Elaine Cynthia Hassett: Uncle Baldy’s Letter

Searching through the many photographs, diaries, books and memories that remain of Elaine (my Nana), there have been many interesting finds.

One in particular is a newspaper cutting from The Sunday Standard, Bombay. The article is entitled ‘Uncles Baldy’s Letter’ and details the winners of an essay writing competition across India, with one winner from each area: Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi and Madras.

The Bombay winner: Elaine Hassett.

Having searched high and low, it is not clear what exactly ‘Uncle Baldy’s Letter’ or the competition was. From reading the article, it appears to be a weekly essay writing competition for children and young people (presumably up to the age of 18).

There is no date on the newspaper cutting, but a best guess would estimate sometime between September 1939 and November 1941. Given it is about ‘the war’ (September 1939-September 1945) and presumably the competition entrants were under 18. In September 1939 Elaine would have been 15, turning 18 on 20 November 1941. Hence the dates 09/1939 – 11/1941. In any case, I’ll keep looking for more insight into the origins of the competition.

Within the article Elaine’s ‘intelligent ideas’ are highlighted, with an extract from her entry quoted in the text.

The article is copied below, with a picture of the cutting proceeding it.

Uncle Baldy’s Letter

C/o The Sunday Standard, BOMBAY, Tuesday.

My dear Young Pals, I’ve just finished reading your essays on “The Prize I’d Like to Win” and “What I think of This War” and here are the names of the four prize-winners.

Elaine Hassett, Bombay;

Kenneth Main, Calcutta;

Cedric Biswas, New Delhi; and

Dickinson, Madras.

You four lucky ones will get your prizes shortly. I think you did your jobs very well and it wasn’t difficult picking out your efforts for prizes.

In the juniors’ section there weren’t many entries and Kenneth Main was an easy winner-his choice for a prize was a camera.

The second section took a lot of my time. Here some of you didn’t understand the subject at all. I had asked you to write on what you thought of the war. I wanted your opinion on it – not reports of what’s happening in Europe and Africa. Very few of you grasped that point and I read pages and more pages of the fighting, the causes that led to the war and how magnificently the British people are standing up to Hitler’s air bombing.

Young Pal Cedric Biswas wins one of the prizes ‘cause his essay was most cleverly worded: George Dickinson scored high marks for his thorough understanding of the subject and Elaine Hassett gets a book ‘cause of her intelligent ideas.

One of the passages in her essay which impressed me was:

“Now-a-days we may have to pay a little extra on some things that we purchase, but what does that matter, because we are living where food and drink is plentiful, but let us think for one moment of those poor unfortunate people who have to live on merely a pint of water and hardly a mouthful of food a day, and offer a prayer of thanks that at least we are getting what we want without tightening our belts.”

One thing I have noticed is that most of you Pals feel shy of essay writing. When it comes to painting or solving crosswords or finding names of birds or movie stars from and why this dislike for essays? I think they test your intelligence and improve your English better than do other competitions. You must cultivate the habit of writing on any topical subject, say twice a week, and you’ll be surprised at the good it will do to your command of English and your general knowledge.

That’s all I want to say for this week, Pals. I know it’s a very short letter and not very interesting either. I’ve written it in a hurry and I think you can excuse for once….

Your loving,

Uncle Baldy

Uncle Baldy

The Prize

A book, Arthur Mee’s: talks to girls:

Uncle baldy's letter_book cover

Inside the front cover a note to Elaine from (the illusive) Uncle Baldy:

Uncle baldy's letter_book_cropped

The book itself can be downloaded for free at Forgotten Books or extracts from the book can be read here.

Cover photograph credit: Doug Wheeler

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