Snaps and Certificates


Snaps from summer with friends.

Bobby, Cynthia, & Dennis. A bit older?

Carol maintained her friendship with her former headmistress and teacher.  The Ewings had a dog and obviously Miss Lefroy and Miss Hull did too!

Miss Lefroy and Carol Ewing

Of course it was not always summer.  In chillier times, the Ewings wore furs. 

Cynthia & Carol
Street scene: Carol & friend.

And hats!

Street Scene: Cynthia and friends.

Sometime in the 30s, Carol’s mother, Marion Hazell, whose draft will has already been posted, died in St Vincent, and her sister sent her photos of the gravesite.  Two crosses now, for both her parents.

On the back: Carol. Our dear Mother’s resting place the day she was laid to rest.
On the back: A Harp, it does not show up very well, Rev. Thrower sent it from the Sunday School Teachers and pupils.
Hazell monuments

And certificates! School, College, and Career.

1932 School Certificate
1936 College Certificate
1936 Probationary teaching certificate.
1938 Final teaching certificate.

A Mystery Story

Cynthia enjoyed mysteries, and collected the books of her favourite writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, the 1920s and 30s. Perhaps this interest was sparked by another story told in her family, this time from her father’s youth. Here is her fictional version of a medical student’s experience.

The Prick of Death

by Cynthia Costain

My father was a medical student at Edinburgh University in the early 1900s. I imagine that medical students then were much the same as they are now –  an irreverent bunch of young men, determined not to show their feelings, no matter how gruesome and distasteful their work was. However they must have looked very different. Severe professional attire was required and suits, shirts and stiff white starched collars were worn, though not easy to maintain on a student’s budget. Another difference was that there was only one woman in the class. She must have been brave and determined. The stories my father told of the questions the Professors asked her concerning the male anatomy and the composition of various body fluids roused gales of laughter from the fellows, enjoying the Professor’s salacious smirks and the girl’s embarrassment.

One day the class was excited at the news that they were all to attend an autopsy. This was not just any autopsy but that of a man who had died a suspicious death, which had created much interest in the newspapers. He was a tailor called Alfred Maxwell. His father had built up a good business; skilful and popular among his middle class clientele for well-made, moderately priced business suits, as well as morning coats and evening wear. A few years previously the old man had had a stroke and the business was taken over by his son, Alfred. Before long rumours began to circulate- poor workmanship- delays in delivery- shoddy material- which soon turned away the customers with threats of court action in some cases. The various suppliers also found their bills unpaid and angry callers came to demand their money. Alfred was not only careless with his work but a poor businessman with a very high opinion of himself. He was good looking with sleek dark hair and a handsome moustache and always dressed in the height of fashion. Things were different for his young wife who wore the same old black coat and hat without even a different Sunday coat for church. And while Alfred enjoyed dining out at fine restaurants and patronized music halls he never took his wife with him. In fact it was noticed that she often had to wear a veil when she went out, in an attempt to hide a bruise or fading black eye. Her brother had angrily quarrelled with Alfred many times over his treatment of his sister.

One evening Alfred came home early from work complaining of feeling tired and having a pain. However he had a meal then went out, but returned in a short while and went to bed. Next morning he looked pale but ignoring his wife’s enquiries left for work. Although sometimes complaining of pain and feeling tired he continued as usual until one evening as he walked home he stumbled and fell to the ground. An acquaintance was passing, and after looking at Alfred’s white sweating unconscious face he called a cab and told the driver to take him to the hospital. He was dead on arrival.

Now began the mystery. A young man in good health had collapsed and died. He was not drunk, he was not known to have any disease, he had shown no previous signs of a weak heart until the last few days. On examination at the hospital the doctors could not decide what had caused his death. Could it be murder? There was not a mark on his body – he had not been hit, cut or stabbed, but what about poison? The newspapers picked up the story and with the earlier rumours of his business and marital misdemeanours the gossip was soon circulating.

An autopsy was to be performed by the best known forensic surgeon and because of the general interest some of his colleagues asked to attend and the older students were admitted to the examination room. For the students this was both an exciting mystery and a change from the usual routine. Their previous experience of cadavers had not yet been extensive but they felt they knew enough to both appreciate the surgeon’s skill and criticize intelligently. They watched the preliminary incisions being made and the grim task continued. Each organ was carefully removed, labelled and put in a separate container: the liver, the kidneys, the lungs, the stomach and finally the heart. After removing the latter the surgeon halted, placed it in the dish the attendant was holding and looked at it carefully. Motioning to his colleagues to join him they all began to examine the contents of the dish.

The students whispered to each other 

“What’s happening?”

“That was a very queer looking heart, I thought.”

“I didn’t get a good look at it but it seemed a very dark colour.”

“Look, they seem to be making an incision.”

