Letter: Genial automotive snobbery and the rain in England in 1926

Written on Sunday, June 27, 1926

A letter to Gwyneth from her father. “Mater” is her step-mother and Alan and Dennis her younger brothers. This letter is interesting to me primarily because of the mention of the car (and related snobbery against Fords) and for the description of the rainy weather.

1926 was in fact a very wet year in the south of England, where Gwyneth’s father is writing this letter. But 1926 wasn’t that wet everywhere, and in fact the UK overall managed to accumulate a lower-than-average amount of precipitation (lower by about 30mm compared to the decade surrounding it). I managed to find the map, below, showing exactly how wet and where.

Black and white line drawing map of the British Isles from 1926 showing areas of greater rainfall as black.This was an interesting excursion in internet research and I regret not being able to correctly reference the above image due to a series of computer misfortunes. I believe it to be part of the archives of the British Meteorological Society, and if anyone is able to point me to a more specific reference, please leave a comment.

The Teachers’ Provident Society
Registered under the Friendly Societies Act (No. 296 London)
Offices: Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London, W.C. 1.
Sunday – June 27th 1926

My dearest Gwyneth,

Another week gone – another Sunday arrived and another mail gone without a letter from me. Now therefore, I am putting aside T.P.S. work, leaving examination marking, and writing a few lines. Mater writes regularly I know, or I would send if only a postcard.Well, dear, now that I am writing – what’s the news? Nothing. I’m afraid that’s our usual cry. Still I know how we welcome a letter from you and how nice it is for you to know we haven’t forgotten you.

You know I have a bought a second-hand Morris Oxford motorcar. The Morris is the English “Ford” but the appearance is much better. “A Ford with an Oxford education.” It was in very good order, and it runs very nicely. We visited Frampton last Easter and went by car. It was a lovely day and we had a lovely run. We only use it twice a week – Wed. + Sat. afternoons (if fine). We hope to ride to Frampton in it this summer (if summer comes) holiday. We shall start about the beginning of the second week in August I expect. I hope we shall get a few fine days. So far this “Summer” has been on continual rain period. This evening again promises rain. We have no fruit on the trees, and reports in England bear the same tone – no fruit this year.We all keep very well – very well indeed. Dennis + Alan are both as happy as can be even when quarrelling. This morning Alan looks at a picture of a little girl with large round wide-opened eyes. “Mummy, I don’t like “they” eyes this little girl is wearing.” He took the picture to the mirror and showed her the eyes he wears, and told her his were better than they. He is very funny at times + so full of life.

Auntie Ethel is not very well. She went with us yesterday afternoon and looked far from well. She hasn’t stopped her work but has to visit the doctor. W. Gasper is as well + energetic as ever. Mip Laver is going to London this week to spend some days with her mother as she will not be able to visit her in August since she will be at Frampton in our little cottage.

Many thanks my darling for writing so regularly. I hope you will continue to do so, for we get anxious when no letter arrives.I hop you will succeed in keeping your post. Keep your shorthand going and practise as much as you can.Goodbye darling. Fondest love from us all. Dennis often speeks of you.

Ever your affectionate,


Many thanks for snaps.

Letter: An Offer of Employment in 1928

Written on Wednesday, December 5, 1928

She didn’t take it. Or maybe she did? I’m actually not sure.


Dear Miss Hodder.

about the passage I may inform you. We are going in the middle of Jan. with the german ship, “Saarland” via Suez. If you are willing to take care of 2 children, really only the baby of 9 month, the other child being 4 already, I offer you first class cabin for it. Do you like children and have you any experience? If you are still interested call at my house. from 2-5 o’clock you may call anytime, otherwise I am absent, shopping etc. or you write before, than I shall be at home.

We are Germans.

Fran Strehlow

No 9 Tchinotani

Taking the tram no 2, 3 or 4 to the terminus and than a risha, they know us all at the Suma station.

Letters: Finding a New Home in 1945

Written on Wednesday, July 18, 1945

A rather important set of letters, these. Key characters from later in the narrative appear, though briefly.

Will is using his leave from the air force to search out a new home in the Okanagan for the whole family to move to from Pense Saskatchewan. Interesting details:

  • The “Embris” are of course the “Embrees”, old family friends. When I was young, we had an honourary Grandma Embree from that same family, and there are still one or two visits a year between our families, despite my parents’ generation of Embrees moving up north (Vanderhoof).
  • Picking cherries in July.
  • Building materials are in short supply but are being released for houses for “returning men”.
  • The “experimental farm” is, of course, the Summerland Research Station (as it was known when I was young) or the Summerland Research and Development Centre. This is a major fruit growing research centre in western Canada. Most notably, the Spartan apple was developed there and introduced to the world in 1936.

