Jul 221936

Limedale Road, Liverpool 18
My dear Stella,
Funny, thinking of you and missing you so much, yet here I am in a hurry to catch the post. You seem ever so happy. I was afraid you would find time hanging, being so accustomed to a busy life! It is lovely for me to think of you and Mollie together so much, that is why I would not be a third party, specially as I have had my days. Yes, Mr and Mrs Harris are a lovable couple. I knew you would like them. Do give them my love. It is amazing about the cats – how they know a cat lover, but they certainly do.
Life here is as usual but very dull and sad without you. I don’t know how I am going to manage at all. Monday eve I was all alone, still I did not mind as there were heaps of jobs to keep me occupied. Down I came from your attic with curtains to wash etc, when in came the Howards. I was sorry because talking is trying, but I put on a good smile and tried. They were in a nasty mood. I got a lecture about Hal. It appears they know a couple of wealthy mothers whose boys started in factories, rock bottom and they worked their way up etc. As for Hal going away – well, I should let him go and think of myself for a change. Aren’t people a blessed nuisance, as though I was continually refusing jobs for Hal, and why do they come along and worry one about an anxiety one tries to hide.
I enclose letter from Shrewsbury. They do seem kind and you will reply, won’t you? I am glad you are taking food at convent hours, it is so much less trouble. Let me know when you are coming home, dear. Give my love to your other mother, Sister of the Heart of Mary, and love to Rev. Mother and gratitude for her kindness to you. Love from all at home, specially from

Sep 121936

Limedale Road, Liverpool
My darling Stella,
Dismiss all notions of my feeling bitter. My uppermost feeling is agonising pity for what you have passed through – without me.
I cannot tell you how to act until I have talked with you, but I think that eventually you must tell your Editor with regrets that you were already married and now you must retire for a while. I cannot rest knowing you are taking risks for yourself and the little one trying to hold the job down.
Darling you must come home. You know I am with you now as before – “Backs to the wall and to blazes with everyone.” My heart aches to see you and have you but am too shaky to venture to you tomorrow.
Everyone here all right, nothing but sympathy and wanting to help. Meanwhile, until I see you no one is to be told outside the house. Stella, do come soon, I am ill for wanting you.
Tell Arthur I shall keep mum, but he should tell his mother right away. You must NOT try to carry on. BURN THIS.
More love than ever,

Sep 141936

My dear Stella,
I received your letter and went along to Limedale. I was there by 9am, just in time for breakfast.
Now, my dear, your mother is bearing up very bravely indeed, and her chief thought is for your comfort and welfare. So don’t worry too much, will you? It is remarkable how these things straighten themselves out.
I spent the day on Saturday with your mother. After dinner I suggested we went on the road to do some shopping. We had an ice, and when I left her at 5 o’clock she seemed much brighter. I will call in again very soon and if I can will try and get her to come to the pictures.
Well, old girl, I wish you both all the best after the very rotten time you must have had. So take great care of yourself and try not to worry too much.
If there is anything I can do, don’t be afraid to ask me. So keep smiling and God bless you.
Yours very sincerely,

Sep 231936

The Shrewsbury Chronicle Ltd
Dear Miss Gregson,
Your letter came as a great surprise to me, for I had no idea you were in Liverpool and could not make out what had happened to you on Monday. I very much regret the circumstances that have made it necessary for you to tender your resignation, and hope that after a rest you will be completely restored to health.
Yours faithfully,
E Sloane

Oct 031936

The Shrewsbury Chronicle Ltd
Dear Miss Gregson,
You must be aware that in resigning without notice and giving us no information whatever with regard to the work you had in hand you have caused us very serious inconvenience.
Your letter states that you acted as you did on medical advice, but up to the present we have received no proof of this in the form of a doctor’s certificate. Unless this evidence is forthcoming we shall have no option but to submit a claim for four weeks’ salary in lieu of notice.
Yours faithfully,
E. Sloane

Nov 011936

Carmelite Convent, Reading
My dear Stella,
I am going to take you at your word, my “helpless baby sister”, and exercise the privileges of one who put you to sleep when you were quite small, who took you out in your pram, and who held your head when you had bilious attacks. My baby! The world pivoted round my baby! A great deal of my world does that still. At one period, when you could just manage a spoon, Mother used to prepare a cornflour pudding for you, warm and sweet. I fed you with the spoon. It was a great feature of the day. Every mouthful had to have a story. A letter for the post, and you would open your mouth. So the plate was emptied. It would have been much easier for me to have eaten the pudding myself, but that would not have fattened you. I could bear the spoon to your mouth, but you had to open your mouth and swallow the food.
So now, my precious, I can pray for grace for you. God has prepared it for you and allowed me to bring it near you, but I cannot act for you, you must do that yourself. Grace awaits you, but YOU must receive it.
You must know, deep inside you, that my anxiety about you is much more serious than you say. You know that your action is a grave sin, are you purposely “begging the point”, have you been to confession yet? That is the anxiety that breaks my heart, an anxiety that never leaves me. It is practically five months now, and are you still living out of grace? If I was there with you at this moment I would take you by the arm and run you round to Our Lady’s Church, then when we were in the presbytery reception room, I would say to Father McAuley, “This girl has come to have a serious talk with you, Father. Now I will just go round to the church and say my prayers. Get on with it, Stella!”
There again – you have the spoon, I could not go further than that, the rest is your action. You must be miserable whenever you face it. Perhaps you fill your mind with the thought of next April, but you are not being fair even to that thought, for he, too, will need grace. He needs it now, and the peace that grace can give him.
Why, my precious, why, when God has given all things to you, do you turn away from Him? Have you forgotten already – “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me.”
It does not matter in the least whether you believe in the marriage contract or not. The fact remains, it is a law, and millions of wiser people than you have seen the necessity for keeping the law before you chose to break it. So in all probability you are quite wrong, and everybody else quite right. As the lack of devotion is based on ignorance, it really bears no weight at all, and certainly devotion has no chance of growing unless you encourage it. This is not the moment for argument, the matter is too serious, we are too near to Eternity, to hesitate and quibble. So, my own dear, make a big determined effort, and deliver yourself and everybody else from a most humiliating position. You know that you can, if only you will. The present situation is ignominious to a degree, and quite untenable.
I suppose I think of you more often than you do of me. My first waking thought is always a question, “What day is it, Lord?” Then when He has awakened my memory sufficiently, there follows another, “Oh, dear, and there’s Stella.” So my day begins.
I have often re-lived our week together [in July 1936]. How strange that after five years God should choose to send you, then. So that the first days of your tragedy were spent with me, who loves you more than anybody else on Earth. Do you remember our conversation about pedestals? Yes, yours did crash, after all. You are not less, dear, but you occupy a different position. I picked you up out of the debris, and want to shield and hold you now, whereas before I watched you from a lower altitude, and expected everybody else to do the same. They always crash, those pedestals, and I never grow any wiser. Ah, human nature, poor, weak, tainted nature, capable of divine heroism, and bestial wilfulness! And through it all, the plaint of the “tremendous Lover”, “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest…”
I hope you will soon have the little house, I am sure it would be much better for you. I am glad that you are making a success of home life. You have the best cook on Earth to teach you, so you should not err in that department, but it is very difficult to imagine you as the critical shopper.
Here is the end of the page, and a last whispered pleading. Soon, precious, soon, there is not time for delay. All the love and grace are waiting for you.
With all my love, dearest baby sister,
Sister of the Heart of Mary

