2 & £3 – so I will offer £2-10/-, truly just match money compared with what the coat will be worth when I’ve finished it, but I don’t suppose any of the careless ones realise its possibilities.  I love those short Musquash coats, they can be worn with tweeds or for dress.

Last week I got a cheque for £7 from Uncle Donnie, this to be divided as follows – £2 to Dad & I, £2 to Aunt Kitty and £2 to Aunt Ena & £1 to Marie Rose  – I sent it off as requested. (2)

Hope you got our Xmas cards O.K. honey, I told you we got yours and it’s a Sweetie. Hope you are getting the mail in from us regularly, my sweetest sweet and that you had a wonderful time at the Christmas Party on the 20th.

Jack has just come in & says Blithe Spirit is a wizard picture – he is still laughing at the bit where the ghostly wife drives the car past an astonished policeman.

Daddy has a sore knee and has decided not to go to work tonight as it is very painful and he has promised me to go and see Dr. Cochrane, the bone specialist tomorrow at Paisley.

 Fondest love ever, Mum.


1.   Coop Upper Clyde Branch Society.

2.  Uncle Donny is presumed to be Dennis, and the cheque to be divided between his three sisters: Mum, Ena and Kitty.  Marie Rose is the young daughter of Ena and her husband Bill.


Mum letter image png_edited-1Christmas Eve in ye old Home, 24 December, 1946.

I just couldn’t let this night pass without letting you know you are in our thoughts as always, our darling.

Here’s the latest re. hoose.   I called at the B.S. yesterday to pay the surveyor’s fee and the under manager told me he’d just been getting a letter typed to ask us to call for an interview with the manager, so I made an appointment there & then for 3 p.m. today.   Just as we were getting ready to go out, Mrs Rae from next door called for a loan of a pudding basin as they were just about to put their plum pudd. on to steam when the basin broke.  I think ours must be what is termed “a well appointed” house for I was able to produce a selection of basins for her choice.

At last we got away in a ghastly thick fog and frozen roads.  We saw the B.S. manager – very efficient & polite – who phoned up their solicitor for an appointment for us and we are to see him at 11 a.m. on Thurs.   They evidently got a very favourable report from the surveyor.  The surveyor reported that, with vacant possession the house would easily sell for £1,750 or £2,000, so you see honey, if we can get it in the region of £500 to £800 it w’d mean a profit for us anytime we sold whilst the present housing shortage lasts & that looks like being for many many years.  (1)

Dad & self then went shopping and went into Masseys. There was a huge pile of mince pies on the counter & Dad asked about them & the guy serving said they were only for registered customers & I said  “He (Dad) doesn’t understand all about the difficulties of shopping, ha! ha! But I’m going on holiday and he’ll get to know.”

Dad said  “Yes, she is going to the land of milk & honey”, and the fella said “Where is that” & I said “Cairo, Egypt” & that started it – he was recently demobbed and said if he hadn’t been married he’d have rejoined again so as to spend another 6 months in Cairo, which he says is a most exciting city & he liked it very much.   Well, we jawed & jawed & he said “Oh! I must give you some of these mince pies as you are old Egyptian friends.”   He made up six lovely mince pies for us! – so you see, honey, “agaun fit is aye gettin’”. (2)

We hear on the radio tonight that a bomb exploded in the Anglo-Egyptian Club but no one hurt, thank goodness.  Must stop now, my sweetie pie, hope Santa puts something nice in your stocking.  It’s raining cats and dogs tonight, the weather is terrible.

Boxing Day. 26.12.46.

Just look at the day it is and we never got this away to you – yesterday just seemed to go in wee bits of cooking, cleaning and shopping (3) and now we are just off to the solicitors to make arrangements re. his getting in touch with Mrs Mac’s chap – I guess she’ll throw a pink fit when she hears our offer in the region of £500 – £800! (4)   It was such impudence of her solicitor to try to stampede us into £1,200.

Our kitten, Hope, is really a pet and is growing like anything, he is creamy ginger colour & so clean and dainty.  How do you like his name?  It had to be something beginning with “H” as is our tradition & I thought “Hope” so nice & cheerful.

There’s cards in for you from Mrs Holt and Bob Getchel, I’ll forward them in separate envelopes. (5)     The mantlepiece is decorated with over 20 Xmas Cards we got.

We got a most lovely aluminium teapot and silver jam spoon from Aunt Ena – they are really beautiful and just what we wanted.  I got a tin of Bath Salts & tin of talcum from Joan Brandley, very sweet of her to send them. (6)

We intend to go to L.L.Y.H. at New Year – what am I to do with Hope?  I’ll be running up here every few hours. (7)

Best love in the world to you, our own one.

Cheers & love, honey girl, Mum. x.


1.  In 1945 squatting spontaneously occurred, due to the housing shortage, in places such as the surrounding area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, including a nearby empty army camp.  By the time squatting occurred in cities like London political action groups were sometimes involved.  The housing shortage was anticipated during the latter stages of the war – much housing had been lost in the Blitzes, and the V1 and V2 raids – and the first prefabricated home (prefab) was erected and occupied in London in the Spring of 1945.  It is reported that by January 1947, a few weeks on from Mum writing this letter, 100,000 prefabs had been built.  However, there was still a housing shortage, particularly in the bomb damaged cities of Britain, most of which also had crowded slum areas,  such as the Gorbals in Glasgow.

2.  Scots: ‘A moving foot is always gaining things’.

3.  Shopping on Christmas Day:  Christmas Day in Scotland historically was not as significant as it was, and is, in England.  As late as 1967 it was not a statutory holiday for blue collar and shop workers in Scotland.

4.  Mrs Mac – Mum’s abbreviation for their landlady.

5.  The Holts from Dagenham.  Bob Getchel was a serviceman who had met Mum and Dad and Len in Glasgow during the war.  His family were very close friends of Dad’s relatives in the United States.

6.  Joan Brandley, from Dagenham, and who is in the hiking gang photo with Len on the Loch Lomond steamer in 1945, and on Len’s list of People and SongsJoan Brand pngThere are photos of Joan with Len’s Mum and Dad, on the beach at Dornoch in 1946.  She will also appear in youth hostel photos with  Bruce Bryers.   Bruce Bryers was possibly a nephew of Dad’s.  Where he lived, whether England or Scotland is unknown. 

7.  Loch Lomond Youth Hostel.   The distance between the youth hostel and the house in Yoker was 3 miles.  The nearest station to the hostel was Alexandria.

Joan B Dornoch png copy

Joan Brandley with Harry, Dornoch, 1946.  Photo taken by Mum.


Mum letter image png_edited-1Monday.  30 December 1946.

The day before Hogmanay.  (Have been busy making up your parcel – slacks & bra. etc and am now dashing off with it to the G.P.O.)

Dearest and Best,

We are all well and happy, but busy, boy! I’ll say we’re busy!  I’m writing this in the middle of a mouthful of lunch.  I note all the splendid tips in your letter re. filling in my forms and shall act accordingly, after New Year my thoughts and deeds will be dedicated mostly to arranging my trip.  The days just now are so brief and meals so many.

We are going to L.L.Y.H tomorrow – both Jack and Dad stop at 12 so we shall be off soon after.  Jack is thrilled to bits at the idea of the hostels and I’m going to get a membership card for him in town today – that is to be his New Year gift from Dad & self.  Jack is really a lonely soul and has not much young company so he is enthusiastic re. visiting L.L. and yesterday put on the outfit he proposes putting on for the trip so that we c’d O.K. it – or otherwise; he has a camera and films so will try to get some snaps.

We’ll be thinking of you on New Year’s Eve and wishing you all that’s Merry.  May all your dreams & wishes come true in 1947.

Your own ever loving Mum and Dad.


Mum letter image png_edited-13 January, 1947.

The beginning of the year 1947 in The Old Home.

Our Darling Own One,

This is the very first letter of the year and the first one we received this year was from you – we are so happy you had such a wizard time at Christmas.  We just got back from Loch Lomond Y.H. last night and oh! boy – what a time we had!  It was one of merriment and fun from the time we got there on Hogmanay till we left last night.

"Group at Auchendrennan New Year's Day, 1947.  Dad and Mum at left and right.  Mrs Mac is in Centre with Henry Lindsay at her back - that's Henry's brother in kilt next to me.  The piper appeared playing a tune, he had walked all the way from Tarbert after playing all night!"  Mums annotation on back of photo.

“Group at Auchendrennan New Year’s Day, 1947. Dad and Mum at left and right. Mrs Mac is in Centre with Henry Lindsay at her back – that’s Henry’s brother in kilt next to me. The piper appeared playing a tune, he had walked all the way from Tarbert after playing all night!”  Mum’s annotation on back of photo.

