Author Topic: Jack's letters to Gerrie  (Read 422 times)


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Jack's letters to Gerrie
« on: November 20, 2019, 12:12:30 PM »
In slowly sorting through my mass of research material with a view to uploading the best of it to the new website, I came across my transcriptions of Jack's early letters to (his later wife) Gerrie. When I visited Gerrie in Cornwall in 1976, she lent me a whole stash of his letters, but I only had time to read through the ones prior to their marriage before returning them. The extracts I made were not at that stage for my book - I hadn't even thought of writing one - but for my TV trilogy, The Lost Boys, hence some were with a view to utilising Jack's wonderfully period language as dialogue, as well as touching on his character - and his attitude towards Barrie.

I imagine that when Gerrie died, her grand-daughter Henrietta would have inherited all the original letters, but what became of them after Henrietta's death I know not.

All these letters were written aboard H.M.S. Octavia, based in the Firth of Forth, addressed to Miss Gerrie Gibb at 7 Western Terrace, Edinburgh. Most of the envelopes were stamped "Passed by Censor", though some were evidently delivered by hand. In all his letters, Jack signs himself 'John', not 'Jack'.

19 March 1917:

Gerrie dear, you really are a very sweet person to forgive me as you have. … I suppose there are occasions when one goes slightly mad & does things like that. But honestly, I never dreamt it would distress you so much. I know you said "Forget it all" but I simply couldn't let it go without one word more of very abject apology. Honest Injun Gerrie, I am very very sorry & I'll never do it again.

21 March 1917:

Did you get my letter all right? I nearly forgot to post it, I was so bucked by what you told me. … It was so utterly beastly at sea today. I haven't been so sick and miserable for ages. I don't believe I'll ever get over being seasick.

22 March 1917:

I hope you've been really mad in your letter & will be even madder in the next one. I hate serious people. Life's far too short to worry. The Captain tries to make me serious sometimes. Grizly failure. […] Will you go and have yourself photographed & tell them to send me the bill as you say you're broke? I simply must have one or two, otherwise with all this going to sea I might forget whether you're lovely or merely pretty! Wouldn't that be awful? […] I loathe the Navy & all that therein is, when it keeps me away from you. […]  One thing, we're pretty certain to get Sunday off. That's a damnably long time, isn't it? Still, war is war, and the sooner it's over the better I'll be pleased. I loathe it more every day, don't you?

25 March 1917:

I can honestly hardly believe my stupendous luck. Fancy being engaged to you! […] By the way, in your letter you say you're not worth it. Don't say that again, darling, it's such hopeless rot when you come to think of it. You not worth it! Ye Gods, then who is? Answer me that, Madame! […] Tonight at dinner we're going to break a bottle to the future Mrs Davies. (Note the 'e' in Davies! You've been leaving it out!) [...] Je t'adore ma mie saperlipopette* comme je t'adore! (* Good word that) But even French, the most adorable of all languages, is no use. There's no language Gerrie that has ever been invented that really gives one a chance of expressing oneself. I just want to be with you and holding onto you & the words aren't necessary. Nothing's necessary but you. Are you happy, my best beloved? Cause l am nearly delirious with sheer unadulterated joy. Nothing else matters. England, Scotland, Czar or Spud – they can all go hang, and you’re still mine. Let the Germans win – you’re mine. Let the ship go down - I should be alright – you’re mine. Let Bottomley be Prime Minister (and that really would be the end of the world) – you’re mine. By Jove, I just can't get over it! […] Your very good health has been drunk in bubbly & your man is feeling a bit tipsy! Fizz always makes me feel rather dazed! […]
Why on earth a wonderful person like you should see fit to be kind to a bloke like me beats me all of a heap. Still, you do! You are a child Gerrie aren't you. 19 - ye heavens, what an absurd age! You make me feel 40.  [...]
I think the prospect of being with you tomorrow seems rosy. It's a deadly game being photographed. There's a heaven-sent place in town - the Gainsborough Studios in Oxford Street - that I've always been taken at, where they don't say 'smile' & then paint out what they don’t like in it. […]
I cannot see the point of being engaged for years & years can you? It seems such unutterable waste of very good time. Perhaps (your word is law) you think otherwise in which case yours so very humbly has only to be told. But, bien aimée, & these loathsome details have to be faced, my Guardian has to be talked to gently on the everlasting question of dibs. Lord but it is unseemly to mix up filthy lucre in a question of any sort, but it has to be done, doesn't it, & knowing the dear little man as well as I do this sort of question has somewhat naturally never cropped up before & I'm hanged if I know what he'll say. He's infernally wealthy himself but knows me - or rather knew me before I met you - & so knows my wonderful incapacity for keeping money. Still I shall see him this next visit to town & as I know so well he's one of God's own I have the highest hopes. Of course it's been done before now on far less than it's my luck to have now but - the more the merrier! Thank heavens I've got that off my chest to you. I'm still so shy of you Gerrie & there's always something horrible to me in pounds shillings & pence. […]
You're my sweetheart Gerrie. Do you realise that? I think sweetheart the prettiest word we poor English have ever thought of. I don't think many people do. Most people associate it with 'Arry and 'Arriet. It's awfully hackneyed & made a bêtise of I know, but it's a delicious word. […]
We've a house in London that no one lives in now as we're all away, but you'll simply revel in it. It's quite small but my mother did it all & it's most wonderful inside. Personally I couldn't wish for anything more heavenly and I'm perfectly certain you'll fall down and worship too. It's near Notting Hill Gate - do you know it? - to me one of the most attractive places in London. Guardy lives in a beautiful flat just off the Strand looking over the one & only river, but I'd sooner be in our house. I wonder will it be OURS one day? As a sailor one has such a mighty small use for a house in London - still it's for one of the family Davies so why not us? Do you mind being family Davies, Gerrie? The family will fight for you if I know anything of them. My particular pal is Nicholas - the youngest whose smile you liked in my cabin. He's a bird & will ask to take you straight to his heart. George, John, Peter, Michael & Nicholas, we're all saints. Poor old George was killed in France. He was a wonderful person. That really was a case of "They whom the Gods love." Peter is one of God's own. Michael is at present rather trying, but he'll get over it. Just 16 & full of Eton you know, but withal a good fellow, & Nico. He'll never be trying. Forgive all this about my family Gerrie, but I know so well you won't mind. Mother you really would have adored. Everyone did. Father died when I was 12 & Mother never really got better. They were wonderful people, I suppose really rather too perfect to go on. But I should so have loved to go to Mother & say, "Here's a daughter for you at last." She always longed for a daughter but never had one. She was so lovely herself that it seems a great pity she hadn't a daughter like her. There are so very few people darling I can ever talk to about this sort of thing that I know you'll forgive me.

