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23 October 2013

22nd October 1943: touching memoir

22 Fri. Mild, cloudy, heavy showers on and off all day. Did usual shopping going to Morden in afternoon. I put up 1,000 miles so far this year on my bike to-day. Warning at 7.10 p.m. About ten machines came from south and went towards London. They were all fired at, the local guns firing many rounds at three of them. Heard something whistle down and explode; a dud shell, I think. A glow in the sky to northward looked as if a fire had sprung up. All clear at 8.30 p.m.. In afternoon, picked a good cooking of runner beans, large fleshy and tender. Finished reading a touching memoir* of Winifred Vida Canton a little girl who died at 11 after a most charming little life.

*Note: this must have been The Invisible Playmate: A Story of the Unseen by William Canton (1845-1926), containing recollections about his daughter, Winifred (1891-1910) who died suddenly aged 10 from peritonitis. William was a poet, journalist (in London and Glasgow, where he edited the Glasgow Weekly Herald) and writer, becoming best known for his children's literature. William gradually turned to more religious works, and wrote far less after his daughter's death, which affected him greatly. His poetry was noted for including scientific (and historic) references, including the then recent work of Charles Darwin. One of Winifred's nicknames was 'Mingie', as her younger brother, Guy, could not pronounce 'Winifred'. Here is one story about Mingie and Guy written by their father...


Mingie's was the first of the Christmas cards to arrive. It came early on Christmas Eve. Mademoiselle had sent it from Rouen, and she must have chosen the loveliest she could buy, for when the box was opened and the card unfolded, there, within a ring of Angels, was the Stable of Bethlehem, with the Babe in the manger, and a star gleaming over the roof.
   Mingie was in an ecstasy; Phyllis, her cousin, was delighted; and even Guy Greatheart, though the little man was too young to understand, clapped his hands and cried, "Pretty, pretty!"
   It was placed on the music-cabinet, so that the maiden-hair fern dropped over it, and made it look like a scene in a forest among the lonely hills.
   And there, after many last looks, the children left it when they went up to bed.
   It had been very cold all day, and it was snowing when mother and auntie and uncle set out for the watch-night service. Father preferred a book by the warm fireside.
   “Then," said mother, "you might leave the door ajar, so that you can hear the children. And won't you send a line to Tumble-Down Dick?”
   Father and Tumble-Down Dick had quarreled long ago, and it seemed no longer possible to say anything that could make any difference.
   "You know that I am in the right," said father, shaking his head and frowning.
   "Yes, dear, I know," said mother; "but when one is in the right, it is so much easier to be large-minded."
  Father smiled grimly at the crafty reply, but said nothing.
  Long afterwards, as he sat thinking, two little white figures crept down the stairs (which creaked dreadfully), and stole into the drawing-room. Then father heard the striking of a match, and going out to see what it meant, found Mingie and Phyllis.
   "Oh, father," Mingie explained, "we awoke and remembered that there was no stocking hung up for the Babe; so we thought we would each hang up one of ours for him. Santa Claus is sure to see them, isn't he ? "
   Father laughed and carried the two back to bed.
   Then he went and looked at the Stable and the Babe and the stockings.
Over the roof the Star of the East was shining, as it shone two thousand years ago. The song the Angels were singing was one of peace and good-will.
Then father wrote to Tumble-Down Dick, and hurried through the snow to catch the last post.
   Tumble-Down Dick never knew what had induced father to write that letter. 
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