No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess, darling, I wonder what you will be thinking about me… I have wondered a lot just lately, because my conscience tells me that you have been worrying… I can imagine how you have eagerly awaited the postman each day… and how terribly disappointed you must have been on at least three or four successive days just lately. I too have been worried, darling. I always worry when I am unable to write: it is a vicious circle. I was able to scribble a short note last evening but it was a very unsatisfactory effort. This may be a little better… but I cannot make any prophecy because the immediate future is so uncertain… We may be rushed away again any moment… or we may remain here for a second night or longer. As you will know, the war front is somewhat fluid just now and there are cross-currrents running in all directions: I prefer a stagnant pool myself… but am not, unfortunately, in a position to pick and choose.
We have had some bitterly cold weather lately… for about the last seven days, but it has not really been unpleasant. The frost has been very severe and the countryside has been converted from a mass of mud to iron-hard earth. This is much better: it is so much easier to put up with the cold, so long as we can remain dry. But more important still, the dry weather has enabled our aircraft to operate in support of the ground forces. This has made a tremendous difference to the progress of the German onslaught, as you will have heard. For several weeks now we have been able to occupy ‘civvy’ billets, and the weather has not been a great hardship for us. We have been cold, of course… particularly during some night journeys, but we could have been much worse off.
At the moment, I am sitting in the kitchen of a typical Belgian country family. There are the inevitable tiles upon the floor… and the “kachel” or stove: I am sitting beside the latter, with my pad upon my knee. In the room with me is Tom Hamnett, trying to write to his wife… and the old lady ‘grandma’, pedalling away ceaselessly upon her spinning machine. One of her daughters is dressmaking by the window. Every half hour or so, the room suddenly becomes silent… everyone listens intently… an ominous sound is heard in the distance… the horrible guttural roar of the flying-bomb. Is it heading in this direction? The sound grows louder… sometimes it causes the house to vibrate… and then the family make a bee-line for the cellar… But it passes by, and we continue listening. Suddenly, the roar ceases as the engine automatically switches off… and a few seconds later the house rocks, doors rattle, as the blast from the explosion reaches us. The bomb may have crashed five miles away, but still the house vibrates momentarily. These conditions obtain night and day: consequently, everyone is always on the alert. But the civilians here have to sleep, and so they have converted their cellars into dormitories. A terribly primitive way of living, but it is a sensible way of trying to ensure survival.
I spent a couple of days in a large town recently… a place which has been a favourite target for flying bombs. And in that town, the entire population appeared to be living in cellars. It was a queer sight to stand at the end of a street and see dozens of tiny smoking chimneys protruding from cellar windows… hardly above the level of the pavement. But the inhabitants seem to have got used to their new mode of life. During the day, they occupy the ground floor rooms for cooking, eating etc, but the cellar door always remains open to enable them to rush down as soon as the bomb is heard approaching. It is a wretched life, especially for the children… but these people have enjoyed so little during the last four years that they no longer seem to expect any of the pleasures of our so-called civilisation.
Some time ago, the unit spent a few days in a German town… or rather a town that was!.. and there too every cellar had its tiny chimney protruding above the pavement. But in this case, the inhabitants had resorted to their underground cave-like existence as protection from the R.A.F. No doubt the majority of the German people are ‘enjoying’ a similar existence. It is some consolation to know that they too are having to endure some of the suffering they have inflicted upon so many others.
When I look upon these ruined towns, Jess… it makes me wonder how on earth the damage will be rectified after the war… And what I have seen is only a minute fraction of the whole. It is a terribly depressing subject to contemplate… especially when one realises that the material damage is only a part of the price of war… The health of the children is another part. I was billeted recently with a Belgian family living in a large town… one of the flying bomb areas. This family, mother father son and daughter, were living in the cellar… a typical cellar, dark, airless and cold. The daughter, a charming youngster of twelve years, had become afflicted with asthma: at frequent intervals, her breathing became a physical effort… horrible to see… But her parents could do little for her, in spite of their anxiety. A doctor was an impossible luxury: the air of the cellar was almost poisonous: it became worse in the evening, when the oil lamp was lit. Decent food was out of the question. I imagine that youngster will probably become incurable. We said good-bye to her as she lay in bed one morning… in that gloomy cellar. She lay there limp and pale: there were tears in her eyes as we said good-bye… it was damnable having to leave her there under those appalling conditions, but what could we do? She was only one of… well, maybe millions of youngsters in Europe… victims of the war.
It seems certain now that we will remain here this evening… but the electric light has just faded out… “kaput”!.. and I am trying to continue in the light of a feeble oil lamp. I suppose that will conk out next because there is little paraffin for civvys over here. I think I told you that I received several letters around ‘Xmas… but have since had no time for replying to any of them… And so must ask you to forgive me if I have apparently ignored any queries in your letters. Dorothy told me in her recent letter that they had sent me a fountain pen. I have now received it (am using it at the moment) and will try and acknowledge it soon, but if you see her meanwhile, please let her know that it has arrived.
In one of your recent letters… I think it was the last one I received… you revealed that you were struggling with the Russian language! Jess… you stagger me. How on earth you manage to raise the mental effort to even write that weird alphabet is beyond me. You worry me, dear. If you persist with your efforts you will have a nervous breakdown… I’m sure you will. Can’t you find something a little more normal to study? And think of poor little Barry. What will the little chap think if you start talking to him in Russian? Give it up Jess: please Jess, don’t send yourself crazy. I want to come home to my Jess… my beautiful wife… not to a raving Cossack!
Too much noise, darling. The sergeant major has turned up and there is an uproar in the house. He has brought a bottle of whisky which hasn’t helped matters. I dare not leave this letter to add more in the morning: there may be a sudden move, and then I may not be able to post it for a day or two.
I will say au revoir now, and hope to start another letter tomorrow. I may be lucky, as the “atmosphere” seems quite settled just now.
Good night, my love
Always, Always –