Trout Creek
Filling Station
July 18/45
11:30 am

Dear Kid:

Excuse paper but forgot to bring writing paper. My train was late getting in. 45 minutes. So I missed the 1st bus, but Mr. Freisen was at the station + we went up to the house and he phoned one of the congregation – a car salesman + he drove us out to this place + we met the man he spoke of. He’s an elderly christian and works at the experimental station. He has a ranch where he lives + two acres where he intends building a smaller house where eventually he may live. However he intends to build but has been unable to get material so far but thinks if we lived there that the material could be had as they are releasing it for house for returning men. There’s a two room shack on the experimental station but he doesn’t know if he could get them to rent it, but is going to try. There are no lights or water but the creek runs right by + is clear + OK for washing + there’s drinking water a short distance away. People use to live in it he said. There is also a large house where his wife’s grandmother lives but it belongs to the estate + the will hasn’t been settled yet, but he’s going to enquire about it. or part of it. Mr. Freisen says its one of the best committees + quite a lot of christians – four square + pentecostal + he knows no better for the boys. There’s lots of work. I asked about work at the experimental farm + he said there would likely be work but he would advise waking (?) out as the pay is better. Freisen figures that they will find something in time for you to move out by school time. I think we’ll let Langley Prairie go unless you think you want to go there first. I think these men will keep looking until they find something as they are anxious to have christians there. I called to see another christian – pentecostal family while waiting my bus for Kelowna – people by the name of McNutt + they are sure keen on us coming. They cam there a year last spring from Calgary + say its the best they’ve seen also they wouldn’t go back. They have a small ranch + are doing fine + have a couple of their family attending Bible School. I met a daughter who goes to Saskatoon Bible School + knows the girls. They have a boy about 15 + so have the Embris – the folk who would build the house. Let me know what you think by mail + also I’ll talk it over more fully when I see you at Calgary. Its the place where that soldier got on the bus. Its sure too bad we didn’t look around there that day instead of going to Summerland. I’m at the Kelowna CPR station. I have no stamps here, but managed to make a bus. The weather is lovely not hot like the other time we were here although the sun is shining. It rained slightly last night. Mrs. McNutt picks cherries all morning. Hope you are not too disappointed but I believe something will come of this. If I were out I could start working on that house as soon as they got its material. must close as the train is in. will write again as soon as I get to Calgary.




Sicamous BC
July 18, 8:30pm

Dearest Kid:-

You will likely have had my wire by now + before you get this will have received my hurried letter. I had no stamps + no time to get any so had to mail it without, so hope it arrived OK. Hope you aren’t too dissappointed. Personally I’m really sick at heart tonight to think my two weeks leave has gone + still nothing definite and no chance of more leave to look around. I’m also real homesick for you + sick to think how you will feel about the whole thing. If you should run into anything before coming home + feel like renting, just use your own judgement. I’ve got to where I don’t know what to advise. As I said in my letter Freisen thinks something will turn up. Actually I guess its lack of faith on my part. God knows we want His best and His will is best. We have tried to find a place. I wish we were together so that we could talk it over, but I guess I’m too much of a home guy. I sure wish we were able to have our home somewhere. Try to take some holiday before going home. Hope you are not too tired. I am quite tired tonight + shall be glad to get back to camp to get some sleep. I have to wait here till about 1100 oclock. The trains going West are awfully crowded so no doubt those going East will be also. The mosquitos are awful. Will see you on your way through Calgary, I sure love you kid + wish I could do something about a house. Heaps + heaps of love


Letter: The Destruction of Kobe, Japan in 1938

Written on Thursday, July 7, 1938

Holy cats! Would you like some dramatic historical events in this blog, rather than just incredibly personal uneventful correspondence? Then you have come to the right entry!

The Kobe flood in 1938 makes Wikipedia’s list of deadliest floods, and had a reported death toll of 933. Here’s a Chicago Tribune article from 1938 about the flood which lists a preliminary dead/injured/missing toll of 861.

Just a few comments on things that jumped out at me:

  • Terrific really used to mean something different than it does today. Nothing that happens in this story is terrific in the modern sense, but the word is used a lot in the letter for things that inspire terror or are incredibly powerful. Much like the evolution of awesome, I would guess.
  • This is a very personal narrative. It’s her specific story of living through this disaster and she only occasionally comments on its effects on others. It’s hard to know if she is just reserved about the devastation and death as experienced by others, or if it indeed doesn’t quite feel real to her. She definitely comments more on what “foreigners” (by which she means “foreigners to Japan”) are experiencing and their losses than she does about the experience of the Japanese people she is undoubtedly surrounded by. Sometimes she seems downright callous about that suffering to my modern ear.
  • She says she did not look to see if the gentlemen not wearing pants were wearing undies. I kind of think she did, but that’s not actually my point, which is that she uses “pants” for trousers and “undies” for underwear, despite being British. Is the use of “pants” for underwear in England a modern thing?
  • I admit to some confusion as to the cause of the disaster. At one early point in the letter she says there was a rumour it was the reservoir giving way, then indicates that this was somehow good because it meant she was okay, then says that it wasn’t the reservoir, then later in the letter talks about other reservoirs that might still give way. Was it the/a reservoir? I have no idea from a first reading of this letter. But this Time Magazine article from 1938 says that it was the reservoir.

This letter is typewritten on five pages. Floss says she’s making several copies at once to send to all the people she needs to put in the know, so when she has a specific message to Gwyneth and Will she adds it in handwriting. I have noted these handwritten sections with italics in my transcription.

c/o F. Owston & Co. Ltd.,
Rooms 304 & 305,
Crescent Building,
72 Kyo-nachi,
Kobe – Japan.
Thursday – 7th July, 1938.

Dear Everybody:

My dear G: Many thanks for letter just received. Will reply later. Love to all. Floss. Pleased to hear that Will was able to make use of the shirts.

First of all, I am trying to make seven copies of this letter so that I can send one each to Nell, Auntie Beat & Bella, in addition the three regular copies and Canada, for I know you will all want to hear how I’ve come through this awful catastrophe in Kobe. But first let me explain to Mum that it has been utterly impossible to get the draft off – I’ll see what I can do tomorrow and send it right away – do so hope you’re not waiting for the cash.

