Goodness knows when this letter will find you
but I know at the time of writing Mother is in Germany
leaving you and Geoffrey to look after yourselves at
Two-Nine-Four. I trust that Geoffrey is behaving
himself, doing his share of the washing up and taking the
dog for a walk. If he is any problem do not hesitate to give
him a slap round the ear.
It is very hot here in Egg-Whipped, that's what we call
Egypt - Egg-Whipped. Sunshine and sand. We are living in
tents, not proper buildings just tents. The sand gets
everywhere and I do mean everywhere. The censor, I am the
censor, will not let me say any more than that !
The food here is terrible. We only get the stuff the
camels refuse to eat. The cook is a Welshman by the name of
Di. We call the mess tent Di O'rea's Cafe.
You should persuade Mother to get a piano so you can play
the latest songs. What are people listening to in England
these days ?
Tell mother to send me some puddings will you. Some bread
pudding would be good.
Fondest best wishes
Kenneth, Wing Commander Ashford.
He then drew a line through Wing Commander, smiled and
"I really must find somewhere to but a post card I can
send to Kenneth."
"Lily this is a country defeated and devastated by war,
it is not Blackpool. Even if you could buy a post card you
would never be able to buy a stamp."
As Lily stood behind Billy's grave while the photographer
from The Royal British Legion took her photograph she tried
to think of her now dead son. She could not focus her mind,
it was as if Billy had never existed. Not for the first time
in her life Lily thought it was all a dream. Standing behind
the cross in Germany Lily did not think it was a dream, she
knew it was a dream.
Back in Birmingham the days ambled by. Days which for
Lily were without event or consequence and blurred into the
mist of her dream. The war was over, no more bombs, no more
fighting, no more death. Beyond that rationing was still a
part of life, rationing with no apparent end in sight. The
country had voted out its charismatic war leader and now had
weak prime minister in his place. The spirit of togetherness
which had strengthened the nation was gone. The wartime
songs of Vera Lynn and others were silent.
Work from the Doris ward Dress Shop continued but Lily
had lost much of her previous enthusiasm. Joyce announced
she intended to return to London. Geoffrey had allowed
the garden to fall into a terrible mess. Kenneth would not
be please, Billy would be furious. Lily was feeling so
"Oh William," she said aloud to herself, "How different
it would have been had we had a daughter."
Lily did not want a copy for her gramophone and even if
there were a piano at 294 Kings Road, which there was not,
Joyce would not play the song. All I want for Christmas
Is my Two Front Teeth. What a silly song !
Christmas in Egypt was hot. Kenneth tired of the
multitude of silly jokes about looking a white Christmas.
Had it every snowed in Egypt ? Ever ?
"We have not seen a lot of action Wing Commander."
"Even if there was action to be seen Lieutenant people in
our position do not see action. Part of our duty is to
prevent action from happening."
"So being a spy is meant to be boring Sir ?"
"Yes, Lieutenant it is."
The life of a spy in Egypt under The British Mandate may
be mundane but Wing Commander Kenneth Ashford knew there was
a change ahead.
On Monday 6th January 1947 Ashford and his team was
posted to Palestine as part of the international force
setting up the State of Israel. The temperature would
be similar to Egypt but atmosphere much hotter. The
reception all stationed there could expect to be cold, ice
cold. Neither Muslim nor Jew wanted the British there.
"We can wear our correct uniforms depicting our proper
rank," Ashford explained. "You must carry your gun with you
at all times, keep it loaded and always be ready to fire it.
Jewish terrorists are everywhere. It is these terrorists our
agents are on the look out for, on the look out for and to
take out of action."
"When you say take out Wing Commander you mean kill ?"
"Unofficially Lieutenant, yes. Officially Lieutenant,
Geoffrey still maintained the fantasy that one day he
would marry Princess Anne. More down to earth Geoffrey was
becoming an expert in assessing the properties of the
female. He had a different girlfriend every week.
"Your father would not approve of you smoking Geoffrey."
Geoffrey shrugged his shoulders then said, "Kenneth
smokes, one of the photographs he sent home has him smoking
"All senior RAF officers smoke pipes," Lily explained,
"it goes with their rank. Your brother is a Wing Commander
"I had noticed," Geoffrey smirked. "A Wing Commander who
has never been closer to the wing of an aircraft than I have
been to the bedroom of a certain princess in Buckingham
What is it like in London ?
