Remembering

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, where, on Remembrance Day, there was a national ceremony at the War Memorial just down from the Parliament Buildings.  As teens we would go downtown and join the crowds for the service, but one time in the 1960s, I remember going into the study where my mother was watching the television broadcast across the nation.  And she was crying.  It was a shock to me, realizing that this ceremony which meant something intellectually to me, had far great emotional meaning to my mother, who had lived through it.  I suppose all children reach an understanding sometime of their parents as separate people, humans in their own right, and this was that moment for me.  In this essay, Cyn looks back and expresses fifty years of ‘Remembering’.

REMEMBERING

It has become so familiar; the War Memorial with the Honour Guard, the crowds of people clustered round, filling the sidewalks and streets. The television camera focuses on faces, veterans wearing medals, school children, young families, men and women standing quietly as the hands of the clock move towards eleven on the eleventh day of November.

What brings them here, year after year? Who do they remember? Is this old man in a wheelchair remembering his comrades? Does this woman think of her young freckled boy who never came back? Do others remember brothers, husbands, fathers or sisters? Perhaps middleaged men remember when Dad was overseas and they became the man of the family. Others might remember the stories their parents told of battles and air raids which happened long ago. Do people in the crowd remember one special person or unforgettable incident which for them was the essence of war?

What do I remember? A city in the north of England-  industry, shipbuilding, coal mining- a prime target for enemy bombs. A group of young people who had grown up together; the young men vanished into the Services, some of the girls also, but most of us at home in ‘essential’ services. Blackouts, nights in air raid shelters, bombs, burning buildings; struggling to get to work each morning through streets littered with bricks and debris, climbing over blocks of cement and firehoses with the stench of burning and the thick smoke filling the air. But all that is not worth remembering-  a desert in one’s life-  it is the people who are important.

Who do I remember? 

Malcolm. He was a pilot in the RAF and was shot down in the Battle of Britain in the spring of 1940. He was married to my friend Barbara-  the first in our group to get married and we had had such fun at her wedding. She had a baby girl two months after Malcolm died.

George. He was a young architect and he and Dorothy had so many plans of the house they would build one day. George went into the Army and he and Dorothy had a quiet wedding when he was on leave. Training in England for the invasion of Europe he was drowned in a sluggish muddy river trying to rescue one of his men who had sunk while carrying full equipment. His little son was less than two years old. 

Bob, Joan’s husband, was killed on DDay leaving her with a baby girl. 

Neville was a pacifist. He volunteered as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy. After three years of Atlantic crossings in all weathers in cramped dark ships, he developed TB and wasted away in a sanatorium on the bleak cold Northumbrian moors.

But most of all I remember Bobby.

We had been neighbours and playmates since we were kindergarten age. He was a goodnatured four year old with red hair and a snub nose. We played with tricycles and scooters, played shops and school. With other children we climbed trees in back gardens and enacted Robin Hood’s daring escapades. Bobby had a real bow for his birthday, so he was Robin, and under the misapprehension that Little John was a small man, that was my role. We went our separate ways to school but I was educated into the rules of football and cricket and finally graduated to tennis and badminton as we grew older, with the same group of friends. Bobby’s parents were a friendly convivial couple active in the social life of the area. As their sons matured they were measured for dinner jackets and included in the party at the frequent dances to which we girls were included as their partners. No going with a boy friend and dancing only with him! Everyone danced with everyone else  young and old – foxtrots, waltzes, reels, Dashing White Sergeant, and I even remember the Lancers. No one was allowed to sit out a dance- and who would want to? I wore holes in all my silver sandals.

There was no thought of romance in our small circle. It was a hard time and all of us lived at home and were attending university or training college and the few who were lucky enough to have jobs were at the very bottom of the ladder. Love and marriage were far ahead and all we wanted was to have fun.

In the spring of 1939 young men of 21 were conscripted. Bobby left home for the Army. When War broke out in September he was sent to France. His father had died some time before and his older brother was at home in a ‘reserved occupation’ as many of us were. Bobby had a leave at Christmas and we all tried to pretend that it was just like old times.

Then came Dunkirk. There was no news for days- weeks- as the little ships ferried across the Channel, lifting the remains of the British Army off the beaches and out of the sea as the aircraft dive bombed and the machine guns fired.

I left the house on a hot summer afternoon to go to tea with one of my mother’s friends. I had on a silly little hat with lace and flowers- do you remember the time when all of us wore hats? and along the road sauntered Bobby- a thin tired fellow in a new battledress. I ran into his arms and we hugged and I wept and it was a truly joyous moment. A leave, then Officer’s Training and he was a 2nd Lieutenant. More leave, then overseas to India.

We wrote letters of course-  everyone wrote letters, they included so many and stretched so far. The letters to Bobby continued and his replies came until the Japanese entered the War in 1942. There were no more letters, no news. It was a long time before we heard that Bobby’s Company had landed in Singapore the day the Japanese took over the city, and they were all taken prisoner. Months passed, years, and his family received two postcards with only his name written on. They were allowed to send a one page letter every eight weeks. His Mother would only write “Love from Mother” so his brother would write a paragraph or two and then bring it to me fill in the rest. I don’t suppose he ever got those letters. In early 1945 we heard that Bobby was dead.

