And two weeks after the Travel Diary ends, Britain was at war. What happened to all those young people who were meeting their families at the train station, or catching the 11:40 to Glasgow, or travelling on in Europe, after a seemingly carefree trip on the Queen Mary? There are books, both fact and fiction, and films, to give us an idea, but since Cynthia was living at home there are no letters from her during the grey dreary years that followed. She went on teaching in Newcastle, and must have written so many letters to keep in touch with her friends and relatives. As the war went on, some died, and new ones came- Polish and American officers were stationed in the area. Some of her girlfriends married, and had babies. Some were widowed. Only a few letters and cards sent to her survived to cover the war years…
Meanwhile in Canada, the country Cyn had visited for two days on her marvellous holiday, a seventeen-year-old was attending the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. A decade later, Cecil Clifford Costain would be married to Cynthia, but his wartime experience had been very different from hers, and they would not meet until 1948. This blog may focus on the women of my family, because most of the material was written by them, but the men at war wrote home too. So I will include some letters that my father Cec, age 20, wrote home addressed to his mother, Mrs. H. H. Costain, from aircraft carriers on the high seas. My brother has scanned his letters, transcribed them, and added factual data about the ship’s service, which Cec was definitely not allowed to share with his family.
In 1944, when Cynthia changed jobs and moved to Cambridge to teach, letters to her mother start again, and we get details of her life and friends, and of VE Day, when the war started to end. Plans could be made for the future again- another American adventure for Cynthia!
Up betimes. Had breakfast & finished packing. Got the car & off to King’s Cross- Miss Lefroy seeing us off. Sad to go – & a miserable old station.
Here I am finishing my diary in the train – as I started it a month ago. In that time I’ve sailed in two great ships – I’ve met people of all nationalities – I’ve seen New York and Niagara – I’ve met unknown relations and made countless friends – I’ve been made love to by a few and loved one – I’ve had nearly every experience I could wish – I’ve seen America.
I regret not one moment – looking back on it all it seems of priceless possession- something I have & hold. I may go again – I may do all these things again – I may love someone as much again – but somehow it won’t be the same. I’m young – I love life & this has been my first glimpse of it – my “first fine careless rapture”. Whatever happens it’s been worthwhile – a glorious lifetime in one month.
Up in fairly reasonable time for once & down to breakfast. Mummy & I decided to go to town again as Miss Lefroy had to go out. Took the bus to Parliament Square – saw Westminster Hall – Westminster Abbey with the Poet’s Corner & the Grave of the Unknown soldier- up Whitehall past the Cenotaph- saw 10 Downing Street, then up to Trafalgar Square where I saw the Statue of King Charles II. Through Admiralty Arch and walked up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace, but it was too hot, so we walked up Lower Regent St. & to Dickens & Jones for lunch. Very nice it was.
Spent the afternoon ambling up Oxford Street & shop gazing. Took the bus to Selfridge’s – gazed round then a bus home & found tea waiting. Packed & saw the garden & then had dinner. Miss Lefroy afterwards took Mummy & I to see the Zoo illuminated. It was lovely & we saw the water birds, the lions, the baby panda! – the reptiles & the monkeys. Sat & listened to the band & then walked home. Chris down in her dressing gown to welcome us & we ate. To bed at last.
Slept until 10 o’clock & eventually crawled downstairs for breakfast. Chris & AGL. out so we washed up & cleared away. Felt very miserable & hung around the telephone waiting for something to happen. Third time it rang it was Maurice – very tired having slept most of the time – asking me to go out in the afternoon & saying he’d call about 2:30.
Felt a bit cheered after that & got dressed & had lunch. Mommy told Miss Hull I was in love & she was terribly sympathetic- so sweet!
