Do people still send postcards these days…?
On a recent trip to Carlisle I paid a visit to Warwick Tower, a vintage cornucopia recently transplanted from it’s former residence at the junction of Lowther Street and Warwick Road to the old church a few hundred yards away. It’s a wonderful place and well worth a visit for a rummage through the ever-changing wares. On the day in question I spotted a small selection postcards sitting by the side and, naturally, took them in hand for a closer look. There were about 20 of them, some unused Bamforth comic series cards from the 1960s, some photos and assorted postcards from around the UK, with three from Carlisle. I was about to buy only the latter when I noticed that the names on the postcards corresponded with some of the messages on the others and after more investigation I realised that this ‘set’ were all from the same family. Not wanting to split them up I bought the lot.
It’s always exciting to find a postcard that speaks across the years, that tells a story or intrigues me. In this case I’d picked up a tantalising snapshot of the same family spanning over 40 years, from 1950 to 1992.
The cards that initially piqued my interest were three reproduction photocards of the troopship HMT Empire Trooper (originally a 1920s German passenger ship that was commandeered by the Royal Navy in 1939 and saw service for the next fifteen years). Each is the same image with handwritten messages on the back from Frederick Charles ‘Ricky’ Thomas; two for his sons and an especially heartfelt message to his wife:
Dearest Nancy, I know this isn’t a very good picture dearest, but its a souvenir, and I can write what I shall never, never tire of saying. I love you my sweetheart. Just you keep your chin up, my sweetheart, and keep it in your mind, all the time that your Ricky loves you, body and soul, and will be faithful to you in word, thought and deed, for ever and ever. God bless you and keep you always my sweet, safe in the knowledge that you’ll always have your own loving husband forever true to you xxxxxxx Ricky X
The other two are written on the same date and are addressed to his two sons, Allan and David. There’s also a mention of Paul, another son, and based on later correspondence I believe the baby referred to is David, with Allan the eldest and Paul in between:
My Dear David, This is the ship that Daddy’s on. hope I shall soon be coming back to you again. Lots of love little boy, God bless you. Daddy xxxxx
Dear Allan, Sorry that this isn’t a very good photo, but it’s an ugly looking ship,not like the smart ones you are going to sail on. hope you’ll be a good boy and help look after mummy and the baby – not forgetting Paul – lots of love Daddy
And so the jigsaw pieces begin to fit together; the earliest in the pile was this aptly chosen 1950 comic postcard in Valentine’s ‘Driscoll’ series, sent to Mrs A. Scarrott of Milson Street, Cheltenham. This is from Charles’ wife, Violet (the recipient of the first message, above). She writes to her mother (David, Paul and Allan’s grandmother) about her dad’s visit to see the family – I should clarify here that it would appear both Ricky and Nancy used their pet names with one another, Ricky being short for Frederick and Nancy being Violet’s given middle name. In most of the later correspondence they are referred to to as Vi(olet) and Charles:
Dear Mum, Dad’s enjoying himself and seems better although his leg is aching. Wish you were down here too, in any case you soon will be,or else. Love to all from Vi, Tom and Boys xxxx
Hope our Rene is O.K. Dad says thank Joan for cash , came in useful he was on the rocks x Vi xx
The first mystery rears it’s head already, with the sign off on this postcard from Vi, Tom and Boys – within two years of sending this she is married to Charles and has a baby (David?) and two other sons, Paul and Allan. So who then is Tom? A brother perhaps, and her husband Charles is away on service? Or could this be husband number one…? Searching the marriage records online I’ve found a Violet N. Scarrott, born in 1921 in Pontypridd (not a million miles away from Pembroke Dock where both of these postcards were posted). Two marriages appear, both in Gloucestershire for Violet N. Scarrott…the first in 1938, which would make Vi only 17 if it were her – but the husband’s name is Roydon Cramp (what a name!). The second (and this one I’m sure about) is in 1950 to a fellow whose surname is ‘Thomas’… that’s our Frederick Charles. Rather poignantly then, both the postcard above and the one to follow were sent in the months after their marriage and I can only assume by the lack of reference to him, that Charles has gone away.
The next card reverses the tale of the first and is sent to Mr M. Scarrott himself, from his wife who is the one now staying with their daughter Vi, as promised, just over a month after the above was sent in the same direction:
Dear Hubby, Had a good journey, + arrived on time. Old “watching em”, with Vi, + the boys were at the station with the car to meet me, the weather was lovely yesterday but rather dull this morning, hope you are feeling O.K. Allan was up early and made the tea, + then I had three visitors for about an hour before they went off to school. Cheerio love from all. All the Best [?]