Sep 231940

H. Gregson (Seaman), HMT Dalmatia, c/o GPO London
My Dear Stella,
This is your pen I’m using and believe me it behaves itself quite well… It has grown out of the awkward age – it has shed the mantle of adolescence. No longer is it a badly behaved infant, an undisciplined, “do as I please” child; now it has become my very good friend and I do not know how I should live without this small, black creature with the blue blood and the tongue of gold.
I know all his moods, but I must confess that I have little or no authority over this mighty prodigy.
Thus do I sit myself, fully intending to pen a sane, matter of fact letter to my sister. I have it all planned that I shall ask after her health, I shall send my love to her children, for they are often in my thoughts, and I shall ask to be remembered to Arthur. I shall make mention of a few of my experiences and I shall enquire about the Liverpool raids also. I shall tell the story about the new skipper… and so on and on ad infinitum…
But, once started, my pen takes command. There is a secret intimacy between my pen and some dark mysterious part of me which hardly exists at all. So if I write what appears to be a rather selfish letter, please don’t blame me.
Ours is a strange family. We are embarrassed by too much affection, too much “gush”. In our family a sister never says to a brother, or a brother to a sister, “How are you – I am glad to see you looking so well.” Or “Can I help you at all?” You see, we always take so much for granted. We are an honest family and that’s a great thing.
And we have the greatest mother in the world, haven’t we? The most unselfish lady in the universe. Yet, for a thousand pounds, I can’t imagine telling mother that she’s all that.
Here is thoughtfulness. I know damned well from letters received and from tales heard that the hometown is “getting it bad”, yet mother makes but little reference to the raids. She even says, thinking of my safety all the time, that it would be better if I didn’t come home just now if I got leave. I asked to be sent an ‘Echo’ or a ‘Post’ but mother won’t send one “because”, she says, “there is so little in the ‘Echo’ these days.”
I know the real reason. I would still love to see an ‘Echo’ again. Could you send me one, Stella? There is one other Liverpudlian on board, he too has asked for a local paper but, so far, nothing has materialized.
Incidentally, this other fellow is a real “Scouse”, a real “Eh, Wack, warreryousedoin’” lad. But it’s great to hear the accent – a little corner of Liverpool right here in the Channel. Yesterday he said “Eh, Greg, did yuh ever go ter the labour club in Wavertree Road?” I said that I had not. He continues “Oh, it’s de gear, that’s where I learnt the Rhumba.”
Other observations of his include the following – “Mossley Hill, eh? All Jews there aren’t thee?” “Brodie Avenue? Blimey, those people livin there spend all day on their backs.”
A good crew this. At least the lads. We really enjoy going into action now. That is, so long as there is only one plane to fire at. When it’s a big raid (I’ve been in two) – well, then it’s not so good. On that first raid on Portsmouth dockyard when dozens of Junkers dive-bombed on the ships and docks I nearly died of fright, but I’ve grown out of that feeling now, thank God.
This is an unsatisfactory, half started sort of letter. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ll have to finish now if I wish to get this posted here.
Listen, let me know how things are all round, will you? How are Wendy and Michael? Is Arthur due for calling up yet? Tell him I think I can get some cig tobacco to him and ask him if he wants any shirts or hankies. The latter are a penny each and the shirts are only a couple of bob. I can buy socks also at a low price.
Let’s be hearing from you. And don’t worry about the noise – we’re a tough lot!
Lots of love to you and the family,
P.S. Any fresh literary triumphs?
What do you read these days? Have you read any Steinbeck novels? I myself have just started the Rachel Field ‘All This And Heaven Too’ classic and should soon have Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ (the picture is terrific.) I recently finished a very fine book – John Hilton’s ‘Knight Without Armour’. Listen. If you like, I’ll send on my copies from the World Book Club. I think you’ll like ‘All This And Heaven Too’.
I feel the urge to learn. Have you an old book of shorthand you don’t require? I’m going to have a go at learning shorthand – it can be most useful.

Oct 201940

HMT Dalmatia, Portsmouth
Dear Arthur,
The 3/6d more than covers the damage and is guiltily but gratefully received. The stuff was meant as a gift actually, but if you feel better sending me half-a-dollar as a kind of counter-gift – well, OK. But remember, 2/6 is ample for half a pound of “tea”.
To ease your mind, there is no censorship of my letters. Say what you like and how you like – it’s OK with the Navy and with me. Since we now pull into Newhaven and are granted leave, it is the easiest thing in the world to post packages ashore. At Portsmouth one has to take a risk. Dozens of special police give you the once-over when you walk out the gates. They look at your gas-mask for any “ominous bulge”. They’re a suspicious bunch – I can’t think why!
I sent a parcel home last week – going out one day with a parcel of dirty washing and leaving it in cold storage in the sailors’ home, then going out the following day with a half-bottle of rum in my sock and packets of “tea” stowed about my person. When the cop looked at my card and said “OK Jack!” I felt like saying “That’s what you think.” I got the parcel of washing out and, wanting to add the “milk” and “tea”, I took the darn thing to the only place possible to do the packing in secrecy. Well, while I was sitting there with socks, cigs, rum, matches and shirts all about me, a guy pulls open the door and when he sees me his eyes nearly pop out of his head with astonishment. “That’s OK,” I said, “I always do my washing down here.” He beat it.
“How am I doing?” you ask. Today – not bad at all, it’s Sunday, I’m ashore in Pompey, I’m going to have tea soon and then see a movie (bang goes your 3/6). Tomorrow we put to sea and then starts the fun. There is a lot, Arthur, that I do not put in my letters to Mother. I will not tell her of the body (not the first) we picked up yesterday – it had been in the water a long time. When a body is found we are supposed to identify it – search for papers, etc – the seamen do the dirty work. This fellow was a German pilot – he was headless and limbless.
Nor do I tell of this new mine menace – we picked two mines up yesterday, an hour after sinking the body. They’re a new type entirely – he’s using a lot of new mines – some they call acoustic mines – the sound of propellers is enough to explode them.
When we left Newhaven on Friday night the Skipper ordered everyone on deck with lifebelts – five mines were in the harbour but we got out OK.
Last week two trawlers were sunk on this patrol by German destroyers and another trawler is missing completely.
Jerry got to know that Eastbourne is an open town – whilst laying off there each day we were subjected to about three raids a day, on one occasion being bombed by what we took to be a British seaplane because he dropped our own recognition flares. When, however, he dived and dropped a bomb by our bows, we knew we had been mistaken. I shall never forget the Junkers that let fly with a whole stick of bombs – you could see them leave the bomb rack, hear the awful screech and then see the great spouts of water that shot skywards. We are a hard target. So it’s not all beer and skittles.
Tuesday evening – at sea.
I meant to mail this last Sunday or Monday, but the Navy decided otherwise.
So here I am feeling quite weary after two days “sweeping” and another two days to do ‘ere hitting harbour. Actually the sweeping is being done by the other five trawlers – we follow up and lay the dan buoys – marking the course swept – then we pick the damn things up again. Sounds easy but it’s the hardest work I’ve done since I left the good old A.T.M. Quite a change. I’m certainly not overburdened with work on this ship. It’s just a series of monotonous watches – standing and looking at the sea for hours on end or maybe holding onto the wheel for the same period. The air raids liven the proceedings somewhat and although we have seen no action for a week now, we certainly had our share of bombs during those days off Eastbourne.
It was that bloody bell. The first week back from leave when the blitzkrieg started in earnest was pure hell. Until we got used to being awakened by that alarm bell we were all a bundle of nerves. The funniest thing was when we got ashore. I was in a pub with the gunlayer – a bell rang and we both jumped up – just shows the way it gets you!
That’s too much about me – it’s not really a tough life – it’s easy, dead easy – the only thing that occasionally gets me is that there is no escape from it. When I try to imagine what five, six, ten years of this sort of routine will be like! Hell! Of course the commonsense thing is to develop an “artistic outlet” – a hobby. I wish I was crazy about astronomy or fishing or knots. Too bad the only thing that held my interest was acting – not much chance of doing any of that now. I had thought of becoming a kind of recluse, living in books, studying drama and dreaming of the days to come when the war is over and I’ll be all loaded up with so much knowledge that it’ll be a push-over. But it doesn’t work out that way – or does it?
When I return to harbour, Stella’s letter may be awaiting me – I hope so. She mentioned on a sheet of your own letter that she intended taking the children to Greenbank Park and it strikes me as being a good idea. It’s a good idea for everyone to get into the country these days as much as possible. The other day I took a walk from Newhaven to Lewes. I can honestly say that I forgot the war for that one day – it was grand. It took me “right out of myself”. So did the film I saw last week – the funniest film for a long time. Title – ‘The Ghost Breakers’. The story doesn’t matter but the stars are Bob Hope and a negro called Stepin Fetchit.
Now that’s all for now – I’ll send another half pound of “tea” soon. Tell me – does the potato keep it fresh? I’ll probably send the next lot in its original tin.