26 March 1917:

I'm so anxious about my poor dear soul who's going to have a baby. .... She always used to write practically every other day so I fear me she must be very bad. You'd love her Gerrie no mistake about that. I've often heard it put down as fatal to praise one woman to another, but I fancy I know my Gerrie. And this woman has been amazingly good to me always you see. I can't possibly help loving her in quite a different way. Once I thought it was in the one & only really important way & told her so which was rotten of me. But she was heavenly about it & pointed out what a pity it was we couldn't go on in the same jolly good friendship & I saw the error of my ways. […]
Yes, pen & ink is the only possible outlet for silent people like you and me. I too find myself extraordinarily tongue-tied. Come to think of it I never even kissed you today. I do so hope that didn't worry you beloved, but I'm not a great hand at it & I'm so stupidly & superbly happy anyhow, & I'm really kissing you all the time in spirit. [...] Feeble thing life was before I met you. Lord how I do realise that now, although bar one or two tragedies, my life has been a very happy one. […] Ye Gods, but it's a grizly thought! [...]
This is a case of 'Till Death us do part' & personally I feel mighty certain the old fellow has no use for us two for centuries yet. He's an obliging old Devil if you really are quite firm with him & shew him he's not wanted. He has no terrors for me personally. If one has to die one has to die and there's an end of it. You see I'm rather a fatalist Gerrie - it's the only possible thing I think & I've more or less cultivated it for years now. Specially in wartime one must be when you hear of all your pals being killed right, left and centre.
Personally I find the Navy a very safe job here. It had its dangerous moments in the Dardanelles, but seems to have none here. They'll never come out to fight us again I don't think, & if they do then yours truly is hot-foot after a medal to present to his Gerrie. But I’m not one of those brave people I'm afraid. Quite ordinary. Quite frankly it frightens me to be shot at, and personally I think it does 99% of blokes. Anyone who says he likes it is either a liar or a freak. I imagine I can bear it as well as most, but it makes my knees very weak. I've seen whole rows of men - proven brave men - Anzacs - ducking like one man - including me - at the whistle of a shell overhead. It was really very comic. You see in the Army you can usually get behind something, but in a destroyer one's only cover is one's uniform which at times seems abnormally thin. However I've meandered off into talking sense, & this will never do! […] I usually have been a lucky sort of bird, but this caps everything! […] If I thought it would hurt you to see me smoking then I'd chuck the lot sooner than go on, but please allow me a few Gerrie. […]
Four days more & I shall see you every day. And pray the Gods by that time properly & openly engaged to you. I don't mean that properly, though. You're engaged to me now, no matter what anyone says, aren't you, bien-aimée? No-one on earth can possibly stop that!

27 March 1917:

Personally I don't care a tinker's curse who sees or what they think or know or anything [about their engagement], but I suppose I ought to wait till I've asked your father. And I'm waiting for that till I know how I stand with Guardy. […] I always said in those humorous days before I met you (!) that my wife must dance and play the piano.

