Betty's Brussels Diary Part Two 1945 #WWWBlogs

8th April 1945
Pat and I strolled to Susanne’s house at 11 and she took us into the Catholic church.  We had a huge lunch and then took photos in the garden.  We went to a fete near the Palais de Justice- a new experience for us.  I won a colander and a vase in the raffle.  Had a laugh over the embarrassing communal lavatories.  Went dancing in the evening.

With Susanne's family
17th April
Sat by the lakes at lunchtime.  The weather was glorious.  Worked till 9 pm.  Pat came back from Susanne’s laden with lilac.  She also brought our photos and 2 eggs for breakfast.
19th April 1945
My day off apart from Pay Parade.  Tony called for me at 2.30 and we caught the number 80 tram, changed to no. 40 and went to the terminus.  We went to the Congo Museum but it was closed so we walked for miles round the park, woods and lake.  We heard a cuckoo.  Eventually we stopped at a café for lemonade.  Caught a tram back to the boating lake and spent an hour on the lake.  Walked back to Tony’s Mess for a cordial.  I enjoyed the fresh air.
24th April 1945
Met Tony at 7.30 and took 2 trams, then walked over a bridge which had been blown up by the British and then replaced with a temporary one by Jerry.  We saw the Japanese house and the Chinese one.  They are both magnificent buildings.  Watched people on a roller skating rink.  Went to the Continental for a drink, then collected rhododendrons for the flat.
May 4th 1945
Busy day at the office.  Did a little sewing then someone came in with the startling news that Jerry had surrendered to the British Army! 
May 7th 1945 VE Day
I was sitting on the balcony drying my hair when I heard that Jerry had given unconditional surrender.  Went to Pat’s office to hear the 6 o’clock news.  Then we went to the Fair with all the crowd.  We had a grand time laughing our heads off in the White Lodge.  At 10.45 the All Clear sounded.  All the girls hung out of the Billet windows then we went out dancing till 1 o’clock in the morning.
May 9th 1945
Visited the Botanic Gardens with Tommy and Fay.  Looked round a church then sat in the YW talking for 2 hours.  Moved on to the Malcolm Club where I met Reg.  When Curly arrived we went into the Dance and had something to eat as we were starving.  There was a firework display.

The YWCA formerly occupied by the Gestapo
May 12th 1945
Had a date with Tommy so I met him at the Metropole.  We went to see Hollywood Canteen which was quite good.  Afterwards we went to the Café Continental. I missed the Shuttle but a tank came along and said, "ATS Taxi Service," so I got back in time.
May 13th 1945
Pat and I went to church and the service was excellent.  I really enjoyed it.  We stayed at the office till 8 pm.  There was hot water there but none at our billet.  We went to the YW to hear Churchill’s speech which was rather disappointing.  He sounded very tired.
3rd June 1945
Watched the Corpus Christi Procession go past.  Had a lovely meal at Susanne’s with mushrooms but I was really ill afterwards.
6th June 1945
An extra day off for one year after D Day.  Went to ENSA cinema to see "Ali Baba"- a film in colour.  Went on the boating lake.
9th June 1945
Rose at 4 to move my kit to room 10.  It was awful saying Goodbye to Pat as she is moving to Germany today.
25th June 1945
Caught a train to Antwerp.  Had to pay our fares.  Not free like Brussels.

27th June 1945
Margaret moved to Germany today.  Staff took me to the flicks to see Clark Gable in "Too Hot to Handle."
28th June 1945
Madame Toussaint called to see me and ask me to her home this evening.  We had coffee and cakes and then her husband returned from Paris.  (Winnie Toussaint befriended Betty when her friends had left.  Betty continued to write to Winnie until the late 1960s)

Winnie and Betty
2nd July 1945
Winnie Toussaint came to the flicks (cinema) with me and then we met her husband in a café for cakes, ice-cream and strawberries.
5th July 1945
Working late most evenings.  Jack produced some cherry brandy at 8 pm.  We had supper at the Y and the 3 men kept talking politics.  Jack and I walked round the lakes before returning to our billets.  We stood for ages watching the fish and the frogs.
20th July 1945
Jack called for me at the office tonight.  We took a tram to the terminus.  The weather was beautiful.  I discarded stockings and hat and we scrambled amongst the brambles and the bracken.  I felt really free again.  We did quite a bit of walking then had lemonade at a café and sat talking.
5th August 1945
Packed up my things and dumped them at the office.  Wingy laid on a taxi for me.  Left at 12.  Had a pleasant flight.  Watched England appear from the pilot’s seat.  It was lovely.  Had the usual rigmarole to go through.  Went to Euston & wangled a Sleeper.  Went out to visit Staff’s wife.  She had a bath and a meal ready for me.
7th August 1945
I went to Dumbarton and called in to see my aunt and uncle.  Came back via Balloch.  It was lovely driving up the loch in the half dark.  The lights of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow looked wonderful from above Helensburgh. (The first time she had seen lights at night there since before the war)
13th August 1945
I went to Balloch with my brothers for the meeting of the young farmers’ club.  Someone from the newspaper took my photograph while I was judging the sheep.