Feb 121942


H.M.S. Royal Arthur, Skegness

Dear Sir/Madam,

In conjunction with the other two Services and the Ministries of Health and Home Security, arrangements are being made for the immediate notification to Members of H.M. Forces of Casualties which may occur among their close relatives during air raids. The enclosed card is sent to you as the officially recorded next of kin of:




PORT DIVISION: Not allocated; now serving in H.M.S. Royal Arthur.

You should fill in these particulars, together with your own name and address, on the card and you should then carry the card with you on your person at all times inside your National Registration Identity Card. Should you be so unfortunate as to be killed or seriously injured during an air raid, the authorities of the hospital or casualty station to which you were taken would then notify the Admiralty and the information would be passed on to the rating concerned. This procedure has been drawn up in the interest of the Naval Service as a whole and you are earnestly requested to co-operate by carrying out the instructions given above without delay. If any other close relative of the rating concerned wishes to have one of these cards it may be obtained by writing to the above address, stating full name, address and relationship to the rating.

Yours faithfully,

Commodore ??

You should not acknowledge this letter.

RN & RM Next of Kin Casualty Card

Jul 041942

Dear Stella,
Here are a few odds and ends that Johnny asked me to send on, also a letter which I found in this box.
Well, no doubt by now you have had a “13 pager” from Johnny giving you all the low down. Rough luck, isn’t it? Especially after the work he has put in. However, I guess there is a Divinity that shapes our ends, etc, even if it is only the C.P.O. at Torry! But seriously Stella, we were all very sorry when Johnny left, for he was, as a Yorkshireman remarked, “a comical little beggar”, and as far as I was concerned, an excellent billet companion. We have thought of him several times today, and also last night I was thinking of him on that beastly train journey.
Now Stella, Johnny has got some fool notion about returning the postage etc on this parcel. Well, I shall be offended if he does that, for surely when two chaps have spent five months of their lives together, a few coppers will not insult one, or make a pauper of the other, so tell him to buy himself a pint “on me” with the postage. Thanks very much.
Well, I guess there is not much news and if I come across anything else, it shall be forwarded to you at once.
I hope the nippers are keeping fit and that you yourself are well and enjoy yourself during Johnny’s leave.
Cheerio, all the best.
Yours sincerely,
Percy Faulkner

P.S. As soon as I get Johnny’s watch I will send it to you, unless of course I receive orders to the contrary.

Oct 171942

321/132 [??] Field Regt R.A., Dunblane, Scotland
Dear Arthur,
I have just heard about Stella and I am writing at once to say how much I hope that her condition has improved already beyond all measure and that very soon indeed she will be her usual self. Please give her my very best wishes for a really quick recovery. It is rotten luck just at this time and I suppose can be put down to another evil of the civvy war.
Many thanks for your letter, which I was able to read at least probably more than you can say about this one, but my typewriter is at home for the present as I’ll explain later on. It was good to get all the news, especially about the young and growing family. I’m looking forward so much to seeing them again. Did you learn while you were in the Club that I got myself engaged on my last leave but one, way back in July? Almost as old as you were Arthur, and if I leave the final act itself much longer I’ll be older.
Your job sounds very inviting as well as interesting, and I feel sure you can do with any spare time they dish out. The blokes you work with sound OK as well. I rang up today to ask if I could join the party and they gave me all the information they could, especially a Scot who was brought to the phone. Pity we were unable to join forces being so close together. Sunday would have been no use, however, taxis and pubs not working in this part of the world. According to the dates you gave me you will return to Glasgow only to move out again. I am expecting a move also so we may have to put off the reunion until the end of this business after all. However, if on your return north you find you are staying a time, let me know and I’ll try and ring you to fix a date if it is at all possible.
As you know I was changed over to Guards and after another OCTU course – two in a lifetime proves almost too much – returned to my old unit and spent two enjoyable months in Newcastle. Then, as with almost all the world, or so it would appear, I was warned for overseas and sent to my present location. I have been here some little time now – longer than I expected – but of course it is a question of living from day to day, so if you do write again take the usual Johnson care with words and phrases as “old man censor” may be about. In any case it would be better not to mention “overseas”, but I am sure you are an expert in camouflage now.
I had a rush 7 days embarkation leave – taking my typewriter home – but I still hope you can make all this out. I had to get down to London to see my sister – I’m a real live proud uncle now with a dashing two month old nephew – and to Shrewsbury. At the time Freda, who had not been too well, was staying with brother Jim and wife at Troon so I finished up there and just had not got the time to visit Liverpool. I’m making big efforts to get a 48 hour and rush down to say cheerio. As you say, everything remains much the same. Beacall, by the way, has since moved but I don’t know his new address.
I have had a recent letter from Elgar and he appears to be much in the same boat as myself. McWhinnie too, I gather, so things appear to be moving. About time.
Sorry to hear about Pat Kearney, but I had noticed the same thing. I think poor old George is cracking up as well. It will be a strange return but let’s hope your spring bulbs will still flourish.
I do so hope all is well your end by the time you get this note. Please let me know if there is anything at all I can do to help. Otherwise I’m hoping to see you soon for that reunion. If not, all the very best to you all and here’s to an out-of-uniform party at Morningside sooner than we expect – and I promise I’ll be a good boy and turn up this time complete with “better half”. Who knows?
Cheers for now, and all the luck.