After the War ended, a returned fellow prisoner came to see the family. He had been in hospital with Bobby after they had been working on building the Burma Road. When they became too weak and ill they either died or were sent back to camp if they were lucky. Hospital was a crowded hot tent with mats on the earthen floor, no medication, and very little food. They had no way of shaving or cutting their hair and he described Bobby’s long red hair and beard. Hearing a sound from his friend he turned and took his hand. Bobby died.

Who will remember them when we are gone?

Another Opinion

Cyn’s great friend from college, Dottie, may have had the same training in High Class Cookery as she did, but Dottie’s path during the war was very different.  She had married towards the beginning of the war, and her husband George Burton was an officer who died in 1944, leaving Dottie with one son.  Later she married Ken Wilyman and lived a long and happy life in Sutton Coldfield, bringing up 4 boys, and dying in her 100th year.  She was my godmother, and encouraged me in this project.  When I sent her my commentary on my grandfather Gordon Ewing* (whom she loathed, she said), she returned it as a letter that gave her opinion of him and summed up Cyn’s life until she left for Canada.  I include it because it gives a different perspective- not only from a friend, but also from the distance of 50 or 60 years later.

Dear Linda – I hope this passes as a letter.

When Cyn first lived in Walkerville & lived next door to the Sheedys & opposite to Nan & Mrs. Allan she also knew my George & Neville? who was our best man.  (Both George and Neville died in the war.) They all played badminton at a local club – also one Roly Cassidy who was a friend of George’s & George & I got them together for dances- he was very keen but Cyn wasn’t too impressed! Next one of George’s architect friends who came from a rather grand family in Co. Durham. Dr. Ewing was impressed (he was a snob!)

Cyn was a great pal to me when I had a baby & lost my husband in 1944. I was always encouraging Cyn to leave home. Incidentally they lived near me when we were at college & only returned to Walkerville when he (the Doc) retired.

Once Cyn left home she really began to live her own life- during the war she met Hugh (then a major in the U.S. Army but billeted in this country. He was a stunner! (but married.) I met him when he was with Cyn and believe me- they really did make a good couple & she must’ve been very upset when the war ended & he went back home.

It was super when Cec came on the scene at the end of the war. By then Carol was with Cyn in Cambridge & everything went well. Old man in the local asylum & Cyn did visit him. I remember she made a special visit to him before she set off for Canada. Bless her she was a lot more forgiving than I would have been.

Love D.

* see earlier post, ‘Dr. J.M.G. Ewing, my grandfather.’

Happy Pairs

While Cynthia had enjoyed branching out by moving to Cambridge, after the war she was ready for a bigger adventure. Her friends, however, seemed to be moving in a different direction- they were pairing up. Here are pictures of happy couples whom Cyn has already mentioned- Ann Chapman and Tadek, and Irene and Bill. We will hear of them again.

Anne and Tadek Winnick
Irene and Bill
On the back of this photo, sent to Cyn in America, is written: You ought to have been on this!

Fall Term 1945: Letter 4

I’m so impressed with the amazing postal system in England in 1945!  Who needed email or delivery companies when such efficient government-run communication existed?  Admittedly, the telephone system didn’t work that well- since not everyone has it in their houses it did mean that Cyn had to keep dashing out, whether in Cambridge or in London, to phone boxes, but in dire straits she fell back on a telegram.  As the previous letters of this crowded week have shown, on Friday Cynthia discovered she needed an evening dress from her home in Newcastle in the north of England and sent her mother a telegram.  On Monday it arrived, in time for the dance Tuesday!  

Warkworth House

Monday evening

Dearest Mummy,

This isn’t a proper letter – it’s a thank you. The parcel was waiting for me when I got home this evening, and I think you’re wonderful! If I’d spoken to Winnie on the phone I’d been going to ask for the shoes and bag too, but when I sent a telegram I thought I could leave those out as not being necessities- but you read my mind like a book! It was so clever of you to find them all because I’m sure I had no idea where the handbag was.

I have had quite a busy night as I’ve washed my hair, and pressed my dress & mantilla, and mended a few places in the lace which were giving away, and also tried everything on. Unfortunately I seem to be really getting colossal around my bosom, as this is tight too, but it’s not bad! Jessie was so inspired that she got out & tried on her evening dresses too & we had quite a lot of fun. I have also written to Miss Dickie to thank her for my testimonial & to a woman in Scotland to see if she’ll knit me 3 Shetland vests!

By the way our date did arrive last night- quite pleasant, but nothing thrilling! They took us out & fed us & took us to the Red Lion & gave us a drink. And WHO do you think I saw there? Uncle Joe! He didn’t see me & he’d gone (upstairs to bed I presume!) before I could catch him, so I left a note in the office saying I seen him & hoped he was well etc. But I didn’t put my address on it, because he was so disagreeable last time I saw him! 

Thank you again Mummy – it was sweet of you.

Lots of love Cyn.

