An American in Yorkshire 1945
The following is a transcript of a 22 page letter written in 1945 by a young American Serviceman, Philip Strongin, to his wife. In February 1945 Phil was stationed in the UK and when he was granted a furlough he chose to spend it at a home in Yorkshire. The letter details his observations of both the people he met and the places he visited which included a visit to Saltburn.
22 February 45
As I begin this, I am contemplating how strange and wonderful is this life — I find myself, at present writing, in circumstances that give me the odd feeling of reading them out of a book, rather than actually experiencing them. When I first decided to avail myself of the opportunity of spending my furlough at a home in Yorkshire, I had a decidedly hazy and confused notion of what to expect. I think it was the “unknown quantity” about the venture that appealed to me — that, and the mysterious, romantic implications and suggestions that are induced in me by the mere mention of the “Yorkshire Moors.” When I was little more than a kid, I read a great deal, as you may have heard me tell, and many of the stories I read had the moors as a locale, so you can readily understand, sweet, that my present interest in the locality springs from a childish fascination that the mysterious moors held for me. Most of the stories were mysteries or weird tales- — at any rate, the moors were invariably described as barren, mysterious wastelands where all sorts of evil were wont to take place, and I must confess that my imagination was colored and influenced by the things I had read. Thus, throughout the long journey up here, my fancy was largely preoccupied along the lines I have mentioned. The details of the trip would only bore you, honey. Suffice it to say that I traveled approximately 250 miles in approximately eleven hours on four separate trains to reach my destination. “My destination” is where the interesting part of my tale begins. My hosts are Dr. and Mrs. Davies, and you would have to see them to believe them, darling (more about them later). Their home (and mine for the next seven days) is “Meadowcroft,” which is the largest but coziest home it has ever been my pleasure to visit. I don’t know yet exactly how many rooms there are, but you may judge there are a goodly number from the fact that there are three bathrooms, a music-room, library–living room etc. (This letter will be nothing if not disjointed, baby, but there is really so much of interest here that I hardly know where to begin!) But suppose I tell you my experiences in their order of occurrence, and point out the personalities and places as I come to them- — I think the logical place to begin is with my arrival in Middlesboro (you’ll find it on the east coast at the mid-way point). The journey, as I have said, was a long one, but it wasn’t extremely tedious, because I spent almost all the time reading John Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone,” which is a very easy-to-read mystery novel. Arrived in Middlesboro, I floated about the station a bit, to give Mrs. Davies a chance to put in an appearance, but I had guessed wrong on the time of arrival which I had told her on the phone when I changed trains at Doncaster, and I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t show up. There was only one course to pursue then, so I proceeded accordingly. “Meadowcroft” is in a small village (Eston), a suburb of the rather large steel town of Middlesboro. By inquiring of a passer-by, I learned that I could get there very handily via bus. A half-hour’s ride brought me to Eston, and a boy on the bus volunteered to direct me to “Meadowcroft,” a scant few minutes walk from the bus-stop. I was greeted at the door by Helen, whose status in the household, from what I have seen, is something between guest, boarder and servant. For instance, she cleans, cooks, and serves at table, yet takes her place at table with everyone else. There is also an older woman, younger than her gray hair indicates, handsome, and very well-preserved (as the saying goes), and very quiet and unobtrusive, who is in pretty much the same status as Helen. From what I can glean, they are both guests, but because of the large house, and the Davies’ predilection for company, they chip in to do the chores that in pre-war days were attended by three servants and a gardener. While I’m at the business of describing personalities, I may as well tell you about the Doctor and Mrs. Davies — To begin with- — the doctor is a well set-up gentleman in his early fifties (I should judge), cordial, sincere in his speech, which is at all times interesting and educational (more anon), likable, sociable, and withal a perfect gentleman and host. He is, of course, a very busy man, yet he has still to leave the house without first ascertaining our plans for the interval of his absence. It is very endearing, Chippie, the way he checks with Mrs. Davies about our creature comforts and entertainment. Mrs. Davies is a small, but slim and well-formed woman of forty-seven years. She is blond, vivacious, very active in the Red Cross Womens’ Volunteer Service, Children’s Welfare, etc., etc. Already, I have formed a great admiration for her. She is considerate of her guests almost to the point of embarrassment, but she is evidently so used to having guests in the house that one cannot help but feel that it is all part and parcel of her life. There is much, much more I could tell you, Sweet, about the Davies’, but I will leave it to your imagination to deduce from their actions what sort of people they are. At present, there is one other person in the house. Helen introduced us in the living room after I had been shown my room (that is ”our” room) after I had freshened up in a bath-room that would be considered very nice even by American standards. Sgt. Ernie Stark (8th Air Force) is a very intelligent Brooklyn boy, and a lantsman, to boot. He is tall, dark, and fairly good-looking, has a B.A. degree, and reminds me in many ways of Mike Nierenberg. He is a wonderful conversationalist and quite an intellectual, being well-versed in literature, music, politics, and current events. His vocabulary is such, that when he talks he sounds as if he were reading from a book or an article in a newspaper. — So much for Ernie — for the time being. We have another guest in the household, a Commander Tim Healey, of His Majesty’s Navy. He is a handsome, boyish-looking little guy, also very well spoken, and fully as erudite as Ernie. His ship is in for re-fitting and he is only around the house for breakfast, after which he returns to his ship, and in the evening for supper and the session about the fireplace (of which you shall hear presently). The preceding series of “thumbnail” sketches just about covers the personalities. A word more about “Meadowcroft” — It is a detached house in a line of detached houses, which together with the entire little village of Eston, nestle in the lie of the lovely Cleveland hills. The show-piece of the place is the rock garden, which begins just outside the French windows of the living-room. There are vine-covered arbors and