Late mail

Dear Jim,

My last letter to you was written early in September.  Since returning from sea this time I have received quite a pile of letters and books from you.  It makes me feel rather ashamed at times to think that you write so often to me and yet you receive so few in return. 

As well as noting the date, October 24, Hugh heads his letter HMS/M Turbulent

Stockings

After I wrote to you last I managed to pick up a couple of pairs of stockings which I mailed to you in the hope you will get them before Christmas.  In one of your letters you enclosed a piece of cloth of some kind to use as a color pattern, but unfortunately it wasn’t there when I opened the letter. So the stockings I sent are what the girl in the shop suggested as most suitable.  I’ll send you some more when I get a chance to pick up some decent ones.  By the way, is there anything I can bring you when I return to England? It will be quite some time yet but by the time you answer this letter it will only be a few months.  Out here one hears all kinds of rumours about shortages in England, such as face cream, toilet soap, shoes etc. If there is anything at all that you think I could get for you just name it and I’ll do my best.  There seems to be plenty of that sort of thing here and I notice the names of some well known English and American manufacturers in the shop windows.  It is more or less imperative that you give me a chance to repay you for all the books you have been sending me these many months. You keep telling me how well of[f] you are for most things but I know that this is just a comparative state of affairs. There must be some things that women can’t get these days.

Hugh seems quite obsessed by the shortages Jim could have been suffering. Maybe it was the talk of the crew as they received their mail. He was also having nostalgic thoughts with the return home on his mind.

Hugh’s marital status

It came as a surprise to me to discover that Hugh was married. Jim was a woman of principle. To talk about his wife to her may have put a stop to the correspondence. This was certainly not because of any love interest – far from it. Jim’s letters were important to Hugh for other reasons. They allowed him to tell her about his reading. This in turn encouraged Jim to send him books and so the dialogue continued. We know from her diaries that Jim was diligent in replying to letters. She felt this was a matter of common decency. Writing was what she loved and enabled her to forget her worries. Hugh, too, used his writing to occupy his leisure time.

When, in his letter of May 14, 1941, Hugh told Jim that he had just returned to England, it was not because he had been out at sea. He had in fact gone to his original home of Johnstone. The address was the same as his destination after crossing the Atlantic in 1940 – 11, Walkinshaw Street.

I gave a talk about Hugh and Jim to Hereford Family History Society in January 2011. At that stage, I thought that a piece of official information mentioning Roberta Whyte was a transcription error. I wondered if Hugh’s brother Robert was the intended name. The talk was received with interest by this body of people with considerable experience of searching for family details. Polly Rubery suggested looking for a marriage with Scotland’s People for which she had a subscription. Late that same evening, I had an email from Polly with details of a possible marriage. This was to lead to a whole new area of discovery. I am extremely grateful to Polly for acting on her enthusiasm.

Books

Speaking of the books you sent me there was some good ones in the last two bundles.  ‘England is My Village’ was exceptionally good. The two stories I liked best were ‘Ice’ and ‘Remembered on Waking’.  In the first one could almost feel the physical elation experienced in flying blind at night and ‘Remembered on Waking’ makes one realize how flying gets into one’s blood – like a drug. I don’t think Rhys would have made a good writer as he was a flyer first and last.  Anyway his writing seemed to be too carefully thought out and all his words appeared to be hand picked.

‘The Purple Land’ was interesting though a bit rambling and broken in places. The author’s observations in nature are very good, though he seems to be allergic to dark-eyed, fair skinned women and the purple land seemed to abound in them.

Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ I have read before. Shaw is always worth rereading – especially his prefaces. Perhaps the best of all was ‘Strawberry Roan’. Solid and lusty. The England that one knows will be there for a long time yet. It breathes of wet earth, beefy cattle and good horseflesh. The land has an attraction for most of us and it would be very hard to resist the lush greenness of England. Fat cattle and well cared for fields are very satisfying to mind and body.

