Loving Island life back in 1941
Ware Washam only found the letters her mother sent from Bermuda after she’d died.
Lydia Holliday Botsford had stored them carefully in her closet — and left them there for 66 years without a mention of their existence to her children.
They were 75 thoughtfully crafted postcards and letters she’d sent to her parents in Atlanta while living here with her architect husband Robert Botsford in 1941.
“These letters describe their life as newly-weds, in a new country, on a great adventure,” said Mrs Washam, who lives in Minnesota.
“For years [I only considered] my parents’ relationship with each other as parents. You forget that at one point they were newly-weds, very much in love.”
Mrs Washam found the letters about a year after her mother died in 2007 and shared them with The Royal Gazette on a trip to the Island this year.
The Botsfords married in Atlanta on March 11, 1941. They immediately left for Bermuda, where Robert’s Atlanta-based firm was involved in the construction of the US Navy Annex at Morgan’s Point.
They anticipated they’d be here a year for his share of the work with Robert & Company Architects and Engineers.
“Their stay was cut short when Pearl Harbor was bombed in December, 1941,” Mrs Washam said. “For me, it puts a lot of interest around that historical event.”
It was after the Japanese attack on the US military base on December 7 that America entered the Second World War.
Until then, Lydia had regaled her parents with stories of Island life.
The 25-year-old and her 28-year-old husband were housed at Elbow Beach hotel along with other architects and engineers and their families. She spent many of her days doing volunteer work; one of Mrs Washam’s favourite pictures is of her mother and other women at Elbow Beach, knitting for British soldiers.
“I don’t think that there were cars [at that time] and they had to ride bicycles to church with dresses and high heels,” she said.
A plan to replace horses on the Island with trucks made US news; Mrs Washam found a newspaper clipping mentioning it among her mother’s letters.
“It was certainly a change in life in Bermuda and interesting to see her mention that event in her letters,” Mrs Washam said. “Even when they talked about the ‘bus’, it [was actually] a long, horse-drawn carriage. Her letters are a snapshot in time and fascinating to me. They’re also a snapshot on my parents’ relationship, a chance for me to get acquainted with them as newly-weds.
“A couple of people [they met in Bermuda] ended up as lifelong friends. They had such a big social life once they got there. The women played tennis and volunteered and rode bikes. When you think that people were thrown in together it’s great to see all that camaraderie. They had Coca Cola parties. Coca Cola is based in Atlanta — Bermudians couldn’t understand how they preferred that over tea.”
Her mother was an only child who “obviously cared about her parents and was close to them”, she added.
“She sent about 75 postcards in total, of course [with them] all going through the censors. I never saw any places where things were marked out, but the envelopes, some of them have ‘approved by censors’ marked on the back.”
Among her mother’s letters were references to certain “celebrities”.
“She didn’t name him but I was able to piece together who one was that she saw at Elbow Beach. She also makes reference to a deposed king of Romania who was quite a playboy, King Harold. She noted that the Bermudians didn’t seem to be as interested in celebrities as the Americans were.”
Mrs Washam wasn’t born until five years after her parents returned from their “holiday” here.
Her mother just happened to be in the US when Pearl Harbor was bombed. She never came back. Excerpts from her mother’s letters were later printed in the Atlanta Journal.
“It’s poignant that my mother came home expecting to be here for a week or two before my father, but everything changed after Pearl Harbor. He got stuck there.”
A huge map of the Island was prominent in every house her family lived in while she was growing up, Mrs Washam said.
“I’ve gone through her letters and looked up [areas mentioned] on the internet and to have that back story as I’m reading is kind of fun. Just [the fact that she] stayed at Elbow is amazing — it’s a grand hotel taken over by architects and engineers building the base. Living at a hotel like that is a pretty amazing thing.”
Mrs Washam has spent the past few months scanning and storing the letters and photos from that time.
“The main reason is it’s a tribute to my parents,” she said. “The letters were a treasure trove of information but they are fragile. Getting them scanned in makes them easier to read and [preserves them]. I’d seen a few pictures my mother had and found an old album. The pictures are tiny and dark but as I read the letters the pictures became alive and I blew them up and they became more interesting.
“I plan to put together a number of copies for my brother and sister and whoever’s interested.”
Lydia and Robert Botsford lived at Elbow Beach hotel for several months in 1941.
Although they never returned, they frequently discussed the wonderful time they had on the Island.
It was enough to make their daughter, Ware Washam, determined to visit.
“My whole life I’d heard about Bermuda but I’d never been there,” she said.
“I had always wanted to go with my mother but the timing was never right or she got sick. After she died it became even more important to me that I got there.”
She and her husband Jack finally made the trip in February. They spent nine days on the Island, mainly with Road Scholar (roadscholar.org), a group that offers educational tours to seniors.
“This trip was a dream come true,” Mrs Washam said. “The trip to Bermuda was the most meaningful I’d ever taken.
“Initially a lot was about my parents and getting in touch with them as young people but it was more once we had the trip scheduled. There was more of an incentive to read the letters then.
“I just loved the Island, the people were so friendly. It’s so beautiful.
“It was just a meaningful thing to me. Every time I turned around something felt like a serendipitous moment.”
The Washams were able to visit some of the places her parents had been to years earlier. Their stay included stops at Elbow Beach and The Crossways, a cottage her parents rented for a period while here.
“Our tour director was a guy named Tim Rogers who was a historian and very knowledgeable so we learnt a lot from him during the week. We showed him the letters and the pictures and asked if he could tell where [each] was.
“He was very helpful. The Crossways, where my parents lived, is pretty famous in that it’s in a lot of postcards and drawings from that era.
“It’s the last cottage on the left as you’re getting ready to cross Somerset Bridge. [Tim] gave us the name of the person who owns it and we met her.”