P.S. I shall one day send you back a lovely big parcel of empty boxes!  I’ll read the book soon & send it back.  I’m going to bed now (10 pm) to get ready for tomorrow! Love Cyn.

Unfortunately, we never find out how the dance at the Polish Club turned out, because these are the only letters from this school year.  (Nor do we know anything about disagreeable Uncle Joe, who I assume is a Ewing, older brother of her father, who was pretty disagreeable himself.) The war is over, the men are going home, and the next letters Cynthia sends are from America, where she’s gone on a year’s teacher exchange.  I will finish off the wartime years with photos and commentary, then tackle Cyn’s next adventure!

Fall Term 1945: Letter 3

A note about some of the people mentioned in this letter:  Ann Chapman, a friend possibly teaching at the same school, married Tadek Winnick, a Polish soldier who stayed in England, and we will read about them in Cyn’s letters in the future.  Mary Egan, a long time friend, lived into her 90s and kept in touch with Cyn’s other English friends- if I knew the date of the baby’s birth, I could date this letter!  Auntie Moo is Cyn’s aunt who lived in St Vincent, and sent Christmas cake stuffed with fruit and probably dripping with rum, to make up for the English rations.  I think that Edgar might be Edgar Cooper, son of close friends of the Ewings from Cynthia’s childhood. And finally, this letter shows Cyn planning for the American teaching exchange by gathering testimonials- obviously nice ones- as part of the application process.

Warkworth House

Sunday

Dearest Mummy,

Thank you so much for all your letters – including the S.O.S. which arrived yesterday. I think the iron is a lovely idea and I would love to have it for my Christmas present – even if it is small it will do quite well for undies etc. and then if I ever needed a heavier one I could borrow one from work – just for one day this time! One of the children told me the other day that they had a little electric irons in one of the shops & I meant to go and see them, but of course I never even had time!

I wonder if you got my S.O.S. about the evening dress all right – I do hope that the telegram came in time and didn’t give you a fright. I was sure Papa would get it & would come to you saying “Some nonsense of Cynthia’s “!! What happened was that earlier this week Ann asked me to go with her & Tadeck to a dance they were having at the Polish club on Tuesday:- if they could make up a party & get a partner for me. So every day there have been plans and doubts & one thing at & another till Thursday everything was settled- and of all people, my partner is to be a GREEK! Another to add to the list! Then on Friday Ann came rushing to work with the news that it was to be in full evening dress! I came home & tried on my white one & really! I looked as if I had just got out of bed in my nightie! My bosom is larger now & the dress is very tight & altogether I looked so peculiar, so I flew out & phoned Winnie thinking I would get her to give you a message. I was in the phone box from 7.0 pm. to 7:55 p.m & when they got through there was no answer! I nearly bit a piece out of the phone! So that is why I sent the telegram & I do hope you didn’t have too much of a rush & that it gets here in time!

I have had such a busy time this week on the whole. With this member of staff absent I have had to be a form mistress in her place as well as everything else, so work has been busy too. On Tuesday Carl had thought he might be able to come through & if so, was arriving at 7.0 p.m. At 6.0 pm. Ann & Jessie & I were sitting amongst the debris and dirty plates of fried sausages & apple pie & tea, when there was a knock on the door & in he walked! The second time he’s caught us out! And this was even worse as we were dirty & unwashed & I had on my old flat shoes & lisle stockings!! Jessie & he went into her room & Ann washed the dishes & I got ready, so we did get organized eventually! We went out & he not only had Tuesday evening off, but had a Leave Pass until Wed. night so he stayed on at the Red X and took Jessie & me out to dinner at the Blue Boar on Wed. after we’d been to “Saint Joan”, and left later in the evening. He thought he might be leaving at the weekend, so I was to ring him on Friday & during the interval of waiting for Winnie’s call, I rang him, & instead of saying he was leaving next day as I expected, he said no, could he come and see me?! So he came through again yesterday evening, & we had quite a celebration the two of us & then he left & spent the night at the Red X & went back to Camp this morning. And that is definitely the last time- they leave camp on Tuesday & sail probably Thursday. I was awfully sorry to see him go.

On Tuesday when I was with Carl, Jessie had been to the Dorothy & had a nice time with a RAF officer called Jock- he had to rush away before the end because of transport, but had made a vague date to meet her there on Thursday & told her to bring a friend & so would he. So on Thursday Jessie & I trotted off to the Dorothy & of course he didn’t arrive! However I didn’t mind & sat singing cheerfully until a tough looking G.I. nearby came & talked & asked me to dance & his pal asked Jessie. They seemed quite harmless & no one else asked us, so we danced on with them until they left at 10:30 for the truck, & they said they were lonely etc. etc. So finally we made a date with them for Friday! They arrived + a can of peaches for us & some cake, so after all my phoning was over, we brought them back here & made tea & ate them, but oh dear! were we bored! The time never went so slowly & they were a regular nuisance, so that at 10 PM we turned them out & said all men had to go then, very firmly. We were so pleased to see the last of them!