Maurice eventually arrived – plus umbrella- looking too frightfully bored & English! – And away we went to the Zoo – it was so nice seeing him again. We had last got there having walked about 10 times as far as we need & discovered the place simply crowded out. Packed. Very terrible so Maurice rushed me into the Aquarium & we spent a while at fishes & an octopus which I simply loathed! Outside & wandered round & saw penguins and things & then sat on a seat & talked about ourselves & each other. I discovered all about his mother & father & school & at all & I told him about the plan Mummy & I had of coming to live in London & he approved heartily. He’s a sweet boy. We then rushed around & saw bears & birds & whatnots. Then over & had tea & talked some more & then walked home. He is going for an interview at the B.B.C. in the morning & then flying to Paris in the afternoon to play in a tennis tournament so I won’t see him again. He came in & said goodbye to Mummy & then left – definitely a pet, Maurice.
Had an early dinner & got ready & AGL, Miss Hull, Mum & I off in a car to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to see “Tobias and the Angel”. Lovely sitting in the dark & seeing the trees. Very amusing play, but couldn’t see terribly well although I enjoyed it all the same. Home & had a feast. Then to bed – sad.
[This production was made into a BBC Television show that month! TV in 1939!]
Slept till 12 o’clock. Chris brought tea & then we got up in time for lunch. Afterwards Miss Lefroy had to go out so Mummy & I decided to go to town. Left a message with Mrs. Ryan about my phone call, but when we got to Oxford Circus, I thought I might phone the hotel & say goodbye if Wilkie was going. Rang up Hotel Imperial, Russell Square & waited. Then a voice saying he had left. I was expecting it, but still I felt the light go out. There was no fun anymore- nothing to sing about – no gay expectancy – tears in my heart – I know what it means now.
However we went on up Regent Street looking at shops, to Piccadilly Circus, then round Leicester Square & to Swan & Edgars for tea. Mum & I very sad chat! Out again & back up Regent Street to Oxford Circus- bus to Camden Town & another home. Arrived about six- no phone call of course.
Had dinner and afterwords played cards. And to bed – and I wept. Cynthia was never going to fall in love of course, and yet she cried herself to sleep.
Slept two hours & then up feeling not too bad. Dressed & upstairs. Met Jimmy and had a little chat.
Into breakfast – Egypt gone having left at Cherbourg – the doctor came & sat beside me instead. Up & saw Immigration officers in the Smokeroom afterwards, then talked- Mamma, Maurice, Nora, Jimmy, Bob & I. Mamma quite serene! Up on deck after a while & watched the ship going up the Solent. Lots of aeroplanes around. Wilkie there too & the Doctor.
Had lunch early & then on deck again already. Arrived about 1. People on board, but no one for any of us. Sat in the lounge & waited – Jimmy played for us. Off at about 3 & to the Customs. Showed all our things, but the Customs man was sweet & let everything through. Said goodbye to Jimmy & Bob & left them. Nora & Wilkie got through all right. Maurice had to wait for ages & had to pay excess baggage, much to his annoyance. Bunny Austin came & spoke to him though!
Got seats on the train & waited but the poor Doctor! He kept the train waiting three quarters of an hour while they searched every one of his trunks, dumped out his shirts and pyjamas, went through his pockets & generally played merry hell. Off at last- Mum, Nora, Maurice & I in a carriage with the man & his wife who was going to have a baby. Wanted tea, so wandered along & found it was brought to you, so we went & found Wilkie & the Doc & another man in a carriage & had it with them. Stayed with & consoled the doctor who was most upset. Gave Wilkie & Maurice my London address. Arrived in London & leapt out of the train. Got a porter & then went in search of luggage- Nora met her mother – & Maurice his father – much to his relief as the poor sweet only had 1/6 left!
Said goodbye to the Doctor & the other man & Nora & temporary farewells to Wilkie & Maurice. Then of course we kept meeting them all over the station! Got all the luggage at last & got a taxi- waved goodbye to Wilkie & Maurice & left.
Quite a thrill to see Westminster Bridge & the old Houses of Parliament. On round Regent’s Park & got to Miss Lefroy’s- Chris and Miss Lefroy waiting – & Nell arrived too. Had more tea & asked Miss Lefroy if she’d mind my going out with Wilkie – she said of course not & was quite thrilled.