Betty at YFC meeting at Balloch from the newspaper
24th August 1945
I was walking along Avenue Louise today when a lad called out to me and handed me my photo taken from the Evening News.
30th August 1945
Rose at 6 am and caught the 7 o’clock train to Blankenberge, Winnie Toussaint met me at the station.  When I reached the hotel I found I left my shoulder bag on the train but I got it back from Bruges through the RTO.  (Railway Transport Office).  We went to a café and met some of their friends.  It poured most of the day but we still walked along the front and down the pier.  I enjoyed the sea breeze once the sun came out and we stayed on the beach taking photos.

The Toussaint family at Blankenberge
4th September 1945
Staff returned from his trip to Herford (Germany) – says we will go there soon.  Visited Winnie & we sat in the garden till it was dark.  Left at 10 to catch the tram.
8th September 1945 My birthday (23) The Victory Ball
We went down to the Opera House in our tartan skirts this morning- caused quite a sensation along the street.  Last rehearsal for the Victory Ball and then we met the men in the dressing room at 12 and had champagne which was very good.  I met a very nice  Captain and sat nattering to him from 1 till 2 when we went on stage.  Our dance went off well.  We had some more champagne then joined the Ball.  I had to suffer Major D for a bit.  Danced out in the Square too.  Managed to ditch him and find my hero again who was a wonderful dancer.  I could have gone on and on dancing with him.  I was annoyed when the transport arrived at 5.15.  Said farewell and then back to the billet.

Later that month, Betty’s office moved to Herford in Germany

Betty's diary for June 1944
Betty in Brussels part one

Betty in Brussels 1944-45 #WW2 #MondayBlogs

Part One

3rd October 1944
Pat and I rose at 6.30 and set out for a walk.  It was glorious at that time of the morning.  Saw the Palais de Justice and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.  Felt really refreshed when we reached the office.  Lunch at a café, lovely to have fresh fruit.  Worked till 8.  Cleaned my buttons and wrote letters.  Lights out by 10.15 or we are in trouble.

5th October 1944
Dolled ourselves up in brass buttons and went down town tonight.  Visited Capitole and Metropole Cafés and had lovely ice-cream.  Listened to the band and watched an unusual dance by five men dressed in funny costumes with large ostrich-feather hats.
7th October 1944
Shopping with Pat & Hazel.  Wonderful to see shops so well stocked with goods.  Had our photos taken and then had meringues & ice-cream.  What a selection of cosmetics and perfume!  We couldn’t buy anything as they were unable to change a hundred Franc note.  After tea we took the tram to the Garrison theatre to see Richard Green in “Arms and the Man.”  We were supplied with ices and chocolate by the fellows sitting beside us.
22nd October 1944
Pat and I went down to the YWCA tonight and met Hazel.  It’s lovely there, comfy chairs, cosy little rooms & tea brought to you.  We did some sewing and chatted till 9.30 then caught the tram back to the billet.
Pat, John and Betty
28th October 1944
Rushed off from the office at 6.30 and went to the ENSA theatre.  Monty (Field-Marshall Montgomery) was there and we had also seen him during the afternoon at the office.  On stage we saw Emlyn Williams in Blithe Spirit.  It was awfully good.  I did enjoy the cracks.  Went to the Bristol Café for ices then caught truck back to the billet.
13th November 1944
Rose early & gave our room a decent clean for Inspection.  Had a letter from Jenny to say that Bill had been reported missing.  Went to flicks with Susanne, Theo, Bob and George (locals who lived in Brussels.)  Had to leave early to get back in time.  Will have to watch my step with George.  He wants to get too friendly for my liking.
Pat & Betty with Bob & Susanne
25th November 1944
Had to see the Camp Commander today to be told I’m receiving my Corporal’s stripe.  Went shopping & bought a pen for Dad & stockings for Mum.  Wrapped them up for Christmas.
30th November 1944
Pat & I met Susanne, Theo and George at the Capitole to listen to the band.  Gave George the cold shoulder.  Caught the tram back.
1st December 1944
Had to sew the stripe on my tunic before going out.   Pat & I went to ENSA theatre to see “A soldier for Christmas.”  It was very amusing but a bit suggestive.  Nattered to some sergeants we were sitting beside.
1st January 1945
Edward brought Fay & I back from the Hogmanay party at 1 am.  Stayed in bed till early afternoon then called in at the office to wish them a happy new year.  Went to the Monty Club (Montgomery Club) for tea.  Had our photos taken by some fellows.  Went to the ENSA theatre where 2 sergeants had double tickets so we went in with them.  “The Merry Widow most enjoyable. Caught the truck back.

