(Written 1981–1984)

I would like to thank Lesley Dickenson for sharing these wonderful memoirs of her grandmother. They were written when Edith was 91 years of age, and legally blind. They took four years to complete and provide a fascinating insight into her early life and times in India, Sri Lanka, Malta and England. Edith immigrated to Canada in 1948 with her family.

Part I

I was born on Sept 24 1889 in Hastings – a suburb of Calcutta in Bengal in what was then British India. This was where grandfather; my mother′s father lived with his family of four sons and two daughters. Mother′s brother Arthur and Flo her next sister had been educated in England and had just returned to India. The next three sons were in college in Calcutta and the youngest daughter Dora was in boarding school at (Nainital)?

When I was three months old mother took me to Jhansi where father was stationed. I remember nothing naturally for the next two or three years but then we three returned to Calcutta where father has been posted,. Now we had our own home a bungalow with verandahs on three sides and a large compound with out houses for the living quarters of the servants and the kitchen.

My mother having lived in India all her life, spoke fluent Hindustan and always supervised the making of pickles, chutneys, sauces and jams etc. The native cooks were wonderful and make the most tasty and appetizing dishes. Mother always went to the market and did the shopping. A coolie was hired at the gates and carried the parcels in a flat round basket on his head. Oh yes mother got to the market in a hired ghosty and when she was finished shopping another one was hired and the parcels put in. The coolie paid and she returned home and gave over the materials for the day′s meal to the Bhoji (cook). We had several servants as the caste system prevents one caste from doing another castes work (like the unions) Besides the cook we had his mate a houseboy, a table boy, a mail (the gardener), and of course my precious Ayah. We loved each other very much and I spoke Hindi before I spoke English.

Our washroom arrangements were very primitive and were looked after by the Mehta and his (wife?) A large tub of water stood in a cemented portion of the bathroom where there was an outlet for the water to run off and one just stood and dripped a tin pot in the tub and shower. No hot water was ever needed! Sometimes a snake would be found coiled up on the cool cement floor! I should imagine that by this time my sister Sylva had arrived, she was two and a half years younger that I. Ayah would now have 2 babes to care for and love. I rather think the ayah had a room next to ours, she would only need a charboy (native camp bed) to sleep on, she would of course eat in the servants quarters as her caste would not allow her to eat our food and indeed use any of our utensils. I never remember any but the one Ayah and in fact my mother′s servants seem to be with her forever. If one of them wanted to go to his mulak (village) he would get a brother or cousin to keep his place for him until he got back.

Before I close this part of my tale I must say a little about our daily routine. Chote hazari (little breakfast) about 6.30am, mainly fruit eaten in the verandah, and what a variety, guavas, custard apples, melon, oranges, plantains (bananas) and a big grapefruit like thing with pink sections (pomelos) like an orange, delicious and of course the tea for the grownups and I expect milk for me. Then hagari ( breakfast) Tiffin? (lunch) chiefly curry and rice and for me what the cook called plish plash(chicken and rice done up with white sauce, sounds awful but I guess I liked it. No tea time that I can remember but dinner, generally something roasted fresh each night. I guess I had bread and milk! I have no idea of the activities of the day but I expect I played about and I am sure listened to endless Indian fairy tales told by Ayah.

Two other things before I leave this phase of my life. The riot of flowers in the garden but none that I can remember as being suitable for vases indoors, also the verandahs were hung with curtains made of a grass like substance called Khms khmstatis? And which where watered by the mali (gardener) scented the air as it blew through them.

Part II

In the first part of my story I have recorded my life as it had been told me at various times by various people. From now on I shall depend a great deal on my own memories.

We moved from our bungalow nearer to the city and to a house – I know it had a second story because I can remember most vividly mother coming downstairs in her evening dress with her ostrich feather fan hanging from her wrist. Mother and father went out quite a lot chiefly I think to theatrical events. Both were keen in the theater. Companies came out from England daring the cold weather, some with plays and others variety companies. Father wrote reviews for one of the papers so we had free seats. I think I saw my first play, The Sign of the Cross, when I was about 8 years old. Father loved entertaining the casts and one popular way was to have a launch and sail down to the Hoogli river to the sanderbunds where it met the Ganges and formed a great estuary of sandbanks. The banks on either side were jungle and filled with the chattering of monkeys.

About this time there was a change in family arrangements, my grandfather married again, a young women, young enough to be his daughter, in fact she had been a bridesmaid to my mother. Uncle Arthur and Auntie Flo, the two next in age to mother, left home and Auntie Flo came to live with us. She had been educated in England and was very talented, she painted and played the piano (this extremely well) and how I first became conscious of music. Mother had a beautiful voice and there was constant singing in the house with Auntie accompanying mother. Auntie could read practically anything at sight.

Mother and Auntie rode every morning, mother being stout had to mount from a chair and I well remember one morning the horse kicking over the chair. There was great consternation among the servants but I don′t think mother was hurt. She still paid her daily visit to the market and I went along sometimes.

With the coming of Auntie Flo into the family I am sure I was beginning to have lessons, she was the clever one of the family and had as I have mentioned been educated in England. I suppose otherwise we just played about and had an afternoon sleep. I expect to what pish pash had been taken over by a mild curry and rice or rather dahl and rice (dahl was lentils) after 4 o′clock Ayah and one on the younger house boys would take us in a hired gharry to the maidan – a large common where all the children played – the boys flew kites helped by the their young servants. The sky was full of kites of all colors and sizes. The maidan and Eden Gardens were on one side of a wide red road called Chowringhee. The Hoogli River ran along the other side. Chowringhee was the place for everyone to take the air and listen to the Band from the gardens. About six o′clock we went home and had supper and went to bed. I should imagine that I was about 7 or 8 and Sylvia 5.

One evening Uncle Harry a bachelor friend of the family came along in his dog cart, took us children into town to eat ice cream, the first in India. Ayah had taken off our frocks and we were in our petticoats but Uncle Harry didn′t notice and I don′t think we cared but Ayah was horrified.

I suspect we had the usual childish complaints. I know we had the mumps because at the house there was a total eclipse of the sun and Sylvia was too sick to watch it I went out with all the others with our smoked glasses.

A familiar sight in Indian houses was the Dhirzee (tailor) he would sit out on a sheet on one of the verandahs with the machine at his feet a billow of white muslin and fine calico billows around He made all our clothes and could copy a dress or other garment from a picture.

I must insert this as there are one or two I want to mention. Mother and father went to the odd government house functions and one when Lord Curzon? Was Viceroy I was asked to a birthday party of one of his daughters, Lady Cynthia I think, the youngest who became Lady Cynthia Choseley. I had no dress grand enough mother thought so she got the Dhirzee to cut up one of her evening dresses, I expect it was very grand and probably covered in lace.

There were no shoe shops, all the footwear was made by china men, to order. There was one street in Calcutta for these wonderful shoemakers.

We always wore sashes and I remember when grandfather ______ they were black.

One of the houses we lived in was next to the lodge. Father was an ardent freemason and was worshipful master for a spell while we were there. Mother used to lend Chedi our cook for their banquets and he brought back some of the luscious desserts for the babas.

