The Berrymans after WW1

It’s now time to leave them, but what happened to them all?

Gertrude continued to live at Delaford in Guildford and remained the centre of the family until the late 1930s, looking after her grand-children while their parents were in India and the South China seas. Gertrude died in in the late 1930s.

Richard took up his post as a doctor in Assam and got married there. He was 40 and his bride, Beryl Gladys French, was 19 or 20. The marriage lasted a year or so and his wife remarried in the late 1920s. There is a suggestion that she had a career as a Casting Director for the Paramount Film Company. She died in Chester in England in 1981.

Gertrude was so stubbornly traditional, that it’s hard to see her being happy about her darling’s unsuitable marriage and divorce. It is not known if she ever met Richard’s bride, but it seems unlikely.

Richard died in 1936 at Barts Hospital where he had trained as a doctor over thirty years before. He was 56 and probably died of cancer. Richard was the first of the adult Berryman children to die but of all of them, he probably had the most fun.

Jim and Sheina did not have any children. I am not sure if they divorced or if Sheina died. Jim remarried, and he and his second wife Jean ran a seaside shop on the Isle of Wight in the 1950s and 60s. Jean must have been quite a bit younger than Jim because I met her in the very early 1980s. She clearly adored him and referred to him as “my darling Jim” but they too were childless.

Ted and Nell went out to India where Ted was eventually colonel of the regiment. Their two children were sent home when they were 7 or 8 and raised partly by Gertrude and partly by Nell’s parents. Ted retired in the 1930s and was in England for his children’s teenage years. Their son Martin joined the regiment and was killed in Malaya in 1943. Their daughter married one of Martin’s fellow-officers and became custodian of these letters. Ted died in the early 1960s and Nell died in the 1970s.

Ben’s fiance, Ivan Bennett, was killed on the Somme and before the war ended she married James Tucker who was a family friend. She and James had no children, though we do not know if there was additional heartache for Ben in this. James prospered through his legal career eventually becoming the judge who tried Lord Haw Haw for treason after the Second World War. Ben died in the 1970s.

Dreda was the second of the adult children to die, passing away in the late 1930s, presumably dying of cancer. From the remaining letters it emerges that her last months were marred by a feud between her husband, who tried to keep things quiet and calm around her, and Gertrude who insisted on a mother’s visiting rights, and accused him of causing her daughter’s illness in the first place. They had no children.

Paul made the navy his career. He was divorced twice and married three times; like Richard he was charming but difficult to live with. Paul’s royal friend Prince Albert quietly lost touch with many of his naval friends after marrying Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and the rest were replaced by courtiers when he became King George VI. Paul’s daughters, Joan and Paddy (Patricia) both married and his grandchildren and great grandchildren are in Northumberland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and Canada. He died in the early 1970s.

Jane went with Murray Gordon to Canada. They had no children though this picture shows her holding one so I find myself wondering if the stoical Berrymans simply never spoke about lost babies.

Jane in Canada in the 1920s holding an unknown baby

Rosamund married shortly after the war and had three sons. The death of her eldest son, Tom, left two small daughters to be raised by cousins when he “disappeared in the Bermuda triangle”. Rosamund’s middle son, Peter, visited Topher in Kenya after the second world war, and it is a lasting regret that I never asked Peter about this time. Rosamund lived near Tunbridge Wells with her husband and wrote angry letters to newspapers in green ink. They too died in the 1970s.

Topher left the army after the war. He married in his late 50s and he and his wife had no children. He spent most of his life in Kenya where he is recorded as “a farmer”. He constantly struggled with minor ventures: Paul and he shared a patent for a non-slip lamp for use at sea, and at one point he was breeding “barkless dogs” for people to keep in flats but Basenji are high-energy hunting dogs and the venture was not successful. He remained in Africa until he died in the mid 1960s.

Ruth married Nell’s brother Jack after the War. Jack’s first love turned him down and his marriage to Ruth was difficult. She suffered from depression, whether inborn or as a result of circumstances no one now will know. They may have had the pain that goes with difficulty in having children. Their daughter is the custodian of much material from both sides of the family.

Paul, Rosamund, Ted
Jane, Jim, Ben
Ruth, Topher
Even in 1956, they don’t all look at the camera!

Working with these letters for almost eight years has shifted my views of my family, my parents and myself, and has changed my perspective on the past and our current complex times.