Jack was overcome by the Membership card we gave him and some of his Norwegian Pals propose coming over to Scotland for a tour during the summer and he is to get a bike in April so he will be able to make good use of the card.

Like ourselves, he thinks Auchendrennan is wonderful and quite admires Joan MacDonald and thinks she is so pretty “like a doll” as he says, she is certainly a bonnie lassie and as sweet as she is pretty, as I told him, however Jack is so shy, he just remained tongue tied.

Before the clock struck midnight we all (about 85) of us trooped out and Henry Lindsay listened for the Chimes (this was because a piper was playing loudly) then we all trooped upstairs where Mr. & Mrs, Mac rec’d us with ginger wine and cake, then we had dancing & singing then Dad, Jack & self were invited into the kitchen where the fun was terrific & later  Mrs. Mac. invited us all up to their own flat, it is very nice and, my! what a party – Daddy kept saying it was the best for years, it was hilarious – even riotous with fun and singing and ended up with several prostrate forms lying around, a true Scottish New Year.

At the hostel (but not at the party) there was a party of students from the International Club.  Mostly Indians and EGYPTIANS and, as is my wont, I made hay while the sun shone by talking to the nicest Egyptian I c’d see.

Our festivities were broadcast by the B.B.C. at 8 till 8.20 on New Year and this E. I spoke to was one of two picked to ‘say a few words‘ over the mike, and I found his name is Doctor (it sounds like this) “Kiellally” – however, I’m going to invite him & his girl friend down some night – she is studying social science at the University and lives at Danes Drive, Scotstoun.  The doc. is awfully interested in my trip and we talked Egypt for hours and he says what a pity I can’t wait till June to go out as he is going then and would be delighted to travel with me.  I bet he knows the ropes re. that journey.  He says I c’d go via France without bothering with Cooks and there’s a regular service of ships once a week from Toulon to Alex or P.S. It w’d be exciting to go like that, the only snag being baggage and customs, but I guess I c’d manage.  Cooks make one feel so helpless, it makes me mad.

Now what I want you to do pronto is to give me your views re. travelling via France, free from any agency, I know I don’t need a visa to get into France but if I travel on my own how shall I get a visa to get into Egypt?  And what about innoculations?

Re. the house, Dad & I saw the solicitor as arranged and he suggested offering £750. He further said not to worry in any case as the house (with the present legislation) is ours anyway, but that it w’d be nice to buy as one’s own house.

I have the most ghastly feverish cold, the first in years so I sh’dn’t complain – but I do!

Keep well and happy own darling, we are loving you all the time.  All the best in the world in 1947.

Cheers and love, Dad & Mum. xx

p.s. Our kitten, Hope, is the sweetest thing & plays so well.  He is getting quite big, Jack & self came up on Wed to feed him.  Hope is like a puppy & was so excited when we all got back yesterday, he plays with a string & paper & goes up to the wee table to look for his ‘mouse’, as we call it.


Mum letter image png_edited-19 January, 1947. Thursday.   Cold snowy January.

Darling Cuddles,

Do hope you are O.K. as there’s no letter from you for a week now. I’m just hoping the lorry driver’s strike in London won’t be holding your letters. (1)   No, I ain’t “sarky” – we have been warned over the radio that mail will ultimately be held up.

Got a lovely food parcel from Aunt Betty yesterday, it was posted on your birthday. Aunt B’s box contained, amongst other good things, a lovely box of Peanut Brittle – awfu’ guid, Maw. (2)

And must tell you your parcel arrived safely on Monday, Jan.6th, this is the one containing chocolates, dates, butter, rice and Turkish Delight – goody, goody, and thank you a million, best beloved.  I’m keeping the box of T.D. for some special occasion.

Did I tell you I’d a cold? Well it developed into ‘flu, drat it, and I’d a day in bed last Sat. Daddy did the shopping and cooking. I’m O.K. now.

Must now fly, so mucha to do.

All our love, best of all. As I write I keep listening for a letter from you.

Cheers & love to you, Mum. x


1.  On 13 January the Labour Government used conscript soldiers to break the strike.  On 20 January the lorry drivers voted to return to work.

2.  The food parcel was sent from the U.S. and took seven weeks to arrive.  Aunt Betty was married to John, one of Dad’s brothers.  It was their son, Warrant Officer R.D.Bryers who was killed when his flying boat flew into a hillside.


Mum letter image png_edited-112th January, 1947. Sunday.  Is it Spring?

The birds all sing And the sun peeps out for a while The morn may be grey But the sun’s gay way Makes all in the household smile.

Darlingest Best,

Just dashing off to the post with this & to get the papers.  Daddy has a cold and is spending the day in bye-byes.  We had a gorgeous evening at the Pav. Panto last night. (1)

Yes, Uncle John died on October 17th.  We were very grieved & shocked to hear it as we had just got a letter from Mrs. Raeside, a sister of Mrs. Hall, Aunt Betty’s neighbour, to say he was home and doing well, however, Aunt Betty tells us he just got home to die as there’s no recovery from lukeameia.  We are so sorry for Aunt B. and I keep writing to her and thinking of her.  I must also get down to writing to Uncle Albert as we got a long letter from him telling all the details re. Uncle John, the end was quite peaceful, he just slept away, so that is one comfort.

The weather is very changeable – hence all the colds in the heids.

By for now, must buzz.  Your 134 & 136 got here yesterday and your 135 on Friday.  So glad you are well and happy – that’s what matters most to us.

Loving you all the time. Mum. xxx


1.  The Pavilion Theatre, Renfield Street, Glasgow.  A landmark, and well loved, theatre in Glasgow, and still going.


2 January, 1947

Dear Nell & Harry,

All your letters in and I know you are grieved about my darling John.  We did everything possible to save him, although we knew when we found it was leukemia his chance for life was short.  The Dr. had already told me what to expect.  It was terrible to keep looking for a change in him all the time.  I am so glad he got home to die.  He really should have been in hospital for extra care but he begged so to come home and Dr. said no one ever lived with said disease, the acute kind.  His heart just wouldn’t take it.

I guess I just gave up when John died because I have had a terrible time of it since.  I have been down to my brother’s after those nervous spells several times, but the last couple of weeks home have been very good.  Dr. here in Roslyn (1) didn’t do much for me but give me needles that didn’t correct cause, so went back to our old Dr. who specializes in nerves.

John and Betty

John and Betty

No one knows what it is like until it happens to them to be so alone. Sometimes I think I can’t go on without John but each day I see more clearly  he would want me to stay here and try to finish what we started to do here.

I think John knew he wouldn’t be long because of some of the things he did and said the last few days before he died. I am going to wait until spring before I think about work. I will try to get something part time I guess.

We have a heavy snow and ice covering so I’ll be in for several days unless someone shows up. Mr Hall has been a “Good friend” to me in my hour of trial and my brother just about done himself in running around, trying to make things easier for me.

It is very sweet of Harry and you to ask me to come over for a visit but even if I I wanted to dear, I wouldn’t pass the Dr. examination for trip.  I hope you get your meal box.  I had some one else mail it.

I have been taking good care of myself and I do feel better and sleep a lot better. Thanks for all your kind thoughts, my darlings.

As ever, love Betty.


1.  Roslyn, Washington State, U.S.


Mum letter image png_edited-119 January, 1947.  Sunday

Darling Own One.

The days seem to be whizzing past at a terrific rate and the past week has been one of such running around & not seeming to get much forarder  in my arrangements re. trip;  however, did some more enquiries re. teeth, passport, etc.  I see my last letter to you was on Wednesday 15th.(1)    Well, I w’d be telling you Maud called here on Tues. eve.  On the Wed. I intended asking at Customs & Excise re. passports, etc, but while I was in the G.P.O. I thought I’d ask there and was told the address of the passport offices (10 Bothwell St.). Well, I went along there on Thurs. aft. and found they’d moved to round the corner in Hope Street, at least the Public Entrance is there.  By the time I ambled round it was 4.10. p.m. & when I got to the office I found it closed at 4 p.m.

 Life seems such a rush but lots of things (extra) I’m doing now are really part of my preparation for trip and I don’t want to get my ticket & not be ready to go.

On Friday I’d no chance of going into town as I’d to do all the week-end shopping as I’d arranged with Mrs Collinson for the piano tuner to call yesterday.  I must tell you the piano tuner was in raptures about our piano, saying it is a perfect instrument and a ‘smasher’ and he wishes it was his. (2)

I must tell you I got on the tram from the town on Wed. aft. laden with shopping and about 2 stages from where I got on I glanced up as someone entered & if it wasn’t Maud again on her way down here to see if we’d found her gloves!   She’d missed the last bus home from town the night before and had fell and hurt her leg and a policeman had to take her home!   Maud said she’d enjoyed herself so much at our house.

