Monday, February 28, 2011

Wednesday 28 February 1945, Marks Hall

My darling,
                 A pleasant mail today consisting of your letter of Monday and Merchant Adventurers. The latter has taken some time to come but is in perfect condition. I have already read half of it. Did you realise that you had given one side the quaint address "RAF Officers' Mess near Colchester Essex"? On the other side you had fortunately remembered to put Marks Hall also.

                Thank Jean for her sciatica expert. I'll enter his name in my tablets but don't think it will be necessary to consult him this time. My leg continues its slow improvement and yesterday evening I went a short walk which I enjoyed. I think I'll probably do quite a lot of walking round here in the spring.

                We have already started to arrange our roster for the next leave period. I have put my name down for the beginning of May, with a period at the end of April as an alternative. So if things go to plan, we'll be able to celebrate together your exit from the teaching profession. Your next teaching job will be a purely amateur one and you should have the advantage of a very intelligent pupil!

                I'm glad you have arranged about the bookcase. It is badly needed and will enhance the appearance of our drawing room. Do you think that when he is at 66 [Novar Drive], you could sound him as to the possibilities of that mahogany table in the dark room? There is no need to do anything about it just now; that will be impossible till I can arrange a new dark room elsewhere. But it would be interesting to hear what he says.

               Don't do anything about these Plumier photographs at present. I think I'll wait till the censorship regulations are less strict. After all, it should not be very long now before some of the amenities of peacetime are restored.

              I have fallen into a routing of doing a few hours' work for the future during my spells off duty. My present study is Fowlers King's English. It is interesting to see what changes have occurred since the book was published in 1906. Some of the words which he singles out as neologisms at that time certainly don't suggest their recent origins nowadays eg racial. While one can't hope to follow his precepts, one is forced to admire his beautiful discrimination. A study of many of his extracts from the respectable journals at that time suggests that the standard of writing in decent newspapers has gone up greatly in recent years. On the other hand colloquial language is infinitely more slangy.

             Is there any word yet of the Oxford Companion to English Literature? Next time you are speaking to Mr Meikle, will you enquire about Skeats Etymological English Dictionary? I think there is one published by Oxford at about 8/- and if so, I should like that also. That postal order which you probably haven't cashed yet will pay for it!

           Since the last paragraph I have come off duty and retired to my little tin hut. It is a lovely night, as mild as if in summer. It has really been astonishing here since I returned from leave, and quite unseasonably warm. Every tree round our hut seems to have an owl living in it and tonight they are giving a fine querulous concert. It's a mournful sound but not unpleasant.

            I've just been recollecting that a year ago tonight I was camped near Baalbek on the first stage of our long journey to Cairo. Home seemed very remote, with no prospect of getting mail till we reached our destination. Surely by another year I'll be doing all my reminiscing at my own fireside while you doubtless recount the Prodigy's exploits of the day.

            My tin of water on top of the stove is beginning to sing quietly so I must have a wash and so to bed. I hope the decrease in your morning malaise continues. Please continue to look after yourself and fill your day with taking milk, orange juice, halibut oil and vitamin A & B tablets. Thanks to informative panels in the daily press, I am as well informed of your duties as you can possibly be. Look after yourself with the most complete selfishness. It's justified at this time.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday 27 February 1945, Mark's Hall

Thurber drawing
My darling,
                  It is now 11.30am and I have just got out of bed. I was on night watch and had a fair amount to do, so when I came off duty I had a couple of hours' rest. I intend to finish this in time to catch the one o'clock post.

                 We have been quite busy recently and it makes a pleasant change. I hope this continues. Meanwhile the was shows signs of interesting developments. From this morning's news it seems as if the German resistance is rather feeble in some parts and Cologne (or its remains) should be under shellfire soon.

                Your letter of Feb. 24th arrived yesterday. The news of your being sick after getting back from the panto is worrying. I've never heard of anyone being literally sick with laughter before. Also on Sunday you said you were feeling tired o'nights. Both these facts compel me to reiterate that you must give up school at once if these symptoms continue. Why should you struggle with fatigue at night and sickness in the morning, when you could be coddling yourself at home? Of course this may be a mere passing phase and you may enter into a period of blooming health, but darling, please be guided by your own feelings and don't let any ridiculous motives keep dragging you out to school. As I said before, you have done far more than your share of hard work and deserve a little leisure now. I'll be enormously pleased when I get a letter telling me that you have told the Corp. to put their job where the monkey put the nuts.