The Berrymans’ instant response in 1914 was both patriotic and personal. Ted, Paul, and Richard had no doubts they were doing the right thing: they couldn’t have done anything else. It’s harder to tell if Jim and Topher had the same internal drivers or if they responded to what was expected of them; we know Topher was wretched and may have had at least some degree of shell-shock and that it took some years for Jim to settle into army life. For myself, I share few of the Berrymans’ political views which forces me to wonder what my views would have been if I had been raised by Gertrude or someone like her in the 1880s and 1890s.

The Berrymans’ stories led me to think about individual rights and public duty and about how history plays out. Ted fought in Basra, Mosul and Baghdad in events which led directly to the Iraq wars of our own times. This warns us that the events of 2016-2019, including Brexit, will have consequences for centuries. This long perspective casts an unflattering light on the short-term opportunism of our decision-makers. I look at our current crop of politicians and see whining children putting self before faction, faction before party and party before country. They are disgraceful inheritors of the legacy of those young men and women who grew up so fast and lost so much in WW1 and WW2 and who could say, as John Maxwell Edmonds put it, ‘for your tomorrow, we gave our today’.

It’s axiomatic that Britain was permanently changed by the First World War, and the letters give us glimpses of pre-WW1 attitudes, the racist structures of Empire and the embedded class structure of the society disrupted by the wars and the end of Empire. By 1945, two generations of working class men had been armed and taught to fight which must be an unsettling prospect for an hereditary governing class. In 1945 the post-war Labour government had so much confidence it gave us the NHS, launched a nationwide social housing programme and brought the Windrush generation to Britain. By the 1990s it was easy to assume that our secular, democratic and meritocratic society was here to stay. But I have spent the last five years with an eye on the present and another on the world 100 years ago, and I fear that the relative peace and egalitarianism of the second half of the 20th Century was an anomaly: we can see the rich rising and poor being pushed down while a small establishment class dismantles the structures which support opportunity and equality.

I am no historian, but finding out more about Britain’s Imperial project has shown me how shockingly ignorant most Britons are of our history and the effect Britain has had on the world, exposing the naivété behind so much modern nationalism. It was painful to work on these letters while the Windrush scandal played out, based as it was on racism, the betrayal of Black Britons and the wilful destruction of their documents. It’s been unsettling to read about how much the Berrymans looked forward to peace because we know they were about to live through the rise of fascism and WW2. It’s frightening to see so much repeated in our own time.

The project as a whole has taught me that history is a flattened version of the truth, where nuance and complexity are washed away and countless voices are lost. If the past is a foreign country, we only know a much about it as you can glean from tourist brochures, post cards and the occasional badly folded map. I now assume that anything we know about the past is a fraction of the story and probably wrong at that.

So thank you for travelling through time with me and the Berryman family; my thanks to the Imperial War Museum for storing and transcribing the letters and countless thanks to Chris Miller for preparing them for publication.

Working on this for over 8 years has been a pleasure and a joy, but I too am ready to move on.

Ted holding me a an infant, while my sister looks on


Posted by on 18 August, '19 in About


19 January 1928 – Paul to Gertrude

Jan 19th

H.M.S. Widgeon

Dearest Mother-

I am on my way back to the Widgeon again & am taking passage in the Cockchafer. Don’t quite know when I shall arrive in Chunking though. There appears to be a little trouble on the Upper River again- Yang Sen – as usual making himself a nuisance – & I do not expect any ships to be moving about-

I have been receiving letters from you – not a bit in order – the last one was Nov 19th – & before that I have had up to Dec: 11th – Oh and also your plum pudding & socks arrived. Thank you most awfully. I took the pudding down to the “Bee” – my flagship – as I was dining there one night & we had it for dinner – most delicious- I was not the lucky one with the 6d!-

Of course I know that the children are all happy and safe with you – and it was a nice thought of you to cable – but as you say it is dreadfully expensive. I have had letters from most of the family about my tragedy – all very sympathetic & kind – saying they will do anything for Joan & Paddy- I wrote to Nance’s relations – but have had no replies yet- I did have one from Charles Swan – but written before she could have got mine, telling me he knew all about it & how dreadful it all was etc – but he & Marjorie had not yet told their father – but I wrote to him of course-

I do hope the allottment to you from the Bank is all right. I definitely wrote to them & said I wished it sent to you – on receipt of a letter from Nance to them – so I suppose she has my letter by now – & all is fixed.

It must have been a tremendous affair for Nannie packing up No. 20 – I daresay she got some help – I think she has been wonderful over it all-

I had really a ripping time at Hankow – & I am sure I feel all the better for it- and am now quite keen to get back to the Upper River again – & get settled down. I have such heaps of letters to write too.

