No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess Darling: I am not progressing very well with my efforts to learn Dutch: my mind is not in a very receptive state these days. But we manage to hold conversations of a sort… that is, Mrs Boh does most of the talking and I just listen, saying “ja” at what I deem to be appropriate intervals… or “neen”, as the case may be. I have only to watch her facial expression to be sure of using the right word… even though I haven’t the faintest idea what she is talking about.
Mr Boh is not nearly as boring as his wife: He only tries to converse when he really wants to say something… and then we progress a word at a time… often using the dictionary. This is a slow process, but it works quite well. I sometimes speak of ‘my wife’ using the English, instead of the Dutch “mijn vrouw”, and whenever I do so, Mrs. B. reponds with roars of laughter. It seems to be a constant source of amusement to her that we should speak so unashamedly of our “wives”. The reason being that “wife” is also a Dutch word, but with an unsavoury meaning: a very undesirable “vrouw”.
I have been watching her make ‘ersatz’ coffee. First of all, she takes a handful of acorns from a bag hanging over the kitchen stove: then she peels away the ‘husks’ and slices the acorn ‘fruit’ into small pieces. These are then placed in a flat pan, and ‘browned’ over a hot-plate on the oven… and then ground up in a small coffee grinder. All Dutch houses have these small coffee grinders affixed to the kitchen wall… relics of more peaceful days. After the acorns have been dealt with, the same process is repeated with grains of corn, without the husks. The two are mixed together… and then ‘brewed’ in the same way as ordinary coffee. The resulting liquid is identical with genuine coffee in appearance, but does not taste the same… altho’ there is a slight similarity. When made with milk and sugar, the ersatz is not a bad drink… but milk is very scarce and it is usual to have just “coffee” and sugar. It is eight or ten weeks since the Boh’s had any milk: what meagre supplies there are being reserved for small children, “kleiner kinder”.
One of Mr. Boh’s domestic jobs is tobacco making. He has a stock of large browny green leaves, something like ‘dock’ leaves. He rolls up three or four of these leaves, and then cuts them into slices, afterwards tearing the slices into small pieces. He puts the resultant mess into a tin, and dries it in the oven… much to his ‘vrouw’s’ distaste: she says it ‘stinks’… and it does! When the cooking process is finished, the tobacco smells something like snuff… a rather pungent-musty smell. Mr. Boh doesn’t actually smoke this stuff: being a miner he cannot smoke down the pit, so he chews the stuff instead… just as our miners chew thick-twist. I don’t know whether the original leaf is from a tobacco plant… maybe it is… I have seen plenty of tobacco plants growing in Belgium… but I’m sure it’s a very crude variety, unlike the American tobacco we smoke.
But these are only some of the minor inconveniences resulting from the German occupation… there are thousands of others… mostly without substitutes, ‘ersatz’ or otherwise.
I am still on the sick list, Jess… but hardly sick now. I will probably be back on my job again in two or three days time.
In your last letter, you mention Bill Geary… I have more or less forgotten him… After he was wounded, he wrote to me twice, each time asking me to try and secure his private papers. He seemed most anxious about them. I went to a fair amount of trouble to comply with his wishes, and eventually sent his stuff home for safety, as you know. And I wrote and told him what I had done. At that time, he was expecting a few days sick leave, and he wrote and told me that he and Ruth would call upon you for the parcel. I have had no direct communication from him since, but someone else in the unit received a letter some time ago in which he said he was gloriously drunk during his entire leave. That is probably why the parcel is still upon your hands, my dear. When/(if) Boland calls upon you, just let him help himself to his own papers, and leave the remainder in the junk room. Geary may pick it up some day. Incidentally, Boland is more reliable than Geary and I’m pretty certain he will visit you if he gets home leave.
I fully agree with all you say about Greece… and am amazed at the weakness of Churchill’s defence of the government’s action. I should have thought he, of all people, would have made a better case. And fancy him using the phrase “poor old England”. Is he inviting the world to weep for us? The Germans made great fun of this ‘poor old England’ phrase over their radio. the fighting in Athens still seems to be very bitter… in spite of the use of British arms and bombers. The ferocity of the opposition seems to give the lie to Churchill’s story of armed guerilla bands attempting to seize power. It would almost appear that we are fighting the entire Greek nation, minus the ‘right’ politicians and reactionaries of course. It is a dreadfully depressing state of affairs, Jess. Heaven knows where it will end.
There seems to be another hold up in the mail somewhere: it is now three or four days since I had a letter… but there is bound to be something for me tomorrow. I had an air-graph Xmas card from Les Stanley yesterday: am wondering how he secured my address, because I was at Charing last time I wrote to him. He is still with the “Central Mediterranean Forces” – presumably in Italy. I intend to write to him during the next day or two.
I seem to have very little to talk about today, my darling… But in case you are wondering about my cold, I can honestly say it is much better, altho’ I am still officially under the M.O. Unfortunately, he cannot do anything for my principal ailment. It is not the M.O. I really need. I sometimes wonder how much longer I can stick this life: The conditions, and danger, and perpetual worry are only part of the trouble. I think I could stand anything… everything… if it were not for being parted from you. But now… Och Jess, I have had more than enough. I suppose the promised leave will help… but it may be months before my turn comes round. We will see what the ballot brings forth.
The other day I received an article written by John Gordon… about Noel Coward. It was from Kath: (RTG’s sister) I will enclose it with this, as it may interest you. Before reading Gordon’s article, read the resumé of Coward’s radio talk which I will enclose also. I always thought Coward was a ‘nice fella’: I don’t think I was wrong. And now I am wondering why my mind always subconsciously associates Noel with Beverley. Perhaps I do one of them an injustice!
Another night of double-Dutch… and a headache for your husband!! Mr. Boh has written the enclosed card for you: He and his wife had to have a conference upon the lay-out etc… and then it took at least an hour to do the writing. They seem delighted at the idea of sending a message to “mijn wijf” (my wife!).
Bed time now… Good night, dear Jess
Always… and always