1944 A Difficult Year in England
From both these sources, the diaries and the letters, and with some knowledge of the state of England during 1944 we get an idea of life for Tony’s family.
1944 must have been a terrible year for Joan.
She started the year with a 9 month old child, managing on her own without her husband, Tony, having gone to India. The last time she saw him was October 1943 when he had embarkation leave. As had been happening over the previous year she had a continuous stream of dentist appointments – up to three a week struggling with filings, an abscess and maybe some false bits. It is hard to grasp what was happening with her teeth but it seemed to take up a lot of her time and effort.
In her diaries there are no references to the outings like in previous years – one trip to the theatre with David and that was it. Her brother who no doubt had been a tremendous support had died in September 1943 and most of the lads she had known were at war.
The previous year she must have been totally occupied with child rearing and an occasional visit from Tony who was by then an officer and probably stationed for the early part of the year at Unst in the Shetlands.
Strangely there is only one letter from Tony to either his mother or to Joan during his time up there and that was in March describing how he had been ill.
In January 1944 Joan must have felt desolate and struggling with a number of issues related to her religious faith. We have two letters back to her on this subject, one from Tony and one from her wise Uncle Rex.
Sadly we do not have all Tony’s letters from Asia, at this time.
This was taken from No.3 9th Jan 1944
“It is very difficult darling trying to answer your letters .. the information will be 6 weeks old when you get it .. however I will try and answer as intelligently as possible, and comment on your last 4 letters.
You ask if I am able to
give any details of the voyage .. the answer is no all that will have to wait
until we meet again ..
“What a crushing indictment of your Church !! what a barren religion !! No comfort … unless you argue that you were probably not receptive or something -- you went in the right mood – questioning – and NOTHING. The emptiness is within yourself darling. You are seeking as so many are, you like so many others have not yet found the answers. You know something is wrong and yet you cannot put your finger on it and with all you are a child of tradition and cannot break with that tradition… Ah me! One day darling – but not argument of mine will avail – one day you will find that TRUTH and faith which is so necessary to we poor mortals – An Anchor without which life is meaningless and much, much, too difficult.”
“Next .. Reigate, so glad you went darling. It must have done both you and Raoul a lot of good – when he is a little older you could perhaps take him to Meols – though it’s an awful place …..”
It is worth noting that within 7 months Joan and Raoul were living at Meols and were pleased for the support which would have been as welcoming as that from Auntie Gertie in Reigate. Gertie and her husband Lewis Davis had three sons Pat, Geoffrey and John Davis all of whom were at war. Geoffrey, a Surgeon Lieutenant in the Navy died at sea on the HMS Mourne, and John Davis whose pre-war experience was in Malaya, spent his time in SOE behind the Japanese lines in the Malayan Jungle and survived working with the Communists that he had been fighting and against whom he struggled after the war during the “Malayan Emergency” until 1960.
The difficulties that Joan was having regarding religion give an interesting insight into a number of aspects of Joan and Tony. Joan was from a traditionally High Church of England background and from her father’s letters over the years, particularly from the front in WW1, it is clear that he had a strong and clear faith and was grateful to the Church for being there. Her Grandfather, William Joseph Dibdin, was traditionally religious, working in the temperance movement and created a historical puzzle by marrying the granddaughter of Agostino Aglio, an artist born in Italy and with very strong connections with the Catholic Church of the day and with the senior hierarchy in Rome. Although others amongst her aunts and uncles where not quite as committed to church as Lionel, his sister, Margaret married a very high church Anglo-Catholic “priest” and fulfilled the role of supporting vicar’s wife with gusto. Joan had every reason to loose faith in God, taking into account her challenging mind, particular nature and being orphaned at 13. Tony, a confident Roman Catholic at the age of twenty five, must have had a fair insight into Joan’s spiritual turmoil, which was probably aggravated by the issue of infallibility as well as the complexities of fate and predestination. Tony seemed to have settled relationship with his church and God as expressed in an earlier letter to his mother from:
Poolewe, Achnasheen, co. Ross in Winter 1941 where he was handling the site at one time, on his own.