No, I still have a corn- another Doctor chap at Hankow had a try at it – but no good – So I must certainly have a go at Dick’s man when I come home.

We are still enjoying lovely weather – a bit parky now & again.

Give my best love to Joan & Paddy – I shall be writing to them in a day or two-

Hope you are fit again

with best love from your ever loving son


And this really is the last of the letters donated to the Imperial War Museum.

There is one more post which tells you what happened to the Berryman family in the years after the First World War up until the time I knew some of them in the 1960s and 70s. 

Thank you for keeping me and the Berrymans company through the First World War and continuing to follow Paul into the late 1920s.


Posted by on 15 August, '19 in About


6 January 1928 – Paul to Gertrude

Jan 6th                                               At Hankow

Dearest Mother

You’ll see that I am at Hankow – by my address. I got my leave all right & have really been having a most enjoyable time here- & the weather has been just wonderful- cold – but sunny & fresh – so I have got back all my old colour & am feeling fine. I do lots of riding & golf- & everyone is very kind.

Of course there were great Christmas festivities – parties, dances etc. They all seem to have one long holiday about this time.

I have met all my old friends & there are one or two gunboats here as well- I live ashore in a flat. I have seen our new Admiral & he has been most kind & has given me leave till next Thursday – but I doubt if I get back to Chunking yet awhile – as the River is so low – there are no steamers running.

I’ve been spending a good deal of my time here in the dentist’s chair – slight argument between him & the Doctor – about taking 6 out!! I don’t know who has won yet!

I have had a few letters from you – but they all arrived together Nov 10th Dec 6th & another one 11th Dec- I managed to stop the latter on its way to Chunking – one of them was an answer to mine about Nance & I am afraid you are terribly cut up about it – but you are all being wonderfully kind to me – Joan & Paddy, and I know they will be looked after & be comfortable.

Poor Nannie must have had a rotten time & I do regret not having written to her – but I simply found I could’nt at that moment – very difficult really – because I suppose she knows more about it than anyone else, & naturally I should want to ask her masses of questions etc- which, in a way- would be unfair, But truly she has behaved in a wonderful way through it all & deserves every praise & my thanks for looking after the children  – so I am writing to her – I have not heard from the Swan family yet – but of course my letters now are running about all over the place – & I may not get any till I get back to the Widgeon. I’ve had ripping letters from Ben & Ruth-

Your Christmas household sounded too lovely & you must have had a splendid time with all your grandchildren there. I hope they were all very good-

What an awful blizzard & storms you had though – I have been reading lots of wireless telegrams etc – about it all – snow & floods – & Guildford was mentioned, something about 2 buses being snow drifted- Really it all made most unomfortable reading – I hope everything has subsided a bit by now!

I never knew Hilda was being married – or rather is married by now. Must have been a great party from No. 20 & Joan & Paddy thoroughly enjoying themselves – being very important-

Everyone seems to have coughs out here – do hope you were all right before Christmas-

My best love to you all & now I know Joan & Paddy are all safe with you – my heart is much higher. Give them all my love

Your ever loving son


Paul’s comment “Nannie… knows more about it than anyone else” suggests that Nancy had an affair. I am not aware that she married again and this is not a family genealogy project so I have not tracked down their divorce records, assuming they still exist. Paul is right, Nannie would have been in an extremely difficult position.


Posted by on 13 August, '19 in About


24 December 1927 – Paul to Gertrude

24 Dec.

On the way to Hankow


Dearest Mother,

Very many thanks for your 2 letters 2 & 6th November, which I picked up at Ichang.

I’ve managed to get away from Chunking for a while & am on my way to Hankow for a drop of leave & hope to get there in time for some sort of a Christmas tomorrow. I must say this trip down has already made me feel miles better – the air is so much fresher & cleaner – I don’t suppose I shall be in Hankow very long – about a week or so – then I must get back again up River. Jolly good trip I’ve had – all most pleasant & have met lots of friends at various places.

Did I tell you that the Admiral did not come up to me after all- he was arranging this Lalor show – so I am really going down to see him.

The River seems much more unsettled down here – it is since this Lalor business – & naturally everyone is rather scared as to whom will be next – and there are a few bandits about.

Lovely weather too we are having – yesterday I sat on deck in the sun nearly all the time.

Am so awfully pleased to hear you are having such a large party for Christmas – and I earnestly hope that you will all forget about my tragedy & enjoy yourselves. I ought to be hearing about now from you & what has been done.