trellises, which, from the colored snap-shots which Mrs. Davies has shown us, are, in the spring and summer, replete with red and pink roses, honeysuckle, and other blooms, the names of which escape me at the moment. The rock gardens are separated by flagstone walks, and harbor a profusion of various, colorful flowers that, in season, make the place an eye-filling riot of color and fragrance. Right now, the prevailing color is the green of plants, evergreen shrubs and hedges, but it is easy to imagine that it must be a lovely place when everything is in bloom. Beyond the garden is a lawn tennis-court, unused now, but lying ready for happier days to come. Beyond that, a wooden-latticed fence, and beyond that, a small declivity in the ground, where, in 1940, the Germans dropped a 1750 lb. bomb, which, most fortunately for the Davies’ and their neighbors, failed to explode. The living-room, as are all the other rooms, is furnished more with an eye to utility and solid comfort than to “show.” Everything — from the dark ivory wall-paper, to the leather-upholstered chairs and sofa and wooden easy-chairs with mohair covered pillow-seats and occasional tables, is some shade of brown. The rugs covering the 14 x 20 ft. (app.) expanse of hard-wood parquetry flooring, are the Persian-type, with geometric designs in red, blue and black. All the chairs, five of them, are grouped around the small fireplace, which throws a cozy heat in the evening, and whose dancing flames and hot coals I have found most relaxing and conducive to concentration of thought. But at this point, Chippie, I’ll tell you what has transpired up ’til now. I believe I left off where I met Ernie in the living-room. Well, that was about 4:30 p.m. We smoked and chatted a while, and then the Doctor came in to greet and meet me. This he did with a hearty squeeze of handclasps and a friendly smile and a few welcoming words. He asked the usual questions of me — about my trip, etc. etc., and we settled down before the fire for a three-cornered pow-wow. This didn’t last long, however, because five minutes later, Mrs Davies breezed in. I use “breezed” advisedly — she’s that type of dynamic little lady. It appeared she had driven to the station to meet me, but failing to do so, had taken a British soldier just back from ten years service in India to his home and mother. Mrs. Davies, if you haven’t already gained that impression, is a veritable dynamo, always busy at something other, but still managing to be the perfect hostess, and a very intelligent and charming woman withal. She was dressed in her Red Cross uniform when she came in, and after meeting us — Ernie and myself, immediately began to do things about tea, which is the snack of toast and jam, cake, cheese and tea, which is served between 4:30 and 5:30. Supper is at 8 o’clock. Well, Sweet, it was really remarkable how quickly the Doctor and his wife made us feel welcome and put us at our ease. They are both great and entertaining conversationalists, and equally good listeners when either Ernie or I had something to say. We are the first American guests they have had, although they have had Norwegian sailors and Canadian soldiers and airmen, and they made no effort to hide their interest in us, and kept drawing us out about ourselves and things American. After tea, the men, Dr. Davies, Commdr. Healy, Ernie, and myself, adjourned to the living room, where we smoked and talked ’til supper time, while the women, Mrs. Davies, Mrs. Payne and Helen cleaned up the tea things in the kitchen and prepared the evening meal. The conversation before the hearth never flagged for a moment, and my three companions were such entertaining company, that the interval of about two hours sped by unnoticed. I know you must be wondering just what part I took in the conversation, Chippie, and I suspect that you picture me sitting back, content to listen, but the plain truth is that I have overcome my tendency to shyness with strangers and I’m rather proud to admit that I contributed at least my fair share. Moreover, I’m sure that what I did have to say (and the topics ranged from world affairs to boxing and music) was taken in good part and appreciated. This delightful interlude, as I have said, lasted ’til 8 o’clock, when we were called in to supper. We were seven at table, the three women and four men. The meal was to my taste since it consisted of smoked canned ox-tongue, relish, French fries, etc. etc, with tea and cheese and a variety of cakes for dessert. Afterwards, we had demi-tasses in the living-room, where all the chairs were moved into a semi-circle close to the fireplace, and we ensconced ourselves for the remainder of the evening. Just before Mrs. Davies absented herself to help Helen and Mrs. Payne in the kitchen, she brought us (the men) each a large mug of pale ale, which I think is a wonderful custom, since it induces a mellow mood in the partaker, and is therefore a stimulus to the imagination necessary to make small talk interesting. The ladies joined us after a bit, and the conversation grew more congenial and spirited as the evening went on. I wish, honey, that I could remember some of the clever and witty things that were said during the course of the evening, but unfortunately so much as happened since, that I find myself unable to do so. However, I might say that I did get to know everyone much better as a consequence of the “family circle” (another very civilized and gracious custom of the English), and began to attain a very great admiration and liking for the Doctor. I remember that the talk that first evening was largely monopolized by the Doctor and yours very lovingly. We somehow got onto the subject of medicine, anatomy, diagnosis, etc., and perceiving at once that mine host had a fondness for “talking shop,” I kept prodding him with questions. He didn’t need much encouragement, though, as one thing brought up another, and everyone was very much interested in his discourse. The result was that a large part of the evening amounted to a lecture on various phases of medicine and surgery. Thanks to Lil and her State exams, I had very little trouble understanding what he said, and by the same token was able to draw him out intelligently. Between Ernie and myself, I’m sure that the good Doctor, his wife, and our other English friends were more than favorably impressed with the intelligence and erudition of their American guests. Mrs. Davies early drew us out on our religion, and be it said to the eternal credit of our hosts, there was no hint of strangeness or embarrassment evidenced when it was established that both Ernie and myself are Jewish. What impressed me most favorably, though, was the total absence of any trace of that air of distasteful condescension which some gentiles will assume towards those of our race. Never had I more cause to appreciate the advantages of good breeding than in this case, as evidenced by the truly remarkable Davies’. The most remarkable thing about it all, though, as far as personalities are concerned, is the similarities of thought and tastes and, if you please, character, between Dr. Davies and myself. That, at first