Last night, when Carl & I we’re having a cup of tea at about 10.30, in popped Jessie from the Dorothy once more- this time with 2 British army officers, Jimmy & Eric! They were catching a train later, so we all sat and had tea & they seemed very nice. So today, when I was feeling quite depressed about Carl going Jessie tells me cheerfully that we have a date with them this evening! If they turn up that is! One of them was on duty, but was going to try and get out of it, so we’ll see!

I felt that I was going to have such a horrid day today, with nothing to do at all except chores like ironing & mending & doing accounts & writing letters, so I got up late & at 11.0 o’clock I was sitting in my pyjamas & dressing gown in Jessie’s room feeling quite disgruntled, when there was a ring at the bell & when it was answered I stuck my head out – curiosity! – and nearly fainted when I saw Edgar!! Caught again! I smoothed my bed over, sat him by the fire, retired into Jessie’s room & dressed & did my face, then came back & made tea for him! Jessie came in & we ended by having quite a nice time & it cheered me up! I asked him again, but as usual he is Very Busy! Jessie & I had decided that if ever we are lonely & want someone to visit us, we are going to make the room look like a pigsty & us like hags & someone is sure to come!

I was most intrigued to hear about Irene’s young man, and I do hope that you got more news when you saw her again. I really think there may be something in it because Bill asked me about Irene once – thought she was my cousin & we got all muddled up, but I’d forgotten all about it. I think he is a very nice fellow & that he & Irene would make a very nice placid couple! – Also that he is not the type to take a girl out much, unless his intentions were serious. So, here’s hoping! If he is violent Socialist, we’ll have Irene preaching Socialism to us before long!! I was very tickled about Mrs. Johnny & my baby’s shawl! She certainly is hopeful! Talking of knitting, May the nurse is going to knit me a jumper when I get her some wool, & talking of babies, Mary Egan’s is due today. I had a letter from her last week & she was very cheery. Auntie Moo’s Christmas cake sounds lovely & I hope the other things came safely too. I laughed over your remarks re. Carl’s “junk” presents to me- I didn’t tell him what you said about the bedspread – merely because I forgot- it is blue with U.S. Navy woven in a circle in the middle.

The other Polish letter was from Ludwik’s girl & I heard from him this week too. He is going to be demobbed about Christmas he says & hopes to get a job in England, but what he will do, goodness knows. Also he may come & see me at the beginning of Dec.! To go back to Auntie Moo’s parcel after rereading your letter, I do think old Chris was a meanie, and I hope the boys don’t have any bother – it will be a shame if they do when they were so sweet. I bet Peggy & Pat approved of Auntie Moo!

I had a letter from Janie & Bill about the same time as you, I expect, telling me about getting their money, but no news otherwise. I’m so glad that they got it all back. I was very pleased to hear the good news about Neville too – I do hope that he goes on all right & will be o.k. once he gets home – it has been such a long business.

I am sending off my doingses to the American Interchange people today – I wrote & got another testimonial from Miss Dickie in place of Miss Howitt’s & it is a very nice one, so I will send that instead. My photos make me look very serious and responsible- all to the good! Nan sent me the originals as well as the copies, so I will just hang onto them. What a shame about Len never getting the little beret etc. at all – but maybe if she sends them now, they will be in time for Christmas. I owe her & Dottie & Irene all letters. Woe is me! I might get some written tonight as it doesn’t look as if our date is turning up! 

Lots of love from 

Cyn.

Fall Term 1945: Letter 2

Warkworth House

Thursday

Dearest Mummy and Daddy,,

We had our first experience of a real Cambridge fog today and it was really amazing.  When we woke up this morning, we couldn’t see a thing out of the windows at all – neither across the street, nor even could we see the pavement when we looked down. I didn’t know whether to go on my bicycle or not, but eventually we heard that the buses weren’t running, so I went on it slowly & it was quite all right, because there were no cars about & all the people & cyclists were just creeping along. At school we arrived to find all our faces & hair which hadn’t been covered all bedewed with beads of dirty water – we did look funny! All the children arrived late of course, but by dinner time it was a lovely sunny day & has been all right ever since.

Thank you so much for your letters & the parcel, Mummy. The things in the parcel will be most useful, and I have the cushion all sewed up & in use & we are using the knives & forks with our fish for tea today. Jessie is delighted with the shoes which fit her beautifully & I said £1.1s & not coupons – was that all right? And she asked would you mind waiting until the end of the month as she is broke! I had a letter from the Savings Certificate people this week, by the way, enclosing a new Savings Book & Holder’s card, and the certificates in it, so that is all settled, thank goodness. Nan also sent me the things I asked her to type for me, and I had the other Polish letter, so I’ve had quite a mail this week. The Polish letter was for Ludwik though, so I sent it on.

We had quite an exciting time yesterday at school, because practically the whole school went to the Arts Theatre here to see Ann Casson in ‘Saint Joan’ by Bernard Shaw. We Cookery people don’t usually get out to these shows, but both Jessie and I went, and were very pleased to see it. It lasted from 2.30– 5.45, so it was a very long play, with only one 10 minute interval, but on the whole the girls were quite good except one scene where 3 men sat & talked for about half an hour, & they fidgeted a bit then. Of course they roared with mirth at anything slightly funny & regarded the French king as the chief comedian. I got in front of the 3 giggliest girls in the school, and they nearly drove me wild at times- they needed one of Daddy’s quelling stares & cutting remarks, but mine hadn’t the same power!