2nd January 1945
Went to Susanne’s house for dinner.  Quite a crowd there.  Roads very slippery on the way back.  Had to be careful carrying a bowl of baked apples.
Looking out of the Office window on Avenue Louise
8th January 1945
Day off so we went on a trip to Ostend by bus.  Thick snow when we left so everything looked very picturesque clothed in white.  Countryside quite pretty, windmills unusual (to us).  We stopped at Ghent & went to the NAAFI for tea.  The town is full of ancient buildings.  When we reached Ostend it was raining and terribly blowy.  The hotels at the seafront were badly battered.  Very cold in the bus even with a blanket round us.  Managed to reach the YWCA by 8.30 for supper.

January 19th 1945
Really freezing in the flat.  Went to Susanne’s house for dinner and we were covered in snow when we arrived.  Had to rush back to the billet early as I had to take roll call.
January 25th 1945
Bought an electric fire today but it doesn’t work.  Went to bed early with a blanket round my shoulders to write letters home.
1st February 1945
Walked to Porte de Namur by way of the lakes which are lovely.  Called at the lace shop to buy some.  Set out for Waterloo but had a very long wait for the train.  Got out at the village but it was miles from the battlefield.  Hitched a ride with a Sergeant Major, then he took us for a drink.  Climbed to the top of the column and saw the Panorama in the Rotunda.  Hitched back to Brussels and went to the Blighty Café.
3rd February 1945
I was orderly NCO tonight.  Did some mending in the Guardroom.  CSM was duty officer & was on her high horse so I had to take the names of those who were only a little late.
6th February 1945
Di and I went out to Concordia for our evening meal then to Maxims where we were joined by a RAF officer.  I nearly died when a Canadian corporal started to make me jitterbug.  Caught the shuttle back to the billet.
 8th February 1945
Left work early & went to the Monty Club for a bath.  I did some pressing until Pat arrived then we went upstairs for supper.  Changed some money at the Hotel Splendide.
10th February 1945 
Flew from Neuville aerodrome.  Thrilling flying into England (my first flight).  Pat’s mother met me at Euston & then I boarded the train for Glasgow.  Travelled in a first class carriage with 2 companions.  Arrived at 9 am but could only get a train as far as Dumbarton where I hitched a lift home in time for lunch.
20th February 1945
Reported for my flight back to Brussels at 8 am but there was no room for us.  Met Moyra and she took me to meet some of her blind patients at Roehampton hospital.  A very interesting experience for me.
21st February 1946
Flew back from Northolt to Neuville.  A truck drove us to the Hotel Splendide and then a driver took me the rest of the way to my billet.  Went to the ENSA theatre to see Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr.  Glad to be back.
29th February 1945
Met Ian at Porte Louise and we went to the Follies Bergère.  Although we didn’t understand what they said we were still in stitches laughing.  A couple of drinks at the Palace and then walked back by the lakes.
"The Office" ST Increment Demand Section
11th March 1945
Staff (Staff sergeant in the office) took us to the flicks to see Rebecca.  Very good but had to stand throughout the whole film.  Our feet were in a terrible state.  We practically crawled to Porte Louise & hitched a lift from there in time for me to take roll call.
27th March 1945
We moved out of the flat for 4 into a flat for 3.  The poor new girls were shocked when we took all our odds and ends with us, since they had given the old room a homely atmosphere.  I bought some brackets to put up shelves in the new room, covered them with pink material and added a frill.  Visited Susanne’s home to pick up the dress she has made me and she also gave me 2 fresh eggs for our breakfast.