glance, must sound like conceit on my part, but listen to this: The Doctor is very fond of the following: (1) Music (2) Athletics in general, and boxing in particular (3) Literature (4) Discussion and argument on any and every subject (5) His wife (excuse the order — she should be first) (6) His daughter, Judith (ditto), who is almost seventeen and away at a girls’ boarding school near London. Well, Chippie, what do you say — do the Doctor and I have anything in common, or don’t we? Not so remarkable, perhaps, but at least interesting, is the fact that, except for the athletics and the family angle, Ernie shares our tastes and hobbies. He is unmarried, and younger than I, but in some things better versed, and most certainly, in all things an “easier” speaker, and a far more interesting one. He is the first fellow near my own age who has been able to induce a feeling of inferiority in this respect in me. I greatly envy him his knack of expression, and admire him for it. Perhaps this last has served to explain why we all have gotten along so famously, or perhaps there are more reasons for it. The fact remains, though, that our hosts give every evidence of pleasure in having us, and both Ernie and I are enjoying ourselves immensely. I have neglected, I am reminded, that most important asset — our room, Ernie’s and mine. We were, and are, in a word, delighted with it. It is large, well, and tastefully furnished, with plenty of closet space, spic and span, and possessed of two of the most comfortable twin-beds in England, or anyplace, for that matter. All in all, darling, both Ernie and I feel so fortunate in our new friends and the accommodations they have made available to us, that we can hardly believe it yet. It is, literally, a dream come true, and we both, fortunately, are fully capable of recognizing and appreciating it as such. — Which all accounts for my arrival and first evening here at Meadowcroft. Now, Chippie, you are, no doubt, wondering where I have found the time to write all this. Permit me to enlighten you — Our hosts have been so concerned with our entertainment, that they hardly give us time to breathe. As a consequence, I’ve been forced to write this in fits and snatches, as it were. That is, a little before tea, a little before supper, etc. It is now, as I write, 4:50 p.m. Friday, 23 Feb., so there is still all of yesterday, and part of today to account for. Well, that first night, after Ernie and I had finished congratulating ourselves and each other on our extremely good fortune, we went to sleep in our nice, soft beds happy as a couple of kids, and more at peace with the world than we have either of us been for lo, these many months. (Ernie has been overseas almost sixteen months). Mrs. Davies, wonderful woman that she is, let us sleep ’til almost ten o’clock in the morning, when she came in to draw the large curtain that extends almost the width of the window-side of the room, and to tell us to come to breakfast, which was waiting for us. We made haste to get washed and dressed, and came down to a very creditable breakfast of orange juice, hot oatmeal, toast and butter and green-gage jam and tea. Mrs. Davies and the rest of the household had had their breakfasts, but she sat at table, anyway, and talked to us while we ate. She then informed us that she and Mrs. Payne were taking us out to lunch in Middlesbro because it was Helen’s afternoon off, and she didn’t choose to fuss about preparing lunch herself. We accordingly went upstairs again to shave for the occasion. A little after twelve o’clock (I had managed to write a few more paragraphs in the interim), the four of us piled into Mrs. Davies’ small car, and with that good lady at the wheel, proceeded to ride to town. Said good lady is a very inexperienced driver, and she therefore went cautiously and apprehensively, but managed to get us there shortly and safely. “There” was Hinton’s Café, which is a lovely restaurant by any standards, but incongruously so in the little community of Middlesbro. We climbed a flight of stairs to come suddenly into a spotless, modernistically appointed foyer. Then, through stainless steel and glass doors to the café proper. I wished so much that you could have been there to see it, Chippie mine, but since you weren’t I’ll do my best to describe it to you. The room was rather large, and the ceiling, done in ornamented light green plaster-work was very high (probably sixteen feet). The lower half of the walls was covered by very dark and intricately carved wood-work. The upper half, except for the immense, colorful, stained-glass windows was done in green and gold rough-finish plaster or stucco. The effect, you may well imagine, was at once lovely and exotic. The meal of kidney and beef pie, mashed potatoes, green cabbage, and a delicious pineapple sundae, which was largely whipped cream, and demi-tasse was very tasty and entirely in keeping with the atmosphere of the place. The talk over the table was largely Ernie and myself telling the ladies about our trips over-seas. Ernie’s experiences, though were the more interesting, ’cause he came over on a Liberator via S. America and Africa. Mrs. Davies left us for a time to greet some of her friends in the café. Both she and her husband are tremendously popular, which, if you know them, is hardly surprising. Then we went shopping for groceries. I haven’t said anything yet about the rationing problem over here, but believe me, Ev, it is a problem! Our English friends have become used to doing with very frugal portions of everything, and take their skimpy meals for granted, but this is both Ernie’s and my first experience with the rigors of rationing, and we were surprised to note that we eat, in our own mess-halls at each meal the equivalent of the average Englishman’s allotment of three or four meals. It would be on my conscience if I thought I were depriving our hosts of rations, but, fortunately, the Army provides ration points for men going on furlough, and these we turned over to our hostess shortly after we arrived. We returned to Meadowcroft at 5:30, and had tea directly. Comdr. Healey was awaiting us in the living-room, having had his tea at the prescribed time (4:30). So we had another fire-side session ’til 8 o’clock, when we went in to a supper of mushroom omelletes, tea, and lemon meringue pie, which the versatile Mrs. Davies had made herself, especially for the edification of her American guests. It looked lovely, so much so that it seemed almost a pity to eat it. It tasted just as good as it looked — what a treat for your [? unintelligible] hubby! After supper, the chairs were arranged around the hearth in the living-room just as they had been the night before, and the entire group settled down to another bull-session. Mrs. Davies and Mrs. Payne, who is the doctor’s secretary, incidentally, occupied themselves with their knitting, while the Doctor told of his experiences as a captain in the last war, his athletic experiences both as participant and spectator, and something of his experiences abroad. The Doctor’s zest for life is invigorating. His evident relish for living is a joy to behold, and