June 25 1939

As the Ewings were preparing for the summer trip to New York, Cynthia got a letter from Bobby Sheedy, the younger of the brothers next door she’d grown up with, so different in tone from his letter of 3 years before, that it is hard to believe it is from the same person.  Now in the British forces, Bobby’s letter suggests that there was discussion amongst the family and friends in Newcastle (and probably New York and St Vincent too) about Carol and Cynthia staying in America because of the approaching war.  

2363483

Sign J.R S.

4th A.A. Brig. H.Q. Signals,

No. 5 Company,

3rd Holding Batt.,

R. Signals,

Saltram-on-Sea

25-6-39

Dear Cyn,

As you know you hinted about leaving England when I was home on leave, but somehow I didn’t take it in. I hear from Mother that there is a possibility of your leaving in the near future.

You know what I think about that: it’s unnecessary for me to say it in words. However, the decision rests with you. I should hate to advise you to take any course of action which afterwards you might regret.

The main purpose of this letter is to find out if you’re going, and if so when.

If you have decided to go I must see you before you leave. Once you get out there, it’s unlikely that you will ever return. Somehow I didn’t think of it seriously when you told me in the car on my last night’s leave. I suppose I was too busy thinking of myself.

Please let me know the position as soon as poss,

Yours in haste

Love

Bobby

P. S. In the event of your not going I shall wait until my next leave.

P. P. S. I’m still at Staithes, the one-eyed fishing joint 15 miles S of Saltram. People hospitable, place dead and alive.

Only the second postscript, added on the top of the first page, sounds like Bobby! I don’t know what Cyn replied to Bobby, but I do know that her father had booked a return trip for the three women going, and that nowhere in the entire Travel Diary is there a hint that it is anything but a fun and exciting holiday to her.  Nor is there, however, much introspection or mention of feelings- much more a daily record of events, with evenings of ‘talk’ mentioned but not described.  I’m sure the relatives in New York tried to persuade them to stay where it was safe, and indeed, the younger cousin Peggy did, leaving her berth back on the Queen Mary empty.  Her home was in St Vincent, and I assume she returned to her father in the West Indies with the aunts who had come from there for the New York reunion. But Cynthia and Carol returned to England to do their bit, and Bobby would see Cyn again when he was on leave.

The Sheedy brothers in less serious times.

July 18 1936

She kept the letters and the boot-lace!

67 Brook Rd., 

Cricklewood N.W.2

Saturday

Dear Cynthia,

I seem fated to commence each of my letters with apologies.  “I AM VERY SORRY” is the theme of every first paragraph so far. Unfortunately this letter is no exception. Well I’ll get it over. (always the little hero!)  I am very sorry I did not send you the promised P.C.  There! It’s out now.

As a matter of fact (or fiction) I wished to try your devotion. I am happy to announce that you have passed the test with flying colours. I have decided to promote you from 3rd best girl, to 2nd best. Now that’s a thrill for you???!!!

You daringly asked me in your letter how things were going in this God-forsaken hole called London. Well at the moment it’s raining as tho’ its’ heart would break & a Sat. night too.

{Pardon my writing on both sides of paper, but I have no option due to lack of said paper.}

I haven’t seen “The Bengal Lancers” one yet D.G., but I’ve seen several other more or less good shows. (a) Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” miles better than “City Lights” (unquestionably recommended) (b) Ann Harding in “The Witness Chair” & Margaret Sullivan in “Next time we Live”. (so so).  After seeing the latter I went to a low-down dive called the “Brasserie” where tough looking apaches sloped around. But like ‘Popeye’ after my spinach, I felt I was more than a match for any of them even the waspish House Detective. The band was composed of (presumably) gentlemen wearing red jackets and green pantaloons- a most effective combination. They all had extremely long side-boards and looked “a thoroughly shady lot.” I wished I had taken a couple of knuckle-dusters & a blackjack with me.

Anyway after we left there we felt we were more or less safe, although some bright individual had bunged up one of the House-‘tec’s eyes.