“A Padre turned up this morning so we had the unusual consolation of mass. Nobody could serve so I did it – Took me back quite a day or two, to half forgotten times .. I was quite trilled it seemed absurdly “fitting” that I should be serving the mass for my men.”
It is not unreasonable to draw the comparison between Tony and Joan’s father, Lionel, who writes from France in 1916:
“All sort of places, dugouts, tents, huts etc all used
for different churches and I know without the help & strength to face danger
which is given by God, few men would stand the strain long although they might
not always admit it.”
Joan had obviously written to her Uncle Rex regarding her thoughts and questionings.
Rex was a wise gentleman perhaps even a genius but because of injury in WW1 and probably the general effect of war, he became depressed and paranoid and so his wife felt she had to leave him. His mother’s young nurse, Peggy, with encouragement from her, looked after Rex and stayed with him for the rest of his life. Because of this, he was considered the wicked uncle and would always refer to himself as such while giving sound philosophical advice.
From his letter, to be seen in full
v Appendix 7 Rex’s letter
“Take the point you mentioned ‘Infallibility’. I believe every Dibdin, at least, at some time has been infallible in his own eyes, on some point. That none of the others ever agreed with him on that, made no difference. Fortunately they grew out of it sooner or later.”
Tony was not necessarily the “goody-two-shoes” that he would appear from all the letters and reports about him. In fact he quite obviously was not, judging from the need to get married in a bit of a hurry in Oct 1942. Also Joan once mentioned how he was quick to find pleasure in the company of his delightful cousin, Theresa, at a time when he was on leave and she was somewhat under the weather because her brother had been killed within the previous month.
As was mentioned earlier Joan’s social life was somewhat curtailed however she did manage to visit family with her son, presumably dragging him around on public transport. There were trips to Reigate, Sutton, and up to town. The numerous visits to the dentist were in London and so Joan could fit in a visit to Mrs Midd ( Middleton).
On one occasion Joan left her son happily in his pram in the garden in Streatham while going up to Town for the afternoon.
From her diary 3rd April 1944:
“Dentist at 3.15 - left Raoul in the garden. Called on Mrs Midd on the way home met her niece Lorna again. Michael is home after 3 ½ years. Didn’t get home till after 6.00 but Raoul was waiting very patiently. Had a parcel from Tony in morning lovely things, 2 bone storks (1 broken) 2 ebony elephants ivory necklace and bracelet - money bracelet -ivory figure- ash tray brass cig. box and carved wood cig. box.
Letter from Tony in the afternoon went round to No.4 in the evening for a little while; all out at a picture except Nita and Dinah both feel bit better.”
Joan and Tony had set up a flat in 81 Stanhope Road in November 1942 after they were married, and this was situated round the corner from Mater and the family at 4 Pinfold Road. Joan felt at ease dropping round from time to time.
Mrs Midd was a significant member of the Dibdin Family. She had joined the family as a companion/maid to Joan’s aunts and uncles on her father’s side when they were young and had stayed with the family until she was married to Norman Middleton, a sailor who travelled the world and brought back objects from many countries. They lived in a basement flat in Victoria Street which was sufficiently central for family of her generation and the following to visit often. She acted as the family confidant and had the special insight of someone who had lived with the family but was not quite so involved.
End of March into April was a dismal time for Joan. Being on her own, husband away, she had time to think perhaps, and 28th March was the anniversary of her parents death and it was six months since her brother’s. She started to write entries into a larger diary and these give one some idea the intense feelings and moods she was experiencing:
During April and May, Joan seemed to settle to a quiet time, except that she still visitiing the dentist often and then on 15th June the bombing raids started again on London. Of course, having a child, she was no longer in the Forces and so free to do as she thought fit. She started on a tortuous journey of evacuation, keeping on the flat in Streatham and moving to the Midlands staying for some time with the Nottingham Haycrafts. As the result of advertising she found a family to stay with in return for help in the house until she had to leave to give up the space for other members of the household’s family. She stayed for a while with a Mrs Culworth in Hoylake and then by mid July 1944 had moved in with her Aunt Tine ( Christine) in Meols. From her diaries and bit of letters it seems that throughout this couple of months she felt seriously like a refugee and although many of the family offered her accommodation, it was clear that space was always tight and that Joan and a 15 month old child were not the best of company at the time.