I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at Bitterne Library on Tuesday 4 April 2023, 7pm, and helping to celebrate the library’s 60 years!
As a writer and avid reader – of fiction and non-fiction – I’ve been a member of a library ‘for ever’. The weekly Saturday treat as a child was the visit to the local library in Camberley, although Surrey County Council refused to stock Enid Blyton in those days, much to my disappointment…
But I know what a wonderful resource libraries are and so it’s very exciting to be speaking at Bitterne’s 60th anniversary about A Weekend to Pack and the story of Bitterne’s Bearman family in the Far East during the second World War.
Bitterne Library opened in 1963, and according to Sotonopedia, was the first to be built after the end of the Second World War in 1945, and was originally called Eastern Library. Prior to that there’d been a part-time service 1922-1939 run from St Martin Church Hall in Brook Road, Bitterne, and in 1939 a ‘Bitterne Library’ opened in Cobbett Road. This was subsequently renamed Cobbett Road Library, and today’s Bitterne Library at Bitterne Road East, took over the name.
Eighty-two years ago in April, George Bearman when writing to his wife Hilda, was reflecting on the nine months since the threats of invasion from Japan had seen 3,500 women and children sail from Hong Kong. All had thought that this evacuation would be short-lived, but there they were, in April 1941, George with his fellow ‘bachelors’ in Hong Kong, Hilda and the boys now down in Sydney Australia.
And in April 1941, George was certainly feeling un-optimistic about the return of the evacuees:
“The Balkan news is bad again tonight and it looks as though we shall be right out of Greece by the time you read this. No, I certainly think you can wash out April as a travelling month, May too for that matter – I’ve reached that state of mind when I think it’s hopeless to attempt to forecast any date, but keep on smiling dear, it’s bound to come one day.”
And, of course, Hong Kong and the Far East was sliding towards war, and there were a few months and years to come before any hope of reuniting families.
I’m looking forward to sharing the Bearman family’s wartime story on Tuesday 4 April 2023. The event is free and starts at 7pm, at Bitterne Library, Bitterne Road East, SO18 5EG.