I have wanted to do something with my father’s letters and photographs from Egypt for a long time. Somehow, more than any other documents, they had become embedded within my psyche. Thinking about it now I’m sure this had something to do with the age I was and that the documents became a ‘transitional object’ for me – something tangible that I could look at, hold and talk about that represented him in his absence. Of course, they are precious to me and I soon became aware of some inner resistance to changing them in any way, even though I continued to experiment – particularly with different forms of layering in Photoshop and I wrote about this here . I decided that one way of dealing with this was to become more detached from the letters and photographs as memento mori by becoming a researcher in my own archive and, regarding it as an object of interest, refreshing my knowledge on that time period in Egypt and Sheffield.
In 2011 I had re-visited Derbyshire, including Calver. The fields were still there (albeit now divided by a new road from the pub from which we used to access them) but the huts and occasional caravans have been replaced solely by caravans which have their own electricity and running water in tandem with a toilet/shower and laundry block right by the river. Very different from paraffin stoves and lamps and trekking down to the pub toilet unless you had an Elsan toilet!
There was no-one on the site who remembered the 1940s times and I have been unable to find any written historical accounts of the practice of going into the countryside at the weekends and staying in huts. In 2012 I contacted Sheffield University Geography Department but they were unable to locate any information. I also talked with the one remaining family friend from the 1940s who also stayed in Calver. She told me that she and her parents started going there during the war. Her parents, looking for somewhere to stay for a holiday, found the site, which was called a camping site but huts rather than tents.
Raiders over Sheffield (M. Watson & J.P. Lamb, 1980), compiled from official records, tells the story of the air raids of 12th and 15 December 1940 over Sheffield. Although the worst damage occurred before I was born I was always aware of the ever-present anxiety of further bombs and I do recall hearing air-raid sirens and being taken to a neighbour’s house. Sheffield at War (C. Hardy, 1987)(1987) is a pictorial account of the years 1939-45 that attempts to capture the atmosphere of war-time. Reading it reminded me of events my parents and nan talked of and also some of the damaged streets and housing I would see on bus journeys. I also obtained five original copies of Picture Post Magazine (read regularly in our house until it ceased publication) and two original newspapers. The Milly- Molly-Mandy books, a simple series told and drawn by Joyce Lankester Brisley, were written for little girls aged from about five to eight years old. They were probably based in the late 1920s and about a little girl who lived in, probably, the south of England and experienced a much more rural life than industrial Sheffield. Even so they were amongst my favourite books at the time and she had similar kinds of adventures. I have utilised two drawings from a more recent compilation book of these within my series.
I researched many websites but the most interesting and useful were a section on the Sheffield Blitz here on the World War 2 Stories for Sheffield site; Growing up in Sheffield during WW2 on the Imperial War Museum site and Service in the Suez Canal Zone, Egypt until 1956 with maps and photographs of the service zone. I also accessed a video British Forces In Egypt 1946 on the British Pathe site, created from film shots taken a time when British forces were leaving the Abbassia camp in Cairo and setting up temporarily at Fayid. The video is without sound unfortunately but towards the end it shows the bathing beach at Fayid, on the shores of the Great Bitter Lake, where I think my father must have been swimming. I looked for him of course!
Brisley, J.L. (1997) More Milly-Molly-Mandy London, Kingfisher Publications Plc
Hardy, C (1987) Sheffield At War: A Pictorial Account 1939-45, Manchester, archival Publications Ltd
Watson, M & Lamb, J.P. (1980) Raiders over Sheffield, Sheffield, Sheffield City Libraries
Picture Post 8 (4) 27 July, 1940
Picture Post Vol. 14 (11) 14 March, 1942
Picture Post 13 (12) 20 December, 1941
Picture Post 26 (5) 3 February, 1945
The Yorkshire Post 4th December 1941
The Yorkshire Post 9th February 1945