Author Archives: Paul Berryman

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


20 September 1927

This letter picks up almost a year after the last one left off.


20th Sept.


Dearest Mother-

We have arrived up in Chunking again – after a very quiet trip- No shootings. We stayed at Wanhsien for a day- and it being fairly near the anniversary of the bombardment – the people naturally rather resented us being there – but up here everything is very peaceful and quiet- no Avenging Societies – no strikes and we get all we want in the way of food / coal etc. I don’t quite know how long we shall stay – all depends if the British firms run their ships again – which I think it rather doubtful-

I have seen the Chinese Generals up here – so called friends of a year ago – all very affable-

We are very quiet here – as there are only 3 British residents & I hope a few more will return sooner or later.

I shall have to go down to Ichan or Hankow sometime or other because I rather think I am going to one of the new gunboats – Peterel & to do her maiden trip up the River – I am muchly looking forward to it. – sometime next month I expect.

We get very little news up here – but good to-day – I hear there is a mail arriving on Friday for us-

Still very hot out here – & I am rather looking forward to the cooler weather – I simply can’t get rid of my prickly heat-

Hope everyone at home is flourishing – my best love to you all from your ever loving son


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Posted by on 15 July, '19 in About