I’ve had some great replies to my post ‘What makes your Christmas special?‘
With the writer’s permission I am posting one here and will add others when I hear back from their authors.
A wonderful story from Cynthia Cunningham Shigo
A wonderful story from Cynthia Cunningham Shigo
Mamie and I pulled on knickers and Chinese gowns over our nightdresses and fled across to the other compound. The rest is a muddled picture of nightmare and comic effects. She had fallen into a well – must be over 100ft deep – 40 before you reach water, and they had thrown down the bucket to her. We heard her groaning and moaning – the mother-in-law, husband and Fish were shouting encouragements to her – I suddenly realised someone would have to go down to her – the husband was too big for the well mouth – sick feeling in my middle as I decided it must be me – but it wasn’t!
Thanks be – Fish was busy getting off his gown, tying a board to the rope end, sat on it, twisted it round his shoulders, between his legs, around his waist and then we started to let him down – flash failed, candle brought, went out – Mamie and I trying to hold the girl up on well rope – Fish shouted he had her and then we started to haul – what a haul! Ivy was there by that time and she, Mamie and I hauled the well rope; two men hauled Fish’s rope – wet rope, hands blistering – God’s will, make the old rope hold! – what a weight, ice slipping under our feet –hey Ivy keep back – you’ll be in on top of them! they’re up – Hey! Stop hauling! One man at the end of Fish’s rope trying to haul both through the wee hole at once – Fish shoves her up – then is nearly drowned himself when some fool empties the whole bucket full of water on top of his face. Girl into the house – back to ours in the darkness for blankets and hot bottles, knocking up the hospital for the nurses and the drawing breaths of relief sitting round a stove in one of our bedrooms trying to sort out what happened.
She – Gow’s wife – is only a youngster – 18, and got very sick in the middle of the night – the mother-in-law, a decent old soul really, got sick of her groans and moans and told Gow to hit her – he didn’t, but said he’d go over to the hospital for medicine – he started out and the mother-in-law said something crossly and the girl, hysterical between pain and bad temper, screamed she was going to kill herself, lifted up her son under her arm and made for the well – fortunately she dropped the kid at the well mouth and jumped in herself. It is quite a small hole, a round lid on the top – Gow had just got his big compound gate open, heard the yells and came racing back – she had decided she preferred to live – Gow dropped the bucket down and got her hauled up a bit, but she dropped back – the mother-in-law held the wheel so that the rope was long enough just to keep her out of the water and Gow ran for help. It must have taken him several minutes to get anyone knocked up to open our compound gates, several more to run a 4 minute walk across our compound and get Fish knocked up – think what water 40 feet down on Christmas day here must feel like! The girl must have been 15 minutes in the water in all – and she’s alive and well.
I don’t know how the ropes held – mine was only a fairly thick skipping rope, and the well rope has been three years in and out of water and lying in the sun. I won’t forget the honour of having them almost up and wondering what under the sun we could get if either rope went and they fell in again. The comic moments – I said there were some, were provided by the mother-in-law – the moment Mamie and I appeared, “The chiaoshihs are here, what are you making that noise about?” went down the well to encourage her. Then, on a fresh outburst of howls, “What! Still shouting! Look at all the trouble you’ve made, getting the chiaoshihs out of their beds on a cold winter morning.” Fish tackling the job of getting himself ready for going down as if he were used to doing it once a week at least – hat and gown off, another small bit of rope tied into mine – that was another of my horrors, I’d seen the knot tied and I couldn’t remember whether it was near his end of the rope or ours – fortunately, we got past it in the first few feet of pulling. Then when he hauled out of the well and the cold air hit him, capering like a mountain goat and asking for his own home shouting, “Ooo! Cold! Cold!” with thirty feet of rope trailing behind him. And the final reaction as I saw Gow passing my window an hour later with the water for breakfast – thank goodness it wasn’t our well she went into!
In a second Christmas Day letter addressed only to her mother, Marion added:
Thought there was no use adding the details in a letter for general family consumption – but the ‘illness’ the young wife was suffering from was a baby! Mamie had been telling me about 2 months ago that with the birth of the girl’s first child they had a terrific time – two days labour up here and then 30 hours by cart to Tiehling where Dr Brown saved both of them by some miracle. She suffered appallingly and the thought of going through it again must have been driving her crazy …
After we had hauled her out of the well and had left her in the hands of the nurses from the hospital, I again said, “Well, if the baby lives after that, it will be a wonder!” But during breakfast the cook said, “Did you know a daughter was born to Gow’s wife half an hour after you got her out of the well?” We heard afterwards the girl hadn’t even warmed up before the child was born – just over 8 months old. New way of having twilight sleep – freeze the patient stiff! Both mother and baby in excellent health thank you!!
