Bill Wiseman – Extracts from letters to his wife, 1944
F/Lt William Douglas Wiseman – Extracts from letters, 1944
Bill’s daughter, Jan Newbury writes: Direct quotations indicated. WDW was a sentimental husband and father, and much of the content of his letters was expressions of love and support for his wife and small daughter, so “…” indicates personal remarks. I have included all personal and place names, in case these are helpful. Comments in brackets are my own.
Annotations in blue by his wife, Dorothy. Figures refer to her receipt of letters. (Editor: Bill admits he is not one for punctuation. We have added some, to help readability.)
“RAF Sopley, June 11.44.” D+5
“After hearing that that good, bad type Doug Highfield had bought it, I am quite prepared to get my marching orders any day now but it may not work out as I expect. The news came via an Army type who was wounded at the same time & found himself in a hospital in this area. Knowing that Vic was with the same crowd, I thought Bill R would like to have the opportunity of letting Peg know all was well with him.” (It wasn’t) … John Seldon, the CO is a real party type and suggested a party so he, Bill Maggs, his wife Anne, myself and a G/Capt, W/Cmdr, S/Ldr & a Major from another local unit filed into three cars and went over to an hotel, to wit, Branksome Towers, which is on the west side of Bournemouth.
The G/Capt’s crowd took 4 of our lasses as company & dancing partners. We had an excellent meal, preceded by several shorts & helped down with beer. They have an excellent band (and) a good sized floor so dancing was very enjoyable. … We were chucked out at 1am. & then all went back to Maggy’s for eggs & bacon. … We returned at 3.30.
… I miss (you) so terribly and have been only pleased to work nearly every night. …
I’m probably right up the wrong street in expecting to leave here at any moment but the old intuition doesn’t usually go wrong. Just in case I have the same experience as Sandy, my darling, do continue to be the same grand type that you always have been and just recently have been additionally marvellously RAF wifely, and never worry & believe the worst. But should it ever be so, face up to it, my love, as I shall always be with you. … I still have hopes that we can make it, so be prepared to scramble in a hurry. … I am CCing again now with the usual interruptions.”
Postmark Christchurch Hants, 12 June 44
D+7 “7.30.am. 13 June 44.
Am in the car on my way to OS so excuse scrawl. A wee giftie enclosed. Hope it is OK for colour.” (Apparently a lipstick). “Photomaton (?) voucher also enclosed. Tell Stones that I am away and have not tried on trousers. You don’t pay for fruit until you’ve tasted it”
This was to tell me he had his posting and now out of concentration camp, on his way to Normandy.
“RAF Tichfield, Hants. 13 June 44. D-Day +7
Have just arrived here after going to OS this morning. I arrived there at 9 o/c & they said they would have the gen if I was wanted here by 11 o/c, so I held my transport. John Seldon has been grand over this & other things. Anyway, darling, at 11 o/c it appeared I wasn’t wanted today so put in the old story & persuaded them to let me return to Sop until tomorrow as the Maggs are throwing a party and had invited Mike & Jos (Allen and Josling) so was looking forward to it like hell. By the time I got back to Sop, there was a phone message telling me to get here at all speed. I cursed loud & long, collected my laundry, and 2 quick pints, bid everyone a fond farewell and left. The first good news is that I am going out with Ian Hay, which cheers me no end, & the first person in the barrack block I saw was Eric Vinall, who has been helpful by lending me cleaning materials to save me unpacking. …
Don’t trouble to write here, darling, but will let you have my address as soon as possible. … The news continues to be good & should go well from now on.
(Separate sheet. June 14th) Indecipherable word. “morning”. Ian has arrived & we have had a good night’s sleep. Am all set now & wait patiently. … On envelope – Hants June 13/14th. Left England early 15th.
1st Letter “Officers Mess, RAF Station, Sopley, nr Christchurch, Hants. 23.5.44.
“Well, here goes for the first real effort at letter writing, the note from FGs being only a loving gesture. (I believe FG = Fredk Gorringe, department store where Bill and Dorothy had worked.)
Our travels up & down England deserve a few lines although you have a general idea of our movements. We duly took off from C although the weather was far from brilliant. All went well under my usual super navigation until we reached Grantham & then we hit cloud & rain right down on the deck. Discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to land & get a weather report for the rest of the journey … weather quite impossible … scrounged transport into Grantham & caught the London train at 15.40 arriving London at 19.00hrs … taxi to take our kit to Euston … dined at the Chop Suey house … went round to Shepherds but found it packed so went to a little & amusing club, of which Sandy is a member, called the Woolly Lamb … nipped back to Euston to catch the 23.45 for Liverpool … met by transport (after breakfast) … we found the zenith of efficiency … simply swept through the place & by 13.00 hrs we were in a transport on our way back to L where we found our seats booked & the RTO took care of our kits. RTO at Euston had transport ready to take us to Waterloo. We walked to Vic … then to Waterloo. … Arrived here eventually at 18.30. The Adjt is an ex Colt Type but had been unable to fix billets for us, so put our camp kits up in their hut Mess.
Today we wandered round in an effort to get some gen from Dickey Black but could not contact him. But we are going to see Roger Frankland tomorrow, so he should be able to put us wise, as nobody else can. That, my love, appears to be the end of our adventures to date. As for leave, I think we have had it but don’t give up all hope. The country round here is grand & a local river just makes me want to grab a rod.
RAF Station, Sopley, nr Christchurch, Hants. 24 May 44. 11.45 hrs. Sopley Letter No. 2.
… as to the future, well nobody seems to know, but we are stirring everyone up to get the gen. Both Sandy & I are billeted; bed only; in a beautiful house about 2 miles from here, belonging to a colonel. … Until we do get to know our future, we are joining in the watches here. Last night we cycled into Christchurch about 4 miles from here, in an effort to get some beer … They have field rations only so the possibility of fresh veg etc is nil … Leave at the moment is really impossible & I wouldn’t feel justified in asking for even a day or so off. … Delivery of mail is going to take several days so don’t worry if you get delays & I will phone at intervals as promised.”
“RAF Station, Sopley. May 26. 44. No. 3 letter.
… Life is becoming orderly again but we are both peeved to think we are now doing exactly the same work here as at Neat & but for the limit of the time factor we could just as well be with our ever-loving wives. We are still making efforts to be attached to a unit doing the work we shall eventually have to do, but if this is not possible we are getting Roger F to suggest to Bob Foley that Neat could well do with our services. It may work but must admit I’m not over-optimistic.
Shattering news – Sandy is on his way, so our being tied to 6hrs of our destination appears to have been necessary. No news re little me as yet. … When one of the local beer scouts phoned to say the local pub had just received a barrel of Younger’s Scotch Ale, we all piled into the CO’s car & drove there with all speed. T’was a goodly drop of ale. Sandy wore one of those soft fawn-coloured American fatigue hats the whole evening, this pleasing the Yanks & providing an endless amount of mirth throughout the whole session. We eventually finished up at 2am having successfully evaded the Yank MPs in Christchurch, who thought we were pinching one of their Jeeps, as if we would do such a thing, we were only driving it round the car park anyway, & the Yank had accepted an Army truck in exchange – so what – lease lend and all that. …
Now re. odds luvey, wants are webbing belt, socks, Vyella collars & handkfs. …
I am finishing this at our billet as we returned here after lunch to get Sandy re-packed. I am going over with him to see if I can find out my future as we have since heard they have been trying to locate him for 3 days, which is their own damn fault, but if they lost him they have me too. Will keep you posted, my darling, as much as possible but be prepared for all communications to suddenly cease for a while.”
“Sopley, 27 May 44. 22.30. No. 4 Letter.
Am writing this in bed so excuse scrawl. … After phoning you, I met some of Vic H’s crowd & had a few beers with them but it ran out at 9 o/c so it was only a thirst quencher. … They are very short of bodies here & I have taken a watch as CC. There is far more going on all day here than at Neat But it helps pass the time. … Yesterday’s trip with Sandy was most interesting & it was good to really get to know my future at last. I’m very sorry to be parted from him as we had got to know each other remarkably well during our 10 days together … our duties here are: in my case, 09.00 hrs to 13.00 hrs tomorrow, & then 18.00 hrs & right through until 08.00 hrs on Monday morning. We are then off until 13.00 hrs. on Tues.”
(same letter) “Sunday, 14.00hrs I realised at this point last night that it was Sunday today & the mail doesn’t go until 16.00 hrs so being very tired I put out the light & got some shut eye in … how about meeting me in Town. I think I can get the necessary OK … this will all be arranged on the telephone days before you get this.”
“Sopley 31 May 44.
…. Sandy has heard from Peg today that Bernie Wills has had a crash & is badly burnt. Shirley has been down to see him & he is now off the danger list. … We also hear that Neil has been whipped into hospital with an acute appendicitis & Robby is in charge. Heaven help them!! … Sandy and I still have no further news. … The Yanks have a place around here & the Colonel in charge was a P/O in the Eagle Sqdn when Sandy was an F/O at K’ston(?) & we are going round to their Mess. … The food is quite good here but completely unsuitable for this weather (which was very hot). … This afternoon I went over to Hern, which is where Mike wants to go. … We discovered a new sport when bathing on Monday. It is canoeing in the jettisoned petrol tanks from aircraft. They are made of paper & plastics & are very light so it is quite difficult to keep upright…”
“Sopley, Sat. 2 (June) 44. 10a.m. Letter No 6.
… Have had a very busy few days here … Sandy is missed by everyone, he really has been a different man here & looks very well on it. … Am hoping like hell we make our London meeting …”
“Sopley. 5 June 44. … Eric, after an unsuccessful effort to come on Sat arrived here at 7pm yesterday. We had a most terrific natter which went on until 1.30am this morning. (I guess this is Eric Seabourne, though could be Holmes). … He looks very tired & a little strained, which is not surprising seeing that he now has 210 men in his squadron & is still only F/Lt & has no Adjt. To help out, which to say the least is bloody silly … Sandy has disappeared into thin air … to date have heard nothing.
Tuesday morning at breakfast. Sorry this was interrupted & that I couldn’t complete it yesterday, for obvious reasons! Have just heard the 8 o/c news which is somewhat guarded but sounds like the real do & coupled with the fall of Rome things are certainly on the move. … I haven’t slept in my billet for 4 nights & life looks like being hectic for some days. …”
“Sopley. Thurs. 8 June 44. 15.00hrs. No. 8.
