Z had taken the kids to the beach, but I’d opted to stay in the caravan. After an hour or so, and having exhausted the entertainment potential of the newspaper, I dipped in to the small selection of books, leaflets and so on that reside in my bookrack there. There’s a first aid manual, several quick’n’easy cookbooks, guides to walks and places to visit, and a few snatches of genuine local Pembrokeshire history. It was one of those that captured me.
It’s a book of black and white picture postcards of Narberth, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Old pictures are, of course, always good to look at; but what caught my eye was the foreword, which heaped lavish praise and thanks on Miss Ray Davies, without whom the enterprise would never have happened.
I knew her quite well, and I just wanted to set down what I can about a rather intriguing character.
Rachel, only ever known as Ray, was born in 1916 and died in 2003. She never married. It was rumoured that this was because her heart had been broken, just after the war, by a scoundrel in Belgium, where as a WREN she’d been posted for unknown reasons following service at Bletchley Park on the Enigma code-breaking project. (She was probably one of the Bombe girls, but I haven’t been able to verify that.) I’ve seen a picture of her, in uniform, from around that time, and can only say that the Belgian heartbreaker must have been crazy.
By the time I met Ray, her focus had both narrowed and broadened. It had narrowed to a compulsion to sort, identify and catalogue. The broadening was in the range of material she did this to. It started, probably, with stamps – she worked for Stanley Gibbons in the thirties – then expanded to archaeological samples, coins, Victorian fans, local history… After she died we found dozens of exercise books filled with quite indecipherable lists of stuff, which of course we had no choice but to throw away. Nobody would have cared. The stamps and fans were sold, not for much.
What started me on this, though, was the local history obsession. She became, I think, an infuriatingly avid supporter of the Narberth Wilson Museum (which has since closed down and then reopened; it won some ‘best museum’ award a few years ago, and we really should try and visit it next time we’re there.) She put a few backs up during this late phase of her life, but the important things are that it kept her going, and that her efforts, however misdirected by her oncoming dementia, did get recognised in the foreword to that rather splendid book of old postcards.