28 March
I've been thinking over my proposal to you. It really was a wonderful effort - so was your saying "Yes." I don't mind betting not a soul in the place realised that one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened took place then. Do you know darling I really expected you to say "No," & that I had been far too quick with you. […] Are you happy darling to know that someday you'll be Mrs John Llewelyn Davies herself. To me it's so wonderful I'm beaten all of a heap!

[more to follow]
« Last Edit: November 20, 2019, 01:32:30 PM by Andrew »


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Re: Jack's letters to Gerrie
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2019, 01:34:11 PM »
Jack's letters to Gerrie, continued:

28-30 March 1917:

I've only written one longer letter than this in my life. That was one that took me 9 days to write coming across the Atlantic from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to the girl I'd left behind me there! I remember she was very sweet, nearly twice as old as me & engaged to the Gunnery Lieutenant! One of life's tragedies! I never really recovered. She's married him now. Another of life's tragedies! Incidentally I believe they're very happy. But not half as happy as I shall be! […] By the way, you mentioned something about a photo of me & being a vain man. I've remembered it! I haven't got any & haven't been done since early 1914 when I got my first stripe. The result is an angel child looking up to heaven, so I think I'll have some more done when I'm in town if I have any time at all. I think they do 'em better there & if you tell them 'Don't touch them up at all' - & being so infernally good-looking myself I should hate to have them altered at all! Don't let them alter yours a millionth of an inch. Your shyness is so like my own that it's heavenly. […]
I hesitated about telling you about the cancer trouble because I thought it might frighten you a bit. Incidentally I myself have not the slightest doubt about the whole thing. I've never yet heard of its being hereditary & firmly believe it isn't. […]
Ye Gods dearest do you think I don't want to marry you tomorrow or even sooner? You see it depends pretty largely on Guardy, and I fear me he'll need a lot of wrangling. Still I think there are big hopes, I really do, & for once in my life as far as he's concerned I'm going straight for him & await results. It always bores me so stiff the question of ways & means but I should loathe to think my Gerrie wasn't able to have any hat or roses she wanted. And from that point of view the Navy is so utterly hopeless. It's impossible to be suddenly clever & make pots & pots of money. So I'll have to persuade_the little Baronet to think better of his remark over my being so young.

Monday [probably 2 April 1917]:

My pay’s about £230 & I also have about £180 & with your £100 that’s £510. Wonderful mathematician. Now if I can only persuade Guardy to add £200 - which is such an utter flea-bite to him – I really don’t see why the deed shouldn't be done. But I have a grizly feeling he'll be "un peu difficile" to put it mildly. He's the dearest fellow in the world, but he knows - or rather knew me before I met you. One thing I'm out for. I'm going to persuade him to come up to Edinburgh to meet you very soon after I go south & - if I've failed - if that doesn't do the trick, I'm beaten as far as he's concerned. Mind you, I still have distinct hopes of him without that. Anyhow I want him to come up & see you & your people.

4 April 1917, from 60 Tufton Street, Westminster, S.W.:

I'm writing from the studio of a very old friend of mine. [...] There's usually half a dozen girls from the Palace up here - cheery individuals - but no one is here today. I haven't seen the little Baronet yet, but am lunching with him today. […] I’ve let myself in to be best man at a wedding tomorrow. The man was First Lieutenant of the [HMS] Harpy with me & I've known the girl for ages - nearly married her myself once in fact! Pity about me, isn't it? But lord how glad I am that I didn't. […] I find my two youngest brothers came home from Eton yesterday, so we'll have a cheery time. I do so wonder if Guardy will help at all. But I doubt it. But you can bet he’s going to be tackled pretty hard about it.  [...]

6 April 1917, from Piccards Cottage, St. Catherine's, Guilford:

Yesterday in the afternoon I went shopping at Asprey's on your behalf with Nico in attendance. I think you'll like the ring. I think it's ripping, and I'm quite certain you'll like the watch. […] By the way, sweetheart, you'll have to take a big pull on yourself to bear this news bravely. I'm sure you'll be able to. I spoke to my Guardian about you & he says that to gain his consent and help we are to wait a year. It’s a grizly thought I know, but when you think what his help means to us, I think we can do it, don't you? I shall see you before you can write an answer to this, so tell me then. But honestly darling I do think it's worth it when you think what his help means cause if we go against him & get married he'll never help us. I know him well enough to be sure of that. [...]
I told Nico I was engaged to the most wonderful girl on earth, and he said, "Does she smoke?" I said "No - or at any rate hardly ever" as I wasn't quite sure. (I've never seen you smoking) So he said “That's a good point anyhow!" Rather sweet. He's an awfully dear soul. You'll love him. Dearest soul, I don't see how I can make this a long letter. It's rather rude to the others. Michael and Nico are having tea in here now & pulling my leg hard about you. One has just said, "Don't put crosses at the end, it isn't done!" He got a matchbox in the chest!