Things are more comfortable here in Palestine than they
were in Egg-Whipped. We do not sleep in tents, we have
proper barracks. I even have my own batman, I do have to
share him with another Winco but I never had that in
We have a swimming pool here on the base. It's really
good. I spend an hour there every day.
There were two things Kenneth wanted to put into his
letter. He had the words clearly in his head but did not
allow the pen to transcribe then onto paper. The first he
would have to censor anyway - he was still the censor. the
second he just did not have the courage to write.
One of my team was killed the day before yesterday. He
was just walking when a Jewish terrorist shot him in the
back. We are looking for his murderer but I doubt we will
find him. Mother hates Germans, I hate Jews.
Dearest Joyce, your name is Robinson. It is a nice name
but would you consider changing it ? How about
changing it to Ashford ? Mrs Joyce Ashford ?
"You have got to join up when you are eighteen years old.
Geoffrey, your father volunteered at the outbreak of World
War One. Your brothers Billy and Kenneth both volunteered.
members of The Ashford Family always volunteer, they do not
wait to be conscripted into their country's service."
"I am thinking to become a farmer," Geoffrey said.
"Farmers do not have to do national service."
"Yu are an electrician, training to be an electrician."
what am I going to do in the Royal Air Force ? Mend
the broken Morse Code keys belonging to Wing Commander
Kenneth Almighty Ashford ?"
"Geoffrey do not be so silly !"
"Geoffrey do not be so silly !That is all I have heard my
entire life ! Geoffrey do not be so silly !"
If life were indeed a dream Lily hoped it would soon end
and allow her to wake up.
On Friday 14th March 1947 Kenneth made an important
decision. The day before another airman from the base had
been killed by a Jewish terrorist on the streets of
Jerusalem. Why had that happened ? Why did
the Jews hate the British so much ? They ere on the same
side weren't they ? How long before he took a bullet
in his back ? When his tour of duty was over Kenneth would
resign his commission, return to London and become civilian
On Tuesday 17th June Jessie's husband George died. He simply
went to bed and did not wake up in the morning. When
Jessie awoke she thought George was still sleeping, only
when she left the kitchen and returned to the bedroom with
their morning ;pot of tea did she understand that she was
now a widow. George was still warm, it had not been long
since he left this world.
Jessie did not send for the
doctor, she did not contact her son Frank. She got into
George's car and drove across Birmingham to 294 Kings Road.
"Will you please come back with me Lily ? I do not
think I can cope on my own."
Jessie Haddock, formerly
Jessie Ashford not cope ? That was a first. In all the years
they had been friends Lily had never before seen a situation
where her sister-in-law had not been in total control. Over
the coming days Lily's friendship with Jessie deepened.
While she saw Dorothy every week-end and always had a letter
on the go to Sister Sullivan, Jessie was her best friend.
They both confided in one another. However, there was still
one part of her life Lily would never discuss with Jessie.
For thirty-five years Lily had not spoken of the most
important part of her life. There were times in those
thirty-five years when Lily thought life as probably a dream
she knew for certain her days with Henry Wilton were real
and not a dream.
"Do you think you will marry again Lily
"On no !"
"My brother was a good husband to you but I
do not think he would be offended if you found another to
share your life."
"Jessie, I am fifty-seven. I will soon
be an old lady."
"I am already and old lady,"
Jessie smiled. "No, my brother would not want you to be
lonely. It would not be wrong if you found yourself another
Lily was not sure what William would say but she
knew Henry would not want her to be married to anyone but
himself. That was not going to happen so she would spend the
rest of her life as a widow.
Kenneth gave up his career in
the Royal Air Force. he had not been a spy but a
co-ordinator of spies. On his return to 294 Kings Road
Dorothy's brother found employment for Kenneth as a clerk at
Whittaker Ellis Limited. The pay was half that of a Wing
Commander. Kenneth saved as much as he could. He opened an
account with The Birmingham Municipal Bank where every
Friday he would deposit the majority of his wage packet. If
only he had not spent so much of his Wing Commander's pay
while he was in Egypt and Palestine. He would have to save
all he could and be patient.
he had spent a full month's
salary in Cairo on a solid gold Egyptian bracelet. he hoped
it would soon adorn the wrist of Joyce Robinson as would a
ring on her finger. Both would indicate that Joyce Robinson
would soon be Mrs Joyce Ashford.