Ah! While I think on’t the Silver Link was marvellous (2 or 1 ‘l’ ?). Terribly fast, yet smooth as a duck-pond. 

I suppose you will of heard of the little incident concerning the Service Rifle. Near escape wasn’t it?

One night I went to Highgate to see some relatives & unfortunately missed the last tube, so I had to go back & knock them up. Were they pleased!!!! xx!  I arrived back at my digs at 8:50 A.M. the following morning.  I had about two minutes to explain my absence to my landlady, and I’m sure I wasn’t convincing.  She thinks I’m a regular profligate, rake or roué. I haven’t  asked her which.

Last Sat. I met Ken B & E and lunched with them. Then we went to see W.C. Fields in ‘Poppy’ at the Plaza. Shall I ever forget Ken E’s laugh?- it brought the house down. Also Harry Roy & Princess Pearl in “Everything is Rhythm” a jolly good show. Then I saw the two Ks off at King’s X.  A twinge of jealousy then; it soon passed away, however.

On Sunday I went to Lady Watson’s, and had a jolly nice time. They’ve got a beautiful house and car. Nancy is awfully nice. (‘Nice’ twice in one sentence. Repetition! lose 1 mark)

On Thursday I went to Wembley Speedway to see Wembley vs Belle Vue. After the match there was a terrific rush for buses & I got involved in a free fight. One fellow was trying to pull me off the bus, while his wife was swiping me with a hand bag. In the ensuing melée I lost a button, but suffered no other casualty. (my spelling is atrocious!)  You would’ve howled had you seen it. I felt like an aristo in the French Revolution surrounded by a howling mob. A hot 60 secs in fact. 

In your letter you say you might pop over from Ilfracombe to see us at Ilkley. Well my geography’s a bit rocky- where on earth is Ilfracombe? Anyway if you could it would be rather fun, especially if you came for dinner and dance one night. It has just occurred to me that Ilf. is somewhere down South.  Therefore you suggest visiting us when you arrive home, or on the way back.  Light at last!

Anyway I hope you’ll have a hot time at Ilf. (that word’s too long) and mind if you start any of the “china-cow” business watch your step.  Of course you won’t enjoy yourself as much as you did at Easter, due to the lack of those people who have such an “energetisizing” effect on you.

Well I’m afraid I’ve “explored all avenues” and “left not a stone unturned”, but I can’t think of anything else.  Ah! Yes!!  Please convey my congrats to Mr. Kirby on poss [position? post?] & £4 per week. He’ll be able to stand drinks all around on that. Ken never told me about it.

I’m afraid that’s all, so I can only conclude with the usual. Very Best love, from Bobby XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

P.T.O.

P.S.  I meant to read this letter over to punctuate & otherwise correct it, but I don’t feel in the mood to wade thro’ such a whack of concentrated drivel.  I will therefore leave it to your tender mercies “in toto”

Bobby 

Enclosed one boot-lace with which to tie all my letters to be kept in lavender for 50 years at least.

Well, 84 years and counting. I doubt Bobby expected that!

York May 5th 1929

Just a few notes on some of the friends and relations Cynthia is writing to her mother about. Baby Ruth refers to Ruth Stainthorpe, daughter of family friends, Dr. Charles Stainthorpe and his wife. Twenty years later, Ruth would be Cynthia’s sole bridesmaid, and Dr. Stainthorpe would give her away! Denis and Bobby Sheedy lived next door to the Ewings in Newcastle and had been friends since childhood, playing together with Cynthia and Nancy. I assume Edgar is the son, younger than Cynthia, of Chris and Katie Cooper. Granny Hazell’s will was written in 1927 (already posted) but I am not sure when she died. She seems to have recovered here. On the back of the envelope is Cynthia’s postscript: P.S. I’m writing to Granny H.