Nov 071942

“Same Address”
My Dear Stella,
Your letter reached me on the Wednesday and I’m darned glad to hear that you’re improving fast from the pneumonia bout. According to what you tell, you would still be at Limedale when I rang up last Saturday. I tried to make it all clear then, but it was difficult and I further explained the position in my last letter to Mother. You see, by the time the news of your illness reached me, you were way past the crisis period. Otherwise I might have managed a few days leave. I had previously promised that I would make every attempt to get a few hours in Liverpool when next this ship touched Holyhead. Providing I can get away at midday in time for the 1.45 to Liverpool and providing the ship is not due to sail, it should be possible to make the excursion. Although we were in Holyhead for four days, the trip was not practicable owing to the fact that nobody knew when the ship was sailing, and also to the fact that I could not stay ashore all night without being missed (that on top of my recent all night drift would have been too bad for me).
So I did things the right way for once – requesting to see the Captain for a mere 20 hours leave out of my 24 hours off duty. The pig of a First Lieutenanat rejected my request – it’s like getting blood out of a stone. Later, after another seaman had bluffed his way into four days leave with an excuse that was simply ridiculous, I again accosted the little fellow who wears the braid – reminding him of my rights and too of the fact that my sister was sick. The cunning swine takes me up on the latter plea and goes and asks the Old Man if Gregson can have compassionate leave. Hence the wire to the police for verification and thus the reply that my presence was unnecessary.
Enough of request forms and red tape – next time the slightest chance arises I take it – asking no man’s permission. Amazing how that old town draws one. That Liverpool. There is no thrill comparable to the thrill of stepping off the train at Lime Street Station – the sight of the old familiar streets, tram cars, the sound in your ear of the “scouse” accent, the first sight of home and family and how small and compact the kitchen appears to be, the fire in the grate, the radio in the corner. Stirrings of the memory. Drab, dirty Liverpool? Peter Cavanagh’s, the Rialto, the Hanover and the pseudo-affluence of the Adelphi lounge. The thousands of peoples.
My next official leave should be early in December. This year I shall probably miss Xmas at home.
About Arthur. It seems this course of his is exceptionally long and what is he when the training is complete? A signalman? Or is it some special branch of the signalling dept? Radio location or something. Anyway, I hope he is lucky enough to get a good draft and avoid the foreign service bogey. Whatever his fortune, he will probably be happier aboard a ship than in barracks. I’ve never yet met anyone who prefers the barracks. Although for my part I’m sick to death of life at sea. True we never do as much as a week out of harbour but, oh, the monotony and boredom of the same old routine. The novelty wore off long, long ago, and – another thing – I’m a little scared of the sea since I was mined. When the sea is calm that’s alright, but when the weather is bad – and it gets really bad around this part of the coast – well, I don’t like it one little bit. There is really nothing one can do, with the vessel rolling, pitching and tossing – you can’t write or even read and to sleep down aft in my mess is quite an achievement under such conditions. A persistent loud rattle from the steering mechanism above the deck-head and a thundering roar that shakes the mess every time the screw comes out of the water. The seas beating against the ship’s sides send streams of water through the closed ports and the mess deck develops into a pond in which tables and forms play the craziest games…
Albeit I’m lucky in a way. There is no action around here, which is good and yet bad for me in a way. Down in the Channel the bombs used to fall, there was danger all around yet it seemed that I was satisfied to a certain extent and in some strange unfathomable way I was glad to be alive – my mind was keener and more receptive. But now there is nothing new that can happen, although I recognise the fact that I do little to fight against boredom and I know there is much that I could do. I feel that I want to throw myself body and soul into some vast enterprise, but the only thing that has ever, or will ever, hold me completely now eludes me.
From leave I brought back with me my greasepaints, the works of Bill Shakespeare and one or two books of plays, thinking maybe to stir this crew into some sort of histrionic activity, yet somehow the hopelessness of it all has held me back. However, last week something started moving. My “Wren” friends ashore are a pretty good bunch of girls and one or two are surprisingly talented. There’s June, writing her own words and music, sings her way into the first prize at a recent talent contest. Well, the other day I wandered into the canteen and the girls started telling me about this WONDERFUL play that Lorna has written – already they had started rehearsals, tickets were being printed and the date set for December 1st. The whole thing attracts me greatly. I’ve promised to come along to the next possible rehearsal and further to give a hand with the make-up on the night. Maybe THIS is the acorn I’ve been waiting for. I’d be willing to sacrifice my present series of dates with my current heart-throb to recapture the irresistible thrill of the world of make-believe.
This letter has overreached itself. The trouble with me is that I make a start on one letter then find that I have no time left to write other letters. Last time in harbour I received no less than six letters – including one from Eileen King, recuperating now from some strange illness in an RAF hospital. Her husband is a commando officer out in the Middle East.
Please pardon this leap into pencilling – and I hope this letter does not seem too disjointed. I’m making every effort to get it ashore tonight – it should have been completed in harbour but we steamed out before I expected. Now it is Sunday, at the moment I am on watch but I get relieved at 5 p.m. in time to get ashore – although God only knows what I shall do in Wales on a Sunday. Here in Holyhead there is none of the social life of Milford Haven, yet the people on the whole are decidedly better natured and altogether more civilised than the South Wales folks.
Monday 6.15 p.m. At sea.
Again I’m stymied. Everything was fixed for an entertaining evening ashore. I was on watch all night then this morning, instead of turning in when I came off watch, I washed some “smalls” (collars, hankies etc) and I had a bath and shave, intending to complete this and also snatch a few hours sleep in the afternoon before running ashore. Then suddenly they pack us off to sea and here am I up on the bridge, due to take a trick on the wheel in 15 minutes time and feeling mighty tired.
Now I really must finish this. By the way, I’m sending again a little something or other which might be useful – I know you can’t get it in Liverpool anyway. Hope it’s OK.
I couldn’t write any more even had I the time – inspiration vanished with the sight of land an hour or so back.
So long for now then Stella, don’t mope too long or too often. I suppose, in a unique sort of way, the boat we all share affects us similarly – you minus Arthur, Mother minus her “pink-eyes” and her pink-eyes minus – well, everything worthwhile…
My love to Wendy and Michael and you. With deepest affection

Dec 151942

Dear Arthur,
We were very pleased to hear from you, and of course delighted to know of your present billet. Let’s hope they decide to leave you there.
Did you receive the watch? Mother asked me to post it and if you have not received it please let me know early so that I can take it up with the P.O.
I saw Stella at Mother’s house a few days ago and was very much struck by how much better she looked. Either the rest she had, or the liver extract, has done her some good and I hope she’ll keep free from colds now.
We were interested to know you are able to visit the theatres in London and hope you will see some good shows. My short experience of London theatres left me with the impression that one show in three was a good one, one mediocre, and the third so poor that it would not pass in the provinces at all.
I was in London for a night last week – on very short notice to visit the Air Ministry and dash back on the 3pm train from Euston next day. The meeting lasted until 2 o’clock so I did not have time to look round or get in touch with you or Doris. I’m afraid we shall not see you at Xmas time, even if you manage to get home then, as we have decided to take the chance of a few days at Worsley. I had previously arranged to go to Eaton Avenue on Xmas Day and to your house in the evening, but Lilian pointed out when I got home that it would not be worth going to Worsley on Saturday and returning on Sunday. We hope to go to Eaton Avenue and Stella’s on the following weekend instead, if she will have us then.
I don’t suppose I will be able to write again before Xmas so please take this as it. With our best wishes for a happy Christmas and plenty of leave. We are both fairly fit – and I think the vaccine treatment has helped me a lot. The Isle of Man job is nearly finished and things are temporarily a bit quieter. We hope to see you soon – til then, love from us both.
Eric & Lilian