A little later a phone call from the Doctor & Wilkie asking me what show I’d like to go to- I said Black and Blue, & they wanted me to come to dinner too, so I arranged to meet them at the corner of Wardour St. & Shaftesbury Avenue at 7:30.
Flew & got ready & Miss Lefroy got a car for me. Arrived & found them waiting so nice to see them there. We went and had dinner at a rather nice quiet place Pinollis [?] nice dinner & Sauternes– great fun trying to tell Wilkie what things were. Left & arrived at the theatre just as the curtain went up.
Much to my annoyance Francis Day wasn’t there & her understudy took the part. I was mad. It was quite good, but rather low in parts. Bebe Daniels was on for a few songs.
During the Finale the Doctor suddenly leapt up, shook my hand & said good-bye before it dawned on me that he was going. He had to catch the 11:40 to Glasgow.
After we got out, Wilkie & I wandered along- looked at Piccadilly Circus & saw the bright lights. Into Regent’s Palace for a drink, but of course could only get tea – much to Wilkie’s scorn! Talked about cabbages & kings – England & America – Jack thrilled me with America – New York in the fall- Miami and Florida- California in the winter – the spring in [?] – California & Virginia. Romance in every word.
We left at last & took a taxi home. Driving the rough London streets at night with someone – things you dream about- and a man you’d dream about. It didn’t seem real it was so lovely – we just drove around the Park & were bumped & shaken. And I was never so happy.
Time at last – we got there- trouble opening the gate & the door. Goodbye on the doorstep – my American – he’ll ring me tomorrow if his boat doesn’t leave. He wants my Mother to bring me to New York to live- it’s past hoping for. In just at 1 A.M.- Miss Lefroy waiting.
Didn’t wake up until 10:0 when Mrs. McKissoch’s friend came in. Decided to wait until stewardess arrived & ask for tea & toast, so we did that & it was very nice. Up & out at last & found Nora & Maurice up bright & cheery- more or less! Played ping-pong a bit & amused ourselves.
Had lunch to which Wilkie manage to totter. Afterwards we all grabbed cameras and rushed up on deck as it was nice & sunny, but most frightfully windy. Took some funny groups – Wilkie, Maurice, the Doctor, Jimmy, Ritz, Bob, Nora & me – all positions. Then dashed downstairs & saw the immigration authorities.
Went downstairs & watched Maurice play in the Final of the Ping-Pong Tournament – he beat Wilkie yesterday in the Semi-Final- a great battle- Wilkie is terribly cunning, but Maurice is really the better player. Maurice this time was playing a little fattish man- awfully good, but he played marvellously & won. Nice work.
The two finalists & Nora & I then went & had tea to drink the health of the Champ! Up to the Smokeroom then & sat until Nora & I decided we must use up the films on our cameras by taking photos of Henry & Egypt, so we dashed off much against Maurice’s will, & found the two amiable gentlemen & took their photos after much fuss. Didn’t bother to stay, but found Bob & Wilkie wandering around so we took some more snaps of them.
Decided next to go to the back of the boat to take more still so collected Maurice & wandered through. Stopped & saw Wilkie’s cabin on the way & found the Doc there, so he joined the party. Lost our way a few times, but eventually got there, took the snaps & wandered back.
To the cabin & packed. Down to dinner & the two gentlemen opposite treated us to Liebefraumilche. Very festive. Afterwards Nora longing to get merry so treated me to a Manhattan. Maurice & Ritz found us drinking & came & wrote on our menus– everyone did.
Eventually decided to go upstairs to the ship’s concert as Jimmy was playing.
Arrived to find the place crowded Wilkie & the Doc waiting for me & then with Harlan Heath- Maurice’s friend – an ‘Honourable’ incidentally! We all sat round & drank Tom Collins & after the Concert was over danced- greatly teased with my menu & bag & everything. Maurice showed me his Year Book – awfully interesting. Waited & waited for Jimmy to appear but he didn’t for positively hours. Ritz & Beatrice went eventually & the doctor – Wilkie asked me to walk but Maurice would’ve been left, so I didn’t. Nora went down to Wilkie’s cabin & got the remains of a bottle of Scotch, but there wasn’t much & I loathed it anyway. Jimmy finally appeared when only Nora, Bob, Maurice & I were left. The five of us decided to make a night of it, so we just sat & slept & fooled around. I tried to persuade Jimmy to play, but he only had spasms. I slept on Maurice’s shoulder & we played a silly trick with sixpences.
