KEEP YOUR CHIN UP

The photograph below was put together by an artist sometime in 1942, possibly a fellow member of the Eighth Army.  It features Polly's parents Ken  and Ethel Warrener with the desert between  them. 

Devised by Polly Pattison from letters written by her Mum in WW2,  Keep Your Chin Up will be performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the very welcoming Quaker Meeting House Theater, 7 Victoria Terrace, EH1 2JL (Venue 40) as follows: Aug 5th - Aug 10th at 12.30pm and Aug 12th - Aug 17th at 2.30pm. Previews will take place at the Holbeck WMC Jenkinson Lawn, Holbeck, Leeds, on Saturday June 29th at 2.00pm (courtesy of the mighty Slung Low) and at Kardomah94, Alfred Gelder Street, Hull, on Friday July 5th at 2.00pm and at 7.30pm. Contact us on twitter @wotlarx77  or follow us www.facebook.com/Keep Your Chin Up. New date added - Thursday June 6th at 7.30pm at Cleethorpes Library Alexandra Raod, Cleethorpes DN35 8LG. 

 

'Keep Your Chin Up is a tribute to my mother, your mother, your grandmother, your great grandmother. This was their life.' Polly Pattison (January 2019)

Polly and her Mum, probably by the same artist as above. Polly was born in September 1941 and looks much less than one year old here.  The story of how she came across the letters and what followed is given below.

In 2015 Polly Pattison unexpectedly came across a bundle of letters written between the years 1940 - 1943, the early years of the Second World War.  The letters were written by her mother (Ethel) an ordinary working class woman living in Hull to her husband (Ken, Polly's father) a Desert Rat serving with the Eight Army in North Africa. Polly soon realised that what began as very personal letters had now after so many years gained great social and historical significance. As a tribute to her mother and all the women who kept the home fires burning Polly decided to share her mother's experiences with a wider audience. Ethel usually signed off with messages of love and the encouraging 'Keep Your Chin Up', often difficult to do in those dark days.  

How the letters were found.

Have you ever been reluctant to do something that you know you really should? And I don’t mean ringing the dentist. I knew that if I opened that case again, it would take over my life. And I was too busy. Anyway I wasn’t that interested, was I? Some things are best left in the past.

 

This story started in the year 2000 when my mother finally released her tenuous physical grip on life, the mental connection lost some years before, and finally, this stranger left my life.

 

The house was cleared, a collection of sacks and boxes taken up into our attic, to be dealt with when it seemed right. Over the next six or seven years once treasured objects each carrying individual memories, started new lives in the charity shops. Finally, all had gone, and life went on, as life does.

 

And then, it was September 2015. We were going to Majorca. Up into the attic to bring the cases down, the first one successfully pulled out from the narrow roof space. The second one stuck, I climbed in, released the obstruction and put it behind me, then got the suitcase out of the door.

 

Then I took the obstruction out, it also was a case, a small, light brown attache case, untouched since the house clearing when a hurried glance had revealed a collection of unimportant papers, out of date insurance, mortgage, receipts, nothing of interest. And here it was again, fifteen years later. The sun was shining through the Velux window, the attic was warm and bright, I sat on the floor and opened the case once more.

 

Yes, just stuff to be shredded, I started to empty the contents, already planning what I was going to use it for, it was a nice, strong case with little compartments in the lid for stamps and envelopes and the like. I pulled out a faded Manilla envelope the edges bent where it had been forced to fit.

 

Then in a spilt second everything changed.

 

Letters and diaries. Letters in torn envelopes, faded blue air mail letters, small squares of card, crammed with tiny black words. I stared at the case, I read the date stamp on an airmail at the top of the jumble of words. March 14, 1942. I could hear the seagulls scratting on the tiles, I could hear my heart, I felt cold, the shaft of sunlight had gone. I closed the lid and climbed down the wooden ladder. I found Dave and put the case in front of him, ‘Look’ I said.

 

‘What’s that?’ he said looking at the case.

 

‘Letters from me mam to me dad. During the war.’ I picked one at random, it was addressed to my father, M.E.F. Middle East Forces. He was in the 8th Army. I opened it and started to read my mother’s words.

 

‘Well, Ken, the news we got today was the 8th Army had taken the Mareth Line. It made me feel a lot better. I have not heard the rumours that you have heard about leave, but I think it would be a risk, you coming, while the submarine menace is on. I bet you are fed up, you deserve a leave home after all you have done. Pauline is full of the devil. I might as well talk to the wall as tell her to stop doing anything. She needs a man to take her in hand, she is so used to me smacking her she takes no notice.’

 

I was 18 months old. My mother’s words written with the scratchy pen of a stranger. The words of a lonely young woman at her wit’s end. I could not read any more. I put the letter back with the others and closed the case. It went back into the attic with the suitcases when we returned from Majorca but this time it was not hidden.

 

Then, a year later we were off to Ibiza, I brought all three case down. Curiosity had cast reluctance aside and I began the process of sorting all 88 letters into date order, they began in 1940 and with some lengthy gaps ended in 1943.

 

Slowly I began to discover the stranger, my mother, this woman of words from the past. I discovered a woman I had never known.

 

Polly Pattison February 2019

POLLY AND HER MUM CIRCA 1942/1943

This is a route map of Ken's war. He carried Ethel's letters all through before bringing them back to Hull. Their journey continues to Edinburgh with their daughter Polly in August 2019.

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