Remarkable collection of World War Two documents - including VE Day letter - donated to Scarborough Museum
An extraordinary collection of letters painting a vivid picture of life in the army during World War Two from the viewpoint of a local man, and including his thoughts on the end of the war in Europe on May 8 1945, has been donated to Scarborough Museums Trust.
Around 1,500 letters, cards and telegrams written by David Dawson to his wife Blanche between 1939 and 1945 are now in the public ownership of the town of Scarborough, in the care of the Trust.
They include a letter written from an unknown location on May 9 1945, the day after VE Day, when victory was declared in Europe, in which he says:
“My dearest Blanche,
“At last – the day we have been waiting for for so long [h]as arrived – it seems hard to realise. The main topic now is when will they be starting demobilization and let us get back to civvy street.
“There was very little in the way of celebration here yesterday – in fact as far as we were concerned there was nothing at all. To-day we went to the cemetery and the burgomaster layed a wreath on each of the graves of some RAF men who had been brought down somewhere near here. The graves had been beautifully kept and I know that if the relatives could see them they would be very pleased… There has been some weird and wonderful processons throughout the day reminding me somewhat of my extreme youth.
“According to the wireless there was much merrymaking in Britain yesterday – I suppose the people were glad of the opportunity of letting themselves go.”
David, who was a lieutenant in the Royal Army Pay Corps, was stationed in London, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and Germany – but a prevailing theme of the letters is his love for Scarborough and his longing to come home.
On May 7 1940, while in Hastings, he wrote:
“I am writing this letter in the open-air as it is a pleasant evening, and I want a bit of fresh air after being closed indoors for the best part of the day, so I am sat on a seat on the front in a small shelter – something like the North Side at Scarborough, but not as good.”
The letters have been donated to the Trust by local woman Ruth Walker, whose family has been taking care of them for some years now – David and Blanche were good friends with her grandparents, and her mother was the executor of the Dawsons’ wills.
“The letters have been sitting in the attic for years – finally sorting through them was my lockdown project,” said Ruth. “It’s very apparent from them that David was very much a Scarborough man. He loved the town, and a running theme of the letters was his wish to come home – so where better to give them to than Scarborough Museums Trust?”
The Trust’s collections manager Jim Middleton says: “ We’re delighted to have been donated this amazing collection of wartime letters: they offer a rare personal insight into the everyday plight of ordinary people during extraordinary times.
"So often collections like these are lost over the years as people pass away, so for such a complete record to be saved for the town is fantastic both for local historians and future generations.
"The museum has been collecting Scarborough history for nearly 200 years, and it’s donations like these that make up the core of our collections. As an accredited museum, donors can be safe in the knowledge that anything given to the museum will be very well looked after, saved for future generations and available to all for research.”
Andrew Clay, chief executive of Scarborough Museums Trust, said: "We are privileged to look after the collections held in trust on behalf of the people of Scarborough. It is vast and comprises more than 250,000 objects, including some of exceptional rarity but also some – like these letters – which are wonderful artefacts relating to the normal, everyday life of this remarkable town.
“One of our key strategic aims is to democratise the collection – to make it more accessible. We’ll do this by organising more exhibitions and displays, but also by introducing new digital formats so people can access the collection online. It is growing all the time and we are enormously grateful for the innumerable gifts and bequests we receive from local people and beyond."