There’s a sense of the absent father about both of these postcards and I’m fairly sure that my assumption about Charles being away on service stands. Of course, I’d love to hear comments from anyone who can add to this or make any corrections. I like the reference to a character called “Old ‘watching em” which sounds like a nickname for a local sort who is well-known to the family. There’s no mention of Tom here, but Allan is being a dutiful son and getting up early to make the tea; also still no mention of Charles.
Postcard number three is written two years after the family correspondence above and is from Charles to his parents, Mr & Mrs W. J. Thomas of Mount Pleasant, Swansea. Although un-postmarked and un-stamped he’s dated it as 31st January 1952, five months before the three photocards are sent home from the Empire Trooper, but in this instance he tells us that he is in Algiers and on his way home. This time around the ship shown is the Empress of Australia, another vessel that started life as a German passenger ship and ended it ferrying troops around the globe. Whilst there’s no evidence that this is the ship Charles was aboard it seems likely that he would have had access to postcards relevant to the troopship carrying him home. It is not inconceivable that he was indeed aboard the Empress of Australia, and if that’s the case it may well have been it’s final journey, as it was sent up to Inverkeithing to be scrapped in May 1952, after a long wartime service in both the Second World War and the Korean War.
Dear Ma + Dad, We are stopping here on the way home and we expect to land on Tuesday 5 Feb. We are all well and the voyage has been very smooth but the weather is very dull. We are going to Chester first, and then according to where I’m posted. Cheerio for now – Charles.
This is the first and last time that I have any mention of Charles’ side of the family and the story of this small collection is really Violet’s, but it is wonderful to have found such a variety from different members of the family, shortly to include the children as well as the parents…
In 1958 we pick up the trail with another comic postcard, this time from Bamforth; usually I’m keener on topographical postcards as the location lends itself better to research and to forming a clearer picture of the sender’s comings and goings, in addition to the unique messages. In this case though I’ve found their use of the comic postcard, often seemingly chosen with some thought, both endearing and enlightening. They lend a air of familial camaraderie to the story that would otherwise be missing. In the card below Vi writes once more to her mother and is it Charles who has added his own punchline to Taylor’s postwar-feminism? – “She never spoke a truer word” – the handwriting doesn’t fit with Vi’s:
Dear Mum, Just a few lines to let you know we arrived back safely at 9.45 with half an hours stop for sandwiches. Thanks for everything we enjoyed ourselves, wish it had been longer never mind plenty more times to come. Hope you are looking up and feeling alright. Thank Joan + [?] Lots of love to all From Charles + kids and Vi xxxx xx
So, six years on from the Empire Trooper Charles is home with his family, Vi and the kids, and they get the postcard writing bug too. Over the next ten years or so the following postcards are exchanged between the family, with the first of them sent only one month after the card above, from Vi and Charles’ son David – the ‘little boy’ who received his Daddy’s wishes back in 1952:
Postmarked at Wareham in Dorset, 1958, David send greetings to his mum in the first and only postcard I found written in his hand. The family appear to have moved to Dorset, West Moor to be precise. There’s also a signature for David’s brother Paul which has been partially erased.Dear Vi and Charles, We arrived home quite safely to time, after a very pleasant journey; also a lovely time we had at West Moors, for which we thank you very much also for all the trouble you went to in taking us to Poole to get the train. Weather is very warm hope you are getting some Love from Mum
The first time Charles’ rank is mentioned appears here on this postcard of St Paul’s College in Cheltenham, postmarked 1959, addressed to ‘Capt + Mrs Jones’.
Did you like the circus?
We’re into the 1960s now with this pair of comic postcards sent respectively to sons Paul and David. Once again the family display their togetherness despite the sense over the years of them being apart, and the jokes keep on coming to match the postcards chosen. Have you also spotted the theme at the sign-off? This is a family awash with kisses.
Many Happy Returns of July 1st, Nancy. Many thanks for your very nice card. Hope to see you down here one day. Will write at length shortly (i.e. after the summer holidays!) All the best Mary
This, from Farnham sent to Charles and Violet at their new home in Melton Mowbray is from an unknown ‘Mary’, postmarked Aldershot 1961. It is the last in the selection I found that is addressed to them both and leaves open the fate of their relationship from this point onwards. Later postcards (below), including one to Violet over 30 years later, make no mention of Charles at all.
Dear David, here that you are keeping up the good work. Looking after the bike well. This is part of Carlisle the other side. Heard about Duke of Yorks yet? Lots of Love Paul.