Auntie Dora (Mother′s youngest sister) stayed with us for the holidays, she was teaching music in her old school in as Naini Tal and used to go over to the lodge and play on the big organ there and I always went with her.

We went to the hills for the hot weather and one other of the stations Gom Kurseong or to Darjeeling the longest and highest. These stations were in the foothills of the Himalayas and we could see Mount Everest and Kinchinjenga quite distinctly. The hills were our perfect paradise, waterfalls everywhere and the eternal snows in the distance. It took two days and one night from Calcutta. We went by train and then in a ferry across the a very wide river and the last part into the hills themselves in a little mountain train drawn by and immensely powerful engine. The carriages were like light open train cares wound up and up and round hairpin bends we could lean across and shake hands with people in the cars round the bend before or after. The various paths up the hillsides were covered with bushes with wild berries of every kind. There were wild animals, panthers and bears but only the bears came down where the bungalows were. They would snuffle about at night looking for food in the rubbish bins. We used to be afraid but they never harmed us. The waterfalls ended as big pools with masses of wild flowers which on could not pick as some would be covered with leeches. I know, I picked some once!

We stayed about three months in the hills and then back home to Calcutta. While in the hills I suppose we had local Bhutias but Ayah always was with us.

Grandfather died about this time and I suppose the family split up, everyone was grown up anyway. Auntie Flo left now and I think kept house for Uncle Arthur.

Now we were for England for the very first time in our lives – even mother who was by then 30 years old and I think had not been born in England (she was born in Australia). Father his father, brothers and sisters were all there, Grandfather two uncles and five sisters. Both mother and father had 8 in the family and now we were getting ready to leave for England we traveled there by ship of the Messageries Maritime.

Part III

We were on our way to England via Marseilles, I can′t remember much about the voyage except that there seemed to be many children. We had our meals apart from the grownups – looked after by the stewardesses. I expect we were a pretty useless lot having always had Ayahs in attendance. Being a French steamer I expect there were quite a few French people as the French had a small colony on the East coast called Ponolicheri. From France to England overland but I can′t remember way of the journey. Finally in London at a boarding house in West Kensington. I think must have been rather hoydens and mother has quite a job keeping us quiet.

Mother as I remember had something wrong with one of her feet and was confined to the house. Sylvia was left with her and father took me to Fladbury in Worcestershire to see his father and a cousin Robert Cowley and his wife Margery and their 2 small children. They were living in the old home where father had been born and were looking after grandfather who was quite old by now. I don′t know whether I remember him or the picture I had of him and my grandmother but I know he was quite surprised to find that I was not brown.

I think I must have stayed there a long time as I seemed to remember the place so well. The 2 children much younger than I, and going to the little country church where Aunt Marjorie played the organ.

The house was very old and one of the many near Worcester where Bonnie Prince Charles took refuge after his defeat. There was a great deal of land, orchards and vegetable gardens etc. Grandfather was a gentlemen farmer. He let out his grounds to growers of fruit and vegetables. He was reputed to grow the finest asparagus in the country. It must have been quite late in the summer as I remember so well the beautiful______ plums and the wasps.

From Fladbury father took me to Yorkshire to see his sister Bertha, married to a country doctor Dr. Walker. I stayed there with them for several months. Bertha was a horrid person and even slapped me on one occasion. Uncle Ted didn′t like this and from then took me on his rounds in his dog cart. The groom sat up behind and when uncle went into the cottages he stood at the horses head. Years afterwards when I was living in Colombo he came to see me; he was then a ship′s doctor having sold his practice, left auntie whom he said he couldn′t stand anymore! Years after this I visited him and his very nice 2nd wife in Southampton where he had returned.

Now was to come one of fathers more grandiose schemes. He took a house in a small town down in Hornchurch Essex and, furnished from attic to cellar by Maples of London furnished down to the last teaspoon and monogrammed it Boughton–Chambers. Mother could not face this in spite of having a wonderful maid and lots of help and advice from some refined Indian Civil Service people who lived opposite. I can′t remember much of this time but I do remember the vicarage where ___the vicar and his wife grew green figs. The Hornchurch episode did not last long mother simply couldn′t take it.

Father must have disappeared for a day or two because he had found another place; this was to be home for about 3 years. He came in one day saying he had found part of a large house and discovered a character. How right he was. When we got to 34 Wellington Square Chelsea the door was opened to us by a wizened old lady with bright red hair, hennaed. She owned the house or rather her front first floor lodger did. She apparently had been housekeeper to the Nicholls family for years; they were English country folk and eccentric. Two brothers and a sister had been the sole survivors of the family, the older brother died and I expect the sister was put away as she apparently sat all day in her hunting outfit, complete with top hat.

The youngest son, about 71 or 75 then I think asked Mrs. Lewis to take over the London house and look after him. This she had done and decided to let the rest of the house. We had the first floor, the chief bedrooms in the old home but our living room and ___ ___bedroom at the back, a bathroom also at the back. __ rooms upstairs (maid′s rooms originally and a kitchen in the basement with an old kitchen range. Mother couldn′t possibly manage a kitchen in the basement so there must have been another small room near the bathroom because I remember her doing all the cooking on two kerosene stoves. Probably Beatrice like father used in his Pinner house (many years later according to Aunt Barbara???) Anyhow we settled in and it was home for 3 years or more.Wellington Square and other off the Kings Road in Chelsea had been quite fashionable once. The houses were built around 3 sides of the square with a garden in the middle. The gardens were for the sole use of the tenants of the houses and were kept locked. The tenants had keys.

On thinking it over Mrs. Lewis must have had the front basement room for herself and we had the use of the kitchen at the back, shared with her as she would have had to cook for herself and Mr. Marshall. So there would always be a fire in the range where mother would be able to roast a joint or____. I remember a hip bath where we had run baths at night in front of the range.

Father named well at this time and was often coming home with tickets for the coliseum or other shows and I know we went to the Drury Lane Pantomime that winter I saw Dan Leno as the ___ in Jack and the beanstalk. I remember this perfectly. Father also took us to Peter Jones in the Sloane square and for us outfitted up with grey coats and skirts and button boots, black velvet hats. He just handed us over to one of the saleswomen!!

Father was editor of the Indian Freemason (magazine) and was writing a serial for it all the time. I had to type his monthly contribution for the printer. I don′t know exactly how it happened but on one occasion there was a pink slip to be included errata. I think it was called. The slips we apparently, presumably a hideous error, somehow father got in touch with a fellow mason and the impossible was done. The print master was a mason and mother was allowed to go to the GPO and put in the slips before various port officers personnel.

Even more exciting was that President Jonbere of France was visiting London that day and mother had to be escorted to the post office by the police as the traffic had been stopped. This story is absolutely true.

Shortly after, father had to go before the medical board for permission to return to India. He failed and was put on half pay for six months, failed again and on quarter pay for another three then fellow masons used their influence and he went back but we had a very thin time for those months and our mainstay was dhal and rice!

Now Auntie Edie one of father′s sisters came into the picture and into the family and what a godsend she was, she was studying to be a teacher at Whiteland′s College in Chelsea and when father went, she came to live with us. Our lessons began in earnest and she took complete charge, she taught us to ride the bicycle running around the square holding us (we hired the bike). She also taught us to skate in Battersea Park where the pond was frozen that winter. She put out hair up in rags each night and we had gorgeous ringlets in the morning and got us made some nice clothes. She and mother went out to theatres and concerts now and then and was really getting used to England at last.