I plan to go in the morn. to see Dr Gilston & ask him to sign line for the D. H.(3) also my priorities and enquire if he can give me a clue about trip; as you’ll see from the en. cutting he has been having a spot of bother with some of his staff at the hotel. (4).   I like the bit at the beginning about Peace shattered at Shangri-La!

Met Millie’s Mum yesterday as I was going into the dairy – another new hat she was wearing.   I told her I was busy getting ready for a trip to see you in Egypt and she gasped!   Later she said “you must have plenty of money” & I replied anyway I’d plenty of determination and a strong wish to travel & didn’t squander much money on clothes or furnishings while high prices prevailed during the war, to which she replied she never spends much on clothes or furniture – I thought ‘liar’ – she’s always seen with another new hat or carrying another new carpet!

Bye for now, my darling.  Keep well and happy.   I’ll send a further bulletin soon.

Aye your own Mum. xxx

p.s. Jack sends kind regards.


1.  Not in this collection.

2.  Presumably Mrs Collinson and Mum were having their pianos tuned at the same time.  Pianos were still in many homes throughout Britain and were from the time before the gramophone and then the radio  had started to become the  new  entertainment in the home. 

3.  Dr. Gilston was the family G.P and D.H. is the Glasgow Dental Hospital, whose entrance in the 1940’s was in Renfrew Street.

4.  Dr. Gilston, it seems also boosted his income from owning a hotel.  The newspaper clipping is not in this collection.


Mum letter image png_edited-123 January, 1947.  Thursday.

Hello Chooks!

Must take time out to send you a bulletin.  On Monday I started right out at 9.30.a.m. & went to Dr.Gilston, got my form signed for the D.H. (new dentures), got my form signed for priority milk & eggs, told Dr. G. you’d given his name as ref. he said that was quite O.K. and sent you all good wishes, also said he’d do me innocs. when required. (1)    I then proceeded into town to the Passport Office where they tried to be most helpful, it seems the procedure is this – I get my passport; fix passage date, then get visa for Egypt as, if I get visa first I’ll lose time on it if my sailing date is after that on visa as it counts 3 months from when I get it – comprey?

I asked re. going via France and going ‘agency free’ (my phrase!). The passport people thought this w’d be best as all the agencies will have waiting (for passages) lists.   I thanked them & went on to the White Star Shipping people where they told me there are absolutely no sea passages for tourists at present, still only Gov. officials & priorities, I asked what about via France & they said they c’d get me to Toulon but I’d probably be stranded there for lack of a ship to Alex or P.S.   As I told you, Dr Kelally whom we met at L.L.Y.H. said there’s a ship leaving once a week to & from Egypt – but first must tell you the shipping people said it w’d be very foolhardy to go to Toulon without going thro’ an agency as I’d not get on a boat.

Now, listen carefully honey and write pronto telling me what you think of this plan so as I can keep it up my sleeve, as it were, if Cooks etc. fail me and I don’t get away, say by the beginning of March.   The visa is the snag as I sh’d require to say for when I wanted it.   Oh! if only I c’d see you for half an hour!   They tell me I c’d get to any place in the world easier than to Egypt – this just acts as a dare & puts me on my metal.   There is no French shipping line in Glasgow, so it is a dead end there. Meantime I’ll hie me back to Cooks and get the latest gen.

Over all this the weather is awful. Fog, frost and the biting winds and the food situation is bleak, but I’m stocking up the cupboard for Dad while I’m away.  It’s some rush, but boy! I see pictures of you meeting me on Afric’s Strand  & all is fair and well worth while.  Ask the Ernie (any relation to our Foreign Secy. Bevin?) if he can wangle me a passage on ye ship. (2)

Must now busy to Scotstoun to Food office to get my priority form in my ration book; the house teems with forms (paper!).

Simply tons of love and then more. Mum.

p.s. Hope has a pal now – a lovely black cat, like our previous one, with its front leg in a plaster cast – you sh’d see them play – great fun to watch.


1.  The reference from Dr Gilston is referring to Len applying to be on the Civil Service Establishment.  Although Len worked for the Ministry of Supply, she had been on a ‘Temporary’ basis and not on the Civil Service ‘Establishment’.  Being on the ‘Establishment’ had benefits, such as job security, being on a career ladder and receiving a ‘Wedding Dowry’.    The Civil Service Marriage Bar – that prevented women continuing to work for the Civil Service once they married – had only been lifted in October 1946.  But a Wedding Dowry was still given if a woman left to get married.  Although the marriage bar had been lifted, there was still a cultural expectation that it was proper for a woman to retire from the Civil Service if she became married.

2.  Ernie (in future letters referred to as Ernst) seems to have been Len’s first boyfriend, as far as we know, in Egypt.  He was a Military Policeman.  Ernest Bevin was the current Foreign Secretary and former pre-war leader of the Transport & General Workers Union.  During the wartime coalition government he had been Minister of Labour


Mum letter image png_edited-126 January, 1947

The Day after the 25th but no blasts of Janwar’ wind do blow It’s dull & dark and the sky Holds more than a hint of snow

Dearest of all,

This was to be a letter of tales of great achievement, but alas! when I awoke yesterday I c’dn’t speak or see out of my eyes for a heavy cold – I was really mad as I’d planned so much – get my passport photos & go to Cooks to register for via France.   It was Student’s Day, too, and I so much wanted to see them parade – such is life, some bright light will shine for me for that disappointment. (1)

I just made one trip to the shops for the necessities.

 Today I feel not so bad but Daddy is in bed with a heavy cold.  I’ve given him a “Koray” (2) and hot drinks and hope he’ll soon be better, poor dear.  When it comes to a real cold day I sometimes think I sh’d be in Egypt then I’m sorta glad we’ve got over the peak of the cold weather with me still here to look after Daddy, have a fire on when he comes home, etc. Jack too likes to see the fire and enjoys all the home comforts, plenty of soup and good grub.

When the days get lighter & not so cold I won’t worry so much about leaving them.  My worry will be (as it is now) to get to you pronto.  I really think, dear I’ll be there by about the middle of March – get that Birthday Cake ready!

Don’t be rushing into everything, honey lamb, you’ll get so tired out you won’t enjoy anything.  You sh’d have just let Ernie (you’ll have to think of a better name for him) stay peeved about not seeing you that Sunday you worked. – however you know best.   Glad you got the chance of working that Sunday at Shepheards (3), but was £2 ample recompense?   I think £4 w’d be nearer the mark – double time for Sunday, you know – however, again you know best.

Cheers & love & love & love surrounding you all the time.



1.  The Glasgow University Rag day.

2.  Koray was a proprietary pain relief pill, popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

3.  Shepheards Hotel was the hotel for the Officer Class and other pukka Europeans in Cairo.  Other Ranks and Egyptians were banned.  It features in many Cairo based novels and recollections.  It was burned out in anti-British protests in 1952.


There is now a six week gap in this collection of letters.  They resume with one of the few letters surviving  from Dad to his daughter, in early March, 1947.


'8' suggests this is the eighth letter he has sent his daughter since she arrived in Egypt in November, 1945

‘8’ suggests this is the eighth letter he has sent his daughter since she arrived in Egypt in November, 1945

Dad letter png

7 March, 1947

26 Coldingham Ave., Glasgow W.4.

My Darling Girl,

I went to write this letter to you when I find that my pen has got broke again so you will have to excuse the scribble as I have put an insulation tape round it to hold it together.  I am not going to make any excuses this time for not writing except to say that your Daddy is so indifferent or shall we say lazy fact is my dear I dont know what to say when I start to write I suppose if I was to write a bit more often I would find it a lot easier but nevertheless here goes and I don’t expect you will worry how it is written as long as you hear from your Dad.

Len dear let me thank my dear for sending the shoes and hope that they arrive in time for my birthday and say honey that sure will be a lovely birthday present also the cigarette case which I wont half swank about and let my friends know from wench  it came and who sent it, once again thanks a million. (1)

You will be wanting to know how I am getting along with my job.  I am still over at Inchinnan with the Rubber Co and find it is as good a job that is going about here at the present time. (2)   The money is better than most firms and the conditions are very good in our shop.

But oh dear the weather this winter for travelling to and from work has been very hard and heavy but so far have lost no time off work with it sometimes having to go through 2 to 3 feet of snow also fog but so far I have only had one cold  (old gag “lasting all the winter”)  no dear this one lasted for a few days and I must say that my health has been very good, so I am now looking to the Spring when it is lovely going to and from work, with all the countryside coming to life and developing as the season advances.

