Recording the voyage

Jim had reached the middle of her blue, three-month diary. Aware that she still had a lot to say, she started entering two rows of writing to every line of the book. On board the same ship as on her outward voyage, Jim recorded details of the people, the activities and the dangers brought by each of the eleven days of the journey back to Liverpool. Her interest in observing people is obvious from the start. Many stories of men wanting to volunteer for war service impressed Jim as the ship sailed out of New York harbour.

Tuesday Aug 27th Decided to sail. We went down at 3pm and were off about 4:30. About 80 passengers all told and a few women. Met Tel. Engineer has a wife and child in NY and has left Brazil in order to report in Eng. A boy aged 28 has been in the States since 1928 – his brother is at Newport and has lost a leg aged 26 yrs – that is why he is returning. A Scot called Ayrton who is being deported. A fellow called Marshall aged 38 yrs who is coming back to fight. A fellow who has travelled all over Europe and was kept 6 wks on Ellis Is. Trained as a doctor, went as a teacher of English.

Wed Aug 28th Ship calm. I feel v good except for (c). [constipation?] Had a hot salt water bath – breakfast – talked to our table steward – he was on the Lancastrian when she went down – Germans bombed and machine-gunned them in the water. He said many were drowned – some broken necks because of the belts – some of the soldiers got on the keel of the boat which turned over – Germans machine-gunned them. Thick oil covered everything. His whole life passed in front of him – he thought of his wife and life was very sweet afterwards. He had a worried strained look on his face – pale and haunted. An American newspaper man is on board and a Hollywood actor called Richard Green.  Enjoyed the day v much, played shuffleboard and deck games – tried the gym – talked to Lady Norman. Ate v well all day. In the afternoon went to the pictures and saw “The Adventuress”. R Green was in it and it was a fine film. Had tea and listened to Nurse Wilson who had pictures of her kiddies – she is the real stuff. Went to the dance in the evening in the cabin lounge and enjoyed it very much. Some of the passengers deported, others travelling back to join up.

The film was actually entitled I was an Adventuress and had only just been released. It starred Vera Zorina, known simply by her surname, as one of three travelling con-artists. Richard Greene played Paul Vernay, a prospective victim. The two fall in love and she is torn between her new husband and loyalty to her former partners in crime.

1940  August 29/30

Thurs or Fri – forgotten which. Woke up and hot salt bath, went on deck in the sun, walked and talked a little. After brekker played tennequoit with the Pukka Sahib (Dick) from Shanghai, Dr Wyers [sic], Ian Fraser – played 3 sets and had drinks, gin and ginger and a gimlet. In the aft. the purser promised to save a gas mask for me so I went to the flicks. Mackee intro to the journalist and he booked a dance with me and Ian invited me to go with him. I quite enjoyed the flick. When we went out we saw two ships (Portuguese) with sails, fishing. They looked very beautiful like the old-fashioned schooners in the sunshine. The Dr and journalist asked me to tea with them – and we had a game of shuffleboard. I changed for dinner and the others accused me of leaving the coolie class for the pukka sahib’s company! That’s all so far today. Went to dance and felt slightly sea-sick. Danced with John, the journalist and Ian Fraser.

Here were intriguing references to Ian Fraser mentioned in Hugh’s letters. Perhaps I would soon find Hugh’s name. I read on but drew a blank.

Saturday 31st August Another beautiful day. Played tennequoit, ginger beer afterwards. Boat drill. After dinner, talked to G. Lawrence, He read Shelley to me and gave me advice on the Stock Exchange. Tips on Uranium which he says is the best if we come through this war. Tips on television – Technical Amusements Industries, EMI listed on London and NY exchange, controls the patterns [patents?] on the television process used exclusively by the BBC. Will boom when television booms. Had tea in the lounge then played shuffleboard with John Mackinnon, Pukka sahib and his wife. After tea read “Fame is the spur” – Howard Spring. Went to the dance in the evening, it was quite good. (Raymond Richards) Got back in the early hours.

Sunday Sept 1st 1940 Another beautiful day – in the am lazed. After lunch sat on top deck in the sun and talked mostly. Saw a convoy of 52 ships – we were all very interested. Had tea with McKinnon and co then played tennequoit. After dinner went to concert at 9:30 with McK and Ray and Co. I Baillie and G Ridley sang, band played. Then I had a drink with Ray, Lawrence, McK and McG. Went to visit Dr and take him a drink – he told us stories and we ate chocolate. Went with Ray to see his things – he’s been sub-editor outside editor of Ottawa Times also lived in Jamaica for 4 yrs. Is now going home to Glasgow to join the Artillery. He went back to join the party – I went to bed.

Isobel Baillie continued to fulfil foreign bookings in spite of war and she became a Dame in 1978. The concert finished with audience participation to renderings of Land of Hope and Glory then God save the King.

