Ships That Pass In The Night -8

Here is another entry from the diary my mum and her sisters kept while they lived in a little village outside Cambridge during the war. They were teenagers, and very excited by the young soldiers stationed nearby before being sent abroad to fight for their country.

23rd October – 1st November 1940

Leslie Chadwick  184965     Aged 23 years.     Home:- Blackpool.
Alexander Southward  86409. 14′ December 1918.   Home Glasgow.
Alexander Williamson  –        Home Glasgow.
157 (L) Field Ambulance. R.A.S..C.
Stationed: – The Garage, Harston.

We met Alex and Leslie at a dance in Harston Village Hall on the 23rd October. Although we have been to many dances before and since, this was certainly the most lively it has been our good fortune to attend. How breathless we were after the Eightsome Reel! Oh why didn’t they hold another dance before they left the village?

Alex is Scottish and at first we had difficulty in understanding what he said. He was an Assistant Scout Master and in civil life a watchmaker.

Leslie, who in civil life was a lorry driver, came from Blackpool and was a “real good sort!” In fact, they both were.

On 26′ October, in the evening, we three saw the boys outside Cory’s Garage and some-one sort of suggested that Leslie daren’t take the oil-can home. (Beryl and Monica had been to Bass’ for paraffin.) But daren’t he? He did! The other Alex went with him and they nearly collapsed when they got to the back door, because Father, who was at home on leave, greeted them. They told Mother all sorts of yarns about having found the oil can and then fled back to the Garage where we still were.


We took them and Alex, back home with us to supper and they came every evening after that until they left the village.

On the 26th October, Audrey and Alex went to the pictures to see Deanna Durbin in “It’s a Date.” The next evening Monica went with Stanley (billeted with Mrs Wisby) to see the same film, and Audrey and Beryl were taken by three boys to an E.N.S.A. concert in the village hall, which was very good.

We had a sort of farewell party on the 30th October when Leslie insisted on bringing their “rations” – salmon sandwiches and cakes!

On Thursday 31st October, their last evening, Leslie told our fortunes, past, present and future, by cards. The past and present were very true. How about the future? We shall see.

Alex often writes to Audrey,we have had two letters from Leslie, and they both sent a very nice calendar to Mother at Christmas.

May Good Fortune always attend you!

Audrey continued to write to Alex and I will post more of their friendship later.

Ships That Pass In The Night -7

I’ve been sharing the entries from a diary my mum and her sisters kept during the war, of their experiences as teenagers meeting young soldiers not much older than they were, stationed nearby before being sent abroad.

14th – 25th September 1940

Harold Leonard Scott    Date of birth – 31st August 1918
Middlesex Yeomanry.   Despatch Rider.
Home :- Croydon
Stationed:- Newton Hall

Monica and Audrey went to  dance at Newton on the 14th September. What gad-abouts we are getting! it was here that Audrey met Bill. Such a tal (6′ 2″) good looking boy; he didn’t look more than 19years old and when Audrey got home she accused herself of baby-snatching!

He and Jack (who was in the Signals and whom we also met at this dance) came to tea on Sunday, the 15th September. Bill was a real “handy-man;” this first time he came he mended the drawing-room door lock. In civil life he was an accountant working for a firm in Golden Square, London.

Bill came over by himself to supper on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday, 21st September, Monica and Audrey went to another dance at Newton and Bill then promised to come to tea the next day, Sunday.He didn’t turn up and we began to think he had gone away, when he came on the Tuesday evening and then again on Wednesday. It was on Wednesday, he arranged to come early on the Friday, but the next morning Thursday, a Corporal came to the door with a message for Audrey from Bill, saying he had been chosen as an advance guard and left Newton at 9 o’clock that morning, but that he would write to her. He has not done so and we have heard no more of him.

What’s happened Bill?

The girls with their parents, Reg and Ida Matthews

What delightful times we always have at the Newton Dances! We think we would just like to remember “the Liverpool Fellow” “the Doormouse” and “Granny.” We do not know their real names so as usual gave them nick-names. They helped us to enjoy ourselves at many dances, and it was fun knowing them.

Who knows what happened to Bill; I found records of  a Harold Scott’s death in 1942, and another in 1945, both were corporals, but neither were in the Middlesex Yeomanry. I cannot find Bill in other death notices either so maybe he emigrated? Who knows! I get the feeling that Audrey really liked Bill; they knew him for such a brief time but she was obviously struck by his good looks and was anxious that he just disappeared.

Audrey makes two little spelling mistakes in this entry – despatch and doormouse (dormouse); she usually was an impeccable speller all through her life!

