Tuesday 14th March, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Got up at 10.0 a.m. Played Clarry till 11.0 a.m. Walked to station for 11.10 a.m. thence to Bristol to meet gangs. To club for lunch with John. Saw Alec Campbell. Hill came in with Dad. Held conference till 1.45 p.m.then packed Chas. off to Stoke Giffod with Mr Wilmot. Had a haircut then helped Mr Hill with Friary till 4.15 p.m. caught 4.40 p.m. Bristol. Home near 6.15 p.m. Home Guard at 8.0 p.m. then home again at 9.30 p.m.


Sunday 12th March, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Got up at 9.30 a.m. Went to Home Guard. Understand Brian Wise now in Navy. Chad Jones promoted Corporal. Home at 1.30 p.m. with Clarinet, Jack Bentley lending same. To Portishead with John and his people in afternoon. Home at 5.0 p.m. Tea then John came round at 6.30 p.m. Demonstrated Clarry for his benefit. Seem to get on OK with this one. To Salthouse in evening then for a walk with John and Margaret. Home at 9.30 p.m. Read then bed.

Friday 3rd March, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Arrived at 8.10 a.m. Charles gone but hand lamp and forms left loose in van. Fire gone out. Unable to get a good fire going all day. John took my case to station in morning and relieved me at 3.0 p.m. Chased into Plymouth. First part of 3.50 p.m. already gone so went into refreshment room for a snack. Got in van with guard as far as Taunton. Slept from Exeter. Another snack at Taunton then picked up 6.35 p.m. Taunton to Yatton. Dad on Clevedon train. Arrived ‘Devonia’ at 8.30 p.m. Cedric and John already in occupation. Hurried through meal and joined them. Music till 10.30 p.m.

Some solutions found!

In an effort to trace the ‘Baby Imperial’ and the ‘Lord John Malcolm’ as mentioned in Alec’s diary, I got in touch with the Wembury Local History Society via their Facebook page and asked if any of their members could help.

Within hours, back came an extraordinarily comprehensive response from information provided by one of their members, Chris Robinson, which I have their permission to quote in full:

The Baby Imperial was located at 47 Cobourg Street while the Lord John Malcolm was 27 Russell Street.

Western Morning News, July 1st 1944

ANZIO MEETING : Mr. Carroll Levis And Plymouth Friend

Mr. Carroll Levis, who has just arrived back in London from an ENSA tour, which lasted six months although it was originally booked for three, had a great thrill when he met old Plymouth friend at the Anzio beachhead. This was Maj. Ted Taylor, the proprietor of the Lord John Malcolm Cafe, Russell-street, Plymouth. Many a time after giving a show at the Palace Mr. Levis would slip across to Maj. Taylor’s cafe in peacetime, and the two have been friends for many years. It was a tremendous surprise to him to meet Maj. Taylor at Anzio just nine days before the Fifth and Eighth Armies linked up. The two had dinner together at ‘Ted’s Tavern,’ which is Maj. Taylor’s mess, and which has a sign outside reading, ‘Ted’s Tavern Fully Licensed.’ Mr. Levis had given nine shows that day the troops. Maj. Taylor presented him with a souvenir the occasion – an ashtray made out of shell.

This is wonderful stuff, and it’s the sort of thing that makes family history so fascinating. Alec’s diary for 1944 ends long before Anzio, I’m afraid, or it would have been fun to imagine him eating at the Lord John Malcolm Cafe at exactly the moment when Ted Taylor and Carroll Levis renewed their acquaintance.

My grateful thanks to the Wembury Local History Society and to Chris Robinson for their help.

Sunday 27th February, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Got up at 10.30 a.m. got my own wireless going again for new forces programme. Not too bad. Punch returned trumpet in person at 10.0 a.m. did not see him. Did not go to Home Guard. Far too weary foot giving trouble. John Kay and Cedric came round at 3.30 p.m. Had chat and changed them some more books. Went to Salthouse in evening usual crew there. Cleared out at 8.0 p.m. Listened to Radio until bed time.