Well, to begin with:

It started to rain here on Sunday night – Monday was terrible, as also was Monday night. When I got home on Monday evening I noticed a crack running the length of my house (or garden) and called Hill in to see it – he assured me it was O.K. (Hill, for the information of those of you who don’t know is the Manager of this Company and lives next door). It did not seem any worse at 4 o’clock on Tuesday morning – needless to say I had had a wakeful night for my garden overlooks a garden belonging to a doctor, in the centre of which there is a tremendous pond – which is about twenty feet below my place. At 6.30 a.m. I was lying in bed with a tea tray beside me when I imagined I heard a “thud” – I waited a second or two and then “crash” and my place fairly shook. I rushed out of my bedroom to the verandah (and I must admit I screamed) to find my garden sliding into the pond below – in one place there is only a foot of earth between the edge and the house. I had a quick bath and got dressed quickly for I was terrified that the house would go as the rain was still pouring down and the earth gradually moving down the pond. At that time I felt I was, perhaps, more unfortunate than many others. The wall holding up my garden was built of stones and, like most of the walls here, they have no – or little – outlet for water to drain after heavy rains – hence the water just forces the wall out. That’s what happened in my case.

At the top of my road – about sixty yards away – there is a very wide river bed, and when I left for the office – after I had instructed the servants to stand by – I found this almost to the top and rushing down to the sea at about thirty miles an hour – if that overflowed I knew I’d not see my home again as mine is the bottom house and the road is down hill. But on my way into town I began to realize how small were my worries compared with some poor devils. Dozens of small houses were already submerged – all the roads leading towards the sea from the hills were like rivers. I arrived in town about 9.15 a.m. and tried to settle down to work. About 10 o’clock one of our Japanese came running into me and told me to look out of my window – what I saw was like a bank of water just about to enter Kyo-machi. Kyomachi is the widest street in Kobe, about 70 ft. wide. In about fifteen minutes the road was three feet under water and was rushing past at about twenty miles an hour – in less than half an hour lumps of wood came floating down and we couldn’t imagine what had happened. Well, I sat at the window all day – as did other people, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself by telling you this already. Soon along came futons and tatamis (for you who don’t understand Japanese this means the mats which cover Japanese floors and big thick covers they use on their beds)- that told a story! It was terrific! Furniture of all description came rushing past – high trees, and I even saw (and it still is outside the office the water not being strong enough now to carry it away) the whole roof of a fair sized Japanese house. Then we heard that one of the reservoirs had burst its banks, and so I felt that my place would be O.K. It was later confirmed that it was not the reservoir! Well, here we all were – couldn’t get out for something to eat and it looked as though we’d have to spend the night in the office. However, the rain stopped about noon and at 5 o’clock we decided we’d have to make an attempt. I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes from a lad in the office, took off my stockings and tucked up my skirts. It was rather humerous, although so serious, for there were very sedate foreign gentlemen wading through the water minus their pants – I saw several in just their shirts – maybe they had undies on – I didn’t try to find out! With the aid of Hill I got as far as Ikuta-mae corner and there the water was just a whirlpool – we made it, and got as far as Daimaru’s corner, which was just as bad (every street down town was a deep river). We thought we might get up the Tor road, but no, that was bad and so we made our way to Dick Brun’s road. Worked our way to Motomachi Govt. R’ly, but found that trains were running only as far as Sannomiya, and as there were thousands of people there we decided to join in the walk along the tracks. (all overhead). Couldn’t get any further – no Hankyu or Hanshin running and so the only thing to do was to try and get up to a boarding house in town. We started off for Yamamoto dori thinking it would be o.k., but lo and behold it was bad on the hill – worse than down town in some places. It took us a heck of a time to get up to Nakayamate-dori, and when there it looked impossible to cross. Well, I waded into the water up to my waist, and with the aid of Hill and three Japs – also there was a big rope across to aid people – I managed to cling to the rope and get across, although at times my feet were taken from under me with the force of hte water. There were trams and motor cars along this road almost buried in sand – one car had been lifted completely from the tracks and run alongside a house. When we got up topside it was terrible – houses washed away and debris everywhere. The house that Dorothy and Blue had just vacated was half washed away. I had an awful job getting to Mrs. Kovalsky’s. She had a marvelous escape, for the German Club at the corner saved her place. Walking down from her place later, to the office, we were walking on the level with roof tops – the sand had just piled up. The only damage Mrs. K. had was her garden wall had crashed – like my own. I had been wading through water for hours it seemed, and when I got there I had nothing to change into and so had to borrow a kimono and sit in that all evening. Quite a refugee!

Next morning Hill managed to get down to my house after a lot of trouble. When he got to Sumiyoshi he found that there were upteen houses down just before getting to our place, and so expected to find our houses washed away also. However, a miracel (sic) had happened and the river bed at the top of our road, instead of being a raging torrent, was quite dry!! What must have happened was a land slide further up the hill which blocked the river and divided it into two streams – rivers I should say – one going to our right (Sumiyoshi) and the other to our left (Ogi) for both places are practically wiped out. Our houses were just as we had left them in the morning.