Ordeal by snow png

Cutting amongst the memorabilia.  Len would be lodging in Salisbury in 1949.

It does one a world of good even just to look at it from the bus.  I was hearing that they are getting very busy down at the Ordnance at Dalmuir and that they have work there for two years.  Will let you have more details when I get to know more about it.  So far I have just heard of it roughly and have not mentioned so far to Mum.  You see our dear Mum has so much to do just now in this effort of getting out to see you and she seems to be coming up against snags all the time what with one thing and another, but rest assured your Mum will make of it is at all possible for there is only one person I know who has the spirit to get there or or what they want along with your Mum and that is her little daughter of course I come tagging along, what a trio says you.

I don’t need to tell you any of the home news as there is a little lady at no 26 who does all that, except to tell you of the snow that fell over a week ago is still with us.  I cleared the path round to the back door and Mum cleared some away from the front path which I finished on the weekend.  Also cleared the path in the garden so as to let Mum hang out any washing she wished to do.  The rest of the place is just snow from the back of the garden right down to the foot of the Ave.  The only path is what has been trampled down.  It is the heaviest fall of snow that I can remember and never at this time of year.  We get a little sunshine during the day but it is always freezing at night and very cold.  So far our water pipes are running (touch wood) so we have a lot to be thankful for.  We have also a good supply of coal which I think will carry us through till the good weather comes along.  (3)

You want to know what I have done about getting to the U.S.A.  So far my dear I have just let it slide and didn’t bother about it but must go up to the Passport Office soon and see about it.

 I will be able to get some saturday mornings now as I have every second saturday off work with the new 44 hr working week. (4)

This is me breaking ice again my cuddles so forgive your Dad for neglecting you for so long but do intend to make amends so accept all my love my dear and take great care of yourself for both Mum and Dad, you darling, as ever from Daddy. xxxxxx


1.  Len recalls that her Dad was a heavy smoker: sixty a day.

2.  The India Rubber Company was across the Clyde from Clydebank.  Dad would have taken a bus to the Yoker Ferry, to cross the Clyde,  and then another bus to his works in Renfrewshire.   Inchinnan is a short way from Renfrew,  where Dad was registered as living when he  married  Len’s Mum in Clydebank in 1925.

3.  The harsh winter of 1946 – 1947 affected all of northern Europe.  In Britain freezing temperatures and deep snow caused problems for mining and moving coal to the power stations.  Emanuel Shinwell, Minister of Fuel and Power became, for some, the scapegoat and because of death threats was given a police guard.  The severe weather caused riots in Holland, and 150 died of cold and malnutrition in Berlin.

4.  ‘The new 44 hr working week’.   A  1919 demonstration in Glasgow’s George Square (backed by a strike) to demand a  44 hour week by engineers in the greater Glasgow area resulted in the then Government sending tanks in, and setting up machine gun posts on buildings overlooking George Square.  There is a sporting chance that Len’s Dad, as an engineer,  was amongst the demonstrators.  The irony is that Emanuel Shinwell – the post-war Minister of Fuel and Power –  was one of three activists who were imprisoned in 1919 for their role in what the then Secretary of State for Scotland somewhat floridly, and inaccurately, called a ‘Bolshevik uprising’ in the city.  


Len's writing on the envelope

Len’s writing on Mum’s envelope

Mum letter image png_edited-1

14 March, 1947.

Like Switzerland in the old home today – Blue sky with fancy clouds and bluey white snow all around.

Dearest and Best

What shall I do?  What shall I do!!!  Just got (with noon post) a letter from the Royal Egyptian Consulate General, L’pool, and contents are as follows –

Dear Madam,

With reference to your letter of the 10th inst. regarding an entry visa for Egypt I beg to inform you that we can consider your application if you will comply with the following:-

Deposit the sum of £50.0.0 (Fifty Pounds) as visa guarantee, in a bank at the disposal of this Consulate, and let the bank notify us in writing to this effect.

To prove to us, in writing, that you have permanent interests in this country.

To undertake not to take any employment during your visit to Egypt, not to extend your stay, and to leave the country on the expiration of your visa.

Please note that the visa fee is 17/1d. plus 6d. for postage.

Yours faithfully,

The Acting Consul.

Now honey girl I could comply with these conditions, but want your advice first so please answer pronto.  Surely there’s some way – wish I c’d get a Government job!  Will my £50 be O.K. if I tell the bank to act as they want?

Thanks for your 157.   I’m so happy you are as you just are, so fresh and innocent and yet with that wee bit of worldly wisdom which is such a safeguard.   Your stay in the East will educate you and show you ‘all is not gold that glitters’ and we tried to give you a certain amount of confidence & self reliance before you went away.   I was such a green one at your age, one gets more fun when one is a bit worldly wise but never, never, never blase.  Maybe that’s why I’ve such a zest for life now.

Bless you again, my darling own one,

Fondest love from Dad & Mum


Mum letter image png_edited-1

15 March, 1947.

Still freezing here, no sign of a thaw.  We’d another blizzard on Wed. eve.

Dearest Treasure,

Don’t have a fit getting 3 letters in 3 days from me – my head is full of ye Cairo trip and oh! to have you here for 10 mins. to get it all fixed.

 Re. paying for trip, you say you’ll pay up to 3/4 if I cannot take it out of our account, well, I guess that’s the way it will have to be, honey, for it’s imposs. to save doe over here, the wages are just a sight – quite out of proportion to the cost of living – a shilling for two wee leeks yesterday – also this house is quite a big upkeep off one wage but very well worth it, more so than being able to bank 10/- a week as we c’d do if we lived in a room and kitchen, and a trip to Egypt is really a luxury in my life and if it comes off it’ll be thanks to you, my darling.  (1)

Jack is off up to see Dr. Webster re. a passage on a cargo boat for me.  This letter from Aunt Ena just got in, note Aunt P & Rod are sailing on 10th march. (2)

Loving you always, your own Mum.


1.  It is not clear how Mum and Dad proposed to finance buying their rented home.   Nor is it clear how Len could pay for the boat to Egypt. She was usually short of money.  As will be seen as the narrative unfolds,  in the future they would occasionally inherit small sums of money from distant relatives, usually on Mum’s side of the family.

2.  Aunt Phem, married to Mum and Ena’s brother Dennis.  Rod is their young son.  They are sailing back to Iran.


1.Ena 47 extract2  Hilders Road.  Thursday.

Dear Nellie,

Here I am at last.  Many thanks for the papers.  How we all look forward to them. Once we didn’t get them until Monday morning and Bill kept saying “How I miss Aunty Nellie’s papers”.  (1)

Glad you are both well.  We have had a terrible time with snow, but at last it is a thaw.  The blizzard was terrible, it was 10 ft high at the front door.

Bill’s arm is still bad but I think it is mending now. I am sitting under a Radiant Heat lamp writing this. We have hired one to see if it would do him any good.

Marie Rose is going to Edinburgh for Easter. (2)   Aunty Jean asked her to go.  We will put her on the train and I think she should be alright.  You must be terribly thrilled looking forward to your trip and seeing Len again.

Phemia should be home soon now. Do you ever hear from them?

I would love to see Maud.  Has she aged any?  Is she still as lovely.  I always thought she was beautiful. Does she live alone? (3)   Wish I had been at the hat trying with Maud and you. Remember how Ma used to always be getting the old hats out?   What great fun we used to have and how we used to laugh.  Remember all the parties , with Harry the star turn and what a rare lot there was always to eat. (4)    We are always hungry now and never seem to get enough.

I am going for another driving lesson on Monday.  I must get my test soon.  It would have been such a God send had I been able to drive when Bill has been ill.  He can’t drive yet, and how we miss the car.  It has cost him a fortune in taxis – about 15/- a day.  Well, I must go and get my beauty sleep.

Love to you both, from wee three.

Love Ena.

p.s. Friday morning.  Just had a letter from Phemie, she was sailing on 10th March. It’s heavy snow again.  I’m not going to try the hat competition.  In fact I don’t seem to have time to sew.  Love Ena


1.  The Glasgow newspapers.

2.  Marie Rose, Ena and Bill’s young teenage daughter.  

3.  Maud, and Lot, who will feature also in the narrative, seem to have been part of  a group of friends of Mum’s and Ena’s when they were all single, and seamstresses.

4.  It is difficult to know if Ena has compressed memories, or if  “Ma” had been living in the Clydebank area before the First World War.  Len recalls that her Dad was a very good singer – a tenor – and excellent dancer.