he has the knack of communicating his pleasures to his audience. In recounting some particularly thrilling item, he gets excited as the veriest school-boy, and one cannot help but feel his excitement. Then, occasionally, he would make reference to “Mabs,” as he calls Mrs. Davies, and she would chuckle reminiscently. These two are still very much in love, and like us, Sweet, they have been inseparable, except, also like us, when “Wallie” was in the Army — from 1914 to 1918. They have traveled all through the continent, and have cruised with other British celebrities, M.P.’s and such, to Egypt, where they visited Cairo, Alexandria, and other places. In 1927, they cruised 2000 miles to Mattapan, in the Greek Archipelago, to see the total eclipse of the sun from a good vantage point! The Doctor still gets highly outraged when he recalls that some people didn’t bother to get out of bed at 6:00 A.M. to see the eclipse! I particularly like the way the Doctor addresses Mrs. Davies. It is invariably “Mummy” or “My Darling.” His inflection in either case is endearingly and tenderly matter-of-fact. I could go on and on about the Davies’, Sweet, there is so much to tell, but I’ve hardly begun to tell you of our activities, which are already two days old as I write this. The following morning was, I think, Thursday, 23 Feb. Mrs. Davies came into our room to draw the curtains, and tell us that breakfast was waiting. This was at 9:30. After eating, while Mrs Davies was busy with Helen and another girl in cleaning up the breakfast things, dusting and cleaning, Ernie read a book while I busied myself with this manuscript. After our hostess had finished her chores and we had all had lunch, she informed us that she was going to take us for a drive to Saltburn-on-the-sea. Mrs. Payne was busy, and the Doctor was making his visits, so just the three of us went. It was a lovely and interesting drive with our chauffeur (Mrs. Davies) pointing out the various points of interest, such as the home of President Grover Cleveland’s daughter, the ancient alms-houses built by Sir Christopher Wren, and the large estates of various nobility that have lived in this neighborhood for centuries past. Most interesting, though, was Saltburn itself. The view from the large avenue fronting the beach, but some hundred-odd feet above it, is awe-inspiring — no less! In the near distance, a series of serrated ridges roll down to the beach. Further on, a magnificent bluff falls some 300 feet sheerly and dramatically into the sea. The scope of the landscape is almost infinite, since the North sea stretches away to the far, far horizon, but the bluff and the sloping ridges are sharply outlined against the sea, and the contrast of the vivid green of the hills against the misty gray of the sea, is at once strange, beautiful, and wonderful to contemplate. If I were an artist, I should certainly love to paint that majestic cliff, and the sea-curried hills. Mrs. Davies was all for taking the walk down the steep winding road to the beach. From the way she almost loped across the pebble-strewn beach, without slackening pace an iota, I thought she was going in for a dip straightaway! At that, we had to retreat a few steps to keep our feet from getting wet! We didn’t stay very long, because it was getting on to tea-time. — Just long enough for Mrs. Davies to act as thrilled as a little girl at being so close to the sea after almost six years. The beaches here were heavily mined in expectation of invasion after Dunkirque, so it was impossible to go near the place until recently, when the mines were removed. There are gun emplacements, barbed wire, and large concrete tank-blocks all along the waterfront, and in the entrance of every street leading off it, but the work of dismantling these defenses has begun. On the way back, Mrs. Davies told us something of those apprehensive, suspenseful days when a German invasion was almost taken for granted, and of the determination of the English people to fight to the last and die, rather than capitulate to the Hun. She told us that she and “Wallie” had agreed to take poison if all hope of winning the fight ever vanished. It’s one thing to read about the courage of our English friends in the paper, Chippie, but quite another to see the evidences of it with your own eyes, and to live with people who demonstrate it by their every thought and action. We returned by another route from the one we had come by, and Mrs. Davies pointed out some other historically interesting points. The remainder of the evening was spent pretty much as the others, except that the talk was more intimate and general, everyone asked everyone questions about his background, family, etc., and, at our hostess’ request, Ernie and I showed what snapshots we carry with us, around. I always keep the latest batch of you and the punkin in my blouse breast pocket, and everyone said the most complimentary things about “my family.” I pointed out to Dr. Davies the malformation of Adele’s legs, and by comparing earlier pictures with those taken a few months later, reached the opinion that she was apparently outgrowing it. Yesterday, Friday, the 24th, Ernie and I were left largely to our own devices during the day, although both the Doctor and Mrs. Davies came in at intervals to see if there was anything we needed or would care for. Ernie, after tiring of reading, decided to climb up the hills to an old Roman look-out post that has stood at the summit for over a thousand years. I preferred to go on with this, and wrote undisturbed for the remainder of the afternoon. I thoroughly enjoy writing to you under these circumstances, Sweet, because I am relaxed, in very pleasant surroundings, and, as you may have noticed, have plenty to write about. Ernie came back just before tea-time all thrilled with the fact that he had carved his name in the ancient look-out tower. I knocked off writing at that time. After tea, first Ernie, then I, had hot baths (it was the first time I’ve “tubbed” in years), and got shaved for supper and the theater. After supper, the five of us (including Mrs. Payne — Comdr. Healy had left earlier that day) piled into Mrs. Davies car with the Doctor behind the wheel, and rode into Middlesbro to the theater. It was a very corny sort of variety vaudeville show (according to American standards), but the others enjoyed it, so the evening wasn’t wasted. Arrived back at Meadowcroft, we had tea and biscuits around the fireplace and the Doctor put some of his records on the radio-phono combination. He is very fond of music performed by glee-clubs, choirs, choruses, etc., and played some really beautiful music performed by the Kentucky Minstrels. Ernie, who is also partial to that kind of music, simply went into raptures. It was good to see his keen enjoyment. He’s been singing and humming the refrains all over the place today, to say nothing of playing one particular record ”The Holy City” over and over again. It is very lovely and exciting music and I’m very fond of it myself. I forgot to mention that I played the complete album (12 sides) of Yehudi Menuhin’s recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto, performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, and, of course, enjoyed it most heartily. There is an album of Tchaikovsky’s B Minor Concerto for piano that I haven’t gotten around to playing yet. Today, a lovely, sunny, windy day, has been most interesting. This morning we met two new personalities. The first visitor was Bill Vickery, a former Captain in the British Army who served in Burma four years, then was wounded and invalided out. He has been a civilian for just a year now. Yet, with all this background, I’ll swear he isn’t a day over 25 years of age. He is tall, handsome, charming, and very friendly, the type of young Englishman whom, up ’til now, I always believed existed only in books. We were chatting in front of the fireplace, the three of us, when Mrs. Davies ushered into the living-room a giant of a man. He must stand at least 6’3”, and weigh about 250 lbs. He is gray-haired, but clean-shaven and possessed of an almost boyishly ruddy complexion with hardly a wrinkle in his face, and twinkling blue eyes. We all knew at once, of course, that this was Comdr. “Bobby” Bower, the Member of Parliament for this district, and very rich and powerful. On being introduced, he smiled and offered his hand, but I’ve met his sort of joker before, and in the split-second that it took me to extend my own paw, I determined to squeeze just as hard as I instinctively felt he was going to. My hunch was right because he did exactly that, and had I not anticipated him, I’d be nursing a bruised hand right now. As it was, noting by my own immediate pressure that I was wise, he grinned sociably at me and dropped my hand. He is quite a guy, this “Bobby,” as both Dr. and Mrs Davies so quaintly call him. He had been the subject of conversation quite often in our bull-sessions, and I think he’d be very much surprised at all we know about him from the Davies’. For instance, his father was that world-renowned figure of Edgar Wallace’s “Sanders of the River.” I don’t know if you ever heard of him, Chippie, but Hollywood made a picture of that name about his amazing career. George Sanders, I believe, played the title role. “Bobby” Bower is “Sanders’ son and heir, and is the owner of a large estate in Putney, a castle (I don’t know where), and a town-house in London. But what he doesn’t know, is that the Davies’ delight in telling us of his amusing domestic problems. He has seven children, and the youngest two of the offspring are very spoiled and often distract and harass him. The Doctor tells an amusing anecdote in this connection: The Comdr. had disciplined his youngest and most precocious child earlier in the day, and at the supper table she (the kid) looked daggers at her pater. He squirmed uncomfortable under the hostile stare for a while, but finally, losing his temper, turned to his wife and, pounding the table, shouted “Henrietta, I won’t have that child look at me that way!” When the Doctor told us this story, as only he could tell it, we roared. I don’t know how amusing it sounds to you, honey, but I thought it was delicious. Ernie almost went into convulsions! Today, too, I discovered the “sun room.” Mrs. Davies came in to find me writing, and suggested that I would like the sun-room for writing. “Sun room?” I said, “I thought this was the sun-room!”, and it certainly might have been, ’cause the sun was literally streaming thru the French windows into the living-room. But the “sun-room” proved to be a cozy little, glass-fronted room on the second-floor, and that is where I spent the morning writing much of this. Ernie went off for a few beers with Bill Vickery. When I declined to go along, Bill wanted to know how come, so I told him quite frankly that I had had to take a laxative and was afraid to leave the house. This struck our English friend as being very funny, ’cause he got a great laugh out of it. (Unfortunately, I’m much too closely involved to be able to share the joke.) I passed up lunch because of my present indisposition, and continued writing while the others ate. Right now, I am sitting opposite Dr. Davies at the hearth while he is napping. Comdr. Bower, Mrs. Davies, Ernie, and Mrs. Payne have gone for a drive on the moors. I had to beg off, most unfortunately, for the reason already set forth. However, I don’t doubt I’ll get up to see them before my leave expires. Which all brings me right up to date for the first time since I commenced this. It is now 4:30 P.M. 24 Feb., and I’m about to have tea with the Doctor. See you later, honey! 11:00 A.M. Monday, 26 Feb./45 Hello again, darling, As you can see by the dateline, it is almost two days since I left off writing. Many wonderful things have transpired in the interim, and I’ll continue whence I left you. Shortly after the Doctor and I had had our tea (with the usual cakes, buns, etc.), served by the fire-place from a trolley (all very “posh” y’know), the rest of the gang came back from their trip to the moors. Ernie said the moors are very impressive, and Mrs. Davies described how they look in the Spring, when they are just covered with carpets of colorful blooms such as gorse, bracken and, predominantly, heather. Perhaps I’ll be able to get up this way in May, when the moors are at their loveliest, and I’ll be due for another furlough. Supper was a gala affair with nine at table. There were, in addition to the Davies’, the Vickerys, Comdr. Bower, Mrs. Payne, Ernie and myself. Bill Vickery you have already met, but his parents are well worth meeting, too. Comdr. Vickery, a retired Navy officer, was called up for service at the beginning of the war, and is still serving. He is in charge of the merchant fleet for this particular section. He is a short, stocky man of 55 or 60; it’s very difficult to guess his age, because his snowy white hair belies the smooth, round, cherubic face. His sly wit was a welcome addition to the festivities. Mrs. Vickery is a tall, attractive, woman of 50 or thereabouts, with rather sharp yet attractive features, which were most charmingly animated most of the time. She is a bit of a “mugger” (if’n you know what I mean), but on her it looked good. She was almost touchingly concerned that I was not feeling well. Everyone enjoyed the ox-tongue that had been reserved for just such an occasion. Seems that Comdr. Bower gave Mrs. Davis two 7-lb. cans of this tongue about three years ago. This was the second can. Everyone, including myself, ‘cause I was feeling much better by this time, was in high spirits, and the chatter about the table was in keeping with the general mood. Comdr. Bower, at Mrs. Davies’ instigation, told a few amusing tales in welsh and cockney dialects, that we all enjoyed. After supper, we all adjourned to the living room for a nine-handed game of English Rummy. — And what a game! We used three decks of cards. Comdr. Bower, who proved to be a little slow in picking up the game, came in for a good deal of good-natured ribbing. The Doctor was feeling devilish, and kept stealing Mrs. Vickery’s chips, to that good lady’s great indignation. But the game itself was the greatest source of amusement. The suspense is terrific, and before we