Evolution of “News from the Back”
The first copy of the “News” we have is this ‘Second Edition’, a single page, typewritten. [Queenie is studying at Business School.]
The “News” looked something like this:
Owner and Editor
M. E. Nicholas
NEWS FROM THE BACK
OBJECT – To impart News which, otherwise, circumstances would forbid.
TIME OF ISSUE – Whenever any of the above-mentioned News demands immediate attention.
– – – – – – – –
ITEM NO 1.
I have the loan of this typewriter for one month; therefore I shall be pleased to execute any commission you may give me on behalf of the Sunday School.
ITEM NO 2.
I was talking to Charlie last night and he said he would be home again in two months’ time:
ITEM NO 3.
I am going to Trinity Church on Christmas Morning. Be a good sport and come too.
ITEM NO 4.
Mr Warner killed our little Billy on Thursday evening. We ate our little Billy.
Rest in Peace! Sadly missed.
ITEM NO 5.
It seemed as if today would never come.
– – – – – – – o 0 o – – – – – –
Queenie’s 1916 diary shows her gradual recognition of Norman (future husband) as a “good pal” she can trust with her confidences. The bright idea occurs to write her “News” to Norman out of sight from inquisitive eyes of family and friends.
The first “Editions” of the News were these single pages, folded, inscribed “Norman” which she may have slipped these unobtrusively into his pocket or left in secret locations. I guess she would quietly then tell Norman where to find them who would then take to read in private moments.
[The following “4th Edition” is another loose page, this time handwritten in pencil, possibly all by Queenie. 3rd Edition has not survived the years.]
News from the Back
This journal has had a rest – nothin’ doin’.
Contemplating the idea of following Doris’ example in the far distant future.
Thursday night notes are very edifying and hope you will see fit to continue in your next.”
My seven a.m. comes on an average of 4 times a day. If I could only get a letter, nearly 5 mths since the last.
At Pictures last night Frank showed me “the meanings of the Postage Stamp.” Top right hand corner upside down means “My heart is given to another, write to me no more”. I sent one like that to C. I did not know its meaning! (I don’t suppose he did either.)
Dad went in to the AMP & harangued the man, and it is settled that if I can pass a test on Monday night I am to go there! After all the jabber on the subject the family conclave decided to allow me to go.
My mother is very unsettled in her mind about me. She thinks I am getting to be a flirt and if you notice is sending K every where she can. She won’t let me go to n school (V.P) because there might be too many boys. Very nice too, I feel like a falsely accused martyr. I almost boil over at times.
You’re not supposed to know anything about AMP. & me so don’t mention it anywhere
Its quite a miserable feeling to think they’re expecting me to do some think rash all the time. Mum gives hints that sting. She thinks that I only go to Church to see the boys. If she only knew everything she would not trouble over that, would she?
[Queenie writes her initials as a large ‘Q’ circle with an ‘N’ inside. The paper is folded very small with ‘N.M.D.’ written on one of the 24 small squares.]
[Another loose page, this time handwritten in pencil on a page torn from a shorthand notebook. It is folded small and a fancy ‘N Devenish’ written on one section.]
News from the back Mar ‘17
(a) I wrote that fateful letter to C on shorthand note paper.) and in pencil.)
1. Its quite an age since I had any “Notes”. (News of B Ditto).
2. Mum was in the bedroom when K shouted this afternoon and accordingly heard all the shouting.
3. When I went in she said it was very rude of me not to have asked you to tea – but better luck next time. I know you’re a sport and know I “didn’t mean to be rude”. I’ll make up next time.
4. K will do his best to be nasty so I am preparing my method of war fare.
5. No. 3 proves that K is acting on his own authority ! Mum’s on my side & he’s out of it!!
6. Return the enclosed within seven days.
7. Mum’s just telling R to call the (goat) cattle home & call the cattle home, etc.
Then in May 1917 Queenie writes:
This is my “Latest.” Don’t you think it a fine idea. I write my “news” & you write your notes & send it back, now be a good boy and don’t buck and say it’s mad and too much trouble to cart a big portfolio like this abaart.”
So the idea developed like a ‘private post’. She bought several small notepads. Often two or three were in use at a time which is why dates in different notebooks overlap. We do not have them all, but what has survived is treasured insight to their everyday lives, their thoughts and spiritual life.
I imagine that the title “News from the Back” reflects the time of the First World War when families desperately longed for “News from the Front” about their boys fighting so far away. Queenie is often asking Mrs [H.A] Devenish about her sons, Walter, George & Charlie away in England and France.
The odd punctuation and the strange spelling I find intriguing and colour worth preserving. Sometimes seems imitation of the old comic shows and movies of the time. These were the times of Charlie Chaplin and others like him. The Scottish inflections may be influence of neighbours and acquaintances.
There were disasters when Queenie’s younger brothers found the precious notebooks, and Norman also had difficulty in keeping the notebooks secret from curious family members.
October 1917, and the private post containing “News from the Back” is well established when Queenie writes: [Ralph is about 9 years old, incident probably began in Church. ]
D’ye ken me brither Ralph? D’ye ken what th’ young spalpeen hath done? Yer absent minded comrade didna comprehend that Gordon Wood took out of her pocket the hymn book that was hiding “noos” and although he told me that there were 200 hymns therein I never twigged, & when we got up the hill Ralph said “Here you are Queenie, I’m not going to carry it all the way!!!!” and he handed me this book but I don’t think he had a chance to read it at all. That is shock No. 2. & I gave the three of them a lecture about being inquisitive & Gordon thought I was joking so he laughed & I gave him such a drubbing that he stopped cause I said that I wouldn’t let him walk with us unless he promised not to touch my pocket. (Th’ wee darlints!)
Ah ! M E N.
Entry 14th September 1917 Queenie writes:
I’ve just had an electric shock – Ralph has been exploring – & found this! [her private notebook with Norman, ‘News from the Back’]
My mother said “They have found some note book of yours, Queen (!) I don’t know what it is.” I am sure I nearly fell over, but soon recovered, blew into my room, cracking Mont such a whack on the arm & snatching the “News” just as they were reading the newspaper cuttings [inserts in the notebook].
I had to pay for that “whack” and he gave me a cork arm, while Robert (the Bruce) slept through wall in the same room & Ralph “dipasseared in to thin air “as the Belligerent One would say.
Have you got a mail frae the Bonnie Prince yet (!)? …
 Charlie Devenish, gone to England with the Army.
 B= No information about this person. If you know who this is referring to, please contact us.
 K= Kirby, her 15 year old brother.
 R= Ralph, her brother about 11 years old.
 The ‘big portfolio’ is a writing book 16×10 cm, black cover.
 M.E.N.= Margaretta Elizabeth Nicholas. She was often embarrassed by being called ‘men,’ but this time she uses it cleverly in private.
 The diaries are full of these humourous miss-spellings.
 Sometimes Queenie calls Charlie ‘The Bonnie Prince’. He’s at the War, possibly in France.