… Work has been extremely hard but so very interesting & I have thoroughly enjoyed it & am continuing to do so … at least feel that I have had a hand in the recent terrific events which I shouldn’t have had at N (Neatishead). Sleep has been at a premium & until last night I had averaged only 4 hrs per night for 6 days. … This may be slightly disjointed darling one but am CC-ing & have had rather a lot of phone calls. … You are getting most of the invasion news from the papers. The preparations & actual effort were most interesting from this part of the country & continue to be. The air activity is simply terrific & today’s reports continue to be most satisfactory. F/Lt Cole, the guy who was at Sarum as No. 1 has just come here so phoned the chappie i/c there. He informed me that I am still No. 2 for a F/Lt as S/L post, but that they are not holding a replacement at Sarum from now on. … Meanwhile it is pretty certain that Sandy is either now on his way or has reached a point where he can no longer write.”
1st from Normandy.
On envelope “On active service. Field Post Office 764 17 Ju 44”
“France No. 1 Letter. 82719 F/Lt Wiseman W D, 15082 G, 21 BD Sector, RAF APO. England. Friday 16th June.
You will have known from the lack of news that I was on my way. We left dear old England early yesterday & set foot here at approx 4pm. Unlike the rest of this crowd, Ian & I crossed in great comfort, each having a cabin on a small liner with every comfort & excellent food. My only misfortune was to have my parachute bag dropped into the surf, this in itself would not have mattered but a large tin of liver salts came open. You can imagine the effervescing mess but a lot of the guys here have lost everything so who am I to grumble. … This crowd is sorting itself out & is in good trim, it’s a pity Vic isn’t here to “enjoy” the fruits of his previous labours. (Vic was wounded) We had to walk most of the way from the beach here, a matter of several miles through the most pernicious dust I’ve ever known. We were yellow from top to toe, just long for a bath but a good wash & some food put me right & then a complete night’s work. Although somewhat tired I was glad to be doing it as the racket round here was terrific at times but the daylight hours are quite peaceful, except for the distant rumble of heavy guns & the bang as they find the odd mine. The latter are sods & you find yourself always walking in somebody else’s footprints – just in case. … The above address is the only one we have at the moment but we hope to get mail through fairly quickly. We are completely Americanised here – food, cigarettes & even clothes. The latter is interesting at the moment but palls they tell me. The second item is of course of major importance to Billa (my mother’s pet name for him) & a minor tragedy so be an angel & send me a couple of hundred PLAYERS occasionally my love. (Directions and map showing tobacconist’s!) … Let folk know where I am & I will let you know of our future address.”
2 On envelope “On Active Service. Field post office 764 19 Ju.
(Enclosed was small 5 franc note with tricolour)
“France No. 2 15082 G. 21 BD Sector. RAF APO. England. Sunday 18th June.
All continues to go well here, in fact if you could see me now you would think it a reasonably comfortable as I’m sitting back in a deck chair (ex-Hun property) in front of my tent, looking comparatively clean; having had a strip wash, & beyond the occasional crump from a mine it really is a typical English country spot. The usual French poplars being the only distinctive feature.
So far the daily routine hasn’t varied much. Being only three of us, by that I mean on our particular job, we are on every night so turn in together at about 5.30am & sleep until about 12.30 when we have lunch, sitting up in bed. Then wash, shave etc & get cracking on the various other jobs connected with the unit, censoring as usual takes quite a time. Tea at 4.30, more odds including washing socks etc & supper at 8.30 & by the time this is over we are ready to get tr—–ed up for work, which is highly satisfactory.
This is a rural area & have only come across a few French farming types but they appear quite pleased to see us. Our rations have been supplemented by two excellent pigs found in the recent HQ, of the Hun, plenty of cabbage, rhubarb & lashings of cream, milk & butter. This sounds to (sic) good to be true but it really is so. The thing we miss most is bread, biscuits being the substitute. Soap & chocolate are the main bartering units & these really seem to be the only commodities that the locals are short of, but we understand that things are different in the towns. Plenty of luxury goods, watches, silverware etc but food is short. We of course all long for a pint of beer. There is none coming in until D+30 days, but yesterday evening Ian & I went over to a local US unit & had some excellent rough cider. I’m feeling exceedingly fit my love & should thrive on this fresh air life.
Please send newspapers & periodicals … beyond that soap is the only other thing I want in due course including some Fairy soap for washing. Don’t send any food, sweets, etc as we have tons but don’t forget cigs at overseas rates.
I feel quite a rat having arrived with all my kit as nearly all the original blokes lost everything but have been able to help them out. My French so far has not had to rise beyond “Bonjour” but am polishing up useful phrases from a booklet of terms which is issued to us. London seems to have had a few unpleasant visits from the Hun recently. I trust he keeps away from Norfolk. … Enclosed souvenir valued 6d.”
3 “On Active Service. 8 BASE POST OFFICE 22 JN
Somewhere in Normandy. No. 3 Letter. 15082 G Unit” (etc)
All continues to go well over here except the blasted weather but we have excellent tents with fly sheets so nothing comes through except the shrapnel of our ever-loving Allies. They really are, to say the least, “A bit much”, as they fire at everything including gremlins. … I had an enjoyable time yesterday. I took a lorry & 3 men out from 2 to 7 P.M. on a food & liquor hunt. We went into a fair-sized local town about 15 miles from here which is quite unscratched. It is packed with troops & although there is plenty of stuff in the shops, the French have got Black Market prices beaten hollow. I found I could cope with the language fairly well, that is I could make them understand but their replies took rather a lot of sorting out. The chaps wanted some liquor but the wine shops were all dry, however I scrounged around & found a wholesalers & after a bit of nattering he agreed to let me have some, so down in the cellars we went. Most of the wines are very new but found some 1937 Burgundy & a good Barsac (Sauterne) 1942, both at 175 francs a bottle (17/6). I nearly crowned him when he told me, but the guys wanted liquor so cursed him in English & came away with the booze. They only have sweet Champagne in these parts, this guy had plenty at 195 frcs (19/6) & I told him he could sell it to some other sucker, at least that’s what I meant.
Bread is very poor & short in supply but they have tons of cheese & butter. Some of the former is like Camembert & is very good. We called at umpteen farms on the way back but had very little success. They are all small holdings & have little to spare. Our local farmer continues to give us milk, butter, green, new potatoes & yesterday sent a fine joint of veal. So we live like lords.
We have excellent Padre in the Unit & I attended his evening open air service on Sun & it was most enjoyable & impressive.
Work continues to give everyone satisfaction & I really feel we are doing a damn good job of work. Bill Rogers may be able to give you more details. I still haven’t located Sandy but know he is well east of us but am making every enquiry.
A S/Ldr has just arrived having flown over this morning so we have a bit of home news. All seems well & the glider bombs don’t seem to be upsetting people or life very much. (There follows detail of his pay). Until yesterday, when I spent 22/- I hadn’t spent a penny during 6 days. … I have obtained one of the Yanks’ zip fastener, waterproof jackets, which we have often admired. They really are excellent. It was very useful meeting the G/Capt who is in charge of this whole crowd. He was in this party we had with the Sopley crowd you remember. Ian Hay is in great form. Would you ring Jonah at Coltishall & give him the gen please & send my best to Johnny Holmes. Regards to all at N(eatishead) Daphne, Betty, etc. & tell Dickenson (sp?) that George Effenberger is Tech Off of this Unit. They knew each other. …
P.S. Darling, please send me some F/Os braid to make stripes for epaulettes of my Yankee jacket.”
Letter form. On Active Service. FIELD POST OFFICE 764 24 JU
4 “15082 Unit etc.
Letter No. 4 France. … For the first time since I arrived I feel really clean having had a bath in my canvas bath with one pail of boiling water & ad lib cold. … Have also found a local farmer’s wife to do my washing … some Nescafe made it a cinch.
Unfortunately, darling this letter has a sad note but you will have had the news officially from Peg by now. Dear old Sandy bought it on the 17th or 18th I’m not quite certain, but have most details & will find exact location of his grave. …
They have just found another batch of mines near here & there is a constant racket going on but it has been a perfect day & beautifully warm & peaceful. I saw G/Capt David Clarke today, he was CO of 600 when I joined them. … I went over to a Yankee unit this evening to get some items of gen & was given two whiskeys & sodas – were they good.”
No envelope. “Normandy No. 4. 15082 Unit etc. 24 June 44.
It is the most super day here & have spent the afternoon on my usual job of censoring, sitting in the sun. … Life goes along quite smoothly, no undue excitement & becomes more like home service every day. Even the nights are fairly quiet now, the Yanks have, we hope, run out of ammo. Or as is more likely worn the barrels of their guns out. The barrage for the first week was almost incessant from dusk to dawn but one didn’t notice it after two nights. We all think the Hun Air Force has had it now, as his reactions are almost non-existent.
Another old Neatisheadian came in to have a word with me today. Corporal Mayonawicz (sp?) (slight, fair, good dancer) do you remember him. He has joined a Unit of this Sector. Dickie Black is also in another one further along the coast. Get Bill Rogers to explain the set up. It’s all rather complicated but if he gives you the outline you will know a bit more of how things go here. The food continues to be good but a little monotonous. We all want tea & bread. There is tons of coffee but a pot of fresh tea & bread & butter would be a Ritz meal to us all. We are going over to the British lines tomorrow to swop some of our rations for theirs & tea is No. 1 request. We have no grounds for complaint but it’s an Englishman’s prerogative to moan. Mail is the one genuine complaint, at least the lack of it. I only hope ours are getting through to our loved ones. (There follows vegetable gardening advice!) …
Phew! I’m hot. Have just consumed the usual tea meal of biscuits, butter, jam & coffee. Have had all my bed & blankets out in the sun to air. The autographs have caused a lot of amusements. If I had some wool & you to embugger it, we could add a lot of names of some good types to it. (I recall a grey blanket with colourful wool embroidered signatures, but fear it got the moth as it sadly disappeared many, many years ago.)
Have just taken on the job of Imprest Holder for the Unit. This means Unit Accountant Officer so if my letters cease you will know I’ve embezzled the men’s pay & I’ll meet you in S America after the war. What lovely visions that “after the war” expression can give one. We all long to get back to England & our dear ones. … It is good to be able to talk to the men of this Unit about the Swan & Ferry (pubs in Horning). They were all there with Hanky & Ben last April. … We now get one or two copies of the Stars & Stripes paper so have a spot of news but rather too Americanised for our liking. Last Sunday’s Times found its way here by divers means today & was thoroughly digested by us all in turn. The cigarette shortage has been greatly relieved by the arrival of a Naafi issue of 100 Players each & a Yank Major gave me a 100 Camels as well. Like most things Yank cigs, at least a liking for them, grows on one, and I quite enjoy them now. The old pipe is quite a favourite now & am well set up with ½ lb of Navy tobacco. (Reference to Sandy’s death follows).
