The long letter
Hugh, true to his word, wrote the long letter only three days later. Jim’s diary, her third blue-marbled one, has an entry for February 1, 1943. Had a long letter from Hugh. Maybe it was this one. She was writing on the last page of the book which had lasted since May 1941. It ended on February 9 with Jim in low spirits. There is then a gap of over two months when she resumed her journal on three loose sheets of paper which she tucked into the back of the book.
c/o G.P.O. LONDON.
DEC 6th 1942.
I have been very lucky with my mail this time in. Two parcels of books and three airgraphs from you, a letter from my mother and one from an old chum now serving with the Canadians somewhere in the Pacific. This is the letter I promised in that airgraph a few days ago. You ask me to write more airgraphs and write oftener, but there is no point in writing at sea as it is impossible to mail anything until I return. I could write more often in harbour but after I write one decent letter there isn’t much left to write about until I hear from you again. I’m sorry to hear you are not getting all my letters. Actually I only write about one a month on an average.
Did you receive the stockings I sent about ten weeks ago? Perhaps when you write you will give me the dates marked on my letters so I can tell which ones you are getting. This one is being written at the rest camp. I’ve been here three days now and I’m going back tomorrow.
The start of this letter shows how Hugh’s mind works. He seems to be an organised person and perhaps the continuation of his writing to Jim is due to this trait. He surely had letters from Roberta too but never mentions her. This side of his life was private. It was Polly Rubery who suggested finding Roberta’s death and she discovered that she died in 2000. In due course, Polly made an application for a certificate and back came the information that Roberta had lived to the age of eighty-six. She had lived in Thornhill prior to being admitted to hospital and was married to William Marshall. However, her death was registered not by her husband but by her nephew, H. S. Ritchie. An address appeared beside his signature as the informant.
The town with a Glasgow postcode rang a bell and I realised that it was the same as Raymond Richards’ hometown of Clarkston. I wasted no time in writing to Mr Ritchie explaining the circumstances of finding the letters. I also included a copy of the small photograph Hugh had sent to Jim. It was March 14, 2011 and I hoped that Mr Ritchie was still at the same address.
The weather has been very good up until today – it is pouring rain right now and is quite cold. The two previous days were cold and clear with bright sunshine – just like late fall at home. I believe I [told] you before that this camp is in a village high in the mountains. It is very good country for hiking in and a shipmate and I have covered quite a few miles in the last couple of days. So many in fact that all the muscles in my legs are quite sore today. Lack of practice I think. It is very bare looking country with little vegetation covering it.
You should see the type of farming that is practised here! Being very mountainous the farms are practically built into their steep sides in the form of terraces. The walls supporting these terraces are constructed out of stone, which fortunately is a rather soft sort of limestone. These terraces are seldom more than a few yards wide, and serve as cachments [sic] for the little rain that falls in summer, also to prevent the soil from being washed away.
The peasants are very poor and their methods of cultivation quite primitive. They still use the oxen-drawn wooden plow that was in use here probably two thousand years ago. The peasants themselves haven’t changed much – one sees types of dress and methods of transport reminiscent of biblical scenes. The land they farm here wouldn’t be considered good enough to graze sheep on in England. While hiking yesterday we found some wild crocuses growing among the rocks. It was quite a surprise. They were smaller than the cultivated crocus and all were a dark yellow color, but definitely crocuses.
I also saw a pair of pied wagtails flying about. There was no mistaking these as they are quite common at home – and in England I believe. I took a number of photographs and I’m having them developed now so if there is any good ones among them I’ll enclose them with this letter. I’m sorry you haven’t received those photos I sent some months ago. I sent my mother some at the same time and she received them O.K.
Jim would have loved this description but did not know it was of the Beirut area. It was clear that she often wrote in a similar vein about her own experiences. Hugh was describing yet another country, Lebanon, with its unfamiliar surroundings.