Perhaps a less extraordinary Christmas Day, 43 years earlier in China, is described by Constance Douthwaite in Letters from Chefoo:
Chefoo, Sunday December 31, 1893
My dearest Papa,
I think you would be interested in hearing about our Christmas day, so I will give you a little account. We all met at the [Chefoo] Girls’ School for dinner, about 45 in number and over 20 of them children. After a grand Christmas dinner it was quite a sight to see how the little folk thoroughly enjoyed the rare treat of almonds and raisins, dates, toffee, oranges, chocolate, etc. I returned home and, wrapping our little maid well up (it was a bitter day, snowing hard and fast) her father carried her over to the school, and to please the children we all had games together till it grew dusk about four o’clock. Amah held baby on her knee and both quite enjoyed the fun. Then Arthur and I retired and I dressed him up as Father Christmas, in a long scarlet dressing gown, trimmed with white wadding, and his head covered with a great white wig and flowing beard and surmounted by a crown of mistletoe. He stuck some wadding eyebrows on and was so transformed I should not have known him.
Meanwhile they had lit up the splendid big tree which was loaded with presents and the children were all sitting, wild with excitement, waiting for Father Christmas to appear and strip the tree. Pearl sat on my knee and was so excited and delighted with all the “pitty sings” and the “lickle boys and girls” she quite forgot to be shy and frightened. I think everyone got at least half a dozen presents each and all; I had two aprons, a capital match holder, an antimacassar, one of Anna Shipton’s works, a silk tie and numbers of cards. Pearl had a little fluffy dog on wheels which barks when pinched, three dolls, two chocolate boxes, two bibs, a harmonicon, a box of bricks and bags of sweets. She trotted quite bravely up the long room when her name ‘Pearl’ was called, and returned with beaming face, hugging her presents in her arms to shew them to Mother.
Christmas Day, 1947, on board TSS Empire Brent:
It is a Christmas Day such as one never dreams of seeing at home. The sun is shining brilliantly and the sea is quite smooth and calm, and such a deep blue. Winnie and I are sitting out in the sun in summer attire and trying to imagine what you are all doing at home. Early this afternoon we passed Malta … At 6a.m. some brave people arose and went round singing carols. At 7 o’clock we went to a Communion Service, then we had breakfast – just an ordinary breakfast as served aboard, but a wonderful one – grapefruit, cornflakes, fish if wanted, fried egg and bacon, hot cakes and syrup to follow if tummy permitted, scones and toast and marmalade. It isn’t fair on you for us to enlarge upon the wonderful meals we are having. [Food was still rationed in England.]
After dinner, we plan to have a special little party of our own when we are going to cut the wedding cake and play party games. Last night, the ‘carol party’ sang carols on deck and the crew gave a concert. At dinner, all the children (there are 200 on board) came around and sang carols as we ate.
Snow fell that winter, causing great excitement because it was the first time that the children had seen snow. They dashed out into the back yard with their mouths open to catch the snowflakes. As usual they forgot to close the back door and Mother called out, “Close that door, anyone would think you were born in a barn!”
We met up with Kamala, our borrowed ayah, in Guntur and the children soon took to her. Getting them to bed was not so easy.
“How is Father Christmas going to bring our stockings?” Susina was genuinely worried and Simon soon picked up that he might be missing out.
“I want Pa Kissmass! Pa Kissmass!” he jumped up and down on the springy bed, almost falling onto the polished terrazzo floor.
Looking quickly round the room, I said, “Air conditioner.”
“Con-dish-ner?” they chorused, “Where’s that?”
“Up in the wall, see,” and I pointed to the square box blowing out cool air and a soft hushy noise. “Father Christmas will come through that.”
Constance Douthwaite’s Life in China 1887-1896
by Sheila McClure
Letters from Chefoo by Sheila McClure, tells the story of Sheila’s great grandmother, Constance Douthwaite (née Groves) who, aged 20, left Bristol for Chefoo in north China as one of ‘The Hundred’ missionaries recruited by James Hudson Taylor in 1886.
Constance’s letters form the main part of the book with Sheila’s well-researched explanatory passages providing context.
In her early letters, Constance describes in detail the exciting, intriguing and alien place that China was over 130 years ago.