Although an exciting time, and fun, it must have been emotionally quite chaotic for these young women… they certainly had a freedom which they would not have had under other circumstances with strict parents, and to have met up with these dashing young men, to find friendship and affection for them and then for them which would end when they were  torn away by war.

Ships that pass in the night – 6

Here is another entry from the diary my mum and her sisters kept between 1940-42, chronicling the adventures they had – all totally innocent, with the young soldiers stationed in their village before leaving to go to fight for their country:

29’ June – 2nd July 1940

Reginald J Harry 232496 Date of birth – 18’ June 1919
52nd Lowland Div., Royal Corps of Signals. Wireless Engineer
Home: – Ealing.
Stationed: – The Garage, Harston.

Reg was actually in the village a week and Beryl and Monica met him three times, but he was not brought home to be introduced.

About six days after he left Harston, Beryl and Monica were very surprised to receive a letter from him and letters were frequently then passed between he and Beryl. On the 24th August he borrowed a motor bike and came over to see her. This was the day we had been on the river with Fred & Co., as described in the previous chapter and Reg met us off the boat. To say Beryl was surprised to see him, is putting it mildly. To quote her own words “but as with all our other “ships,” we never dreamed we’d see him again.”

He also came over on 26th August and the 1st September and interspersed his visits with letters.

He once bet Beryl his bottom dollar she couldn’t write him a 100 page letter, and did she accept the challenge? She was so short of news by page 75 that she started telling him her life story, but she managed the 100! Fifty sheets of school exercise paper written both sides. What a pen! Her reward for this was not the bottom dollar but a large box of Black Magic, received on the 26th September.


Beryl has written to him many times since, but has received only one letter, written from Hospital on the 6th October, in which he said he had met with an accident and would she write to him. We are rather afraid something has happened to him as we have heard nothing more.

Reg was a regular soldier who joined up on the 31st March 1937. Having lived in Canada for several years, he had a slight Canadian accent.

We hope you are alright, Reg!

With a fairly uncommon combination of names I was able to find both Reg’s birth, in Devonport, Devon, and his passing away in 1998 in Truro, Cornwall.  His middle name was James and I cannot find a marriage for him, but there was a Reginald G Harry married in Tavisto

Ships That Pass In The Night – 5

I’m sharing a series of diary entries my mum and her sisters made during the war:

10th August – 2nd September 1940 (L. – 11′ Sep)

Leslie Gould                     Home:- Swansea
Fredrick Charles —     Home:- Romford
Fredrick Cobbett.
182nd Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.
Stationed: – Pinehurst, Harston

We all three went to a dance in Harston Village Hall on 10th August and met the Legionnaire, Tall Fred and Howard. More fun!

The Legionnaire (who was a C.O.) was a tall Cub-Master before being called up. Beryl and Monica gave him this nick-name as they thought he looked rather fierce and just the type for the French Foreign legion.

Tall Fred had a very attractive smile. He was about the tallest soldier we had met so far, hence the adjective. It was after this dance that Beryl, who thought she was walking home with the Legionnaire, kept talking about Tall Fred whom she hadn’t properly met and asking who he was, arrived at the gate, to her dismay (or delight?) she found she had been walking home with Fred not Leslie!

Howard, who was a ship’s barber in civil life, got his nick-name because he was so very like a cousin of ours of this name. He was actually another Fred. The Army seems over-run with them (Freds we mean)

We also went to another dance on 17th August, but didn’t really know them, apart from having met them at the previous dance.

On the 24th August when Rose Bowyer was staying with us, we four girls and three boys spent an afternoon on the river in Cambridge We had a punt, took sandwiches for tea and had a grand time.

Punting on the River Cam; Audrey, a friend, and a soldier

It was unfortunate that Leslie, who had been so good all the afternoon, while the other two boys had been trying to sink the punt by “rocking” it should fall in. He was trying to get on the bank from the boat when the latter wasn’t moored and it just sailed from under him and in he went! He was rather wet and came home for a hot bath and supper, but before getting home there were more adventures!

Three small boys in another punt spent the afternoon following our boat and trying to sink it. It was getting late and we were afraid of missing the bus home as all our efforts to return downstream were thwarted by these boys. Then Fred had an idea. He leapt from our punt to theirs, got hold of their mooring rope, then leapt on to the bank and there he sat holding their boat fast while we hurriedly paddled downstream.

Monica and a soldier boy on the River Cam in the summer sunshine

When we were well on our way and out of reach of our tormentors, Fred let go of their rope (after having suffered much splashing from the boys) ran along the bank and rejoined us some hundred yards further down. Fred certainly saved us from missing our bus.

Leslie used to come in most evenings and one afternoon, the 8′ September, he took Monica on the river at Cambridge in a rowing boat. The other two never actually came to the house.