We used to go to church either at St Peters Eaton Square or All Saints (I think) Sloane and the verger would tell her of any society weddings that were to take place and she dressed us up and we went and were once mistaken for guests and given favours! Beside all these improvements in our lives we now went to the public Baths once a week, we still kept up our nightly hip baths in front of the kitchen range. Mrs. Lewis was an old darling and helped mother a great deal. We got to know old Mr. Nicholls very well saw him every day, he was crippled with rheumatism and could no longer paint but he thought Sylvia was a lovely child and would have liked to paint her, she took after father′s family with her aristocratic features. I was the ugly duckling.

About this time I began to go to a day school, a convent in the Kings Rd. I loved school and was their little Indian. Our life went on in this pleasant way for I should think two or three years when father was invalided home with sprue, a tropical complaint, he was admitted to St Thomas hospital but didn′t like being a number so mother got him into St Thomas home. Auntie Edie must have finished her training and found a post because now we were on our own. We moved from Wellington Square to as small town in Bedford Park near Chiswick and father came home to us there but was still very ill. He was in bed and ___to live on champagne. I expect mothers __ brothers helped with money or perhaps the Masons again. I know we had a maid. Both Sylvia and I went now, to the Chiswick Girls High School. It was still there when I was back in England years after.

I don′t remember much about this time of my life but father got better I suppose and we went back to India, this time to Bombay on the west coast and so began another phase of my life. Of the voyage I can remember nothing, I suppose it was a P&O steamer. I can well remember one voyage later from Ceylon to Plymouth, more of this later.

Part IV

The west coast of India was new to all of us. Bombay was a fine city with a lovely harbour with many small islands one of them Elephanta with the famous caves, rock carving of the Hindu deities. On the other side was Back Bay the Indian Ocean with a beautiful sandy beach where at sunset we could see scores of Pansees praying to the setting sun. On our side of the bay was Colaba where the barracks were and on the other Malabar Hill, the Rockcliffe of Bombay.

Our first home was on the harbour side overlooking the Bombay yacht club but later we moved to Colaba. The climate was horrid, very hot and eternally steamy, it soon disagreed with me. It was decided that Sylvia and I would go up to the hills to a boarding school. The school was in a place called Panchgani in the western ghots, first the journey. We started by train and at one point where the line was on a spur of the mountain there could be no curving round so an engine was attached to the end of the train which became the front and we proceeded on the other layer of the spur. The station was called Khandala but was named the reversing station. We went up further for an hour or so to a station–Wathar and then detrained and got into a great lumbering Victoria like carriages drawn by four mules. The mules were changed every four hours until we finally got to Panchgani. This was a lovely place and had besides our school, a boy′s school and a convent. There were quite a number of houses as many retired couples settled there. There was also a Church of England and I suppose a catholic church, a tennis club and a cemetery.

From the school we could look down to the valley about 1000 feet below. A path wound up from the valley sometimes widening out into a ledge narrow at first but the ledges getting wider as one climbed. On the first of the wider ledges was our school bakery and dairy, the next even wider were the school building living quarter, dormitories of the ___and rooms for the staff. Dividing these rooms was the dining room and I suppose the kitchens. Further up still, came the schoolrooms, gymnasium and surgery and the hospital. It was a lovely little cottage with a nurse and several Ayahs. Everyone had an ambition to get sick so as to go there. There were also tennis courts on this ledge. Then came the roads for the various buildings I have mentioned. The road was of red earth with hedges on either side and in the monsoons these were covered in mushrooms and sweet peas – lovely.

We had yet another church to the final ledge which was really three tablelands with a lake. The tablelands were practically flat and made wonderful playgrounds. We had one; the boy′s school one and the convent the third. We played field hockey and cricket. We played tennis at odd times but the games on tableland were every afternoon. We had a stiff climb up to the tableland. In one monsoon the ground was carpeted with blue and white flowers we called them bluebonnets and snowdrops. Tablelands were caves but we were not allowed to explore them, there were probably jackals and hyenas and snakes in them. Panchgani was quite a large community and had probably some consul or other but we didn′t bother about outside affairs.

Towards the end of November we went back to our homes in the plains for about 3 months, the school year was about 9 months and for the hot weather the mothers came up and took furnished bungalows and we went home for weekends. When the monsoons broke, generally with a fierce thunder storm the rain just fell down and the noise on the roofs was deafening. It sometimes rained for weeks and when there was a break Miss Kimmens, our principal would say no lessons and send us for a walk, it was then that we saw lovely roses and sweet peas on the hedges and everything was fresh and wonderful. The heavy rains lasted about 3 months, the rest of the time the weather was beautiful.

I had started lessons in earnest and was to prepare for senior Cambridge the following year, I did and passed.

In our first winter in Bombay we met a family of McClumphis___(illegible) _two older boys had been in the cathedral choir and the younger ones were still singing there. Evie the older girl, older than I, was taking singing lessons with Dr Faulkner, she also played the piano. I think this is the first time I found I had a nice voice. What lovely musical evenings we had at the McClumnphis singing around the piano.

When I got back to school I began to take lessons in singing with our music teacher and tried for the senior trinity college senior exams buy failed in sight singing. One of the masters in the boys school played my accompanyment and after that when he was at one of Miss Kimmens evening social gatherings he always asked that I be allowed to sing. He became quite a heart throb for me!!! The staffs of the two schools were practically all English university people and I think our education was of a very high standard. Algebra and Euclid was taught by a Pundit, an Indian teacher... As far as I remember we were an exceptionally happy bunch of girls.

There are a few more experience which I must add to the Panchgani part of my life. Although we were in school for nine months of the year we had road holidays, sometimes were taken for picnics to beauty spots, chiefly waterfalls. We went by bullock cart not luxurious but fun. At other times we were allowed to ramble in groups of four and often went to the valley below us which was a Hindu place of pilgrimage and had many temples which of course we were not allowed to enter. The natives of Wai village were rather hostile to white “log” people, but we did not seem to mind as we chattered away to the women and children in Hindustani. In the strawberry seasons Mrs. Kimmens got a reliable man to come in for the____Falls and we had bowls of strawberries and cream for breakfast instead of porridge. She also had a reliable man who came every Saturday with native sweets, absolutely mouth watering and dripping with delicious juices. There were fehabies, russagotas, halwa and others whose names I have forgotten. We had unknown to the staff, or winked at, midnight feasts, chiefly curry and rice made by the Ayahs finished off with tins of sweet condensed milk.

There was a tragic note when the plague came to Panchgani, the natives died like this and it even struck a poor white family and wiped out mother, father and their five children. Ironically every native not stricken ran away, all the native huts were burnt down and the Padre and his auntie, the RC priest and the doctor, one of two ladies including mother got the white bodies ready for burial. During these weeks all the schools evacuated to Mahableshwar, the summer seat of the Bombay government. We were put into various bungalows and there was one for meals and school. We did our lessons under the trees. There was no labour to speak of and when our shoes were torn we had to mend them for ourselves with paper and string. We walked miles and miles from place to place we were glad to get back to Panchgani but glad to have seen Mahableseshwar which was lovely. I think from what I have recounted that it will be agreed that our school was unique and that we were a happy crowd. We had lots of entertainment, we always acted the Shakespeare play we were doing that year and I had spelling and geography bees in which the boys took part.