We are having some changes at Warkworth House this week, as Joan Walsh has left, and Joan Greenwood can’t keep the rooms on by herself, so she is leaving too & has got a nice room right in the centre of the town. It sounds very good with modern furniture & even a little kitchen attached, but I haven’t seen it yet.

I am enclosing one of the photos, Ann & I had taken at the little place on Mill Road. I don’t think that it is too bad, but I can hear you both making remarks about my large mouth!

I must stop now as Jessie has just come in from Guides and we are going to have tea now – ( smoked fish cooked in milk!) I hope that you are both well. 

Much love from 

Cynthia 

P.S. I’ve just heard that my holidays are from the 19th Dec. to 9th Jan. Isn’t that a nice long time?

Fall Term 1945: Letter 1

Note the paper- sturdy 8.5 x 11, part of Carl’s ‘junk’!

A note on the people mentioned in this letter:  I assume Carl, who is leaving England and will be home for Christmas, is American Navy; and Jessie and Norman are Cyn’s school friend Jessie Muir (who married at the beginning of the war and had a daughter Zinnia, see photos in ‘Friendly Faces’ post, but whose marriage is over by this time) and Norman Aldridge.  Warkworth House seems to be rooms that teachers lived in, the Jessie she eats with is a Cookery colleague from school, not Jessie Muir.

Warkworth House

Sunday

Dearest Mummy,

I can’t believe that it was only on Wednesday that you left- already it seems ages ago, and when Jessie said yesterday “Doesn’t half term seem a long while ago?” I answered vacantly “When was it?”!  However, if the time continues to fly past, it will soon be Christmas and I will be home again for another holiday.

I was so glad to get your letter and to know that you had a good journey home, and that the time didn’t drag, with eating and reading and whatnot.  It seems to be a good train – I must remember it for when I am coming home at Christmas.  I was amused about your remarks re. the crayfish- Jessie and I ate some of it on toast on Wed. evening, and were going to do the same on Thursday, but Margot came to tea and there wasn’t enough as it was, so I mixed it with a thick batter and made crayfish fritters and they were luscious!! Very indigestible, but worth it!

Carl came on Wednesday evening, and we had a very nice time, but he brought some news- good for him, but sad for me – that he is leaving England next week for home. I am delighted that he will be home for Christmas, but it wasn’t until I really knew he was going that I realized what a big gap he would leave and just how much I would miss his company.  We went out and rang up Jessie and Norman, and they had been going to invite us to come up and see them for a weekend, but we told them the news, and Carl said goodbye to them.  Afterwards we went around to the Free Press, and Carl said goodbye to all the dart-players and one fat man, Ted, was most upset at his going, and made him promise to write to him- address: – Ted. The Free Press. Cambridge!  It was quite touching and we all felt quite sad.  You will notice we didn’t take Jessie with us!!

On Thursday as I said, Margot came to tea & we gossiped & after she left we read, and on Friday I was really good and sat down & wrote quite a few letters – I have masses more though- maybe I’ll get them done now!  You’ll be tickled to hear that Leon has taken no notice of me recently, beyond waving occasionally, so I don’t think you need to worry.  He seems to have been dashing in and out quite a lot, so he probably has another girl!  Jesse has discovered a boy in Cambridge, a Freshman called Peter Ball, with whom she was brought up like me & Bobby & Denis, who is living next-door but one to us, so she has been seeing quite a bit of him. He is at Emmanuel, the same as Leon & tells Jessie they are having a big dance soon – so I think it would be lovely to go – but I also think I need’nt worry, as I’m sure Leon won’t take me!  

Yesterday Jessie & I had coffee in town with Ann and then lunch at the Peacock, and afterwards had a nice afternoon, washing our hair & having baths etc.  Carl was coming in at 6:30, so I was going to get all glamoured up in my new spotty dress for the last occasion!  Marcelle came in about four, so she stayed to tea which we had sitting on Jessie’s floor in front of the fire- Jessie in slacks & hair in curlers – me in dressing gown, no make up and pins in my fringe.  And of course there was a knock on the door & Carl walked in!   So much for glamour! We all laughed & laughed!  However he had just called in on his way to the Red X & by the time he came back I’d done my best to live up to the occasion!!  Marcelle & Jessie were going to the Dorothy, so Carl kissed Marcelle goodbye & away she went to get ready, then Jessie came in & we all had a drink in my room & Carl asked her out to dinner with us – she protested, but came! We went to the Blue Boar, but found a waiting list about a mile long, so went to the Peacock, which was packed, but we got a nice meal of soup & cold chicken & salad.  We parked Jessie at the Dorothy & then came home & Carl produced what he called “a lot of junk” he brought me – it was lovely!  Just things he would otherwise have left behind or thrown away, but such fun for me- pencils, ink, paper clips, a torch & batteries, folders, writing paper- scribbling blocks, paperback books, piles of this paper I’m writing on, gum, candy, cigarettes, pincers and a screwdriver(!!) (he said no home was complete without one!) a towel & face cloth, a U.S. Navy bedspread! A lipstick which he got from another fellow – soap, talcum & even a bottle of Listerine!! Wasn’t that a surprise packet?! He thinks that he may manage to get in again on Tuesday evening, but he isn’t sure – so I may have said goodbye to him for good. Nice Carl- I’m so glad I met him, and he’s been so kind to me.

