My Great Aunt Norah's wartime diaries, 1938-1948
Jim’s requests for schoolgirl photos go unnoticed or at least unremarked upon by Norah and they settle into a fun and flirtatious correspondence through the summer of 1941. For now, there are no more worrying letters, just the complicating factor that is Danny, Jim’s younger brother, who is now on the scene.
Remember it is Jim who first puts Norah and Danny in touch. A trainee officer in the RAF, Danny is on a course at Loughborough College, the Leicestershire town where Norah has just finished her schooling. Jim arranges their first meeting for the 5th July, but Danny fails to turn up. The following week he sends Norah a ‘beautiful letter’, informing her that he is going to a RAF base in Wiltshire. He writes again from there, another grand letter, to say he is going home for seven days (‘on a motorbike’, Norah adds). 30th July: Went to Forester’s Sale. Ma bought coal bucket etc. Received letter from Danny enclosing a lovely photo of him for keeps.
From the outset, Jim encourages Norah’s interest in Danny. He is his favourite brother, he tells her, his ‘old bed mate’ and a ‘swell guy':
Norah, try and persuade him to visit you, he has a motorcycle. You mustn’t imagine me rather unusual but I am more of a serious nature and would only be of a bore, not like Danny who would play you at tennis and would make a real friend during his stay in your company. I would be more friendly with your family talking about gardens. Norah save me an evening during this winter when I will endeavour to see you. Patience, I have got, and can wait until 194…. for a photo. I bet Danny has got one (sorry).
It is this last sentence that gives me pause. Jim can’t help but reveal his jealousy that Norah may have already sent a photograph of herself to Danny. It is only now that I wonder about the dynamic between the two men. Why is Jim encouraging their acquaintance? Did he ask his brother to check her out for him, see whether she was a nice girl, maybe, or above his station? Does he expect to lose Norah to Danny? Has Jim lost out to his attractive, better educated, younger brother throughout his life?
‘He’s been passed over’, says a colleague at work who is 3rd or 4th in a big family of boys. Seeing my blank expression he makes reference to a central scene in The Godfather where Fredo is stepped over and the cunning Michael, his younger brother, chosen as the head of the Corleone family by their father. ‘It’s a huge thing between brothers. The feeling that the younger one is usurping his place.’
‘Where is my beloved?, Norah writes when Jim’s letters fail to arrive. Her thoughts remain with him, but a tension rises all the same and in mid-August she acknowledges her growing interest in Danny.
11th August 1941: Received a very scrappy letter from Jim with no love, kisses etc. & lovely letter from Danny.
14th August: Frank’s ducks arrived. Tried unsuccessfully to write to Danny. I must do it tomorrow.
15th: Ma went to Derby & posted Danny’s letter on the way. Churchill & Roosevelt met in mid-ocean. Rained.
16th: Gracie gave a wonderful broadcast from the Albert Hall.
19th: Received a simply marvellous letter from my Jim. I adore him. Enclosed cutting about P[icture] P[ost] adopting 100 ABs & two naughty cartoons. Also a lovely letter from Danny. He is to be made a pilot. How awful. It seems to be a fight between Danny & Jim.
Reading Norah’s letters from his bunk in the North Sea, Jim senses this battle. ‘My Dear Norah’, he writes on 24th August, ‘You know your letters are the best I look forward to. It is most hard to refrain from writing love letters to you. Your socks I received from the comfort funds are the only ones I have ever had… You must have many admirers (why change your subjects) (sorry).’ This is another of his apologetic asides, as he suggests to Norah that she shouldn’t change horses mid-stream, trade in one brother for the other. ‘Yours Devoted ‘, he writes, ‘Danny Jim’.
At the end of August, amidst a mixture of other news, a concern not to presume too much and anxiety about his brother, Jim declares his hand:
I wish you would express your feelings and what is in your head when writing to me. It is only pen-friendship but I have fell in love with your pen, should I or may I. The photo you sent me to look at in bridesmaid’s clothes is still in my memory and often when we are on the ocean I have your pretty face in my vision “dimples” and I can face my danger or difficulties without flinching. I must say you are very kind because I have no right in being so familiar, your letters have always been interesting and never away from platonic friendship. Please darling never hesitate in writing what you think. I hope you ignore the saying about sailors because this one do care. I expect my loving brother’s letters are more interesting only my schooling was neglected.
As Norah prepares to meet Danny, Jim fears she’ll prefer his better educated, more socially easy airman brother. He wants affirmation that their relationship is special. Familiar with the stereotype of sailors, he is keen to refute the image of the carefree Jack the Lad. He is working hard at being patient, taking care not to put her off, trying to reel her in.
Into September, the tempo continues to build. As Norah receives the news that she has passed the Oxford School Certificate exams and can now apply for a clerical job with the LMS Railway in Derby, Jim writes more fequently. Even when he has little to say, the important thing is to keep the letters coming, to stay in her thoughts.
1st September: Oxford results: I’ve passed. Received letter & photo from my sweetheart. I’m absolutely crazy about him. Also one from Danny, who says he too is fond of me. I like him a lot.
2nd: Received letter from Station. Auntie Mabel & Uncle Roadley came. I’m still in love with —-
3rd: Replied to Danny.
‘I’m still in love with’: the certainty of it, petering out into a teasing, secretive dash.
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