Apr 261943

Harborne Hall, Old Church Road, Birmingham 17
My dear Stella,
Thank you so much for your unexpected but very welcome letter. Mary and I were so interested in all your news and were very glad to know that you were well and happy. What bonny youngsters you have! We should love to see them. We have not been to Liverpool for years, but often talk of a brief visit to see our old friends, although I think we should find the devastation rather poignant. We shall let you know when we do.
We are both quite well. Mary is at the Birmingham Food Office where she is pretty happy, but I have to travel every day to Coventry, where I am what is called an Appointments Officer in the Ministry of Labour and National Service. The journey is rather wearisome and the job rather dull, but I have a lovely office and a staff of eight under me and a pretty good salary, so I ought not to complain.
We live on the outskirts of Birmingham in a large house in a huge garden owned by nuns, who normally run it as a retreat house, but have turned it into a guest house “for the duration”. I find the conventual atmosphere rather trying, but the food is pretty decent and the garden really heavenly. I never see or hear anything of Bellerive past or present, largely due to my own deficiencies as a correspondent, I am afraid. I hear a little more of St Gabriel’s Hall, as I still keep up with Bill (Edna Williams) whom you may remember meeting when you came to see me there. I also occasionally hear from or see other old students.
We have quite lost touch with the Masons. Mary unexpectedly turned up in London just before she entered and spent a few days with us, but we have never heard of or from her from that day to this and did not know that she had come back into the world again. Poor Mary! If you could get in touch with her again, it might help her and we should love to do so. We were very fond of the whole family and often talk of the extraordinarily happy times we spent with them – some of the happiest in our whole lives. We have very few friends here in Birmingham, me even less than Mary because my working day including the travelling is so long – from 8am to 8pm.
Like you, I manage to get in a fair amount of reading and like you do not find much pleasure in modern poetry, although I read a very illuminating book about it called ‘A Key to Modern English Poetry’ by Martin Gilkes. The wireless is also a great joy to us. I especially listen in to every play I can. I go up to London fairly frequently, generally on business, but now and then Mary and I go up for pleasure, usually to be present at the annual functions of the very unconventional, amusing theatrical club we joined when we were there and where we stayed for two-and-a-half years. It is called the Interval Club and is situated in the heart of Soho. You would love it.
I often see Miss Barry [??] on these occasions, absorbed as ever in St Joan’s. I am glad to note that you are still in touch with it. They have just demoted me from the committee because I could not attend the meetings.
Have you come across Evelyn Johnstone, now Mrs Fitzsimmons? I believe she lives in your parts. She married rather belatedly and had a baby some time ago, according to ‘The Catholic Citizen’.
I should love to read some of your journalistic efforts and hope that you will persevere with them.
Now I must say goodbye. We really are hoping to come to Liverpool sometime this year to see all our old friends again. In the meanwhile please remember us very kindly to your Mother, give our love to Wendy and Michael and accept much for yourself from us both.
Yours affectionately,
Nancy [Parnell]

Aug 051943

HMS High Tide, c/o G.P.O. London
My Dear Stella,
All day long, I have been saying – “this evening I shall write to Stella”. I make no apologies for failing to write to you sooner. There is no specific reason for such laxity; you know that the times I write to someone out of a sense of duty are practically nil. I get a hunch to write (I write at least one letter a day) and I think I’d like to write to so-and-so, and it all depends on the way I feel to whom I write. So that often letters are left outstanding for some time. Regrettable, I admit. About five weeks ago I had an urge to write to Mollie. This I did and at great length, but that was the last I sent to her. I still await the required mood to write again.
As I was saying, I had a hunch to write to you today. Now that the time is opportune, the whole mood for writing has gone. Due perhaps to the present atmosphere that pervades the messdeck. Half a dozen card players hold thrall. They got to the table before me and I’m left with a square foot to write in. A card school always has priority over a mere pen pusher.
Due perhaps to the fact that this is the first day of the four “on station” and my mind is restless.
Here I broke off for some hours – about 24 hours to be almost precise. In the interval the only exciting thing that happened was at dawn this morning. Dawn these days, if you don’t know already, is between five and six. The weather all night had been atrocious. To you ashore it would appear to be merely windy. But, anchored as we are outside the breakwater, we had something to cope with. The motor boat has been tied up to the stern and now, prior to lifting the anchor and seeking shelter in the lee of the breakwater, the skipper foolishly decided to call all hands and have a shot at bringing her inboard. Probably this is as dull to you as your cake recipe is to me. I can’t describe the incident because I’d have to go into technical details and talk of derricks and booms and things and I guess you wouldn’t get the full import.
Imagine seven men wrestling with a boat which swings viciously over our heads… Now she is out over the water and we pull on ropes to swing her inboard… then she lunges back at us… we drop to the deck and try to grab her, to hold her, and to get her in position for lowering… like a bunch of circus hands with an angry elephant… Ropes part, matelots curse, and from the safety of the bridge the skipper shouts meaningless advice. He is worried. Well, we made it, me an’ the lads – and nobody was hurt seriously.
This morning a letter from Mother and full of interest and very flattering. I love being flattered – it’s a hell of a weakness, isn’t it? If anyone tells me I’ve got a way with women, I can feel my head swelling. But sometimes I’ve been fooling around – maybe impersonating the leading seaman or the skipper or merely drawing from my imagination and the boys have all laughed and someone, usually the cook, has said – “By Christ, you ought to be on the stage.” That’s what I like to hear, pal. The cook’s a great guy, he is! A fine judge – I think the world of the cook…
To return. Mother says this: “I really wish you would write. You could do it. How about having a shot at a short story – something minus a plot, a chosen character as a study, a detailed description of life aboard… It’s the sort of thing that catches on. Stella would fix up the technical part and type it for you.”
Apart from the fact that Stella has not been consulted on her part in the transaction, I still “hae ma doots”. At times I love to write – yet I lack that eternal spark that is necessary in any form of art. In Art one creates for one’s own satisfaction… You act and it doesn’t really matter if there is no audience… And I can’t imagine writing for my own satisfaction – and indirectly that is the motive – or should be, don’t you think? Well, what do you think about it?
Whilst on the subject. Have you read the latest Modern Reading selection? So far I’ve only read the first few stories and they’re gems. There is a Benedict Thielen story that brought a lump to my throat – it’s beautiful. And incidentally, ever heard of – wait for it – Rabindranath Tagore? In Holyhead’s small public library I found a slim volume of his works. Apparently his name is famous in India, where he is “as great in music as in poetry and his songs are sung all over India. He was already famous at 19 when he wrote his first novel and plays written when he was but a little older are still played in Calcutta.”
W.B. Yeats supplies the introduction and writes: “I have carried the manuscripts of these translations around with me for days, reading it in railway trains and in restaurants and I have often had to close it lest some stranger see how much it moves me.”
The volume I have, entitled ‘Gitanjali’, contains for the most part prose offerings of a religious flavour. But they are lovely. Listen to these lines:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is full;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depths of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreamy desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
Your last letter was here when I returned from leave. Most of it was, unfortunately, out of date since I had seen you in the meantime, but it was all very interesting, the philosophical paragraph and the idea that fate is at work building the individual from the subconscious. That is very true. I have great confidence in myself now – and I know my fellow-men better. I realise the difference when I’m on leave and meet civilians – people I knew and even admired. Now they seem almost petty and narrow-minded.
There is so much to write about and I have only ten minutes to watch time. I’m remembering fast all the things I should have mentioned. I’m just getting in the mood. Too bad – but there’ll be next time.
Write, as I write, Stella, when you feel like it, never out of a sense of duty. I love your letters, really I do, but don’t write because you think you have to… I’ll understand.
My love to you & Wendy & Michael (not forgetting the rabbit)

