Ellen Hooke became ill around about April 1928. George and their four daughters rallied round to look after her as her illness was diagnosed and she gradually became weaker through the summer of 1928. Because Cyril and Elaine, along with their new baby son, George, were out in India, we have a very sad but revealing insight into the close bonds of love of the Hooke family by virtue of the family's letters sent to India.
Here we have George's letters to his son in chronological order. At the end of this sequence there is a photo module showing the four daughters' letters with the transcripts.
27th June 1928
Dear Cyril and Elaine,
About a month ago I believe I promised to send you a cable on 16 June as to the condition of our invalid. After I promised the question was raised by your sister and debated. Then came your request for a cable. The matter then did not rest with me entirely and on the 16th, I consulted Beatrix. She advised me to wait until the 21st, when we should probably have a letter from you written after receipt of the cable message. I did so, but then we could not agree as to the nature of the message. I thought it quite clear there was an improvement. Your ma was in no pain, obviously stronger in mind and body, had good appetite and enjoyed the food. She seemed peaceful and happy. But the doctor said “No change” and he meant it as regards the swelling in the side. But this morning and yesterday your ma told me it was softer. This morning the doctor admitted an improvement but said it might be one of a series of ups and downs. This shows his general attitude. It is his duty to be on the lookout for the worst. He has feared a growth but it may be only a lodgement of wind or water. Undoubtedly there is something as the bowels do not act normally but more freely than usual. That may be nature’s method of dealing with some trouble. I believe when the doctor interfered it merely upset matters. Anyhow I am debarred from sending a message that would relieve your mind and raise your hope and give you a better holiday because of the fears of the doctor and a nurse and Beatrix. Your ma has got interested in the housekeeping again and now she feels she can rely on Francis. She suggests that when you arrive home you will have to consider how you will manage George of an evening. You could not take rooms in this road and leave him alone!! She suggests that you have the biggest bedroom here on the first floor, and she will go into the bedroom opposite and Beatrix will go upstairs with Francis. George could sleep in the same room with you or in the adjoining dressing room. There would always be someone at home. There would be no problem about looking after him. The study opposite the bedroom you could appropriate entirely or occasionally.
I suppose Mr Oakden has just about arrived in England and I hope we shall hear from him soon although it will be difficult to entertain him whilst your mother is in her present condition. Still we expect Ella home this week and your aunt Alice will come next Sunday to tell us about her experiences at Tenby. She has played Bridge, gone for motor rides, etc. May Galbraith may also come to see Francis.
Your ma’s condition is a difficult problem but my cousin, Lizzie Grubb, has a worse one with her husband who is suffering somewhat in the same way. As neither case is understood there may be wide differences but both have internal trouble. I don’t think he can last much longer.
When you come home next year will you get a free passage for Elaine and George? That will make a difference if you do. Please remember me most kindly to Mrs Oakden and Gladys and be assured of my dearest love for the trio.
George A Hooke
London 12th July 1928
I must commence with my usual difficulty - that of giving some report on your mother’s progress, and I can only repeat what I have written in my last three or four letters. She is able to remain up a little longer. On Tuesday I know she was up from 4pm to 7pm. That seems to be minute improvement but she’s not out of the bush yet. On Sunday last I met Dr Abernathy at the level crossing and I spoke of the improvement which he admitted but said he feared it was only temporary. I find it hard to agree because it has been steadily going better for a least a month. Now, the weather is so fine it ought to make improvement more rapid, but she will not leave her bedroom for the study to give the sun a chance and she is backed up by Dr and Francis. - Well, we must do our best to go on hoping.
Your aunt Alice is at the Tenby Chess Congress. The first three days she scored ½ and of 3. (losing 2) and then afterwards, won 5½ out of 6 so that she has a good prospect of being 3rd out of 12 players and will be 2nd if she can beat Mrs Stevenson in their game, - but that, I think, is unlikely.
We have now got to warm weather, 81° in the shade. Just pleasant. It makes me think however of the temperature which surrounds you and I congratulate you on going through it so well.
I came across articles in the Times on the mechanism of the Army and then I wonder whether I should send them to you. Will it affect you if the number of machines is increased and will you have to understand them all so as to see that they are all in order? Neither in the Army nor in the Civil Service do things stand still and there is always work to be done to keep well up-to-date. The first thing is to get really interested in the matter. Going to Wimbledon got me interested in Lawn Tennis and I read an account of the Professional Champion, Karel Kozeluh, who was born at Prague, Bohemia, 31 years ago. His father was employed in a bakery and getting less than £1 a week. He had 11 children so that Karel started earning money as a ball boy at 4 ½ years of age. He got interested in Lawn Tennis and has taught Betty Nuthall and Miss Aussem and others, The main thing is to get interested in things that pay.
