Saturday, August 3, 2013

Postscript: 3 November 1942

I was thrilled to come into possession yesterday of a Christmas greetings letter sent by my father to my aunt and uncle at the start of the second battle of El Alamein - a letter which has miraculously survived among my aunt's possessions until it was found the other week by my cousin, to whom I am very grateful.

           Best wishes for the present season and for next year which will I hope see the end of the war and *Cliff back at his own job, taking the boys up the 'mountain' to play football.

           We are at the beginning of what looks like being a fairly exciting time out here, and are all hoping to chase Rommel for his life before long.

                                              Kind regards

*Cliff (my uncle) was a PE teacher on the Isle of Man

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Mother & baby, April 1946.
Photographed by Dan Findlay.
The letters end here, just before DF's leave to attend the birth of his child in Glasgow. The baby arrived, in Redlands Nursing Home, safely and fairly timeously at teatime on Sunday, 30th September, and was indeed the expected girl. As planned, she was named Christine Margaret, and is the collator of this blog. Apparently and unsurprisingly Margaret refused the offer of tripe for tea immediately after the birth. She used to recall seeing imaginary men on the rooftops opposite her room in Great Western Road as she recovered from the influence of whatever sedation they used at the time.

Dan Findlay had, of course, to return to Essex after the birth, and was demobbed when the baby was several weeks old. Legend always had it that when he finally arrived home to find the baby screaming in her mother's arms, he expressed a desire to return to the peace of the Western Desert. A second daughter was born in December 1948. The family lived at 66 Novar Drive until 1957, when they bought the long-desired house with its own garden, in Broomhill. Margaret Findlay lived there till within a year of her death at the age of 93.

Dan Findlay died suddenly in 1977 at the age of 69.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thursday 13 September 1945, Marks Hall

1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; War Medal 1939-45

                 A less trusting husband might well be suspicious at your belated warning of the possibility of red hair in our offspring! Wasn't there a fortune-teller many years ago who foretold romance for you with a reddish fair man? However, since I'm quite sure there was no blond gentleman in the vicinity during my disembarkation leave, I can accept your explanation in the spirit in which it was offered, and merely express my hope that the genes responsible for great-grandpa Crane's* red whiskers have now lost their potency.

                 Having the divan in your bedroom for me is an excellent idea although if, as Kate thinks, you are punctual in delivering the goods, you'll probably be in the nursing-home as soon as I arrive. What is the position? I'll probably stay on at 155 when you leave - that is if they'll have me.

Africa Star with North Africa 1942-42 clasp
                 I told you about ribbons in my last letter. I've got the '39-45, Africa Star and Italian ribbon but I can't lay my hands on the France and Germany ribbon. I believe it has all been sent over to the B.L.A. If I had known Cliff was coming over, I might have asked him to get me a piece. I don't, of course, qualify for the defence medal. As I tell my friends (who are all wearing it), I was never long enough in a non-operational area to win such a sedentary award.

               As you suggest, the possibility of attending a christening during my December leave never entered my innocent head. I suppose the family will be all in favour of a church ceremony. If so, I'm willing to participate. After all, as at a wedding, the man takes a very small and apologetic part and at some future time, the front pew will be occupied by a test-tube or hypodermic syringe.

             The idea of being 'welcomed home' by Broomhill Church is enough to make one volunteer for further service and I certainly will not attend any celebration for discharged heroes. And talking of further service, quite a surprising number of men are asking for postponement of release at the very last minute. The are all of course people with no jobs to go to, and the prospect of being thrown into a chaotic labour market frightens them.

              I had a letter from Griffiths yesterday. He is rather disgruntled at his environment and finds his former cronies, with their petty worried, narrow outlook and complete lack of interest in the past or future, extremely boring. He hopes to feel better once he starts working.

             It is true enough I think that Service people, who have seen some of the devastation in Europe, take a wider view of the present situation than some civilians for whom the war really ceased when bombs stopped dropping round their ears.

            Dearest, I'm delighted to hear that you are still feeling so astonishingly well and I'm sure it is a good omen both for your future and the child's. It won't be long now till I see you and I'm counting the days.

* The Crane family were cousins of MRF.               

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Monday 10th Sept. 1945, Marks Hall

Small, very folded note accompanying medals

My darling,
                   Your Thursday letter arrived on Saturday evening and filled me with remorse at the account of your financial difficulties. I am afraid I haven't been paying much attention to the various heavy demands on the joint account, and your description of how you live on charity, and make bootless journeys to the bank looking for remittances from your worthless husband, has wrung my heart. It's true that on the 'phone last night you assured me that you were once again solvent but I am enclosing a small cheque to get you our of your father's debt and when I come on leave I'll arrange to transfer a substantial sum from my Lloyd's account.

