Dulcie Bailey remembers Jeremy
When she was in her eightieth year in 1991, Dulcie Bailey wrote her autobiography in a series of long letters to her youngest grand-daughter who was then 10 years old. This was her account of the tragedy that befell the family when her son Jeremy Bailey was killed in a crevasse accident on an expedition from Halley Bay.
Jeremy had arrived home from Greenland in early September (1964) and in early December he embarked on MV Kista Dan to sail to the Antarctic, where he would stay for fourteen months. Brian drove Jeremy and me to Southampton and we went on board the ship, which was very interesting. We received a telegram from Jeremy at Christmas followed by a long letter in January entitled “The Journey” which he typed on the boat.
After he left I started a journal to record all the happenings at home, which I intended to send him when the time came to send a parcel. We were only allowed to send one letter per month that was limited to two hundred words, and on one occasion we went to Bush House to record a message to be broadcast to him. He also was only allowed to write one letter a month. He did manage to send a telegram to Brian (Jeremy's brother) and Wendy for their wedding and I also received a large bouquet of flowers on my birthday through Interflora all the way from Halley Bay.
The time was now arising when we were to send off the first parcel to Jeremy and we were also in the throes of making a tape-recording of messages from various members of the family and friends of Jeremy so that this could be included, along with a collection of items which had been donated and of course my three exercise books filled with all the family news since he had departed the previous December.
So now I must inevitably come to October 19th, 1965 a date which will be for ever one I shall never forget. It was a Tuesday evening and I had been all round Watford that morning trying to find something to include in Jeremy's parcel. I had returned home from the office and prepared a meal for my father, who lived with us. Alec hadn't arrived home from work, and I was in the process of cooking something for us, when there was a knock on the front door. I opened the door to see a man holding out a telegram. I took it and shut the door. I think in those few seconds I had some premonition of a feeling that must have been felt by countless mothers of sons in the army during the war. However I opened up that piece of paper to read:
"IT IS WITH THE GREATEST REGRET THAT I HAVE TO INFORM YOU OF AN ACCIDENT TO A SLEDGING PARTY FROM HALLEY BAY IN WHICH YOUR SON JEREMY HAS BEEN LOST IN A CREVASSE STOP NO DETAILS ARE YET KNOWN BUT I WILL INFORM YOU IMMEDIATELY MORE NEWS ARRIVES STOP I CAN ONLY OFFER MY DEEPEST SYMPATHY, FUCHS"
I took the telegram and handed it to my father. He read it and gave it back to me and said "My dear, you just have to learn to take what comes." And he calmly continued eating his tea. Alec came home and later on Brian and Wendy arrived full of beans ready to record their message on the tape, and I had to tell them the news. We phoned the vicar, the Reverend John Downward, and he came to see us straight away. He was very kind and said prayers but I have to admit I wasn't really aware of what he was talking about and I realised I would have to make a supreme effort to cope with the future to the best of my ability.
It was fortunate that the following day was a Wednesday so I didn't have to go to the office. It was also my cub pack meeting that evening but my loyal assistant kindly offered to take over for me, for which I was extremely grateful. The following Sunday morning was our monthly Church parade service and I felt I should pull myself together and put in an appearance and as luck would have it the organist was playing one of Jeremy's favourite pieces as we went in " Jesu, joy of man's desiring."
My sisters both came over to see me, the phone seemed to ring rather more than usual and it was truly amazing the number of friends who called to see us during the following weeks. And then the letters began to arrive. The postman must have wondered why we were receiving so much mail. We also had reporters from several newspapers who wanted to borrow photographs. I needn't say much more about this particular episode just now. The vicar arranged a memorial service at St Mary's Parish Church on October 29th and as November 1st is all Saints Day the Church was decorated with white flowers. I still have the tape-recording of the service, which was extremely well attended and among the congregation were several well-known people including Sir Vivian Fuchs and some of the folks from the Scott Polar Research Institute.
I don't propose to dwell on how I felt during those following weeks. Everyone we knew was most kind and I was amazed at the number of letters we received from all over the place. I went back to work on the Thursday afternoon and I kept reminding myself that we were fortunate in having another son who was married. We also had each other and my father was still living with us. In addition to this Brian and Wendy had a piece of wonderful news for us. Wendy was pregnant and, all being well, their offspring was due to be born the following July. A certain sign that the old saying about "as one door closes, another door opens" would seem to be appropriate.
Dulcie Bailey died in 1998 aged 85