No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
‘C’ Sqdn, 9th Battn RTR,
Jess Darling: I am enclosing a few snaps taken during the last few days. The group shows some members of the sergeant’s mess… and there is a crude ‘key’ on the reverse. Three of the sergeants are newcomers:- Sgts Richmond and Goat came to us a few weeks ago from the 4th Battn R.T.R, and Ted Blackman got his third stripe recently after being our cook corporal for about three years. No.2 is our Dutch interpreter ‘Teddy’… I knew nothing about the snaps of myself messing with a camera: I was with Les Challinor in the cellar of this house (our dark room) and he took the photos using ordinary electric lighting: he has a good camera. (Click here to see these photos.)
Two of the snaps are very poor pictures, but they deal with a common and rather depressing sight over here: I don’t think I have spoken about it before… so I may as well try and say a little here. You may recognise the railway goods trucks, and the people crowding their belongings on board, including children – and babies. This is a typical crowd of “DP’s”… they travel in all weathers in these open trucks – and usually every train is so packed that there are people sitting on the carriage buffers – and on the engine footplates, and on the coal in the engine tender. It is an amazing sight to see these trains – almost unbelievable. And sometimes, we see a train of cattle trucks decorated with masses of flowers, and tree branches and flags. These are all D.P’s returning to Yugoslavia, or Poland, or Russia, or France, Belgium, Holland. The Russian D.P. trains usually carry huge portraits of Stalin and Zhukov on the sides… and the Yugoslavs drape their wagons with huge flags bearing the name ‘Tito’. It is an extraordinary mixture of humanity: and the travellers must be pretty tough to survive such journeys.(Click here to see the photos of D.P. trains.)
When I was at Gennep (Holland) last week en route from Antwerp, a D.P. train pulled up beside us: it consisted of ramshackle wooden carriages and cattle trucks… every one of them literally packed with human beings… all en route for Belgium or France. They had already spent four days in that train! In one of the tiny compartments, I noticed a small clothes line carrying female underwear, and children’s clothing! Heaven knows how or where it had been washed. The people seemed quite cheerful – presumably because they were nearing their own countries. One of them, a Belgian, came over and told us a little about their journey. He had been a P.O.W. for about five years and had learned to speak English in the prison camp: judging by his colourful language, he must have been imprisoned with British soldiers!! He was with a girl – no – it wasn’t his official wife, but they had lived together for the four days becoming man and wife every night in the packed corridor. Similar affairs prevailed throughout the train apparently. And there were hundreds of children and babies mixed up with these conditions. But, as I think I’ve said before, we mustn’t judge these people by ordinary standards… morality, as we know it, has more or less ceased to exist over here.
I remember the first time I got a real close-up of these refugee travellers. It was at Brussels… on the train for Paris. A single wooden coach was hitched to the end of our military train… and into this coach, there poured a seemingly endless mass of refugees: there appeared to be hundreds of them, and yet all scrambled into that carriage. All of them had baggage… pitiful bundles of rags, or stacks of battered suit cases, or perambulators bursting with junk… The whole lot was bundled aboard – including even a cripple in a bath chair. There were Belgian Red Cross nurses helping them and dishing out food – including bottles of milk for the babies. The sight of dozens of young children heaving and tugging great valises and suit cases for their overladen parents was one of the most terrible things I’ve ever seen. Even babies of two or three years of age staggered along to the train with their burdens. We gave what help we could – packing some of the luggage in our compartments – but we couldn’t do much for the children, except carry their loads to the train. And this forced migration of humanity has been going on for months – and will presumably continue for months. God knows what they will do during the winter.
Och Jess… I wish I could be away from all this beastliness: I thought I had seen an end of human degradation with the defeat of Germany… but there is more of it now than during the war.
If you are interested, I will tell you more about these things when I come home: I don’t find it an interesting subject to write about.
Good night, Jessie Mine…
Always – Your Trevy