The fashion then was to find a musical comedy star to be like; Sylvia was like Phyliis Ware, someone else like Marie Stadholme etc. I was not beautiful enough in fact I was plain Jane so the mistresses said I could be like Ellen Terry because I had an expressive face.

We went down to Bombay very cold weather and when I was seventeen we all went to Calcutta to spend Christmas with Uncle Arthur and His wife Auntie Bertie. I put up my hair and was quite grown up and we had a lovely time. We met Auntie Flo again; she was living at Arthur′s I think with Uncle and Auntie.

Life went on happily for about four years or so and then I left Panchgani very reluctantly for good. Mother and father by then had moved to Calab the military side of Bombay and I had my 21st birthday and my first bicycle there. I used to sing a great deal now and learned many songs some mother had sang. Soldiers passing by to the barracks often stood outside and listened to me. I loved singing. We were generally with the McClumpha′s life was fairly conundrum. Sylvia and I were getting bored with nothing to do but please ourselves so decided that she would train as a nurse and I as a teacher. Father was much against it but we were determined and decided on Poona, not far from Bombay but at a higher altitude and dry. She went to the Sassoon Hospital and I to St Mary′s Training College.

Part V

St Mary′s was very different from our school in Panchgani. It was a large school with a Teachers training department. There were only six of us while I was there; the school proper was on one side of the road and a small cottage and large Kindergarten building on the other. It was very hot in Poona with 45 degrees during the day, but dry. We did all our work either in the early morning or after 5 pm. We all went into our dormitories and slept a couple of hours. I enjoyed my studies and besides the teachers training I started to work for the Cambridge higher exam. I did psychology and English private coaching during the cold weather holidays, I could not manage the maths a compulsory subject.

On most afternoons I went over to the kindergarten building where there was a piano and sang my heart out accompanying myself after a fashion. We had to give lessons in the school proper for practical training. One fairly momentous thing happened during those two years. It was the year of the Delhi (Durtar?) And King George V, and Queen Mary were to arrive in Bombay Father had special seats for the reception of their majesties and wanted us to be there. Sylvia had no difficulty in getting leave but sister superior said I could not go. Father wrote saying history was being made and I was to go! So grudgingly permission was given and off we went to Bombay. Sylvia and I had no money so went 3rd class and what a trip it was! We spent the night killing bugs!!! Needless to say Father would not allow us to return the same way. It was a very colorful show with speeches and bands but not of course like the Nurbar was, we had a very good view of the majesties. I remember King George stood on a low stool as he was a little shorter than the Queen.

I was not very happy at St Mary′s but enjoyed my studies. Sister Maud was an interesting and I think a good teacher, and very important to me she loved poetry; she read beautifully and would take out her books of poems at any time if we encouraged her. She was especially fond of Robert Browning, so I have been ever since then. I did my psychology with her, and history with the history mistress of the school proper, and passed in the Higher Local Cambridge in both. However, I never got a certificate as I could not get the grade required in maths. I had a special tutor one Christmas holidays, but still could not attain the standard. We had done very little math in my school days. Anyhow, I got my, Teacher′s certificate, and soon after there was an application from Bishop′s College in Colombo for a teacher. There were several necessary requirements, which I thought I hadn′t got, but Sister Superior said I had, so off I went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Part VI

That cold weather was a busy bustling one. I expect the Dhirzee was in every day making all sorts of garments. I was quite worried about my inadequacy to do all that would be required of me about somewhere I suppose. One thing I knew I must get cleared up and that was teaching singing. I had lessons myself but knew nothing about teaching a class. However, I saw Dr Faulkner who gave me a few ideas, but who also scolded me as he said that using my voice in a classroom all day would ruin it. However this didn′t worry me and as it happened I never felt my voice was unduly strained. I expect I had been taught to use it properly. I have an idea that it was this winter that Halley′s Comet was visible. What a glorious sight that was; we went up to the rood about 3am and there it was stretched across the sky. This would be 1911; I′d like to find out if it was that winter; anyhow around that time as I know we saw it from the flat roof of our house.

In Colaba, and I was not in that house for more that one or two holidays. I was 23 years old and about to go out into the world on my own. I expect I felt a bit afraid. I expect all traveling arrangements were made by Father and I set off, I remember on a small coastal steamer; (I shared) a cabin with the granddaughter of General Booth of the Salvation Army. I can′t remember the voyage or arriving in Colombo but I must have got there, because it was the beginning of a very happy period of my life.

I loved every minute of my life in Bishop′s College. The school was run by the East Grinstead Sisters, so very different from St. Mary′s and the Wantage Sisters (both were Anglican – not Catholic). I was by far the youngest member of the staff–about six residents and a couple of visiting teacher′s. Ruby Hillyer taught music and became a great friend – I was married at her house. She later married one of the Eastern Telegraph men and we continued our friendship until she died, while we were all in England.

The Bishop of Colombo was our Patron and he and Mrs. Copplestone took an interest in the staff I became quite a favorite of theirs and spent many holidays with them in Nuwera Elya. They were the dearest couple and so gentle and lived quietly in an aristocratic way. They were cousins and were connected with the Fox–Strangeways. The Bishop′s brother was the Metropolitan Bishop of India. I spent much of my time with the Copplestones, up country especially. They liked to hear my sing and I sang the songs from my classical book without accompaniment. I don′t know whether Barbara will remember my book of soprano songs by Brahms, Grieg, Arne and others.

Now I must get down to my reason for being in Colombo. We had a resident staff of about six I think I have said, and I was by far the youngest. My form (class) was ten – year olds; they were bright and no problem with discipline, and they liked to learn. The 6th from where I took arithmetic was not so easy. I had hardly gone much further in arithmetic, and worked out all problems in advance, so that I could do any explaining needed. The singing was a joy –the children sang very sweetly and just liked me. I rushed from the altos to the sopranos and we got on famously. We tried for a local competition and won the Shield both years I was there, although I kept up the singing after I was married. We tried for a Trinity College exam but failed and the examiner told me that my conducting was the fault.

Colombo had little outside entertainment by visitors from abroad but we made our own, and I was soon roped in to join the Amateur Operatic Society. We put on many shows, light and more serious stuff like Omaqr Kayham, and I was in everything. I loved it but was tired during the day and used to get the children doing much on their own while I closed my eyes for a few minutes.

We had outdoor diversions – golf and tennis, and bathing at Mount Lavinia. There were more men than girls and we never lacked for escorts. Most of us joined the Ladies′ Gold club so that we could return some of the hospitality given by the men.

We had a Chapel in the school and had the usual offices of the day from Matins to Compline. We were required to attend whenever we were free, so we all wore capes like Miss Muffet′s.