Kano-cho got it worse than anywhere, apparently. All the houses along the sides are burried (sic) up past the second floor – that is, the houses that haven’t been swept away. It looks just like a river-bed – the stones, large and small, all piled up on teh sides with the water rushing – practically as bad as ever although the catastrophe occurred three days ago.- It makes ones heart ache to see all these poor people trying to dig away the sand and much from their houses. They are marvelous – born to calamity I suppose. This morning, before breakfast, I went to the corner where the trams turned round for Nunobiki – it was just like a desert – people camping everywhere – everything flat. That triangle where Honda the Dry-cleaner was is all washed away, with boulders weighing two and three tons – one, they say, weigh ten tons – all over the place. You’ll understand what it must be like when I tell you that the silt is as high as the overhead tram wires – in fact, I was walking with them about around my legs. When the water first broke it came down Kano-cho at the height of twenty feet, and at Sannomiya crossing (that was) – now the Hankyu and Hanshin tram entrances it was nine feet deep. I had arrived at the Hanshin only thirty minutes before this trouble came – had I been coming out then my number would have been up, because they say the water rushed down the Hanshin underground and took everything with it. The Hanshin entrance (or one of them) faces in the direction the water came and has a very wide entrance. I watched Taki-nichi crossing from this building – it was like one collossal whirlpool. There must be thousands of people burried. On Tuesday bodies were floating down with the debris. And yet they say the other side of Kobe (Minasogawa) is worse – I can’t see how it is possible. Up the road that leads to Mrs. K’s. we walk on a level with the roof tops – various shops that had just one storey are completely burried. Quite a number of foreigners have been killed. I believe the boarding house that Hilda and Freddie Vears were in was badly smashed, and while we were at dinner last night Mrs. Kovalsky receive da message saying that they are just arrived at her other boarding house to see if they could get a room – poor little devils! I guess they lost everything. The house behind them collapsed killing a number of people and smashing in to the boarding house – they are lucky to be alive!

The water is sitll rushing down – and last night it began to rain and we all got wind up for we heard that there is still another reservoir that might go behind the Kobe Station – Arima-machi way. They reckon it would be worse than the Nunobiki one. But it wouldn’t affect us much, thank goodness. Anyhow, the sun is shining again and everything is O.K. so far.

There is, of course, a shortage of water – cannot get a bath of any description, and it is hard to get sufficient drinking water, although so far we are managing fairly well. Food, too, is getting short, and the shops are beginning to charge more – who can blame the poor devils anyway. The water problem is serious, of course. And what makes it worse is that it has gotten terribly hot – there is not a spot of water in the office.

Two weeks since I wrote this + still no water! Smells terrible heat terrific!

Rokko – where Mum used to live – has got it very badly – the water came down there with terrifice force and took everything with it. A number of foreigners lost their lives there. The Oishi river (another place where Mum used to live) is the worst of all and is doing terrific damage – that is my biggest obstacle in getting to my house. It is not much good trying to explain – you could NEVER imagine what this is like. To me it is worse than the Yokohama earthquake, but has not affected so many homes, of course. Some foreigner must have lost a nice home, for I saw furniture and a lovely Tientsin rug floating down when I went up the hill the first night.

I’m wondering what sort of report you got at home – I was hoping that you’d think the same as before – that these things are always exagerated – that’s the best thing for you to think until you get this letter – but this couldn’t possibly be exagerated. I was going to send you a telegram, but thought that you’d understand no news is good news. In fact, I couldn’t possible get down town to send a telegram off until today.

The Tor Hotel is badly smashed – trees just smashed into the back of it and the hotel’s first floor was completely under water and everybody had to get out.

When I say that the whole of Kobe is – or was – under water with the exception of a few roads up the hill you’ll know what it was like. I will cut some pictures out of the paper – when we get one – and send to Mum.

I won’t stop for more now as my brain is all muddled – will finish this after I’ve tried to get to my house this evening.

Friday Morning/

Well, here I am again folks, but I haven’t much more to tell you.

I managed to get to my house last evening after walking through water, taxi-ing, bussing, training and walking again. I found everything Ok.K. – Amah returned with her kiddie well and safe – and the first thing I did was to have a nice hot bath which had just been made. The earth had fallen away just a little more, but the house appears to be safe unless we have more torrential rains.

Oishi-gawa is terrible – I could never have imagined it. The river now, instead of rushing under the Kokudo bridge goes over the top at terrific speed – a temporary bridge has been made. I must certainly hand it out to the Japanese – they are wonderful in the case of a catastrophe. My amah tells me that when she crossed it on Tuesday afternoon she saw no less than five bodies pulled out one after another. The Kokudo (Kobe-Osaka Highway) is in a terrible mess. At Sumiyoshi one part is just “flat” as a result of the river that runs by my place having left its bed and spread in the two directions. There was a just a low wall on one side of my house that stopped it from coming into my place – but, of course, I am higher up. The houses down below me were flooded to the top storey. It seems that this river – even parted in two – was strong enough to lay everything flat on both sides of my place, for Ogi is well under water and houses all washed away. My Amah tells me that at 11 o’clock A.M. the river was almost over its banks and she felt everything was up – at 11.50 it was dry and houss on either side being washed away. I am enclosing a picture of the Kokudo at Sumiyoshi, which is straight up from my house on the river bridge – you’ll get some idea how the water must have rushed over the top of the bridge.

Last night it started to pour down again about 1 o’clock (I should have said this morning) and kept on till nearly 4 o’clock – I could hear men shouting instructions to each other and I can tell you I got not sleep for I was really scared. At 3 o’clock I got up and had a look at the water coming down the road, it was higher. However, it keeps starting and stopping, and all I hope is that it will not come down too hard for I have told the Amah I’ll go home tonight as she doesn’t like being alone. I’m not particularly keen, but she has stood by most of the time – in fact, during the most serious period and so I feel I must return. As I say, unless we get any more heavy rains we are perfectly safe. Should it rain really hard I’ll lock up the house, come into town and tell the girl to go home to her folk. But somehow I think we’re better off in Uozaki for we have at least plenty of well water. Lights are now on, but gas is off. It’ll be quite two or three months before they get thigns anywhere near back to normal is the general opinion.