… We have just discovered a local hairdresser who has returned to his somewhat battered shop but is giving satisfactory haircuts & shampoos.”
On envelope 7 On Active Service. No stamp or post mark.
“No. 5. 15082 Unit (etc). June 26 44.
“Having just finished censoring over 90 letters I feel entitled to write to you. A pile of mail arrived yesterday which has cheered the boys of this Unit up a lot. It was mostly dated late May to June 10th, so didn’t expect one from you. …
The news of the fall of Cherbourg is grand & we all feel that given a few weeks to get sufficient heavy equipment ashore we shall push the Hun back in no time. The super weather of the last few days has left us, & it’s raining like blazes but with these super tents we remain quite dry & comfortable. I have made further pieces of so-called furniture & now have by scrounging some electrical fittings & wire, & conniving with the Tech Officer have electric light, so we really are comfortable at least for camp life. … I went chasing around in a Jeep yesterday to find the Yankee APO & quite enjoyed the tour, & driving, except for the dust. The Jeep is the absolute answer for transport under these conditions as the French roads, never particularly good, have been torn into the roughest of pot-holed tracks. The Jeep takes it like a thoroughbred & I find it an excellent tonic for the liver. Driving on the right was a little strange at first but one soon gets use(d) to it.
Yesterday we started to get the second stage issue of Yank food which has made a welcomed change. … Yesterday evening I strolled over to a local farm with David Elias (a Tech Off attached to us), in order to get some cider. We spent about an hour in a large barn containing about 25 enormous barrels of the liquor … (the farmer) also said that although the Hun had not been billeted on them & had been fairly reasonable as long as they supplied a large amount of farm produce, he was very glad to see the back of them. It is the inhabitants who have lost their homes, etc during the recent fighting who seem to be a little doubtful, about which was the lesser of two evils I think, but generally we are welcome. Have just had to brave the rain as the tent was taking a list to starboard & having rectified this, George (the Pole Tech Off) decided a bottle of Sauterne & biscuits would make an excellent tea. It did!! The almost complete lack of bird life around here struck me as very strange until I found that the locals kill every form of them for food. …
We hope to get our official APO address for this side shortly which should speed up the delivery but with so much important stuff to bring ashore from the beaches, it’s only to be expected that we should have to wait. … Work continues well but has quietened off the last few days. … One amusing incident of the first few days is that George, the Pole, was “captured” by our enthusiastic Allies & was eventually found digging graves rather reluctantly but under pressure of a tough Yank complete with tommy gun, who reluctantly parted with his captive when told he was with us. Poor George, he no longer likes Yanks. …”
On envelope 6 June 29th 2 1/2d stamp.
“Special No. 8 or 9 I forget which. As usual. June 29. 44. 15.30hrs
… There is no news in this letter darling but will make up for it in my next. You should however have quite a library by now. I’m fighting fit & work continues well. … Any news of Henry D(onald)? … My next effort in writing should contain answers to your queries, I hope. Have heard reports of a possible delivery today. …”
On envelope 8 Letter Form On Active Service. FIELD POST OFFICE 764 2 JY
“Normandy No. 7. June 28. 44. … Life continues without undue excitement but yesterday we had a welcomed visit from the CO’s of the various units that play with us & Dick Haine was one of them. … He has promised to give you a phone call. … In the evening Bill Trollope and I went into a local village to get a haircut. … The shop was minus windows & had a few bullet holes in sundry places but was otherwise OK. … Work has quietened off recently but it remains interesting.”
On envelope 8th (Perhaps letters came in batches; Bill had been writing quite often and this would explain the strange numbering). On Active Service 8 BASE POST OFFICE 6 — 44
“France No. 9. 15082 G. Unit (etc). Your first & most terrifically welcomed & super letter arrived yesterday evening (having gone to the wrong end of the front first)……. Sandy’s death was certainly a blow & poor Peg must be in a bad way. When you feel she wishes to know, I have the full details except for the exact location of his grave but am getting this. … If you notice a slight improvement in the writing at this stage (he had been writing on his knee with a magazine or piece of wood to rest on before), it is due to the fact that a lorry has just returned from a visit to an ex-Hun camp with a load of furniture including a table. It is very poor, cheap quality, white wood. We have 1 table (now being used by me), 2 cupboards & 2 wardrobes. … I’m in the process of getting things together in order to furnish a Mess tent for the 5 of us. I’m personally tired of eating, writing, reading & sleeping on my camp bed & mean to do something about it. I have already scrounged a super tent from the Yanks. They really are giving us 100% co-operation, especially in supplying stores of all kinds. Their PX stores arrived yesterday (equivalent to our NAAFI but about 10 times better), & they sent us over a free issue per man including officers, of 200 cigs, a dozen razor blades, a tube of excellent shaving cream, a tablet of Lux soap, one large packet of chewing gum & 6 packets of fruit drops. To say the least, a very generous issue. … This open air life has completely cured the old cough & I’m feeling extremely fit. The weather has been lousy but it improving today. We had a terrific thunder storm last night. … Fortunately our camp site is well drained & we have practically no mud & our tent space is 100% dry. … David Elias has just remarked that now we are getting our mail, this is no worse than being away from home anywhere in England. It really is quite peaceful & even the nights are quiet now…”
On envelope 8 On Active Service. FIELD POST OFFICE 764 2 JY
“France No. 10. 15082 Unit (etc). July 1st 44.
(He had just received Dorothy’s second letter) … as hoped we are now getting down to a regular flow, which makes such a marvellous difference … you will have received several letters and messages by now, as I covered all available means of keeping you informed during what I knew would be a rough period. …
… please don’t be (anxious) as this part of the front is honestly a damn sight safer than London or S E England at the moment. Sandy was in a spot that was constantly being shelled so don’t draw comparisons. …
We had a marvellous treat for tea. It was tea today and in addition some grand, freshly-cooked white scones, the Yanks having made their first issue of white flour. … This life certainly makes one appreciate the ordinary things in our late lives … running water, easy chairs & lavatory chains, especially these & a roof on the lav so that the rain (isn’t) running down one’s spine …
The American food upset all our tummies at first, mainly because it is all so rich but like their cigarettes we have now become quite accustomed to both. Bless you once again for ordering the 500 Players … they will be grand.
… Don’t worry if you should get a break of a few days (in receiving letters) as we are always liable to move and thus cause a delay. Everyone continues to be in excellent form & morale couldn’t be higher. … Work continues to be very satisfactory.”
On envelope 9th batch On Active Service. Postmark illegible.
“No. 11 from Normandy. 15082 Unit (etc). I’m on top of the world having just received your grand, long, happy & newsy letter dated June 27th … I will try & keep up a regular flow of at least one every other day. Do try & do likewise … The rate of exchange only makes the £ worth 10/- & we now have everything we want …
Tea has just arrived, consisting of peach & pineapple pie with white pastry, biscuits & jam & real tea. … Do pass on the real position out here, darling, to our friends & locals. If you give it to them, it will soon dispel any rumours & apprehensions, … I was running far more of a risk doing an NFT in the good old flying days…
The interruption to No. 10 (letter) … was due to the fact that I went out on a siting job with a party of Yank sappers to clear the mines for us. They were an amazingly good crowd of blokes doing a very lousy job and on this occasion under shocking conditions. It was raining like blazes & has been doing on & off for the last 4 days. The mud is bloody, but fortunately our tent site remains dry as we took all precautions but I have been glad I took my gumboots with me. These Yanks carried on an incessant banter, equal to a crowd of Cockneys. A typical piece of back-chat was in reply to a query from me as to whether they had had any casualties in their particular unit. 1st Yank, “Yep, the Capt just disappeared the other day when unzipping a ——- booby trap.” 2nd Yank, “Say, he didn’t disappear, I found his foot”. 1st Yank, “Say! How the hell did you know it was the Capt’s foot?” 2nd Yank, “Well that guy always did bite his nails.” This somewhat gruesome but really light-hearted chatter went on continuously & they did a thoroughly good job of work. …
Many thanks for F/O braid, sweetie-pie, just hop over & fix them on some time. Yes, we are with the Yanks & the papers tell you the area they are in. Sorry this is as near as I can tell you, pet, but don’t think we have been chasing into all the unpleasant spots their troops have been into. … We continue to be very pleased with our work. We are well ahead of any other unit & have halved the total score of N. Not bad in 3 weeks. … It is certain now that leave will start in a month or two…
On envelope 8th 12 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 764 2JY
“Normandy No. 12. No change. July 5. 44
… Yesterday was all packing, moving & unpacking. We moved successfully & thank heaven we had a few hours’ sun and wind to dry everything up & we just got our tents erected before the next downpour. It was only a short move & we have a pleasant site quite near the sea. As much as we would like to bathe it really would be asking for trouble as like most spots it’s mine-lousy. This is the place I came out to have cleared with the Yanks & as I said they made a good job of it as we must have walked over every inch of it by now, and all’s well. I was mighty glad to have David Elias to help with our tent as the Adjt who now shares it with us is a useless sort of bloke & to add to it he is always shooting a line about everything he is doing or has done and has the thickest of skins. When David leaves I shall use a mallet to shut him up. This new spot has many advantages over our former one. On of the chief ones being its proximity to one of the few main roads so we can get our stores, water, mail, etc. without too much of a cross-country bone shaking ride. We also have an American field dispensary a mile away. This is the equivalent to our usual sick quarters but even under these conditions is has the most marvellous equipment – portable operating theatre, X-ray, electric washing machine, etc. Our MO nearly cried when he saw it. He is really on the same standing as the Yank MO at this grandly fitted unit & all he has is two hampers of medicines, bandages, splints, etc……..
The time for my skip to S America has now arrived. I have just received 10,000 (£500) francs to pay the men but nobody wants any money. As you know from the papers we are all confined to camp, mainly to stop the guys being fleeced by the French shopkeepers. No one minds very much as we are nowhere near a decent-sized town where we could get a comfortable meal and see a flick – so who cares.
Ian H(ay) is coming down to visit us this afternoon. They are now installed in a very fine chateau which I am hoping to visit shortly & will give you further details. This will be the HQ & the G/Capt is arranging for we mobile types to go there for the odd 48 to get a good clean up & general change both of which will be very welcome. The M.O. who flew back from dear old England yesterday after an official visit, brought a selection of the days papers & more marvellous still 2 quart bottles of beer, the first we had tasted since landing here. My mouth is watering at the memory of that ½ glass.
… Food note. We had a small supply of white bread yesterday & was it good…
On envelope arr. 9th. 13th written. FIELD POST OFFICE 764 7 JY 44
“Normandy No. 13 No change. July. 6. 44
(Letter opens with ref to reading the Old Vicarage at Grantchester in an anthology).