I hear my new gunboat will not be ready till March!!! A most elusive ship!! – . But HMS Widgeon will always find me, & you can alwas put Via Siberia – & R.N.O. Shanghai – in fact I don’t think it really matters how you address them – your letters always fetch up-

my best love to you all

your ever loving son             Paul


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Posted by on 8 August, '19 in About


12 December 1927 – Paul to Gertrude

HMS Widgeon



Dearest Mother,

Many thanks for your letter of 16th Oct – mails are bad again out here now – & there are many complaints – and I am sorry you have not been getting my letters-

I have had a great disappointment over my leave – as the Admiral has had to postpone his visit up here for a week or so – on account of that affair near Ichang – the Pirating of the “Siangtan” & capture of Capt Lalor. I know him quite well – he was with me during that Wanhsien affair- It was silly of him to come up the River again – as I am sure they were after him- Anyhow I shall have to wait till the R.A.Y. does come up. I was hoping for Christmas at Hankow & had made various arrangements- but I expect I shall be here now.

I had letters from Joan & Paddy the other day – very well written. They sent me photographs – taken in their school kit – but I don’t think they are very good – do you? They both look so spikey!

Dick seems great on film acting – must be rather fun. Have you seen his films yet – you said you were going to in your last letter.

I went and dined with some Chinese officials the other evening – They give you such enormous dinners – unending dishes – & you’ve got to have them all.

I am feeling much better these days- & have been out riding quite a lot – but I get tired so easily. We hope to start our race track soon, but at present there is the usual trouble going on about “property” – several Chinese say they own bits of the track & want “squeeze”. It defeats me entirely – because it is only made on a sand bank – which is underneath the river for 8 months of the year!

Quite cold nowadays – temp down to about 46º.

Don’t think I have any more news – I hope you are all very fit. How’s your finger? allright again?

Very best love

from your loving son


Well no wonder poor Joan and Paddy looked “spikey” – their parents were going through a divorce in the 1920s! 

The mention of Richard and film acting is interesting. In the 1920s Richard was briefly to a young woman called Beryl Gladys French (she remarried in 1928) and there is a suggestion in the French family materials online that she had a career as a Casting Director for the Paramount Film Company.

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Posted by on 6 August, '19 in About


29 November 1927 – Paul to Gertrude




Dearest Mother.

We have not had any mails for weeks- A lot more trouble down River apparently- & naturally we suffer in that respect up here.

I have been staying all last week with the Consul General over in the city- very quiet – & nothing to do really – but it was a nice change & I quite enjoyed it. The Admiral comes up here in about a fortnight’s time – and he has given me leave to go back with him to Hankow for a while – which will be rather fun – as I shall be there for Christmas & I know quite a lot of people there-

I am having my cabin completely changed round – painted – etc – an awful mess in there at present – so I have to sleep ashore- I am having a bath fitted & one or two other new hanging cupboards. I always think it is rather fun changing a room round.

We have just started making our Race course again – a smaller one this year I’m afraid – as there are not nearly so many people up here & consequently less money!! But we hope to get a lot of fun out of it- The Widgeon will be here all the winter as far as I can see- rather miserable all by ourselves-

We have just bought a pair of geese to fatten up for Christmas – they are most friendly – & I’m sure we shall hate killing them when the time comes – you cannot get turkeys our here – at least it’s a rare bird.

I am dreadfully anxious about now as to how my domestic affairs are getting on- you will be getting my letters about now – but it is quite hopeless for me to say anything more about it-

I only hope it will all go smoothly- and the inevitable sorrow and anguish will soon pass-.

Hope everyone is very fit. I had a cheery letter from Jane the other day.

My best love to you all

Your ever loving son


A picture of officers of “Widgeon” & “Teal”

This letter suggests that Paul and Nancy were finally on the path to their divorce. Gertrude, devout churchwoman that she was, would have been strongly opposed to this outcome and she was extremely judgmental so it’s likely the full force of her blame would have fallen on Nancy’s head, whatever the truth of the situation. It’s a credit to Paul’s charm that he remained on good terms with all of the women affected: his mother, Nancy and his two daughters. 

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Posted by on 1 August, '19 in About


19 November 1927 – Paul to Gertrude

HMS Widgeon





Dearest Mother-

Many thanks for your letter 25th Sep – I notice you put c/o G.P.O. on the envelope – & no “Via Siberia” – It really does’nt matter how you address my letters really – as long as you put “Via Siberia” – then they come quicker – otherwise they come by the oversea route.

