Part Four: 'singing all over the house'
‘Variations on a Weekend Theme’, Jim Ede’s ‘log’ of ‘400 servicemen visitors’ to the Edes’ Tangier home, becomes a dizzying account of getting to know each guest and group, as well as their many dinners, beach picnics and conversations. By December 1947, the Edes had welcomed sixty groups from Gibraltar over a period of eighteen months. Now their wartime savings, which subsidised the scheme, were running low and perhaps the end of a second year felt like the right time to stop. A final group spent Christmas with them at Whitestone.
For a last party five men came over for a week to spend their Christmas with us. They wrote and asked if they could, which relieved us of some anxiety for their happiness. Three of them had been here before; John and Harry and Jeff and the two new ones were Len and Terry. They came by air and it was interesting to see how different they were on arrival from those who came by ship. Only about half an hour before, they had been in Gibraltar, and so were quite fresh, while those who came by boat had to get up in the early hours, miss breakfast, wait about for the boat to start, have 3 or 4 hours of sudden buffeting on the sea and arrived tired, cold, hungry and dazed.
They were all so nice and knowing three of them already it became quite easy, for it was a real meeting of old friends.
Helen had 'elevenses' ready for our arrival and then they started to unpack, producing all sorts of good things towards the Christmas fare: 2 cakes, a plum pudding, bacon, crackers and so on.
I really feel a little dizzy as I look back on this week. My impression is that they were singing all over the house from the time I took them early tea at 7:30 until they finally got into bed at about 11. Four of them were interested in carols, had brought over music and spent a lot of time at the piano, while Jeff got into corners with books on architecture. Harry was the oldest, 27, married. John was old for 22. Len and Terry were just boys, 23 I think and Jeff was quite a personality at 21, pale, fine skinned, thoughtful. He was only a corporal while the others were sergeants and colour sergeants.
At our first dinner we were nine, for the McBeys1 came and Marguerite, an American, looking at an elaborate Christmas decoration we had made out of a standard lamp, said 'Why Helen I see you have pressed everything into service'. It was rather pretty with the family diamonds glittering amongst pine branches. The second day we all went to a great Christmas dinner with Lady Scott, 12 to table, crackers, turkey, plum pudding stuffed with coins and much else. Even the turkey had been given brandy before being killed 'just to make it feel less' said Lady Scott. It was a huge success and we all donned our paper hats and Lady Scott told lots of Irish stories which the boys made shots at for the rest of the week. Christmas Eve we took a picnic over to the great beach and found a warm peaceful spot amidst the rocks. Jeff and I went for a swim, the others paddled and climbed rocks and played catch with an orange. We all felt relaxed and easy. The evening was devoted to carol singing. Christmas Day they wanted to go to church, so I took them, a mighty poor service, chiefly I think because the congregation put no vigour into their singing.
Ada came up to dinner and I opened our last bottle of champagne. It at once went to the heads of all but Harry. It is really very illuminating how modest so many young people are nowadays with their habits, that half a glass of champagne should disturb them, and what is more sober them into extreme care not to go any further. We rather rushed our Christmas dinner, for they wanted to hear the King's speech in the house of a friend who had invited us. We all felt gratified when H.M. mentioned those serving abroad. In the evening we went to another party and sat around a table full of foods, with firelight and a cosy English setting. The boys were beginning to groan a little by now, they said that they hadn't got themselves into training for all the eating, and laughed when I told them that Helen was all the time afraid that she might not be giving them enough.
Boxing Day we went for a drive after dinner and found some interesting shells on a beach and got back in time for an elaborate 'tea' at a neighbour's, which lasted until supper at home. Terry had brought a cake, it had arrived in Gibraltar nearly a month ago, 'and we were often hard put not to eat it' he said. I thought it quite astonishing that the boys could have begot a cake, and such a cake, for a month just because they wanted to bring it to us. One slice was already cut, 'mother always cuts a slice just to make sure it's alright'.
Finally Saturday came, the day of their departure, the Dunlops were up to dinner with immediate news of England. Then I took the boys down to get their plane and Jeff stayed on for another day. The new British Consul came to dinner on the last day with his wife and son and Jeff maintained the table with lively conversation while Helen and I did our chores in the kitchen, and then they left taking Jeff with them.
So ended our Christmas week. Each day the house fuller and fuller with Christmas cards as Bills, Freds and Jims sent us greetings. It was all I could do to know what surnames to give them, but it was lovely to know that back in their own homes they were thinking of this one.
'In looking back over these last two years I feel that we have had a most privileged experience, & it is for this reason that I have collected together these hasty notes which may show to others what fun and companionship they can have by using their homes in a similar fashion...'
Jim Ede, 'Variations on a Week-End Theme', Christmas 1947
View down the garden at Whitestone
View down the garden at Whitestone
After almost two years, the visits from Gibraltar servicemen finally came to an end. Save for a steady stream of guests, as evidenced by their visitors' book, Jim and Helen once again found themselves living alone at Whitestone. By 1948, they had begun to consider downsizing, and set about extending a small gardener's cottage at the bottom of the garden. Jim, as usual, marks the occasion in his pocket diary:
Started new house in May & moved in Xmas 1948.
Though considerably smaller, 'Whitestone 2' (as they sometimes called it) was conceived with just as much care as the Edes' previous homes. Jim describes the interiors and views at length in a letter to Perry Rathbone2 dated 22nd December 1948:
I do so wish (here I go again) that you could see this new house, it really has points of great beauty, & there is a wee guest house ready for you. The pictures look lovely & the piano sounds well. The walls are whitewash with a touch of blue, & the floors are grey tiles & I’ve invented a quite beautiful fireplace which has a cathedral look about it. We have over the mantleshelf such a lovely Kit Wood, a dark sea & two ships on it just moving – & in the foreground some nets & corks, & a wonderful newspaper with white playing cards & on the mantleshelf are two strangely broken shells which themselves look like ships in sail, & some stones – odd for how they all repeat the picture, & the wall makes marvellous colour with it all. I have almost a suite to myself which is great fun – the place seems big, but is mainly two rooms.
Tangier would continue to be the Edes' home until 1952.