But what I do have is a very old, very precious Black Magic chocolate box containing letters and photos. Mostly, the letters are in envelopes like the one above. They were returned to their senders, because the addressee, my father, was a prisoner of war - and that's how they came to be preserved. They were from Dad's sisters (he had five) and his mother. Here a few extracts.
Do just let me know how you are as soon as possible, I know I am impatient it is not any news, I am wanting only to know if you are well, and are quite all right... I know things are bad out there... It is a special day of prayer today for the whole of the nation. I hope things will make a drastic move after Sunday, so if you are too tired I am sending you some ready addressed envelopes if you can only just say I'm alright mam, that will suffice me.
Your loving Mother/too anxious
The letter is written in pencil, on a page torn out of an exercise book. I think what moves me is that you can sense how worried she is, yet how hard she's trying not to make a fuss, not to be 'too anxious'.
My dear Bern,
I do hope this finds you well, although we think you must be very busy having not heard from you for a month. We're getting heaps of folks asking about you, fat folks (Mrs Wooliscroft and co); thin, young and old uns, and we'll be right glad when we can tell them you're O.K.
Connie: no date, but must have been written about the same time as Edna's letter.
We still keep looking for a line from you - every post. It is one month since we heard from you but know that there must be some reason. Anyhow we think that you must be alright. A big part of the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) have been arriving in this country - we wondered if you might be one - I shouldn't have been surprised to see you walking down the garden path any day. Anyway, I'm keeping your bed aired for you. Oh yes, I have your room you know. Carrie says she wonders why I should have half the house - 1 room for working* and 1 for sleeping - and they have got the big room with two beds in it - they sleep all in a row. Anyway if you come in the middle of the night I will willingly turn out for you - you see how my affections have improved!!!
We'll have a meal and a seat and a welcome when you return.
Lots of love from Mother & all,
* Connie was a dressmaker, and probably the dominant one among the siblings, though Edna was the oldest. You can see it in their handwriting: Edna's is beautiful and delicate, whereas Connie's is firm and dark. Minnie Louisa's (Mam's) becomes difficult to read in places, as if she's stumbling over herself trying to get her thoughts onto paper.
|Bernard Course, a few months before he was taken prisoner.|
In fact, they had five years to wait before Bernard came walking back up the garden path, because he'd been taken prisoner on the way to Dunkirk. Connie was hanging the washing out when the boy brought a telegram saying he was missing in action. Connie, a strong character, decided instantly that she wasn't going to tell her mother until she had more definite news. It must have been several weeks before they were officially notified that Bern was a prisoner of war - but at least that meant he was alive.
Of course he was having a much harder time of it than they were at home. But I think that through their words, you get a sense of their carefully controlled fears. And somehow because it's so controlled, to me it's all the more moving.