Today Jessie & I have had such a busy day.  Jessie had invited two girls to lunch that she’d known in Littleport, so we made a stew & put it on & a steamed sponge pudding & put it on, & then rushed out to Church. The Service was at 10:45 today & because of the procession of the Lord Mayor etc. we were asked to be in our places at 10:20. We were late of course, & puffing along by Parker’s Piece when who should I see at the traffic lights, but my old friend the nice taxi driver! I grinned at him & he leaned out & asked me where I was going & when I told him, he said “hop in” & drove us there in style!  Wasn’t that sweet of him?  We saw him again on our way home & he tooted his horn & waved! The service was very nice & I liked it & the Church was just about packed out- not having two handsome officers with me this week- not to mention a handsome Mama!- I was put way at the side, but I could see fairly well. Afterwards we rushed back & cooked potatoes & carrots & set the table, & the girls came & we had a very nice dinner!  They washed up for us!  Later on, we made tea – the girls had left- & Jessie had Peter Ball to tea & I had Marcelle- not all together as we thought three wenches might be too much for Peter!  He is a nice boy – still very boyish, but easy to talk to & not shy.  Marcelle is all right.  She sends you her love & says she still wants to adopt you.  She found a nice Yank at the Dorothy last night, & has given up Mickey entirely.  Jessie found an RAF officer who was coming to take her out tonight but didn’t turn up! Mieauw!

The Polish letter intrigued me greatly!  It is from a lady who knows Ludwik’s aunt, & she is writing to ask if I could give her the name of a publisher & the price of certain English books which she wants but can’t get in Poland.  Some are for her husband & some are for herself to teach her 2 little boys English.  I went to a big bookshop here yesterday & got the information, & will write to her but goodness knows when she’ll get them, poor woman, as her letter was written on 22nd of Aug. & took all that time to come.

I must stop now & get away to my bed.  I am so glad you had a nice time here, Mummy, – once more we didn’t have much time alone, but still!  It was lovely having you & as always my friends liked you one & all, & think I’m a lucky girl to have such a nice Mama.  So do I!  

Love to Papa and lots for you 

from Cyn.

VE Day 1944

Cyn is writing this the day after VE Day, which was Tuesday, May 8, 1945. 5 pages, both sides! But small sized paper, due to wartime restrictions.

106 Perne Road

Cambridge

Wed. 9th May. 1945.

Dearest Mummy,

Well, here it is at last- Victory in Europe. It has come so suddenly these few weeks, that now all the suspense and waiting and anticipating is over, I sit back and can’t really believe it. The actual announcing- or the little bits of announcements were a bit of a flop, really, weren’t they?  When everyone was keyed up so, on Monday evening, it was an anti-climax to have to wait till the next day. We have been waiting for it all day at school, and during the afternoon there were all sorts of rumours but when I came here I listened in, and heard all the bits of announcements as they came out. I had arranged to go out with Lillian Hampson if it was announced that evening, so I went to phone her to find all the lines dead, so I just came home and read instead.

These two days I have missed you all at home so much – special times you do want to be with your own people. Lillian and her friend Marjorie have been very kind, but neither of them are very lively, and although I guess there wouldn’t have been anything to do at home, at least we would’ve been high spirited together! I can’t say that any of the girls here have that “lightness of spirit” that I talked about my friends at home having- I miss it, and find them dull somehow – I’m not just being catty!

However, I’ll tell you what I did on VE day! I got up quite early-ish and took a meat pie in my string bag, three oranges and some cakes & biscuits & set out for town. All the flags and decorations were out (I thought of you putting out the Commander’s flag!) and everyone with flags and favours – I was sorry I hadn’t even a red, white & blue ribbon. I got a bus and went to Lillian & Marjorie’s flat, and we all went into the town where everyone was just wandering around seeing the sights. It was a lovely warm sunny day, so it was quite nice – all the students were out in force, some dressed up and being crazy. We went back to the flat for lunch – my pie! – then went to the Market Square where the P.M.’s speech was to be broadcast from the Guildhall and there were masses of people listening too. The Guildhall was very nicely decorated with flags of the United Nations- a red illuminated V sign and Crown, and it was floodlit at night. After the broadcast we went and had a very nice tea at the Copper Kettle, and then back to the Market Square where the Lord Mayor proclaimed the Victory and there was a service of Thanksgiving & we all sang hymns. Then we went to the river, and sat on the bank for a while- incidentally at the Copper Kettle we bought a custard tart with no paper or anything to wrap it & I caused a minor sensation in Cambridge by walking about with it balanced on my hand! When we finally went back to the flat & ate it for supper, it was horrid- no sugar and dry and powdery!