                 My reading just now - God help me - is Naomi Jacob's Private Gollantz. It's complete rubbish. I can['t] stand her intense, arty and perfectly humourless Jews. I have also been reading Parody Party which contains some clever and cruel parodies of Chas Morgan, Dorothy Sayers, Somerset Maugham and others.

                 Thanks for sending on Blakeney's letter. It was a wild demand for an answer to his previous one. I am now wondering what happened to the previous letter I sent him since it also contained photographs. I think I had better write him an airletter explaining the whole position and asking him to make it clear to the Plumiers why they can't have any photos just now. I certainly don't feel like applying for an exporter's license and or whatever is needed merely to send half-a-dozen snaps.

                 I am having an awful time just now with Gee, the fellow in my hut whom I described before. He is a Thurber fan and when I confessed rashly enough that I don't think Thurber very funny he took my remark as some modern form of blasphemy and has been labouring hard for my conversion ever since. He leeps bringing in Thurber books and shoving them under my nose saying "Look at that - don't you think that's funny" and so on. I have to laugh sometimes - at him, for the drawings invariably throw him into hysterics. Tell me honestly, do you like Thurber's drawing? I'm getting really worried about myself.

               I'll need to stop now if I want to get this letter away today. .... Please look after yourself. Glad to hear you have completed the bed booking arrangements. All my love ...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Saturday 24 February 1945, Marks Hall

My darling spoufe,†
                             Congratulations on having your probable confirmed. I should have been rather surprised if Kate had decided otherwise as your symptoms seemed much too marked to be the product of suggestion only. I hope you are pleased: I know I am, but then my share in the business is short, pleasant and soon over. Probably once the initial malaise goes, you'll have quite a pleasant time being pampered by your mother. I only wish I were there also to make my ineffectual contributions to your wellbeing. I believe a husband always fusses around with cushions at these times.

                      Kate's "sitting up nicely" is an astonishing phrase to use about Caroline Mary who probably has go no very well defined bottom to sit on as yet. However, probably it simply means that the positioning is satisfactory from the medical point of view. And what less can be expected of an infant conceived with such energy and welcomed so promptly with cakes and ale!

                     See that you lead a life of gormandising complacency from now on and give up school whenever you feel like it, irrespective of what Kate says. You deserve a rest and I feel it is time I kept my wife for a change. And just in case your nasty wicked mind is flickering around the previous sentence, the emphasis is on the word "I" and not "wife".

                     How are the rest of the family taking Kate's annunciation? I'm glad Mrs B is pleased. I can imagine Irene giving a slightly scandalised "goodness me". You'll have one helluva time when you tell Bessie and had better be prepared for anything from a battery of short-arm jabs to a flood of tears.

                     After a lot of dull weather, today is fresh and bright. I should go for a walk, but I shall need to visit the library and then do some reading in the sun. If your father has already despatched Merchant Adventures, I'll be pleased to get it. I've been reading some more passages from the other books and they are really very good.

                     I'm sorry to hear Willie Skinner's death confirmed. He was a nice lad though pathetically unsure of himself. I wonder what inner compulsion made him volunteer for that dangerous branch, for he did not seem by nature the type for it. It is hard on his mother for Ian, though pleasant enough, is too lazily self-centred to be a mother's boy.


                  It is three weeks tomorrow since I left to go on that lovely leave so by simple arithmetic is'ts only about 9 weeks till I'll be seeing you again(- DV, as Jean used to add). So time is passing quite quickly. Meanwhile the war seems to be slowly coming to a head  and the neutrals like Turkey obviously think the end is near. If by entering the war, *Turkey can open up the Black Sea route to Russia, David [Margaret's brother] may be left with little to do where he is.

                 I have been writing this with rather cold hands so please forgive he bad writing. I'll phone again late tomorrow evening. Meanwhile I must to lunch. ... I am so pleased that our second honeymoon is to be happily commemorated.

