It was the 72nd anniversary of the NHS the other day, and there have been various signifiers. One was a fly past by an ancient plane with the initials of our favourite institution pained on the bottom. Which took me back to my parents. A bit of background. In 1944, Dad was 18 and mum 19. They met while working for the London County Council in County Hall opposite the Houses of Parliament. They were both waiting to join up. Mum signed up to move vehicles hither and yon in the ATS – auxiliary transport service – and he hoped to join the RAF but they were oversubscribed by 1944 so he was looking at alternatives. Whatever, he was adamant he would fly, one way or another.
Mum joined up first and thus started four years of letters, until he was finally demobbed in 1948. Mum kept all his which I found after she died. This is the first, after they were separated. As you’ll gather flying was high on dad’s list of priorities. I wish I could have seen Mum’s replies but Dad often alludes to them so we get a sense.
BTW the ‘onyx’ you’ll see mentioned was a keepsake dad gave mum when she left for her posting. And the reference to education – even though he came from a working class background – his dad was a tailor and they lived in a council house – he passed the entrance exam at 11 and had a full scholarship to the local private school which gave him a fantastic education, a set of loyal friends, a love of English and rugby, a distrust of all authority, and several chips on his shoulders…
This is that first letter… B = Barbara; D = Desmond
To No3 Company
Thanks for the letter which I was very pleased to receive. Sorry to hear you felt a bit browned-off, but cheer up, honey, you’ll soon be dead! You know the old saying, don’t you? – “They can’t keep a good girl down.” Certainly a helluva job keeping you down – you’d bounce! (Ok! Ok!, I apologise!)
You asked for gen. about me and the call-up (or should it be the call-up and I?) so don’t blame me if part of this epistle is written in the good old egotistic style which some unkind people (no names, no pack drill!) have often stated I personify. Well, you’ve probably heard about this racket of transferring fellers from RAFVR to the army. That, star-of-my-darkness, is what I fear – in fact I’m scared as hell of the idea (Blimey, what vile grammar; but I’m sure you won’t be hypocritical enough to criticise. – A very smart crack, that!) Anyway I expect to go for another selection board, medical etc. any day now, and I shall then know my fate. However, I intend to fly, whether I’m kept in the R.A.F. or not, because if I have to go into the Army, it’s me for the Paratroops (if possible). Besides, Army call-up is 17 ½ for volunteers, so maybe I’ll get you a dead Jerry or Jap yet! I haven’t lost hope of the RAF though, because although personally I think it’s damned unfair, education counts a lot, and I have been lucky in the respect. I’m going to a special N.C.O’s course up at Cosford, in Staffordshire, on Sept. 30. for a week (special N.C.O.’s course – you oughta see this guy swanking!)
Well, I guess I’ve said enough about myself, so for now for a bit of County Hall gen. I definitely think Rene and Dave have got a crush on each other, in fact Rene as good as admits it, although “fer Gawd’s sake don’ let on I tolyer, she’ll knock me bleedin’ block orf, else!” Gladys left yesterday – she is going as a fitter in a factory, poor frill! Bill, of course, is incorrigible as ever, and Manning sticks just as much. Chris says something about an unanswered card! Mr Steele stills burbles about “jolly old British Empire, what!”, and old Bridges about the Lord! Bridges is cunning, though. In fact, you’d hardly credit it but sometimes he almost reforms me without my knowing it. So far, however, I’ve managed to avert this catastrophe, and slipped back into my old ways of drinkin’, smoking, swearin’ and general dissipation. I’m terribly scared though that one day I might catch myself saying “Excuse me, please, Douglas” instead of “Get out of the bl—dy way, Manning!” Barbara, should this tragedy ever occur, and I commit suicide with the shame of it, I leave my cigarette-case (+contents, if any), lighter, and P.N.B. badge to you!
You suggested I sent you one of my poems, so please find enclosed. It’s pretty lousy, I’m afraid, but I am sure you’ll understand that Apostle-in Chief Bridges face is not very much incentive to genius, and anyway it only took 15 minutes. I think its rather appropriate!
Write again soon, Barbs, and tell me all about yourself or better still come and let us gaze upon that exquisite figure and search enraptured, those azure depths! By the way, are your eyes blue?
P.S. Give my love to Onyx and keep a lot for yourself, of course.
P.P.S. When can I measure you for those socks, and can I interest you in any little woollen whatsits?
Bugle Rallies Bogle
She volunteered for the A.T.S.
She thought the A.T.S. was best,
But they made her wear a khaki vest
Gor blimey, what a shame!
She left the County hall one day
‘Midst tears and sighs she went away
But wearing khaki knicks ain’t hay!
Crikey, what a game!
And now, alas, she is away
To drive for her country (and her pay!)
I can almost hear the soldiers say
Gee, fellers! What a Dame!
7th September 1944