… Have had no further letters since your No. 3 but we know there is a pile of mail for us at the Wing HQ which is now being fetched. … Have just spent a cleansing hour having bathed, changed completely & washed some socks so am feeling grandly clean. It has been the most glorious day & I have only had my grey shorts & sandals on since getting up. My day’s programme has been: Bed 5.am., up for a lunch of rhubarb & cereal at 1.15 p.m.; censoring 2 p.m. – 3.30 p.m. lying in the sun; 3.30 – 4.15 odds & sods in connection with paying the men; 4.30 tea, consisting of 1 large door-step of excellent white bread, butter, biscuits, jam & coffee; 5 p.m. – 6.30 p.m. bathing etc; a short read & here I am writing to you. In fact, my sweet, a lazy day but it is only making up for the last 3 which have been most busy & energetic. Ian came yesterday evening. He is very fit & sends his regards to you.
Bill (Trollope?) and Jerry (Nodes, I suspect) left me to cope after 2 am last night as they were off at 10.30 am this morning to go up the Peninsular to a conference. It was the quietest night we have had. I don’t think Jerry, meaning the bloody Hun, liked the full moon.
If artillery preparation wins battles, the Yanks are well on the way to winning the present one going on to the south of us. The devastation beyond it must be frightful but they have got the right idea, to pulverise the Hun & not throw their own men’s lives away.
I put my tapes on my zipper jacket epaulettes yesterday evening, this should put an end to mis-identification as happened the other day when David & I were loading our luggage onto the lorry. We were both dressed in our khaki shirts & trousers, & some remarks concerning the loading were passed by us when the driver suddenly remarked, “Blimey, you two talk like bloody officers”. This gave us a hell of a laugh but it was too good to let him share it. Many thanks for tape my sweet, I had enough for David as well. He leaves us tomorrow to go to Dickie Black’s crowd but hopes to return here after a week or so in England first. The lucky guy…
P.S. I have just heard a rumour that Sandy (i.e. his body) was taken back to England but am continuing to endeavour to obtain pukka gen. Do you know at all?”
On envelope No. 14 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 764 9JY 44
“Normandy No. 14. No change. July 7. 44
… After the slight hold-up of the last few days the APO have excelled themselves as No. 5 (letter) dated July 3rd has only taken a bare 4 days & do so hope mine are catching up & we shall soon get down to a regular two-way post. I’m so very pleased, my darling, that you are going places & that you enjoyed the Waaf party & a visit to the Ferry (pub in Horning). How I envy you the latter. Beer over here is still a myth but will come in good time…
I am surprised to hear Ken is still at Neat. I quite thought he would have got onto one of these units again by now. Brother John (John Keith Wiseman) has met a guy named Cole in Scotland who knows him…
Poor Peg. I do hope she soon recovers. – Interruption here of 1½ hrs-. It was a bitter blow & now she has had the official letter from AM, I can probably give you more detailed information. The Hun was long-range shelling the area Sandy was in & to obtain some cover for his vehicle he got a bulldozer to make a cutting in the ground to put this in. Like this (tiny sketch included). He decided to engage in his favourite hobby of tunnelling & started to cut a dug-out into one side but did not take the precaution of putting up supports with the sad result that it collapsed on top of him. They kept him alive with numerous blood transfusions & on the second day the MO thought he would recover, but his liver had been badly crushed & he went under. It was a lousy way to go after being in since the beginning. Give these facts to Peg if & when she wants them. I am still hoping to get his grave located & hope to go over to the British side tomorrow. Meanwhile just add my sympathy to yours…
… The soap will be most useful, darling, but no socks were in the parcel so presume they were not finished. …Rumours of leave are still rampant but that’s all. The G/Capt is however very keen to get it started, so here’s hoping. The Sunday paper was devoured piecemeal by me & is now on the rounds of the camp. Do let me have this regularly please & I look forward to the Mess periodicals, particularly News Review. I am just off east to the British lines my pet so must close this before I rush so that it catches the post…”
On envelope 15 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 764 14 JY
“No. 15. No change. July 11. 44. 5.30pm.
At last I can get down to the promised long letter, at least I cross my fingers & hope. I had no sooner written this first line than in came another Yank officer but I fixed him in two mins, thank Heaven. Bill Trollope left for England at dawn this morning for a conference, the lucky so & so. I suspect him of giving today’s date to the whole American Army, as I seem to have had a steady stream of them since 8.30 am this morning. Having turned in at 6.0 am you can guess how I enjoyed it & when these were followed by some more at 10. & 11.30 I gave in & got up so when I’ve finished writing to you, my love, I’m for a spot of shut-eye before tonight’s work……..
Your story of Jan’s (me – elder daughter) desire for a black brother is superb but I trust this is not one way of breaking the news gently. To add to my suspicions, you end your letter “Your ever-loving & faithfully wife”. Did he have to be black!!?? Accepting the challenge, I will have to see if I can bring her back a dark-haired, brown-skinned Normandy sister. Ask her how she would like this?
Black. This brings in Dickie. I had hoped to see him on my trip to Wing HQ yesterday, but although they are only a few miles away, I “ ‘adn’t got the time” but will do so next time.
He is quite OK & now living in complete peace in these parts. It was one of the joys of the trip to find the country there quite untouched & in such contrast to some of the once pretty villages en route which have been completed razed. This too accounts for the gayer & more friendly attitude of the peasants up there who stop you & hand out jugs of cider & give you eggs in exchange for a cigarette or sweets. The children do so appreciate these & were almost a menace as they run out in the road to make you stop. One little fellow said “Thank you, sir” in grand & unbroken English, which was most pleasant to hear & unexpected, & in contrast to some of the urchins in our nearest town who now pester you all the time with “Got any gum, chum”. The Yanks taking great delight no doubt in teaching them this…
The work goes on well with sufficient “excitement” to keep us really interested.
My furniture manufacturing has so far been confined to a bedside table with shelves but yesterday I procured a grand set of tools from the Yanks & a motley selection of timber from damaged houses & ex-Hun dug-outs & now hope, given some time, to get cracking on our Mess tent. Although not yet furnished we stripped the Orderly Tent two nights to have an opening dinner as the G/C was here. The cooks excelled themselves & we had veg soup, sardines, goose & veal chops with stuffing, beans & new potatoes, tinned peaches & cream, coffee & Camembert cheese & biscuits. A real meal. The goose was bartered in exchange for some Nescafe & sugar. We now get “B” rations regularly which means fresh meat, vegetables, marvellous tinned fruit & really the biggest treat is white bread. So you see, Doy, we are well fed, & as long as you don’t look at the condition of the cook tent & the cook’s hands, it’s OK.
I’m so glad you are in Horning & away from the present buzz-bombing. The fellows with their families in Town & the S E have a most worrying time.
The enclosed postcard for Jan will give you a laugh. I bought it with some others as being a colourful one for her & until I got into some decent light I did not appreciate it to the full. I have still to find out what “une tetard” is. (Tadpole, bull-head or pollard tree according to my dictionary. I suspect it of being vulgar!) When you are next in Norwich, please endeavour to buy me a small English-French dictionary please as it will be most helpful…”
On envelope 15th written On Active Service postmark illegible
“Letter No. 15. France. As usual. July 10th. 44. 9 p.m.
… The envelope with the photos in arrived last night & these are truly grand. I only wish Mike had got you in on those where you are holding Jan as the wee bit of you looks super. … I will write a fuller appreciation of these & answer your letter fully tomorrow darling as you see the time I started this. The reason being that I was called at 1.30 this morning & told Bill T(rollope) wanted me to go up to the Wing HQ. Having lunched, washed, etc. it was 2.15 before I left. It is about 45 miles from here & 35 of it was in closely-packed convoys of traffic & it took over 3 hours but was a most interesting trip. After getting the odds done there & a quick meal, I left at 7.15 p.m. & got back at 8.35 p.m. finding far less on the roads. One can’t help being impressed by the enormous amount of vehicles the Yanks have but oh! these French roads are bloody awful. Will give you news of their chateau etc. tomorrow, they’ve made themselves very comfortable in grand surroundings…”
On envelope 16 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 764 14 JY 44
“No. 16. As before. July. 13.44.
… I do wish (my letters) were getting through more quickly, it is our one moan at the moment & everyone in the Unit is having the same trouble. We blame the base censorship, as it is leaving this side within 48 hours. Still I hope it will clear up. When you consider it, the mail must be terrific, as we are a Unit of 140 men, average 90 letters a day, as I know only too well having to censor 75% of them but the base stooges had better get cracking or there will be a major upheaval. All wives are not as patient & sensible as mine, & some of the fellows are getting long strips torn off them…
How grand to have Henry (Donald, more than likely) for a super long chat. The guy with him was Reg Brown, I think, as he fits in with your description. I met him at Sopley & he was posted to Henry’s crowd while I was there. I can quite imagine them wishing to get on with the job but if they don’t get cracking soon there won’t be anything to do. I will certainly write Henry, darling, at the first opportunity but really the days just fly & jobs are just piling up at the moment.
This Imprest Holder makes an awful amount of writing & yesterday this, plus censoring, entailed writing my signature over 300 times. Not hard going but rather a bind & time killer… (discourse on vegetable gardening back home) … We too had one or two grand days about the 8th & 9th but recently it has been dull & drizzly … (comments on family finances) … My expenses here to date are £2.3.0. & it’s 4 weeks tomorrow & I see no reason why they should increase, so all’s well…
We too have heard that they are hoping to start sending the mail in Dakotas but at the moment they are only bringing priority goods & passengers & taking back wounded & while engaged on this we are quite prepared to put up with a wait of several days but it is most peeving. So glad to hear Vic is progressing well. I meant to ask you to get a report as we have heard that they had to amputate most of his leg. Please confirm or deny this… I’m still waiting for a reply to enquiries re Sandy’s grave…
The photographs continue to give me untold joy, darling… Our own stores of clothing arrived today & I have got a most super-fitting khaki battledress, really it might have been made for me. My old blue one can now be discarded & about time too, it’s filthy. I wish my Doy was here to transfer the brevet, gong & tapes. … My watch has given up, in disgust I guess. It is only dust & dirt I think as it goes spasmodically. The Adjt is the only officer who has one now, so time like day & date is unknown. Have just discovered it’s 10.15p.m. so must rush off to duty…
P.P.S. We have a plague of mosquitoes, blast’em.”
On envelope 17 & 18 On Active Service. FIELD POST OFFICE 764 16 JY 44
“No. 17 France. July 15. 44. NOTE NEW ADDRESS IN P.S.