*Turkey remained neutral during most of World War II but entered on the side of the Allies on February 23, 1945, a day before this letter was written.
Written thus to replicate the style of script found here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thursday 22 February 1945, Marks Hall

Mark's Hall from the air

My sweetheart
                     I hope I have got the day right this time. It says a good deal for the complete monotony of my life here that even with the assistance of newspapers I never know what day of the week it is.
                    I have two letters of yours to acknowledge, dated 18th and 20th. How dare you develop a stye as soon as my back is turned. The sooner you are out of school and pampering yourself at home, the better. I hope the wretched thing has cleared up now.

                   I have been wondering about your visit to Kate yesterday. I very nearly phoned at night but decided you would not want to shout such intimacies over four hundred miles of wire. So I'll just have to wait patiently for another letter to tell me whether or not we are going into production this time.*

                   Thanks for sending me Annie's letter. Her last letter to me must still be wandering round the Med. She is full of enthusiasm for her job at the Girls' High and judging by the timetable she has been given, they seem to appreciate her value. I contemplate her career with some self-gratulation [sic] rare in me and I'm longing to meet her mother again and recall the embittered fights we had over Annie's future. [This was a former pupil whose mother wanted her to get a job rather than go to University] Genetically speaking that girl is a mystery - unless there was a mute inglorious Jutson among her more remote ancestors.

                 I'm still reading far too much and with a lack of discrimination imposed on me by the library. The founder of this must have been a Compton Mac fan. I have just finished Sinister Street which I liked better than some of his others. It has some rather acute studies of childhood and adolescence but is far too longwinded. I liked Burmese Days - a nice brutal, incisive study. When my head begins to swim with too much fiction I sit down to Fowler's King's English and summarise some parts likely to be useful to me in the future. Occasionally I do some work.

                One of our men here has just got his ticket on medical grounds. I envy him his freedom though not his stomach. Just imagine the joy of leaving the RAF for ever. There have been times in the past when I would have voiced more noble sentiments and begged for the privilege of being allowed to finish the job. But now I just want to settle down with you - and anyone else who happens to come along.

                This released man is from Glasgow, is named Drummond and, as I have just discovered, used to work in the Central Agency. He knows my second cousins Charles and Jo Cassells - in which he has the advantage over me, for I would recognise neither.

               Don't bother to send on Merchant Adventurers. Good books are apt to get damaged in the post, so just lay it aside for our new book case. I shall however be delighted to receive any Penguins which your good taste selects. They will make a happy addition to the library here when I have read them.

                There is quite a stir in Parliament just now about teachers' salaries. In one way this levelling process is a good thing: it may make for unity and concerted action in the future. If however the slight differentiation in salaries leads to a falling off in the numbers of graduates and honours graduates, then changes will have to be made. Naturally I feel some financial reward is due to the more highly qualified teacher but quite honestly I think few secondary teachers would exchange their jobs with the slum school elementary teachers, even on level salaries.

                 I didn't realise G_____ was growing to such enormous breadths. Poor George will need a rope and a set of climbing irons before he can get busy - with the ever-present danger of breaking his neck if he falls off. I wonder how she would get on with her 'stoutness' on North Goatfell now? As for "nappy talk", if the future brings what we hope, I can see you having to snibben G_____ pretty sharply for the nones. Otherwise you'll be overwhelmed. I'm afraid maternity went with a rush to G____'s humourless head. Your friend Eden T. sounds as if she has a more detached viewpoint on the subject.

               Nothing of note has happened with me. I have been definitely posted here and look like staying for some time, though of course appearances of permanence don't count for much in the service. My general health is excellent. I hope you have not more of these little physical ills which are so damned annoying when you have to teach. I'm looking forward with great eagerness to your next letter ........

*Presumably the news awaited was confirmation of the already suspected pregnancy. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tuesday 20 February 1945, Colchester

My dear
             This is my morning off so for a change I am writing in my own time. I am looking forward to receiving a letter from you today but if I wait till it arrives before finishing this I'll miss today's outgoing mail. So perhaps you'll excuse another letter with very little "substance" in it.

