7 September 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

Sept 7th



Dearest Mother.

Daresay there is something in the papers about our show on Sunday – at “Wanhshien” – really a terrific battle – and I am allright – but I fear we had a few unfortunate casualties altogether- My short spell out here has been full of incidents & I have not had a moment’s peace – and am terribly sleepy- so excuse a short letter – which is just to tell you I am fit as a fiddle-

Don’t like this country though-.!!

Hope everyone is well at home.

My bestest love to you all – (must do some more work).

Your ever loving son


The Wanhsein incident was a messy incident in which Paul’s command, the Widgeon, was an active participant.

Chinese soldiers boarded two British merchant vessels, one of which was the Wahnsein, taking Britons hostage. Two Royal Navy Ships, the Cockchafer and the Widgeon, attempted to regain control of the merchant ships, and there were considerable Chinese casualties. China lodged a formal complaint with the League of Nations and there was a period of anti-foreign agitation and riots across China, accompanied by looting of European businesses and attacks on individuals.

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Posted by on 24 June, '19 in About


2 September 1926 – Paul to Gertrude




2nd Sept


Dearest Mother-

I have had a letter from you dated 7th July – & only that one – so all others must have been burned in that ship-

Very bad state of affairs out here I am afraid, & I cannot say how it will end- It is all very warlike and unpleasant – and to add to my difficulties & troubles – I unfortunately ran the Widgeon ashore on a rock – but we got off allright & are safe enough- This river is dreadful – but apparently most people do it sometime or other – so I am not altogether in the best of moods- I am simply hating life at present – but I do hope things will get better – does’nt look like it at present however.

You must excuse a short letter – but I have masses to do & see to.

My very best love to you & everbody & God bless you all

Your ever loving son



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Posted by on 20 June, '19 in About


22 August 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

Via Siberia.

H.M.S. Widgeon



West China


22nd Aug


My Dearest Mother-

Still no letters – but we heard a few days ago that 35 Tons of mails was lot in a steamer coming up the river – she caught fire & was completely burned out – & 2 bags of ours were there – so that’s that – dreadful I think losing mails. I am sure there must have been a whole heap of letters for me. – Now this filthy river has broken its banks lower down & flooded the country & no steamer can run – so will be no mails for ages.-

I had quite a cheery week end – I went and stayed up in the Hills with some people – really rather nice up there – but an awful nuisance getting there and back – you get carried up in a chair – by 4 coolies. The Widgeon played the Community at Cricket on Saturday – & we beat them easily 146 to 5. An apology for a ground – but great fun. I made 68 – very rattled to start with as I was expected to make runs – but it was’nt very difficult.-

Troublous times ahead I fear – these Chinese seem to be continually waging war & another one is in sight – I am going up the river this week sometime – to show the flag & try & suppress some boycotting & commandeering of British ships – but they do it all over the river – so I really don’t know where to go to help.

I’ve been riding again & playing tennis – & this place would be very nice if it were more peaceful – it’s rotten at present.

Hope everyone is very fit at home.- my best love to you all

ever your loving son



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Posted by on 18 June, '19 in About


19 August 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

My address!





Via Siberia

19 Aug

excuse pencil – I am writing on my quarter deck – It’s cooler-

Dearest Mother-

Well I have arrived at last in the Widgeon – got here about 4 days ago  – after a good deal of excitement & trouble – The whole country & especially the province of Szechuan is seething with riotous & unlawful soldiers etc – & on my way up we were fired on now & again – however no damage & I arrived safely. My predecessor was in a great hurry to get away so more or less threw things at me – said he did’nt envy me my job & left!- and since then I have been trying to get hold of the situation – & have had little time for writing.

The place Chunking is more or less the capital – & we have a consul here – with whom I work- the whole thing is endeavouring to protect the British trade up here & the Chinese will try & boycott all of it – & we are not allowed to take any drastic measures – so all one does is to write letters to Chinese generals & protest-

At present during this hot weather all the European community live up in the hills!! & I have been taken round by No 1. calling on them- the so called roads – are only very narrow paths and hundreds of steps – & you ride (on a very small pony) up them – most extraordinary really & the coming down is the dangerous part- The people are all very kind & ask you to stay up at their bungalows & I have been up already – but it’s an awful job getting there – And the method of progression is – “Chair” – a sort of wicker chair carried by 4 men – & it is very amusing – swaying about on these small paths – with a precipice one side & a high wall the other – I don’t think I’ll do it again – Tomorrow I am donning my full uniform & calling on several high Eminent Chinese – one has to talk through an interpreter – most awkward-