Mum letter image png_edited-118 March, 1947.    Ye blizzarded Olde Home.

Best of all Girl,

This is to be a quite ‘trip talk’ free letter – the last three were almost entirely of the trip.

Today has been a terrific day of gale & snow – somethink  awful, mate; you sh’d have seen me going to the shops all done up in hood, your old boots and an ex-A.T.S. rubber cape I bought in Arnot Simpson’s, it keeps me and the shopping dry.  In your wildest dreams you cannot imagine what the weather is like and for so long the first frozen lot of snow is still on the ground, we see it & slide on it when the new lot gets shovelled away.

Frost cartoon'47 png

I intended going into town today to enquire re. passages on cargo boats but after spending the whole morn. at the shops in the blizzard I just couldn’t get going on going into town in the snow & get back in time for the evening meal.  However, tomorrow is another day.

Your darling 158 and 159 got in today and also the sweet Birthday Card for Daddy and the two hankies.  The hankies are a lovely quality and just what Daddy so much needs, as you may remember, Gentlemen’s hankies cost one coupon each here and that soon makes a hole in the allocation.  Daddy’s Birthday Card is on the mantlepiece and looks cute – we smiled and remembered Daddy playing ride-a-cock horse with you – it all seems just yesterday.

 You said summat about 50 coupons you were getting, honey – any more news of them?

Tomorrow I’ll enquire at Lumleys re. a Jantzen for you – they said last time they’d soon be taking orders.  I have so many calls to make in town so must start out early. Lovely of you to have a pair of nylons for me as a ‘welcome to Egypt’ gift, what a lovely thought and just like my sweet girl.  Everyday I try to get a few steps forward on my trip – your letters bring you close & in fancy I see us both on the good ship ‘Britannia’.

Maud was here again last night – what a case!  So little in her life and how she dramatises all small happenings, she so much enjoys coming here and always has to rush for the last bus, she adores suggesting trimming for hats and had on a French throat sorta thing composed of a strip of broad gold ribbon with huge petunia velvet flat flowers on it – all her ‘braws’ are pinned on, never sewn.

It’s now 9 p.m. so I’ll “get on with my sewing” and say cheerio to you in the morning.

19th March.

Nothing fresh to report this morn. honey, except to say I love you this much longer. Just buzzing off to town. Bye for now.

Ever your own loving Mum.


Enclosed in Mum's letter of 20 March, 1947

Enclosed in Mum’s letter of 20 March, 1947

Mum letter image png_edited-1

20 March, 1947.

Honey Lamb,

Your lovely Birthday Card to me got in this morn. and it’s really sweet, thank you and bless you for remembering in such a lovely card, it’s now on the mantlepiece besides Daddy’s one from you.  The third hanky for Daddy (also in the packet) arrived safely – a lovely present and so useful.

I’m off on a round of the Shipping Offices today.  Jack got a list from the Lloyds man in Glasgow.  I asked him (Jack) if he (the Lloyds man) could get me a passage but the answer was ‘no’, tho’ I’ll bet had it been any of them it could be arranged.  However, what we don’t get we won’t need to thank them for & I’ll see what I can do ma ain wee sel.

Wrote to the Consul in L’pool yesterday saying I’m making arrangements to comply with the conditions for visa.  One shampoo enclosed – more later.

Fond love ever, Mum. x

Sally cartoon png

This Spotlight on Sally cutting from the News of the World was also enclosed in Mum’s letter of 20 March, 1947.   Like Italian communists who went to Mass, Mum had no problem supporting the Communist Party and reading the News of the World.  In the course of this correspondence there is no evidence that as a household the Bryers read either the Labour Daily Herald, the liberal News Chronicle, or the left Sunday Reynolds News.   Their regular paper seems to have been the Glasgow Evening Citizen, the Scottish Daily Express and the occasional Daily Worker, besides the News of the World.


Next    Part Two   Chapter Two:  Quick Ripening of Intense Feelings

“In the few spare moments when I have time to think of personal things, my thoughts inevitably wander back in your direction.  The quick ripening of our intense feelings for one another and the fact of this temporary separation seems to increase my longing for you, both physically and emotionally.” Ernest, to Len.  Written in Port Said, 7 April, 1947.

Posted in Cairo 1940s, Feminism, Gender Studies, Letters, Social and Political History, Suez Canal Zone, Womens History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Part One: Growing Up in Britain 1925 – 1945

Part One:   Growing Up in Britain   1925 – 1945

 “Is there any advantage to be derived from having a feeling of belonging or attachment to one particular place?  Personally during my 19 years I have lived in many parts of Britain and never in one place for more than a few years.  Consequently I do not have any feelings of attachment of which I am rather glad as this feeling will not deter me in seeking pastures new”  – Len, Spring 1945, age nineteen, six months before she sailed for Egypt.  


1.Helen in back garden, Dagenham, Hector the dog behind her copy

Len age 6, in her back garden, with her teddy and Hector, the dog.    Dagenham, Essex, 1932

“Len” – Helen Anne Cath Bryers, an only child, was born on 29, November, 1925, in a ‘single end’ (one room tenement flat) in Clydebank, 7 miles down the Clyde from Glasgow.  The Clyde and Clydebank in the 1920s was one of the greatest shipbuilding places in the world.

The Franconia, built for Cunard at John Brown's, Clydebank.  Len's mother sailed on it to Egypt to see her daughter in 1948

The Franconia, built for Cunard at John Brown’s, Clydebank.  Len’s mother sailed on it to Egypt to see her daughter in 1947

Of the many shipyards in the Clyde,  John Brown’s of Clydebank was the greatest, and during its lifetime built the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth and the QE2, besides the Franconia.   At the same time, the countryside of cows, horses and sheep and farms butted onto the back of the town whilst trams, buses and trains quickly took the town people into Glasgow, the British Empire’s great manufacturing city, and a hub of tearooms and department stores, music and dance halls, and theatres and grand cinemas.

Clydebank, Yoker & Glasgow

Clydebank & Glasgow

Len’s Mum was Helen Smith Mackay, born in Dornoch in 1894, a small coastal town in the far north east of Scotland.  She grew up in Dornoch.  If you headed out across the North Sea on latitude 58° from Dornoch you would, just skimming the southern tip of Norway,  land on the western coast of Sweden, near Gothenburg.

Dornoch, north east Scotland

Dornoch, north east Scotland

Len’s Dad was Harry Bryers, born in the English county of Lancashire in 1889, but with a Scottish family background.   We don’t know how or when her parents met, but it is likely they had both been living and working in the Glasgow or Clydebank area for some years, possibly during the course of the First World War, both probably employed in the war industries.  Harry and Helen had relatives living in the Liverpool area, so they may have got to have known each other through that connection.

When Len’s parents married after the First World War Harry was an engineers’ machinist, and her Mum Helen was a seamstress.  They married in Clydebank in April, 1925.  When they married Harry was 36 and Helen was 31. Although Len was born in a single end, both Harry and Helen were an aspirational skilled working class couple, and within a few years were managing to live in rented accommodation with more than one room and with their own toilet.

At the time of her marriage Helen’s sister Ena, also a seamstress, was  living in Clydebank too, and was a Witness to Harry and Helen’s marriage.  A Swedish second cousin of Helen’s, Bjorn Mackay Palmgren,  recalls that an Uncle of Helen and Ena’s – Paul Mackay – was head of Police in Clydebank until his death in 1917.  Ena at some point, believed to be after 1939, moved to Leicestershire, and she and her family also feature during the course of these letters.  Helen and Ena had a brother,  Dennis, who was to work in the oil industry in Iran. He and his family also feature during the narrative of the letters.  There was also a sister called Kitty, who is occasionally mentioned.  Harry’s relatives were down in Lancashire, or had emigrated to North America.  They too will feature during the course of the letters.

Mum and Dad and Hector the family dog

Mum and Dad and Hector the family dog

Len was born into a Britain that was the largest European ruler of the ‘under-developed’ World.  A year before her birth,  London had hosted the massive 1924 British Empire Exhibition, and books such as The Native Races of the British Empire were regularly awarded as prizes in British Secondary schools.

"This one shows Len & Mum together and it also shows another picture of the 3 of us together.  Daddy holding Len - note his bowler hat at the top of (your) Len's head" - Mums annotation on back of photo

“This one shows Len & Mum together and it also shows another picture of the 3 of us together. Daddy holding Len – note his bowler hat at the top of (your) Len’s head” – Mum’s annotation on back of photo

Christening dads bowler png The earliest picture in this collection of Len, is at the approximate age of two and a half.  It was taken in the summer of 1928, when the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act extended the right of  British women to vote from the age of 30 down to the age of 21.  Millions of European women were still disenfranchised at this time, including Coco Chanel (who started out a seamstress like Len’s Mum).  French women did not have the right to vote until 1945 (sanctioned by General de Gaulle in 1944).   The resistance to women having the right to vote came from the male French Left, who along with the non-anarchist Left in 1930s republican Spain, and the male Left in post-war Belgium, for example,  shared a view that women would, by and large, instinctively vote for Catholic, Monarchist or perceived ‘reactionary’ candidates.

