A visitor to West Africa in 1954

west african diary pages 001This fragmentary, though fascinating Diary, that occupies a section of a tiny Address Book, was found in the Jot HQ archives. It records a visit to west Africa in the first few months of 1954 by an anonymous male diarist whose remark that Africa’s dry season of Harmattan was ‘our winter ‘ suggests that he  may have been a native African or have had African heritage. He also mentions visiting his mother in Ghana. Moreover, a solo entry in the Address Book  dated two years before the Diary mentions ‘ English lessons ‘, and the erratic spelling and awkward grammar of the Diary entries are also strongly suggestive.


The diarist’s impressions of Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast ( which in 1957 gained its independence as Ghana)  must be read alongside the names and addresses that appear throughout the Address Book of people the diarist either encountered on his voyage to Africa, met while there or had previously jotted down as contacts to be visited. The diarist seems to have been a salesman of some kind keen to open new trading links between the UK and West Africa. For instance, there are allusions to ‘sorting out ‘samples, possibly of shirts, to show to potential clients and there is a reference to the ‘potentialities’ for Bavarian beer.  The diarist would not have been the first business man to have booked a voyage on the famous Elder Dempster ships that ran regularly from Liverpool to ports in West Africa, carrying goods there and returning with raw materials. On each voyage there would have been a limited number of places for passengers—perhaps two dozen or so. Our diarist appears to have stayed in Africa from late January until May before leaving for London and then for Sweden.


On his voyage out on the S. S. ‘Apapa’ he befriended some fellow passengers and started each day with a long run around the deck. In Africa he was entertained by local business men and dignitaries, and he recorded his impressions of these people as well as  social mores and political movements of the two countries he visited, while all the time expressing love for ( presumably ) his wife Mavis.


28th. January, 1954. Sailed today from Liverpool 4.30, sharing  Stateroom with a Mr Udoh, a business (man) who own the raffia shop in Manette St., London.

After high tea I took a bath. Mr Udoh played some records. Many Africans were shower-bathing. In bed at 10. Read till about 11.30.


29th Friday. The steward brought us tea at 6 a.m. breakfast at 8 consisting of chilled grapefruit and the grits.

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Extracts from a soldier’s journal kept while visiting the British Zone in Germany in late 1948

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Immediately after the end of WW 2 Germany was occupied by Allied forces and divided into 4 zones. The eastern quarter was given to the Russians and later became East Germany; the Americans occupied the south, the French had a tiny section to the south west, while the British were allotted most of the north.

It was exciting, therefore, to discover among a cache of ephemera at Jot HQ, a notebook issued to soldiers by the Stationery Office in which one soldier had recorded his brief visit to Altenau, a ski-resort in Lower Saxony in the centre of the British Zone, a few miles from the Russian Zone.

Little can be discerned from the brief journal, dating from the 6th to the 14th November 1948, concerning this anonymous soldier, who intersperses his entries  with postcards of local scenery, apart from the fact that he seems to have been on a furlough for these eight days. When he is not relaxing at the ‘Holiday Inn’ in Altenau, sipping port and reading, he is exploring the local countryside. One of his aims seems to have been to penetrate the border into Russian occupied territory. He certainly appears to have regarded the Russians with a mixture of fear and curiosity, born perhaps of the stories that emerged about their cruelty and barbarity towards the Germans, both during the war and immediately afterwards. He regards the Germans themselves with less fear, although doubtless aware that the resentment felt by them towards occupying forces might be a source of danger, particularly at night. For security reasons all soldiers in the British Zone were under strict orders not to converse with any of the natives—a rule which our soldier assiduously observes.

The journal shows considerable literary qualities, which suggests that the soldier, who may possibly have been born in the early 1920s, might have become a writer or journalist at some point in the future. Take the entry for Saturday 6th November:

Ober: 2.15 p.m.

The blue dusk hid everything but the lights of the town and the black masses of the hills.

