Datelined Belfast – 8th – 6 − 14
Many thanks for your welcome and interesting letter, sorry I was unable to answer it before, but really I haven’t had time. Well I have chucked Dolly up, well I said in the letter that I couldn’t be more than a friend and that I would always be pleased to hear from her. I wrote to her over a week ago, but have not had any reply and don’t want any. I couldn’t stick her, her ways wasn’t mine, you cant wach (Poor Jessie) although you take the mike out of her letter which she wrote I bet the pair of you wont catch John Willie again so cheap. Now Till what are you getting at, you dont want anythink on the 2nd of July, but keep saving up until Yarmouth week now I tell you what I am going to give you and no more than £1 and if that dont so well you can take it out of the knocker get me fruity. You dont half try to pull my leg on the q.t. I am not one of your Johnnies just come up had some before from you.
Yes Uncle Matt will soon be writing and so I will be getting the Old Age Pension if it wasen’t for Auntie Carrie (and not so much of the Ninkey) I wouldn’t here at all from Brixton, tell him to look sharp and write. So George is the first to get married out of all of us all and he got caught napping that’s only half his luck I expect I shall be the next (see any green). Have you heard from Dolly or Edie lately. I should like to know what she thinks of me.
Did Aunt get my letter, and what do you think of the photo, had a brave time last Monday, suppost to take Jess to the pictures and meet her at two o’clock and of course I ment to to, so I got ready and was away down the town when who should I meet but some of the bhoys and then we went into the first bar we came to, and Bid stopped there until six o’clock very near sober and then we goes and has our photos done so this is the results I am holding the seat to steady myself what do you think of it not bad eh. Comes back to barracks had a wash and brush up and off I goes again, but who should I meet, but was her and she started rearing up so I said alright and was going to have her to have some more beer, when she stopped and I finished the evening with her so it wasent a bad Monday what say you. I don’t know how it will finish up, but I have known her for about 14 months and its still going strong.
Well how are you getting on alright I hope and still merry and bright, is Ciss still at Stewarts, Remember me to them all and don’t forget to tell Mattie that its about time he dropped me a line. When are you going to have your Photo taken, have you wrote or heard from Doris lately, and is the Old man still at the Green. I am getting on alright still in the pink and still mucking in. We are having some lovely weather here just at the present and things are in the pink. Rather surprised to hear that you and May are mucking in again. Remember me to her and ask her to drop me a few lines. Now Till, I think this is all the news at present, trusting you are in the best of health and still merry and bright, hoping to hear from you soon.
Your Irish Filip
What’s goin’ on?
By the beginning of 1914 Europe was in a precarious position. Old alliances and slow burning grievances were starting to edge the main protagonists, namely Germany, Austria, Russia, France and Great Britain, further along a path to all out war.
Similarly, Frank’s new home, Ireland was in a state of near civil war. The Curragh mutiny in March 1914, when British army officers refused to march on Ulster, followed by the Larne gun-running incident in April, when the Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled thousands of rifles into Ireland, had left the British Government with their own ticking time bomb. Unionists were aghast at the proposed home rule and the Nationalists were equally enflamed by the pro-union stance of British rule. Frank’s regiment had been deployed into the very centre of this unrest in Belfast. But it must be remembered that the tensions within Ireland were not solely religious. The argument was one of self rule, which split both protestants and catholic families, and, eventually, a nation apart. Only the outbreak of world war stifled the unrest, but the uneasy peace wasn’t to last.
In the pink
Biddy seems blissfully unaware of this tension in his letter to Mabel. He simply mentions the “lovely weather” and thinks that “things are in the pink”. Bid is far more interested in beer and women than politics. He’s just like any normal 21 year old lad.
He seems to have finished with the previously mentioned Dolly. His mood runs from the indifferent, “I would always be pleased to hear from her”, to the downright dismissive, “I couldn’t stick her, her ways wasn’t mine”. We’ll just take it as read that that particular relationship had ended.
He mentions that George, whoever he might be, is getting married and then refers to his own wedding as being next. Ye gads, Bid moves quickly! He only just dumped the last poor girl a few seconds ago and suddenly we meet his current love interest in the next couple of sentences! It also appears that they have been going out for 14 months. He’s a “bhoy”, is our Frank! Jess is a local Belfast girl and I will write more about her later on.
The photo Bid refers to having taken while on the town is lost to me. I had a bag stolen on a train years ago and lost my only copy of the photo. If any family member reading this has a copy I would love to get hold of it again.
Again his letter is littered with lovely London vernacular: “taking the mickey” (interestingly used here 20 years before it apparently entered the vernacular), “Old Age Pension”; by this I assume he means getting old and fractious for not receiving any letters. “Ninkey” poses a stiffer challenge. Does anyone know what ninkey actually means? It rings a bell with me but I can’t find reference to it anywhere. He uses “see any green” again for jealousy and “q.t.” Which is surprisingly not American but British in origin. It is simply a contraction of quiet.
Frank’s generosity is marked by a present to his sister of one pound. This is about £300 in today’s money, using relative earnings as a calculation. Mabel obviously has been saving for a holiday to Yarmouth – whether that’s Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight or Great Yarmouth, it’s impossible to tell, although I suspect it’s the latter. He refers to the 2nd July and I presume that’s her birthday. The closest I got to her birthdate on Ancestry.co.uk was July.
His annoyance at no one writing to him brings us to the attention of his aunt Carrie and uncle Matt. I think that he is referring to Walter Matthew Webster, brother of his mother Ada, and his wife Caroline (née Davis). Walter’s second name is used as a first name, in a constant attempt by my relatives to outwit future generations. Bid mentions that his father, Frank, is living on the Green. In his notes Geoff mentions Camberwell Green as a possible reference but I have no evidence of his living there yet. Bid’s parents seem to be separated at this point in time and I intend to find out more about this in due course.
The frivolous, light-hearted tone of this letter is a telling counterweight to the parlous state of the outside world. 22 days after Bid wrote this letter, on the 28th June 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. As a result of Austro-Hungarian aggression in the aftermath and tangled treaties between nations, Europe was dragged inexorably into war and Bid with it. I leave you this week standing in between the Old World and the New.
Swept along by a wave of patriotic fervour, Britain rather reluctantly joins France and Russia in defending Belgium’s neutrality against the might of the German army. Bid prepares to head for Belgium.