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Personal letters can form a very
important part of an archival collection; often they provide an intimate look
into the life and times of the author. The 62 letters we received recently were
written by a member of WVS India Kathleen Thompson to relatives in Harrogate Yorkshire.
They tell us about Kathleen’s Journey on the SS Corfu to New Delhi and then on
to Deolali, Randu and Raiputana where she spent 18 months
looking after troops getting ready to leave India. Each letter is extremely
detailed, shows a range of emotion and are very opinionated and I think the
best way to show you this is to share a few extracts from those letters.
SS Corfu 5.2.46
“The little boats of course came around with all their goods ‘very
cheap’ ‘very dear’ etc but orders had been given and before purchases could be
made a hose pipe was turned on them. This was I think to prevent any epidemics
been brought on board. The CO troops told me that VAD’s last trip bought ice
cream and 40 were down with dysentery so it’s not to be wondered at that
measures were taken”
The other four letters carry on
in the same way detailing life on board, the food which often seemed to
Kathleen like more ‘than a week’s ration’ as well as the time she spent with
other WVS members and the troops. On the 10th February she sent her
first letter from New Delhi were she stayed till March.
WVS Headquarters New Delhi
“Oh I don’t think I told you how we all went to the Daily Sketch Club
last week. This is a hut colour washed and made very beautiful with a stage. The
floor was red tiles and very good to dance on. A Sargent attached himself to me
and we had a good talk. The men seem on the whole very tired of India, longing
to be home and very pleased to see us. When we said goodnight he shook me
warmly by the hand and thanked me very much indeed for a pleasant evening. Most
of the women went in long frocks but I wore my old white brown cotton frock as I
did not quite know what to expect. Actually
the men were all in clean khaki drills and looked very nice. They were so
pleased to see so many women and I think it is one of the things to guard
against, this feeling of being really important. I do want to remain interested
in people and not become blasé.”
Between March and August 1946
Kathleen ran a club with two other WVS members Bertha and Marjorie in Deolali.
They also had a shop there, went to dances, ran trips for the troops and helped
with the YWCA.
“I saw quite a good film on Monday. Two girls and a sailor light and
sugary but it was good entertainment. Albert Coates was in it too but there
wasn’t enough of him for my taste. I went with John Towlee the Major to Bangalore
to a conference and felt he was in need of a little feminine society – that was
the excuse anyway!!”
Kathleen spent the rest of her
time in Randu and Raiputana before returning to Deolali in July 1947. Her last
letter to relatives in Yorkshire discusses her time on leave before she was due
to return home.
“The rain seems to have arrived in real earnest this morning and is
coming down in good old plops. When it breaks just a little I shall put on the
cape and walk to the post. Afraid it is impossible to stay in all the time. I
am really lucky to have had so many fine days as the records say that Abu
should have had 10” of rain by now”
Kathleen left Deolali at the end
of her contract with the organisation in August 1947. References from the WVS India
Administrator it was written that “[Kathleen]
has carried out her duties conscientiously and efficiently, and I have every
confidence in recommending her as a thoroughly capable and reliable individual”.
There is no record of what Kathleen did next, but included with all the letters
was a WRVS membership card dated 1970, so perhaps she re-joined as a volunteer for
her local area. I’m sure that Yorkshire isn’t as hot as India or expecting 10”
of rain but these days you never know.