At 9 o’clock we went back to the Market Place and heard the King’s Speech. I thought he was wonderful, didn’t you Mummy? I felt that it was one of the sincerest things I’d heard that day, and very moving. Then we rushed across a few miles to the flat of some girls overlooking a street where the torchlight procession was to pass, & there I heard Eisenhower & Monty and Bradley over the radio- also the British & American soldiers, but none from the 1st Division! The procession was a very poor effort, so we then went to a Common where there was a big bonfire and a band and searchlight display. People were mostly just wandering around and dancing sort of ring-a-roses, so we looked on, and then walked back to the town to see if anything was happening at the Market Place – crowds of people but the only excitement was soldiers climbing up the front of the Guildhall to get the flags, and bobbies trying to stop them! Finally we went back to the flat – I collected my goods – and Walked Home! My poor feet. They were fair wore out! Tramping around all day in the hot sun!

Today I went to Marjorie & Lillian’s about 12.30, and we took sandwiches and took a canoe out on the river. It was very warm, but cloudy, but we had a lovely day. I found I could canoe quite well, and we went up the river nearly to Grantchester, and ate our lunch, and tied up by the bank and read. We were out from 1.30 to about 5.0, then came back to the flat for tea, & sat about, then had a wander round and I came home on the last bus – 8.45. Since then I have been listening to the Victory reports and to the broadcast about Mr. Churchill.

It is late now so I must stop- school tomorrow seems horrid! But at least there will be a post to cheer me up. I forgot to tell you that after being out with Lillian on Sunday afternoon around the Backs, & having tea, I went to Church at Saint Mary the Great, where Hugh & Nan & Al & I went on Easter morning, & I liked it very much. I shall get up & walk into town on Sunday morning & go there I think.

I haven’t answered any of your letters, Mummy, nor thanked you for the nice one I got on Monday, but I shall write again soon. I thought I’d tell you about my Victory day, and that I missed being home & thought of you. 

Lots of love from

Cyn

April 1945

This first wartime letter from Cynthia comes at the end of the war with no address, undated, but I deduce that it was written in April 1945 when she had moved to teach in Cambridge.  Since Cyn gets chatty when writing to her mother, I will only be publishing a photo of the first page of long letters, and letting my readers get the entire letter from my transcript.

Note on people and events mentioned: Doodlebugs were long range missiles that were launched from Europe to terrorize the British from June 1944 on.  Miss Lefroy, Cynthia’s mother’s former headmistress and family friend, lived near Regent’s Park in London- the zoo there was bombed and obviously Miss Lefroy was too.  Auntie Trix was Cynthia’s aunt, Beatrice Otway, who I assume wrote from the West Indies, and the ‘Bill’ mentioned later, as in Bill and Jane’s leave being muddled up, is her son Bill Otway and his (future?) wife Jane who are in England. Bren might be her cousin Brenda (no idea whether she is in South Africa or South America); Denis is her childhood friend and neighbour who was in a reserved occupation throughout the war (like Cyn, a teacher) and whose younger brother Bobby had been missing since Singapore fell.  Jessie Muir is her longtime friend from school, married to an officer with a daughter Zinnia, see post ‘Friendly Faces’; and Irene a friend who will be mentioned again.  Hugh is an American major who had been stationed in Newcastle earlier in the war, and I assume when she says “it seems most likely that they won’t any of them come back to England” that she is expecting American soldiers to be sent home to the US when the war ends- which everyone is at this point anticipating- not that they will be killed.

Dearest Mummy, 

This is a little note to answer all your letters, as I know Papa does not like ramblings!  To begin with, thank you for all of them, honey, and also for forwarding all the others- they comforted me a lot when I arrived yesterday afternoon.  Miss Lefroy’s was very sweet & enclosed a hankie and a little account book for all my expenses- I was so sorry to hear about her bombing again- I didn’t ring her up when I was in town, as it was rather a rush towards the end.  Auntie Trix’s letter was sweet too- crazy you know as usual- I am to write and tell her all sorts of gory details!  Dot Allan sent me a puff for my birthday & hadn’t even heard I was leaving Newcastle.  She is very thrilled because Colin is coming home on 4 weeks leave, & he & Aurea & the baby responding part of it with her.  Bren’s letter from S.A. was most affectionate & sounded more cheerful although still homesick.  She says Aunt Kate Simpson has been an angel to her which sounds nice.  Ralph’s as usual, quite absurd- full of answers to questions I can’t remember! which is rather confusing!  There was also a letter from Denis which was very brotherly & sweet & full of fellow feeling- it was nice of him to write & his telegram was funny too.  Jessie is again full of woe- she is in bed with a chill & lumbago & sent me a cheque for 10/- for my birthday.  Zinnia is at One Oak, & Pauline (our old school friend in the same road) is looking after her, & she sounded very low.  Allan has gone back to France, much to my sorrow, as now I may not see him, but she has given me Joan’s (Pauline’s sister) address in Newmarket, so I shall get in touch with her.  I really felt sorry for Jessie- but she’s probably sorry for herself too!  Frank Hayes’ letter was a funny effort, wasn’t it?  I certainly forgive you for opening it- any others which prick your curiosity unbearably you may look at!  I hardly think that if he is like his letters we will have terribly much in common, but I feel sorry for him too, poor lad!