My doctor uncle Ted came to see me once, as he had left Auntie Berth sold his practice and joined a ship as doctor for a year or two. He took me out while in port. One of the forms of entertainment were movies on the roof of the G.O.H. (Green Oonebal(?) Hotel ) one of the two big hotels – the other was the Galle face Hotel on the sea front, a popular place for sitting in the cool of the evening, having lemon and other innocuous drinks and eating chips and nuts.

I think I loved every hour of my two years or so in Bishop′s College. I had two friends on the staff, Esther Stewart and Ethel Sutch, the latter was my bridesmaid when I married Teddy. I resumed my friendship afterwards in England when I went to her home on, I think the Duke of Wellington′s estate; her father was the librarian in the big house.

Among the men I met (in Ceylon) was Teddy Kellaway, with whom we made an occasional four at tennis. He was one the best players in the Garden Club and I was not in the same class, but I expect he put up with that, as apparently he had made up his mind to marry me. I was quite interested in two other men, but Teddy was more determined that they were; anyway as soon as war was declared (1914) we got engaged and were married the following February.

I was married in the Parish Church, and thought the Vicar would marry us, but Mrs. Copplestone was that the Bishop would be quite hurt if I didn′t ask him, so I did and he did. Father came over to meet Teddy and later to give me away. He was stationed in Poona and close to retirement. Mother and Sylvia had gone to England where Sylvia went to Guy′s hospital to continue her training. I went to Bombay for Christmas and stayed with friends and had my trousseau made – not by a Dhirzee this time but by a little French dressmaker. Ruby Hillyer had the wedding at her house and the Bishop said a lot of nice things about me.

We spent out honeymoon in Kandy and then took a furnished bungalow. As I have said, I kept on the singing at the school and had on private pupil. Life went on as before, with golf, tennis, dinner parties, and we spent until the end of the war in this way. Teddy′s was a reserved occupation and women were not allowed to travel. We hardly knew that there was a war, except when the Australian soldiers passed through Colombo, wreaking havoc in the town, and when they returned wounded and crippled from the front.

We had a black out along the sea front as the “Emden” was around. (German battleship). I did not see so much of the Copplestones after I was married; I don′t think they cared for Teddy, so I was generally asked to Tiffin, although we were invited to the occasional dinner party which Teddy found boring. I got to know and became great friend of the Atkins and the Parfitts, whom Barbara were knew later; in fact Moffat Atkins was her godmother, and the Parfitts were very good to Marjorie and me when I left Teddy for the first time – that story comes later.

Part VII

It was late April or May (1919?) before we left Colombo. We sailed on an Orient Line boat (???) a long voyage of about three weeks. We had to put in at Karachi to take on troops, so there were adjustments to be made on the ship. Father had Teddy and me visit him in Poona where he was stationed. I thought he had retired and volunteered his service again, but actually he was still in the service and went from India to Aden (during the war) in charge of supplies, where he stayed I suppose until the end of the war. We stayed in Poona for a few days and then rejoined the ship. The voyage turned out to be a most pleasant one. The captain had a fine voice and had a piano in his quarters. I and another woman passenger who could sing left our music in his stateroom or whatever it was called, and we practiced quite a lot and sang for the soldiers. The captain had had (Nellie) Melba (opera star) as a passenger on occasion and had had a lesson or two from her. He was a most sociable person and had little morning parties of champagne and very delectable eats. I really enjoyed myself, and Teddy did with a Bridge crowd as he wasn′t interested in music – he came to the morning snacks though!

(In England) we stayed with mother and Sylvia who were then in a nice house in Forest Hill in southeast London I think – near Woolwich (Arsenal). We were sent to Malta in October or thereabouts and began another chapter of our life.

After our stay with Mother, Teddy took me to see his people whom I had not yet met. They lived in Guildford, his mother and sister Mable, her husband Len, and their dear little girl Phyllis, their first daughter and Teddy and my′s first niece. Guildford was very pretty, with lovely surrounding country where we had many drives. I was a bit appalled at the enormous servings of food dished up at every meal – I had not a great appetite. We liked each other and were friends, even after I left Teddy; Mabel was a dear; Teddy′s mother often visited us when we got back to England from Malta and had our first real home in Hampton.

But now to Teddy′s next posting in Malta, where I stayed two years and Teddy three. I had Barbara while there and wanted to show her to her grandparents, so she and I returned when she was a year old. It was a very company life, as the Eastern Telegraph Company (later cable and wireless) and navy were about the only other residents, except the Maltese of course. Our people lived mainly in Sliema, and the Navy in Valetta the other side of the harbour. There was a big crowd of us and we had a very social life – sailing and swimming, tea parties and dinners, and we put on quite a number of musical shows which Marjorie′s godmother) and Betty Bell – especially Kootie, who was really Ethal, but she was a little thing, so I called her the Singhalese word for little. We lived in enormous houses furnished with marble floors and quite impressive stairs. We all had one maid and, where there were children, two.

Kootie had a baby boy, eight months older than Barbara, so we each had a young nursery maid. We lived very near each other, and went swimming every morning. The climate was lovely in winter but a bit oppressive in the summer months. Valetta was the capital and Sliemas a suburb. We crossed over the harbour by ferry as we did all our shopping in Valetta. I don′t really remember much about it except the goats which strolled along all the streets, which were very dirty. The opera house was in Valetta and during the season we had a Box – L2 for the season I think it was. The chorus was locally recruited, but the principals came from Italy. Carnival time before Lent was very jolly and there were fancy dress balls etc. I became very friendly with two Maltese sisters, very musical, and they me arias from operas. About this time the Mills were due to leave Malta, so I decided to go home with them. Teddy had another year to go. We left Malta on a fairly small ship and ran into terrible weather. We were all sick, including the children, but we finally got to Sicily and then on to Naples. We stayed a few days in Rome and again in Paris, and at last to Calais, Dover and London.

Barbara and I stayed with mother in Forest Hill and did not venture far as I had Barbara to look after. We spent pleasant afternoons in Horniman Gardens and (???) there. Mother′s little girl, or young girl who used to help with the housework, helped too with Barbara. While in Benson Road we had a fire, I saw the fire engine and showed it to Ba, not realizing that it was in front of our house. The fireman were in charge and Mother at a neighbour′s opposite. It had not been much of a fire, but the mess with soot and water was dreadful. It took days to clean up – a job I was not use to.

Things are a bit hazy now but eventually Father got back from Aden and Teddy from Malta, and a bungalow was bought in Hampton where we all moved. This was our first home.


I shall probably spend a little while over the next few pages as, in spite of great unhappiness and the final break–up of my married life I was happy and I think we all were for 3 or 4 years. I loved my home – it was a dear pretty place and I had Barbara – We started off with Mother and father but that arrangement didn′t last – the house was really too small and of course Father wasn′t boss. He soon found a nice flat in Richmond, where we were constant visitors, as Mother was to my home. I really don′t remember much about Father but he took long cycling trips all over the country; he continued well into his 80′s.

I had great ideas about perfecting the home and Teddy always was interested and paid the bills. First there was the garden – a large piece of land, quite overgrown, we had hedges planted and lawn; the making of the garden was now underway. We had privet hedges, golden on the short side and green on the other two; they were about 2 feet high and I longed for the day they would be six, and I could sit on our quite big lawn in privacy. (They are now and this I know because years and years later my dentist in Ottawa, Dr Timmers, lived in Hampton – in fact went to the same prep school as Barbara, though I didn′t even know her then – and has been often to see her parents and says the house looks lovely, the hedges tall and the roses still a joy.)

