This blog, amazingly, has quite a few followers now, although hardly anybody ever interacts with me except to click ‘like’ – which, goodness knows, I appreciate – and I honestly have no idea who most of you are, or where you are, or what interests you about some sixty year old letters from a quite unremarkable family. (The few exceptions are a couple of distant relatives who have happened upon information having a bearing on their own family history, and have contacted me directly as a result.)

Most of you haven’t been here from the very beginning, and I didn’t really explain myself fully in the first place, so maybe it would be sensible to take advantage of this brief hiatus in the narrative – while Leonard and Eva are staying at Ruislip with five year old me, my three year old sister, and our parents – to give you a bit of context for this endeavour.

The problem

I started out with six – six – boxes of Fam. Hist. paperwork, plus a box of slides, two old Bibles, and a great deal more. That’s in excess of 300 litres of the stuff, which my online calculation thingy suggests is 0.3 of a cubic metre. My desk runs at about 0.9 of a cubic metre, so you can get the general idea; the volume of stuff I have (or, rather, had) would probably fill a four-drawer filing cabinet.

Even a quick perusal of the material indicated that not all of it was worth keeping. For example, there were paper copies of things that we also had in electronic form, and printouts from online genealogy sources that aren’t going to go away. They were easily dealt with.

One of the Bibles was in very poor condition. It was valuable only for the information it contained. We scanned and saved that and – yes, I admit it! – put the Bible itself in the paper recycling. The other one had been rebound at great expense and is therefore going to have to stay.

Then there was Leonard’s diary of the 1914-18 war – albeit his participation covered only a fraction of that time. It was written in pencil, and the covers were beginning to deteriorate, and it was time for the diaries to have some proper conservation as they were already 100 years old. After due consultation with the younger generations, who didn’t want to take on responsibility for it, we offered the original diary to the Royal Engineers Museum at Chatham and they accepted. There is a story to this, of course, which will be shared later when we start looking at the contents of the diary.

Alec’s QSL cards, however, were another matter. The younglings snapped those up with cries of glee, drooling over some of the Soviet-era artwork, and went off and plotted them all on a map.

But still, there were the letters – almost ten years’ worth of them. They imposed a storage requirement, and the younger generation weren’t remotely interested in them. I was, but I couldn’t see myself hanging onto bundles of paper for the rest of my life. The answer was to think of each letter as having two components – the paper itself, and the information on it. The information was worth keeping, but the paper wasn’t. Therefore the solution was to scan – or, more recently, to dictate – the text, and to shred the letters themselves.

This raises the question of observer bias. If it is not possible to compare the electronic version to the original, there are always going to be opportunities to challenge the electronic version. It may seem unlikely that this would happen in the case of some relatively benign and unimportant family correspondence, but unfortunately there are some living relatives who subscribe to a revisionist version of history – and, specifically, to The Narcissist’s Prayer:

That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
And if it is, that’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did, you deserved it.

The obvious response to this would of course be to keep the originals and make them available if ever the remaining family demand to see them, but life is too short – and they will only believe what they already want to believe anyway, whatever the evidence presented.

Thus, this blog – and its many backups – and the determined effort to reduce the volume of storage required by gradually disposing of all unnecessary items. There will still be plenty left over at the end, but hopefully if everything is stored in electronic form it will be less important if the originals end up in a skip somewhere at some future date.

Parts of this family’s story are interesting and parts are not. In future decades probably nobody will care if Leonard grew 285 lbs (130 kg) of runner beans in a single summer, or what he paid for his car repairs; however Alec’s experience of British Rail during the Beeching Purge may be of interest, and Leonard’s war diary has already added to the sum of human knowledge. It all goes together, the good and the bad, the relevant and the irrelevant; that’s just the way life works, and that’s why I’m not editing anything or making any selections. You, as the reader, will decide what is important to you; my job is simply to transmit the information.

And that, in a nutshell, is the answer to the question ‘Why?’

We now return you to your advertised programming, and thank you for watching this infomercial!


Dramatis Personae

Here are the characters who move in and out of Alec’s 1944 diary entries:

Alec second left.

Alec fourth left.

I like to think that the chap with the raffish moustache (above) and the pipe (below) may be Chas, but I have no information either way.

I’ve pondered over whether or not the older man with the glasses, far left in the top picture and centre in the lower one, might be Alec’s father Leonard. There is a distinct resemblance, but these pictures were taken at Paddington and there’s no real reason for Leonard to have been included as he worked out of Bristol Temple Meads. I also don’t think this man is tall enough to be Leonard, so on balance I suspect it isn’t him.

I’m also rather hoping the carriage in the background may be the famed ‘Adelina Patti’s Railway Carriage‘ in which Alec worked at about this time, and it certainly has a resemblance to it, but there isn’t enough information to be certain. At any rate there were a great many old railway carriages repurposed as office space at Paddington, and the one in the picture is certainly one of that number rather than a passenger carriage in current use.

