Valerie Layton

Letter From Anthony Hughes (12-07-1939)

Anthony, Hughes, Valerie, Layton, 1939, Letter, France, Childhood, William, Hickey Tom, Driberg, Writer, Unwell

About The Letter - 

In this letter, Anthony Hughes writes again to Valerie. The two banter, and Anthony reveals he has been feeling unwell. Anthony is currently in France. He also highlights the similarities between the two: they both are impuslive, and they both grew up on their own without much authority in childhood. 

A Little Bit About Anthony Hughes - 

Anthony Hughes was a friend of Valerie’s. From what we know so far, it seems as if Anthony didn’t get to know Valerie until sometime late in 1939. Since Anthony was enlisted in the military around the same time he got to know Valerie, he was limited in what he could say to her. He couldn’t share opinions regarding the war or share personal life details due to heavy censorship. What we do know about him is that he seems to be well-educated and comes from a well-off background. He details having a butler and receiving a scholarship while attending the London School of Economics. Before the war, he lived in Clapham Park. During the war, he worked at night as a duty clerk. By 1940, espite the war keeping them apart, Anthony details that Valerie knows him well enough to send him a box of things he liked for Christmas.

See the transcript here...

Anthony Hughes Letter 12-07-1939  - Transcript


Rfn W.A. Hughes,


7th December, 1939.                         G.H.Q.

General Staff - Section 1

British Expeditionary Force

Dear Valerie, 

Thank you for your letter. It is about eight Thursday night, and there is a lull in the affairs of men. I have been awaiting your letter with interest, for I have been wanting to know how you have been finding things at your new abode. I hope, too, that the boarder came along, although in this respect if I were a landlord I would always be wary about promises until the person is actually installed, sort of thing. This isn’t a compliment to man generally, but I have seen so much of this thing going on that my eyes are no longer shut. Men have come etc. etc., and have promised to put in an appearance on Z day and all that, and nothing happens. But I hope, in your case, that he fulfilled his promise. 

So you are quite comfortable? Good; I am very glad. I am sure you will have an ‘easy’ and pleasant Christmas. Make the most of the times we are going through. 

Your remark about my photograph on the mantelpiece is amusing. Why put it there? It isn’t so good as all that? ……..Yes...when I get leave I shall certainly come to see you. Maybe I’ll come the day of arrival! But I am going to open up my flat, because I want ten days peace, and comfort...and blankets, with a decent bed, and meals on REAL CHINA! Whoa! Sacrilege!

At the moment I am chilled right through; I have been like it all day. But i’m hoping it will clear: can’t afford to feel unwell out here - there would be no room for you; you’d be a liability and off you’d go into a hospital. Just imagine a week or more in a hospital, with nothing to do. T’would drive me clean nuts. I’m like you…..must be doing something; do things too quickly; think too quickly; act too quickly; must get it done, and whilst under certain circumstances there is an advantage in this, when living in the peace and quiet of civy street, then there is an unnecessary waste of energy. For example: take shorthand and typing. I’m an exceptionally quick writer; it automatically follows that my shorthand is also quick (but I do not say that the outlines are as they should be;  please note, I do not claim that, so don’t run away with the idea that I’m lifting my shorthand capabilities). If anyone dictated to me at 180 words a minute - I’d still take it down, because, as I’ve said, I do things too quickly. Consider typing: the same applies: I slip the paper in the machine, and fire away as if the whole world depended upon the speed of my typing. This isn’t good for one. One day an Officer gave me shorthand to the extent of two foolscap pages of type, like this. When I took it in, the Officer thought it was impossible, sort of thing. See what I mean? It’s a drawback. 

Ah…..French! I have made friends with some families in this place. They have children learning French at the local college etc. So….I have offered my services in my spare time to give lessons in English. They welcome the opportunity, and for the past week or so I have given lessons each day, and get good fun. When you teach these French people English you know wherein the difficulty lies; and as far as English is concerned, it is chiefly the pronunciation. I give these lessons because



I want a very good insight into dialect, colloquial French, as distinct from French grammar, syntax, etc. Got the idea? These two run parallel, but require different studies….separate studies I mean. Hence my enthusiasm; two languages at one’s finger tips is a very good asset. These people can talk as quick as they like now, and I’m alright. This was not so a month or two ago. But I do not imply that I can rattle it off like them. I cannot, but give me another month or two….especially as I spend my spare time in the households of French families...then...Voila. You know… “There’s a tide in the affairs of men”...and all that. 

You know, Valerie, it may be brutal to say so, but there is a distinct advantage sometimes in not being tied to apron strings from above; that is, to parents. You and I have lived our own lives since almost childhood, with no control, no authority exerted on us, and I can’t say that it has done any harm. It makes you realise that you’ve ruddy well got to fend for yourself. Sink or swim. Cork in the Mighty Atlantic… so make the most of it. However, I’m in too serious a mood now; let’s turn to a lighter vein. 

A day or two ago three of us went to a local Cemetery; cannot give the slightest description. Or even give my impressions. For example: suppose I said….”just a little cemetery, with nothing very imposing about the moments etc.”...then from a negative point of view you could say…’Well, it can’t be X Cemetary’ etc. On the other hand...take the positive element. I said…”I was awe inspired….monuments stupendous” etc. etc. ...then you would be able to say…” must be Y cemetery”. And, accordingly. It would be cut out bythe censor. 

However, the three of us were: a colleage of mine from the same unit as me, who works in another section, William Hickey (Daily Express - “These Names Make News”) and me. Little did I think that one day I would spend a half day with William hickey, for I often used to read his columns, although the Daily Express is not my paper. 

Well, Valerie, I must stop. Let me hear from you again soon, and tell me that you are still keeping your chin up, will you? The worst never happens.

(signature)    Yours, 

Anthony (signed)


P.S. I said above “Let’s turn to lighter vein….

And what did I talk about?.....A cemetery!

C’est la guerre - it’ll drive us all crazy sooner 

Or later.

Miss Valerie Layton,

9 Burstock  Rd.,

PUTNEY, S.W. 15.






8 DE


Miss Valerie Layton,

9, Burstock Rd.,

PUTNEY, S.W. 15.

[Something written in pencil]

Archive Images