We had the most beautiful roses along the front path, beds of standard and bush alternating. And at the sided – I think there were about 100 bushes. How I loved picking them and filling my bowls, and the scent was heavenly. The job was to keep them, dead blooms plucking and paths weeded. We had a garage – prefabricated – but no car, so shat would have been the driveway was a vegetable garden. Barbara had a swing just inside the garage and could swing in all weathers. We had a gardener twice a week who kept things trim and put a bet of a bob each way for a horse at the races across the water – Kempton Park I think it was called.

Having got the garden started and in a way established, I now had plans for the house. We got hold of Mr. March, who had built the house, and said we wanted to enlarge. He suggested a kitchen to the place of the existing on, and as it was on the side of the other two bedrooms made that a third. Behind that was a very small room – these were eventually the children′s room and the other for Florrie, Mother′s cleaning girl who came as my maid and stayed five years until she married. Behind the dining room was built on the kitchen, not large but compact and most convenient. We now had three bedrooms, a smaller room a–joining the children′s room, a lovely living room, cozy and pretty, dining room and kitchen. There was also a small hall with bathroom leading off.

A veranda ran in front and at one side, and entered the living room straight from the verandah. The fireplace was recessed with a long shelf which was just the place for the lovely brass I had brought from Ceylon. On one side of the fireplace was my small desk, and on the other I had a small glass fronted cabinet for all Teddy′s various cups–tennis, golf, shooting etc. I suppose the house would be pseudo antique, as the casement windows had leaded pains and the woodwork stained almost black, instead of paint–the walls were color washed. The room was furnished unconventionally, as I had several large carved tables (from India and Ceylon) but we had a gorgeous comfortable chesterfield and chairs. The color scheme was mauve, Teddy′s favourite color. Otherwise all the other rooms were conventionally furnished – oh yes, we had a player piano, on which Teddy liked to perform; I could use it ordinarily for my singing. The dining-room was brown and blue. We had lovely carpets to which I was not accustomed, and I loved them.

Now I′ve built the home, planted the garden, and will begin five or six years of happy life, in spite of later troubles. Now I shall say a little about our happy life at Panchgani (the name we gave our bungalow). I was new to England, at least living there as a grown′up and quite new to housekeeping in the English way, but things were pleasant and easy. The tradesmen all called each day for orders and were paid weekly, and with Florrie, who was a gift, I had very little to do with running things. Hampton being a village, or nearly so, there was the usual social round. The neighbour′s called and afternoon teas were exchanged. There were little girls in the next two houses about Barbara′s age, so she had playmates, but really liked playing alone I think anyhow until she went to school. Then there were more friends and birthday parties etc. Teddy and I went to our Club, The Exiles in Twickenham, and probably Ba came along and we watched the various games, in most of which Teddy was active. We met friends from overseas there and Ba got to know their children. We also had a beautiful club, Orleans House in Richmond, a residential club for our people on leave from various parts of the world, and there was quite a bit of entertaining done there, especially at Christmas time, with gay parties for the children.

Teddy had some leave before being sent to the Head Office in London, and he and I went very often to London for lunch or to theatres; Mother came and took charge then. I was not altogether a gadabout. I was an honorary secretary for Dr. Barnado′s Home and did collecting for them. (I don′t know how far I have got with my story, as there seems no one to read things over to me, but I hope I don′t repeat myself).

Things went happily along at Hampton. We had visits from Kootie and Moffat, and visited them as well. I also renewed my friendship with the G00a0yers, who were at school with me in Panchgani, and it was as if we had never been parted. Ann and I did lots of theatres and concerts together and I had some interesting times with them in their home in Kensington. Barbara was growing well and I took her out a great deal – she saw her first “Peter Pan” at 3 years old and loved and has loved the theatre ever since I think. Things were not going so well with Teddy and me. And we decided to have another child, so Marjorie arrived when Ba was five. Teddy was in the London office and, as the Company had an amateur operatic society, I joined and was in a couple of their productions. I had a friend in Hampton who played the piano well and I did a great deal of singing with her. We both enjoyed that.

Ann Gayer, who taught French and German in a large secondary school used to take her senior class to Paris for a week each year, and I tagged along a couple of times. Mother came and stayed (with the children), while I was away. I enjoyed these trips enormously. Marjorie was born in 1925 and was an added interest and enjoyment to my life, but her arrival didn′t help much. (Note from Barbara at this point – although Mother hasn′t spelled out the trouble with Teddy, he was a real alcoholic by this time, and also occasionally frequented the “amateur tarts” which could have meant health problems for all of us.) We went on for another two years, Barbara had started school and finally I decided I had to give up trying. Both Teddy′s mother and sister were sympathetic with me, and Barbara went to stay with them, and I took Marjorie to some Colombo friends who were living in Walton. So ended a happy and sad period of six or seven years and goodbye to my cherished home.

I don′t think I could have done anything else and Barbara has agreed when we have talked about it in late years. I hope I have given Ba a real picture of that part of her life.

Before starting on the next phase I might mention one or two things relating to Panchgani and Hampton. Our (Barbara′s and mine) visits to Hampton court where we spent many afternoons. We walked to the village and took the trolley bus right to the gates and we enjoyed rambling through the rooms of the palace and the lovely gardens. I think Ba must have got her interest in history at that early age – I like to think so anyhow. Another little jaunt was to the town of Kingston–on–Thames, by the same bus, where we had tea either at Bentalls (a large department store) and heard Albert Sandler (a violinist) in the Palm court, or to the Cinema, which I think Barbara probably preferred, as she was able to get a glimpse of the screen as people went in and out. I can see her rushing to have a look and people holding the door a moment to allow her to peep. Now to the next phase after leaving home.


I have mentioned that Barbara went to her Auntie Mabel, while I and Marjorie went to friends in Walton–on–Thames. They were very kind to me and insisted I stay until I could decide what to do. Marjorie was only about 2 years old, so I had her to look after. I remember playing ball with her in the tennis court; she stood on the one side of the net and I′d throw the ball over the net. The house was an old one and I discovered that there was a parquet floor in the hall – very neglected – so I went to work on it and got it looking lovely – a little I felt I could do in return.

Teddy started phoning, asking me to return, but Frank Parfitt advised me not to give in. Teddy finally said that he had been asked to go abroad again, and this would mean 6 months training at the Company′s school in Hampstead. Would I and the children go back to him for that time. I agreed and he took a furnished flat near the school and the three of us joined him I never really knew what happened to the home, but I think Mabel got the carpets and the furniture was probably stored and the bungalow sold – anyhow I didn′t care. Things went along fairly smoothly; Teddy was working hard and not drinking. We were quite near (Hampstead) Heath, and the children and I spent most afternoons there. Before leaving for Zanzibar he, and I suppose father, rented a big house in Kingston, and I must say Teddy did all he could for our comfort. All the floors were covered in linoleum or carpets and the stairs carpeted. Mother and Father had their furniture and I had ours, and we all settled in. More were to follow: Dorothy McClumpha and her niece (Margaret), the daughter of Evie who had died (in a car crash in India); Mother′s sister Auntie Dora and her youngest son, John – a regular tribe. There was plenty of room – both Margaret and John were in boarding schools (Ba also) and only home for the holidays and we settled down for a few years of a very happy family life.