The ‘friend’ mentioned in the first paragraph is, of course, her period, a better euphemism than some she used later with me…

May 5th 1929

Dearest Mumsie,

I am so glad you like my letters, you may be sure I love writing them ever so, I did’nt feel so sad this morning as last week because I suppose I’m getting used to it. Mummy darling, I got ‘my friend’ yesterday when I was at the pictures I got a scare I can tell you, but I don’t think it’s very bad this time.

I have worn my blue coat every day this week as it is rather cold but it is much warmer today. I scrub my teeth always night and morning with the paste Mummy, as I ca’nt get the powder tin open but my teeth are getting nice and white and none of them are hurting now.

We have quite nice meals at B.G. now there are some things I don’t like, cheese and onions and things like that.

I am very sorry to hear about Dr. S’s accident it will be horrid, please give my love to Baby Ruth and Mrs. S. went you see them won’t you? I didn’t get your first letter till theirs and Mummy, I got this pad at Woolworths specially to write to you as it is thin and here it is now I don’t seem to be able to write much.

I like the frocks ever so Dearest they are lovely and the girls like them too, I wore the pink (which looks lovely with short sleeves) yesterday and my silk stockings you gave me and my pearls. The new frock is sweet Mumsie, I haven’t tried it on but it looks lovely. Thanks awfully for the chocs, Mummy mine, I’ve finished the little ones and all but two of the big one’s I shared them with the girls of course, and also the ones I brought, I’ve only Bobbie’s left now. Thank Guilly very much too dearie, and we do have jam at school only its nicer to have our own the little pots are sweet.

Sylvia has’nt come yet and the girls do not know if she is coming back at all. She is not a new girl but has been here a long time I think. I haven’t a special chum yet but Jessie takes me around and looks after me. Two other girls go up N/C way at end of term though neither there, Phyllis and Gertrude.

Please tell Dennis and Nan and Dot when I come back I’ll be a champion tennis player (I must say) and shall (not) win every set. Tell Dennis also that I am haveing a very enjoyable time and the air of York agrees with me greatly!

I haven’t been at all to the Baths yet as they are open air and Mrs. Palmer won’t let us go till it is warmer.

The Pics were glorious yesterday and Matheson Lang took the part of Sir Percy Blakeney, it was lovely there was a talkie film as well only it was rotten.

We don’t have to pay ourselves at all Miss John pays. Poor little Edgar, please give him & Chris & Mrs.C my love.

Oh Mummy Miss Ellet read out that last week, Miss Dart would have an eloqution class if there were enough wanted to learn, Miss Dart isn’t that thrilling.

Today is Military Sunday in York Mums and after church we saw all the soldiers coming back from the Minster, it was lovely, at church, Mummy, none of the girls or Mrs. Palmer sing the hymns and psalms and responses, they are quiet the whole time. 

It was so exciting getting a parcel from home, please send one again soon, with cake please cause we do’nt get cake every day. 

I wore my patent leather shoes today and it’s so sad that all the newness is worn off, won’t we be lovely when we are home. “Rob Roy” will be lovely for Nan she likes Scott’s and has read this one. Please get Marny a Collins book too, will you Mummy? She collects them.

Fancy my mummy in a mauve silk nightie how posh!

I am very sorry to here how ill poor Granny is, I hope she will get better soon. With heaps of love and kisses to my best of little Mummies from Your own Girlie

Tennis, anyone?

New Year in Northumberland

Now that my mother’s stories are set in England, and deal with her own life as a child with Carol in her role as mother, it is time to introduce Cynthia’s first letter- not to her mother (although she is the person who preserved envelope and letter), but to Santa Claus! This is a bit strange in itself, since I would have thought an English child would have written to Father Christmas rather than Santa, but she did have an American influence- her Simmons cousins, Milly, Marguerite, and Mona, who had spent the war with her in St Vincent, at some time had joined their father in New York, and grew up on Long Island. This letter from an 8-or-9-year-old Cynthia is, I hope, legible enough not to need a transcription.