Two years into her stay, she painfully reveals the obstacle of an engagement she had agreed to before leaving Bristol and her decision that she must travel home to break it off.
Returning to Chefoo she marries the man with whom she had fallen in love – Dr Arthur Douthwaite.
However, on comparing my photo with Maldwin’s boat, the tell-tale funnel on the boat in Portsmouth led me to believe it is not an MTB, but an SGB (Steam Gun Boat) also used in WW2.
On page 25 of The Strange History of Seagulls we find out how Sweetwings saved the fleet.
It was lucky that he was so observant!
(The links below are to two other books by Maldwin Drummond. The Riddle was released around the same time as The Strange History of Seagulls and After You, Mr Lear: In the wake of Edward Lear in Italy is packed with Maldwin’s quiet humour. )
The Tall Ships sail training vessel, Challenger 7, graced this year’s Southampton Boat Show with her presence, reminding me of Maldwin Drummond OBE, who is unfortunately not with us any more.
Maldwin was a keen and experienced sailor and a lifelong supporter of Sail Training, instrumental in building the STA schooners and Britain’s gift to Australia, STS Young Endeavour.
Little Knoll Press published Maldwin’s delightful children’s book, The Strange History of Seagulls, in November 2016. The book tells the history of the Waterside and Solent area – or rather George the seagull and his relations tell the story!
This beautiful, quirky book is fully illustrated by Maldwin. It starts with the Vikings arriving at Ashlett creek and traces the Waterside coastline’s story right through to the development of foil sailing on today’s racing boats.
More about the book – The Strange History of Seagulls
Palembang and Beyond
by Mike Roussel
Mike Roussel brings together in this book a fascinating record of the British Pacific Fleet during the Second World War, in particular the closing years of conflict with Japan and the cruel fate meted out on the Palembang Nine after surrender on VJ Day.
The BOOK LAUNCH – a reunion
Saturday 14th April 2018
A rare reunion of Second World War veterans from the Fleet Air Arm took place at the book launch of Palembang and Beyond, held at The Museum of Army Flying – rare because of the great age reached by these veterans, who are now all in their late nineties.
They were young during the war, aged eighteen to twenty, and their active service took place during the early years of the RAF, which was newly formed in April 1918. Their stories are told within Palembang and Beyond, a new book by shipping and aviation author, Mike Roussel.
The book launch was supported by a large group of guests who came from as far afield as Devon.
The Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, who wrote the foreword for the book, also attended. He explained how his interest in military history and a chance conversation with Mike Roussel had triggered the writing of this book about the Pacific War.
Mike Roussel spoke at the launch about how he had ‘discovered as it were by accident, three gentlemen who were air crew with Fleet Air Arm 849 Squadron’. In writing the book, Mike travelled to interview Arthur Page, Norman ‘Dickie’ Richardson and John ‘Buster’ Brown, all of whom had all flown in the bombing raids on the Palembang oil refineries. He also heard from them about their fellow airmen who never came home from the war, among them the captured air crew known as the Palembang Nine who were cruelly executed by the Japanese after the surrender on VJ Day.
It took Mike just over a year to complete the research and writing of Palembang and Beyond. During that time he transcribed the veterans’ stories for inclusion in the book and gathered from them many of the 151 photographs that are published there for the first time. The photos give fascinating insights into the type of aircraft and the terrain over which the Fleet Air Arm fought, showing how challenging the air offensive was in the Pacific War.
Attending the launch were veterans Dr Arthur Page, who was an Avenger pilot, and Norman ‘Dickie’ Richardson DSM, TAG (Telegraphist Air Gunner) who flew with Arthur. John ‘Buster’ Brown, who was also an Avenger pilot with 849 Squadron, lives in Yorkshire and was unable to come the distance. His brother, Michael Brown, represented him and brought his greetings and his wishes that he could have been there.
Julian Lewis in paying tribute to the veterans, said, “It is absolutely typical of this generation that they do not brag or boast in any way. For instance, it was only from other people and not from Norman himself that I discovered he’d been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for the Palembang raid. Mike has done terrific work in making sure that their stories live for all time, without which they would be lost to history.”
The book’s publisher, Jenny Knowles of Little Knoll Press agreed. “I believe it’s important that these stories should be told, because history easily gets rewritten and it can’t be rewritten if it is truly from a memoir. These precious gentlemen, the clarity of their memories and the importance of the things that they remember really should be there for people to know about in the future and now.”
(There are links below to other books by Mike Roussel.).