Oct 101943

Morden, Surrey
Dear Johnson,
I had your letter yesterday, forwarded on from Whitchurch.
On Thursday last I went in to Whitehall W/T, one of my main purposes being to try and rescue you. I tackled the Officer in Charge but didn’t make any headway, and he spun me a dreadful tale about shortage of staff, and the drafting of A/Ms to other stations. So I bearded Commander Bonham Carter in his den and he has definitely agreed that I must have someone for my office. In the meantime I have made another date with the O.I.C. for either Tuesday or Wednesday forenoon. He is not having Thursday off this week. So your fate will be decided on one of these two days. I want you in preference to anyone else, but it depends almost entirely on the mood of the O.I.C. when I see him. Anyway, I will let you know during the week, either in person or by letter, which way it has gone. If there is nothing doing then I will send your clothes down to Whitehall for you, but I hope that will not be necessary.
I have had my ups and downs since you left. We have the cottage now, but the civvies turned it down, and there was a 24-hour deadlock and the “UNION” were going to be called in again. But I managed to pull the fat out of the fire and now the accommodation question has been finally settled. The naval staff have got twice as much room as before and all are happy.
I hope your wife is quite fit again, and here’s hoping that you’ll be back at Whitchurch within a week. Keep your fingers crossed.
All the best,
J Grossett

Nov 091943

HMS High Tide, c/o G.P.O. London
Dear Stella,
And about time I wrote to you, isn’t it? It must be over two months since this sort of thing happened, but I’m in one of my sentimental, “blood is thicker than water” moods, when shadows from the past come crowding in and one gets that nice comfortable feeling – recalling earlier days and basking in the sunshine of adolescent magic (horrible sentence!).
It’s strange to live on a ship. When I am out here and there is no possibility of going ashore, the body appears to relax – one becomes resigned easily to the estrangement and the mind alone has freedom. And the mind is fickle – sometimes my thoughts are to the future, but often they wander back, not regretfully, but almost with pleasure recalling incidents from the limbo of a half-forgotten world…
The little things of no importance. They live in the memory, it seems, where the major events have no place. Mill Lane – and I recall the sharp sound of dishes being washed of a Sunday morning and the mingling of voices – your own voice complaining loudly of Convent Convention, Mother’s a little lower key, understanding and sympathetic. Sunday dinner, always late waiting for father. The tablecloth that is rough and the curtains are dark blue. Sunday afternoon and a trip to Patten’s sweet shop for peppermint creams and Clarnico marzipan… It was quite in order then to borrow Stella’s bike, but any other time met with Stella’s disapproval. No damn wonder – I certainly knocked the life out of that thing.
A stock phrase – “Are Ernest and Margaret coming today?” And if they came, why, then, what a “to-do”… For they came in a bright blue Morris and I’d see it through the hedge. I’d hear the door slam and then they came romping down the path. In they came and the house would shake its head sadly to be thus disturbed on the Sabbath and everybody would start to talk at once.
Back through the years. Back to the [??] long, long ago… back to the land of dreams… Winter nights that were dark and mysterious. Sledges and snowballs – roller skates and “relievio”.
Summertime and the living is easy… A few pieces of wood and four wheels became a racing car, “The Black Panther”, and once I took little Olwyn Lewis, the parson’s daughter – I took her in my car down Deverell Road – and never again will I feel as proud as that moment… and I carved her initials on the back of my bed and all my thoughts of her were the sweetest in the whole wide world – and never again shall I be in love.
A little later and it was S.F.X. [St Francis Xavier School] and a man called Barber, who is now an army chaplain, put the fear of God in me and killed all interest I might have had for education. Hours of homework when the mind would roam and concentration an impossible thing. At Our Ladies’ School it was different. The scholars there were roughnecks, but there was a certain amount of encouragement given. I remember you were allowed to choose subjects for composition and two or three times my essays were read out to the school. I felt proud and pleased and I wanted to go and write some more… this was the way. At S.F.X. I lived in fear… not all the time of course, but the shadow was on the mind, and there was no peace.
And now I’ll snap out of it – too much grave-digging is unhealthy – tho’ to refer to one’s earlier days for enlightenment is a good thing if one is desirous of understanding one’s true self.
In your last letter you erroneously stated that there was never a suggestion of latent histrionic ability evident in my childhood capers. Your mistake is quite understandable. I suffered pleasantly enough from a dual personality. This still endures. The person who cavorts around the town and has, ’ere today, held the front room at Peter’s Bar in rapt attention, has little in common with the less fantastic individual of the maternal hearth… My imagination is now, as then, in childhood, a safety valve. And did I not have an overgrown interest in the cinema? – knew more about cinema than the average adult? Could name the directors and read books on film technique. And all my “outside” life – away from home – I never felt that I was myself – always acting, I tell you – always watching myself – never being truly sincere.
Tragic in a way. But, there – I have delved too deeply. These are my own thoughts and the conclusions reached are my own affairs and future practice will prove me right… I hope.
This is too much about me. I apologise most sincerely. The nostalgic interlude is now over. You understand how it is? Repressions and such… One puts pen to paper and then anything might happen… This sentimentalising over the past is nothing unique. All sailors, perhaps all forces men, have this weakness. Often we talk of our childhood adventures and some awful lies are told. Another thing – it’s strange how most of my comrades earned such fabulous sums in peacetime. They talk about the splendid jobs they had and the magnificent suits they wore (with padded shoulders and pin stripes). It appears that everybody was very happy and contented in their work. Coal mining, for instance, is a grand occupation and work in an abattoir is heaven indeed. And as for fishing… well, apparently it was nothing unusual to be paid off with about £50 and spend it in a couple of days. I myself frankly admit that I have never been more prosperous in my life as now.
I was home last week. I have made three trips in the last month to see a series of productions at the Royal Court and after the shows I have time for a couple of hours up at Limedale. At the Court I saw ‘Othello’, then Robert Morley in ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner’ and last week “the Lunts” – Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontaine, America’s greatest acting team – in Robert Sherwood’s ‘There Shall Be No Night’. Which means that last week I witnessed the finest acting I have ever seen. The word is “magnificent” – I have never seen such stuff. They achieve a natural effect which is miraculous.
Mother tells me that she has heard nothing from you for a long time. Why so? Is all well at Crosby? And what of Arthur – can he still get home at times? I left a tin of stuff at Limedale for him. I don’t know whether Mother has forwarded it or not.
Leave for me should not be more than a month distant. I suppose my visit to you and the children will be the usual brief affair – though each time I tell myself it must be different. I see us all together enjoying at least one good night’s fun. Can we not arrange something?
I must to my bunk. Four hours I shall sleep and then another watch. I shall stand on deck in the dark and gaze at nothing. I have spent thousands of hours of this precious life of mine doing nothing. It is bad for me – but I see no incentive for promotion, no betterment in change. We are the ones who “stand and wait” – and we do also “serve” I suppose. But God – what a waste of life and time.
With all affection,
P.S. My love to the children. Is Michael still enjoying that secret joke of his? Talk about “the Man with a load of Mischief!”