… Yes, my love, we are well established here now & it is quite a pleasant spot. … Our one worry is where we are going to put everything if & when we move. In addition to our Hun furniture we have all made sundry bed tables, etc. & all the men have made beds in some form or another. We have also obtained a large marquee for an airmen’s Mess tent. All this excludes our farm. We now have 11 rabbits, 2 geese, a young cockerel, 2 bantams & 3 wee chicks. Our prize piece of animal flesh is a grand Alsatian, ex-Hun police dog. He really is a fine hound & superbly trained. A most pleasant surprise yesterday. Willy Wilmott came over to see me. We had a grand chin-wag & I fed him in true American style. He now wants to get from the British Sector up to us. …Many thanks, Doy, for the second parcel of soap & socks. I now have a terrific store of the former so don’t send any more. … The socks are grand, thank you & Mother (Dorothy’s mother who was living with her in Horning; Bill’s own mother died when he was a boy) if she had a hand in the making of them. The mosquitoes are a real bind. We are all bitten like Hell. I woke up yesterday with 8 on my face & today it looks & feels bloody. I’m off on the scrounge tomorrow for some netting. Enough just to cover our faces when in bed will be sufficient. Here’s hoping. Bill Trollope got back from England yesterday, bringing a supply of the day’s papers which were most welcome & in addition some tea, so we had a pot of tea today which was truly wonderful. The stuff we swop with the blokes from the British Sector is finely ground & already mixed with dried milk & sugar mixed ready so today’s was a grand change.
It was a big day over here for the French being “Bastille Day”. In a small fishing village near us they had a parade, speeches, etc. & the Yanks dropped garlands of flowers from the air. Quite a party…
15082 Unit, 21 BD Sector, RAF, BWEF [Only a slight change. The tobacconist will need this before he can send cigs out]”
In same envelope.
“No. 18 15082 Unit, 21 BD Sector, RAF, BWEF July 16. 44.
… The photographs are as shocking as I expected. I warned you & felt that that the lass operating the camera was somewhat dim. … The inspection of the MTB must have been most interesting. It was one of those things I meant to do with you so often, & never got round to. … At last we have got some sports kit & comforts so shall be able to fix a board in our Mess tent. Plans for this are going along well but we have not done much about it yet as we still have no extra chairs or any tables but I am off to Wing HQ tomorrow. … The mosquito bites are a lot better today. … Blast the little buggers. I had a war on them this afternoon & sprayed the tent & turned out every corner of it & killed hundreds. We can now give names of towns we visit so will give you a description of tomorrow’s run when I get back … nearly time to go on duty. Have had the Wing Accountant officer here all afternoon & censoring on my own this evening owing to Bill & Jerry being down in the British end of the lines, so the day has just flown. … In the middle of the last sentence we had a minor panic & had to rush over to the site. I knocked off duty at 03.15 & turned in, being up at 9.30 for my trip. It’s now 8pm & have just arrived back & had a much needed wash and have a meal coming up from the cookhouse at any moment. It has been a really glorious day & have quite enjoyed the trip except for the latter half of the return journey which was made at a crawling pace in an endless stream of traffic. I drive a 15 cwt. Bedford which is more comfortable in my opinion than the Jeep & in any case I was on the scrounge. Have done quite well & have at last got 2 tables; some chairs; china, including plates which will be grand after eating out of a mess tin for the last 6 weeks; & most precious of all a teapot so we can have a real cuppa & no sugar. Bill T brought some tea back with him. To make it more like home, the Stores officer at a depot I happened to spot en route produced some table-cloths & condiment sets, so it really was a most useful scrounge. Hold everything my lovely one, here’s my meal. Bully beef fritters & tomatoes, pineapple & cream. Later – all very good.
I passed through Carentan, St Mère Eglise & Ouittehou (Quettehou). You will have heard of the fighting round the first two, both of which have been badly damaged but a little village called St. Marcouf, which is about the size of Horning, is the most pathetic spot, & is completely deserted. We gave it a terrific pounding when the Hun was there & it has had it. (Location is c. 15km due south of Pointe du Hoc). Going through it is quite eerie but it will I suppose, rise again. Further north it becomes most refreshing as it is quite untouched & everything is so clean & sweet smelling. No damage, no dust & no smell of war. The people are more friendly & the children clean & well cared for. This is so grand to see after seeing so many of the poor little mites in the towns & villages around the damaged areas, dirty, shoe-less & under-nourished. So many of them quite obviously have been sired by Huns as their fair hair gives them away.
I look forward to receiving the second batch of papers, darling. The first have been all round the Camp. … No pet, I wouldn’t fool you but don’t get too excited about leave. It’s only a rumour to date & even when it does start Bill & Jerry will go first but here’s to seeing you before Xmas. … I have a few odds to do before going on duty so will close this…”
On envelope 19 FIELD POST OFFICE 764 20 JY 44
“No. 12. to hand this morning. Pop, our batman, woke me at 1 o/c with a letter, a packet of newspapers & a copy of Flight. A grand awakening & I had a lazy hour in bed reading them all. … I envy you your visit to the flicks. David & I went down to an American HQ which has started to give film shows twice nightly but there were at least 300 Yanks queuing up & as the “theatre” is only a barn we gave up & returned. … The comparative evening quiet was shattered a few minutes ago by the most hellish explosion followed by most disturbing shrapnel whistles & then it rained dust for ages. Bless our dear Allies. Without warning they had decided to remove a large pile of Hun shells, which have reposed quite inoffensively in a field about 500 yds away from us, by the crude method of just slapping charges of gun-cotton around them. The result was a little shattering, to say the least. These practices of theirs together with rifle firing at any odd target makes us decidedly peevish, blast them. On route to ascertain that all our gear was OK, we found a damaged Sherman tank & while rooting around inside I decided one of the seats, complete with leather padded seat & back would be a most useful asset to the tent furniture. With David’s assistance plus a spanner it was soon removed & carted here. It all helps. … I had a bright idea today to cut down the precious time I have to spend doing most of the censoring. With everyone together now for tea in the mess tent, I dumped all the mail in the middle of the table & divided it out evenly, even George was given his share & the Adjt & it was all done in about 40 mins instead of my usual 2 hours. From now on this is going to be a daily habit. … Jerry (Nodes) has just given me a shout as it’s 10 p.m. so we are off.”
On envelope 20 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 (new number) 23 JY 44
“No. 20 July 21.44. 3.p.m.
… It’s been raining like hell for 15 hrs. but I woke up at 1 o/c feeling extremely happy & much to poor David’s refined ear for good music I’ve been singing lustily. … Everything is oozing wet & is decidedly damp, except our spirits. David & I were taking the 15 cwt truck into Bayeux rather than sit in the confines of this tent but this too has suffered from the rain & won’t start, so you are the one to gain by it, getting what might be a reasonably written letter for a change. … David is reading, George is in hospital with an abscess in his ear, the menace of our Adjt is in the orderly tent & this weather should keep our usual flow of visitors away. … No mail today as the weather was down to the deck yesterday so the Dakotas couldn’t get in. This means of bringing the mail is now in full swing & a visiting type told me he posted a letter to Glasgow on the 14th & received a reply on the 20th. Pretty good going & hope we eventually get in on it.
The Yanks excelled themselves on Wed evening when without any warning they blew up an ammunition dump of shells on the cliffs about ¼ to ½ a mile from us. There was a soul shattering explosion, a multitude of shell splinters whizzed over our heads & then after a few moments, half of France came down all round us. Bless their playful little ways, they delight in doing things in a big way. Their scheme is to blast the roof off one of the Hun’s terrific gun emplacements by exploding sundry unexploded bombs inside it & then positively filling, the then silo-like structure, with a mass of 14 inch shells, mines & any other odd item of an explosive nature they can find. The resulting explosion is as described & to crown everything they set off another load at the dreamy hour of 11 am today. I fortunately was awake … but David was in a deep sleep & his reactions were terrific, and to add to them when he leapt out of bed he put his hand on the electric light wire which is a little crude, and being damp, plus the fact that the ground was also & he was in his bare feet, he got a packet of an electric shock. Poor David, he really thought he was dead I think, & my laughter was the only thing that convinced him to the contrary.
The cooler weather plus my war on the mosquitoes has brought a welcomed relief from their bites but their HQ staff have moved a staffel(?) into the roof of the lav & they have developed a dirty trick of dive bombing attacks on one’s bare posterior thus sabotaging the good effects of Messrs Carters. … We all keep very fit except for a most peculiar & sudden form of bilious attack which just hits you suddenly makes you sick & you are O.K. almost immediately. We have all had it during the last week except Bill T. Mine got me when I was up to my ears in the middle of the nightly fun & all I could do was to thrust the mike at Bill T., leap outside & get it over with. Beyond feeling a little bloody & breaking out into a sweat it is all over in an hour. We think it may be a combination of an excess of rich American food & the water. Send us the promised beer & we are certain we shall not get a repetition of it. The Naafi beer issue is, even when it comes, one quart per man per week. I’m thinking of suggesting that we six pool ours & each take in turn to have a minor binge on six quarts. It will be just too bad for the last guy, waiting another six weeks though. We are also promised one bottle of gin or whiskey per officer per month. This really must sound as if we are a lot of inebriates, who after taking an enforced cure are now preparing for return to a delightfully drunken state.
I have just stopped in order to listen to the 6 o/c news. Things are moving in Germany from the meagre reports so far given. What a pity Hitler wasn’t written off, however this may be the beginning of a general internal upheaval. Let’s hope so. Japan, too has thrown out Tojo so who knows my darling it may not be as long as we expected before we can be together again. Personally no news concerning the War will really excite me until we hear that an armistice has been signed.
Bayeux is the town referred to in my early letters & I hope to have a look round the cathedral when we next go there. The whereabouts of the famous tapestry is still unknown.
With the present evacuation of London & the S E in progress, your visit to Eric (Holmes, I suspect) would be very difficult, Doy, so I agree it would be best to wait…
The Yanks have again been generous & given us a wireless set. As this is the only one the Unit has, it is installed in the men’s mess tent but as it is only about 10 yds from ours we can now hear the odd tune. We have all missed this joy & just at the moment they are playing “As long as I have you” or is it “I’ll get along” … It really is lovely to hear some music after being without it for so long. … I’m just longing to get our own house. What fun it was house hunting together just before this bloody war….
Another change in address. 15082 etc. 21 “RAF British Liberation Army [What a line]”
On envelope 22 (21 missed out) On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 26JY 44
“No. 22 15082 G, 21 BD Sector, RAF BLA
… There just hasn’t been a thing to write about & yesterday I decided a bath was priority 1. item, having found a flea steeplechasing up my leg. … The mail has got hung up again. … Wags (old friend & my godmother) is coming to see you immediately the ban is lifted. This will be grand for you both. … I have at last got the exact location of Sandy’s grave & I am going over to see it & picking Willie W up en route. It is just about as far east from here as it could be but will make it at the first opportunity. I feel Peg must have got it officially but here it is:-La Deliverance, New Cemetery, Row C, No. 30. When I have been there, I really will write Peg.
