"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


D-Day on the Home Front. By Laura Grenfell

Blog | May 28, 2024

Laura Grenfell (1920-79) in her Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) uniform (see full picture below)

Laura Grenfell (1920-79) in her Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) uniform

25th June 1944. 37 Chesham Place, London SW1

Darlings [Laura’s six siblings],

My life seems to go on very much the same. I broke my record by having a tummy upset the day before D-Day.

D-Day sent my temperature up. [They] plugged M&B [antibiotic] down me, which made me feel like a damp piece of fawn-coloured blotting paper!

So I missed D-Day and Lady R [Lady Reading, Laura’s boss in the WVS] celebrating her CBE, and got back to the office when all the excitement was over, and when everyone decided they hadn’t time to communicate with us, so there really wasn’t much to do, and I nearly chewed my typewriter into shreds, longing to be a WRN driving a picket boat, or something of the sort.

I now find that everyone felt the same, so feel more reconciled.

Reg Grenfell [Laura’s half-brother, serving in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, married to Joyce Grenfell] is standing by and may go ‘over’ soon, but not for a month or so. And Joyce [Grenfell, the actress and Laura’s sister-in-law, married to Reg] is just starting broadcasts and concerts again. She has made a very definite mark by her tour, and the ENSA people say it was quite outstanding, and not only that but she sent back very good criticisms and suggestions for entertainments in hospitals, all of which they are going to adopt. So she’s very much their blue-eyed boy.

Reg and Joyce and I went to see Nicholas Phipps in Blithe Spirit yesterday. The theatre was only about a quarter full, which must have been rather depressing, but as it has had a four-year run, hardly surprising.

He went round after and saw him, Joyce Carey [actress who played the supercilious buffet manageress in Brief Encounter] and Penelope Dudley Ward [actress, married to director Carol Reed] (who looks quite lovely in it) and I was very amused with the tactics of one actress to another! Just like in books.

Two days earlier, Reg and I went to watch Joyce record a broadcast with Stinker Murdoch [the entertainer Richard Murdoch (1907-90)], which was very amusing and a good programme too. I must say Joyce looks an absolute vision standing on a platform, singing into a microphone! She is so beautifully dressed and turned out, although on the same coupon ration; it’s quite incredible.

Not that I have ever thought of competing, but I certainly wouldn’t dream of it now; I might just as well aspire to be the same shape as Goering!

Christmas Day 1944. 37 Chesham Place, SW1

Darling V [Vera Grenfell, Laura’s sister],

I am absolutely miserable at not having written to you sooner and at length about Harry [Grenfell (1905-85), Laura’s half-brother, who had lost both legs, serving with the Royal Artillery at Kohima in May 1944]. Now we’ve got him back here and it’s lovely. He came on Saturday morning, sitting in the front seat of a utility van. Canning & I lifted him out, his arms around our necks & us supporting him just behind his knee.

I was rather scared he might be too heavy, but was horrified to find him as light as a feather. We’ve put one of the beds with blue backs & a gold rim into what is now Mummy’s sitting room, & was the board room. It has worked out most successfully & I really do think Harry is happy. We’ve got out the wheelchair Grandmums used to have, which is beautifully sprung, & Harry is wonderfully agile at lifting himself, on his arms, off the bed, over the arm & into the chair & he can sit at the dining-room table & we push him about easily.

He heaves himself into an armchair or onto the sofa and so gets a bit of change. He is extraordinarily well considering everything & he’s been eating quite well here & I think might soon fatten up a bit.

The Queen Mother & Frances Campbell- Preston, Laura’s sister, Wells, 1986

It’s quite incredible the sheer courage which he, & all the others at Roehampton [Hospital], have. It’s not a flamboyant window dressing, it’s a perfectly normal, matter-of-fact acceptance & they seem to concentrate entirely on putting all their energy into getting on to the next stage...

17th February 1945. 37 Chesham Place, SW1

Darling V,

Frances [Campbell-Preston (1918-2022), Laura’s sister, whose husband Patrick was a POW; she was later lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, dying at 103] is up at Ardchattan at the moment, & Willa [Walker, a friend of Frances] has joined her there. They measure on maps, & work themselves into a tizzy. They both come down this week, when Willa is to see the Queen, thanks to you???

April 1945

Harry goes from strength to strength, and the delay now comes from the slowness of getting the final legs. It takes about five years to train someone to hand-make the legs – why, I don’t quite know – so that it’s not a process that can be stepped up suddenly. They are quite honest about not raising his hopes by giving a false date, which is just as well.

There’s quite a lot of talk about VE Day etc but I think it will taper off rather soberly really. It will obviously be a bit dragged out, till Norway, the Channel Islands etc, etc. are quite clear – then with the Burma fighting still on. That takes the edge off things a good deal. Still – the sooner it all comes, the better! The publicity about Buchenwald & the other camps has sobered up people’s imaginations very considerably.

It’s awful how much is hanging in the balance just now, for everyone individually, & for the world in general. It is maddening for you not knowing more clearly what is going to happen your way, for one thing!

Thank you again, darling, for your lovely parcel & the marvellous stream of letters you manage to keep up to us all.

All love, Lolly

31st May 1945. 37 Chesham Place, SW1

Darling V,

You will have heard all about our VE Day activities. We certainly benefited from being hidebound Cockneys and we managed to see everything there was to see. Everything piled up most appropriately to make us feel the war really was over. Patrick [Campbell- Preston, Laura’s brother-in-law and a POW] was back, Pat L-P [Laura’s brother-in-law] back on leave and with the DSO, Harry and Daddy going off to Lord’s, where Harry made the classic catch in the Pavilion [he caught a six hit by an Australian while in his wheelchair, in a match between the MCC and Australian forces], all beautifully peace-time excitement.

Then, last week, while he was up at Howick, we heard of his MC too. That really was perfect and I’m thrilled for him. He will now have the Dunkirk ribbon, the Burma Star and his MC!

I had a thrilling afternoon, working on an aerodrome where prisoners of war were arriving, plane after plane.

It was most moving – not for being highly emotional, but because of the absolute simplicity of it all. A huge hangar was given over. The men arrived one end, were deloused, moved on to tables where we gave them tea and sandwiches and talked. Then on by truck to the reception camps, where they stay 48 hours, get new uniforms, ration cards, medical etc.

It has been awfully well handled.

In 1950, Laura Grenfell married Sir Bernard Fergusson, Governor-General of New Zealand (1962-67)