We saw Tall Fred on 12′ October when the convoy he was in paused for refreshment at the Old English Gentleman. We just had time to say “Hullo” and “Goodbye.”

A safe and happy voyage through life, lads!

What a wonderful time the girls must have had; as intelligent young women and with a brother serving in the RAF, they must have listened anxiously to the BBC news on the wireless, and read the reports from the Front in the newspaper, but they were young, and lovely and enjoying their life!  

The confusion of Beryl over the identity of the young soldier who walked her home is understandable because it would have been a black-out, no street lights, no lights allowed from windows, it really would have been very, very dark! Going on the river was a regular and common thing for Cambridge folk… forget the University, they are ‘gown’ think of us Cantabrigians, we’re ‘town’!

The photos were actually taken the following year, the summer of 1941, and I don’t know the identity of the young man paddling them along!

Ships That Pass In The Night – 4

I am reposting entries from a dairy that my mum and her sisters kept during the war:

13th July – 1st August 1940

Jack Parker   Aged 20 years Home: – Croydon
Stephen –                                      Home: – Croydon
Fred –                                              Home: – Croydon
182nd Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.
Stationed: – The Drift Harston.

13th July. The first soldiers’ dance to be held in Harston Village Hall! What excitement when we went! There were crowds of soldiers and girls and the dance was a great success.

We went to another dance again the following week and it was here that we met Johnnie, Steve and little Freddie. Nice boys, all of them. We invited them home to supper after the dance and also went to a dance with them the following Saturday.

On Monday 29th July, Audrey went with Johnnie to a dance at Newton; he was the pianist and a  very good one too.

In civil life, Johnnie was a clerk for a Radio firm and had been in the Army for about seven months (he was called up) but we don’t know Steve or Freddie’s professions although the former was a crooner.

We didn’t say Goodbye to them as we were busy all week with the Guides collecting vegetables for the troops on their last evening here, and didn’t see them as we went through the village.

Good luck to you, boys!

The girls in their Guide uniforms several years before in 1937, Monica, Audrey, Beryl

R.AM.C. was the Royal Army Medical Corps (which coincidentally my Dad Donald was in during the war) The dances would be very innocent affairs, starting and finishing early; music might be played on a gramophone or there might be a musician like Johnnie the pianist. Newton was the next village to Harston, hence Newton View where the Matthews lived. The Girl Guides and Boy Scouts played their part in the War Effort, as Audrey tells us here.

The Harston Guides parading from the memorial erected to honour the fallen of the First World War

Ships that pass in the night – 3

My mum and her sisters kept a diary during the war; a few years ago I shared the entries they made:

In the early years of the war, my grandmother and her daughters, my mum and her sisters, were very kind and hospitable to the young soldiers stationed near their village of Harston. Alan, the oldest in the family was int RAF, and although grandpa had enlisted despite being fifty, he was at home and he too was glad to welcome these lads.

My mum and aunties kept a diary which they called ‘Ships that pass in the night’, recording the visits of these young men who were soon to be posted away.

9th – 26th June 1940
Noel Francis Bone  L/C   Aged 22 years
2nd London Div. Royal Corps of Signals
Home: – London
Stationed: – Pinehurst, Harston

On the evening of 9th June 1940, a few hours after Tony met with his accident, Bob introduced us to Noel, about whom we had heard a great deal. We were also introduced to George, the sword used when in the Life Guards and now kept in his car, and the buckoo, the hooter on the car. These boys had just been into Cambridge to the Hospital to enquire after Tony, who was still unconscious.

Noel also came in to supper each evening and kept us amused with an endless store of jokes and tales. Who would have thought that before the war he was at College studying for the Church! He volunteered on the outbreak of war.

At about 7:30p.m. on the 18th of June when Alan was home on leave, Bob and Noel came in. Alan remarked that he had wanted to go over to Pavenham, but hadn’t been able to and Noel immediately offered there and then to take us all over in his car. It was great! Three girls and three boys in one tiny sports car! We got to Pavenham at about 9:0 o’clock, spent 10 minutes with the Russells and then homeward bound for Harston.

Bob and Noel were supposed to be in by 10:15 p.m. and unfortunately coming home we lost the way (the invasion scare was fresh and there were no sign-posts about) and found ourselves in Brampton instead of St Neots where we had hoped we were. Did we break the speed limit? Gosh, it was a race! 90 miles in three hours in an overloaded car! The tyres of the car were absolutely burning hot! Noel stopped at Caxton Gibbet and bought us each a hot pork pie and then for the last lap of the journey. The road was barricaded at Lord’s Bridge, but after producing Identity Cards and making eyes at the Guard, we were allowed to pass. We arrived home at 10:45 p.m. What an exciting evening! Luckily the boys did not get into any trouble for being late.