The next post will upload on Wednesday 24 April 2019 at 06.00.

But there’s more …

Although there are no further daily entries in Alec’s diary there is other miscellaneous information present. For example, turning the book upside-down reveals that a section has been torn out. Some pages are headed up with station/depot names, to wit:

Bull’s Pill, Cadoxton, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Cathays, Cheltenham, Chester, Chippenham, Crewe, Didcot, Dudley, Exeter, Felin Fran*, Fishguard Hbr., Gloucester, Hanwell B[roadway], Hayes & H[arlington], Hereford.

*Felin Fran is at Llansamlet, Swansea.

Elsewhere there is a list of Bowling Results from 1951 recording matches against Harlington, Watford, 1st and 2nd Floor, Streatham Vale, Wembley R.A.F.A., Audit, Harlington (again), Slough, Lensbury, Old Actonians, Hogarth, Signalmen, Hoares Bank, Hewson Mec (possibly http://www.hewson-consulting.com/) and B.O.A.C.

There are two pages of money calculations which appear to involve estimated and actual pay, although it’s impossible to tell for what year.

Lastly, on the ‘Gloucester’ page, the following appears:

Docks Branch Up & Down Road. 3 Roads Double End Up Side. 4 Roads Stop Blocks. 4 Roads Double End Down Side. Pilot Both Ends. Trips Engines first to Down Rd – Back Out to Up Road. Serves Honeybourne, Banbury and Colliery Rds to Lydney Drybrook Coleford Etc. Also 7.50 p.m. Glos. Rogerstone 8.45 p.m. Glos to Llanelly [sic]. Sidings on Docks. Castle Meads. Llanthony Sdgs. On Up Road to Docks – Dn Rd to Over Sdgs.

And that, as the saying goes, is ‘all he wrote’ – although there is plenty more written material in existence this, temporarily, is where we leave Alec.

Next post Saturday 20 April at 06.00 UK time.

Sunday 16th April, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Cycled to Yatton in morning, caught 8.15 a.m. train to Bristol did work on transfers till 12.0 nn then caught 12.40 p.m. Arrived home 2.0 p.m. Did not go out in afternoon. To Salthouse with John in evening then home to bed 10.30 p.m.

On this anticlimactic note the diary ends, and at a later point the following note has been added:

No further Diary entries for 1944.

Part Diary for 1945, Complete Diary for 1946 and Part Diary for 1947 and 1948 in existence somewhere.

This would be nice if true, but no trace of these additional diaries has ever been found – nor are they likely to surface now, alas.

Wednesday 12th April, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Caught 6.30 a.m. train. Gordon on same. Picked up Sid at West Depot thence got as far as East Depot by 3.40 p.m. Saw Hill then home on 5.15 p.m. Donald waiting at station so came home with me. Made myself smart then Doug called round. Last Day for him now as far as I am concerned so decided to go for a drink. Sold out at the Salthouse so left Doug who has an appointment in the London [sic]* and cycled up to the Old Inn at East Clevedon. Had a couple then went to see what sort of a mess Mr Ching has made of my bike (motor). Rather good. From there we went to see Gordon but he was out so went home for an hour then I went to bed.

*This sounds as if it’s a pub, hotel, or cafe, but I’ve been unable to trace it so far. It certainly couldn’t be an appointment ‘in London’ or the wording would have been different. (‘who had to catch the X o’clock train’, for example.) And it was clearly the last day Alec would be seeing Doug, rather than Doug’s actual last day.

Tuesday 11th April, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Caught 8.0 a.m. train for Bristol T.M. Found No. 13 at Wapping and likely to leave so had cup of coffee with the lads and caught 9.0 a.m. back to West Depot. No. 13 not about so rang up Mr Ritchins who says now not likely to leave Wapping for some time. Caught light engine to Ashton Sidings and walked from there into Wapping. Relieved Sid Derrick, thence to Depot with Canons M. Arrived 1.25 p.m. at signal 3.45 p.m. in Yard. Guard refused to take train any further so engine to shed and Alec to Centre for 4.15 bus. John and bro. round in evening but felt so tired could not do credit to the music. They left about 9.0 p.m. so read book for a bit and then went to bed.

Monday 10th April, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Donald came round at 9.30 a.m. so we set out for Portishead to see Mr & Mrs Pearce. Called on them at Angle House, Slade Road. Mr & Mrs Combshaw there as well. Had quite a chat till 11.30 a.m. then went down to boating pool to see Mr Pearce. Cycled back home arriving 1.30 p.m.

In afternoon Donald and I faked up a three speed toggle for the bike from one of his old trouser clips, a piece of brake cable and a spot of solder. It works OK although it misses in top now and then.

In evening cycled out to Congresbury calling at the Bridge Inn. Came back across the moors from Yatton, quite a good ride and dead straight roads. Had chin wag for an hour or so then bed.