A letter from Palestine: Edith Beadle

Edith Beadle's letter

June's Object of the Month has been chosen by Oliver Freeman, Collections and Visitor Volunteer . The object is a letter, written by a local woman, Edith Rose Beadle (nicknamed “Cissie”), on 4 June 1932, sent home from Jerusalem to her family in Rusthall. From 1925 to 1932, Edith served as a nanny to a British family stationed in Palestine, then under Mandate rule. Writing home at least once a week, she sent hundreds of letters during this period, many of which were saved by her family. These letters, along with other documents and artefacts relating to her stay in Palestine, were recently bequeathed to the Museum by her niece.

In her letters, Edith comments on major events, such as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the R101 airship disaster, but it is everyday life in Palestine that predominates: outings with other nurses, from moonlight picnics in the Garden of Gethsemane to daytrips to the beaches of Tel-Aviv; infighting at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA); news from home; tensions with her employers and other domestic staff; chronic health complaints; and the stifling heat of Jerusalem. Edith’s letters, and her mother’s replies, were frequently accompanied by books, coupons, postal orders, fabric samples, pressed flowers, photographs, and copies of The Courier.

Edith writes most frequently about Felicity Hudson (nicknamed “Tootie”), the young girl in her care: we hear about ballet recitals and her first day at school, her pet tortoises (which run away), her feverish night-time babbling when gravely ill, and her plans to send home a locust to surprise Jim, Edith’s brother. In this letter, written shortly before leaving Jerusalem, and the Hudsons’ service, Edith plans on throwing herself into spring-cleaning with her mother, hoping to distract from the pain of missing Tootie. Their close relationship is commented upon by Tootie’s mother, Joan Hudson, in a letter sent to Florence Beadle, Edith’s mother: ‘I would like to take the opportunity of telling you, how immensely I have appreciated all Edith has done for Tootie, all the […] little ways she has taught her, many, many things that as she grows up, she will look back upon, & realise how much she has to thank a devoted “Nannie” for.’ Edith and Tootie would remain in close contact throughout their lives, and Edith was one of the mourners at Felicity’s funeral.

In her letter of 4 June 1932, Edith relates the death of Mr Marshall, the employer of Miss Stokes, a friend of Edith’s. A few years prior, the English nurses cut all ties with the YWCA – they claimed that other members received preferential treatment, and objected to covering food and expenses for social events (especially when men from the police and army attended without making a similar contribution) – and Mr Marshall offered them the use of his large home as an alternative meeting-place, later nicknamed “the Bomb and Daggers Club” by the nurses. The account of his passing, reflecting on Miss Stokes’ 25-year-long history with Mr and Mrs Marshall, characterises the intimate (if occasionally frustrating) relationship shared by Edith and her friends with their employers. In another letter, Edith remarks on the intertwined lives of the English girls working in Jerusalem: ‘… we all know of each other’s home people & their little joys & troubles.’ Edith’s letters offer an eye-level window onto a turbulent period of history, characterised by small-scale incident and personal exchanges, conveyed back, in her words, ‘over the water’ to her ‘home people’ in Rusthall.

Extract of Edith's letter sent to her parents, dated 4 June 1932:

My dearest Mum, Dad, & all,

[…]

Our old friend Mr Marshall who has been so good in letting us spend our Thursday afternoon and having a free tea at his house has died so we have lost a real good friend. He has had one or two nasty heart attacks lately and the Dr told Miss Stokes a fortnight ago that he might go at any minute as his heart was almost finished, he had some disease of the heart & his father & grandfather both died at 65 with the same thing and Mr Marshall was between 64 & 65. He told Miss Stokes recently that if he got through this year he would hope to live many more years but of course he didn’t know then how bad his heart had got. Miss Stokes I think has been prepared for what has happened and she was telling us last Thursday that only that morning it had taken him 2 hrs to get dressed & with her help too but he wouldn’t stay in bed, but has just liked to get along to his chair & sit there. She said the only thing she hoped was that he wouldn’t drop off some time when she was out but that was what did happen, she was only out about an hour, gave him his tea before she went out so he hadn’t to move for anything, but when she got back he was on his bed, dead, but was still warm, so he hadn’t been gone long. This happened on Wed evening so Miss Stokes rang up here to ask me to let all the girls know so as not to go down on Thursday as he was buried that afternoon. I offered to go & keep her company on Wed night but she said she would be up all night writing out cables & letters to his people in England & two of his Mason’s gentlemen friends had come round directly she telephoned and were seeing to all the funeral arrangements etc also the Dr had sent a nurse along so she said she would be alright. Mr Hudson went to the funeral on Thursday afternoon & us girls are going up to the cemetery to take some flowers next Thursday. I honestly don’t know what the girls will do without Miss Stokes to go to on their days out as it has been absolutely a God-send going there and we were free & happy. I haven’t seen Miss Stokes yet but Miss Churchill another housekeeper & a very great friend of hers was with her all last Thursday & she tells us that Miss Stokes wants us all to go on going while she is there but we shall pay her for our tea now for as she says “the good old tea-pot has gone.” Miss Stokes will go home as soon as everything is settled but it will take some weeks as all his treasures she will pack up to go to his sisters in England & her own big room was full of things which she prizes as many of them belonged to Mrs Marshall when she was alive. Miss Stokes has been with them 25 years. She settled them into their first home after their honeymoon. Mrs Marshall died of cancer & Miss Stokes nursed her for a long time & when she died she asked Miss Stokes to try & stay with Mr Marshall all the time he wanted anyone & she has done it for her. Of course all the furniture will have to be sold.

[…]

Ollie says: 'I’m in the process of sorting through Edith’s letters, and wanted to share her experience living in Jerusalem, as well as the warmth and humour conveyed in her writing. I selected this letter for its focus on the close-knit group of English women whose pastimes, frustrations, and gossip form the core of Edith’s writings on her time in Palestine.'

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