We’re still in 1961 when we see the first postcard from Carlisle; the connection with the city up to now has been non-existent but here is the start of a relationship with the city that was to continue, at least until 2006, if not beyond and to the present. In this message Paul writes to his brother David, who is still living at the family home in Old Dalby, Melton Mowbray. It’s tempting to glean information from innocuous comments but I wonder if the link to Carlisle here is the family’s military history? We know that their father, Charles, is a Captain in the armed forces (although online searches have not provided any detail) – from the choice of card it may be that Paul has followed in his father’s footsteps and is based in the city – Carlisle Castle has been the home of troops for decades – and what of the enquiry, “Heard about Duke of York’s yet?” Could David have applied to the military school in Dover, perhaps?
The next postcard, also from Paul, was sent eight years later. There’s a marked difference in the handwriting as Paul has grown up; in the earlier Empire Trooper messages of 1952 Paul is referred to as needing looking after along with ‘the baby’ (David, I presume) so I’m working out here that he is now in his early 20s. The postcard is another from Carlisle although on this occasion he is ‘passing through’ so the link to the city is still ambiguous:
DING DONG! ?
Dear Gran & Aunt, Iv just stopped to write these few lines in Carlisle Post Office on my way through. The time is 5.15pm. so I haven’t done to bad. The weather is blowing a gale, also chucking it down. THANKYOU both for everything. Write soon love Paul
I adore the continuity evoked by this postcard, sent to Paul’s grandmother (Violet’s mother) 19 years after the first postcard in this little collection, and to the same address at Milsom Street, Cheltenham. Sadly, there’s no mention of Mr M. Scarrott (Paul’s grandfather) who we last heard of way back in 1950, the recipient of the second card.
Dear Ella. We arrived here in good time 6o/c – 18.00 hrs to be precise! after 3/4hr stop at Chester, + a lovely comfortable ride, sun shining after we left Birmingham, weather still nice today, hope you are having it warm + sunny too, + feeling good. Vi arranged with Doctor for my injections tommorrow, + thanks you for everything once again Love from all here + Annie xxxx
The date of this penultimate correspondence isn’t clear although the 5D stamp dictates that it is late 1960s/early 1970s. This is written by Nancy’s mother Annie(?), the Mrs A. Scarrott of previous note. The recipient, Mrs E. Pavey isn’t known but as she is at the family home in Milsom Street we could guess that she is the sister of either Annie or Violet… perhaps the ‘aunt’ mentioned by Paul in his 1969 message above. This is the final of the three postcards from Carlisle and is the first indication of the link – the final postcard, below, sent almost 20 years later, confirms that Violet moved to the city. By the sound of this message she was possibly living there at the time her mother visited and would spend the remainder of her life as a Carlisle resident.
Dear Mum. Having a really good weekend and meeting lots of great people. We’re covered in a blanket of freezing fog which hasn’t lifted for days so are taking refuge in warm cafes! I spent a few hours in York Minster which was spectacular – have you ever seen it? Thanks for making it possible for me to come. Hope all is well and I’ll speak to you soon. Lots of love from your loving daughter France xxx
The last postcard, sent in February 1992 to Violet, now living at Dale End Road in Carlisle from her hitherto unmentioned daughter, Frances. The surprise discovery of Frances reminds me that, despite feeling like I’ve got to know this family through this 42 year correspondence I’ve only scratched the surface. The months and years between postcards are blanks that won’t ever be filled. Searching birth records online I’ve found that Frances was born in 1955, after her brothers, and I am grateful that she sent this postcard. Not only does it give her a place in this family story, but it completes the mystery of the family’s Carlisle connection (and is also the evidence that Violet and Nancy are one and the same – the addressee is Mrs V. N. Thomas).
I’m conscious that the span of these postcards brings us almost into the present day and it is quite conceivable that Allan, Paul, David and Frances are all still with us. Whether they see this blog or not, I hope that I have not intruded on anything too private by sharing this. As these postcards were found in a thrift shop in Carlisle I always assumed, as I often must when I find old postcards, that the owners have discarded them, or more likely passed away.
With some online research I have found that Violet Nancy Thomas (née Scarrott) was born in Pontypridd, Wales in 1921. She died in Carlisle in 2006, aged 84 or 85. The fate of her second husband, Captain Frederick Charles Thomas is not known to me. The final image is therefore fitting… It’s hardly a decipherable image, more a silhouette, but takes us back to where this story began in 1952. This photograph, annotated on the back, “Charles on board Empire Trooper” shows Charles with his left hand slightly raised waving at the camera.