Thank Heavens the weather has cleared, two days of rain made everything into a quagmire but it’s been grand today & everything including bedding & clothes have had the opportunity to dry out thoroughly.
At last as per your orders, I’ve written to Henry (Donald). Let’s hope he gets it after my supreme effort. I put in a P.S. of ten commas & three semi c(olons) & told him to put them in for me. (HD was a writer – “A Bunch of Sweet Peas” and later the official record of the building of the new Forth Bridge. Lived in Edinburgh. He was Daddy’s CO. Obviously a stickler for grammar…)
Bill & I have just been into the local village for a hair-cut but for some unknown reason all the shops were closed. … There has been no undue excitement recently but I got a dozen eggs on Sat which made a bright moment or two. The Padre from Sector came down yesterday & we had a most enjoyable service. He is an excellent type. … It’s now 7.30 p.m. & I’m going to try & get an hour’s nap before our evening meal…”
On envelope 23 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 27 JY 44
“Same but BLA July 25. 44
“It was such a marvellous awakening today when Pop handed me (three?) letters from you. … I’ve only got a few mins before going on duty. Have been rather busy all day. Hell! The time just flies. I’m well & happy but long for endless hours of sleep. All news tomorrow…”
Envelope addressed to S/Ldr. Eric Holmes, Officers Mess, RAF Station, Driffield, Yorks. FIELD POST OFFICE 690 6 AU 44 enclosing two letters to Dorothy:
“No. 26 As per Aug 1st 44
Bless you for your grand No. 18 letter which arrived this morning. So glad all goes well. … We have an orchard next to our domestic site but the fruit is small & very sour & only used for cider. It is sweet of you to send another 200 cigs but please don’t repeat it as we now have plenty, since the Yanks still give us 20 per day & we also can buy Players at 10 for 4d. Incidentally the original 500 have not turned up yet. Your offer of “bumph”, I presume you mean this by “the necessary commodity” in the la. is in great supply & the most super quality. Bronco’s best in fact…
Don’t worry unduly over the dictionary as I haven’t had the hoped-for time to enlarge my knowledge of French by mixing with the locals but if & when it comes we may be able to cope more and it will be welcome…
One of my letters must have gone astray as I remember mentioning the other types here in detail. Jerry Nodes, is a very decent type aged 36, married but no children. Sensible but light hearted. (When Daddy died, I broke the news to Jerry who was very sad as Daddy was his last surviving friend from wartime.) I like him & he, I & Bill get on damn well together & we work as a team in complete harmony. Incidentally we have had a letter of congrats from Group & an appreciative (one) from the COs of the types we look after & play with, on the good show of this Unit. David Elias is a fellow worker of Cyril Withers but is in the RAF. He is young, brainy & quotes poetry. The “Vic of Gran” is a favourite of his & he was always delving into my anthology. The lucky blighter flew back to Eng for 14 days yesterday. These TRE types can wangle it for conferences, etc. The arrival of Ian Hay interrupted this & I’m continuing it sitting in the sun. It’s now Wed afternoon & the most wizard day. Poor Ian is fed up with the binding at Sector. He has got rather a ropey lot of controllers & crews & communications are very bad so the job is somewhat difficult. His one joy is a Hurricane & he has already flown home once. I had a long chat with him & he volunteered the fact that being on every night must be a bit shagging for us. This I had to confirm as the going has been damn tiring recently. He is endeavouring to get a 4th type to join us which will help a lot. … This is enclosed with one to him (Eric) … write & let me know all about it (your visit). We have obtained another tent so Jerry & I are taking up residence leaving Bill in one on his own with a spare bed for visitors & Pridham (the Adjt) & George, the Pole, in the other. This will give us more room & be a better arrangement as Jerry & I always come off duty together & can climb into our ever-welcome beds without disturbing the “day workers”. The Yanks have made another big contribution to our comfort & a most needed one. Mosquito nets. They really have become a major menace & we have had 4 or 5 types in hospital daily with poisoned legs & arms. A big swamp near us is a breeding ground for them but now one can lie in bed & poke noses at them in their persistent efforts to get at you. … Work however gives satisfaction still. We continue to bang them down.”
26 “As per Aug 4 44
For the first time since I’ve been in this blasted country I’m feeling a little pickled. We started a gin session at 7.30, & Bill T. & Jerry Nodes have just retired to bed for an hour’s sleep before going on duty. Jerry in particular is really tight. It’s been grand for the last couple of hours. I don’t feel superior in any way but at least I can have a real session after nearly 6 weeks of complete sobriety & be O.K. Tonight’s work should be fun. I’m calling the other two at 10 o/c & hope they will cope or I’m in for a busy night……. No excitement here except the Hun has played in a spasmodic way for the last few nights & been well & truly slapped down for his trouble.
The recent advances have left us in almost a rear position now & except for the continual roar of aircraft we have a completely peaceful day time. The news is increasingly good & we are really optimistic about getting this over by Xmas. … It is now a routine & if we were not having the successes that we have been having life would be a bore. … Have just had a letter from Anne (sister-in-law). She has a house full & still no news of H(arvey, elder brother). I have asked one of the Naval Liaison types to make enquiries for me.
The weather has been grand for several days now & the advances of both the British & Yanks goes on well. We now have complete peace during the day except for the aircraft from a landing strip near us.
It’s now 9.30 p.m. so am going to have a quick wash & then try & lick Bill & Jerry into shape for our usual night’s work…”
In same envelope. “No. 28 No change. Aug 7 44.
I do so hope you are having or have had a grand time with Eric. Am putting it this way as I shall send this to Driffield in view of the post only taking 5 days. Here’s hoping it reaches you before next Sat. Bless you for your No. 19 letter (arrived Aug 5) & for the parcel of tea & pills…
… how blessed we are with our mutual love & understanding. This is so often brought vividly to me when censoring the mail, which is so often full of petty squabbles & emptiness. Life would be so very empty here without the joy of the grand thoughts of you & Jan & planning for our future. … Some grand news my love – LEAVE starts on Sept 6th. Bill came back from Sector with the good news last evening. We get 7 days in England but do not know if we go by sea or air. Bill & Jerry will of course go first so that mine should come along about the last week in Sept. It will be truly wonderful to be with you again…..
Bill went off to Eng this morning & Jerry has gone for 3 days so I’m on my own until Bill gets back tomorrow night. I’m in for a busy night. The tea will be most welcome. … I will have a scout round for buckles over here for you. Glad the shoes are OK otherwise. … Damn, some visiting types have just arrived so am finishing this in a hurry while they wash the French dust off…”
Envelope says 27 but “No. 29. As per. Aug 9. 44.
… Re Uncle’s £100 gift. I think the best scheme is for me to get the bank to buy either £100 worth of savings certificates or a bond of that value & hold it for us. Even if the War only last(s) another 6 months we might just as well get the interest on it.
We have had one of the crews from a squadron who play with us here, staying for a couple of days & I have just returned from taking them back to their airfield. It really was grand having two blokes who talk the same language. They are good types & it was a grand change.
I hope I never have to cope alone again. I had a most successful night but being at it for 8 hours & having quite a hectic time at that was a bit much and somewhat of a strain. It was well worth it & admit I felt rather pleased with myself when giving the news to Bill on his return…
Yesterday we had a Unit sports day. It went off well & the day was truly marvellous for it. The weather has in fact been grand for the last 8 days.
Jerry Nodes arrived back from Eng this afternoon so we have our threesome combination cracking once again. In addition Dickie Black is here for a couple of days to see how it is done. Line!!! Poor Dickie, he hasn’t seen a Hun since he arrived.
Having mastered the blood-sucking mosquitoes we are now being attacked by a small red insect like an ant. It is minute & gets everywhere & has a liking for the most vital & intimate parts. We all scratch & have ceased to apologise when in company & smother ourselves with anti-bug powder which I think the little buggers eat as an appetiser before starting on us. Still we live & are happy. Cannot stop to make this a 3 page effort, my love, as it’s 9.30 p.m….
P.S. No news of H(arvey) yet. By the way, Uncle only gave John (brother) and I the £100 each. Poor H, he upset Uncle many moons ago & he hasn’t been a favourite since. John must have gone to Worthing for a visit I guess. He is at Wartling, Nr. Pevensey. Do hope the parcel of sweets, etc. have arrived O.K. No cigs yet but there is no shortage here…..”
On envelope 28 On Active Service. FIELD POST OFFICE 690 13 AU 44
“No. 30 No change. Aug 11. 44.
Your first letter from Driff(ield) No. 23 arrived this morning. … It must have been grand yarning to Eric. What is his Waaf girlfriend like? … The supply of beer seems to be good & trust you got in some parties with a touch of the good old 601 spirit in them. No excitement here for the last 48 hrs. beyond a big feast last night. There was a big possibility of us moving, & the size of our farm yard inhabitants raised the issue of how to move them. Our tummies seemed the easiest way so 2 geese, 3 ducks & 8 chicken went to the slaughter. The cooks worked all the previous night & added ham, veal, potatoes, peas & beans; chicken soup; peaches & cream, sausage rolls & an enormous fruit cake to the menu. Everyone had a pint of beer (bottled) to wash the feast down. We all had the greatest difficulty in staying awake to cope with the night’s work.
Many thanks for the French text book, it really is quite a good little effort. As already stated I haven’t had the hoped-for opportunities of really mixing with the locals on my own. This, I think, is the only way to learn. Maybe if things quieten down the opportunity will arise…
…the thoughts of the joy of being with you & the thrill of a decent bath, sheets on the bed & a real night’s sleep are madly tantalizing.
Dickie Black has returned to us for a further 5 days as they have nothing to do up in his part of the Peninsular. After the dull night’s work he usually has, his one night with us shook him to the core. What is Bob [of the Swan] name? Billa’s memory again. I thought I would send him & Reg Woods a card. Regards to the Sims, Tallowens & the types from the Mess. Do hope the old homestead is not too hectic during the next few weeks…”
On envelope 29 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 15 AU 44
“No. 31 NO. change Aug 13. 44
…Your boozey evenings are most mouth watering & I’m seething with envy. … The heat has been turned on fully to beat up the Hun in his efforts to pull out of the salient to the south of us. From the amount of aircraft going over he is having a hot time. Good thing, the more they beat up, the quicker the whole show will be over.