Brussels part two follows here

Betty's War #WW2 1944

Betty was born in 1922, in a croft on the Gareloch in Scotland.  She had two brothers, one older and one younger.  Her father, Alec, was 30 and her mother, Lizzie, was 22.  There was no electricity or gas at the croft and Alec worked long hours every day on his uncle’s farm.  When Betty was 4 they moved to the farm where she and her brothers grew up doing their chores, like collecting eggs and calling in the cows for milking.

Doing well at school, especially at maths, Betty left after completing her Highers, age 17.  She found employment at the Clydesdale bank but she had to help milking the cows every morning before running down to catch the bus into town.  War with Germany had been declared in Britain six days before Betty’s 17th birthday.  In September 1942 she would become eligible for conscription and she feared that she would be assigned to the Land Army, working on someone else’s farm, so to avoid that, she volunteered to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

Leading up to D Day on June 6th 1944, Betty worked on supplies for the Normandy invasion, Operation Overlord, although she had no idea whereabouts in France it would be, or the specific date.  In August, she and her colleagues set off from Portsmouth to Arromanche.  She was part of the vast 21st Army Group, established in London during July 1943.

After she died in 2010 I found many years of diaries written in tiny untidy writing and gradually I have transcribed some of them.  These are some of her entries for the period around D-day leading up to her journey first to France and then on to Brussels and Germany.

These first entries were while she was billeted at Oxted, Surrey.

4th June 1944
Went to Church of Scotland service in the chapel at St Paul’s Cathedral.  Met Elizabeth and Ana and sat in St James’s park.  Visited Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.  Met Mary, Greta & Greta’s boyfriend.

Like many in the forces, Betty knew invasion was imminent as her work involved supplies.

6th June 1944 (D-Day)
Couldn’t sleep for the noise of planes in the early hours.  Waited expectantly for news.  D-Day things went very well.  Heard the King’s speech in WVS club lounge.  Rang Greta & Elizabeth.
8th June 1944
Went to concert in Assembly Hall at Charing Cross.  Looked after a poor Canadian on the train on the way back & was touched when he held my hand wishing me luck.
9th June 1944
David Niven “The Way Ahead” & newsreel of the Invasion.
11th June 1944
We have a new SSM, very pernickety, we will have to watch our steps
12th June 1944
"Gone with the Wind" for the 2nd time.

On 13th June the first V1 flying bombs, often called doodlebugs in Britain, were launched from Calais over south-east England. 

15th June 1944
Sirens and gunfire.  Pilotless planes (V1) above.  Very tired in morning.
16th June 1944
Reached West Kensington and the siren went off.  During the night had to go to the Shelter- hardly slept again.
17th June 1944
Bought some cornflowers to brighten up the bedroom- had to bargain for a good price.  Saw "Fanny by Gaslight" (Stewart Granger & Phyllis Calvert). Siren & guns kept us awake but we didn’t get out of bed -3rd night no sleep.
18th June 1944
Pilotless plane came down 50 yards from our billet- shook us up. Slept together in the Recreation Room.
19th June 1944
More explosions. First aid lecture boring so I darned my stockings.
20th June 1944
Spent most of the day in the office calling out figures as usual.  Fed up with sleeping in Rec. Room.
22nd June 1944
Went to visit friends in Purley (Surrey).  Glorious walk along avenue of Lombardy Poplars and then Rose Avenue.  Wild flowers and gardens so beautiful.  Spent the night in the Shelter.
Saturday 24th June 1944
PT this morning which nearly killed me.  Busy at the office but left at 5.30.  Came up to Kensington, walked up Notting hill & through Holland Park.
Sunday 23rd June
Worked till 4 pm then went up to Victoria & sat in St James’s Park.  Walked along Embankment, past Big Ben to Trafalgar Square & then Piccadilly.

In July, Betty was posted to Wentworth, near Virginia Water, but she had volunteered to work overseas, as women were not sent abroad if they didn’t volunteer.