Tuesday, 12th July, 1938.

Hello Everybody:

Sorry I couldn’t finish this on Friday – neither had I the chance on Saturday or yesterday – or perhaps I’d better say I may have been able to find time but hadn’t the inclination.

I returned to my house on Saturday afternoon. Later I went up the river bed to Sumiyoshigawa (about ten minutes walk from my house) and what I saw was terrible. The Highway was just strewn with boulders – some as large as a room, weighing, so people say, twenty and thirty tons. There are thousands, and thousands, and thousands – honestly, this is not a little big exagerated – how on earth the water could have brought them down from the hills is beyond imagination. Trees, too, with all their branches and bark stripped off, were everywhere – hugh (sic) pine trees you’d think mountains couldn’t possibly move. Everything was just flat – I happen to know this part particularly well, for it is my favourite walk on Saturday afternoons and Sundays – I used to walk right up the river bed to Mikage valley and back through Mikage. Just beyond the Hankyu railway – which is completely washed out in this section, the river bed was deep. There were some lovely modern foreign houses built up here. One in particular used to fascinate me for it has such lovely grounds attached to it. Well, although that place was at least sixty feet above the river bed, it has badly suffered – for the sand and boulders are on a level with the garden – I know, I walked around it. Honestly, it would make your heart ache. Sumiyoshi, I think I can honestly say, is the worst I’ve seen so far. And to think that had the bridges not stopped those boulders I’d have been one of the sufferers. The river now, instead of running past my house, has two outlets, one through the village just to my right and the other just to my left – we happen to be just in the triangle. Ogi, from my place, and which was very thickly populated, looks like a desert.

We are still without water, which makes it very inconvenient, especially at the office. Fortunately at home I have a well, although something has gone wrong with the electric motor and all the water has to be brought along in buckets. On Saturday I tried to get some tinned salmon, but found the few shops I enquired at completely out. However, I guess that soon stocks of both eats and drinks will be replenished.

Cannot understand why I’ve not received any word from Vi, for we’ve received official mail from Tokyo dated 9th – Saturday. I did not get Vi’s last week’s letter. I sent a message through both Tokyo and Yokohama assuring her I was O.K. – however, I did expect to receive some word from her. Maybe, though, her mail has been held up and so I musn’t complain.

Well, guess this is all for now – my fondest love to you all.

Affectionately, Floss

P.S. Had a terrific thunder storm yesterday afternoon and although no place seemed to be in danger the storm washed away a number of bridges, including the one at Oishigawa. The roads were in a heck of a mess and I’m afraid I ruined a pair of shoes trying to pick my way through the water and mud. Got a bus from Sannomiya to Wakinohama, walked to Nishihada and got a hanshin tram from there. They say it will be like digging a new subway at Sannomiya Hanshin station for it is piled high with sand and debris – may take months. It is still raining hard – seems the nyubai doesn’t intend to finish yet!!

Letter: Reunions, Kisses, and the Weirdness of 1920s Consent in 1929

Written on Wednesday, June 26, 1929

This is another letter that leaves me feeling weirdly and awkwardly protective of Gwyneth. But presumably this is what she wanted from the man she loved. Presumably, this is a letter showcasing at least some of the qualities that she found attractive in him. The paragraph about the expected kiss is also a bit weird. There’s no reason to believe that she would resist kissing him (though they haven’t seen each other in months, and anyone might feel slightly shy at first in those circumstances), but it’s made clear that resistance is uncool. Even if she wants to kiss him, which she probably very much does, it’s still somehow framed in this weird slightly coercive way.

Pense, Sask
June 26th

My dearest Gwyneth,

This should reach you about the day before you leave + I thought that even if I wrote on Sunday I had better write one and be sure to catch you before you left so as to cheer you up. Just imagine sweetheart, two weeks from the time you get this, (and) we shall be together again. I hardly dare think too much about it as I get all excited.

Your good letter of the 11th came yesterday and of course made me all the more excited. By the way little girl, what is it that you should tell me, that is worrying you? You say that you don’t know what on earth to do about it, so why not tell me and get it off your chest. I may not be able to help you, and yet I may, and in any case, I believe we should be frank with one another as we expect to be man and wife. In any case don’t worry over whatever it is, + if you don’t care to write it down then tell me after you come out. Remember dear heart I love you learly and want to do everything to make you as happy as possible and after we are married let us both try to remember to give and take. You say too that at times you get a little bit frightened when you think what marriage really means + what a huge responsibility it is, but I hardly think that we should be frightened, sweetheart. Truly it is one of the greatest blessings given us by God if we follow Him. I realize that we should understand the responsibility we have, also the wonderful privilege and holiness of it. God institute it in the beginning, + He knew what was best for man. I realize with you that it is up to both parties to make marriage a success, + I believe if we will both help the other that it should not be so difficult. I also strongly believe that where Christ is given his rightful place in teh home that there should be unity. Cheer up little woman. I believe we should be able to make as good a success of married life as most people, and a good deal better than lots.

I’ve been trying to clean up Andy’s house. Its awfully dirty, + I’m afraid I wont’ be able to make a very good thing of it. One thing, it will be clean when I’m through, even though it doesn’t look very good. One thing its so small that you won’t have so very much house work. Perhaps some day we’ll be able to build us a home + then we’ll have it as we like it.

