July 3, 2014 by auntkatefirmin
It’s time to get back to posting!
I chose Amy’s third letter to her cousin Kate to show in full as it contains quite a bit of information about the older generation of Firmins as well as giving a good sense of Amy’s personality. I have transcribed it as best as I can, leaving the spelling and punctuation as is, and left the comments for after the letter. Most of her underlines are doubled. A series of dashes means I can’t figure out Amy’s writing at that spot. I’m working on a post about Amy’s history that will also include more photos.
Sept 30th 1948
[Note in upper left corner] Watch for the numbers on the paper. Very tired.
Katie my dear,
This morning another wonderful parcel I must explain how acceptable it was. Firstly I could not buy any tea for another 10 days or any sweets & have to go very warily with my sugar but the saccarine has helped as I made some marmalade with sweet oranges and oh the stockings however can I thank you. For days I have been going to write you but I must be alone, and quiet now to write. I have had my daughter & this lovely baby boy here for 10 days. How he has made me laugh til I nearly had a heart attack. He does not talk yet but is very volluable in his own language & has such an appetite & is so very strong too heavy for me for more than a few minutes. He has very dark eyes & lashes but his hair is fair. I loved the books too. Fan lent me the Digest you sent to her, so she will read mine. Nellie has gone to Tankerton for 10 days (East Coast) her second holiday but I can never get away only to Fans for a few days & this is so fearfully dull, in a valley & 10 min to bus to get to any shops at all & no papers. When this parcel came Kate I put my head in my arms & cried, how I wish my wonderful mother was alive, how I wished it when Aunt Emily died, just after she died for Aunt Emily was always so condescending to our family yet my Father was a very clever man & a gentleman. She only spoke to us when we all met when Mick came over from S. Africa, got mixed up with a woman in Scotland & spent all his money & Uncle George had to lend him some to go back with, 3rd class & he came over 1st class a big man jolly, a real Firmin 5’10” I should think. I wrote many times but heard nothing, letters returned, after I was married I wrote to the Bank Manager, Natal Bank Volkstrust he sent me a nice letter a/c closed also I wrote to Plum Tree Inn Bulawayo & had a letter from the Proprietor this is 40 years or more ago. He was in love with Emilys daughter Connie (his niece) she was 18 months older than I am. I remember he bought her a 3 guinea cerise hat & she looked lovely in it, & when we went to see Uncle off we had lunch on board & Connie said to me “I shall never get married Amy (I was just engaged) my mother won’t let me speak to a man I don’t know how to talk to one.” She gave her life to Aunt Emily (she was enormous as big as Grandpa Firmin) lovely white hair & then Connie died 2 weeks after her mother. Katie, I am certain she felt she had no one to care about her she had been kept so alone. Aunty Harriet was well educated, a woman of the world, Bohemian. Uncle Mick & Eddie liked her she was good at repartee and – vulgar. Uncle Fred took me out a lot when I was comely & 17. Great chess player & very irritable & very handsome short pointed beard. Dress circle for the theatre & poor me I was not really dressed swell enough. Now Katie, I have to work very hard as Laura & I have 26/- a week each to live on I am going to try & live without this lodger on my income. I have to get up well (or ill almost) at ¼ to 9 & I lie down at 2.30, am not supposed to carry — my hand bag. If I sold this place Kate I should have enough to live on somewhere Gwens place has 2 bedrooms & the nursery Bath Room & Lav & I don’t like stairs, but it is their own & there is no place like ones own. Percy & I had a terrible hire in 4 rooms I could not give the woman enough. Then a schoolfriend left me some money & I bought this bungalow & then I never wasted the money on a holiday as I had to keep poor Percy. You know Fan told me last week she had saved £500 in 4 years out of her rents. I go to Farnham to meet her fare 3/- return & 2/6 for lunch & do you know she never offers to pay for my lunch or my fare (which sometimes I could ill afford.) but I like the outing to go & meet her. I have to be careful but I could not live the life Fan lives. I like sewing knitting & Bridge but she is fortunately a garden lover & a clever gardner whereas my husband would not let me touch the garden. Things which are few, that are on points are heavily –ted. I don’t drink or smoke & the old people who don’t do like a sweet or two we don’t get lovely choc like you sent oh my dear I am so grateful for it all –- I did not think you ought to send any more things for you have been so kind. Just fancy now, Gwen has had to pay £3.00 for a worsted coat for this baby which used to be 18/- & he will grow out of it in no time. I do wish there was something I could send to you I have Grandpa Firmins old Freemason apron I would not let Fan have it as she has no family. Emily gave it to my brother Horace. Have you got the book that mentioned Uncle Henry or Osborne who was killed by a wild Elephant. To the Falls of Zambesia my brothers daughter has it but we have nothing to do with them I tried dozens of 2nd hand shops & Hodder & Stoughton said it had been out of print for 30 years 20 years ago. She would not value it, hard grasping nature but I would not ask her for it. Mother cut them all out of her will, they went round the house choosing what they wanted of my parents things, while they were alive & expected & thought they would get everything as Horace was the only son, but Pa & Horace died first. Mother did not mention them in her will that is how she did not get a share in Emilys money. All this wearies you perhaps, but oh I only I could talk to you but things look like war now. Last war my daughter was on night duty in the W.V.S. [Women’s Voluntary Service] her husband had been in the army 2 weeks & in the night (next door were away) old people for the week end they shared the dug out* the Bomb fell right on the dug out. All Gwens nice things I gave her, heirlooms, were smashed to “smithereens” the doors off, even, windows smashed & all the walls cracked furniture a mass of pieces of glass embedded in the wood & had to be destroyed too. She was plucky too several times had to lie down & hide at night on the way to for a duty at 10 o/c. Praise God, never again. Surely I have to thank you for your timely kindness Katie, can’t I do anything for you make it.
Lovingly your Cousin Amy
*[written sideways in margin] Being out saved all their lives next house got the worse of it
Small corrections & relevant information:
-Amy (Mrs. Percy Summers) was the oldest daughter of Kate Maud Firmin & William Beavan Baynham, born in 1881. At the time she wrote this letter, she was 67 years old and a recent widow. Her sister Laura (Mrs. Price) lived with her; she also had a lodger. Amy, “our” Kate & Fan (her Uncle George’s daughter) are all first cousins. Mick, Eddie & Fred are uncles, Harriet is an aunt. Amy’s daughter is Gwen, Mrs. Horace Walter “John” Haden. Gwen was born in 1910 and married in 1937.
–Rationing continued in England until 1954.
-Connie was actually younger than Amy who was born in August of 1881. Aunt Emily (Mrs. John Trotter) married in July of 1881 and Connie was born some time in 1882. Aunt Emily died in December of 1937 and Connie died the following May.
-Grandpa Firmin died before Amy was born, she must have gauged his size from photographs.
-Cousin Fan lived in Witley, but Farnham appears to be at a point that is accessible from both Witley and Four Marks.
-The whole story about the book is interesting. Even not knowing the exact title, I’d be very surprised if there was anything about Uncle Osborne in the book. Perhaps the book was a gift to the family from Uncle Mick and mentioned places he had visited. (Henry is Amy’s great-uncle and never went to Africa). First off, Osborne was only in Africa long enough to be run over by a charging elephant, which hardly seems to be worthy of mention. Osborne had gone to Africa in 1868 after hearing of the gold fields in Natal. I think Osborne was unlikely to have traveled to the falls, which were rather inaccessible in his day. Osborne will get at least one post in the future.