21 April1917:

The telephone is a tantalising thing - so near & yet so far. It's so brutal to hear you speaking & not be able to kiss you. I'm glad you've learnt that particular art so soon. There was a time I wondered if I'd ever get a kiss out of you at all. Darlingest I have an idea you're awfully frightened of getting married. You really mustn't be, sweetheart. There's nothing to worry about.- it won't be half as bad as you imagine.

[22?] April 1917:

Darling heart of mine, you were meaning children when you spoke of sharing me with anyone, weren't you? I believe you meant that, but don't quite grasp what you mean about the "sharing" part of it. Of course I love children most awfully, but after all they're only a natural following on. Did you mean you didn't want to have them because they might take a corner of my love from you? Please don't think that, beloved. It's quite a different sort of love one has for sons & daughters you see, & I imagine only makes one's love for their mother the more perfect. Incidentally this will be the most awful mess up if you didn't mean that. […]
Once again the brutal question of OOF crops up. Lord how I hate it but it must be. You and I have got to think of it if my Guardian decides against helping us & pretty seriously too. […] Incidentally & this is a question I hate more than anything on earth - do you bring anything with you? I expect you'll loathe me for asking that, but it had to be. Isn't it pathetic that we should have to think of it at all.

[23 April 1917]

The little baronet has promised to give me [a car] after the war, & I mean to keep him to his word. That is, if we think we can afford to have one!

26 April 1917:

I had dinner with a very old friend last night in the [HMS] New Zealand. I've known him since I was about 4 years old & we were in the same term at Osborne & Dartmouth. His name's Keeling, & he's a very good fellow. He tells me a great friend of both of ours from Halifax, Nova Scotia, is now at Charleston & married to a fellow in the Navy. We were both rather in love with her (at least I know I was!) & it would be very nice to see her again. I haven't heard of her since I was a junior midshipman so many years ago (!) but I remember her perfectly. […]
Think of the time I may be allowed to tie up other things for you! V Dear oh darling, another year or jolly nearly before that's permissible. Damn all hard-headed & so-called level headed Guardians. No, I don't mean that because he's been so almighty good to us. I'm an ungrateful beast, but it's so infernally hard to wait all this time before you are really mine, mine, mine to love and to look after for all time. […]
Ye Gods, who could be stern with a slip of a girl like you. I'd be afraid of you breaking in half. Of I course I can see you as a tomboy - very much so. It's always peeping out somewhere. Did you think you'd hidden it from me really & only let me see the "intensely feminine side of you"? Bosh! You're more tomboy than anything else I think, & I merely love you all the more for it. […]
By the way, I've never sent for those copies of mine [photographs]. I wonder have you? I'm easing mine up for a bit because I want the little baronet to have a chance of forgetting Peter's little fracas before I send him my proofs to see which he wants. So for Pierre's sake, can you wait a little while?

29 April 1917:

Gerrie beloved it's sometimes filthily hard to go on waiting, and I forsee being pretty desperate before it's all over. One thing, if by any chance I got shifted from here without being applied for by [Captain] Dickens [to become his 1st Lieutenant] I think the little Baronet could probably get me shifted back again all right. He has untold influence if only he'd use it & not have some silly idea about seeing if separation would make any difference to us. Of course it does make a filthy difference, but not in the way he means! 


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Re: Jack's letters to Gerrie
« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2019, 10:49:38 AM »
Did Barrie keep his promise about the car? After reading these letters I was surprised that Jack’s attitude to his ‘guardy’ wasn’t as negative as I had believed!


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Re: Jack's letters to Gerrie
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2019, 01:07:45 PM »
No doubt Jack's attitude towards JMB was at least shaded by the fact that "the little Baronet" was supplementing Jack's naval salary with fairly regular cheques, as well as paying Timothy's private school fees. Virtually all JMB's letters to either J or G enclose money; here's a typical one from 1921, shortly after Timothy's birth:

My dear Jack
Herewith my cheque for £200* with all the pleasure in life. The new arrangement to begin with Timmy’s entrance upon the scene, as I want to be in that to the limited extent possible. It was a real happiness to me to see you both in so pleasant a home and I give Gerry high marks for the skill and taste with which she has beautified it. Most of all of course I am happy in seeing you both so devoted to each other, a good wife and a good husband, things that bring all day long a rich reward.
By the way I think you will like to know that it was Peters own proposal to go to see you. He rang me up and proposed it. He is now in the throes of getting into the new house.
Nico’s long leave is on Saturday but he has only that day here as he and Bridgeman are booked for Sunday and Monday by their friend Knebworth, and I am going too. But he must get a sight of number 12.

* Around £10,000/$13,000 in today's money ...