had been playing an hour, everyone was in a decided state of nerves. I was exceedingly lucky at the outset, and led the field for the first three innings, but being inexperienced at the game, I made the mistake of being rather extravagant with my quota of ten chips, with the result that I was left high and dry in the final inning, and Comdr. Vickery just beat me out. Everyone (even Comdr. Bower, who has a true aristocratic temper, and was inwardly fuming at his own obtuseness — to everyone’s great amusement) enjoyed the game immensely. It was 11:30 when we finished, and we were all emotionally worn to a frazzle by the great demands the game made on our nerves and tempers. After mugs of light ale all ’round, The Vickerys took their leave, and the rest of us went to bed. Mrs. Davies woke us at 9:45 yesterday (Sunday) morning. After breakfasting, Ernie and I went into the living-room to have a go at the radio. We were lucky enough to get the Midlands Light Orchestra playing the “Habanera” from Carmen, and the ballet music from Faust. The Doctor came breezing in at 12:00 M. and told us to get ready to go out. Mrs. O’Neill, a great friend of the Davies’ and Comdr. Bower, had heard of the Davies’ American guests, and had invited us all to lunch. She is the mistress of “Bardencroft” in Saltburn, a very athletic little woman of Mrs. Davies age, a golf champion, and the mother of two British Officers. She is not a good-looking woman, but very likable for her instant friendliness and vivacity. The Davies’, Ernie and I went in Mrs. Davies’ little car and arrived at Bardencroft to find Comdr. Bower already there. Mrs. O’Neill greeted us most cordially, and had gin and orange cocktails waiting for us. Bardencroft is a very lovely place, richly and tastefully furnished, but very liveable nevertheless. Mrs. O’Neill’s servants were having their Sunday holiday, so we stayed only long enough to finish our drinks and proceeded to walk to the Alexander [Zetland is crossed out here and Alexander written above it] Hotel, where Mrs. O’Neill had made reservations for her party for lunch. The Hotel fronts on the heights above the sea-coast, and the view of Hunt’s Cliff (the bluff which I have previously described) and the surrounding country and the sea is unexcelled from this point. Lunch consisted of a small portion of roast beef, mashed potatoes, green cabbage, Yorkshire pudding (like blintzes without the cheese filling), and stewed fruit in cream sauce for dessert. After eating, we went to the lounge, where we relaxed comfortably and smoked while Mrs. O’Neill served demi tasses. The talk centered around the difficulty our English friends have in keeping themselves presentably clothed. The ration allowance permits each man only one new suit each year, and only two shirts, a few pairs of socks, one or two ties, and a few hankies. The result is that our esteemed M.P., Comdr. Bower, is forced to wear the same suit of clothes day in, day out, and has to resort to his Navy shirts and socks and underwear to remain at least presentable. Dr. Davies is in even worse case, since he has no Navy clothes to fall back on, and is much harder on clothes than the Comdr. The women’s wardrobes are in a very sad state, indeed, and you would be appalled, I know, Chippie, if you could see the clothes they are forced to wear. Altogether, in spite of their wealth and position, our friends, judging by American standards are very, very poorly turned out. They could, of course, get almost anything they needed — thru the black market, but they are intensely patriotic, and never give that possibility a second thought. So we sat and chatted for an hour or so, when we left the hotel to take a walk along the “sands,” as our hosts call the beach. There was a rough sea running, and a fresh, exhilarating breeze. The Doctor, who hadn’t been down to the sea in years, was delighted with everything, as were all of us. We had spontaneously “coupled off.” The two ladies, Comdr. Bower and Ernie, and the Doctor and I. We walked perhaps half a mile, when the ladies, who had been setting a terrific pace, turned about. In the process of reversing ourselves, I somehow lost the Doctor, and found myself beside Mrs. Davies. We had a very nice and confidential chat all the way back, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Mrs. Davies, like her husband, is Welsh, which accounts for their great love of music, and this was the main topic of conversation, although we talked about many things. We all paused for a while at the Pavilion, where we leaned against the iron railing and admired the truly wonderful view of Hunt’s Cliff against the sea. The ladies suggested that we return by way of the Italian Gardens, which are the show place of the surrounding woods. Ernie and I were all for it, but the Comdr. and the Doctor were tired, and preferred the shorter route. So Ernie, the ladies (who seemed to be indefatigable) and I took the picturesque wooden road built against the side of a rather steep hill, while the other two went the other way. I have learned that England is full of eye-filling scenic beauties, but among them, the Italian Gardens at Saltburn-on-the-sea are among the most striking. Even at this unfavorable time of year, they are unforgettably lovely. I kept wishing that you were beside me, Ev, to enjoy it, too, and made a mental note that one day, if it is ever possible, we must tour England and visit this place. I continue to miss you very keenly, Chippie, whenever I am stirred by beauty in any form, and it is this feeling of incompleteness that keeps me from enjoying everything as whole-heartedly as I might were you with me to share it all. I’m sure you would love this country at first sight, could you but see it, honey, and I’ve regretted a hundred times since I arrived that you can’t. But we’re still young, Chippie, and I, for one, am full of hope — even confidence, that we will be able, some day, to see some of these beautiful and wonderful things together. But to get on — We arrived back at Bardencroft to find Dr. Davies and the Comdr. comfortably ensconced in the living-room. We couldn’t stay long, because we had a date for tea with the Hon. Alfred Edwards and his wife at “Hemble Hill,” their home in the nearby town of Guisborough. Mr. Edwards is also a Member of Parliament, a socialist, and the representative from E. Middlesbrough. “Hemble Hill,” like Meadowcroft and Bardencroft, is also a very lovely home, but the view of the nearby Cleveland Hills, and a particularly striking height known as “Roseleigh Topping,” is infinitely better than from either of the other places. The house has a very plain exterior, with perfectly straight walls that don’t look like much of anything, but the interior is quite another matter. It is beautifully furnished and decorated in the modern manner — rather surprisingly, when you consider that the Edwards’ are fairly old people. Mrs. Edwards, who must have been a beauty in her day, and whose gentleness and kindness are at once apparent, greeted us all very warmly. Mr. Edwards, a handsome, middle-sized fellow of some 55 years, with attractive silver-gray hair, did likewise. It