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Thursday, 5 July 2012

28. News from England

Amongst Bert's papers there are eight letters from his mother, Emily, between 1947 and 1952 and one Christmas Airgraph letter from 1943. In 1943, Bert's brother Syd is still in the Army, along with his son, Sydney and Doll's son, Jack. Emily is living with Les in Hendon, but visiting Hounslow often.

It would seem that few of Emily's letters to Bert were answered. Grace wrote to her grandmother during the War and sent her food parcels but Bert, although quite literate, was a poor correspondent. Emily's letters are a mixture of family news - mostly about her brothers and sisters - news about rationing in Britain, questions about Bert's family and pleas for more news and photos.

In 1947 her letter is sent from Stan's house at Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea. From 1948 to 1951 she writes from Brookfield, the home she bought with the sale of the mineral water business, now leased by her brother Charles and his family. From 1947 until 1952 Emily lived with her brother, his wife Kate and unmarried son, Charlie. When Kate died in 1948, Emily kept house for Charles and Charlie.

In 1947, aged 79,she writes : You will be sorry to hear that Aunt Kate passed away 26 July. She had been a great sufferer for some years but we all miss her very much. Poor old Uncle seems lost without her. Young Charlie is still single and living at home. I do the cooking for them at present. Glad and Ted come in to do the rough cleaning,  and washing Glad takes home to do, but I really do not want the job now. I feel too tired now to do much work. I still have a lot of muscular rheumatism and I find the stairs trying.

She passes on news of her family - the Keens, her sister Alice, brother Dick and Charles' son Arthur.

Doll lives nearby and sees a lot of her mother. She has news of Les from New Zealand when he moves there in 1947. By 1949 Les has bought 2 acres of land and is starting out on his own.  Syd and Stan are sporadic in their visits and she yearns for news from Bert and Fred. What news she does get comes mainly from Bert's daughter Grace and very occasional letters from Fred and Bert.

She has news of cousins' children marrying, and uncles and aunts aging and her own activity.

In 1951, news of her sister Alice's death is overshadowed by the death of Doll's husband, Fred. He had been ill and in hospital, but expected to live for some years if he took things carefully. Doll's grief is exacerbated by her daughter, Meg, moving to New Zealand in 1952, along with her family. Les put them up until they bought land and put up a garage they could live in while building a house.

Emily would like to be independent herself, but sees no way of achieving it.
She organises, through Grace, for Bert's signature on a document that allows her to cash in an insurance policy she held on her children's lives.

Rationing was in force in Britain until 1954. In 1951  Emily reports: We are still rationed to meat, and only 3oz butter, ¼ lb marg, and 6 oz sugar, 3 oz bacon, 3 oz cheese a week, some weeks 1 egg and some 2. Are you able to get plenty now? What we miss most, I think, is sugar, or at least I do.

She complains, as the years go by, of rheumatism, bronchitis and a bad back. Before Christmas 1952 she has moved to live with her son Syd and his wife Flo and has been confined to bed for some weeks. She was, by then, 83 years old.

In August 1952 she sent Grace a photo of herself in the garden. She says it was taken by Maud, presumably her niece, Maud, or Molly, Keen.  She asked that Albert reproduce it for her and provide it to both Bert and Fred's families so their children 'can see what their Gran is like'. Albert obliged. He retained memories of staying with her as a boy, when she bought him a pair of trousers and put a penny in the pocket, telling if that if he left it there he would never be broke!

In spite of her news and cheeriness, her letters have a sadness and pain.
She very much wants news of her family, of their daily lives, of the small news of their hopes, fears, tribulations and joys. She asks again and again for photos. She is grateful for surviving, and getting by, but she pays the price of a mother whose sons migrate across the world for a new life in an age when telephoning is a luxury and travel is slow and expensive.

On 20 May 1953 she writes to Grace wishing her happy birthday.  She is lucid and alert - commenting on the Coronation plans and on Sylvia and Len moving into their own home.

On 21 November 1953 Doll wrote to Bert to tell him their mother has quite suddenly developed dementia and has not known any of the family for six weeks. Doll has gone to stay with Syd and Florrie to help with Emily and Stan calls in each week. Eventually Doll took Emily to live with her but, within a couple of years, could no longer cope and Emily moved into a nursing home.

Doll left Southampton on the Southern Cross  in September 1959, arriving in New Zealand on 26 October. She travelled as a tourist, but never returned to England. Her son, Jack, followed on the Rangitane in February 1960 with his wife Kathleen and daughter Sheila.

Of Emily's six children, by 1960, two were  in Australia, two in New Zealand and two in England.
Emily outlived her son Stan by several months. He died of a heart attack while drinking at the Bell Prince Hotel, Southend-on-sea on 21st January 1961, aged 61.

Emily died in the nursing home towards the end of 1961, aged 91.

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