I don’t think I thanked you for the last bundle of Sunday papers & News Review. Sorry, pet. The cigs (500) have arrived, very well packed & in perfect condition. It really is grand to have Players again & thanks a lot, sweetie pie. We have just received our second bottle of gin & whiskey & we are having an appetiser in the Mess tent at the moment & listening to the radio. This afternoon I took the Jeep & went for a run along the beach road. It is most interesting there & wished I could stay & watch all the activity. On the way back I dropped into the American Quarter Master & asked him to change my zipper jacket, as careless Bill had put it down on an accumulator & the acid had burnt a large hole in one sleeve. He quite promptly gave me a new one & told me to keep the old one for knocking around in. Most useful. Could my Doy send me some more tape please. If you havn’t got any short pieces & have to buy some, please send about a yard as odd bodies are always wanting some.
I’m afraid a conference developed at this juncture & it’s now 7.45pm & I want to get a short nap in before we eat at 8.45. I didn’t get to bed until 7.15 am & was up at 12.30 so must have a quickie – nap I mean…”
On envelope 32 On Active Service FPO 690 — AU 44
“As per. 17.8.44 … I have had such a grand write up of your holiday … accounts of bathing, paddling & shopping etc … I imagine both of you in your new rig-outs…
The slight delay in writing again has been because I have been away from here for 3 days doing some liaison work with the Yanks, having toured through most of the occupied country to the south of us. A most interesting trip with vivid contrasts of complete devastation, particularly in the towns, & then miles of country & villages completely untouched but everywhere smothered in dust raised by the ceaseless stream of vehicles of every conceivable type. Some stretches of the roads are littered with burnt-out German tanks & lorries & discarded equipment. The placid indifference, to all this racket & destruction, of the animals in the fields is staggering & one can’t help being impressed by the unbeatable force of nature when you see weeds & wild flowers already growing, & kindly camouflaging, shell & bomb holes which are only a few days old.
I travelled by jeep with just my bed-roll, toilet items & the most necessary eating irons. The bath I had this morning was most needed, in fact I had to have two as the first was like mud. I really did enjoy it & feel I put in some good work with our “Allies”. They are grand types but so many of them seem to lack the most elementary knowledge of our work which they are supposed to do in this area, but they have got to learn sometimes. Some of their “green” troops have put up a grand show & these types I have visit(ed) are as keen as mustard to have a crack & as long as they play with their own boys I say let them do their stuff.
… the date (of leave) will be a little elastic … Home will be just too wonderful but I am all for a week-end at the Manor, would be another honeymoon for us & I say yes… Countless interruptions … are one of the binds of this life. The news is really tremendous & as issued is way behind the real position for obvious reasons. The Hun is really in the soup now & it should all be over in another 3 or 4 months. He hasn’t a hope in Hell of really lasting longer. Henry, I think, must be on the move by now. Ian has been here today. He flew down & landed in his Auster in an adjoining field. He is very fit & sends his best to you…”
On envelope 33 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 20 AU 44
“No. 33 As per usual. Aug 18. 44
… I’m all alone on the site at the moment & am taking the opportunity of the peaceful interval. Hell’s Bells, I thought it was too good to be true. George has just come in & a controller from another unit. Blast ‘em they can natter to each other… The 9 o/c news has just come on. “The Battle of Normandy is won” were the opening words. This really is grand news & things will now move very quickly. Paris will fall in a day or so & then his Eastern flank will be in jeopardy and the general feeling is that Nov. should see it over… I have just finished a most amusing & interesting book, “The Sense of Humus” by Bertha Damon which has gardening as its main theme & Samule (uel?) the old gardener is the amusing character. … Talking of books, did you ever get “Father’s Heinkel”? … Are the same blokes on the searchlight site? If so, get them to clean my gun for me. The cleaning outfit is or was on top of the wardrobe. We still have to have all three of us on each night & the Hun still plays sufficiently to keep us interested. I’m wondering if Henry has come over here yet. I have heard rumours that he has but have yet to confirm it.
Leave comes ever nearer but will still have to wait for the pukka gen. It is now the dreaded hour of 2 am & it is a sign of the times that I can write this while on duty, balancing this dwindling French pad (sheets of thin cream paper measuring 13 x 21cm) on one of your 50 Players cig boxes, so excuse scrawl, my love.
The men have been bathing regularly now all this week & am looking forward to joining them tomorrow. There is a grand beach near here with the zest of a steep climb down the cliffs, so I too shall have memories of our holidays. I wonder when & where we shall have our first peacetime one. … The Yanks pet joke recently going the rounds is that by the time the Hun asks for an armistice, the Russians will be in Berlin, the Yanks in Paris, & the British in Caen. I’m afraid our efforts must look puny but we have had at least 85% of the opposition. Actually they tell this joke as much against themselves as against us & all in good fun.
Did you manage to put Eric off visiting us when I’m on leave? If not, don’t worry darling but (I) know you too would prefer to be on our own. Make certain Reg & Bob reserve some beer for the big day. I still can’t recall Bob’s surname. … When does Mother start her school again & who is coming next term? … it’s time I did a spot of work here … I’ll post this before going to bed at dawn… another 5 weeks. Roll on the day.”
On envelope 34 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 23 AU 44
“No change. Aug 21. 44 3pm
It could quite easily be November here today, the temperature has dropped like Hell & it’s raining & blowing like blazes. Have just returned from another two days with the Yanks & last night everything being u/s I turned in at 11 p.m., a real event but found it imposs to break a 2-month old habit & couldn’t sleep until about 3 am., particularly as I was on Mother Earth plus lumps… I got up at 8 o/c feeling really refreshed as I wanted to get back here for lunch. Fortunately I was in the 15 cwt. & not the Jeep so despite the rain & mud, I had a dry journey. The rain completed a scene (of) filth & indescribable desolation in one town where even the original roads have disappeared. Bulldozers have just driven through the rubble & the traffic has made a track over it so it was a case of driving through the liquid mud & hoping you touched firm ground.
Yesterday was quite an interesting day. I was out for a run round with one of the Yanks in a Jeep when we were stopped by a gaunt, grey-haired French woman who we eventually discovered was a midwife in the throes of a difficult confinement with a farmer’s wife having twins. One had arrived & the other was reluctant to arrive. She wanted various things & lubricants. You can imagine the difficulties on both sides to gather this information.
We then beat it for the nearest Field Hospital only to find it had moved on, so hurried on to the nearest town where we found a chemist’s shop, which was in one piece & had a charming female in charge & we regretted the urgency of our errand. She could fortunately speak some English & soon supplied us with the necessary, including the usual “packet in plain paper”. We tore back & eventually found the farm which was some miles from the spot on the main road where we had been stopped. The husband insisted on us having a bottle of red wine followed by some Calvados, a form of brandy made from apples; we felt pretty good on this in the middle of the afternoon. Unfortunately, the first babe died & No. 2 was still on his or her way when we left, feeling a little tight but very self-righteous. I went for a grand long walk after we returned in order to blow the fumes away in preparation for what I expected to be the usual night’s work. It is grand hilly country covered with heather & bracken but it was necessary to keep to well trodden paths as the bloody Hun has dumped odd mines all over the area… There has been no mail for two days…”
On envelope 35 Towards PARIS (In pencil) On Active Service. 8 BASE POST OFFICE 29 AUG 44
(Letter in ink on sheets torn from ruled log book) “Usual Address Somewhere in France. Aug 30th 44. 05.00am Have just woken up after a couple of hours “cat-nap” whilst on duty. The weather is u/s & am surrounded by recumbent bodies in various attitudes of slumber. As I have another hour to wait before going off for some real shut eye, am taking the opportunity of getting these few lines off to you, my love. So many thanks for your letters Nos. 27 & 28. …The G/Capt flew down yesterday with the mail & is taking it back tomorrow. You will have had a hurried & unsatisfactory note written two days ago by now I hope, but am afraid letters may be far less regular than previously but all is well & it is only because we are moving to new areas as the line goes forward.
I remember saying recently we felt the War was leaving us behind but we have no complaints of that now as our mad drive caught up with it in a big way. Our journey was full of surprises & marvellous experiences passing through villages which the Hun had been in only a few hours before & arriving in one town before he had left. We were the first Allied troops the locals had seen & they gave us the most mad & terrific welcome, showering us with fruit & flowers & actually crying with joy, which is not surprising when you remember what they have had to put up with for the last 4 years. We eventually reached our destination on Friday night & the last hour of the journey was made through masses of semi-hysterical crowds who, if we had dared to stopped would have mobbed us in their joy & excitement. It was most moving and made one feel a little proud but we looked far from “conquering heroes” being so dirty & unshaven in our weird & very soiled vehicles. I am unable to give you news of our experiences during the last two or three days without infringing censorship so this must wait but we are getting settled in at least for a few days & meanwhile have been in to see the sights on three occasions.
Our future is unknown but we may come north again for a refit & we hope for some leave. … I shall endeavour to sleep all the way until I reach Wroxham, then a bath & I shall be fit for any & everything. … I am hoping to find you all a present in this town. … We have been entertained by some most charming French people & must agree with the general & worldwide opinion that French women make the most of themselves.
I really must pack this in, darling one, as it’s now 6 am. So I can get some shut eye. Please, Doydy, don’t worry if there is another longish break before you hear again as we shall only be moving again…”
On envelope 36 (While Bill was here ) PARIS On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 2 SP 44 Letter written in pencil on sheets torn from exercise book (like graph paper)
“15082 Unit, 21 BD Sector, RAF, BLA Aug 27. 44
You will be glad to have this note, when it eventually reaches you. Here’s hoping it does but have no idea at the moment as to when I can get it posted.
Regret I can give you no news of my travels etc but have been on the move for 3 days & we are just off again. Things are moving so quickly I have had the most amazing experiences which will be grand fun to tell you about in due course.
Since the Liberation of Paris, the French are in a mad & excited mood. There is so much to tell you, darling, if only I could & had the time to.
The accumulated dirt of three days with only one wash & shave under a village pump was removed in a most super bathroom in a first class hotel. Really, darling, you have no idea of the joy of it. Unfortunately, like everything these days it had to be taken in a hurry so could not have a super soak. Hell, was I dirty and now am almost grubby again. It is a case of wash, eat & sleep if & when you can.
The crazy point is that I was flying home to be with you for 48 hrs on Thursday last, & have since travelled about 300 odd miles away, but now I think we shall stay put & leave should be organised, so live on, my darling, for our 7 days together.
Mail from you should catch up on us in a few days. Meanwhile, my love, all is well & quite safe here. There have been unpleasant moments getting here but we made it & consider we are now an armoured recco unit – without armour. It was terrific fun to look back on.
The desire to snatch a few hours sleep is too much, Doydy, so will get this finished & hope to find a way of getting it posted.