The year after this photo was taken Mum would have been able to vote in the 1929 General Election.  There is a very strong chance that she did, alongside Harry.  And knowing her political views, which we will see in the ensuing narrative, she would have voted for Labour.  The 1929 election returned a second minority Labour Party government, (the first had been in 1924) with the Scot Ramsay MacDonald as its Prime Minister.  There had also been enough women over the age of 30, voting for the first time,  to return the first minority Labour Government in 1924.

The double exposed photo is taken in front of a typical looking sandstone built Scottish Presbyterian church of the late nineteenth century.   As Len’s parents were not regular church goers this was either a late baptism for Len, or possibly they were attending a wedding -Ena’s perhaps?  Harry’s wearing of the bowler hat indicates his status, in Glasgow, as an engineer.  As late as the 1950’s it is recalled that some engineers in Glasgow would leave for work wearing their bowler hat.  It has been pointed out that it also had a practical aspect: it would give some protection from a falling rivet.

In the early 1930s steamers sailed from Ardrossan on the nearby Ayrshire coast to the Isle of Man, and Len and her parents would be among a small but increasingly significant number of skilled working people who could afford to have a week’s summer holiday in the interwar years.  Before the 1938 Holidays with Pay Act, passed by the Conservative government, it is estimated that just three million people were entitled to paid holidays.  The UK population at that time was 47 million.   The 1938 Act increased the number of those entitled to paid holidays to eleven million.

"Len, Daddy & friends at Douglas, I.O.M. Ain't they sweet! 1928"  Mums annotation on back of photo

“Len, Daddy & friends at Douglas, I.O.M. Ain’t they sweet! 1928”   Mum’s annotation on back of photo.   Len and Dad are on the right.

In October 1929, the unforeseen and stupendous New York Wall Street Crash heralded in a World Depression that sent out damaging waves for the next five or so years.  On the Clyde many of the shipyards were either working at half capacity or were idle.   Against the background of uncertain employment Harry and the family moved to Cork in the Irish Free State, to work at the Ford foundry, which had been established in 1919.  We know that Len was four, so this was either late 1929 or 1930.



Henry Ford’s father, William, had been born in Cork and had emigrated with his father to the ‘New World’ in the nineteenth century, along with thousands of other Europeans in search of a better life.  The Ford Cork plant manufactured Fordson tractors, and supplied cast iron requirements for their Manchester plant in England.  Around late 1931 production of the Fordson tractor was switched from Cork to the large new Ford plant on the Thames estuary at Dagenham, Essex, England.   Harry with his family moved to work for Ford in Dagenham, possibly around 1932 – 1933,  and probably with assistance from Ford.  The company also assisted skilled workers from their Manchester plant to move down south to their new Dagenham plant.



Len with her dolly and Hector, the family dog. Taken outside the new rented home in Dagenham, Essex

Len with her dolly and Hector, the family dog.  Taken outside the new rented home in Dagenham, Essex

Helen in the back garden with her teddy, and Hector, Summer, Dagenham, Essex

Helen in the back garden with her teddy, and Hector, summer.    Dagenham, Essex

In January 1931, in Clydebank, John Brown’s had begun building an important new liner for the Cunard Company, codenamed ‘534’.   Unable to pay their bills the Cunard  liner was mothballed, and two weeks before Christmas workers at the yard were laid off indefinitely. Meanwhile,  at the new Dagenham Ford plant, the first Fordson tractor had already rolled off the assembly line in October.  In 1933, whilst ‘534’ (The future Queen Mary liner) was still mothballed, Ford Dagenham started producing the Model Y, a four door car which sold at a price of £100.  No other British car maker could match its specification at the price.  In 1933 the average wage in Britain hovered around £195.  In the course of this collection of Len’s letters, up until 1950, Len’s Dad owned neither a new or second-hand car.  His wife, however, aspired to one.  But Harry and his family continued to afford holidays throughout the 1930s, even prior to the 1938 Holidays with Pay Act. Dad & Len seaside png Mum & Dad hols png     Dad, Hec, Beach png

Mum, Len, Dad, Hector the dog, and possibly two cousins of Dad's from Lancacashire.  Unknown beach, but probably on the East or South East English coast

Mum, Len, Dad, Hector the dog, and possibly two cousins of Dad’s from Lancashire. Unknown beach, but probably on the East or South East English coast

Schoolgirl Helen with Hec pngDuring the 1930s Harry and his family continued to live in Dagenham and Harry continued to work for Ford’s.  In the mid to late 1930‘s Len attended the local South East Essex Technical College at Dagenham, with the intention of staying on until the age of 16.   (During the 1930‘s the minimum school leaving age was 14).  She trained at the college Day School as a shorthand typist.  She still recalls the training that insisted on “one space after a comma, two spaces after a semi-colon and three spaces after a full stop”.  Her training also meant that she still – in the 21st century – cannot “abide poor spelling.”

Len's Jokes in the Barking Advertiser

Len’s jokes in the Barking Advertiser’s Happy Pals Club section.

Essex health check, 1937png

Part of the envelope for Len's health check-up.  Len's writing.  She was just over a fortnight from being 12

Part of the envelope for Len’s health check-up. Len’s writing.  She was just over a fortnight from being 12.

"Daddy, Mummy & I at Walton-on-the-Naze. Summer 1938"  Len's annotation on reverse.  Walton-on-the-Naze is on the Essex coast

“Daddy, Mummy & I at Walton-on-the-Naze. Summer 1938”   Len’s annotation on reverse.  Walton-on-the-Naze is on the Essex coast.

13thBirthday greetingspng from Dadbirthday greeti png In the days before television,  going to the pictures, at least twice and sometime three times a week was a regular pastime, along with listening to the radio.  As Len reached her thirteenth birthday in November, 1938 there is a good chance that she and her Mum and Dad would have already seen the hit of the year:  Walt Disney’s full length animated feature – in ‘glorious’ Technicolor – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Whistle While You Work, from the soundtrack, sung by The Seven Dwarfs was one of the big tunes of 1938.  Also in 1938 the American singing trio The Andrews Sisters propelled themselves onto the listening public, through radio and records, and started their international career with the curiously German entitled Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.  A line went “Let me explain – You’re the Fairest in the land”. Birthday card from Joanpng

From another Joan - Joan Brandley who will feature in future letters

From another Joan – Joan Brandley who will feature in future letters

The fairest Ayran in the land, the German National Socialists, not content with their own land, had already marched into Austria, and then went on to make demands on the largely German speaking Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, causing panic in the British and French governments.  The Munich Agreement that they reached with Hitler in the September was described by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as “Peace in our time”.   Five days afterwards, as agreed at Munich,  the German army marched into the Czech Sudetenland. This, Herr Hitler had promised them, was the last of his territorial demands.   As Christmas, 1938 approached it was natural that most people in Britain fervently hoped that it would indeed be so. Christmas greetings from mum png How many privately doubted it is difficult to quantify.  Of those who privately doubted, their doubts were probably confirmed when, four days before Christmas Day, the Government announced a substantial programme of  air raid shelter building.   And then four months later, in April, 1939,  the House of Commons approved legislation to introduce military conscription – the first peacetime Act of Conscription in British history.

Xmas wishes, Mum 500 png

Towards the end of the 1939 English summer term holidays, in late August,  Len spent some days at the Rest Home for Girls, on Canvey Island, twenty six miles down the Thames from Dagenham.  Canvey Island was a popular day trip spot for those living in east London and south east Essex.  The Rest Home for Girls was described at the time as a ‘holiday bungalow’.  It had been set up by a Labour activist, Clara James,  for girls from the East End of London.  There is a strong possibility that the family, and particularly Len’s Mum, were by now firmly involved in the local Cooperative and Labour movement, socially and politically.

