Dec. 10th 1942
What a lot I have to tell you about this time. In fact, there is so much that I do not really know where to begin. First and foremost however, I must tell you about Aunt Esther. I got your letter giving me her address on Friday last - but as I had already promised and planned to visit Mary down at her new station, I couldn't go down to Brighton until Monday. I spent Saturday and nearly all of Sunday with Mary and we had a grand time together. It really is amazing how much fun we manage to have whenever we are together, even though we do the most ordinary things. We went for a long walk through the country-side on Saturday afternoon, fed Mary's two horses (they aren't really hers but just two she has adopted for a time) and in the evening we went to the village dance. It was an old country dance just like we used to have at home in Manitoba and Alberta. We had a grand time in fact, one of the best I have had for a long time. And I am sure Mary felt the same way. On Sunday we went for a long walk thru the fields after dinner and then I had to come back to London. I was very sorry to do so but I had to go down to Brighton.
On Monday I left London and got down to Brighton at 3.30. Caught a bus right to the house. They were expecting me: uncle, auntie and Cousin Betty. They are a lovely family. Uncle is about 60, white-headed, stoop-shouldered but not weak, gentle, soft-voiced yet giving an impression of quiet strength. Auntie is very small - almost tiny, very dark with flashing eyes and a quick smile with an air of bustling activity about her that reminds me very strongly of Mrs. Messenger. Betty is nineteen, very pretty in fact, almost beautiful, tall, beautifully strong and healthy, golden hair, blue eyes and a lovely smile. She reminds me in many ways of Mary. She has Mary's personality and her gift of being radiantly friendly that I like so much. Cyril is tall, dark, and not very talkative in fact, rather quiet and a very great contrast to Betty who is quick, alive, vivacious is the word I want. I only saw Olive for a few moments but she is a marvel. She has had six children - no seven, and she still retains her "girlish laughter". She is still remarkably pretty, very dark where Betty is fair, but as alive and full of fun as Betty. But the marvel to me is that she still has the figure a girl of 18 might well be proud of.
I had an extremely sad and hard task to do on Tuesday morning: day after I got there. Betty's fiancé is a Flying Officer in Bomber Command. He went over Germany on Sunday night and did not return. We got the phone message on Tuesday morning when Betty was away on duty at the ARP. post and her mother asked me to break the news to her. I did so as gently as I could and I must say she was remarkably brave about the whole affair. But it's cast its shadow over the whole of my stay and it was heart-rending to see Betty striving to suppress her grief. I heard her crying the whole of Tuesday night until I could stand it no longer so I went in to her and sitting on the edge of the bed in my pyjamas, I held her hand and talked to her and tried to comfort her. I think I succeeded because she finally went off to sleep. If you write to her, please do no mention any of this because I do not suppose she wants to be reminded of it any more than necessary. And anyway, he is only reported as missing so far and is quite probably a prisoner of war. He may even escape as so many of our boys have. But it is so hard for her because this is the second time. Her first friend went down with the ‘Ark Royal' in the Mediterranean. I certainly know now what tragedy and heart-aches lie behind that simple statement "One of our bombers did not return".
While I was down there your letter singing all my praises arrived. You know you shouldn't have said all that Mother. You made me out an angel or a genius or a saint or something. I'm not really. I'm just a quite ordinary young man doing quite ordinary things. I have just had more lucky accidents than most, that's all.
I also met Alf's two sisters. They were very pleased to see me and I had a very nice visit with them for a couple of hours. They are very quiet and respectable but rather gushing and inclined to get poetical at the slightest provocation. And by a peculiar coincidence, Mrs. Lees is working at the King Alfred (naval college at Brighton) where uncle is a chef. He knows her well and was able to tell her all about me. I saw Mr. Lees at their home but she was not able to get off duty. They are just the same as ever. Bobby is away out East, has been for about 18 months. So altogether I was very glad to meet my relations and my one regret is that I have had to waste these 3 yrs. without knowing they were so near me. Isn't Aunt Millie a pig? Uncle called her a "b---h" and for once I am inclined to agree, although I don't like calling women names. Evidently she has always tried to stir up trouble between the different members of the family and so far has succeeded. She is the only one who knows Laurie's and Harold's addresses and she won't tell. We really must try to get in touch with them all again. It is terrible the way our family has drifted apart and it's about time something was done about it! I'm acting as travelling ambassador right now, but how about when the war is over? Betty agrees with me and I only hope she is able to accept my invitation to visit us after the war. She has said she will and being a very determined young woman, I think she will if she can. I hope she does because I should like you to see her and see that there are other fine members of our family besides myself. You may think this is rather an exaggerated opinion to have formed about anyone in just 3 days, but she made a tremendous hit with me and it is really extraordinary how well we got along from the first moment. I don't usually take so strongly to people from the very first. About the only other person who had a comparable effect upon me was Mary. She and I have got along like a ‘rabbit inside his own skin' ever since we first met which is only just a year ago. It seems peculiar to look back upon that first meeting and how embarrassed we both were because, although we knew so much about each other - for we had been corresponding for months, we had never met and our opinions were already formed. I don't think either of us has altered it very much since then either.
This has really been a very memorable month and though I haven't anything very tangible to show for it, it will yield a very fruitful harvest of happy memories in years to come. If I do go home soon after this, I know I shall feel very sad: far sadder than I did when I left Canada.
I enclose 3 clippings re. Lady Astor's estate. The one entitled "Two Homes" is from the Daily Worker: the Communist paper around whose banning so much controversy raged for months. The ban has been lifted for about six months now. I know I have a lot more news but I can't think of it all right now. So I will write again later, upon my recall.
Love to all,