Remainder of this letter is missing...
8th August 1928
It is very sad for me to have to reply to your cheery letter of 19 July with gloomy pictures. Your mother is at a low ebb, apparently heart weakness. Last Monday we gathered around her bed thinking the time was up. She had a smile and a cheery remark for each of us but felt she had done her work and was entitled to rest. She is a dear. Although there are occasional troubles owing to lack of circulation, your sisters take her in hand speedily and help her through. She sleeps a good deal, enjoys her very little meals, and appreciates the kindnesses which surround her. The doctors fear a growth but cannot say what or where or how serious. As the original trouble seems to have nearly passed away no other theory appears possible. I am going to hope.
A much smaller, but still nasty, business has fallen on me, - a mosquito bite which I got six days ago, has developed into a large swelling on the back of my neck. Francis has taken it in hand and is applying fomentations, as she did to your hand last time you came home. I have not been able to go out for three days. I suppose it will seem trifling when it has gone, but it is a nuisance just now.
Your sisters seems to have abandoned the idea of a seaside holiday and are all practising hard as nurses. As regards George - I think a cold is a closing of the pores of the skin. A hot bath will open them but it leaves them open and very liable to the closing again. Good exercise is the best thing if it can be taken, - otherwise opening medicine and a little reduction in the quantity of food.
I can understand that you appreciate the advantages of getting quickly from one place to another. Motorcars are getting very numerous here and there is a long list of fatalities every holiday and many other days. I guess you have a bit more freedom but have traps we do not suffer from here. With omnibuses running in every direction I get some of the advantages of easy transit at less cost, less worry, but of course not so fast or delightful as entire independence of crowds and waiting at the stopping places. You would not give up the car, - I would rather not be bothered with one.
I dare say Monday’s Times will have reached you when you get this but you may like to have the last account of the Olympic Games. Of all the games, the marathon interested me most as a test of endurance. The women’s contests are also rather new.
I don’t like the thought of leaving you on tenterhooks about your mother and can assure you we will cable if there is any decided change one way or the other. Her charming serenity is a great help. Although she is still rather brown and thin I find her still most lovable and attractive.
With dearest love to you and Elaine and George,
London 20 August 1928. Monday
Last Thursday when we ought to have written and intended to do so matters requiring immediate attention crowded round and we did not think of the Indian mail until 12.30 whilst the last collection here is midday. Now we have come to the saddest stage and we must send you a cable. You must now rely on all your happy memories of your dear mother. The doctor does not think she will last out this day. Lately we have to concentrate on the idea of relief from pain. She has had minute doses of morphin so that she sleeps on without anything to eat or drink. There is only one release open.
Tuesday 21st August
Your mother passed on last night at 2:15am. She never regained consciousness after the dose given on Saturday and it was a relief to me to know she could not feel any pain. No one appreciates more than you do that she was devoted, sweet, loving, kind, and had a high standard in all things she undertook. I owe much to her and the world feels an empty place without her.
But she has not yet finished with you. Seven years ago I gave her 500 Farings’ Certificates to keep in case I died first and she required to provide for her maintenance. She has made a will providing that the certificates shall be equally divided between 4 of her children (Beatrix has been provided for independently). Their present value is about £550 and about £24 will be payable for death duties. If the cash is not claimed for three years the gross value will be £650. That will pay best and you would be conscious all the time having a certain amount in reserve in case of emergency. However, you will have to arrange matters with your sisters. The amount your mother and I can give you is small so I try to suggest how to make the most of it.
As regards Beatrix we helped her a year or two ago to purchase an annuity of about £100 a year to be paid to her on and after she is 55 years of age.
As regards next year you may rely we shall all do the best we can. We shall miss your dear mother. The world is hardly worth anything to me when I think she cannot enter into matters and enjoy them with us. The idea makes me sick. The cure is to turn one’s thoughts to the young children and then new hopes arise. We look forward to having George here. Of course I am interested in you and your affairs too and I wonder whether you would think me prying if I asked what are the rates of pay in the Indian Ordnance
Ordnance Pay Staff Pay Total
Do I remember rightly that your staff pay continues during the first three months you are on leave? Is the idea of a course at Woolwich postponed indefinitely or dropped entirely?
Have you the slightest idea where your next station will be?
I think there are six or eight places including Rangoon and Rawalpindi
Wednesday, 22 August 1928
Your cable arrived early this morning and was most welcome. It is surprising to be able to get a reply so quickly. The cable told us your tour was over. Your message brought us very near to gather.