occurred to me at the time that our American “gentlemen” would do well to take lessons in “manners becoming a host” from these English gentlemen. You will scarcely believe this, darling, but both the Doctor and Comdr. Bower, who has been about a good bit of the time, have yet to precede either Ernie or myself through a door — at any time. Consider this, if you have any doubt at all of the democratic instincts or training of these highly-placed Britishers. There we were, all clustered in the hall-way, dispensing with the usual amenities of introductions, hellos, how’ve-you-beens, etc. By “we” I mean no less than two (2) (count them) Members of Parliament, a Doctor, the Doctor’s wife, and the wife of one of the M.P.’s — and, of course, a Sergeant and a Corporal in the U.S. Army. Yet, when, after the ladies had gone into the dining-room, and the men were clustered about the door, Ernie and I were the first to go in. This is how it came about — Ernie and I, most naturally, hung back to allow the others to go in; Mr. Edwards, being the host, promptly took his place behind us (Ernie and me); when I motioned the Doctor to go ahead, he, in turn, fell in behind us (since we were his guests), and motioned us to go ahead; Comdr. Bower, for no particular reason other than sheer courtesy, hung back and motioned us onward — with the result that a Sgt. and Corporal, U.S. Army, preceded two Members of Parliament and a Doctor into the dining room! It all took much less time than it takes to tell about, of course, but, as naturally as it all happened, I couldn’t help but feel tremendously impressed with the consummate graciousness and innate democracy of these gentlemen. Happily, neither Ernie or I had any cause whatever to be apprehensive about intellectual shortcomings as compared with these gentlemen. We were, without thinking about it at all, very sure that we could hold our own with them in that respect. That sounds very much like conceit, I know, but it isn’t really, unless you can call self-assurance conceit. However that may be, I do know that at the lavishly-laid table, in the talk that ensued, Ernie and I entered quite naturally into the conversation. Naturally, everyone asked us questions about America. I can honestly say that we answered all queries as intelligently and truthfully as we knew how — without any shade of self-consciousness. (How could anyone feel self-conscious or shy before such people?) Mrs. Edwards, at whose left I sat, asked me where my home is. When I told her, she exclaimed delightedly — “Oh, Philadelphia! Walnut Street!) She was in Philly abut ten years ago, and evidently has a great regard for the place. In the ensuing conversation, she confided that Mr. Edwards is going to the States shortly to spend a month there on governmental business. She suggested that I leave my address with her, and she would give it to her husband, so that he could call you to say that we had met, etc. I promised I would leave the address before I left, thinking privately at the time that she was only being polite, and would promptly forget it, but — nothing of the kind! When we had finished our tea, we went into the living room and settled ourselves in very comfortable chairs around the inevitable fire-place. Comdr. Bower, who is a conservative, is possessed of a most sarcastic wit, and this he exercised at the expense of the socialist Mr. Edwards. The two M.P.’s indulged in a good-natured bit of give-and-take, and, both being blessed with a keen sense of humor, got a great kick out of poking fun at each other. Comdr. Bower pointed out a very amusing paradox for the edification of Ernie and myself — “It’s a funny thing,” he said, “but Alfred here, who is worth all kinds of money, and is a typical capitalist, represents the working classes, while I, practically a pauper (with a sly wink at the grinning Doctor), represent the moneyed interests!” — And so it went for the next two hours — everyone in the best of spirits, and enjoying himself immensely. Comdr. Bower, who is apparently very close to Mr. Churchill (he refers to him as “Winston”), told us a few amusing anecdotes about him, imitating his well-known lisp and manner of speaking. All in all, it was a most delightful afternoon. So much so, that when I consider the circumstances in retrospect, I have the odd feeling that I must have dreamed it! Just as we rose to take our leave, Mrs. Edwards came to me with a note-book and asked me to jot down your address, and assured me that if it were at all possible, Mr. Edwards would give you a ring. I’m not sure that I got the phone number right (Mic. 8207), but he has the address and name, and should find it handily in the phone book. Just before we got into the car (our host and hostess had come out to see us off), Mr. Edwards asked us to look him up if we ever got in to London, and he would take us in to the House of Commons to see Parliament in session. We thanked him and assured him that we would certainly take advantage of his kind offer if we ever got the opportunity. Arrived back at Meadowcroft, we (the Comdr., Ernie, and I) loafed in the living-room, while the Doctor went off to get the ale, and Mrs. Davies busied herself with getting the table laid for supper. After supper, we all adjourned to the Music Room for what the Davies’ are pleased to call “a musical evening.” It was a most happy time we had from 9 o’clock ’til midnight. Mrs. Davies played the large concert grand piano, while the Doctor sang Welsh folk-tunes in a husky baritone; the Doctor, the Comdr. and Mrs. Davies collaborated to sing some old English “sea-chanties”; Ernie and the Comdr. tried to outdo each other in remembering excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado,” “Gondoliers,” “H.M.S. Pinafore,” and others. No one was the least bit self-conscious, everyone chipped in at the top of his voice whenever the thing being played or sung was familiar, (even the reserved Mrs. Payne chimed in from time to time), and yours very lovingly obliged by contributing the “Londonderry Air” on Judith’s violin to Mrs. Davies piano accompaniment, and generally playing along with anything that was even remotely familiar. The Doctor usually goes to bed at 11:00, and from that time ’til 12:00 kept remarking that it was way past his bed-time, but he was having such a good time that he just couldn’t pull himself away. Finally, we all took pity on the Doctor and called a halt. It was a wonderful way to top off a perfectly wonderful day — one I shall never forget. Just before we turned in, I suggested to Ernie that we take a trip into town and get a nice bouquet for Mrs. Davies as a token of appreciation for her hospitality. He concurred immediately, of course. Accordingly, just after lunch the next day (Monday), we hopped a bus, and were in Middlesbrough within a half hour. We went directly to the Florist that we had noted on our previous excursion into town for lunch with Mrs. Davies and Mrs. Payne. We had our hearts set on roses, but they were only available on a weeks’ notice to London at 10 s. ($2.00) per rose. This, of course, was prohibitive. There was a plentiful stock of daffodils on