I am thrilled to hear your news.
When is the wedding going to be ? It
has been so long since I was in Birmingham. I really
would like to be there.
Your dear friend
The wedding of Kenneth Francis Ashford and Joyce
Gwendolyn Ashford took place on Friday 24th September 1948.
It was not in Birmingham but Lambeth, London. After the
service Joyce's Mother served cake and sandwiches as best
she could within the rigid confines of her ration allowance.
Joyce's father, Fred, entertained everyone with his piano.
he played The Lambeth Walk and Maybe It's Because I am a
Frank Haddock was Kenneth's best man and
Margaret Joyce's bridesmaid.
Uncle George created a job
for Joyce at Whittaker Ellis. Kenneth was a clerk,
Joyce was a not particularly good typist. Their combined
wage packets were not enough to start a home of their own so
the young couple started their married life at 294 Kings
Road. Lily looked forward to her first grandchild. It would
be a girl, of course it would be a girl.
looked forward to a great grandchild but she died two weeks
after the wedding. The Bridge House in the Staffordshire
village of Madeley was no longer part of Lily's family life.
On Friday 3rd November 1950 Lily's first grandson was born
in Heathfield Road Maternity Hospital.
"You will, of
course, be calling him William after your father and your
"If that is your will Mother."
new baby's birth was registered as David John Ashford.
from the registry office Kenneth went to Stone's Newsagent
and brought from the record counter a copy of Goodnight
Irene sung by Frank Sinatra.
"A gift for you Mother,"
Kenneth said trying to smile. "The number one record for
you. Number one in the hit parade."
"Thank you Kenneth.
What ever is the hit parade ? Why is it you have started
calling me Mother these days / It was Billy who always
called me Mother. Is it to apologise for calling your new
son David ? Nobody in our family has ever been called
David before ? What is wrong with William ?
"Next time we
will call the baby William."
"Next time the baby will be a
girl," Lily replied.
Infant David was not an
easy child. Sleeping was not part of his makeup while
exercise his lungs and yelling at the top of his voice most
Lily had the solution. She went to the
off-licence at he King Charles public house where she spent
some of her hard-earned cash from Doris Ward to buy a bottle
of brandy. She dipped the baby's dummy into the liquid then
offered it to David.
"Mother you will make him drunk
"Nonsense !" I kept both you and your two brothers
quiet this way. You were a particularly noisy baby Kenneth.
It worked with you and it will work with
now, you just watch.
Kenneth would sing to his son as an
attempt to sooth him to sleep. Goodnight Irene was not to
the baby's musical taste. Kenneth's singing and Goodnight
Irene became a way to encourage Nan Lily to give David an
alcohol soaked dummy.
"I don't think David is going to
grow up to like music Kenneth. Perhaps he will become a
footballer. Your father had a friend who was a professional
"Did he ?" Kenneth was not interested.
"Just so long as he does not have to grow up in a world torn
apart by war as I did."
"And your father did."
Joyce wanted her little boy to be happy. As much
as she respected her mother-in-law, the three of them needed
their own home. If she, Kenneth and Dvid were to become a
real family 294 Kings Road was not home and never would be.
Lily knew how Joyce felt an kew they all needed a new home
sooner that later but what could she do ?
solicitor processed Lily's share of the money from the sale
of The Bridge house it was not a great sum, the money being
divided between Joseph and Emma's many children, she gave it
to Joyce and Kenneth as a deposit on a house.
Dorthoy who had been prompted by Lily, George Albon stood
guarantor for Kenneth to take out a mortgage.
Tresham Road was not at all grand like The Bridge House, it
was smaller than 294c Kings Road but for the young family it
was a palace.
Geoffrey returned from his national service,
married Jean then left home. Lily was alone. Even as a grown
man Geoffrey had not given up his fantasy to court tyhen
eventually marry Princess Margaret. With his new wife he had
to switch off the fantasy of a royal marriage but fantasy of
courtship could remain. Jean would have killed him had she