I heard from Mr. Thornton today + he says that he hates to disappoint us, but he has had to cancel his Canadian trip this year on account of his heart. He has had had another heart attack and has to rest off. The doctor told him that his blood pressure was so low that it was too low to live; but he says he is gradually gaining.

He says too that he doesn’t know if he would be allowed to perform the ceremony here in Canada.

I still think sweetheart that it would be best for us to get married shortly after you arrive, but we’ll see how you feel about it when you get here. If we should, it will be about a month more + we will either be married or be seriously thinking about it. I can hardly imagine it, it seems too good to be true.

Now look after yourself sweetheart + be careful. Don’t forget to send me a telegram and state when you expect to reach Regina. Do you think you’ll recognize me at the station? Anyhow I have your picture + will do my best to make myself known,don’t yell if I try to carry you off. Remember the big kiss you’ve promised me for so long too and don’t try to get out of it. In any case there’ll be lots of chances on teh way home if we come by car, so I’ll try not to be too greedy all at once. I expect Vi will be at the station, so we’ll have to behave to a certain extent, but can make up for it later.

Now I must close, as its an hour after my usual bedtime and I’ll be all in tomorrow, so goodnight sweetheart o’ mine, take good care of yourself + keep looking up. May the Lord richly bless, protect and keep you in safety + satisfy the longings of your heart. With heaps of love + kisses till we meet in Regina,

Ever your own


Letter: Weight, Japanese Furnishings, and Fashion in 1925

Written on Monday, January 26, 1925

Lottie is the aunt with whom Gwyneth went to Japan. This is apparently one of a package of letters sent back to England from Japan.

Gwyneth was studying short-hand with one of the Woodbridge sisters. I believe it was Edie but need to follow up on that fact in her diary to be sure.

“Hama Ashiya”
Near Kobe.
26. 1. 25.

Give our love to Fred, I hope he is keeping well. Does he still go to Reading??

My dearest Rosie,

Thanks so much for letter dated Dec: 19th. It arrived on Jan: 21st, quick wasn’t it? I am so glad you have had some of my letters again, I can’t think why that letter of Mothers took so long to reach her. I hope you will get all the letters with the snaps in anyway. I expect that letter was delayed at Kobe, I wonder if I put “Via a certain ship” if so, + that ship had just left before the letter was posted they would keep it in Kobe until that ship came to Kobe again. They couldn’t possibly send it on by another one. I was very pleased to get Willies letter, he is a good boy to write so often. How are all the children? I hope Marnie didn’t catch Scarlet Fever. I expect it is all over now though. Is Philip back at school again. Does John go to school with Willie + Bryan? Did Una dress any dolls for Xmas!

The Girls Club gave Miss T. + Mrs. B. a nice present didn’t they? I expect they were pleased with it. I do want to hear all about the wedding.

We all went to a tea dance at the Oriental Hotel on my birhday, + enjoyed it very much. The Orchestra from the “Belgenland” (a British ship, the 7th largest in the world taking 300 Americans round the world, why they were at Yokohama nine days, + at Kobe five,) was playing. Joan had a dance with Charlie, she thought she was so grand to dance in a real ball room. It is a lovely room too. We were all weighed while we were there, I have gained 7 lbs; since last I was weighed, 7 yrs; ago. Joan is 5st: 6 lbs:. + is 4ft 4 1/2 in tall.

Did I tell you Gwyneth is learning short-hand, she is going to try + work up to be a Stenographer, she says she wants to stay here after we go home.

She has joined the “Hikers Club” in Kobe, there are about 30 girls + young men + they go for long walks every other Sunday. The girls wear knickers + shirts etc: as they do a lot of climbing: they all have a real good time anyway. We went to see a new little Japanese baby on Sat: it was only two days old. He looked so sweet, but they had had his head shaved about 2 ins: above the years all round, + it looked as if he had a little black cap on.

His mother was lying on a Futon ( a padded mattress on the floor) + the baby was on a little one by the side of her. There was nothing else in the room only a small hi-batch-i char-coal fire, + it was so cold. They are very rich people but they never have furniture of course. They have three girls, this is the only boy. So he will be nicely spoilt. The weather is still lovely, Charlie + I sat on the sands a long time yesterday the sun was quite hot. The wind has been rather cold today. It looks so funny to see the men out in furs, just like ladies wear at home, + a lot of them wear “nose-bags”, (just what I have always wanted.) They are like a round piece of padded material with elastic each side to fit over the ears, + it just fits round the nose so nicely. + they come out in all sorts of hats. We saw a man in a lovely pale green silk toque with a veil of silk to tie under his chin.

I am sending you a photo, or rather snap, of Joan in her “Little Boy Blue” things. I took the snaps + had them enlarged. They have coloured them nicely haven’t they? The sky is here is nearly always this colour.

Well, I mustn’t stop longer now, we are going to Kobe tomorrow, so want to post these letters while we are there. Give my best love to all, + remember us to Miss Tuck.

With lots of kisses to the children, + heaps of love to yourself,

Your ever loving,

Charlie + Lottie + Joan.

Letter: The End of Dancing in 1926

Written on Wednesday, August 25, 1926

I’ll be honest, I find this letter hard to read. I guess this is where this blog gets a little personal, because I can’t pretend to be dispassionate about this. These are my grandparents, who admittedly I never really knew.