Mar 161944

Mabel Avenue, Worsley
My dear Arthur,
Your second letter has just arrived – many many thanks to you and Stella for your kind messages of sympathy and understanding. It is a great comfort to have such good friends thinking of us.
I wrote to Stella yesterday or the day before, thanking her for her very kind offer to put Eric up. It is sweet of her to be willing to go to so much trouble when she has the children to look after. I felt very much touched and grateful for her unselfishness. We have not made any definite plans for the future yet. As you know, our makeshift flat at Southport is inconvenient and the little divan room, a not very healthy proposition in this weather for an old man suffering from bronchitis. It is largely composed of one large window (on the front) and the door facing the stairs, so that there is a draught on to the bed from each end, except in summer time. I suppose we shall have to make a determined effort to get Mrs Maguire out of Closeburn and settle there again and sell most of the furniture here. It is a difficult position and I am hoping that Dad will consent to go with Uncle Jack to Keswick for a week or two to give us breathing space and time to make some temporary arrangement. I am afraid, however, he will be difficult as he hates hotels and will not want to make the journey, in which case I shan’t know what to do.
This week has been a harrowing one and seemed never ending.
Poor Mother, we can only be thankful that she was spared further suffering. The last few days were painful, watching her suffer and not being able to give her much help. She had become very emaciated and frail in the last few weeks and she died of exhaustion and did not have any pain, except of course this dreadful struggle for breath which couldn’t have gone on much longer.
Again many thanks for your letters, I know you have plenty to do, and it was nice of you to write such a long and interesting account of your doings. I was most interested, but sorry to hear that the raids are troubling you all again. We feel very anxious about you and Doris and Jack, and also my cousins Charles and Trix [??] Phillips, who have a flat at Berkeley St, near to Doris’s ministry.
Lots of love,
Lilian XX

Oct 021944


Oct 031944


Oct 031944

Sick Quarters, Naval Party 1570, Normandy
Dear Mrs Johnson,
It is my very unpleasant task to write to you regarding the death of your husband.
He reported to me because he felt that he had a dose of Flu. I admitted him to the Sick Quarters, where he was seen by myself and another doctor.
This morning he had a sudden attack of Diarrhoea and became very collapsed and we felt that he had had a recurrence of the tummy trouble which he has had twice since he was over here. It was then that we sent you a telegram to inform you of his illness.
He rallied under treatment and it became obvious that he had Meningitis. Unfortunately everything we did was of no avail. He was unconscious for the last few hours and so did not suffer any pain.
I know that nothing I can say will soften for you this terrible blow but I would like you to know that he suffered no agony or pain, and passed away quietly.
Yours truly,
Surgeon Lt Commander W. [L??] RNVR

Oct 041944

Naval Party 1570, Normandy
Dear Mrs Johnson,
It was my very sad duty this morning to officiate at the funeral of your husband, Signalman Arthur Johnson, R.N. He was laid to rest in the cemetery of Elbeuf, near Rouen, and he is there surrounded by many comrades who gave their lives in this war and in the last. I hope some day you may be able to visit the place where he lies.
A contingent of officers and men were present to pay their last tributes to a respected and mourned comrade and friend, and these included the Flag Captain, the Executive Major of Marines, and his mess-mates.
At a short service in the little chapel we remembered you and your children in your irreparable loss, commending you to the loving kindness of Almighty God, in whom alone is real comfort.
Two large wreaths of fresh flowers cover the grave – one placed there by the ship’s officers, and the other by the men.
I know how great your loss is, and I feel that no words of mine can lighten your desolation, but I do want you to know that my deepest sympathy, as well as that of all officers and men, is extendable to you – particularly that of the ship’s doctors, who, during the two days of your husband’s illness, did all that was humanly possible to save his life.
May God bless you and your children at this time, and give you His own measure of comfort.
I am,
Sincerely yours,
Rev. J MacRurie
Chaplain, R.N.

Liverpool Daily Post & Liverpool Echo
Dear Mrs Johnson,
We have all been deeply grieved to hear of Arthur’s sudden death and the sympathy of his colleagues goes out to you and the children.
Arthur was a fine fellow and we were all very fond of him. We admired him not only for his skill, his readiness and his resourcefulness as a journalist, but for the sterling qualities which made up his character – his courage, his loyalty, his frankness and his capacity for friendship.
He was with us for three or four years only, and the fact that he was constantly on night duty prevented our seeing as much of him as we could have wished. But it was never possible to meet him without being conscious of his sunny disposition, his manliness and his engaging candour. We shall miss him very much.
I write only for myself, but I know that however feebly they may do it, the words I have written express the feeling of everybody here who worked with him.
Yours very sincerely,
F. H. Atkinson
News Editor

My dear Stella,
I am totally incapable of putting into words how I feel about Arthur’s tragic passing.
It is tragic, because it seems so meaningless to have to go that far just to be stricken with a dread disease. We know that Arthur had no time for heroics and never indulged in them, but we who love him would have chosen some better end for him had we been able. Although I suppose it all adds up to the same total demanded by this seemingly senseless war.
I know that you will take this parting very hardly, and rightly so, but I feel just as sure that when the first shock is over you will be a brave girl and face the future with courage. That’s what Arthur would have wished. He never cared for anyone who wasn’t prepared to see a thing through because he, of all of us, was always prepared to jump out into the unknown and tackle any job which fell to his lot.
We shall miss Arthur greatly. He was like a breath of fresh air at times because he was so much himself and so unorthodox. He never was troubled greatly about the proprieties, but just did what he thought was right for the occasion.
I’m sure that you will miss his company horribly, but you have the consolation of having Wendy and Michael to look after. They will occupy your thoughts and give you an anchor and help you in your loneliness.
Please let me know if there is anything we can do to help you at all. I am sure that you will not wish to be bothered with visitors at the moment, but I’ll call along soon just to see how you all are.
Meantime we all send our fondest love to you and the children and would like you to know how deeply we all grieve Arthur’s loss and sympathise with you in your distress and we pray that you will be given strength equal to the burden.
Anne & Bert [Arthur’s brother and his sister-in-law]

Oct 051944

Bedford Park, London
Dear Stella,
I cannot find words to express my sorrow and sympathy in your so great loss. Doris’s letter was a great shock to me, how much worse the news must have been to you I can only imagine. From the many talks we had in this room I know how devoted he was to you and the children, and his plans and his hopes for the future were always based on a happy home life.
Arthur led a full and happy life. He was universally liked and I shall always remember our walks and talks and feel the better for his breezy and cheerful outlook. There is a grain of comfort in the fact that you share the same profession and will, in time, be able to carry out some of his ideas.
Try and bear up my dear, you have the two children who will comfort you and look to you for comfort.
My love to you and the youngsters, in heartfelt sympathy,

Carmelite Convent, Reading
My dear Stella,
Pax Christi!
My poor dear child I cannot tell you how sorry I am for you and how much we all sympathise with you and the children in this moment of great loss. Our Mother [Superior] thought that the telegram would be the quickest way of showing our sympathy. She is asking Father Burnett to say Mass for Arthur as soon as he can, but it will not be this week as all his mass intentions are booked. Probably early next week. We had already arranged to say the Office for the Dead this afternoon, so I was able to put Arthur into that as well.
I cannot thank God enough that you have the children to help you through these days of grief. The women who are left absolutely alone are, indeed, to be pitied. And I am sure that you will be brave and bright for the sake of your dear little ones.
I am glad that Mother is with you, she will know just what is best for you, and I hope you will do all that she wishes in the way of taking care of yourself.
We are praying for you every minute as you know, and always hold you and Arthur and the children before God.
God bless and comfort you, my dear little sister. With very much love and prayer, your devoted sister,
Sister of the Heart of Mary