NEW YEAR IN NORTHUMBERLAND

by Cynthia Costain

Children growing up in Northumberland had one big advantage over children in most of the rest of England. We celebrated an English Christmas and a Scottish New Year.

At Christmas, there was none of this grudging John Knox attitude. It was the season to be merry, with presents and Father Christmas; delicious secrets hidden in cupboards; expeditions to the country for holly and mistletoe to decorate each room. Noontime dinner on Christmas day was full of delectable smells and feasting a fat stuffed roast capon (as we were a small family) and the fun of blazing Christmas pudding with the suspense of seeing whether I would get the silver ring this year or the threepenny bit or horrors! the silver thimble. Tea at five o’clock brought friends to share the large iced Christmas cake and little warm mince pies. We younger ones ate and giggled, compared presents and began the task of eating as many mince pies as we could in between Christmas and New Year each one consumed counted as a happy month in the coming year.

New Year was quite different. No presents or special goodies, but the mystique of STAYING UP TO SEE THE NEW YEAR IN. This longed-for event was not achieved by being good or behaving well in church, it involved pleading each year, “Can’t I stay up? I’m seven eight- nine now,” until at last, parents tired of nagging would say, “All right, this year you can See In The New Year.”

The best family party was at the Sheedys’: an Irish father, an exuberant North Country mother, two sons of my age, and various young Irish uncles, as well as a selection of neighbouring families. The most important person in the whole ceremony was Grandfather. Mrs. Sheedy’s father was a fine impressive old gentlemen with white hair and a beautiful white beard a cross between Father Christmas and King Edward VII. We would all gather at the Sheedys’ house about eleven o’clock, the adults making polite conversation, and the children being as quiet as possible so that we could eavesdrop on our elders. As midnight drew nearer, Grandfather, already in his best black suit with white shirt, stiff collar, and black silk stock, would put on his overcoat with the velvet collar and his hard square topped hat, tuck his scarf around his neck, put on his gloves, and take his silver topped cane. In the meanwhile, Mrs. Sheedy would carefully slip into his pocket a piece of coal, a twist of paper holding salt and a small flask of whiskey.

We all gathered to see him march down the garden path, out the gate and down the dark road. No need in that shipbuilding city to watch the clock for midnight. As the minutes crept by we listened and then up and down the river for miles around the sirens howled and the ships’ hooters blew as Tyneside welcomed in the New Year. There would be a great knocking at the front door, and everyone would rush to see Grandfather enter the house as the First Foot over the doorstep to bring good luck to the house and all within. With the coal for warmth throughout the year, salt for food, and whiskey for drink he would call a Happy New Year to all and set out to kiss all the ladies. Traditionally the First Foot must be a dark man, and presumably Grandfather had once had dark hair, since he remained the perfect bringer of good luck.

Then what hugging and kissing and exchanging of good wishes, from husbands to wives, mothers to sons and adults to children! 1 can’t remember that we children kissed each other perhaps we did. Glasses were filled with port or sherry and each child had a wineglass of Stone’s Ginger Wine glowing ruby red, with a lovely hot sweet burny taste. Then the toasts and speeches and refilling of the glasses, until at last the piano would begin to play and everyone would gather round to sing. The favourite music was “The Student’s Songbook”, a fat compendium of songs from all over the world, from Annie Laurie to John Brown’s Body and on to Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. People would call for their favourites, from hymns to the local anthem, The Blaydon Races. I remember a dashing ditty about a railway journey which began “Riding down to Bangor on an eastern train” and ended with “a dainty little earring sparkled in that naughty student’s beard”.

After a while the ladies would retire to help Mrs. Sheedy bring in sandwiches and tea and the remains of the Christmas cake. This was the time for the children to collect their food supplies and fade away as much as possible under the piano, behind Grandfather’s chair, or in the entrance hall among the coats, while the singing continued and the laughter and chatter rose. This was our way of holding back as long as possible those dread words, “Well, it’s about time to go home… Where are those children?”

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!