My grandfather, Will, died when I was less than a year old, and my grandmother, Gwyneth, died when I was just two, although she had been in residential care due to dementia caused by an iatrogenic brain injury related to her bleeding disorder.

I have very slight memories of going walking with her in my orange sweater. In my memory she feels kindly, and I am comfortable with her, but that’s all that I have to connect me in a real sense. Nonetheless, I have always felt a special connection with this woman. My father’s stories about her always made me want to know more about her, to connect with her in some way. That’s always a bit difficult when the person you want to connect with is dead.

This was probably helped by how often, when I was young, people would tell me how much I resembled her, not so much in my physical appearance (though our faces have similarities), but in the way we acted and moved and spoke. I’ll be honest here and say that I do feel a rather inappropriate level of possessiveness and protectiveness for her.

By the same token, I’ve often felt rather disconnected from Will. I have no specific personal memories of him at all, and in the stories my father told about him, he always seemed a rather distant character, not as relatable for me.

And so it’s hard to read this letter from Will to Gwyneth. It’s hard because all his kindly benevolent condescension grates on me. Every time it appears I want to leap up to shield her from it. It starts with the talk of the unknown transgression at the Boat House. As an atheist, and especially as a formerly christian atheist, his advice to give all of her concerns and temptations to God and his assurance that this will bring her more joy than the activities she is tempted to do is particularly difficult to swallow. At the time he was working essentially as a missionary at the Japan Self Help Bible School in Kaibara, and was himself a recent convert with all the zeal appropriate to that, so it’s all quite understandable, but as a person who specifically struggled with the experience of faith and god’s grace (I didn’t feel it despite wanting to desperately, but sometimes pretended I did when it seemed that this would make the adults around me happier/less concerned), it all rings rather hollow.

Eventually a few things are revealed. First, her letters may not exist in the world at all because he destroyed them, to reassure her that should be candid with him (this is unfortunate, from my prying curious perspective), and second that the transgression at the Boat House is related to dancing.

It’s important to know that Gwyneth had been dancing for years. She started young, performed as a dancer on stage (evidence to follow in a postcard), and continued to dance once she arrived in Japan. Her diary mentions lessons weekly or twice weekly. Dancing was a critically important part of her life. But with her conversion to a particularly repressive form of christianity it was suddenly verboten.

My father had told me that growing up he was not permitted to go to movies or attend dances because of their faith, but I guess I hadn’t put together what this would have meant for Gwyneth, dancer.

Aug 25th

Dear Gwyneth:-

Thank you for your letter which arrived this morning. I would have liked to have written then, but did not have the time, so decided to wait until this evening when I would have time.

Many thanks about the pillow slips. I will bring hte measurements on Friday. That is if I do not forget. I’m a terrible person at forgetting things. By the way, before I forget it, I am enclosing a couple of cards with your little brother’s name in Japanese. Tell him to see if he can write it.

Now for more important things. I am sorry Gwyn you are feeling so bad, but listen girl I’m not going to condemn you, for I have no right to seeing I have done things just as bad myself. But Gwyneth tell the Lord Jesus what you write me. Tell him what happened at the Boat House and how you feel, also how you find it hard to give up all these things.

I believe he is speaking to you now. Oh don’t give in but come to Him, for girl you’ll never be happy I know, unless you do.

And Gwyneth when He does give you joy, don’t be ashamed to tell others. You will find that there is joy in that alone. I don’t mean to say you have to ram religion down everybody’s throat, but people will begin to ask you what’s the matter with you, especially if you don’t mix with them like you used to (for you will find that the old things don’t have any pull like they used to) and then tell them. I’m praying for you Gwyn girl, so don’t give in. God wants to bless you.

Don’t worry about those walks. I enjoyed them more tha you I’m sure, and am looking forward to many more.

You don’t need to tell the folk I wrote, unless you wish to. Your letters to me no one shall ever see. Just a minute while I burn it. There it is gone, so you need not worry about that any more. No one will ever know what you wrote.

Dwight came back just as I was going to begin this letter and told me it was a very slow party they had at the B.H. He didn’t say any thing about you at the B.H.

I wish he wouldn’t go there. He knows the people who go there have nothing in common with him. But it isn’t for me to judge.

Well goodnight Gwyneth. Don’t forget what I wrote.

Tell him your whole heart girl and you will never regret it. Speak to Him as though you were speaking to your friend. That’s what prayer is. There’s nothing difficult to it. You didn’t say if you had gone to Him. If you haven’t then Gwyn please do, for girl you cannot give up dancing or any other things in your own strength, but if you will go to God and tell Him you cannot resist the temptation and ask Him to help you, He will help you. Ask Him to take away the desire for these things. Tell Him how unhappy you are and how useless it seems to live, just as you told me and ask Him for Christ’s sake to save and help you, and Gwyn old girl, if He doesn’t undertake and give you a real joy in living and help you out of all your troubles, why, I don’t know Him.

Now listen Gwyneth don’t give up, but do as I’ve just written, for girl it isn’t only a question of now, its a question of your eternal salvation. Doubtless God speaks to all at some time or other, and girl I shall be down on Friday I expect in time for supper. There won’t be time for you to write again before then, but you can tell me, if you care to, when I see you.

I hope you won’t mind me writing like I have. But I just had to, and I was glad you wrote me.

Now must close as its getting late and I want to post this at the station before going to bed so that you will get it tomorrow.