             I was sorry to be so late phoning last Sunday. I was on duty during the evening and got involved in some work just as I was leaving. The line was very good and I heard your voice better tan ever. It is painful news that you are still feeling bad in the mornings though I don't suppose that we could reasonably expect you to be exempt from a universal complaint. Perhaps Kate [Dr Kate Harrower] will be able to indicate the time when you can expect relief from that uncomfortable phase of your present enterprise. I feel it is all wrong that I should not be enduring some pain or discomfort also. But short of inducing a series of regular hangovers I am afraid I can only offer you sincere but ignorant and helpless sympathy.

           ....The milder weather [has come] and it is most pleasant just now and quite unseasonably warm. I sat yesterday evening at the door of my hut and watched a lovely delicate sunset while he birds were shouting their heads off. We cannot hope that this is spring just yet by it is very pleasant after the horrors of January.

             The more I think of my last two leaves the more do I realise how marvellous it will be to come home for good. The bondage of Glasgow Corporation may be chafing at times but at least it does not lie on one day and night, and it leaves home life unaffected. I'm longing to get back to an orgy of domesticity - painting, whitewashing, refurnishing and generally making a new start in our life together. I am sorry we won't be able to move at once to the kind of house you would like* but we'll have lots of fun refurbishing our present home. This second start is going to be even more exciting and enjoyable than the first.

            Meanwhile I am patiently enduring a life of matchless dullness and monotony. It is really worse than the desert where there was always a war at hand and the exigencies of mere existence. However I count the weeks - only ten of them now till my next leave and a good prospect that Germany many be smashed during that time.

           I've at last written to Blakeney. I'm afraid my letter was too facetious to be of much help in his moral dilemma but probably the latter has resolved itself one way or the other. His next letter should be rather amusing.

          I'm dipping into the Impressions of Engl. Lit. with great enjoyment. It's a grand book for odd minutes. Some of the writers are violently prejudiced (eg Graham Greene dismisses Shaw in one slighting sentence) but interesting for all that. And the pictures are lovely.

          Lunch is beginning to call me insistently and with it the prospect of your letter. Receiving one means as much to me as ever it did in foreign parts. I'll be very interested to hear at the end of this week what Kate's verdict is. Meanwhile continue to keep a very watchful eye on your own health and comfort. Give my regards to all at 155 [Hyndland Road, home of his in-laws] and take a big hug (administered with due regard to your condition) to your own sweet self. ...

*It was in fact ten years after the war that they bought their own house in Broomhill, in which Margaret Findlay lived till the age of 92. Until then, they continued to rent a top flat in Novar Drive, Hyndland.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thursday 16 February 1945, Colchester, Essex

The clock to which the key was hidden.

My darling
                 Another mild day but spoiled, like yesterday, by heavy mist morning and evening. This seems to be a characteristic of Essex in winter and it is an unpleasant one as everything drips with moisture. But for a few hours in the afternoon we got a promise of finer weather.


                 I'm reading Vestal Fire by Compton McK - another of his silly books about the Salernian Gulf, full of roseate descriptions and extremely old-fashioned naughtiness. He is really very dull and fit only to be read in rural Essex. I've also started Grierson's book which is very good indeed.

                 I wonder frequently about your health and hope you are not having too bad a time with your matutinal malady.* Don't hesitate to give up school at once if you feel like it. I'll be much easier in mind once you have resigned the academic life for one of fruitful leisure. I only wish I was constantly by you to look after your health and coax your morning appetite.

                 I hope you posted my package to Mlle Gilberte. I have still to write to the love-lorn Blakeney but I am convinced that by this time any counsel of moderation will be useless. He is assuredly forswunk. [sic] Do you think I am in any way responsible for his infidelity? Had I written earlier I might have saved him. And if I had remained in France I should have stood between him and his danger.

                 To my delight, on coming in for tea I found a letter from you. It is headed Feb.15th but from internal evidence it appears to have been written on the evening of the 14th. I am very glad to get it especially as I did not expect anything until tomorrow.

                 I'm glad you found the safe key. I must apologise for secreting it in your purse after receiving it from you. It's the same kind of prank that I played with that postal order. You have only to discover now where I've hidden the clock key.

                 Life still seems atrociously dull after that wonderful leave. Like you, I'm no longer satisfied with merely being at home, ie in U.K.  I want to be living with you in our own house - the only thing that really seems worth-while. The simplest pleasures are multiplied in your company. Reading with you, eating with you, seeing pictures in your company and even helping you with washing-up are all actively delightful. ...

