Our mum and dad


I bought you at Didcot in 1978:

Holiday Haunts, 1939,

All sepia tinged arts and crafts,

And art deco modernism,

Olde Englande Mockobethan,

John Betjeman love-hates conjoined,

But no friendly bombs will fall on Slough,

For this is a book to get you through the winter months of 1938-9,

A book full of promise and practical tips

As you plan your summer holiday haunts

In the dark nights of winter.

No fear of war here, no barbed wire beaches,

No pill boxes and tank traps along the Thames;

Instead, punts and tweeds and flannels:

‘Make a holiday based in Reading

An idea worth serious consideration’;

Or, you might make it to Wiltshire:

‘Camping Coaches and Fashionable Walking Holidays

In Marlborough and Savernake Forest’;

Contrived photographs of first and third-class passengers

Enjoying tea and scones smilingly served,

Steaming west to the Cornish Riviera –

No difference in social class distinguishable,

Apart from the fact that all the ladies in first class wear hats,

Although, they, like all the other women

In all the other railway tableaux in this tome,

Listen with careful composure,

While the men do all the talking;

But I’m pleased to say that everything

Is just tickety boo, Cheerful Charlie and Even Steven,

Especially in the buffet car from Bath to Newquay,

Thirty-four shillings and fivepence return –

No wonder they look so happy.

But doesn’t hindsight give an air of tragedy to it all?

The unspoken foreshadowing of war.

For even though there’s no shots of barbed wired beaches,

Gas masks, sand bags, bomb shelters and pill boxes,

Just the carefree innocence of buckets and spades,

The cheerful innocence of the high tides’ tables,

An almost limitless list of west country

Hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts,

At ports and seaside resorts served by the GWR,

All the way from the promise of spring

(When Hitler will break his Munich pledge),

Until the late summer of September

(‘I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room, 10 Downing Street’);

In truth, what fearful thoughts were in the minds

Of those model passengers, posing for the camera

Captured in those holiday haunts buffet car snaps?

What haunting anxieties?

How many women were to wait anxiously at railway stations,

As GWR troop trains left for the coast,

Or arrived back with the wounded?

How many of those men would stand in queues

On the beaches at Dunkirk,

Or in the cold waters of the English Channel,

Taking their turn to embark for home,

And arrive back at their old holiday haunts?

And all that, just one year later.

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Rodney Butler to Nancy Wheeler

27th December 1938 Christ Church, Swindon

Best man - Ted Wheeler.

Bridesmaids - Kathleen Butler and Lillian Joachim.