We play tennis & cricket (sic) out here & all the Widgeoners are very keen. So I can get plenty of exercise- I am going up River next week – there is a hot bed of wars & rumours of wars further up & I think a gunboat might quiet matters down a bit – The gorges & rapids out here are really marvellous & the scenery in several places too wonderful for words – but the Chinese are perfectly dreadful, I am not looking forward to my 2 years out here at all-

Hope you are all well & flourishing-

I am feeling much better-

My best love to everyone – yr ever

loving son



Paul’s “beat” was Chongquing to Wanhsien, which is now Wanszhou.

China was never painted red on the maps of the British Empire, and it’s long forgotten now that the British had a presence deep inside China’s trade routes. China was a sovereign territory. Having Chinese or Russian gunboats moored in Oxford after coming up the Thames gives no sense of the distances involved. A better equivalent might be foreign gunboats stationed in Vienna on the Danube, or in North Dakota having come up the Missouri.

One has to wonder how they got away with it.


Posted by on 13 June, '19 in About


12 August 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

12 Aug.


S.S. Wanhie.




Dearest Mother,

Am gradually getting nearer the Widgeon. We are well up the River now – really only a day from Chnngking- where the Widgeon is – but we have to stay at anchor down here as the river is so high & flooded that we can’t get through the rapids – we might be here for days!!-

Most interesting & impressive trip this has been from Hankow – and the magnificence of the scenery – in the gorges and rapids far exceeds anything I read or was told. It really is simply marvellous- the river is very turbulent – full of whirlpools etc etc. All dark brown muddy colour – & in the gorges the mountains rise up to about 3000 feet – right along side – & the colouring is so beautiful- The pity is that I shall only see this all once more- when I come home – because it is all below my beat- If you ever get hold of a map – my beat is between Chunking and Wanshien – & occasionally higher up than Chunking- It has been terribly hot all the way up the river  -but here it is not so bad – as there had been such masses of rain.

I have been ashore at one or 2 places- Hankow was very Englishised- a large sort of Country Club there – & I watched a polo match. I’ve met several Gunboats & heard all the news- a terribly unsettled country this – & all these passenger ships are continually being fired on with rifle fire – by odd soldiers.- We have been lucky so far – only a few stray bullets- Apparently it’s our job out here to endeavour to stop this sort of thing & write threatening letters to the local Chinese Generals – but it still goes on – And our Foreign office are loath for us to go along fire back – but I can see a balloon going up one day-! I am feeling quite fit again now – having had a wee bit of exercise now and again-

Hope you’re all very fit at home- expect you are away at Seaview or some place. Don’t forget to put “Via Siberia” on your letters – they get here about a fortnight sooner-.

My best love to you all

from your ever loving son




Presumably the Wahine

Number 8: “Fung Tu” means “Wind and soil”.

Wanhsien incident for which Paul was mentioned in despatches


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Posted by on 10 June, '19 in About


2 August 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

Aug 2nd.


S.S. “Shanking”

Nearly at Hangkow.


Dearest Mother.

Well I am getting along gradually – and am now about 500 miles up the River – I spent about 4 days in Shanghai – & met one or two friends and also one of my “Gunboats” – so I was able to glean a goodish deal of information about the upper River. I left there on Thursday on this ship- very small river steamer – but quite comfortable – full of Chinese – and I and another passenger are the only British passengers – dreadfully dull – but the sights and scenes on the River are most interesting really –

We have stopped at a good many places – but I did not go ashore – they all looked so filthy. We arrive at Hangkow tomorrow morning – where I change into another smaller steamer & go about 500 miles in her & then change again into an even smaller one, I suppose for our last 500 miles.!! I hear the Widgeon is at “Chunking” – about another 10 days!! I am getting terribly bored with this travelling & living in suit cases-

I hope it does not get any hotter than this – really it’s been terrible – and no wind to cool it down – though an occasional very severe thunderstorm-.

Hope everyone at home is very well. I find it difficult to write letters these days – having had no home news. Tell Ruth & Jack I am collecting a few matchboxes now and again – when I remember!!

My best love to you & very many happy returns of your birthday – though I fear rather late.