Saw the dawn come & the sun rising. Arriving at Cherbourg at about 6:30. At quarter to six Maurice & I danced- very nicely & we were extremely proud of ourselves. At about quarter past Mamma appeared – very mad! I was hauled to bed- but made it up before I went!
Breakfast with an even greater effort – 15 minutes late, but found Nora, Egypt & Wilkie all missing. Up to ping-pong room & found Maurice there. Played with him and also Bob who appeared. Felt weak about 11-ish so Maurice & Bob took me to find beef tea. Left me in the Garden Lounge while they searched & Egypt pounced on me! They were away ages, but eventually came & rescued me – minus beef tea. The horrors had very nearly left me to my fate! Down & found I could join the tournament- but could find no one to play, so the steward put me in the semifinal. Played some hot fours. Ritz & Nora arrived sleepily after a while & the Doctor, Wilkie of course, not until lunchtime.
After lunch went & stood in a queue for hours to get tickets from Southampton to London. Then downstairs & played in ping-pong tournament. Discovered I couldn’t be in semifinals. Beat 2 women, then got beaten by a Jewess who eventually won.
Up to tea dance with Maurice & tread a pretty measure! Afterwards down & played more ping-pong.
Dressed for dinner – in red brocade. Maurice quite bowled over with my appearance – or so he said! He also approves of my white skirt & fluffy yellow jumper. Amazing! After dinner Nora & Mummy went to the pictures. I went up to the lounge to dance with Maurice, Wilkie, the Doctor & Bob. Danced quite a bit, then when they started Keno we went down to the smoke room & had a drink – Tom Collins! Amusing discussions – especially about my clothes!
Upstairs again after a while and collected Ritz & Beatrice. Dance music & then Jimmy played the piano – I danced a lot – with Wilkie, Maurice, Ritz & the Doctor. Maurice unfortunately has sprained his foot at ping-pong but still hobbles around. Persuaded Jimmy to play a long time. Wilkie & I danced the last dance & then he took me to bed-3:30! Nora very matey with Robert one of the men from our table!
Up with an effort & down to breakfast. Nora down too, & Egypt, with whom we are still on quite amiable terms. Wilkie not down. Nora and I decided it was a nice day & so went & changed into shorts then out on deck, but nothing much happening. Very spray-ish in our chairs. Nora’s cabin companion very sweet & complimenting me on how charming I looked last night – all overcome!
Down to the ping-pong room. Found Maurice there & he persuaded me to play – great fun- found I was still quite reasonable. Maurice very good. Nora doesn’t play. Played quite a bit – singles & doubles-with Maurice, Ritz, a Dutch boy & a Lancashire girl Beatrice. There was a ping pong tournament, but I was too late to join. The steward is going to fix it if anyone drops out though.
Big American man that I taught the Lambeth Walk to last night came & asked me if I knew Mr. Wilkinson so I promised to show them each other although Wilkie hadn’t yet appeared.
In to lunch & after a while Wilkie arrived. Very solemn- Mummy said he was in a bad temper. After lunch I went & told him about the big man who is going to play him in the ping-pong. Instead of being grumpy he was merely sleepy having slept until quarter to one- the big laziness!
Up and played ping-pong afterwards with Wilkie & Maurice. Mummy thought she would like to see Cabin Class and Tourist, so she asked Egypt to take her – with Nora & me as chaperones! He was very pleased & acted guide most efficiently. On your left the something & on your right the something else! Found Henry & traipsed all over, saw the swimming pool & cabins & all. Up on deck & William took our photos holding the Queen Mary life belt – very funny. Then Nora & Mummy had tea on deck- no more appeared, so Henry & William took me into the covered deck space & we had it together. Henry gazing at me intently and paying me compliments – especially about my eyes. Dear Henry! He must be nice!