Jim never forgot the singing nor the artistes, recording Baillie’s death in 1983.That evening, there was a concert in aid of British and American seamen’s charities.

1983 Sep 25 Isobel Baillie died – she was 88. I thought of my epic voyage home in wartime.

1940 Monday Sept 2nd Our 1st wet and foggy day. Went to the pictures. In the evening we had a very wild party – all the Scots together did Highland Dancing. Spent most of the time with Ray. He’s a clever fellow and should do well if this war lets him. Played tennequoit as usual.

Tues Sept 3rd Played tennequoit and shuffleboard. Ray had a bit of a head. Went to flicks in the afternoon and he sloped off. In the evening danced played bingo with Ray and the Doc in the cabin lounge. The others invited me to dinner with them and we drank wine. I drank rather a lot in the evening too but was quite sober.

Wed Sept 4th Walked on deck in am with Dr Wyers. Didn’t see Ray. Didn’t enjoy the am as much as usual. Ate rather too much lunch – saw Ray. We went for a walk – played draughts had tea then listened to the singing for a while. R. had a bad cold so went back to his cabin. I decided to go back to my cabin and get squared up a little for landing tomorrow. Must get change for tips. Drank liqueurs in the lounge then in the cabin lounge danced with the Scottie and Ray – enjoyed the dancing v much. We talked and drank till about 3am.

Thurs Sept 5th Was woken v early by the Scots shouting about land. Had a bath and got up – lovely view of the Scottish coast and on the other side Ireland. After brekker walked around. In the aft. sat in the sun. Ray wanted me to drink but refused – went with the other boys to see the ship anchor. We were all very thrilled to see planes dipping in front of us – oil tankers signalling and the flag signals on the ships. We hove to outside the bar and everyone discarded their life-jackets. Ian Fraser made some brilliant jokes about travelling 3,000 miles and finding the bar closed. Well, shall be in ENGLAND once more tomorrow. Must change my job if possible. We didn’t land – a beautiful day. Danced and played Keeno with Ray in the evening also Annie, McKinnon, McKi. Dancing stopped early as there was an air raid. We went out on deck and saw the flashes. Joined in for drinks with Lawrence and so to bed.

Friday Sept 6th Woke v early and went out on deck to see the Scottish Islands and the Irish Coast. Outside the bar were lying a big French hospital ship, oil tanker and destroyer. At mid-day went in for lunch and were told to put life-jackets on as there was an Air Raid in progress. Immigration Authorities came on deck soon and went off in the Skirmisher altogether.

The Customs was a frightful muddle – all our luggage being piled on top of us. We stood and stood and became very tired. In the middle the Air Raid warning went. I phoned up home and arranged for Ray to stay the night. There was a great shortage of taxis and people stood around with their baggage waiting to get off.

Finally R and myself went off and he left the wrong baggage at Exchange and had to get it. Chrimes  met us at R.F. and we drove through an air raid home. He told us the news of the bombing. We ate bacon and eggs and sat and talked. Ray caught the 8 o’clock bus in the a.m.

Eventually, disembarking took place amidst muddled luggage and general frustration. The tired passengers arranged their onward journeys. The man who looked after the family’s cars met Jim and Ray at Rock Ferry. During the journey to Parkgate he brought them up to date with current news, telling them about heavy bombing. The following day the London Blitz would begin to escalate. Eggs and bacon awaited the pair and Ray departed early next morning. He too was to become a penfriend of Jim’s.

The menu cards

Delving deeper into the envelope of memorabilia from Jim’s trip, I came across some cards. They had a picture of a ship on one side and the Cunard White Star logo in the bottom right corner. Pasted on the reverse was a type-written menu. There was one for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner but each bore a different date. They were from days aboard Samaria.  The dinner menu was for Wednesday September 4, 1940, the evening before the ship was due to dock in Liverpool. Four people had signed the front of the card in the gap between the picture and logo. Wilfred Hart heads the list. Two other signatures belong to Sydney Haskins and someone called Marshall. The second signature is that of Hugh M. Whyte.

Menu card from S S Samaria with signature of Hugh Whyte
Menu card from S S Samaria with signature of Hugh Whyte

So Hugh had been on the voyage after all. Later, I was to find the small photograph labelled ‘Hugh Whyte’ in Jim’s handwriting. This was the link between the man who signed the menu card and the letters.

On that Wednesday, Jim may have been sitting at the dinner table, probably with a cigarette in hand, chatting with Wilfred Hart, Sydney Haskins, Norman Marshall and Hugh Whyte. Were they discussing their plans for the future? What was their mood? Did they put aside thoughts of war and live for the moment? Jim had spent some of the morning walking round the deck and then had a big lunch. She had then met up with Ray, a Scottish journalist who had been working in Canada. They danced together most evenings. This Wednesday they played draughts, followed by tea.

