I’ve just been given some rather important documents (for me, at least).
I have very gratefully inherited an old suitcase containing the diaries that my Granny kept between 1937 and her death in 1984. I have known of their existence for very many years and have been anxious for their preservation, but a few weeks ago the time became right for them to pass to me.
Since starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start, I have begun transcribing the diary for 1937. Most entries primarily describe daily and weekly domestic life: shopping, washing, mending, children being fetched from school, spring cleaning, going to Church, meeting friends, Sunday afternoon walks. Every day without fail starts with a weather report. Two things have struck me so far above all – the distances that the family regularly walked (including children of 7 and 9 years) and the frequency of letters and postcards being sent to and received from family and friends. Communication and keeping in touch with loved ones was obviously very important and the means of doing this very different from the hastily written Text and WhatsApp messages that I tend to send and receive! I am finding out a great deal about what was important to my grandparents and I feel that I am getting to know them afresh.
Very very occasionally there is a reference in the diary to something of wider or national importance. One such instance caught my attention recently, at the very end of the entry for Thursday 26 August. Granny and family were staying with her brother in Guildford, and they had a day trip down to Southsea by bus. “Warm but very misty. Left Bellfields 9am for Southsea. Lovely ride thro’ Godalming, Hindhead, Grayshott, Horndean etc arriving at 11.15am. Had lunch on the Beach. Children paddled, then walked along to South Pier. B & B rode in miniature Train”. And then unexpectedly at the end “Sir Hugh shot”.
Sir Hugh? Shot? What was this all about then? Hurrah for Google. I put in the date and ‘Sir Hugh Shot’ and was rewarded by a number of items revealing that this was Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, Ambassador to China, who was seriously injured by machine gun fire from a Japanese plane which targetted the car in which he was travelling to Shanghai. And if you regularly read my blogs you will recognise the surname! Sir Hughe was the second son of Reverend Reginald Bridges Knatchbull-Hugessen, Vicar of West Grinstead from 1889 to 1908. Hughe was just two years older than Granny, so doubtless she remembered seeing him at Church when they were young, even if he did then go off to be educated at Eton.
How did Granny learn of this occurrence? From a newspaper? From a letter from family in Sussex? I don’t know. But it would appear that the Knatchbull-Hugessen family were held in some esteem for that entry to have appeared in the diary.
The postscript to this is that I had related the finding to my Mum, who has been shedding light on some of the people and places which appear in the diary. When we visited her last weekend, she proudly produced a newspaper cutting found within an old book of poetry. The cutting is an obituary of Sir Hughe, with the date 21 March 1971 handwritten at the top – the date of his death.