Thursday, 23 August 1928
We have had many letters.
Mr Oakden, Mr Herbert, Mrs Roberts, appear to be at Harrogate and have sent kind messages. Your mother is lying in beauty and makes a perfect picture, but it makes one’s heart overflow. Sweetest memories return and yet they make one’s sorrow deeper as we realise the loss. But it is only for a time. We must also look forward to our reunion.
Your sisters are carrying things on splendidly. I could not have managed (remainder of letter is missing.)
London 29th August 1928
Letters from Elaine and Gladys dated the 9th reached here last Monday the 27th but I do not know whether any of your sisters have written to them or to you. There has been very much to do, your sisters have been working hard and have done wonderfully well whilst I have had to look on and wonder. My carbuncle kept me without sleep for a fortnight and made me weaker in other ways but I have had six or seven hours sleep on each of the last three nights and the carbuncle is nearing its end. Mildred and Ella left for Bude, Cornwall this morning and Francis, Beatrix and I hope to join them on Saturday evening. It is not quite clear whether I shall be able to do so as the Doctor cannot say I am ready until he knows and at present I am not. There is still objectionable matter coming away.
Your sisters have all behaved splendidly and I am most grateful but we all need a rest, all need the strength which comes from the sea breezes. I am staggered because I do not know exactly the cause of my complaint and also at the way it has taken away my strength. But my appetite is very good and I hope all will soon be well with my health.
There was a gathering of many relations and friends at the cemetery last Friday morning. Perhaps I ought not to have gone. I did not appreciate how weak I was. I had to come away without speaking to more than a quarter of those present and only Buff, your aunt Alice and Susie came back here to launch. (Susie is now a Grandma)
Your sisters can tell you about the wreaths better than I can. A very nice one came from Harrogate from Mr Oakden and his party. He will come to London very shortly after we return from Bude and I hope he will then come and stay with us here, although Mildred and Ella will have to leave about the time he arrives. I hope by that time I shall be more like my old self and able to entertain him in many ways. I will do my best. I have received so much kindness on every hand I am most anxious to pass on all I can.
But we are principally looking forward to your arrival early next year. There will be a gap but we must take what we have got. When I am gone I do not want anyone to be sad. Your mother felt the same, - asked that we should not go into mourning and perhaps your sisters, dressed in buff coloured dresses looked irregular but we can defy tradition. Still I felt it most difficult to attempt to practice what I preach and not to be very sorrowful.
You’re ever affectionate Dad
Picture: Hooke Sisters, Ella & Mildred with Elaine Oakden (1923) who married Cyril.
15 Victoria Road, Bude, Cornwall
5th Sept 1928
Francis and I came down here yesterday to join your other sisters. Beatrix made the journey last Saturday, - Mildred and Ella had preceded by three days and have made all the necessary arrangements. We have taken private apartments for the sake of economy and independence. They (your sisters) find a lack of privacy and restfulness in a boarding establishment. When they cater for themselves they get what they like and when they like. The drawback is the seclusion, - one is rather cut off. My neck has made steady progress but slow. The doctor would not let me come away until he had examined the place yesterday. He said it was the worst carbuncle he had met during his 30 years practice. I am not proud of that as I thought it must be proportionate to some extent to the care one had taken of the body, and I have certainly tried to take care of mine. Now, Francis is dressing the wound twice a day to try to get the wound, as it is healing, to close up the nasty hole it has made. Consequently I could not bathe in the sea even if I was strong enough and I do not feel up to it just at present.
Beatrix and Ella are busy at golf. They can only get day tickets and then they naturally wish to get as much use for their tickets as they can.
The past week has been beautifully fine but to-day it is clouding over. The sunset yesterday over the moors as I came thro’ in the train was a thing of great beauty and delight and helped my outlook considerably. The early part of the ride, - through Basingstoke, brought back memories of my honeymoon trip and made me feel my loss very keenly. I could think only of your dear mother as I walked across the Downs this morning. I wish she were here!
We are in some difficulty about re-arrangements at home and we find it hard to sell our double bed. I understand you much prefer single beds and if so I shall be glad if you will let me know.
Mr Oakden and Mr Herbert would have called at Barnes today had I been there; but I have had to tell them I had arranged to come here. I have asked Mr Oakden to stay with us as long as he can after the 19th. Francis and I will return on the 17th. Beatrix and Ella go back on the 9th and Mildred about the 12th.
Excursions by motorcar from here are numerous and a few are worth doing. We hope to go to Tintagel Castle and see Merlin’s Cave as M, B & E have done.