Your ever loving son



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Posted by on 6 June, '19 in About


25 July 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

P & O.S.N.Co.




25 July


Dearest Mother-

We hope to get into Shanghai tomorrow – but I expect it will be at least another fortnight or so before I find the “Widgeon”.

Great excitement when we were nearing Hong Kong last week – as they had a Typhoon – & so we had to turn back and steam away – we arrived safely in the end. I met several friends of mine – who showed me round

A mere handful of people left on board – and it is rather lonely – and very hot.

Hope everyone is very fit and well at home. I am wondering if there will be any letters tomorrow for me on arrival at Shanghai-!

My best love to you

from your ever loving son



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Posted by on 3 June, '19 in About


Paul Berryman

The remaining letters are from Paul in the 1920s, but before we start reading them let’s catch up with him.

Paul and Nancy had two daughters, Joan and Paddy (Patricia). When we pick up Paul’s letters in 1926 he has a command of his on in China and Nancy and the girls are in England and Nancy is trying to buy a house. When they were older, the girls were sent to school in England and lived with their grandparents during the holidays.

Paul’s letters skip through the 1920s, a few from 1926, a handful more from 1927 and three from 1928. They start out with a Naval engagement Paul was involved in in China, and then move on to his relationship with Nancy and his daughters.

Paul, escorting one of his daughters as a bride

Paul spent a lot of his naval service in the China seas, and retired in due course from the Royal Navy but my brother remembers visiting him in London and seeing his bedroom, separate from his wife’s, and little more than the size of a cupboard; the room of a man who spent most of his life in enclosed spaces on board ship.

Paul, in his naval greatcoat, on board ship. Undated.

Paul and Nancy divorced in the late 1920s and he married Amy Ida Anna Lyndrajer in 1938. They must have separated during the Second World War because he married Elizabeth Louisa Margaret Eden (“Peggy”) in 1946.

These emails from Paul’s grandson tells the story of his three marriages and post-war years better than I ever could:

I suspect you might be right that Paul was difficult to live with. Peggy seemed to be his match as ‘Number 3’. I do recall being at a family function with Paul’s 2 exes and Peggy and he spoke to them as No 1, No 2 and No 3! No names. Nancy took it in her stride. When I drove him around London, on more than one occasion, on seeing an attractive young lady he would shout, ‘Stop the car. There goes Number 4’

He was a good-looking man throughout his life.

Paul in later life.

His grandson continues:

Growing up in Rhodesia as it was, I only had the fortune to get to know my Grandfather Paul in 1968 (me being 17 years old) and then of course my Grandmother Nancy Swan.

I, like you, had a great fondness for Paul and he embarrassed me unashamedly as his Grandson from Africa and forced vast quantities of beer down me in a very short space of time. We did our utmost to make up for missed time and I spent many nights at 59 Redcliffe Road and still recall the telephone number as Flaxman 2015. There was far too little time to really catch up but I was always very proud of my ‘Pa’ Berryman.

He and I were both keen that I should join the Royal Navy for which I applied. I was not accepted for being ‘Rhodesian’ with whom after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence Britain was seriously contemplating War, my loyalty was questionable! Paul was livid and I fear made his feelings known and felt!

I was also able to share two Christmas’s with Granny Nancy.

Sadly over a period of only 5 short years, Paul, my Aunty Ben, Nancy and my Mother Joan died.

I have memorabilia of  a few telegrams and letters from HRH Prince Albert to Paul. These letters clearly indicate a warm friendship between them. Albert was my Mother Joan’s Godfather and we have a lovely signed silver christening mug from Albert to my mother on her christening in 1919.

Prince Albert Duke of York, of course, became King George VI who was King during WW2 and was father of the present Queen.

I am grateful to my cousin for these sharp memories of Paul. I do not remember him now, but Paul died when I was 7 years old and my parents did not bother to tell me about the death of so elderly and distant a relative. I was outraged when I found out and exclaimed “My own BLOOD! And you didn’t tell me!”.


Posted by on 30 May, '19 in About


27 May 1919 – Topher to Gertrude

Damascus 27/5/19


Dear Mother

Don’t be alarmed at the above address, but I am on a trip to Assyria. And various other parts. Fearfully interesting but what a strenuous journey. Nothing but change trains and packing and unpacking one’s kit. Sometimes one might thank you for an active service again. I have bought various things, two rather nice rugs, which I will try and send home, they can be used but not given away to Ben or others for there new houses etc. I shall have them in mine when I get one. Also some other small things, an Arab head dress which is rather curious, also two brass plates inlade with silver & copper, really beautiful work.