                Look after yourself with extraordinary care .... Regards to Mrs B.

* Presumably on that last leave DF had become aware of the coming into existence of the current blogger - though I cannot think that the Mrs B referred to at the end is she! 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wednesday 14 February 1945, Colchester

My darling
                  Back once again in my little tin hut. It is a heavy change after nine glorious days (and nights) of happiness and enjoyment but I expect I'll soon get accustomed to my bondage again. [Presumably the hoped-for leave had materialised successfully]

                  My journey was very pleasant. The train was late and did not get into London till after nine o'clock. If I had been sitting in cramped misery that would have been most trying for me but as it was, it simply meant a nice long sleep. I had breakfast in Euston and then decided to take the 11.10 from Liverpool Street. This got me to Kelvedon at 12.45 and on emerging from the station I found the same taxi that took me to the station 10 days ago. The driver looked as if he had been slumbering there ever since and in this somnolent neighbourhood I believe such a thing is quite possible. This providential taxi enabled me to get to the Mess in time for lunch.

                 Your food was very welcome. I ate all the sandwiches and cake but not the biscuits. However the latter will keep and will be very welcome for the odd spasm of hunger during the day.

                 Today is simply glorious and at midday it was really summerlike. I hope you had the same kind of weather in Glasgow. The past week has been very wet here, I'm told, and they had one very heavy fall of wet snow while I was away. I hope it stays mild and fair now for though weather doesn't really matter at all on leave, it makes a great difference to one's spirits and comfort under our present conditions.

                  During my absence thick linoleum has been laid on the concrete floor of our hut so the place is much less prison-like. It still looks rather grim after our lovely drawing room and the camp armchair I'm sitting on is a miserable substitute for the armchairs I've recently been lolling in. However I'll get used to these changes.

                 Davis, one of my hut mates, has just bought a bicycle and is at present exploring the country on it. I might feel tempted to follow his example except for the fact that at bike would be utterly useless to me later on.

                 The feel of my stubbly chin reminds me that I must shave before dinner. I'll post this tonight in the hope that you will get it on Saturday. I hope your return to school wasn't too distasteful.* At any rate you have not much longer to go in that arduous profession. Take all possible care of yourself ...

* Did teachers, I wonder, get time off work if their husband was home on leave? It sounds like it. And although his wife did indeed give up teaching for some years, she returned to the job in the late'50s and went on teaching primary children till she was 65.



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wednesday 31 January 1945, Marks Hall

My darling
                 As I write the blessed rain is pouring down, washing away the remains of what I hope is the last snowstorm of the winter. It started on Monday night and was an exceptionally heavy fall. But the thaw came soon after and now we have the welcome rain. It's grand to feel the soft air again and to be able to rise in the morning without undergoing agonies.

                I hope the pipes remained unfrozen. They must be a great worry and inconvenience to you especially when they involve your sleeping in a cold deserted house. I rexpect the thaw has now relieved you of any further apprehension.

                 Your letter of 26th Jan arrived on Monday and I am half hoping for another one today. Your mail really comes through very well. I was sorry to hear that you had destroyed an old letter of yours which came back after its wanderings but I was comforted yesterday by a large batch of ancient re-addressed mail including two of your letters, two of your father's and one of Jean's [sister-in-law]. Your letters were the ones you wrote when it began to be reasonably certain that I was coming home and I am glad to be re-assured even at this late date that I was not unwelcome. You've no idea how I missed these letters at the time. There was I despatching what I hoped were faintly exciting tidings and getting never a word in reply.

                 At present I am trying to wangle some leave next week. I would not mention it at all before it is certain but for the fact that a little advance information may prevent you from dating yourself up with any children's parties or flute blowing evenings. It may perhaps seem early to be taking leave but since one never knows what the future may bring, one is better to close one's fingers over the bird. I'd be furious if I hoarded my leave and then found that circumstances forestalled me. Of course permission has not been granted yet and may not be given at all. But if all goes well I hope to get to Glasgow either late on the evening of Monday 5th Feb. or early on the morning of Tuesday 6th. I would be departing on the evening of Tuesday 13th so I would have a full week at home.

