Come ye yourselves apart …, and rest a while.
Mark VI, 31.
The Society of Friends, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Independent Labour Party, but more especially the former, had for some time before the final release of COs, recognised that many of the released men would be in urgent need of rest and attention before returning to their workplaces, or other activities of social life. They formed a joint committee known as the Joint Advisory Council to look after this matter.
While I was awaiting the final summons to Mill Hill, this Joint Advisory Council addressed a letter to me asking if I would be in need of a holiday and further asking if I was in a position to provide myself with such. I replied thanking them for their interest in my welfare and stating that all I needed was fresh air and exercise, which no doubt could be secured at very small expenditure.
On Friday April 25th, 1919, I left Wandsworth for the last time, being still excessively weak and far from well, although my condition had improved as a result of a more congenial environment latterly. By the first post on Saturday April 26th, I received a letter from Isaac Goss, the secretary of the Joint Advisory Council and it contained three one-pound notes. Thoroughly mystified, I commenced to read the accompanying letter, which explained that arrangements had been made for Mrs. Blake and myself to spend a fortnight’s holiday at the home of Miss C. Albright at Finstall Farm near Bromsgrove. Apparently Miss Albright was expecting us on Monday the 28th and the writer hoped that the enclosed sum would cover the cost of the return journey. The amazing efficiency of the No Conscription Fellowship and the lightening speed with which things had been expedited quite dazed me. After the harshness and inconsideration that had been meted out to me for so many months, this kindness so unnerved me that I am not ashamed to confess that tears flowed unrestrained.
When we arrived at Bromsgrove station, we found that Miss Albright, like the other Quakers was not behindhand in forethought and kindness, for she had sent her pony and trap to bring us up from the station. Her maid passed on a verbal message from Miss Albright, expressing regret that a previously made engagement had prevented her from coming in person.
Photo: H Blake
We found that there was already another CO (Mr. Bonson) enjoying the privilege of Miss Albright’s hospitality. He had been there a week and when he left a week later, his place was taken by Mr. Palmer.
Throughout the fortnight we were blessed with the most glorious weather, enabling us to be out of doors almost the whole time, enjoying health giving rambles throughout the beautiful countryside of Worcestershire. I have always been fond of long country walks and since my release from Mill Hill Barracks on parole, I had taken every opportunity to re-train my leg muscles, so that by this time, they were close to their normal state. At any rate, I could by now achieve a ten-mile walk without rest intervals, with comparative ease. Mr. Palmer was a Londoner and accustomed to using trams and buses for all but the shortest of journeys and when he accompanied us, as he frequently did, his powers of endurance were hard put to complete our walk. He amused us all, including Miss Albright, when were we departing to return to Luton, by remarking that one thing we had taught him was, how to walk!
During this delightful interlude for recuperation, we visited some of the nearby towns, including the Spa of Droitwich and most notably, the extremely interesting old city of Worcester. Also, on one occasion, Miss Albright’s brother came in his dogcart from Birmingham to take us for a drive round the countryside near Stoke, where there are extensive salt works. Unfortunately my wife suffers from travel sickness and even though in an open vehicle, this malady was brought on. Mr. Albright was very concerned and seemed to reproach himself as being responsible, rather than as we regarded it, a kindly action with generous forethought. Mr. Albright further added to our grateful indebtedness, by extending to us an invitation to spend a day with himself and his wife at his beautiful house and grounds in Edgbaston.
I still slept poorly and was always awake quite early, frequently at dawn. One thing that impressed me about Finstall, above everything, was the extraordinary number of feathered songsters that provided a dawn chorus as the sun climbed above the horizon. It seemed that the multitude of singers trilled out a veritable song of freedom, which found an echo in my own heart.
I must not forget one other item attributable to Mr. Albright. One evening after dark we were all (including Miss Albright’s two housemaids) gathered round the fire in the large room, which was called The Granary. Candles placed in sconces around the walls augmented the light of the fire. In the centre of the group, Mr. Albright read to us from a book, sitting besides a little table, on which a small oil lamp illuminated the pages. That homely gathering in its old world setting constitutes a very pleasant memory and I can still remember the plot of the story and the title of the book, ‘The Revolt of Mother’.
On one of our country walks, we came across a field containing masses of cowslips and we picked several large bunches. We took these into Birmingham the next day, on the occasion of taking up Mr. Albright’s invitation to spend a day at his home. At Miss Albright’s suggestion, we delivered them to the General Hospital for the nurses to distribute among the wards.
Whose Image and Superscription?
The story of a First World War conscientious objector