It was a shame about Bill & Jane having their leave so muddled up, but I expect that they would have a wonderful time anyway.  It is a good idea of Bill’s for you to come down here & all of us to get together- I shall be most interested to hear what is happening to him- I kept thinking I might see them in London, but of course I didn’t.  I am longing to see the pictures- Jane must look lovely from what you say.

I wonder if you have seen Irene since she came back, & what more news there is of her romances- she certainly is funny in her remarks over the male sex.  I am reading through your letters now & and shall make any remark necessary to answer them, so don’t be surprised if they are very disjointed!  First of all the slacks & jumper were for Mona, I had forgotten all about them.  I appreciated the birthday card & all your good wishes, my sweet, but I was glad you’d cut the gold band off!  You’ll know we didn’t go to Church last Sunday at 8, but at 10 a.m.- not my fault truly, but the boys wanted to come too, but couldn’t wake that early hour, so we didn’t want to discourage them.  We waited and had our breakfast afterwards.

I wrote to you on Wed. so I’ll go on telling you of what we did.  First of all, saw the Changing of the Guard & Westminster Abbey- then lunch at the Monseigneur and most of the afternoon I spent sewing ensignia on Hugh’s beautiful new jacket.  Then we dressed up in all our glory- me with an orchid in my hair & went to Quaglino’s to dine & dance.  We had a lovely time & joined a party of crazy people up from Cornwall, retired Colonel & a diplomat + women folk & all very gay & slightly tipsy!  They fell for Hugh, & kept us so late that we missed the last bus & tube & couldn’t get a taxi, & so had to walk back!  Hugh said it was 4 miles, but I should say 1 at the most!  Thursday we ambled around London- had a very late lunch at the Senior Officer’s Club in Park Lane, then dashed back to the hotel, dressed, had tea & picked up Mary at 6 o’clock at the M. of Food then went to meet Michael at the Café Royal.  After that we went on to the Dorchester where Hugh had booked a table & we had a wonderful evening eating & dancing.  Michael & Mary both liked Hugh so much & we thought they were sweet- we all enjoyed ourselves.

Friday we had our last lunch at the Monseigneur & Hugh packed in the afternoon then we went to dinner at the S. Officer’s Club again & for once came back quite early. Hugh left next morning at 8 o’clock- a car called to take him to the airport so we had breakfast at 7:30.  Then I packed – took my cases to the station & met Mary & Bernie for lunch at the Cumberland.

It was the very loveliest holiday Mummy- I’ve never had such a wonderful time, or gone so many wonderful places, & Hugh enjoyed it just as much too.  Now of course, it’s all over, but I’m not being too sad, because it was such a very happy time for both of us.  I with you could have been with us and seen Hugh- he is the same as ever- and talked about you & sent so many messages.  He’s had a most terrible time- he told me a bit about it, and I hope so much that this leave will make up to him a little bit for some of the bad times, the news is so good now, that maybe it will finish soon.  I hope so for his sake & for the sakes of all the other boys- but it seems most likely that they won’t any of them come back to England.  You know what I’m like honey, – I just refuse to think about it- Scarlett O’Hara’s descendent “I’ll worry about that  tomorrow”.  Even if they don’t come back- we had a lovely time.

Bye, bye, my sweet.  I’ll write & tell you what work looks like- take care of yourself.

Lots of love from your

Cyn.

Cyn and Hugh

Change For the Better: 1945-1946

Sometime towards the end of the war, Cynthia Ewing got a teaching job in Cambridge and moved south.  It was a much happier situation for her- she was on her own, living away from home; in a much prettier city, probably less war-torn than Newcastle; nearer to London for holidays and closer to friends.  She lived in a house with other women, where they seemed to have their own rooms or suites but shared common areas, and sometimes ate together or went out in the evenings or to visit friends on weekends.

Cynthia’s letters to her mother at this period are undated, probably because the postal service was so good that a letter dated Sunday would arrive the following day in the north, and there would be no doubt in the reader’s mind which Sunday it had been written on!  The first letter seems to have been written in April 1945 because there are references to her recent birthday (April 3rd) in letters that her mother has forwarded to her.  (Once more, it seems she has started at a new school in the middle of the school year, like her mother before her!)  The Easter holidays would have been about a month long, time to move and set up, but the letter to her mother describes the few days with her American friend Hugh on leave in London, and only briefly alludes to work at the very end.  Then there is one written on VE Day, when the war was over in Europe.  Four letters from the 1945/46 school year follow,  starting after a visit from her mother at half term in the autumn, and ending with a hint at Cynthia planning for a more drastic change.  

I have included at the end of this wartime section excerpts from a letter my godmother sent me summing up this period, and finished with an article Cynthia wrote years after, ‘Remembering’.