Saturday 19th February, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Caught the 9.10 a.m. by the skin of my teeth. Met Kay and a girl called Ruth. Have seen her about, bit of a nurse.* Latter came all way to Bristol. No message from Mr Hill all the morning. Mr Gillett rang up about 11.0 a.m. but could tell him nothing. Caught 12.15 p.m. home. Met Cedric at Clevedon. Cycled home. Kiddle** put off my appointment. Am annoyed. Went to King’s for a hair cut have a rotten cold. Went down for Johnny. Met Cedric and Kay on the way. More music. Went home at 4.40 p.m. to pictures in evening. Had seen both films, Arabian Nights and Frozen Limits with the Crazy Gang. To the Salthouse at 9.15 p.m. with Cedric and Kay. Home at 10.0 p.m.

*This sort of condescending comment is one of the reasons I’m glad not to have known Alec as a young man, although thirty years later he still thought a woman’s purpose was to marry, have babies and look after her husband. Being ‘a bit of a nurse’ in wartime is not the negligible attribute he seems to have considered it. Thank you, Ruth, whoever you are/were.

**Although evidence is so far lacking, I assume Kiddle was his dentist.

Wednesday 16th February, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Woke up and read in bed until 10.0 a.m. Got up and played piano and read till 11.30 a.m. Dinner then went out to catch 12.23 p.m. for Taunton. Met Pete Elve on the way, talking to a crowd of chaps. Walked back to the station with him. Met [illegible] Cook in train. Met Guard Steer on Yatton platform also Mr Ralph who installed me in the foreman’s room by the fire. [Presumably it was raining.] Says young Hatch from Clevedon is in goods office at Yatton. Good worker. Got to Taunton 3.05 p.m. Dry. Relieved Chas. Very busy for most of evening. Many trains through-runners. John arrived 9.0 p.m. when I was out left his case and returned at 10.15 p.m. Mr Aplin Yardmaster gave us the use of his office which has wireless, electric fire and gadget at left hand side for opening door. Went back to digs at 10.15 p.m. Supper at 11.00 p.m. then bed.

Thursday 10th February, 1944

Alec’s diary continues:

Caught 8.43 a.m. Paid for paper and cigarettes. Finished off Laira first day and started on second. Paid for buns at 10.00 a.m. John bought coffee. Lunch at club then to Whiteley’s no glasses yet. Bought a couple of books. Had tea at 3.30 p.m. John bought same. Mr Gillett did not come out. Caught 5.5 p.m. stayed in and listened to Buddy Featherstonehaugh and Orchestra. Played One O’clock Jump, Muskrat Ramble, and George Chisholm joined in with the blues. John sang, rather a good voice. No siren.

Meet Alec

Alec in 1944

This is where we start, with Alec Donald William Atkins, born on 28 June 1922 in Keynsham. We meet him here as a young man of 22, skinny and bespectacled, kept out of military service by colour-blindness. He was an only child, and at the time of the first diary entry he was working at the Traffic Analysis Department, Traffic (E), Superintendent of the Line’s Division, Paddington, W2. He seems to have been lodging somewhere in London with a Mrs Stone – she turns up in later entries – during the week, and going home to his parents at Clevedon, near Bristol, at weekends. His diary isn’t very exciting, for the most part, but here and there he includes some fascinating details and insights into his life.

[I intend to retain his punctuation, or lack of it, unless I find it annoys me too much!]

February 6th 1944 – Sunday

Gordon called before I got up returning trumpet. Went to Home Guard in morning. Did not change or go out in afternoon. John called round at 2.30 p.m. and again at 7.00 p.m. Went to Salthouse and met our Yankee friend. Packed up at 9.30 p.m. place getting too crowded.

Since heard goods broke away in Box Tunnel.