What a change this move was – from a rather small house with lots of garden to a great big one with only a back yard. The house was the property of the Kingston Brewery, and was the Manager′s at one time. It was in a backwater off the High Street, called Brook Street. All the property now belonged to the brewery. So we had no neighbours. These were old stone houses. Our house had two stories and the ground floor, so there were about eight bedrooms of various sizes, and the downstairs a lovely drawing room, dining-room and a large breakfast room off the kitchen. The children had it for their games etc. we had breakfast there as it was just off the kitchen. The front room had two lovely windows, right almost to the pavement level, and we had them curtained with sheer net a silk curtains of mauve. The house being so large needed much furnishing. The parents had all their stuff, so the dining room, drawing room their bedroom and father′s den were all furnished by them. Teddy saw to our bedrooms and of course had all the floors covered. I seem to remember the carpet from our living–room. Anyhow the drawing room, I remember, was very pretty on shades of pinky mauve. Oh yes, we had my piano. Auntie Dora who was with us, played, as you know, and there was much music I the evenings.

The next 3 or 4 years were happy ones and we had quite a lot of fun. Auntie and mother took jaunts to London – Mother knew her London – or Mother and I saw a play or ballet or had a meal. Dorothy was not very strong and was content to have tea and the pictures either in Kingston or Richmond. We always took Marjorie to Richmond and sometimes had a river trip to Hampton Court.

Of course in the holidays we were very venturesome and visited Museums in London, and also loved going on the river and to Richmond Park on the hill, where we always had tea – a great treat. We always had Marjorie in her little pushchair with us, but I don′t think she came into town (London) she was rather young for museums or even the Cinema. Florrie had left by this time, but we shared the housework with a charlady′s help; Mother did all the cooking and was good at it.

Father continued his long cycling trips – on one occasion we had a postcard from Devonshire – other wise he spent much time writing I expect; he was a member of the Author′s Club, and I went to many interesting lectures with him – Barbara went when she was older. On a couple of occasions I sang at the Masonic dinners, and father got the charming notes of thanks from the secretary, for me. I was nervous but really enjoyed meeting the many notable guests.

We were a harmonious household and had quite a lot of fun, but I had my anxious times. I had to bring Barbara back by ambulance from school at Ashford (in Kent) as developed Chorea (St Vitus′ Dance) after and attack of measles. She was in the University College Hospital for several weeks and then in a Convalescent Home in Broadstairs I think – she made a good recovery. I also had and anxious few weeks with Marjorie, who got pneumonia after and attack of “flu”, and was in a local nursing home, where our doctor drove her in his car, and me of course; she was very sick – I didn′t know until she was better how sick – she was so weak afterwards that she had to learn how to walk again, but she quite recovered. In spite of everything we still enjoyed life with trips to London etc.

I suppose these were really only two or three years, as our next unhappiness was Mother′s death after a very short illness. We had a lovely day on her 69th birthday, January 20th. She and I went up to London, did a matinee, had a small meal and went to the Ballet at the Alhmabra, and home by the last train – she loved every minute. She was dead by the beginning of May, a cold and congestion on the lungs – she was a big women and hadn′t much chance in those days. There was one spray of lilac left on our one tree in the backyard and I was able to place it between her hands –it was her favourite flower. Barbara was at home and I didn′t want her upset after her illness, so I said Granny was being taken to the hospital. I wanted to go to my friends the Gayers, but they were out, so we went to the pictures –I with heartache.

I keep saying we were happy in Kingston and we were, in spite of sickness and sorrow. The family broke up after mother died. Uncle William retired and came home from India, and Auntie Dora, he and John went to live a Highgate . Before Auntie went it was decided that I had to have an operation, so I went into the Samaritan Women′s Hospital, and Mary Bowen, the daughter of one of Mother′s friends and a nurse, came to look after Marjorie who promptly got the measles, not badly. Then I decided on a divorce and got in touch with a solicitor. I remember in Kingston Father was slightly dishonest over money and looking for it from friends or other Masons. I used to read his letters and tell Mother. Her “diamond star” (from India) used to get him out of debt –a family saying.


Father then bought a house in Pinner Green and wanted me and the girls with him, but I refused because the educational advantages were better in London, so our next move was to Ladbroke Grove, near Knotting Hill. We had the use of the top half of a large house in Ladbroke Grove. W.11 – I must put in the 11 because the bank manager said that we were living at the right end! I don′t remember how much money I had from Teddy, but we spent pretty freely for some years. I had obtained my (divorce) Decree Nisi, and the judge on my case congratulated me on my clear answers and evidence.

We had a very nice first floor with a large bedroom and living room, also kitchen, bathroom, etc. The floor above had large rooms, but sloping ceilings, but were airy. While in Ladbroke Grove I seem to have been helping some lame dogs with loans of money etc. which I never got back. The girls now went to the Godolphin & Latymer secondary school in Hammersmith, and I seem to remember that we had some nice walks into Kensington, trips to the West End and, of course, to Father′s in Pinner. I remember that I was ill one summer and Barbara looked after me. Also I seem to remember that Auntie Edie and Uncle Peter stayed there with us for a time – I don′t know why.

After our sojourn in Ladbroke Grove my memories are far from chronological, but Marjorie says I went to look after the doctors in Hammersmith. I suppose it was the Barbara was living (in a guest house) with Mrs. Hite and Marjorie was in boarding school at Ashford. Anyhow I remember being in Hammersmith and re–organizing the doctor′s lives and way of living. On the whole I think I enjoyed it especially as money was never any object. Our next move was the Vereker Road and while there I had various jobs, from helping Mrs. White to charring (much to Barbara′s disgust) and finally to joining Mr. White in the Post office where I worked (for many years).

I shall probably be somewhat confused about times and places as I seemed to be doing so many odd jobs. But before I continue I′ll talk about my first job, with the doctors. An old school friend, Dr Lulu Gayer, asked me to help out with the doctors who lost their man show had looked after them. I agreed and really was quite glad that I had. It was a lovely house they had in Hammersmith. The ground floor was given over to the medical side, and the province of the charlady and the dispenser (pharmacist). The upstairs two storiess had two living rooms on the 1st floor, and four rooms on the floor above – a bedroom each for the doctors, and a bedroom sitting room for me, so that I had some of my own furniture and my piano. (Note from Ba: It was here that I used to go and stay overnight sometimes, and Marjorie came home there in her holidays from boarding school.)

To my horror I found that one of the large rooms on the 1st floor had been used as the kitchen, and the back the dining room. There was a long narrow conservatory running at the side of the two rooms facing a side street. I suggested this would do for a kitchen, and the large front room for a lovely dining room, which it should have been. Dr. Stein (the senior partner) was very pleased with the idea and had work started at once. The rooms were decorated and furnished regardless of expense and looked beautiful, and I quite pleased with my rather odd kitchen. I didn′t know a great deal about cooking, so went up to the London Polytechnic for lessons. I soon began to blossom out and I made all kinds of things (expense was never a problems). The doctors, who had previously entertained their friends in West End restaurants, stared to have dinner parties at home. I loved it, and the various guests, who were mainly of the opposite sex, were most complimentary and brought me flowers and chocolates.