With dearest love to all three
your ever affectionate Dad
Picture: George, Ellen & Francis
15 Victoria Road, Bude, Cornwall.
12th Sept 1928
Your letter of 24th August reached us here yesterday. It gave me thoughts too deep for words. As the days slip by and my neck improves and my strength increases thoughts of your dear mother crop up more frequently and the desire to have her back that I might show my love for her more clearly gets more and more intense.
Yesterday the sun shone and Mildred and Francis decided on a motor ride to Clovelly and Hartland. I was staggered at the steep hills which we went up and down and by the close shaves we had with other vehicles on the narrow roads. If you enjoy motoring I can understand it but it cannot be said to be an unmixed pleasure.
Sellars gave up his car after a collision which is now being dealt with in court.
Charlie Jones has a married daughter who was motoring in France with her husband. Passing another car, the latter skidded and collided. Jone's relatives were cut and bruised.
In the Nation it says there are 6000 new motor vehicles in this country every week and only about 105 disappear.
Yesterday the roads had numerous motors although one would have thought we could have gone miles without meeting one.
We wondered whether you remembered going to Clovelly and the Hobby Drive from Minehead in 1905. Yesterday the place was crowded with excursionists.
“Last Sunday I covered 87 miles but at the end of the journey I was mentally and physically tired, owing to the strain of driving on congested roads.”(From the Nation – 25.8.1928)
The same writer went along a good new road at 50 or 60 mph and was full of praise of the great joy he experienced. Yesterday I saw both sides.
I wonder whether you remember Priory Lane. - It runs into Richmond Park.
P = Priory Lane
U.R.R = Upper Richmond Rod
V = Vine Road
W = Woodlands Road
It has recently been repaired and makes the run from our house to Richmond Park perfectly easy except for crossing the Upper Richmond Road. Of course the quantity of traffic up the Lane has greatly increased.
My neck has not healed up yet but Francis is doing her best to make the hole fill itself up as it is healing. Unfortunately it prevents me from bathing in the sea.
We returned to Barnes on the 18th by which time Mildred will be in Bradford and Ella in Nottingham. I am glad that Francis is regaining strength as well as I am.
Dearest love to all three.
THAT WAS THE LAST OF THIS SEQUENCE OF LETTERS KEPT BY CYRIL
But amongst the letters this little poem was also found. Click here to read it.
Letters to Cyril from George's daughters
Since I published these letters from George to Cyril, written before and after Ellen's death, I have found and transcribed another set of letters from his four daughters, Cyril's sisters, written between June and September 1928. These are a rare treasure trove of a family coping with grief and expressing their love for Mother and each other, made possible because Cyril was so far from home and they desperately wanted to keep him as close as possible, fully informed about his Mother's illness and death. This, of course, was in the days before international telephone calls when telegrams conveyed urgent news and the next best thing was airmail.
These letters reveal just how much care these young women, Mildred, Trixie, Frances and Ella gave to their Mother in her final days and their tremendous love and respect for her as she bore her illness with such grace and stoicism. It also emerges that Cyril was alone during this time, separated from Elaine and baby George, because of a tour of duty in India. (George refers to this ending in his letter of 22nd August) Cyril's sisters all voiced their great sympathy for him.
The letters also reveal more social history as the family spent some time on holiday in Bude after the funeral and took a tour in a car instead of a char-a-banc. Three of the four sisters were certainly sporting types, as described by Frances (who it seems was less so), playing golf and surfing the waves at Bude! We know from other sources that they also went snow ski-ing in the 1930s and played tennis.
At this point in time, Mildred, aged 37, had just been a year in post as Headteacher of Bradford Girls Grammar School, where she appointed young socialist Barbara Castle (Betts) as Head Girl to the consternation of the Liberal and Tory toffs making up the vast majoity of the clientele of the school.
Frances, aged 36, lived at home and was the primary carer for her mother, Ellen.
Trixie, aged 35, was a statistician, who, like Mildred, had graduated from Cambridge with a Maths degree.
Ella, aged 33, no longer worked for the League of Nations and was now working as the Secretary of Nottingham Girls Grammar (High) School where she semes to have remained throughout her working life.
Cyril, aged 31, was serving in the army in India, where he had married Elaine just two years previously, with their first child, George.
Here are the letters in sequence, beginning in June 1928 when Mother had been sick for a couple of months. All four young ladies wrote their own accounts of Mother's death just before her funeral and then there are couple more about their stay in Bude. I have published these with the transcript alongside each page of all the letters.
Click on the vertical arrow followed by the top menu image to select the first letter and then click on the letter itself to enarge and work through all letters at your own pace. Apologies for the transcription error showing the first letter as 27th June instead of 20th June!