                I'll let you know definitely on Sunday evening. Meanwhile keep your fingers crossed ducky. If my visit should clash with the painters it is just too bad. I had to pick my provisional dates some time ago and I chose what I thought was likely to be the best time. Personally I should think that if the gentlemen haven't come by the end of this week, they are busy on another job. But above all remember my leave is not yet fixed definitely.

                I was sorry to hear on Sunday that your father had caught a cold at your aunt's funeral. I don't know why it is that funerals always seem to take place in the coldest and wettest weather. I hope he is better now: at least he doesn't need to struggle out to school now in a half-cured condition.* I am delighted to hear that your throat is nearly better. Please try to avoid any further illnesses. You sounded very bright and chirpy last Sunday in spite of the fact that you were going to venture out into the cold at that late hour.

                I'm still leading a leisurely life and reading more than I've done for a long time. Yesterday it was Hervey Allen's Bedford Valley - quite readable unsophisticated stuff.

                The war gets visibly nearer to its end every day. I'm afraid it's going to be necessary to hack Germany into little pieces, but even that should not take long. There are signs also of the Western Front wakening up.

                I want this to catch today's post so cheerio. Don't build up too definite hopes on my leave just yet but I'm praying hard that that should avail much. I'm longing to see you again ...

*DF's father-in-law had been a Primary School head. In fact, only one member of that family was not engaged in teaching.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sunday 28 January 1945, R.A.F. Officers' Mess, Mark's Hall

My darling
                 Since last writing I have received your letter of Jan 24th - the one enclosing Andrew's screed. I am sorry to hear that my letters are taking so long to get to you. The reason is that a censorship has been imposed on our mail and that always increases the time they take to get to their destination. Fortunately for me, incoming mail is unaffected and your delightful letters are coming through as well as ever.

                  I had a slight headache this morning due to a hefty inoculation yesterday. That, as the M.O. says, makes me completer for another year. I sincerely hope it is the last jag I'll get from the R.A.F. My headache has now gone and I'm looking forward with relish to the Sunday evening dinner.

                 It's still snowing here as if it would never stop. Since I came here the temperature has hardly ever been above freezing point and most of the time it has been far below. Underneath the snow the ground is iron hard. It actually hurts one's feet to walk on it. Still I manage to keep fairly comfortable and I feel the cold much less than I did at first. Also I've taken to going to bed at night with a brick. We heat our bricks on the charcoal stove in the hut, then wrap them up in a towel and the result is far more comforting than any hot water bottle. It makes going to bed much more pleasant but nothing can be done to alleviate the shock of getting up in the morning.

               On the whole however the weather is not as trying as what I experienced at Aleppo this time last year. there the icy winds used to penetrate all my blankets and I had to wear a balaclava in bed to keep my ears from falling off.

                Andrew's letter is very interesting. His life out there sounds very fictional. In fact, what with his bearing the white man's burden in the wilds and leaving a hopeless love affair at home, Andrew is developing his whole existence along very melodramatic lines.  I have no doubt he extracts some enjoyment from this fact at present but I wonder what his plans are for the future.  Alternately waiting for forbidden fruit to fall into his lap and then stifling his disappointment in the Nigerian forests doesn't seem to me to lead anywhere.

                 I've just read Action at Aquila by Hervey Allen. It's passable, if rather sentimental. Meanwhile I'm still struggling with Lavransdatter. It's a terrible book to read under present conditions. Winter broods over it. People are always stumbling over iron-hard snow or crying themselves to sleep in an icy-cold bed. the only time any of the characters shows the slightest bit of animation is where there is a spot of rape imminent. At other times they sigh over a gloomy past or a foreboding future. If I ever finish this book, immediately on top of Bleak House, I'll feel I've achieved something in the way of a literary marathon.

                 I hope that by now your throat is completely better. I just loathe the idea of your having to go our to work in weather like this. For Heaven's sake stay off if you don't feel quite fit. You must take care of yourself. I'm glad to hear your mother is recovering. I hope your father has avoided all the effects of this cold spell. My leg is getting better gradually. I'm resting it as much as I can and that undoubtedly seems to be the right treatment.

                I'll be phoning you later this evening. Meanwhile, cheerio darling. ...