There is also a slight possibility – with Hitler making demands on Poland – that Mum was concerned for Len’s safety and had managed to get a bed for Len in Canvey.   The British and French governments were pledged to support Poland in any act of aggression against the country.  In this  last week of August, and during September,  two million people had fled London – and many of the other big cities – for fear of being gassed or bombed. (1)

On August 31 the British government started official evacuation of children between the ages of 6 and 14.  In Paris the French government had  evacuated 16,000 children from the city the day before.  The expectation throughout Europe was that death by gas would be the main threat to civilian populations.  In Britain the 1936 H.G.Wells scripted film Things to Come, was a dire prophesy of war and a totalitarian future.  Curiously it prophesied that war would start in 1940, and in the  early scenes the likelihood of death was by the dropping of gas canisters by bombers.  It was not so unlikely.  The Italian fascists and German nazis had deliberately bombed civilians during the Spanish Civil War, and the Italian fascists had used gas in  Abyssinia.  The government wasn’t taking any chances: 38 million gas masks had already been issued to the British population the year before.


1.  see The People’s War, Angus Calder

Envelope to Helen atCanvey png

This is the first letter in the collection of letters written by Mum to Len.  It was written the week before Germany attacked Poland on September 1st.


Mum letter image pngThursday 24 August, 1939.  455 Porters Avenue, Dagenham, Essex.

Our darling girl, Just as the bus turned round the Haystack corner last night I realised I had your purse in the brown bag. (1)    You can bet I was very worried as I knew you had no money. I asked a lady on the way to the station with friends if she was going back to Canvey and she said “yes” so I gave her your address and asked if she would take a message so I gave her a shilling to give you, which I hope you got safely.  I am expressing this letter to you with a 2/- postal order so as you will get it quickly and not be short of money, my dearest, and I hope you will get it safely and that you will thoroughly enjoy the rest of your holiday and will come home looking and feeling healthy and happy.

I was asking Daddy last night what time he thought we would be down on Saturday and he said about 3 p.m. (2)    So, honey, will you meet us at the Haystack between 3 and 3.30 on Saturday afternoon.  If by any chance we miss you we will go right down to the car park near the raft where we were, but will look for you at the Haystack between 3 and 3.30.  Don’t forget.

If the weather is cold don’t go in swimming, darling, and be sure to keep yourself warm and cosy – you have your woollen socks! (3)

All our love dear heart, and looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.  Dad, Mum and Hector.


1.    The Haystack was and still is a well known pub and landmark in Canvey.

2.   Even when shift work wasn’t involved, Saturday morning working was obligatory in most occupations.

3.    ‘Keep warm and cosy and woollen socks’.  This is summer.    It is possible, besides being over protective, that Mum’s worries were against the historical background of high child deaths.  Child deaths had only significantly started to come down in the 1920’s, from the ravages of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and children were still dying from a range of illnesses, including scarlet fever and diphtheria, for instance.

Canvey Island

Canvey Island


Ten days after Mum wrote her letter, Britain and France, fulfilling their treaty obligations to Poland, declared war on Germany.  Germany had invaded Poland on 1 October.  From the details in Mum’s following letter we see that she and Len, and Hector the dog, evacuated themselves from Dagenham within a day or two of the declaration of war. Besides the fear of gas attacks the housing estates in Dagenham were close enough to the large Becton gas works in nearby Barking, a potential target.

Letter to Dad sept 9 png

Mum letter image png

Sat. 9th Sept.

Dear Daddy,

Here is another wee letter to cheer you. Hope you got the letter we sent yesterday.  On Wednesday I started a bit of a cold and yesterday afternoon I had to go to bed.  I was quite fevered but got a good sweat and feel a lot better today, though still feel a bit wonky, but I’ll look after myself alright honey, as it wouldn’t do to be ill just now.  The girlie and Hector are champion, this place seems to agree with them, and Hec. is at his best in the country, when we were out a walk the other day he tried to go into the river to swim – he does enjoy himself here.

With this mail I am writing a letter to Mrs Dent, Canousleigh Rd.  (1)  to ask her for the address where the Technical College girls are evacuated to, as it might be best to go there if they are going to school.  This morning I had a letter from the headmaster of Loughborough College making an appointment to see him on Tuesday morning, so we will wait and see what will be the best to do.

What do you think of the war news?  The papers don’t say much, and as I said, we have no radio here, but from what the papers say Germany seems to be getting the best of it so far.  What do they say down home.  There are a lot of children evacuated from Sheffield and more coming in today to Quorn. (2)   

We are thinking of you always our own Daddy, and wondering how you are getting on, and we hope you are O.K. I’ve asked Mrs Aris for our bill, but as yet have not got it.   The Picture Houses are opening in Loughborough tonight.  I am making covers for our gas mask boxes – I got the stuff in L’boro’ on Thursday. 

I think this is all the news at present my love, I can just picture you cooking at our lovely cooker with everything so handy. The girlie has asked me to say we get lots of laughs here, and she is doing her imitations of the Coventry people – it is a scream to listen to them and our girlie can take them off a treat.  We have heard every bit of village gossip for the past 50 years!

Well, heres cheers, my darling.  Hector sends a big lick and we all send our love.

XXXXXXX Your loving wife.


1.   Dagenham.

2.    Curiously Quorn is not that far from Leicester where Mum’s sister Ena would be living after the war, and where Len was to spend an unhappy Whitsun in 1949.


We do not know how long Mum and Len stayed in Quorn, or if Len went to Loughborough College.  The assumption is that because there wasn’t immediate gassing or bombing, and there was the lull of the ‘Phoney War’, Mum and Len and Hec returned to Dagenham.  In the first days of the declaration of war cinemas were closed by order of the Government, but as noted in Mum’s letter, were soon allowed to re-open, and stayed open for the rest of the war.   The big film hit in December 1939 was another Technicolour picture The Wizard of Oz.

German intelligence had already identified the Thames area as a major target. “Huge gristmills, gasworks, electric power stations, oil storage plants and refineries, and cement and paper factories line the river…” ( Militärgeographische Angaben über England, Berlin, 1940).  The Thames Estuary and river with its distinctive snaking outline was an easy corridor for Luftwaffe night bombers to fly up.  Following the failure of the Luftwaffe to immobilise the RAF, in the Battle of Britain (prior to an invasion), they switched to mass bombing – blitzes – of  major cities in England, starting with London in September 1940.  Mum and family moved away from Dagenham to what Mum hoped – mistakenly – was the greater safety  of the Clydebank area.  Mum will mention her reasons for moving back to the  Clydebank area in a 1948 letter to Len.  From a surviving letter from Skerry’s College, Glasgow it looks as if the family moved back to Scotland within three to four weeks from the start of the London Blitz, taking into account the time it would take for the family to settle in, and for Len to start at Skerry’s College in Glasgow.

Skerry's College letter png

“Miss Helen.A.C.Bryers, present address 26 Coldingham Avenue, Glasgow W.4. was a full-time student of this College from 14 October, 1940 until the beginning of April 1941, when she transferred to the evening classes until 30th June, 1941, on receiving a situation.  Her curriculum included Commercial English, Arithmetic, French, Shorthand, Typewriting, Bookkeeping, and Business Methods. Miss Bryers gained Certificate in Shorthand (90 words per minute), Typewriting (35 words per minute), Commercial Arithmetic, Advanced Commercial English and Amanuensis.”

The letter was written at Len’s request for the Civil Service, as a retrospective reference.  She was already in Egypt in June 1946, working for the Ministry of Supply.  26 Coldingham Avenue, in Yoker, was the family home. Yoker was a mile or so from Clydebank, and Coldingham Avenue was close to the railways and railway sidings that were part of the shipbuilding and local docks area.

Len in the back garden of 26 Coldingham Avenue, Glasgow G.4. (Yoker)  Unknown date, but between 1940 - 42

Len in the back garden of 26 Coldingham Avenue, Glasgow G.4. (Yoker) Unknown date, but between 1941 – 42.

In March 1941, whilst the bombing of London still continued, one of Len’s London friends, Joan Garnett, who had also gone to the South Essex Tech,  wrote to her in Yoker.  Len and family had been back in Scotland six months.

March 41 letter from Joan png

Joan G. letter image png27th March, 1941.249 Boundary Road, Barking, Essex.

Dear Helen,

Thank you very much for your letter that I received over a week ago.  I wasn’t pleased to hear about the bombing, I expect everything looked a mess but it is sure to be cleared up now.  I read about it in the papers and especially about the man who was buried for a week and brought out alive. (1)

I am writing this at work in spells when I haven’t anything to do, so if it looks a bit untidy you will know it is because I have to keep taking it out and putting it back in the machine.

We had quite a packet the other night, Saturday week to be exact some bombs fell in our road and has made about forty houses uninhabitable.  Two bombs in the back gardens were direct hits on Anderson shelters and blew the backs out another two.  Dad was down at Beckton that night and incendiary bombs dropped on two gas holders and you should have seen the gas burning, it made a terrific blaze.  H.E.’s also dropped on Beckton that night and one dropped outside the building where my Dad was working, blew off the roof, blew in the windows and blackout and whirled my Dad round the room and cut his hand.  He had to go on working the engines to see that the gas was pumped through in the dark.