Things are very quiet still up our way- though there is another big war going on in the Hankow area – & there seems to be a lot of trouble down that way – but our Chinese up here are so called “friendly” with the side that is winning at present – so consequently we are not worrying – and personally I am on very friendly terms with these generals here. They are not so bad if you treat them the right way-

I have seen lots of pictures in the illustrated papers of the Falklands Battle Film – must be simply marvellous, & I should like to see it.

I have recovered more or less from my flue now – & am back to duty. But I had a very rotten 10 days. I got so thin & weak the Dr told me afterwards he was rather rattled at one time – when my temp went down to 95º – & I had had no food for 3 days! However all’s well now & am gaining flesh daily-

The mails are a bit better now – as we have one or two ships running on the Upper River.

Cold weather is coming on now-

my best love to you all

Your ever loving son




Documentary on Battle of the Falkland Islands, 1914

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Posted by on 30 July, '19 in About


11 November 1927 – Paul to Gertrude

11th Nov


HMS Widgeon



Dearest Mother-

No letters yet – but this is just to say I’m abed with flue –  least it’s OK now & I’m feeling much better- Started last Sunday & I’ve had a rotten 4 days – no food or anything – sweating the fever out-.

The Widgeon is off Down River for a trip tomorrow – but I am letting my 1st Lieutenant do that – & I have come ashore to a house to recuperate-

Fair amount of excitement on the River lately – but up to date no British troubles up here-

We were given a big reception on board Widgeon to-day (Armistice day) – I was sorry I could’nt be there. Hope everything went off allright.

This must go down to the ship – as No 1 said he might go this afternoon to avoid any morning fog tomorrow

My best love to you all & I am allright again

Your ever loving son


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Posted by on 25 July, '19 in About


31 October 1927 – Paul to Gertrude

HMS Widgeon


31st Oct

Dearest Mother

Very many thanks for your letter Sept 19th – quickish these days – when the conditions on the River are none too good – but there are various ways & means of getting mails – if you are lucky. Just at the moment there is another war going on further down the River from here & I quite expect shipping to stop for a while – but I really do hope that this little war is all for the good & help to settle things. I have had one of my gunboats with me up here – for a few days which has cheered things up somewhat – but unfortunately she leaves tomorrow.

Must have been really lovely for you down in Gloucester seeing all your grandchildren together – & they seem to have been all so happy – I do wish I could have been there – Sickening it was such a rainy day for your photograph – I sent a line to Ruth – thanking her for having my kids down there.

I’ve just got a kitten too – my dog “Bonzo” is very intrigued with it – but it is such fun teaching them to be friendly – as they both have to sleep in my cabin & be more or less together all day – I can see them having great fun later on.

What terrific gales you’ve been having last few days – the Wireless Press is full of it –  round Lancashire.

I am wondering awfully what is happening at home about Nance & the kids – I am afraid this is a terrible time for you Mater – I dare’nt tell you how worried I am – & how much trouble is being caused – through it all.

My very best love to you – fr your ever loving son


All Gertrude’s grandchildren at this point would have been Ted’s two (Martin and Félicité) and Paul’s two (Joan and Paddy). I am not sure when Rosamund’s son Tom was born. 

Félicité retained strong memories of sharing a bedroom with Joan and Paddy as a child, and also memories of an English day nursery shared by herself and her brother with their Indian Ayah, and her boy cousins (Nell’s nephews) and their Armenian(?) nurse maid, both nurses in what the families would have called “native dress”. It produces an extraordinary image of the domestic side of the Empire. 

This is is the first letter where we get a hint of real trouble between Nancy and Paul, and it’s only with hindsight that it tingles off the page. If it was hard for Ted and Nell to build up their relationship with 4- or 6-week mails, how hard it must have been for Paul and Nancy to manage their troubled one. 

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Posted by on 21 July, '19 in About


26 October 1927 – Paul to Gertrude

HMS Widgeon


26th Oct


Dearest Mother-

Very little news for you I’m afraid – We have not had a mail for a long time now – but am hopeful – as HMS Teal arrives up here tomorrow – and she may be bringing one.

Seems to be a lot more trouble brewing on the River these days – mines being laid & more battles – The bandits are quiet for a while – but I see they started at Bias Bay again – A dreadful show aboard the Irene & all those wretched people on that Submarine.

I have sent you off a small Christmas present – 2 sort-of table mats – or anything you like to make them into. Hope they arrive safely- I sent Ruth some as well-

Our Rainy Season has started now & we get some every day. No news of us leaving here for a while-

Hope you are all well.

My best love to you from

Your ever loving son



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Posted by on 18 July, '19 in About