|3rd June, 1953|
Hilda is writing our formal acceptance of your mother’s invitation to visit during the summer holidays – and we are very much looking forward to it - but I thought I should tell you the tale of our Coronation celebrations as it was all your fault that we had them at all!
Our guests were mainly the British community but we had a few local people, of course, much intrigued by the entire proceedings. Tristan Denny had arranged some patriotic and national songs, the girls sang really beautifully, Rosalie’s useful friend at the Embassy had supplied us with red, white and blue bunting, crepe paper and gaudy wall wreaths and the first part of the proceedings went very well.
Then there was the much anticipated special British lunch prepared by Karen with assistance from Jo’s Anna. The staff were hoping for cream of tomato soup, roast beef & Yorkshire pud with all the veg and either apple pie and custard or a sherry trifle. Being presented with Brown Windsor soup (ugh!), cottage pie with tinned peas and a very insipid blancmange was something of a disappointment.
Oddly enough, the local folk and many of the pupils enjoyed it! One of my girls was heard to say that it was a lovely change from all the foreign muck served at Welsen and young Jo Scott was ecstatic! She has heard about these dishes from her mother but when they were in England Maisie didn’t manage to seek them out. Thankfully, once the visitors were gone and the pupils were in bed, Hilda broke out the sherry. Various other bottles appeared from somewhere so the Queen’s health was well and truly toasted! I had rather a headache this morning but that was probably the blancmange disagreeing with me!
Must dash, Gill expected me along to deal with the mail about half an hour ago! Love, Nell
3rd June 1953
Dear Nell and Hilda,
Thank you for your letter and all your news. I am sorry this reply is later than I intended it to be but life has been its usual hectic and crowded self. It is good to know that both Swiss Chalet School branches continue to thrive.
First news is that Gren’s hip operation went well. It was basically just a tidy up but early indications are that she will have freer movement and less discomfort. Recent developments in hip replacement surgery look promising so perhaps soon we’ll finally get rid of the cromach, not that she uses it much these days unless she is tired.
I trust your Coronation celebrations went well and that the girls enjoyed a day of fun and feasting? Sadly my plan for escaping the army by being convicted of treason failed when Ma absolutely forbade me to go around blowing up post boxes on the grounds that I would be destroying people’s birthday cards and postal orders!
Still, all in all, it was an interesting experience. Some of the street decorations, notably in the poorer parts of the city, were spectacular, as were those in the factories and mills. If you are able to visit in August you shall see the coloured photographs that Mickey took. They are on display at Boots already and are being very much admired though as the cameras, film and developing all cost a fortune I don’t see there being a mad rush by the lieges to trade in their old box Brownies! Mickey is quite sad that he had to hand the machine back.
Kate still has her florist job and helped make some lovely table arrangements and floral wreaths for hotels and organisations. She also covered herself with glory at the schools concert in the Caird Hall. She was one of the four soloists, one from each of the Academies, in the elaborate orchestrated finale of Songs of the Four Countries. Unfortunately, the boy who was to sing the last solo had a violent nosebleed about ten minutes before they were due to go on so it was young Kate who had to step forward again and launch into ‘Cam Ye By Athol’. She really gave it her all and brought the house down. As you know, I think that the only good thing the Stewarts ever did for Scotland was leave but even I was just about ready to go and lay siege to Carlisle!
It was all immensely cheering for Granny Kelly, of course. She is quietly pleased to have outlived Queen Mary and it was the fourth Coronation for her and for Granny Graham so they regaled us with tales of the events during the last three - including Auntie Bella’s various arrests! Thankfully, her only protest this time was to put a picture of Mahatma Ghandi in her window.
The elder Baxters invited the family – and it seemed like all the neighbours in their street! – to watch the ceremony on their television set so I took Ma and both Grans down in the car. As they do, they insisted on taking ‘a few bits for the dinner and a cup of tea’. In addition to the usual cold meat, fruit cake, tablet and so on GK had peeled several stone of potatoes which had to be transported, in the jelly pan full of water, on her lap. Despite my best efforts to find a route that minimised braes and abrupt turns, water escaped! I had to stand in Ella’s kitchen wrapped in a bath towel while she kindly pressed my uniform dry so that I could look halfway respectable as I inspected the cadets then stood on the platform with all the dignitaries!
The day ended with fireworks and that was really funny! The display was set up on the Coup, the reclaimed land by the river, so we took all the youngsters apart from Nicol and baby Maureen to Magdalen Green to watch. Promptly at 10.15pm, the display started and it was utterly breathtaking! What seemed like thousands of rockets, Catherine wheels, Roman candles and other colourful and noisy folderols framed a huge ER. Then it all went quiet and dark – and stayed that way! Apparently the timing of the display had gone haywire and we got fifteen minutes of fireworks in just over 30 seconds. Luckily everyone was in good humour and we all agreed it was great while it lasted!
In another development, Peter Hendrie reappeared, fortunately not anywhere near Stella! My cousin George – and thank goodness it was George and not Rab or Mickey or we would have had blood on the walls – spotted him in the Continental dance hall. It caters to the serious dancing crowd and Dod and a couple of his friends are regulars there.
Anyway, he saw the gentleman chatting to a young woman he knew by sight so he just wandered over and introduced himself as Stella’s cousin. By all reports Hendrie went very pale and was starting to bluster when the young lady said “Is this the (extremely rude word) that let Staff Nurse Kelly down?” and landed Hendrie such a slap in the face that Dod says he felt it himself! The manager came over to see what was happening, heard the tale and informed Hendrie that not only was he barred from the Continental but he could consider himself barred from every other dance hall in the town! Their photographer took his picture then George and friends escorted Hendrie downstairs and sent him on his way with some warnings, probably very lurid, about what would happen if he was seen in the town again!
Stella took the news quite calmly. It turns out that the woman he was attempting to charm works in the wages office at the DRI so Star was able to talk to her and it seems they had a good laugh about it. Eleanor’s a war widow, was little more than a girl when her husband was killed. She and George have struck up a friendship and Auntie Rose has hopes so we shall see!
I was interested and intrigued to hear from Joey the somewhat convoluted tale of her unofficial goddaughter from Kenya. It’s not a place I would want to be at the moment. When I was down in London we had a couple of nasty cases flown in, one who had falling into a Kikuyu man trap and one who had stepped on one of our unmarked landmines. The senior QA who accompanied them over said it was going to get a lot worse before it finished and she was not at all convinced that the authorities, the farmers or even the rebel leaders realise just how serious it is and how long it might last. I do hope your pupil’s parents do not come to any harm.
Must rush as I am on duty in about ten minutes, hope you can make it in August, love, Meg
Author's Chapter Notes:
Meg's reference to bombing post boxes reflects the controversy in Scotland over the Queen's official designation. Pillar boxes bearing EIIR were vandalised and the new pillarbox at Inch in Edinburgh blown up early in 1953. This is why pillar boxes in Scotland just have the Scottish crown on them. Most of the events in Meg's letter have their roots in reality although the potato incident was actually a very shoogly tramcar!