Then the next Tuesday we had another bad raid.  We had some more bombs but not very near, but they also fell at Beckton again that night, and funnily enough Dad was there again.  Just after the raid began some of the men he works with went off to get something to eat and didn’t come back so those that were left had to do their own work and these others.  They couldn’t keep it up so they had to let the gas pressure go down and we got no gas until dinner time when the gas pressure went up again so I had to cook my breakfast over the fire.

Last week they dropped bombs all the way up the line and I had a job getting up for a few days.  One day it took me three hours. Whitechapel Station received a direct hit and for a few days trains could not stop because some of the platform was not there, but it’s alright now.  On one side of Bromley Station there is a hospital and on the other side a workhouse and they were both hit.Last week the line was up from Barking to Aldgate East and the line of people waiting for buses started from the top of the Station hill and went down the hill to the Rio, down Salisbury Avenue to the bridge over the railway, round the corner and past the second turning.  I was an hour lining up in that queue.

Another time  the trains were not running between Aldgate East and Mansion House so I caught the tube from St Pauls to Liverpool Street and at six o clock at night people were on the tube platforms ready for the night.

They had a couple of land mines up at Scrattons Farm Estate and killed quite a few people.  Some people who used to live on the end of our street moved up there and they were all killed except two babies.  Their pictures were on the front page of the Daily Mirror.

I went to the Rio last saturday and saw The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell.  I liked it ever so much and stayed in and saw it twice round.  Also I saw Just Tempted with Hugh Herbert and Peggy Moran.  Was it funny!  The week before I saw Gas Bags with the Crazy Gang and did I laugh.  I went with my friend June who lives next door.  I usually go with her and she laughed so much she went hysterical and screamed at the top of her voice and everybody looked at us, I did feel daft.  With it we saw Dr Kildare Goes Home with Lew Ayres.

I had to work last saturday it was my turn in again.  I have been here almost three months now.  Three months is up on the 6th of April which is not far away.  I should be getting a rise soon in a couple of weeks or more.  Here there are seven of us who sit near to each other and one of us has to book out the drivers of the vans and give the boys their fare when they take parcels anywhere. One of the boys came in the other day and while Paddy was booking him out (Paddy is the pet name of a jolly girl called Miss High) asked her for the name of the girl in blue.   She said she didn’t know.  Winnie, the girl in blue, said she wasn’t to tell him her name, so when he came in the next time she said her name was Miss Wilhelmina Wigglesbottam and that set us off laughing and we could not stop.  One girl had tears rolling down her cheeks.  Good job the head of our Dept. was out and the girl who is in charge of us. What makes it funnier still is that Winnie is fairly good looking and Bert Smith (2) is a fully looking freak.

I managed to get some chocolate the other week and bought it while it was going. The result was that I ate over two shillings worth over the weekend.  I have managed to get a few bars since then but don’t go thinking I can get plenty of chocolates because I can’t.

Well I suppose I had better stop using the firm’s paper, wasting the firm’s time and wearing out the firm’s typewriter and say I’ll close now.

Yours ever,  Joan.

p.s. Don’t forget to write soon.


1.   A fortnight before, Clydebank was blitzed for two nights, 13 – 14 March.  528 died and out of 12,ooo houses only seven, it is claimed, remained undamaged.  35,000 were made homeless.  Anti-aircraft guns, it is reputed, failed to shoot down a single Luftwaffe bomber.  The Royal Ordnance Factory,  Dalmuir where Len’s dad was working was hit but reopened within three weeks.  Ironically,  ROF Dalmuir manufactured anti-aircraft guns.  The area of Yoker where Len lived, although close by Clydebank,  was not seriously damaged.

2.    Not his real name. 


A month later Joan was writing again to Len.


Joan G. letter image png30th April, 1941.249 Boundary Road, Barking.

Dear Helen,

Thanks very much for your letter I received last week.   Sorry I have not written before but I have not had much time, either at home or at work.  Congratulations on your new job, I was rather surprised, as I wasn’t expecting it.  Glad to know that you are getting on so well.   Do you like it better than at College? (1)

 You remember the wedding I attended last August, well I had half-a-dozen copies made of myself and Pamela and I wondered if you would like one of them, just to remind you what my dear face looks like, so I am enclosing one for you.

On back of photo, in len's handwriting "Joan Garnett and Pam".

On back of photo, in Len’s handwriting “Joan Garnett and Pam”

Also, do you realise that I have nothing at all that shows me what your dear face looks like.  If you have a photograph I could have, I should be pleased.

I bet you cannot guess who works here, someone who used to go the “Tec”.

Ronald Shilling.

When I first saw him I wondered where I had seen him before and after a few discreet enquiries I found out that he went to the Tec, but I can’t for the life of me remember which Form he was in. Perhaps you do.He said he doesn’t remember me either.  I’d love to ask him about the Tec, but he seems so shy, and as you know I am rather shy myself.  He often gets in my train at night but he never says anything or even recognises me.  Can you remember which form he was in?

A week ago last wednesday we had a bad air raid but it was mostly in the City.  The following Saturday night the attack was centred on the suburbs.  We had a land mine in Morley Road at the back of the catholic school.  We had been laying under the table all night as bombs were coming down thick and fast.  Then there was a mighty crash, glass breaking and everything seemed to be falling on top of us. It was the land mine, and it switched on a couple of the lights, so Dad got out from under the table and switched them off. 

Dad said we had better go down the shelter as we couldn’t stay there for the moment, window frames, glass and plaster all around us.  Pam hadn’t got any shoes on so we sat her on the armchair while we found them and she said, “Oh! I’m sitting on glass”, so we quickly took her off.  We got halfway through the scullery when we couldn’t go any farther.  I thought a bomb had fallen on the back of the house and blocked the way but Dad shone his torch and we saw it was the back door split in half and laying right in the way.  When we came out after the all clear had gone the place was properly in a mess.  All this happened at ten to four in the morning so we didn’t have to wait long for daylight.  We knew the time because it stopped all the clocks.  We had the workmen round and mended the windows and doors and yesterday the surveyors came round to see what was to be done inside the house, as we have a big hole in the scullery ceiling and plaster down in all the rooms and even a few cracks.

Glad to know you enjoyed your Easter Holiday.  I had to work Good Friday but we got paid double and had Easter Monday off. On the Saturday we went to the Rio and saw North West Mounted Police. On Easter Monday I went to the Capitol and saw Down Argentina Way with Betty Grable and Don Ameche. Also Michael Shayne, Private Detective with Robert Taylor, Walter Pidgeon and Ruth Hussey.

I have some good and bad news for you.  I am going to get a holiday after all on the 12th of July to the 21st.  But I am afraid my father won’t let me come to you as he said the threats of invasion and gas attacks would only worry them while I was away. So perhaps after the war.  I hope it won’t last long.   Are you ever going to come back to Barking or are you going to stop in Scotland after the war?  

I am finishing writing this in my dinner time as I am afraid we have been rather busy lately to do much typing for oneself.  It is nearly two o’ clock so better close now hoping to hear from you soon with the photograph.  I have to take this home to address it as the photograph I am sending you will not go in the firms envelopes.

Yours, Joan.


 1.   Len recalls that her first job was working as a shorthand typist in the office of Drysdales, Pump Manufacturers at 16/- a week. (80 pence).   Manufacturers of the Drysdale Centrifugal Pump, their large factory at Ferry Road, Yoker was a short bus ride from Len’s home.  Drysdales in the 1930s had been described  as a ‘mecca for shipbuilders and engineers the world over’.  When she started with them she was fifteen and a half.


Although Joan’s Dad would not let Joan travel up to Scotland to see Len, Helen hitch-hiked down to Dagenham, the following summer in 1942, with a friend, Morag.   The war, since Joan had written in April 1941, had become a world war, the Second World War:  Germany attacked the USSR in the early summer of 1941, and in December the Japanese airforce attacked the US Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbour.  Britain was no longer ‘alone’.  The USA and the USSR were now part of the Allies.   Although the Germans made an initial deep incursion into Russia, they had stalled by December outside Moscow, and by summer 1942 the headlines read “Russians Foil Nazi Summer Offensive’.   The threat of invasion, of gassing and of blitzes on Britain had receded.  Mum obviously felt relaxed enough for Len to travel down in her works holidays.  A further incentive to let Len travel to Dagenham may have been the outbreak of smallpox in Glasgow.   In the summer of 1942 Len was 16 and a half.