No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine: What can I talk to you about? The weather? There seems little else to write about at the moment. It has been very boisterous for the last three or four days… and the sky has been continually obscured by masses of fast moving thundery looking clouds… and yet the rain has held off… until this afternoon. There was a shower after lunch… and now conditions are vastly different. The wind has disappeared, it has become warmer, and odd patches of blue sky are now visible. I hope this improvement continues because it is almost impossible for our aircraft to operate in the former hurricane-like weather… and air support for our troops, especially in N. Holland, is highly important just now.
I am still living in civvy billets, Jess. But my host and hostess are now an elderly Dutch couple. The old man is really doddering: he is 84 years of age. The ‘old lady’ I am not certain about yet: she may be anything between 55 and 70… and whether the old man’s wife, sister, or daughter I cannot say. She talks incessantly… in Dutch: I can’t understand a word of her conversation… and neither can four of my colleagues in the same house. But we have to let her talk… hoping that the flow will cease some day. Dicky Hall (who is with me) says she has got verbal diarrhoea… but I wouldn’t know!
This is the first day of double summer time… a useful innovation (how many n’s in that word?) for us in view of the uncertain behaviour of the electric supply over here. I will at least have a little more time for writing now – I hope. We have had a good laugh today because of this clock changing business. The officers – who are all living in the same house – were not called until about 8.10 am, instead of 7.00 am… and they had to be on the usual morning parade by 8.25 am. The major was furious, and cursed the batmen shamefully… Their excuse was that they had forgotten about D.S. Time, but this was no excuse really, because they had been warned the night before.
The ‘flap’ to get on parade in time can be imagined… but I fear you cannot imagine the major’s language and behaviour when he tried to climb into his battle dress jacket… and found that it belonged to his batman. The latter had somehow got them mixed up during the scramble. Later in the morning, the major sacked the officers’ mess cook, and all the batmen had to appear in best battle dress for a further trouncing: ‘Ronnie’ told them what he thought of them… and threatened to transfer every one of them to the infantry if he had any more nonsense… Later, one of the batmen ‘resigned’ his job: he’d had enough of “batting”… and I think he must have been hurt by the major pitching his battle dress jacket through the window! The whole thing is a ‘storm in a teacup’ really, but it is one of those incidents which can only happen in the army.
Jess… have you ever seen anyone using a pedal sewing machine whilst standing up? I have! The ‘old lady’ in this billet is almost a midget… about 4ft 6in tall. She is so small that she has to stand up to work her sewing-machine! And she manages the job quite well. I think the kitchen table – on which I am now writing – must have been made for her: it is so low that I cannot get my legs beneath the darned thing: I have to sit sideways. Perhaps her volubility has something to do with her tiny stature: she sure can talk. It amazes me that she doesn’t seem to realise that we cannot understand a word she says. Normally, we can pick out a few words of Dutch and sort out some meaning, but this woman talks very quickly, very likely in a dialect, and we are literally stumped.
The village is one of those tragic places where the Germans swooped down unexpectedly and seized most of the males for work in Germany. It happened one Sunday morning whilst everyone was at church… and it was on the church that the Nazis swooped – naturally! Subsequently, the remaining inhabitants upset the Germans in some way, so before their withdrawal several months ago, the Nazis blew up the church with dynamite. It is now just a heap of rubble… the only ‘damaged’ building in the village.
I have spoken before about the religious fanaticism of these people of southern Holland… they are all R.C’s… but you must allow me to return to the topic. It is one of those things that amaze me. The more I see of these catholics, the more convinced I become that the R.C. faith is a most pernicious thing: a dreadful disease thriving on the credulity and ignorance of the poor and the peasantry. It is impossible to enter a home in this part of Holland without finding masses of religious junk… religious pictures, plaster images, miniature crucifixes, religious crucifixes, framed biblical quotations etc. etc. Even the poorest of homes has its quota of this rubbish. Not just one or two items, but all over the place… every room is littered with them. It is a continual item of expense because these examples of ‘faith’ are bought regularly, particularly as presents. It is a scandalous waste of money.
My present ‘home’ is no exception: I haven’t counted the various items, but there are dozens of them. And in the garden at the rear is a typical monstrosity. A small log about three feet tall is surmounted by a tiny wooden “shrine”: the latter about twelve inches square and six deep. The front is cut away in the form of a Gothic arch… and inside, behind a glass screen, are three tiny wax figures… the whole family, Joe, Mary and Jesus. It is a hideous looking ornament… stuck there to ensure fertility in the garden. This sort of thing is common out here.
I have been in houses when the local priest has entered. He is usually a fat and jovial looking fellow… beaming upon everybody and fairly radiating good cheer. But, something happens in the family circle when he appears. It is most noticeable with the children. They are afraid of him… literally scared. It is obvious to anyone that that priest has some influence… and the parents can do nothing about it, even if they wanted to. It seems scandalous to me that parents should allow an outsider to exercise this super-parental influence over their children. It is a betrayal of parenthood, and a wicked thing. It makes me writhe to see it. And yet, these subservient villagers would not have it otherwise. And I imagine that anyone who tried to interfere would have a rough time.
Jessie Mine… thank goodness there is no Christianity in our home. Can you imagine a fat priest telling you how to bring up our little son? Can you imagine my passive submissal to a request by the same priest to have more children? Incidentally, the very poor people out here all seem to have enormous families. This is particularly noticeable in the villages where education is more backward… and the power of the priest proportionally higher.
Darling… I must go to bed now. Please don’t think that my anti-religious views prevent me from worshipping.. They don’t… I worship you dear… as you know…
I will always do so.