Original manuscript notebook.Ramsgate: April 1942 - March 1943 Stock Code: 137776
NotesA poignant manuscript notebook, amusingly illustrated, recording the friendship and lively exploits of a group of six young women from Ramsgate during the Second World War. The group, who named themselves "the Order of Little Bears", consisted of Maud Isabella Milgate, the primary author of this manuscript, her sister Blanche Adelaide Milgate ("Bibs"), and their friends Rose Anne James, Margaret Hessie Vince ("Meg"), Elsie May Smith ("Smut"), and Dorothy Eccleston Back ("Pat"), who drew the illustrations. The notebook covers the creation of the "Order" and how they created entertainment for themselves against the constant backdrop of the war, bombing raids, and their work.
Opening on 7 April 1942 at Easter, the six head out for their first picnic of the year on Easter Monday: "we viewed with horror the devastation caused by the bombs on Sturry and were glad to take ourselves up into the woods". Rose, a teacher, is based in Stafford for most of the year, where she finds life very dull and relies on the girls for most of her amusement. The Milgate sisters work in a shop owned by the father (their mother died two years prior, in 1940). Smut leaves Ramsgate to train with the WAAF, from which she returns on leave intermittently, and the girls throw her a farewell party at which they get rather merry: in the centre of the table was a "glass bowl... in which floated two pink roses. Pat insisted on giving these roses frequent drops of wine. She said she was toasting Rose who was, of course, in Stafford". Two of them are reprimanded by policeman on their way home from one of their "binges", who sternly "informed them that singing in the street after 10.30pm is not allowed ladies!" In the summer of 1942, the four remaining in Ramsgate acquire an allotment: "this walled in garden gave us sunny recreation among sylvan surroundings and sea breezes... I did not care whether the allotment grew potatoes or dandelions". The girls go to visit Smut who is rather miserable in her WAAF posting to take her for a river outing, and do some country dancing in the lanes while waiting for her: "not even life in a bombed town... can damp the vivid life in some people, especially if those people happen to be little bears, and to see those four dancing in the middle of the road that glorious summer day in August is something I shall not soon forget... the scene was more reminiscent of Merrie England than of bomb shattered Britain". On their return to the station the girls get drenched in a sudden shower, and hang their wet clothes from the luggage rack to dry ("the compartment soon looked like a gipsy encampment, so much so that a man, attempting to enter our carriage at a wayside station, gave one look at our wet belongings, exclaimed 'Good Lord!' and shut the door again quickly!").
Towards the end of the summer they celebrate Rose's homecoming after she is recalled to Ramsgate to teach at the local school and Maud's birthday ("however, the company had hangovers the next morning and drank tea and smoked cigarettes while lolling on my bed in an attempt to pull themselves together"). Rose clears up her bombed-out house in Ramsgate and the "Bears" hold a house-warming party for her new home - Rose adds to the notebook an amusing account in verse of the raucous evening. Smut has her confirmation on 17 December 1942 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr William Temple: "not even the wailing of the siren nor the broken bomb shattered window above the quiet altar could destroy the illusion of peace that age-old ceremony inspired... two things he said remain in my mind. One was that one of God's best gifts was friendship and we were not sufficiently thankful to God for our friends"; a news clipping about the Archbishop's visit is pasted in.
The year concludes with the staging of a Little Bears Variety Show in their local church hall at Holy Trinity on 18 December, worked up from a number of items that "we had done for our own amusement to keep our minds off raids": the girls sang, performed skits, and played the violin, piano, mandolin, and accordion. A hand-drawn poster for the night is included at the rear of the notebook and a newspaper clipping on the evening is pasted in. Pat's brother, Wilfred, is reported killed just before Christmas in Libya, and Maud writes that "such, however, was Mrs Back's fortitude that she did not allow her personal grief to intrude upon the pleasures of Christmas". The account finishes at March 1943 with a brief report on the first part of the year. Loosely inserted is a sheet of paper in manuscript proposing the creation of associates of the "Order", 13 months after its creation.
Small quarto, pp. 70 (230 x 180 mm). Commercial lined notebook of green cloth-backed paper-covered boards, green endpapers, 31 pages neatly written in English in black ink, 4 pages in green ink, "Teddy Bears Picnic" song typed on blue paper and pasted in, poster drawn in blue, red, and black paint tipped-in to rear pastedown.
Illustrated with original ink and watercolour drawings, 10 of which are full-page.
A little wear to spine ends, front hinge tender, split to lower part of gutter at first page, unused final pages neatly excised. In very good condition.
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