Jim also found solace in nature which often inspired her deepest thoughts. In the Spring of 1931 with the first anniversary of her father’s death in mind, she recorded these lines, possibly composed by herself:
The place is beautiful and high Across the sky the clouds blow free, Around wide open spaces lie, Below the glory of the sea.
Elm trees softly sway and sigh (Rooks caw round the church tower grey) In sweet serenity you lie Earth’s pain and sorrow swept away Dreaming till a dawning day.
The scent of an early June morn Or the frost of a winter’s dawn. Spring brought pain and sadness. The wakening of the year We could not hail with gladness.
The night of sorrow is over, Soothed in sleep severs. Bees hum again in the clover, Life, what a beautiful dream!
Homeward a crow is flying, Dark against the sunset hue, Softly the trees are sighing, Whispering thoughts of you!
Speaking of photographs your photos was a bit of a pleasant surprise to me. You seem to have your hair fixed a bit different than it was when last I saw you. You seem so happy and full of life. The handkerchief you sent reminds me that the one you sent last year was one of the few things that I was fortunate enough to have with me when I lost all my gear last summer. Thank your mother for me will you? It will come in quite handy now there is no more beard! The lavender I was able to identify, of course, but the sprig of conifer I’m not so sure about. It looks like white pine to me but I’m not certain. Next time you write tell me what it is just to satisfy my curiosity. Also give my thanks to Mary.
The thought that must have gone into Jim’s package was obviously appreciated by Hugh. This shared love of country things is confirmed with their choice of reading material.
It is odd that you should be telling me about your discovery of A.G.Street just about two weeks after I had read his ‘Year of my Life’. Very interesting and very sensible sort of book I think.
At another time, Hugh speaks of having little farming experience whereas Jim’s family had family and friends in agriculture. It may have been this that led her to be appointed to a post with the Ministry of Agriculture as County Organiser for Flintshire from 1945-1947. In contrast to Street’s male-dominated world, one of her tasks was to oversee Land Army girls. The titles Hugh mentions in this letter are looked at in more detail in Books for December 1942. The exception is Magic Mountain which is reviewed under the books for June 1942.
Yes, I have read Thomas Mann, though it was a few years ago now. I think you would enjoy his ‘Magic Mountain’. Rather long and involved but very good. Here are two that you might like – Andre Maurois ‘Silence of Col. Bramble’ and ‘Night flight’ by Saint-Exupery. I think I told you about the last one before. It’s quite good. I’ve just finished Sackville-West’s ‘All Passion Spent’. A beautiful story very well written. My mother has mailed me a bundle of Atlantic Monthly’s and Scribner’s but there is no sign of them yet.
In your last airgraph you said you had heard a little about me. Have we been in the newspapers again? We have had some very good luck lately. I expect it will be about five months before I return to England. It should be the summertime then and that just suits me fine. I’m certainly looking forward to it. If there is anything you would like me to bring back with me just name it and I’ll do my best. I believe I mentioned this before but I’m doing it again just in case you didn’t get that letter.
A cutting from The Scotsman of 22.10.1942 reports an Admiralty announcement which stated,
Following the successes of H.M. submarines in the Mediterranean announced on October 16, the destruction of more enemy shipping in this area has been reported…
The submarine under the command of Commander J. W. Linton, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N., sank a small enemy supply ship off the Libyan coast…
Commander John Wallace Linton, of Gloucestershire, has been described as one of Britain’s most daring submarine commanders. He received the D.S.O. last month for courage and skill in successful submarine patrols in the Turbulent. He had then sunk 21 ships and attacked more. He won the D.S.C. in May last year by sinking two Italian supply ships when commanding the submarine Pandora.
It may have been this news that Jim mentioned to Hugh. She carefully cut out and kept four newspaper articles referring to Commander Linton. Three report the fact that he was missing.
Well, Jim, this is a much longer letter than I usually write and as you can see there is still very little news in it. I’m in very good health as usual and quite happy. Thanks a lot for the Christmas present. Hope you received yours. Best of luck and keep smiling.