Tourist-like I climbed down the carriage-steps on to the six-inch platform. Where were all the other tourists ? In utter solitude I crunched down to the sub-way.

A waiting- room, its atmosphere thick with the smell of German humanity. One large T.C.V. ---one small sergeant. Was I to be alone at Altenau? Utter & sublime solitude?

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Diary of a Nobody (part two)

Lie book cutting 001As we read through the diary for 1957 (see previous Jot) we gradually learn a little more about the anonymous chrysanthemum fancier and DIY fanatic who wrote it. We now know, for instance, that he probably lived in Welling, that he was a civil servant in the Treasury, regarded himself as no great shakes as a gardener and indeed scolded himself after his gardening failures .We know a little more about his work colleagues, friends, and relations, although he doesn’t do us a favour by providing surnames to go along with their Christian names. We have already established that he was a man of culture, especially with regard to middle of the road classical music, but our superficial assumption that his interest in the visual arts was negligible may have been mistaken. For instance, he found a book on the famous art collector Duveen ‘ very interesting ‘. He may have been a linguist too. While many of his fellow civil servants may have taken the ferry to Dieppe or Boulogne for their summer break in France our gardener and his wife jetted off to Zurich for three weeks.

In addition, he seems to have been rather taken by the idea promulgated by an anonymous  correspondent in the Times for 28thMarch  that a diary that mainly recorded gardening exploits was essentially a ‘ lie-book ‘.‘ My own lie-book is a very superior production.’, the writer declared:

‘True, it started modestly enough with the simple entry for January 5th, 1950, “Planted out Anemone pulsatilla from P. Contained hedging. “ But as I have warmed to the job the entries have increased in length and scope until most of them, I feel, are quite equal to any of the essays in “Our Village”. Everything connected to our life in the country goes in: the weather, the comings and goings of the birds and the butterflies, wild flowers and garden flowers, fruit picking and bottling…’ Continue reading

A voyage to Russia in 1908 & 1965 (2)

Nevsky Prospect Leningrad 1960s
(thanks Transpress N.Z.)
This is the second part of an anonymous diary found in our archives (see part one.) It was written first by a young woman of about 20 in 1908. Here she returns in her mid 70s (by plane.) Leningrad has since become St. Petersburg and the Astoria has become very expensive...

Sunday 12th September, 1965

 Perfect flight from London taking less than seven hours including half-an-hour at Copenhagen. Wonderful cloud effects. We spent ages waiting at the Leningrad customs. On reaching the hotel Astoria unpacked and changed. We had an excellent luncheon at 1 o'clock; sprats, not unlike sardines, Chicken Kiev. Separate course of peas, (not very good) grapes. A white wine and a red wine. The latter good, the white not interesting.

 In the afternoon we went to St.lsaac's Cathedral, a monster of vulgarity - everything gilt or malachite, except two elegant columns of lapis and a wooden model of the cathedral; these were the only things that pleased me.
We had a good dinner, but oh, the slowness of the service! We went to bed early.

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A voyage to Russia in 1908 & 1965 (1)

Found- an anonymous account of a a trip to Russia on The Salsette in 1908 written by a young woman of an artistic bent. There is a certain amount about the ship, mostly at Shona's Wrecks (many thanks) which mention this voyage to Northern European cities, the Salsette's first major outing. In 1915 the ship was hit by a torpedo and lies 600 feet down off Portland Bill, now a favourite wreck for divers to explore.In 1965, probably by then in her mid 70's, our diarist flew back to Russia and remarks on the changes (to follow).


20th August, 1908

  It has been rather rough and cold all day but for all that I have greatly enjoyed it. I was so tired after last night that I slept on till past 9 o'clock this morning, and then had breakfast in bed. All the competitions have started again, and out of the two I have played to-day I have again won one. It has been very nice and restful having another whole day at sea - one gets so frightfully tired sightseeing. Every town we have been to see so far has been paved with cobble stones, roads and pavements alike, and this, especially when one has thin soles to one's shoes, very quickly makes one's feet ache.

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