                I am delighted to hear that you are still satisfying Kate with your condition and I am looking forward to getting the full clinical details in your next letter. This last month must be rather a trying time for you, but if Kate's forecast is correct and the infant arrives on time, you won't have to bear your burden much longer.

                Thanks for the Penguins which came last Friday. I've enjoyed the Isherwood in spite of its decadent atmosphere, and the Times Fourth Leaders make very pleasant reading. They are essays in the old fashioned style and they maintain a very high average considering the fact that they appear every day. I've read them nearly without fail since coming to Marks Hall, but of course the selection you sent covers the period when I was in the wilderness. That irritating book Ask Me Another will be very useful when I get back to school. It's just the kind of thing that infuriatingly smart little boys delight in.
The box in which the medals arrived

                 I find myself unable to put up my new ribbons because I can't find anywhere a piece of "France and Germany Star" ribbon (that's the red white and blue one). If you family notice any in Glasgow they might please buy it for me. It looks like this ...

               Life continues to be rather dull. The weather is sunless and quite cold: the trees are rapidly yellowing, and altogether a deep autumnal tone is rather prevalent. I am doing a fair amount of history, and living only for my next leave.I'm sorry to hear about Jean's tooth and my sympathy is partly inspired by the fact that sooner or later, the vast mass of new wisdom tooth that is slowly coming out of my gum will have to be removed. It seems quite healthy so far and is growing quite straight but I don't think it will ever attain the stature of a useful member. 
 So far, I've heard of only one teacher in our Group (RAF Group I mean) getting out and he works in a private school. The conclusion some of us have reached is that if you work in a school run by a board of governors, and are asked for individually, you have a chance of getting out. But if one's name appears in the long list of people wanted by a local authority, the machinery of Class B release breaks down. Anyway, I've stopped thinking about it.

              Keep well darling and take great care of yourself. I'm glad to hear that everything is now ready though I should prefer you to perform exactly on time when I'm in the neighbourhood. Give my regards to everybody .....

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Friday 7th Sept. 1945, Marks Hall

My darling Margaret,
                                I've just finished a night in which I combined the responsibilities of Station Duty Officer and Duty Cypher Officer, but as nothing happened in either department I am feeling quite refreshed after a good night's sleep. If I get this letter away by the mid-day post, you ought to get it on Monday morning.

                              Your long-awaited letter arrived on Wednesday evening and as I had received nothing since Saturday, I was more than usually glad to get it. I'm glad to hear that you are still feeling well and are still walking with something of your customary grace and vigour. Bud's [school friend of M.R.F., real name Barbara] apprehensions about my being lonely while you are in Redlands aroused some spark of interest, as I thought for a moment that she was going to make some really constructive suggestions on how I might be comforted. But I am afraid she is not that kind of girl!

                              I had a letter from Mary two days ago thanking me for mine, and expressing polite regrets at my inability to visit them. She seems to have enjoyed Jean's visit very much and speaks of her usefulness as an egg-hunter, picker of apples, and taker-of-the-family-for-walks.

                             I don't know how often or at what times I'll be allowed to visit you in Redlands but when I'm not there and not eating at Hyndland Rd., I'll find plenty to keep me busy in our house. I feel much more energetic than I did on my last leave and I should be able to make a determined attack on our two full cupboards. The more I can do now, the more time I'll have free on my release leave to photograph you and the infant.

                           Eddie Weeple [another English teacher who lived in the next close] is a lucky blighter getting out so soon. As for the disadvantages which Education officers are now discovering in their position such as lack of gratuity, they rouse no sympathy at all. They went into the work with eyes open and most of them thought they had found a good thing at the time. And if ever they had felt like taking ordinary commissions, I'm sure the RAF would have opened its welcoming arms to them.

                           As you suggest, I'm missing Griffiths somewhat. Of course I know scores of others in the Mess, but they don't drink my way and none of them has a large and comfortable car to hand. However, I'm filling in the time with reading and I'll be glad to receive the Penguins which you propose to send me. Fisher and Myers get rather indigestible at times*.

                           Give my regards to the family. today you should be seeing Kate again if my memory is accurate, and I hope she once again gives you an excellent report. Three weeks tonight I hope to be in Glasgow. Till then sweetheart take care ...

* I can't find out what exactly he refers to here, but this is perhaps the Fisher he means.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wednesday (morning) 5th Sept. 1945, Marks Hall

My darling,
                 It's a beastly morning and our little tin hut is damp and miserable. The weather has been really abominable fro the past three days and unfortunately we are denied the comfort of a fire in our hut until some quite arbitrary date in mid-October - by which time we shall doubtless be experiencing a belated heat-wave. Meanwhile the rain is pouring down and a fierce wind is trying to uproot our hut. Lucky Griffiths, sitting by his own fireside on a day like this.

