Saturday, 8 January 2011

War was declared

I have just had the delight of my daughter's company for a week and we were going through some of the things left in Mum's flat when she died last year. One of the gems, of which there are many, was this little writing case that belonged to my grandmother


Inside it are precious letters, collected over her lifetime. One, which Jen and I read together, was written by my mother, when she was thirteen years old, while staying with her aunt in Hastings. I reproduce it here as it is such a poignant document of the declaration of war in 1939, as seen through a young girl's eyes: almost incidental to the pleasures of staying with a much loved relative.

My own precious Mummy,
The time is 7:30 and I am sitting up in bed writing this with the new pencil I bought on Friday on the new pad I bought ditto. Yesterday I had a lovely run in the car, I ate no barley sugars, I only felt sick once a wee bit, and I didn’t get out at all. My chauffer went at about 40 per hour the whole time (nearly). He overtook about 20 cars. The car was lovely and I felt I was in a Rolls Royce. This pad is perfect. When I got here Gags and Haza were out so I got all my things upstairs and unpacked very busily. Then I unpacked my writing case. I am sleeping in the winged bed in the centre room facing the big windows. In front of me at the window is the table that was our dressing table, minus the cloth, with books on it. On the left are all the chairs for the meeting Barbara has just brought me a cup of tea). Gags every Sunday is going to take my bedding away and turn it into a couch, and is going to hold the meeting. (Gags says that she will give Nanya a treatment.) On the right is the little table that you can make into a chess table that used to stand in the window. (It is simply pouring outside). On it I have my clock, Roly my little glass dog, my mouse, my bird, my glasses, Bible, Science and Health, my little picture, my brush and comb and all my little ornaments that I used to have on my mantelpiece at home. On the left of me on the floor are my gum boots, barley sugar and gas mask. I love looking at the picture of the boat on the river, with all the mountains behind that we have in the drawing room beside the door because it brings back home. I will continue this letter later because I have to get up now.
...Later
I am sitting at the drawing room table and the time is 10:30. We are still waiting to know whether there will be a war or not. It is awful. I have been in the park with Gags. We made up a rime [sic] about Benjy, that he was a “blue bag bright billeting beautiful bally Benjamin boy”. I don’t think that “bally” is right and I know there was more than that but I can’t remember. Yesterday when Gags and Haza were at Iden Lock they saw Mac and he still held to it that there would be no war. I have made a lovely “Own Desk” out of my writing case. I have put it lying down on the table beside my bed with a little box beside it for a waste paper basket. I lock it and when I open it everything is like it was at home. I put the blotter of my writing case on top so that I only have to take it out and write on without disturbing anything.
I confess that I shed about four tears last night but I think it was more due to tiredness than unhappiness, the day had been rather hectic. Gags says that she will, or I will remove the books from the table and that I can have it for an “Own Desk”.  It is very kind of her. I have settled down here and am very happy, especially after the treatment I gave this morning. I have eaten one sweet out of my war supply. I am afraid my writing is rather tending towards getting worse and worse, I must try and improve it. I am just going to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech so will stop a minute. War has been declared and just as we turned off the wireless we heard and air rade [sic]. I got my gas mask, mac and we all sat in the darkened hall while Gags took the meeting. It all seemed so sudden.....

Must stop now, tons of love and kisses to all including yourself
Rosemary (Baa)

...PPS It is very funny to think that the air rade warning was not true at all, “not at all” as the Americans would say.

"Baa" is the pet name my grandmother used for Mum. I had forgotten it 'till I read this, and was intrigued since one of my pet names for Jen is "lamb".
The place she describes was also my home from the age of 11 'till I left home at 25.  "Gags" was her aunt, "Haza" was her Aunt's lifelong female companion, quite daring for those days. They lived by Alexandra Park in Hastings, hence their walk in the park. The "treating" that is mentioned is the Christian Science "version" if you like, of prayer. My grandmother and her two sisters, though brought up as Methodists in Ireland, became deeply involved in Christian Science and were quite sure that they had received healing through these treatments. Weekly meetings were held in the room that Mum was evidently sleeping in while she stayed with them. The picture of the little boat she describes, one of Nanya's, is waiting to be hung in our new home and I have the little ornaments mentioned, carefully packed away 'till I have found a safe place for them.

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