Back to Mummy & Nora & then all back home. To the ping-pong room & found Wilkie there. Played with him & talked about American experiences. Also, a Scottish Doctor from Glasgow & Bob, a young man from London.
Ping pong eventually finished so Wilkie off to swim. Nora, Bob, the Doc. and I went upstairs & chattered. They then went into early dinner & Nora & I got dressed.
To dinner & felt quite crazy. Upstairs afterwards to dance. Mum to the pictures. Nora & I with Wilkie, Maurice & Ritz. I was quite crazy- much to everyone’s amusement! Refused Egypt’s invitation to go 1st class! Wilkie’s hat fascinated me – bright green cloth – very squashable! Danced then Horse Racing started, so we just sat & were fun to ourselves. Bob arrived looking very lonely, so we asked him to join us & we all drank Tom Collins. After a while dance music came on again & we danced & then Jimmy played the piano & we danced more. The Doc. joined us, also very full of amusement – altogether great fun and games. A Bulgarian sang some marvellous French songs & Jimmy played until he nearly died! At last to bed, Wilkie escorting me tenderly.
Up betimes and to breakfast. Nora and Egypt also there. All quite well. After breakfast up on deck and found chairs- quite sheltered but in the lower part of the ship & we get rather sprayed upon – however, salt is frightfully healthy! Talked to Frank, a small dark man who used to play shuffleboard with me on the Mauretania- an Australian. Sat and slept & Egypt came and read with us.
To lunch and afterwards found our trunk. Egypt and Henry took Nora & I through to show us the Tourist part of the ship by daylight. Most frightfully possessive, my dear! Saw the swimming pool – v. nice. Very nice decks for Tourist, but you feel the vibration more than in our part. Very hot on deck- watched the horse races for a while and then all had tea on deck very nicely together. I then decided to go & find Mamma & Nora came too- our two swains leaving us to find our way home by ourselves, much to our annoyance. Back to our cabins and unpacked a bit more. To Nora’s cabin & talked a bit to her & her roommate – an oldish lady. Up to Garden Lounge & saw end of horse racing there – Egypt also there – incredible person. Backed a horse for me but of course it lost!
Down & got dressed for dinner – green muslin with black bows. In feeling very cheery – a Get Together Dinner – I was longing to get together! George, our steward – a funny little Cockney – very full of beans – insisted on signing menus for us all so we all signed.
Caps and balloons and whistles – such fun! An awfully nice big man at another table, very amused at us. I asked him to sign my menu- he is an American from Philadelphia, name Jack Wilkinson & he has lovely blue eyes & a most humourous smile.
Upstairs to the Garden Lounge for dancing. Sat a table with two American boys- only discovered one wasn’t American. His name is Maurice Chaundy & he was an exchange student from Rugby to the American school Choate for a year. He is rather nice, but looks & speaks quite typically American. Talked for a while and my friend Mr. Wilkinson came and smiled at us. Then Egypt once more appeared with Henry & insisted on us going Tourist. I didn’t want to go at all, so Mummy said we must only go for 1/2 hour & off we trailed. Got there eventually & found instead of dancing- community singing! Very bored, so went back in prompt 1/2 hours time. To find dancing finished & revolting game Keno going on. Deserted Egypt & Henry & sat & talked to Maurice & Mr. Wilkinson & the other American boy, Jack. After a while Keno stopped & recorded dance music came through. Danced à la American with Maurice, Jack & Wilkie- most successful. Maurice & I even danced cheek to cheek but it made me laugh rather! Nora didn’t manage so well – she doesn’t look much of a dancer though.
Mum to bed & after a while the music stopped. Then Jimmy McKenna started to play the piano and he was marvellous. We danced quite a lot, and sat listening & at last went to bed at about 2-ish. An hour off every night – terribly awkward for sleeping! Wilkie saw me to my cabin in the most sweet way.