Author Archives: Paul Berryman

19 November 1926

HMS Widgeon


19th Nov.

Dearest Mother,

Very many thanks for your 2 letters of Sept 26. & Oct 3rd- The mails certainly seem to be getting better – why I don’t know – because there is “supposed” to be a post office strike at Hankow – down the River – and a general strike to take place in a few days’ time! I daresay they will come to nothing-.

We are well into our cold weather now – temperature down to about 46º – not so very cold really – only comparatively – but we have fires going – it is so damp- I have been getting lots of Sunday papers from Ted – very kind of him- I wrote him a long letter the other day – but I fear he will not get it before he sails – to-day is’nt it?

I heard from Nance about the trouble over the house – but by previous letters I was almost certain she had bought “Riversdale” – & consequently I have all my letters there – and have sent one or two Christmas parcels also – now I hear she has not bought it – so don’t know what will happen – or where to send letters again – it is a nuisance.

What a lovely big house full you’ve had – and Topher at home now – am very interested to hear how he is etc.

Your old coal strike still seems to be going on in spite of miners going back – I suppose it will be finished some day- Everything is very quiet up here still – but there is awfully little one can do-

My best love to you all – and a happy New Year

from your ever loving son


As presented, this is the last of Paul’s letters from 1926 and the next batch start almost a year later. However, his mention of the house that Nancy was trying to buy, “Riversdale”, suggests it may be from the 1927 sequence which also mentions the house purchase. The reason I have left it in the 1926 sequence is that there is a letter which is definitely dated 19 Nov 1927 and he was unlikely to write two on one day.

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Posted by on 11 July, '19 in About


8 November 1926 – Paul to Getrude

HMS Widgeon


Nov. 8th

Dearest Mother

Many thanks for your letter Sept 19th arrived yesterday.- Mails are getting scarcer – as there are so few ships sailing on the River nowadays.

We are living in a more peaceful atmosphere up here nowadays – but I see they are still fighting the Reds down by Hankow-

I got some Sunday papers from Ted – he addressed them direct to Chunking – which means they come a week sooner. It’s quite safe sending letters direct like that – He also sent me masses of cuttings all about Wanhsien – must have been quite an excitement at home.

I went over to the city of Chunking a few days ago – to do some shopping – most interesting silk shops – but the town itself is absolutely filthy – I was glad to get back onboard.

Nance’s letter says she is longing to get into the new house & get away for a holiday – poor old thing, she must have had an awful time packing up etc- I hope she is allright. I still have’nt had her letters telling me about what the house is like. I only know it’s called ‘Riversdale’.

A new consul has just arrived up here – Am awfully sorry the old one is going – as he knew all about “situations” – “incidents” etc etc & was competing against the Chinese very well-

It has poured with rain the whole of to-day, miserable – I’ve just had a very nice pair of riding boots made but I can’t get into them – the silly ass has made them much too small across the instep – he says he cannot alter them – so he must make a new pair-.

I have to go out to dinner to-night – so must go & wash & brush up now.

My best love to you all from yr ever loving son


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Posted by on 9 July, '19 in About


31 October 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

HMS Widgeon



Sunday. 31st.


Dearest Mother-

Afraid I have’nt very much news for you – since I last wrote – nothing very much has happened. We still have petty & annoying incidents each day – just the same as before the Wahnsien show-

We have papers from home now with various accounts- I have only seen the “Times” – oh- and an awful photograph of me in Daily Sketch – 2 days running- they must be dreadfully hard up! Looks as if it had been taken out of some hockey group.

Suddenly got very hot again for the last 2 or 3 days – temperature about 84 – nearly went back into “All Whites”. I am asking someone to send you some rather pretty table mats & tablecloth for Christmas – I don’t know whether you’ll get them in time – I rather doubt it, however they will arrive in due course. I sent Nance some the other day. They are made in the Chinese Missions at Ichang. Hope you will like them.

Great talk of starting hockey up here – but the ground is simply dreadful – so I am not terribly keen really-

To day I have been playing Badminton! – don’t think I’ve played since Camberley days – one gets plenty of exercise out of it. I have a dog (sic) now – Bonzo – & a spit image of the parents – really rather a comic animal & causes endless amusement. He has no tail at all – it was bitten off short – too short.

Not knowing how or when the mails go nowadays up here – I’ll start calling this my Christmas letter & wish you all a very happy Christmas – are you having a large party? I can imagine Ted & Topher organizing something marvellous-.

My best love to you all

Yr ever loving son



Established this was October 31st 1926 – the day Harry Houdini died, and Jimmy Savile was born.

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Posted by on 4 July, '19 in About


20 September 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

Via Siberia


c/o R.N.O. Shanghai.



20th Sept


Dearest Mother-

Just got a letter from you – dated 23rd Aug – marvellously quick – and especially in these times – where we seem to be surrounded by wars etc.

We are still down at Ichang – waiting to go up River again – but there are such a lot of complications etc. I really don’t know when we shall go.- This Bombardment business has created a lot of unpleasant feeling; naturally – and anything may happen-

The Red troops are very busy lower down the River & we are expecting them up here – but who knows-.

I am slowly recovering from my weariness – since the Admiral has arrived up here – a lot of all the work is naturally being done by him-

It was good to hear all your such recent news – So you’ve been down to Southsea – I think I told you – that I had never heard about Joan & Paddy’s operation – don’t know even now what it was – am presuming tonsils & adenoids & now poor wee kids with whooping cough – but Nance says they are wonderfully fit & cheery. Wonder if N has found a house yet.

Fancy old Wooldridge marrying again – he has’nt been long about it – most upsetting for the family, as no one likes him.

You do seem to be in the wars – what with wasps & other animals biting you – I am sorry – the mosquitoes out here – have a great flare for me – fresh blood I suppose.

I never realized Topher had been away for so long – 6½ years – a dreadfully long time to be away from home – and all by oneself out there too, hope he will manage to get home soon.

Thanks so much for those Tatlers – really most enjoyable – I often see one or two people I know – too.

I am still sending my letters for Nance to you – as she must be in some new house by now-

By the way my letters only want 1½ stamp on them-

My best love to you

Your ever loving son


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Posted by on 2 July, '19 in About


18 September 1926 – Paul to Gertrude

H.M.S. Widgeon

c/o RNO


Via Siberia


18th Sept.


Dearest Mother,

I simply really have not had a moment to write any letters for about a fortnight- I expect you have heard all about our Bombardment at Wahnsien and I can’t give you any more news – except that it was a “merry little battle” – & a great tragedy that we lost those officers & men – we did’nt get a single casualty in Widgeon – so all is safe and present – since then I have had a fleet of 5 Gunboats to compete with – masses of reports to write up – & heaven knows what – and I am very weary – but thank goodness the Admiral has arrived up & taken over.

I have had 2 letters from you. 25th July – 1st Aug – and a 16th Aug from Nance – so am fairly up to date – though I never knew Joan & Paddy had an operation – & don’t know what it was – & poor wee kids with whooping cough – but N says they are very cheery in spite of it.

Must send a line to N now – just got a few minutes to spare.

My bestest love to all – & I am quite alright –

from your ever loving son




Posted by on 27 June, '19 in About


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