Cambridge District Scout Archive
Within these public letters the topics are open to be read by all. It is clear that letters or meetings between individuals add to the collective information within the Evercirculars. Clearly some knowledge of personal situations is withheld for a time and is referred to after the event.
Whilst no identifiable military secrets were discussed within the letters information on the whereabouts of individuals was shared – addresses whilst in the UK, far wider locations when abroad. These letters show no signs of Official ‘blue pencil’ censorship. The missing letters in the sequence are likely to have got lost but may have been taken out of circulation by official censorship. Once, in February 1941, it is mentioned ‘By the way the EC had been opened by the Censor when I got it so be careful what you say.’
Any information was always behind the times but if it was vague ‘Ted Russell is in the desert near Egypt’ the number of places in Aden that ‘Nobby’ Clarke could be was probably limited. That ‘Snowy’ was ‘at sea’ can be unpicked as useful if you knew Snowy’s unit – and if you have the letter you had his military unit and possibly his last UK address.
A Doug Chappell is named as working with the Intelligence Corps in Oxford. It may be coincidental that what may be his pre war Cambridge census record is ‘officially closed’; but many are. He is also not listed as working in the Forces, but again these records have many gaps. This body included Bletchley Park and later M.I.5 and M.I.6 alongside radio jamming and other mechanical deceits.
Phraseology The gentle underplaying of situations is clear in the choice of language used. Sorrow at death, from the war or otherwise, is expressed but stronger emotions left to the individuals closest to the death who do not express it in these letters. The entry in March 1941 from WTT ‘I have heard nothing lately from either Ernst or Heinz, and wonder if they have gone touring’ is an interesting entry. It avoids discussing in plain language the fate of the two refugees, from Germany and Austria, who had joined the 23rd. They were interned as enemy aliens and were to spend some time in Canada before returning to Great Britain to join the RAOC and the Pioneers. However, the names alone are enough to make a suspicious link to any looking.
Military Secrets It is difficult to read, from what is and what is not present, the extent of any self censorship. Clearly everyone knew of the requirements for general secrecy about plans and these are nowhere mentioned. Even the report of a dramatic step up from minimal work to excessive hours was not accompanied by the reason. Destinations are always kept secret even when ‘Embarkation leave’ or ‘Tropical kit’ is reported.
Arthur Sansom working in Liverpool wrote ‘when one is not allowed to say much about his work it rather cramps the style, don’t you think.’
Social Niceties Many topics are not directly broached, even within this male only circulation. Within the Narvik correspondence female company is only reported within socially accepted norms – a little light innuendo concerning opportunity rather than acts. The invitation from one Narvik member to another to visit a sister currently in Cairo is accepted as a social politeness to both guest and host as well as a kindness to a soldier far from home. The Padre telling of the WAAFs joining his choir, and adding ‘My wife usually comes to choir practice’ is only telling of the formal chaperonage expected. Improper possibilities can only be read thrice removed – as a clergyman he wouldn’t, as a married man he shouldn’t, but as a man society still expected him to be tempted (and maybe he was). In this position he was able to very gently touch upon the subject where the young unmarried could not. No one took his bait in these letters. The reported presence of Ken North’s wife for a week at his lodgings was entirely appropriate. The lack of female company is not regretted in writing.
Within the Dunkirk letters the suggestions are still mild and no direct longing is expressed. The strongest reference to any real interaction is this report on the presence of Brylcreem Boys (the RAF) bringing competition ‘We have several Brylcreem Boys near us so there is plenty of competition at the dances held in the village’. One mention of Tom Craske ‘nearly bayoneted by a chap whose ‘dame’ he had pinched’, also exists.
Health Information concerning health tends to come after the event. With the exception of Ken North, who was known to be frail, the story comes later. Ken was only accepted into the army on the lowest rating, CIII, directly after Dunkirk, when in his own words ‘they were accepting everyone’. When Bill Thurbon fails his medical (aged about 39) he does tell everyone, as does Stan Phillips – along with the expected roles as arranged by the Ministry of Labour. Complaints were avoided possibly because special pleading was ‘not the done thing’ generally, and specifically not at that time when everyone was in the same boat.
Mental Health Details of a mental health issue that was self reported by X after the event (‘About three months ago I was definitely in the throes of a nervous breakdown and was ordered to hospital but the Battalion forgot to send me’) were not commented on but it was made clear that his friends were very anxious on his behalf ‘X is having a rough time’. They were glad when he was later in Cambridge for a protracted period of time, presumably discharged. It became acceptable to report being ‘Browned Off’, which, being a non specific term, covered everything from boredom to clinical depression. Indeed X stated that he was ‘browned off’ ahead of the later revelations.
Promotion Promotion is rarely commented on by the participant except following congratulations (the background information network), or should the stripe be removed, commiserations possibly with a small explanation. The lack of promotion based on regulations (only get promotion in this branch if you sign up for seven years) is a gripe or excuse that was deemed appropriate to express. The Padre goes to some length to explain his rank of Squadron Leader is nominal and to add that he does not get paid as such.
WTT and Censorship
Quite how this was carried out is unclear but reference is made to postcards from Bill Thurbon. It seems likely that Bill added some members to the patrols in advance to act both as moderators and theme setters, later called the Brains Trust. The Padre and Ken North seem to have carried out this role within the Narvik patrol, and the Padre and John Covell were later also part of the Dunkirk patrol.
The production of the Crossword also reads as a deliberate, if not clearly centrally organised, attempt to step away from the increasingly fervent pages on religion in the Dunkirk EC and back to past unifying memories. It is not clear if this was a personal need or calculated to act for the good of the whole.
Later in 1942 WTT himself is advised to step away from an emotive subject, that of post WW1 pacifist wishful thinking, and the subject is not repeated.
The letters name regular meetings between members both in Cambridge and further afield. Whilst ‘a Scout is a friend to all’, they were good friends in different degrees, as was recognised at the death of Frank Gigny (who was said to be ‘a find friend to Tom Craske’. What was saved for these meetings and not openly shared remains to but tint the later entries. It is of note that, knowing their Crew mates as they did, some outbursts did not gain a response from those closest to them. Tom Germany’s views on religion received a soft answer from Ken North and no one else. Other strongly worded pieces appear to have been largely accepted as understandable frustration and a legitimate function of the letters not requiring more than a one line acknowledgement of shared troubles.
JWR Archivist Sept 2019