Betty on far left
11th August 1944
Rose at 2 am to pick up my Kit and board the truck. 
Mulberry Harbour at Arromanche

12th August 1944
Arrived in Arromanches on board an LST (Tank, Landing Ship) which took us to shore.  Beautiful sunset- ships silhouetted against it. Men cheered us as we travelled in the truck to our camp.
13th August 1944
Sunbathed.  Tea on Tommy Cookers.  Walked into Bayeux with Hazel.  Beautiful architecture
14th August 1944
Office till 8.30.  Found a tent with a wireless so we listened to the news.
15th August 1944
Finding it rather strange under canvas, everything so damp.
The office at Vaucelles near Bayeux
 18th August 1944
Browned off with such long hours in office & no time to read, sew or write.
22nd August 1944
Mobile baths a good laugh.
23rd August 1944
Bayeux festooned with flags to celebrate the Freedom of Paris.
26th August 1944
ENSA show Kay Cavendish, Florence Desmond, Sandy Powell and Flannigan & Allen.
8th September 1944
My birthday (22) Day off with Pat & Hazel.  Met 3 fellows in the afternoon & hitched into Bayeux.  Got into the theatre for an amusing ENSA show, autograph from Alice Delysia.  Wandered round the cathedral.  Found a hotel where we were able to get dinner.  I must hand it to the French, they know how to cook meat.  Didn’t think much of their Calvados.  Walked back to Billet by 9.  Had tea & biscuits at NAAFI.

In September, Brussels was liberated and many of the ATS were posted to HQ 21st army group.

Caen September 1944

29th September 1944
Reveille at 4.30 am.  Quick breakfast & on lorries by 6.30.  A bumpy journey which made me feel sick.  Passed through Caen & Rouen.  Saw some awful sights on the way.  Night in hostel at Amiens.

30th September 1944
Left at 8 am and arrived in Brussels at 5 pm.  We are so impressed by our block of flats.  Luxury after tent life.  After tea we settled into life in Avenue Louise.  There is a marvellous view from the balcony overlooking the whole city.  Wonderful by moonlight.
Sunday 1st October 1944
Trotted along the Avenue to the office at 10.  It is lovely, just like a Civie (Civilian) one.  The chestnut trees in the Avenue are wonderful.  Our Mess is in a school, polished tables and panelled walls.  It all seems too good to be true.

This was to be the best part of her time in the ATS.

To read more  about Betty's time in Brussels

Lily Elsie #EdwardianActress

“The most photographed woman in the British Empire”

Looking through my collection of Postcards of Edwardian actresses the most striking model is undoubtedly, Lily Elsie.  Her looks and demeanour immediately reminded me of the present day actress Rachel Weisz and if you google those two names together you will find many people agree.

She was born Elsie Hodder in Leeds in 1886.  Her mother (Charlotte) Elizabeth Hodder was an unmarried dressmaker.  In 1891, Elizabeth Hodder married William Cotton, a theatre “luggage man.”  Elsie became a child star in the Manchester music halls, under the name, “Little Elsie” and her mother accompanied her.  Although painfully shy, the quality of her singing was remarkable.  Aged 10, she starred in a production of Little Red Riding Hood which toured the country.  Her first performance in London was in 1898.

By the 1901 census, she had adopted the name Lily Elsie and aged 17, she joined George Edward’s company at Daly’s Theatre.  As she was prone to giggling, Edwards fired her two years later, for insubordination, but on hearing that she had no work, he re-employed her in small parts.  Lily’s career really took off in 1907 when George Edwards took her to Berlin to see “The Merry Widow”.  He intended to put on an English version in London and he wanted Lily to star as Sonia.  Lily felt that her voice was too weak for the operetta, but George persuaded her to take the part.  She came under the wing of Lucy, Lady Duff, who designed all the costumes for the production.  Lady Duff became Lily’s style consultant, and she gave Lily her distinctive hairstyle which fitted so well beneath the large plumed hats of the Merry Widow.

Despite still being shy and insecure, Lily Elsie was a huge success, as the audiences loved her.  The fashions were copied by those who could afford them and Lady Duff used Lily to advertise the clothes.  Her face also appeared on beauty products and sweets, while portrait postcards were widely collected.  But Lily found fame overwhelming and she often missed performances due to ill health.

Lily was generally unimpressed by her male fans and did not treat them well.  Her half-sister, Maudi Darrell, had married Major Ian Bullough, the son of a millionaire, but sadly Maudi died within a year, of complications after an appendicitis operation.  Subsequently, in 1910, Lily married Ian Bullough and a year later she retired from the stage.  She returned to the theatre, in 1916, to help the war effort, but had another break from 1920 until 1927.  Their marriage was not happy; Lily was frequently ill and Major Bullough drank too much.  They divorced in 1930.

 For the rest of her life, Lily stayed in nursing homes and Swiss Sanatoriums.  She finally moved to St Andrews Hospital in London, where she was said to be happy, until she died in 1962.

To see more pictures of Lily Elsie, please go to my Pinterest board Edwardian Actors and Actresses