Whose idea was it to sign the menu cards? These young people, thrown together for eight days, had become mates and they wanted a memento of their shared experience. After dinner, there was dancing as usual and, fuelled with liqueurs, Jim and Ray enjoyed each other’s company.

Liverpool was a prime target for enemy fire and it was two more days before it was safe enough to enter the harbour, late on the evening of September 6, 1940.

Back to normality?

Jim did not return to school immediately as she had asked for leave to cover any delays. She had plenty of time to wind down from the trip, writing being her chief occupation. It is thanks to her keeping the drafts and also cuttings of published articles that we know more about how she met Hugh. When I found the newspaper cuttings amongst Jim’s memorabilia, I did not at first realise their significance. However, this link was vital in furthering my knowledge of Hugh, his letters and Jim’s Scholarship.

Already in the habit of submitting pieces to newspapers and magazines, Jim sketched out an article for the Liverpool Echo on September 25. She also contacted the weekly Bebington News. September 26 marked her return to school. The following day, she wrote the final page of the diary that had been to America and back.

Published on Saturday November 23, 1940, the Bebington News piece is written by a reporter who had interviewed Evelyn. (The paper cost ‘TWO PENCE’.) It introduces Evelyn and explains why she went to America. Under the title Teacher Wins Trip to America, the Bebington News article stresses the differences between wartime Britain and America as far as everyday living was concerned.

1940 Jim’s newspaper cuttings regarding her trip to America

The unusual experience of leaving a darkened old world and arriving in a new world where a blackout was unknown and cities blazed with lights at night, was enjoyed by Miss Evelyn Maitland Roy, a teacher at New Chester Road Council School for Girls, when she visited America recently.

Miss Roy told a “News” reporter that her most wonderful experience in New York was climbing to the top of the Rockefeller Plaza and seeing spread out below her the city ablaze with lights. “I felt I wanted to rush down and pull down all the blinds,” she said.

New York skyscrapers at night, one of Jim's souvenir postcards
New York skyscrapers at night, one of Jim's souvenir postcards

The report goes on to describe events that made both journeys so memorable. Outward bound, Samaria had received an SOS message from SS Arandora Star . She had been converted to a troop ship and was torpedoed and sunk off the Donegal coast on July 2. There was a large loss of life instantly but a rescue mission was launched. The survivors included the cargo of Italian and German prisoners-of-war bound for Newfoundland. The episode was one of the most controversial of the war and led to the decision to imprison the enemy in Britain only. The newspaper also reported on how Jim came to be travelling.

She wrote a thesis for the English-Speaking Union and was one of the successful competitors, the prize being a three months’ holiday in the United States, with opportunity to study many aspects of educational and camp life there. Miss Roy had given up hope of going on account of war but the Union went ahead with their plans and she sailed from England in June.

Jim told the Bebington News reporter about the lectures she gave and the response of her audiences.

They were keenly interested in all aspects of England’s struggle, but in June and July were very determined to keep out. Their domestic affairs were occupying their attention just then, for the Presidential election loomed large in the imagination of all Americans. They always asked questions about Anderson shelters and how people stood up to aerial bombardment.

Hugh is identified

Jim herself wrote the Liverpool Echo article. In the style of an observer, it details the return voyage, giving anecdotes about the passengers and crew. It was published under the title War-Time Atlantic Trip with the sub-title Proof Of Our Command Of The Sea: Britons Return To Join The Fight. This refers firstly to the sighting through their binoculars by Evelyn and her fellow passengers of a convoy of British vessels. The last part of the subtitle highlights people who had been living in America returning home. Jim describes some in great detail. She mentions no-one by name but, by sheer luck, I found her draft which she called Atlantic Crossing. Jim had written it just a month after returning home.

1940 Oct 8th Worked hard all am on Atlantic Crossing. Oct 9th Posted my article with very faint hopes of its success. Oct 16 Found I had article published in the Echo. I’m delighted.

Inevitably, Evelyn’s draft for the article duplicates her diary in many respects. However, it gives us vital information about Hugh. It gives proof that they met on this voyage and that the man she describes is the same as her correspondent. Remarkably, this gives the following information:

 Hugh, brown and fit, was travelling back to see his younger brother, now in hospital having lost a leg at Dunkirk. ‘I am coming over to join up in his regiment, I hope’ he said quietly. This was in spite of a good job in the States where his parents had become American citizens and where he had lived since a small youngster.

This was a breakthrough. I now knew that Hugh was probably born in the UK and had at least one brother. I then searched Jim’s diary for the pages that described the passengers. To my amazement, one of Jim’s descriptions matched the paragraph in the newspaper.

 A boy aged 28 has been in the States since 1928 – his brother is at Newport and has lost a leg, aged 26 yrs – that is why he is returning.

I could now add Hugh’s age to my evidence and, more importantly, the date of his emigration. One puzzle remained – he was planning to join the army rather than the navy.