You were asking me if there was any particular book I would like sent out. There are three I’d like to read sometime – Huxley’s ‘Grey Eminence’, ‘Strictly Personal’ Somerset Maugham, and George Sava’s ‘Tale of Ten Cities’. I don’t want you to go chasing all over the land looking for them but if you happen to see them when you are browsing around I’d be very grateful.

The literature for this letter is discussed in Books for October 1942. The rest of the letter speaks for itself.

Politics

So you have been disappointed by Ghandi’s recent attitude towards Britain? Years ago I had a lot of admiration for Ghandi but of late years he seems to have lost sight of the larger issues.  Up until shortly before this war started I was inclined towards pacifism and I thought Ghandi a good example of a man who could get things done without the use of force. Perhaps he has found out, like most of us have, that there are some people who understand nothing unless it is back[ed] up with a few hand grenades.  Perhaps after this war things will be different but personally in this direction I have no delusions. All that most of us ask after this war is some degree of peace and security and a chance to earn a living.  There will no doubt be some far-reaching changes.  If the industrial world doesn’t make proper use of what it has learned about mass production during this war we will be worse off than we were at the end of the last one.  It is rather obvious that the time lag between the social sciences and the rapid advance in industrial invention is largely responsible for our present state of chaos.  It would be a mistake to say that invention had been retarded during this war and one could hardly say that the social sciences had made any noticeable advance. There are a few men in responsible positions who seem to be aware of this state of affairs and are trying to do something about it.

Enough of politics. You will be interested to know that I was at the rest camp again for three days. It was much colder this time and there was quite a lot of rain. I spent most of my time in just plain loafing. In bed every night about nine and breakfast about eight, then a quiet walk for a couple of hours. After dinner we would sit around and talk shop or read and smoke far too much. A few drinks in the evenings and so to bed. Do you know, with a little practice, I think I could learn to loaf around all day without a rest.

Locked up for winter

Glad to hear you managed a couple of week-ends at the caravan. By now it will be locked up for the winter. You do seem to have such good times there. By the way how do you pronounce the name of that valley where the caravan is? The printed Welsh looks like the work of a drunken type-setter and to hear anyone speak the language sounds like they had a mouth full of marbles.

Sorry to hear you have not received the photographs. I sent them by ordinary sea mail but even so you should have them by this time. I’m sending you another one in this mail, it is the only one I have left and it was taken about a year ago.

I probably won’t get a chance to write to you again in time for it to reach you before Christmas so I wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the happiness in the world in the coming year.  

Yours,

 Hugh

Although Hugh must have spent a lot of his free time letter-writing, his final comment indicates how rare that time was in comparison to his naval duties. However, it wasn’t long before he wrote to Jim again.

This time it was an airgraph, written on the day Hugh departed for Turbulent’s 9th War Patrol.

Please view the transcript of Hugh’s Airgraph of October 28, 1942 in the Letters section.

This short airgraph bears a censor’s inspection mark of October 31. Although there is a journal entry for Monday September 21, Jim doesn’t say that she wrote to Hugh. It is the first time she had used her diary since the end of July and after recounting the numerous attempts she had made to find a new job, she details the SLIGHT ACCIDENT.

1942 September 21st

Whilst dashing to get ready for school last Friday morning I caught a needle in my foot. I phoned Mrs. H. [headmaster’s wife] to say that I was calling at Dr. A.’s and would be along later. Dr. A. said I must go to C. [Clatterbridge Hospital] so I phoned to say I wouldn’t be in. At C. they X-rayed me in a marvellous new block – clean and cheerful decorated in pale green. The X-ray revealed a needle in the right heel so I went to Outpatients. In a little while they shot me into the New Theatre where the doctor gave me a local anaesthetic, cut it out and stitched it. Went back to Dr. A. and he gave me a Medical Certificate.

 Jim took the whole week off school and had the stitches removed on the Saturday.

 Having written his last-minute letters, Hugh left Beirut for the week’s passage to Malta. It would be five weeks before he returned. This period would see a new phase in the war.