hand, and they were very attractive, I thought, so we walked out to see if we could find another shop. We hadn’t gone ten steps before we were hailed from across the street. We looked ‘round to see Bill Vickery looking very handsome and British in his tweed suit and cap, striding toward us. When we told him what we were doing in town and of our failure to accomplish anything, he told us to tag along and strode purposefully back into the shop we had just left. Comdr. Vickery’s son is well known and well thought of in these parts, because the woman owner in the shop was most eager to accommodate us when Bill explained what we wanted, and for what purpose. The roses, of course, were still out of the question, but she assured us that she was receiving a fresh stock on the morrow, and that if we would leave everything to her, she would see to it personally that Mrs. Davies received a really worthy bouquet of the nicest flowers that were available. Bill said that would be fine, so Ernie wrote “In sincerest appreciation” on a card to accompany the bouquet, and we each signed it. ( — Which reminds me of a very pleasant side-light that I have neglected to tell you about. Ernie is addressed by everyone as just that “Ernie,” and I, by the same token, am “Philip” to everyone. It is very pleasing, somehow, to hear one’s first name sounded again, especially in the clipped accent of our British friends.) After we had concluded our business at the florist’s, we went along with Bill while he shopped for a shirt and pajamas. Then, he suggested that we stop over to see his father and, perhaps, have a look at the practise-firing range. Comdr. Vickery wasn’t in his office, but his secretary, a WREN officer (corresponding to our own WAVES) received us and arranged for us to be shown the range and the gunnery training facilities. Bill Vickery had an appointment, but he left us in the care of the gunnery instructor, who explained everything very painstakingly. The anti-aircraft range proved to be heaps of fun. It is designed on the same principles as the Fels Planetarium in the Franklin Museum. Motion pictures of dive-bombing enemy aircraft are projected on the concave white plaster ceiling and wall, and the gunners fire a machine gun (electrically) at them. The noise of the diving planes, as well as the gun are faithfully reproduced, and the whole effect is realistic and thrilling. A yellow spot-light shows where the bullets are hitting, so that it is easy to determine whether or not any hits are being scored. After the instructor showed us how to sight in and fire the gun, first Ernie and then I took a crack at it, and did pretty well, if I say so myself. Then we had a go at the E-boat range, which was also a lot of fun. After looking over the large 4-inch and 12 pounder naval guns, and the rocket-firing paraphernalia, we thanked our guide for his trouble, and left. We returned to Meadowcroft about 5:30. Tea was already set out for us, and we pitched right in. Finishing with that, we (Ernie and I) cleared the table and brought the dishes into the kitchen, where I hung around and chatted with Mrs. Davies and Mrs. Payne while they prepared a delicious supper of bacon and fresh poached eggs on fried bread. Did I tell you that Mrs. Davies has nine hens, and tends them herself? She is more than a good cook — she is an authority (no less) on cookery, and, before the war imposed the necessity of keeping her own house, used to broadcast cooking lessons and lecture on dietetics for BBC. She has a degree in Domestic Sciences from the University, and the Doctor is rightfully proud of his “Mabs.” The rest of the evening was spent in the Music Room in quiet talk and relaxation. We somehow got onto the subject of babies, and I told them all about our own big doings about 28–29 Nov./42. I went into great detail, and they all thought it most amusing, especially the trip down to the hospital. — Oh yes, I forgot to tell you — Comdr. Bower had to leave for London while we were in town, so we didn’t get to say good-bye to him, but before he left he told Mrs. Davies to tender us his regrets that he couldn’t see us before he departed and that we must come to his home, “Sizgher Castle,” on our next furlough. Mrs. Davies herself was tremendously impressed that he should ask us, and said as much, and this is why: “Sizgher Castle” is the ancestral home of the Comdr’s wife’s family, the Stricklands. It is situated on a 2000-acre estate in the beautiful “Lake Country,” near Lake Windermere, and is the oldest inhabited castle in England. Moreover, the Stricklands are one of the oldest families in England, and have, down thru the centuries, ever been intimate friends of the Royal families. Well, honey, what do you say to that, eh? Do you wonder that I can’t help feeling I’m dreaming all this? That is the kind of invitation that it would be sheer folly to disregard, and Ernie and I have agreed to visit the Comdr. in May, when we are again due for leaves, if it is at all possible. Well, darling, that just about covers everything. I am writing this in the living-room. The time is just 3:00 P.M., and the date is 27 Feb. We start back to camp tomorrow morning, and I need hardly tell you, Sweet, how we hate to leave Meadowcroft and our friends the Davies’. It has been one of the happiest weeks of my life — I can hardly remember when I have enjoyed myself as much, and will never forget the things I have seen and the people I have met. But the thing that makes it all completely perfect, is the fact that I have been able to communicate something of it all to you via this manuscript. However, baby, I must ask just one favor of you in return. Perhaps you have guessed what it might be — that’s right — please, Chippie, write to: Dr. and Mrs. W. Davies Meadowcroft, Eston Middlesbrough Yorkshire, England Mrs. Davies has said something about writing to you, and she may well do so (I’ll never underestimate her proclivities for getting things done), but she is really a very, very busy woman, and she may not be able to find the time. I know full well, Ev darling, that you are very much in like case, but I do wish you can manage it somehow. I had hoped that I would find time to write some other letters, but I have had to snatch odd moments all week in order to get this written, and I still owe all those letters! It’s very discouraging, Ev, especially when I remember that I’ll be getting back to base at the busiest time of the month for me, and will hardly find time to keep you posted, let alone all the others. I only hope they appreciate my difficulties in this respect, so they can excuse me for my entirely unintentional neglect. My dearest love to you, my sweet, and to my precious Adele, and to Mom, and H & G & Diana, and all the Pallers, and best regards to all our neighbors.
P.S. I’m splitting this among several envelopes in order to get it to you as quickly as possible. Hope they all get there at once. — ’Bye now, darling‚ — here’s a kiss for you, and one for my punkin.
P.P.S. Enclosed is a snapshot showing Mrs. Davies in her garden.
With thanks to Phil’s daughter Marilyn who contacted us recently with this wonderful story.