All my love darling & sincere hopes our Jan is well & happy.
Please thank Mother for sending dictionary – it has been most useful. Cheers darling Your Billa. XX” (Letter quoted in its entirety).
(In Dorothy’s handwriting) He just turned up late at night throwing gravel at my bedroom window. In the morning we got Jan out of her cot & that was when she said “What’s his name Mummy”!
(A facsimile copy of the above letter is included on this website: click here)
On envelope 37th The day he left FIELD POST OFFICE 690 4 SP 44
Letter written in ink, neatly, on very small sheets of plain cream paper 10.5 x 17cm. On the back “ROYAL AIR FORCE Form 348 small. Pads of 100 interleaved. From, To, Date, Ref. Presumably a message pad.
“As per usual. Sept 1. 44
Ian Hay arrived today & is returning tomorrow morn so am taking the opportunity of sending a few more lines of news while the going is good. We now learn that we stay here for a while at least, after being told that we should pull out this weekend.
Hell! But we wish they would make their minds up. Since getting to this very important spot, we have been living in a tiny & dilapidated cottage & with the expected move hanging over us have been living from hand to mouth & out of our cases but now hope to get organised a little more comfortably.
Fortunately, being just outside this large & beautiful city we can get in for a bath etc. Things are getting back to normal there now & the excitement of last weekend has cooled down. Food there is very scarce & we take rations in with us & eat them in a hotel bedroom. Cigarettes are unobtainable except through the Black Market at 15/- for 20. Fortunately, being well stocked we have been able to push ours around freely, & they are treated like precious gems. The Black Market is rampant & everything fantastically expensive. It appears the Hun allowed it to operate but took his “rake-off” from the French who operate it, & unless something is done quickly to feed the poorer classes there will be trouble I fear. Most things can be bought if you know where – silk stockings at £4 – £5 a pair, beautiful hand-bags at prices from £15 – £20 & so on. I have bought you something that will last a long time & hope will give you a lot of pleasure. Not BM.
How goes everything at home my sweet. It was a hell of a disappointment missing our 48 together, but in a few days when we are more settled I may make it. … Tell (Jan) I have a present for her in the offing but the shops are not all open yet. Regret I can’t give you a clue as to where we are but you are no doubt having an amusing time guessing…
Thank you for Bob Ward’s name. If he is out of beer when I come, I shall give up so do have at least our usual 6 in stock.
How are all the things in the garden? On the way here we were showered with fruit – pears, peaches & tomatoes, & since being on this site have had a steady supply from the locals. The bloody Hun burnt the only decent chateau near us, or we could move in.
Well, my darling, must do some work but its very quiet tonight…”
On envelope 38th London on way back to Paris, postmarked Hounslow 7pm 7 SEP 1944 and bearing 2½d in stamps
“London. Thursday, 2pm. Thank you for 3 wonderful days, they were truly grand & have done me a power of good… Have fixed the return trip OK for this afternoon at least as far as Cherbourg, & from there I shall have to hitch-hike. What fun. I think I shall make straight for Sector & get Ian Hay to take me on. It is raining steadily so looks like being a dull trip…”
On envelope 39th Versailles On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 9 SP 44
“The Chateau de 21 Sector. Friday Sept 9.
I arrived here about 7.30p.m. yesterday after a dirty flip over & with no hope of getting to ’82 so phoned Ian & he sent transport for me & I was in time for a much needed & excellent meal. Getting a seat was, as Mother now says, “a piece of cake”. When asked to show my authority, my self-originated, & Jerry-signed piece of paper, proved quite sufficient. I had a quick lunch at the CH Marble Arch & rushed over to FGs to try & get Jerry’s shirts. Unfortunately, they were out of stock too & having left my coupons on the mantelpiece I could not try elsewhere, so feel I shall have to let him have my last surviving cotton one… (change from ink to pencil) …now we can both look forward to my next leave, in what we hope will be only a matter of a few weeks. I was returning to ’82 in the Oxford this afternoon but it went over to England this morning & has gone u/s there so wait patiently here. The Unit has not moved but may do so, as I have already warned you, don’t worry if mail is slow & irregular.
These Sector types lead the most quiet & comfortable life having virtually nothing to do. This chateau is a lovely building & the gardens must have been beautiful but are now overgrown & completely neglected.
Am writing this in the library seated on a massive carved & tapestry-covered chair which I presume was too big for the bloody Hun to take. He has stripped the tapestry which completely covered one wall, leaving only the bare wooden frame & only the fact that the hundreds of beautifully bound books are all in French prevented him from taking them.
… The lifting of the blackout will be grand for you all & make everyone more optimistic than ever…”
On envelope 40th & a note At a School outside Paris On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 12 SP 44
“15082 Unit. As usual. Mon.
Arrived back here last evening. We are now very comfortably set up in a school. Just these lines, my darling, to catch an A/craft returning to Sector. All my love you darling. Yr Bill”
“15082 Unit, 21 BD Sector, BLA Sept 11. 44
Have just scribbled a quick note to you just to say I eventually arrived back yesterday evening. I quite enjoyed the three days at Sector & have really had a week’s leave. If only I had known, I should have been tempted to spend at least one day more with you. As it was, it was a lovely break darling & with the 3 days at Sector I really feel marvellously rested. I flew back here by Oxford & it was another most interesting trip. The day I left we moved into a school, which has the most super accommodation for the teachers. We each have a parquet floored & modern furnished bedroom, an excellent lounge, real la’s, a kitchen & an old Frenchwoman to look after everything. After tent life, this is terrific but I’m afraid it will only last a few more days & meanwhile we’re now not allowed to go into our local big town. This peeves us as it is only out of bounds to the British & not the Yanks, so you can guess how peeved we are. I nipped into the city this morning however to pick up the types who flew me down, so took the coffee & candles (Selfridges) into my popsy – you insisted I had one so might as well live up to it…
The sail in the river was grand & those beers at the Ferry still make my mouth water…”
On envelope 41 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 16 SP 44
“Very many Happy Returns, my pet, & such a big wish that I could be with to give you a first waking kiss & add the good wishes verbally. I only hope this letter arrives on or before the day (Mother’s birthday was the 18th).
Quite a packet of mail has arrived from you, letters Nos. 30, 31 & 34 & 3 lots of newspapers, thank you for all of these, darling. No. 34 is the first since I was with you… The long awaited return to our grand life together is my one thought…
The G/C has been down & dragged us into Town again last night. I really mean dragged as we have all had enough & wanted an early night. It was quite a party as a crowd of Sector types came up.
Jerry & I are going in for a real look round tomorrow as we still haven’t done our hoped-for trip.
Hell, the G/C has just announced that he is off in 10 mins so must pack in as I want him to take this back.
News of our future is good & you would agree, more than this I can’t say…”
On envelope 42 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 690 20 SP 44
“No change. Sept 18. 44
Very busy today packing up & am looking forward to joining the Sector types.
We have had several farewell parties thrown on our behalf & quite frankly, Doy, shall be glad to get down to some real work.
Two lovely letters from you yesterday, including your most business-like one. Go ahead, darling, with purchase of the saving certificates & put them in your book. (Change from ink to pencil). The G/C has just called up to say he is landing at a local drome so will finish this & get him to take it on, pet, as it may be several days before I can post it.
Sorry to rush things again my sweetie but it will just let you know all is well…”
On envelope 43 On Active Service FIELD POST OFFICE 22 —- (In WDW block caps) “AT HOTEL KLEBER, RUE KLEBER, PARIS
“No change whatsoever. Sept 20. 44
You must be thinking that my recent letters have been both short & scrappy. I’m so sorry, my pet, but something always seemed to happen or an unexpected visitor dropped in, so I took the opportunity of getting the odd line back to you. Now at last I am sitting in the Mess & writing this by candlelight as the electricity is only on for an odd hour or two daily here but in the local city, they have it most of the time now & without the black-out it really looks gay at night.
The Yanks have requisitioned nearly every hotel but we spent 3 nights in one of the best & had the most super food – all free – until they discovered we were not on the HQ(?) Staff but it was most comfortable while it lasted, & knowing we shouldn’t be there added to the enjoyment. Before leaving we asked for accommodation elsewhere as we were working in the city but an awkward major wanted full partics etc. & called our bluff, so as he has all our names we expect to get a kick in the pants but as the G/C was also there for 2 nights we are not worrying. I had an amusing party with him & Ian Hay.
We had quite a lot of champagne at a French types’ place & then the most super dinner given to us by the proprietor of a restaurant. Here we met some Russians & they insisted on us going on to a party they were having. Have always heard they were tough drinkers & by gosh they are, as they drink neat brandy by the glassful, fortunately with a good dinner to act as wadding we upheld the honour of the English. I’m not saying we drunk as much as they did, but we did our fair share & still stood up but they were all flat out before we left.
Thank you so much for your recent letters & papers, darling. The S Ex arrived in a week, a big improvement.
‘Tis good to hear our Jan remembers me being home. Do hope the photos turn out alright & that mine is passable after your touching up… We are just waiting the order to move now but have no idea to where. Leave is still an unknown quantity but the G/C has promised to get us all back if he can.
This has certainly been a wonderful experience, Doy, & I feel we deserved it after nearly 3 mths of work every night but we do feel it is time we did some more real work.
Have got a lousy cold today & think it is through sleeping without pyjamas!!?! so am off to bed & will dig into the aspirin bottle for a change…”
On envelope 44 Last letter from France, Bill probably came back about end of Sept. On Active Service. FIELD POST OFFICE — SP 44
“No change. Sept 22. 44 Just when I really wanted a letter, your grand one written on Tues 19th arrived. I have just got back, after 1½ days on the road, to one of our old locations. This is a bit of an anti-climax after our last bright spot. We had a lot of fun there, Doy, & made a number of good friends who all want us to visit them after the War. They loved the photos of you & Jan.
So sorry your birthday letter was a day late, my pet. We all drunk your health on the 18th & I have a wee present for you. I hunted high & low for something for Jan but really couldn’t get anything sensible. I wanted to get her a silver bangle or chain wristlet, but this metal is absolutely non-existent over here, so we can have the fun of shopping when I get back.
We have just got our tents up in time as the rain is just starting. It will be quite strange to sleep under canvas again but the old camp bed will be mighty welcome tonight after the discomfort of a car seat last night…
Duke’s stories re the Ts are quite staggering. I never had a clue that Gillie(?) was married.
The war news is really grand & we all feel another month should see the Hun on his knees. Blast his soul for keeping us apart for so long… Unless something unexpected happens our leave should commence in the near future. Sorry about the date, my love, but there it is… Excuse scrawl, Doy, as I’m squatting on my bed-roll & writing on my knee…”