                 The little blighter departed early on Monday morning after a colossal final party on Sunday night. He had a full car, with his wife, two boys, all their luggage, and a beautiful large golden retriever which he bought from a game-keeper on a pub some weeks ago. I maintain that he does not remember making the purchase. He was certainly wondering the following day how he was going to feed the animal which has so far been nourished on a diet of goat's milk and rabbits. But his boys were crazy about it, so by this time, the pup will be in Barry and barking in Welsh.

                  Meanwhile I've settled down once more to a life either studious or somnolent according to my mood. Child, another of the cypher officers, has presented me with a large loose-leaf notebook which he doesn't want, and my passion for virgin paper has led me to make quite a lot of history notes in the last few days.

                I suppose you listened to Mr Attlee's speech. It was a dreary performance and gave me no consolation whatever. Of course the Minister of Labour may issue some more encouraging figures soon. Meanwhile a big acceleration in Class B release seems to be the chief aim. The so-called improvement in the conditions of these special releases really amounts to nothing at all, as a class B release still loses 35 days pay and allowances, which always has been the rub. Still, if the offer came along in the next few weeks, I might be tempted to accept, considering the slowness with which normal release is proceeding.

               I've had nothing from you since last Saturday and am quite determined that there shall be a letter awaiting me at lunch-time today. Meanwhile, I hope you are still keeping extremely well. My health is excellent and in spite of the rather gloomy opening paragraph, my spirits are reasonably high. They'll keep mounting during the next three weeks as my leave draws closer. It will be a full three months since I saw you last and I'm hoping that we won't have as long an interval again. I intend to take my next leave rather early in the period - say about the beginning of December - so that I can be sure of getting it in before I'm demobbed.

              Dear, other men whose wives are in your interesting condition seem to be worried out of their wits by tantrums, vapours, threatened nervous breakdowns and God knows what. Once again, as when I was overseas, I realise how lucky I am in having a wife with such a beautifully calm sough - whatever that may be. So far you have carried the affair off with quite primitive aplomb and I'm sure you'll continue to do so. Keep well, pamper yourself shamelessly, spare yourself nothing and, if you can still project your thoughts beyond your wame, remember I love you dearly.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Capt. D.R. Stewart, 390Coy. R.A.S.C., Paiforce*, 3 Sept.45

A letter from Margaret Findlay's younger brother, stationed in Persia

My dear Margaret,
                            I was so pleased to get your letter of the 25th yesterday. I think it's the longest letter I've ever had from you; thank you very much for it.

                           What I liked most about the letter was the news that you're keeping so well, and that the doctor is satisfied with you. In a month or so I'll be looking most anxiously for the first communiqué. Please look after yourself, Margaret. I'm sure the rest of the family will be keeping a very strict eye on you to see you don't do anything you didn't oughter.

                          I hope my Beirut purchases will arrive safely. I sent them off on Thursday in two small packages. I registered them to ensure safe passage, and so couldn't put duty free labels on them. I hope you won't have to pay much, if any, duty. I wonder if the sandal things I sent have arrived. Would you like a wee white Persian cap? They're what a lot of the men wear perched on top of their heads, and are quite amusing.

                       You all seem to have enjoyed your holiday at Bearsden. It must have been a very nice break for you, especially with the weather being so kind to you. I suppose Roy went just about mad with so much open space about him. How fat is he now? I suppose he's enormous.

                      It is a blow about the release continuing to be so slow even after the victory over Japan. Is your Socialist government not going to do something about it? If only they'd reduce overseas service it wouldn't be so bad; I'm just longing to see you all again. Do you remember the first night I was home on embarkation leave in Apr. 42 and you asked me if it was emb. leave, and I had to admit it?

                      No, I'm not a very good swimmer yet. I'm still convinced I'm not buoyant enough! I could do about 100 yds. in the sea at Beirut, and then it was weakness of the limbs through lack of use fo the necessary muscles that made me give up. Out of my depth all the time, but don't tell Ma! I make sure I'm convoyed. I can do a few strokes on my back, but can't float. Gwyn [his girlfriend, a nurse, later his wife] tried to teach me to do the crawl in the river here, but I was a very difficult pupil and it became too hot for swimming before I got any distance with my lessons. This long para. was initiated by your remarks about Brodick [village on Arran where the family holidayed] in '39. It was a wonderful holiday, wasn't it? I don't think I ever enjoyed one as well. It was a good job Dan had his compass on Ben Nuis that day.

                   It's ages since I wrote to Ene and Jean [his other sisters]. Will you tell them I'll write any day now? As this is my 3rd letter to 155 this afternoon/evening I'd only repeat myself if I wrote now. Please give my regards to Dan; I hope his rheumatics aren't giving him too much trouble.

With much love,

*"Paiforce" is explained here. David Stewart was Margaret Findlay's younger brother, and this letter was in the same box as the letters from Daniel Findlay. It gives the interest of another slant on the aftermath of the war and the frustrations of the demobilisation process.