Yours as ever,


Letter: New Kimonos and Eating Fish and Rice in 1925

Written on Saturday, February 7, 1925

Maisie is Gwyneth’s first cousin, which makes her my first cousin twice removed. Like Gwyneth (my grandmother), both Gwyneth’s father and mother (they were first cousins), and my father, Maisie had Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia (HHT). When I met her in 1991, she was old-appearing (though young-seeming) and was likely in her late 80s. It’s odd to think of her as being as young as she must have been when this letter was written.

Gwyneth travelled to Japan in 1924 as a governess to Joan, whose family were moving to Japan for reasons I haven’t totally been able to figure out yet. My impression is that they moved there as part of a government posting, but I have absolutely nothing to back up this factoid in my brain. It could instead have been related to a business venture. Regardless, the important point is that they went and took Gwyneth with them to Kobe Japan. There, Gwyneth met several of the Woodbridge sisters and through them eventually William. But I digress, facts not yet in evidence. For now, here is a picture of Gwyneth with Joan and presumably Joan’s family in Japan wearing new Kimonos.

Hama Ashiya
Feb: 7th: 1925.

My Dear Maisie.

Thank you very much for your dear little letter. I am glad you are getting on so nicely at school. Give my love to Philip, I hope he is better. I have a dear little white rabbit, I wish you could see it. I went to the Tor Hotel Last Tuesday to a concert and tea, and had a very nice time.

How do you like me in Japanese clothes? All the little Japanese girls wear new Kimonos for the New Year, and Father Christmas gave me mine, and everything to go with it, just as you see in the photo.

How are Peter and Tiger? Do you go round to see them very often? Yesterday I tied my baby on my back and wore a padded coat, just the same as the Japanese mothers do. Then I had a dinner party in Japanese style, sitting on flat cushions on the floor and eating rice and fish.

With heaps of love and kisses

Joan. xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Envelope Front:

Miss M. Hodder,
The Post Office,

Group Photo Back:

New Years Day.

The Japanese all have new kimonos for the “New Year”, so we foreigners had to do like wise.

“O me-det-o, goaimasû.”

Group Photo People:

Left-to-right: Joan, Gwyneth, unknown, unknown, unknown (presumably two of the three are Joan’s parents)

Letter: Travel, Education, “Delicate” Matters in 1928

Written on Tuesday, January 17, 1928

I don’t know yet if this friend is going to turn up again in the correspondence. Things got a bit complicated in Japan during WWII.

I wonder what the “many causes which are too delicate to be described on the paper” refers to. Of course, I suspect racism and the many macro and microaggressions that even an educated english-speaking young Japanese man would have experienced in the US in 1927. I suppose we’ll never know, of course.

They nigh-habitual bad penmanship referred to by the writer is some of the most legible handwriting I have ever encountered. Far far better than mine, which is no fair comparison anyway.

Y. Urano
#2 Nishidacho Yodogi
Kyoto, Japan.

Jan. 17, ’28

Dear Mr. Woodbridge

I have just come back home after having a long trip around the United States and, to the glad, received your kind letter from Canada. I left Seattle on the 27th of last Dec. where I was wired from father that I had to go home immediately because of the serious condition of my elder sister (another one whom you don’t know.) who had been confined to bed for a long long time. I am glad, however, to tell you her condition to turn a little better after I came home. My impression to America (States) is not so fine, I can’t tell you why, for there are many causes which are too delicate to be described on the paper. I want to let you know why when I meet you again that is not so longer after, to be sure.

I came to Seattle again on first Nov. last year after finishing so-called the observation trip of the education in the Eastern + Southern parts of that country. For about one and a half months from Nov. to Dec. I attended the law colledge (sic) belonging to the University of Washington in Seattle as a auditor. My father advises me to attend the Kioto Imperial University + to take the law course, so that I, on my part, decide to take his advice. Though it is unimaginably severe cold now in Kioto, yet I am sure the warm and cherry blossom season will soon be with us in 6 or 7 weeks. I am eager to meet you again in Japan. My sister + brother-in-law hope me to tell you their good wishes.

Excuse my ill writing which is almost habitual.

Yours most faithfully,

Yasuka Urano.

Envelope Front:

Mr. W.F. Woodbridge
Room 46
Regina, Saskatchewan

Envelope Back:

Yasuka Urano
#2 Nishidacho Yodogi
Kyoto, Japan.

Postmark: Yokohama Japan, 19.1.28

Letter: The British Blackout during the 1940s (or late 1939)

Written on

Nell is the older Woodbridge sister living in England who didn’t go to Japan with the rest of the family in 1914. She is writing to her sister Floss who was, by that time, in Canada.

I didn’t know when the blackout was implemented during the war in England, but according to Wikipedia, “Blackout regulations were imposed on 1 September 1939, before the declaration of war”. Although the letter isn’t dated, it’s likely that it was written in the 1940s, rather than during 1939.

Another interesting point about the Blackout learned from Wikipedia just now: “In actual warfare, according to M. R. D. Foot, blackouts do not impair navigation by bombers because navigators focused more on reflected bodies of water, railroad tracks, or large highways. The chief purpose is to mobilize the entire civilian population, and provide a test to make sure they are obeying the rules.”

Dear Floss.

I came across this pic of the old town and thought perhaps you would like it. It has not altered, only the Iron Posts have been taken away because they were dangerous in the Black out. What a blessing when this Black out is over + done with. every time I have to put it up I feel I could scream. I feel kind of suffocated. I hope you are keeping OK. I have just written a line to Dad + also Will so please excuse these so few words. I wonder when we shall see each other again. You might as well be on the other side. keep smiling Love Nell

Nell's letter