I enjoyed the time there but Barbara (who had been living in the guest house) and Marjorie (who didn′t enjoy being at Ashford) needed a home so we took a flat in Barons Court. Eventually Mrs. White, who owned the guest house, suggested her husband taught me the work in a Post Office, and I went to his sub-office and became a post office worker. I was now an office worker instead of a charlady, and I expect Ba was pleased. It meant more work for her, as my hours were long and I had to depend on her for the shopping and other chores.

I worked with Mr. White until the office was bombed, and then in various Branch Offices where there was a shortage of clerks. (Note from Ba: Marjorie was evacuated with the school to the country, and I had started my first job in July 1939). I can′t possibly remember the places we lived when the war was on. We had a nasty incident very near us in Vereker Road, and lost some of our chimneys and part of the roof, so we moved. I remember Marjorie, who was in the A.T.S. (Note from Ba: this was actually quite a bit late in the war) having some leave which we spent in Scarborough – I went back there later on and worked in a sub–office. I seemed to have spent my time running away from the bombing and back with Mr. White when he got a new office. I ended up joining Renne Hill in Shepherds Bush – a very busy office – and I took a flat nearby.

I must mention that Barbara married Richard in 1941, and when he went to France I stayed with her in Eastcote (No–B.C.) I also took a temporary job somewhere near Bedford at one point. I think B was engaged then and working in Bedford and living with Mrs. Carruthers. Anyhow, back to Shepherd′s Bush, Collingbourne Road, when Marjorie was married, (after the war) and she and Ronnie stayed with me until Ronnie went to Canada. (Oh, Father was with us there for a while and died there). Marjorie followed Ronnie, and then I think Richard, who with Ba was living in Chiswick, and then Ba came to me until we left for Canada. Barbara with fill in all the gaps. I am now going to embark on my thirty odd years in Canada, by no means the happiest in my life.


Canada, 1948: Father having left a little money to me, I was able to help the family emigrate. It seemed the best thing for the young people as there was really little for them. Richard, in spite of a degree in physics, was teaching in a secondary school on a pitiful salary; Ronnie, just discharged from the Navy, had no prospects, so I divided the money which would pay fares and help them along until they found occupations. Ronnie was the first to go, and Marjorie followed shortly. Richard and Barbara sold up their flat – they had great many books. Barbara came to mine, and we waited events. I did not want to go as I was perfectly content with my job and home, but the family thought it best. Meanwhile Ba and I had a good time theatre going and ballet – all in good seats. We had planned to buy a house in Ealing, should Richard not get a worthwhile job (in Canada) and divide it into flats for them and two Aunts, Edie and Kate. However, Richard joined the N.R.C. in Ottawa, so Ba and I had to think of our journey. One of the doctors had a booking on the Queen Mary, as he and his wife were hoping to go to New York. Their plans fell through and the doctor offered us their cabin, which we took and sailed in May for New York.

I don′t remember much about getting to Southampton and embarking, but we managed it I suppose. We had been warned not to eat too much as out stomachs had shrunk a bit with our war time rations but I remember the table steward being quite worried at the little we ate. I don′t think Barbara felt much like eating anyway as she was not a very good traveler and how the ship rolled! When sitting on the deck we felt that any moment we would slide off the deck into the ocean but she would shudder and straighten herself and start her roll in the opposite direction and then we would feel as though we were standing on our heads. It was a short voyage unlike the one I had from the east and we arrived safely in New York where we had booked into a rather grand hotel, The Taft. We were met by a host of colored doormen, page boys etc. and taken to our room. We stayed a couple of days and visited round getting seats for plays. I think it was then we saw Catherine Cornell and on a later visit the play Caesar.

Finally we started for Canada after wildly telegraphing for more money and were met by Richard in Toronto where we stayed at the King Edward Hotel for a spell. On having a whisky double where by against Richards′s advice I got quite tiddly!

Richard was working in Ottawa, and had taken a furnished bungalow for 6 months, our first home in Canada. I think I was right, this was May 1948 and after I think a snow storm came and a very hot summer. I spent most of my time in the basement the only cool place, amused myself with the washing and ironing down there.

In August I entered the civic hospital and had my left breast removed, I had been a little anxious before leaving England and when I heard the name of a Dr Petrie, he had examined Richard for ___? I phoned and made an appointment to see him. He thought it was probably cystic mastitis but at my age be wiser to “whip it off”, a strange way for a surgeon to talk I thought but he whipped it off and as it was so hot I went home as soon as possible and then to his office to have the stitches removed. Ba looked after me and I made a quick recovery, no complications at all. I just don′t remember much for some time except that I wanted to go back home and I can′t remember whether it was the winter of 1948 but I did go back and went back to my job at the post office.

I sailed on the Empress of Canada from Montreal after having done all the sight seeing in Ottawa and Montreal. I have always regretted that on the first evening out there had been a gorgeous display of the Northern lights but I had gone down to my cabin after dinner and missed it.

On arrival in England I tried living with Auntie Edie and Auntie Kate but felt after a week or so that it wouldn′t work and found a very nice home in Ealing with the Cooper–Marshalls, a young couple who were buying large house and had 3 of us as roomers, a nurse, a research worker with Burroughs and Welcome and me. I was very happy there and back at my old job. Ruth and Bill had a small son who attached himself to me, he was a dear little boy.

I don′t think I′ll write any more or not much more about the last thirty odd years. The two daughters will remember as well if not better than I do.

I was happy for the few months I spent at Fairport Beach. I suppose because I felt useful or rather some use when it was needed. I still had a little money to help out with the alterations Ronnie was doing to the house and I think I helped to buy their first car.

I had never had such an experience in my life. It was quite primitive , I drew water from the well, did the washing out of doors in a tin tub, helped chop wood, raking up leaves and what hundreds of leaves there were in the fall. We went down to the lake (Ontario) to bathe ourselves and later Ronnie made a kind of bathroom and we heated water on the Quebec heater which incredibly heated the house beautifully in the winter. I threw the slops over the side of the cliff and last but not least looked after Lorna who was so good and played in the playpen while I popped in and out doing the chores. She was always ready for bed when her mother and father returned home from work in Toronto and loved to sit in her high chair and listen to Don Messer on the radio. When Ronnie and Marjorie had found an apartment in Toronto I took Lorna and Smokey the cat to Ottawa to stay with Ba and Richard until they came to call for her. I loved it at Fairport Beach it was right on the lake and I never tired of watching the changing colors and remember seeing the moon rise over the lake. We had one or two quite alarming storms when the waves were very high and the whine of the wind was quite horrifying. That was a happy period and there were others but I never liked the country and never will.

I enjoyed my visits to New York and Washington and Boston and reveled in the many art collections. I also was thrilled with the opera and with the Lincoln center when it was finally built.

I don′t know how much longer I shall live but I do know I shall die here.

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©Lesley Haigh 2009

Memoirs of Edith Chambers
Last updated March 2009
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