Beryl and Noel spent the evening of the 21st June looking over the Churches in the district. Beryl was also fond of feeding Noel with cherries. He opened his mouth and she shot them in!

We said Goodbye to Noel on the 25th June, as we thought he was leaving with the rest of the company early next morning, but he was one of the rear guard and didn’t actually leave until 26th June, so we said our farewells to him twice over, the last time on 25th June.

We have not heard from him since – although he has now joined another unit, and we hope he has succeeded in getting a commission, for which he was trying.

What a  nice chap! We would like to meet him when he’s a parson. We know he’d be great!

12th May 1942 Great excitement today! Noel called in for about half an hour! only Mother was at home, but she heard all his news. He has had another nervous breakdown and been invalided out of the Army; he is now trying to get into the R.A.F. as a pilot. Happy landings, Noel! We wish we had been all been home to see you again.

6th October 1957 Noel called in for ten minutes! Mother, Beryl and children were here to welcome him. He is now a minister and was on his way to a Campaign Meeting in Cambridge. So nice to see him!

Considering that these soldiers knew the family for such a short time – Noel and Bob were only stationed in Harston for less than three weeks, they must have made a great impression for these young men to stay in touch over the years. Pavenham is a Bedforshire village where the family lived before their move to Harston and they always had most happy and fond memories of it; as children, my cousins and I were taken for picnics in the meadows by the river there.

I can just imagine all these young people jammed in the tiny sports car racing through the summer evening as the dusk turned to dark. How casually they mention the fear of invasion… people really did fear that the German army would invade Britain which is why all the sign posts were taken out and the roads barricaded. How delicious the pork pies must have tasted – the pies are made with a hot water crust which forms a hard casing round the spicy pork filling…

Caxton Gibbet is a hamlet on the site of an old gibbet; the original gallows has long since disappeared but a replacement stands on the old site. According to family legend, an Elsden was the last man to be hanged there for highway robbery… The youngsters would have felt invulnerable against any ghosts, armed with their youth and Noel’s sword George… the Life Guards by the way is the most senior regiment of the British Army, a mounted regiment who look magnificent in their plumed helmets and brilliantly polished breastplates.

Ships That Pass in the Night … 2

Having shared a diary my dad and his friend kept while on holiday in 1937, I’m now reposting some entries from a diary my mum and her sisters kept during the war:

My mum and her sisters kept a diary during the early years of the war, recording the young soldiers stationed near their home in the village of Harston, who their mother invited to tea. The sisters were only young at the outbreak of the war, 13, 15 and 19, their brother was in the RAF and their father fifty had joined up again to serve his country.

Here is an extract from their diary:

6th-24th June 1940
Robert Smith,   2573726   aged 18years
2nd London Div., Royal Corps of Signals.
Home:- Cardiff.
Stationed: – Pinehurst, Harston

On the evening of the 6th June 1940, Beryl and Monica were standing at the gate when a soldier came along and said “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” The girls were rather surprised at this form of address, but after chatting with him for some minutes decided he had. This was Bob. The first soldier we knew.

The Matthews girls, Beryl, Audrey, Monica

Learning he had spent most of the winter in France and was invalided home after a motor cycle accident there, Mother invited him for supper that evening and after that he just lived here, and really made it his second home. We were very glad to welcome him. He used to come in each evening for supper and on Sundays for sinner, tea and supper, and a sleep on Sunday afternoon.

We had told Bob we never heard the sirens when they sounded and about 11 o’clock on the night after we met him, when we were all in bed we heard a scrunching of stones on the drive and tramping of Army boots and there stood Bob, come to tell us the warning had gone.

We all hung out of the bedroom window chatting to him until the “All Clear”. Fortunately it was a short warning and a warm night, otherwise we might all have caught cold, being robed only in our night attire. We only hope he didn’t notice our hair curlers!

Bob was a territorial and was called up before the outbreak of war. In civil life he was taking an engineering course at a Technical School.

We didn’t actually say Goodbye to Bob, as the whole Company left at about 7 o’clock one morning and we didn’t know he was going until about 10 o’clock on the previous evening, but we were all at the gate early that morning and waved his Goodbye as he went off on his motor cycle.

Bob often writes to us and we are always glad to hear from him.

This is so charming and sweet; Bob was only 18 and already he had served in France. You can imagine how glad he was to be in a family, the only contact with his own would have been through letters and that’s not the same as sitting round after Sunday lunch and having a snooze before tea! I can just imagine the young girls, 20, 16 and 15 with their heads stuck out the window talking to the nice young Welsh man on the drive, and then the poignancy of watching him wave as he rode away to an uncertain future.