As the whispering died away the surgeon and other doctors clustered around and then there was a sudden sharp exclamation. The surgeon straightened up and holding a small pair of forceps up to the light examined a minute silvery bloodstained object. Turning to the students he said, “Gentlemen, you may say that the tailor was killed by his work. This small needle was inserted into the pericardium, which as you know is like a bag around the heart. Each time the heart beat, blood was pumped through the tiny hole until finally the pericardium filled with blood and stopped the heart from beating.”

The mystery was solved. Like his father before him, Alfred had been used to keeping his needles securely anchored in the lapel of his jacket, but being careless and inclined to move around the shop with his work jacket still on he frequently lost needles and found them scattered around. What tailor worries about a few pricks when he sews and works with needles and pins every day? A sharper prick than usual as he bent over one day and a small thin needle pressed into his chest and gradually worked its way through his body until it pierced his heart.

The newspapers were sorry that it was not a more sensational ending to the mystery, but the students talked about it for weeks. I expect his poor old parents mourned for Alfred, but I doubt if his young wife did.

Summer Holidays

In Jane Duncan’s semi- autobiographical My Friend… series, which follows a Scottish girl born in 1910 though childhood in the Highlands, university in the 20s followed by a working life in England in the 30s, she suggests that the life of her generation in the thirties was a period of waiting, marking time and enjoying themselves without serious thought, with the shadow of war on the distant horizon.  Certainly Cynthia was aware of this- in her visit to the World’s Fair in New York in 1939 she remarks on ‘propaganda of course’ when she visits the Italian and Russian pavilions- but no record of any discussions survives.  

Dottie- Newton 1934

In the holiday snaps we see her family and friends in different parts of England- and in France- having fun after a school year of college and later teaching. 

And as with Carol’s snaps 30 years earlier, the treeless-ness of their picnic and camping sites just looks so wrong to my Canadian eyes!

Carol and Benjie

July 18 1936

She kept the letters and the boot-lace!

67 Brook Rd., 

Cricklewood N.W.2


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.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”


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!

The 30s and into the 40s, wartime.

Cynthia did grow up over her three years at school, and her attitude to her father changed from one shown in the letters by the adoring 14-year-old, to a more critical one (shared by her friends!). 

Titled: The Worshipful Company of Four

She would have liked to have read English at university, but her father decided she should go to a Domestic Science College because that would give her training that would enable her to support herself.  She was too young to be admitted there after she had left school, so she learned typing which turned out to be valuable in later life.  

Once she was at the Domestic Science College, the career she would have liked involved doing demonstrations, being a nutritionist I suppose, but her father insisted on her becoming a teacher.  She was successful in this career but I’m not sure she enjoyed it as I did.  (I had gone to university, majored in the subjects I wanted to, English and History, and then got a teaching degree.  I enjoyed both my subject and the kids!  And I did it for twice as long as she did.  Times have changed and women now work until retirement, not marriage).  She made a lifelong friend at the Domestic Science College, Dorothy Wilyman, my godmother Dottie, who will add her comments to mine a bit later when I write about my grandfather.  But through the 30s and most of the war years Cynthia lived at home, and so only a few letters exist.

In the summers, Cynthia and her family took holidays in different parts of England and in France.  When she was 21, she got a letter while staying in a hotel in Devon from Bobby Sheedy, her next door neighbour, writing from Cricklewood in London, where he went to motorcycle races or films on the weekend.  The next year there are snaps from St Malo.  Some (undated) photos seem to show her camping with friends, or posing at picnics.

Neighbourhood families.

Then in 1939, in the summer holidays since Cynthia is now a teacher, she and her mother Carol and young cousin Peggy sail to New York for a family vacation with their American cousins, and Cynthia keeps a diary of the adventure, and makes a scrapbook as well.  I will post a long transcript, illustrated with excerpts from the scrapbook, that shows the fun of this last summer before the war.  

However, while they were having a very happy holiday, Bobby was in training, Signals, writing her in June because he’s afraid she’s leaving England for good.  The next letter from Bobby is before Dunkirk, others follow in 1941, and then there are no more.  

Cynthia went on teaching, but towards the end of the war, she got a teaching job in Cambridge, in the south of England, and moved there.  It was a much happier situation for her- she was on her own, away from home, in a lovely city, much nearer London (see holidays), and with friends in Cambridge.  And the letters home begin again: 

Dearest Mummy… 

The 1930s

Cynthia and Bobby

There are no more letters from Cynthia’s time at school, although I include a few photographs from her years there. 

 I assume she was confirmed the following year, 1930, as would have been expected in the church school, and I still have her little prayer book. 

 I think she had a happy time there, and got a good education.  I presume she got the School Certificate she was already worrying about in her first term, but I have no documentation.

The tennis frocks? Cynthia in the middle, Jessie behind her.

My father always maintained that Ronald Searle’s model for ‘Hell, my best Scotch’ was Jessie…

Hell, my best Scotch!

 I have no information about her father’s patients, Ernest and little Dorothy, nor about her school friends such as Sylvia.  Her Newcastle friends, Dennis and Bobby and Nancy, remained close, but for school, only Jessie Muir features in my memory!

Bobby, Cynthia, Nancy, Dennis