Oct 061944

HMS Bee, Holyhead, Anglesey
My Dear Stella,
It is not possible to compare my own sorrow to that of yours. I can’t begin to do it.
I can give no consolation or comfort to you in words, and knowing the futility of this I feel ashamed to write to you.
I am with you all the time in thoughts. I want with all my heart to be near you – to try to give you some sort of comfort – but that’s impossible. I can’t get to Liverpool.
You’ve suffered the greatest blow that any woman can suffer. Your mind is a hell and your heart’s in agony – no words of mine can alter that, but I know that my sister is a brave woman and slowly life must come back to her.
You will see again, and live again.
Hold on! For God’s sake, Stella. Hold on! For Arthur’s sake. Get a tight hold. Through Wendy and Michael you will learn to see, to live again. Through Wendy and Michael you will learn that he can never leave you.
And as long as I myself am with the living you will never need, you and the children. I swear it, all that I have, or will have, is yours – always.
I swear it.
All my love and sympathy to you. God bless you, Stella.

Oct 091944

Bootle “V” Golf Club, Liverpool
Dear Mrs Johnson,
At a meeting held yesterday, I as an ex-Chairman of the Bootle Golf Club, was requested, by the Captain and members of the Committee of the above club, to offer our deepest sympathy to you in your hour of sadness, we shall all miss the happy smile your dear departed husband had, for one and all, when visiting the Golf Course.
Yours sincerely,
Robert Cuffin

RAF Errol, Perthshire
Dear Stella,
I do not know how to start to tell you how shocked I was to learn of your terrible loss. It is a cruel blow to you and the kiddies.
Nobody who knew Arthur could connect him with such a tragic circumstance. He was always so breezy and happy. A really fine chap.
I am not going to tell you that you’ll feel better about it as time passes, you will hear that all too often, but your world must indeed seem upside down.
I am glad to hear that Mother is with you.
Don’t bother to reply to this until you are more settled. I am sure you feel dreadful and have my deepest sympathy.
Your “big brother”

Oct 131944

Admiralty, Whitehall
Dear Mrs Johnson,
Fred Dalton has just written to a mutual friend in the Admiralty to tell us of the terrible news about Arthur.
Arthur and myself, as you know, have been together since the Aberdeen days and I counted him as one of my best friends. I have a letter which I received a few days ago from him, which I see was written on the 1st Oct – he was so well and happy then and so full of this news sheet he had started to produce. He told me that there was a possibility of coming back to Whitehall again so I had been looking forward to the chance of joining up again once more.
I think one of the main reasons of Arthur’s popularity – he was one of the most popular fellows I ever knew – was that he was so vital. I used to envy that vitality of his – and even in writing this letter I can hardly believe it’s all happened and that there is some terrible mistake.
But I believe that my grief and sense of loss is nothing compared to yours. I’ve only lost one of my best friends – while you have lost Arthur. But I just had to write this clumsy note to tell you how terribly sorry I am and to send my deepest sympathy to you and the children. I know of course that Jack and Doris are in London, but if there should be anything I can possibly do at this end, I do hope you will please tell me.
Goodbye Stella. You and I never met though I had hoped we might some day – but at least I can sign myself
Arthur’s sincere friend,
Jack Gray

Oct 291944

Dhariwal, Punjab, India
My dear Stella,
I had a letter today from Geo which she wrote on the 17th October. She rambled on about ordinary things and I was reading it at the lunch table – just waiting for lunch to be brought. I came across the sentence – “I dare say you will have heard of Arthur’s death” and began to wonder who Arthur could be – somebody we mutually knew – I did not connect it with myself until I saw YOUR name. I have heard nothing from anyone else, but am going carefully over and over Geo’s letter and am becoming convinced. I’m nearly afraid to send this, in case there’s some mistake – at the moment I’m in a haze – IS it true? Have I lost the one who after Jack means more to me than anyone in the world – have YOU lost – Arthur? If it’s true – what can I say to carry the ache of my heart to you in some sort of companionship to your own? In the last 15 months I have lived with an almost daily fear of my own coming “alone-ness” – (so low has Jack been, so often) and I feel as a result I have a LITTLE understanding – nearly a year ago, I was warned to “prepare for the worst” and for some weeks nearly experienced it in my mind – I know from the letters of both of you what you mean to each other and have often said to Jack how very much the right person you were for Arthur.
We have been very proud of the way you have tackled life while Arthur was away from home and I longed for the day when you could all live your normal lives together, with the great joy of watching the children develop. I said, in one of my recent letters to Arthur, something to the effect that should the necessity ever arise, we would do what we could for the children and I hope you will keep as closely in touch with us now as you have always done. I should be very sad to think you would ever drop out of our lives – in fact, I don’t believe you COULD do so. You must know what a happy relationship existed between Arthur, Jack and myself – and since our last leave we have considered it a good “foursome”. Hardly a day passes in this weird country without our saying “What would Arthur say to THAT” or something of the sort.
Will you write us when you can, telling us what happened to him? His last letter to me was written on the 24th September and posted on the 26th. He was very happy and he always imagined he was in no very real danger.
I wish I could be with you, or you with us here – I don’t know when we will meet again, as things are now, but I will feel very lost if you do not write often. I may cable you tomorrow when I have considered whether it would be a wise thing, for your sake, to do. I know that my family has not always been as kind to you as they might have been, but this, I’m afraid, is more the rule than the exception with “inlaws” – Jack and I have always regarded you and Arthur with the same affection. If you feel like writing and telling me of your plans when you have time to see the future, I will be very grateful.
We are going to send Arthur a little money tomorrow with our love to all of you – you can use it for him in any way you like best. And we are here to help you ALWAYS, should you need comfort of any kind. We have been talking lately, since Jack has been so much below par, of the ultimate destination of this world’s goods we may leave behind. We will have to make the best use of any capital we may have for a retirement which I’m afraid will have to come earlier than we anticipated, but in the event of our both departing this life (and it must come to all of us one day) your children will be remembered in anything we leave behind. This was, curiously, talked out between us only in the past few weeks. It occurs to me, if you are not in any great need of the little gift we are cabling you, you might use it to take yourself and the children away from your present environment for a little while, but that rests with you.
I wrote Arthur for Christmas on the 13th October, but he wouldn’t get it. Had there been no wartime restrictions I would have begged you and the children to come to us, but that, I’m afraid, is impossible. We are having to take our leave (a short one, of only three months after seven years!) somewhere else than England, as I am advised that once I get to England I will not be granted a passage back until the war is over!
I know all I’ve tried to say is a poor expression of my desolation today, but you MUST be able to gather from it something of our grief for you. We will never change or forget – I feel that only you can even guess how much has gone out of our lives since we got this letter today. I’ve been writing with my heart and it’s too sore to do any more just now – I must leave you.
Is there ANYTHING we can do for you?
With our love to you and the children.
Jane and Jack
P.S. I bought a collapsible doll’s bed for Wendy last week but don’t know if the P.O. will accept it.
Have you got anything belonging to Arthur which you could keep for me – a book he used or anything else? No use sending it out – it might get lost.