I go on to Beirut tomorrow for a day and then back to Ismailia. I met some friends from the 20th Deccan Horse tother day up here, just off down to Egypt to be demobilized, they all enquired tenderly after Dick. The scenery here in the train over the Lebanon Hills is marvellous, and I have taken umpteen photos so if they are any good I will send some along. Mountains covered with snow, while in the train it is so hot one can hardly breathe. All this show is worth seeing, and one does’nt always get such a chance.

I have heard no more about leave, they have treated the R.A.S.C badly it’s absolutely disgracefull. Some officers here came out here in 1915 and have been retained for the Army of Occupation. If you look at the map of Palestine you can see where I have been, by my rough sketch below

I have only marked the important stops, I will send a better sketch later on.

No more news, best love to all

Ever your loving son


And that’s the last letter we have from Topher.

He was made a Captain before he was demobbed. He moved to Kenya after the First World War and in the 1920s and ’30s the Kenya Gazette lists him as a “Settler P.O. Mukuyu”. At one point he and Paul registered the patent for an oil lamp with a rubberised base which was supposed to prevent it tipping over. At another time he bred “barkless dogs” for people in towns, presumably the African Basenji. This venture fell through with the news that “one of Topher’s barkless dogs has barked”. In 1952 Topher married Elizabeth Metcalfe Llewelyn. He remained in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprisings between 1952 and 1959 and after Independence in 1963. The Kenya Gazette records his home as being in Timau at the time of his death in in Mombassa in 1964 when he was 71.

In the letters, Topher is an elusive and sometimes pitiful figure, lacking the agency, charisma and good luck of his elder brothers. He’s even harder to see once he’s gone to Kenya. To my regret, I did not realise that Rosamund’s youngest son, Peter had stayed with Topher in Africa after the Second World War and I did not take the time to ask him about his impressions of Topher. I feel sorry for young Topher in France, but I wonder if I would have found adult Topher in Kenya rather a difficult man. 


Posted by on 27 May, '19 in About


13 May 1919 – Topher to Gertrude

May 13th 1919


Dearest Mother

Very many thanks for your last letters. The lost mail turned up a day before last week’s so I have had quite an array of letters. Since writing quite exciting things have happened. I have saved a man from drowning during some aquatic sports which we held the other day. I was one of the judges in the novices race, and was out in a boat at the time. The race started all right, but one fellow got into difficulties about 30 yrds from my boat, and being the only swimmer in the boat I had to dive in with all my clothes on, I just caught the fellow when he was going down the 2nd time.

This is the 3rd time in about a month that I have gone in the sea with all my clothes on, the 2 previous time accidents of course. While sailing the other day, we had to pull up the centre board because we were in shallow water, but of course forgot to put it down and over we went, luckily quite near in land, and really it was funny. I swallowed practically the whole lake through laughing. And what’s much more annoying is that I have spoilt 2 watches, I must send them home to you to get mended. The other time I think I told you, was when I walked on to a disused spring board on the edge of the Canal and it gave way and in I went, fully clothed.

Would you send me that pair of Binoculars belonging to Dick I think which were when I last saw them in Rosamond’s room, also his Prismatic Compass, which was in the sideboard in the new boudoir. I must have them, and I’m not going to buy them when things are so near the end, also very expensive. Send them by registered post. They will be taken great care of, in fact I shall hardly ever use them, but I have to be fully equipped in case of emergency.

No news of leave, but it has really started, 3 officers have already gone, they have extended the leave to a month now, which is rather pleasant. I have bought some aerial photos of various places out here which I will send along soon, some of them are taken by Germans themselves.

Lovely weather we are having now, which is more than you can say. What with snow & blizzard it must be terrible at home these days, I shiver to think of it. I’ve played a few games of tennis lately, but realy people do play badly these days out here, they seem to have no idea at all. Well no more news, many thanks for the papers & Home Chat, quite interesting, Love to all and Sheina

Ever your loving son


Topher received a Testimonial from the Royal Humane Society for saving the man from drowning. 

1918 Christmas edition


Posted by on 13 May, '19 in About