No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Darling Jess, I was ever so glad to receive two letters from you today: it is the fourth day since I last heard from you, and had there been nothing for me I think I would have done something drastic. However, everything is now O.K. again.
I was glad to hear of the arrival of the parcel… And how delighted to read of Barry’s antics (and yours!) with the paper wrapper. How I wish I could have seen you both… I thought the ‘bunny’ would be too ‘old’ for him dear, but there was so little choice. Some rattles I saw weren’t worth buying… and then I had to study your nerves as well-! Perhaps in a few weeks he will make a pal of ‘Hans’: I hope his mummy will too-!
I don’t know what to say about the powder. Your announcement was the first I knew about any vitamins. You see, I had to be advised by the young lady in the shop… and she couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Dutch. But the boxes looked quite attractive, and there was a definite ‘scent’ with the powder. I am wondering now whether some of it is boracic powder or something… otherwise, why the vitamins? and the “voor eczeem” (for eczema). Anyhow, perhaps you can make use of it dear… on Barry, if not yourself.
And what about the typhoon/blizzard? (‘Typhoon’ by Joseph Conrad) Have you started it yet? I’ll bet you haven’t: it gives you cold feet doesn’t it? Just stoke up the fire some evening, and make a start… and I guarantee you will continue until you have finished the book… providing of course that you have a partiality for blizzards-!!
In one of today’s letters, you speak of your dreams of the future… of our post-war life together, and of Barry and his career… I too have these dreams, darling. I am always dreaming of you. And my imagination takes me, too, along the years… Happy years, my dear: there seems little room for anything but happiness when once we become re-united…
The M.O. has been again today, and altho’ my temperature is now normal, I am officially ordered to remain in bed today and tomorrow. I feel much better anyhow, and presume I will be really O.K. in a few days’ time.
Today, we have received the first issue of what looks like becoming a monthly paper:- the 9th “News Letter”. I heard about this venture a few weeks ago, and was led to believe that it would be a sort of diary of the activities of the unit… and liable to be of interest to our ex-colleagues. But having seen this first number, I feel… well, disappointed, to put it mildly.
For a start, I hate and detest the style of writing. The authors have tried so hard to be funny, that they have produced nothing but shallow nonsense. I think the record of the unit, and the men who have fought with it, are worthy of something better than cheap humour. Obviously, it is the product of officers… an officers’ mess “Rag Manual”. I am enclosing my copy for your… er… opinions. The grammar and phrasing leave a lot to be desired… and it cannot all be blamed on the Dutch printer.
Circumstances prevented my saying a single word yesterday… and so another gap has appeared in my writing, but it is only 9.00 am, and I will still be able to send this by the noon mail.
I had to change my billets yesterday, much to my regret. I was so very comfortable before, and my hostess, Mevrouw Stikkelbroek, was extremely kind. I am now with another family, only a mile or so from my former ‘home’, and appear once again to be very fortunate.
There were five of us with M. Stikkelbroek, my entire crew… but now I am alone. Mv. S. was very sorry to say good-bye, but we have promised to call and see her when/if possible.
I am now in a fairly new working class house: it is spotlessly clean. The family consists of meinherr and vrouw Boh… a middle-aged couple: he works in the local coal mine.
My diffidence about changing billets became less acute almost as soon as I entered the house yesterday afternoon. I was greeted by a perfect female counterpart of Falstaff… the typical buxom smiling Dutch housewife I had always imagined… and never before seen. In a few seconds, I knew she couldn’t speak a word of English, but her gestures and volubility somehow conveyed her meaning. I was shown my bedroom upstairs, and found it clean, and the bed quite comfortable and civilised. Unfortunately, I had been introduced to the lady as a “seek man”, and this made her seem especially anxious to fuss around me.
Downstairs I was dumped in the easy chair: I had to remove my boots: she warmed a pair of her husband’s slippers and made me wear them: she brought a blanket and placed it over my legs: and then a footstool for my feet… and then a warmed cushion for my head. I had to lie back and rest… Hells bells!! What the bloody hell could I do? I wasn’t that sick… But how on earth could I stop her messing around like this without causing offence? All the time she was attending to me, she was pouring forth volumes of Dutch… strings of it: I became dizzy listening for English sounding words to try and get the gist of her meaning. But I had to stop: as soon as I showed the slightest sign of comprehending, her face lit up, her arms swung more vigorously, and her tongue became more active. I had to lay back on that pillow… literally exhausted from the strain. I lay back dozing… and she crept into the room from the kitchen and I saw her tip-toeing away with my filthy boots: they re-appeared shortly, shining and clean! And then the husband came home from work. A short and stocky fellow with thin greying hair and heavily lined features: a kind and honest face… but so tired looking and care-worn. We shook hands and said the appropriate things in our two languages… in the presence of his beaming wife.
And now followed more pantomime… and my job became more difficult: it was now two to one against me, and I felt my reserves failing: I should have to find reinforcements, otherwise I would have to surrender and go to bed to preserve my sanity. I went for my tea… but not without a struggle. It took at least ten minutes to ‘explain’ to Mrs. Boh that I would not be eating my tea in the house: she wanted to lay the table and generally make a spread in the dining room. After tea, I had to return – alone. I had hoped to secure the assistance of a colleague who knew a few words of Dutch, but he was otherwise engaged. I would have to fight my own battle.
I found the dining room fire had been lit in my absence… and a hot water bottle placed in my bed. I said I would write a letter to my wife “ik zal schrijven mijn vrouw”. God! What a mouthful: what concentration! As soon as I had said it, there was a minor earthquake in the room. He dashed off to a cupboard and started heaving out lumber: she toddled off somewhere else… and they both re-appeared looking triumphant… he with an enormous writing pad, she with pen and ink. Blimey! Could I be so heartless as to tell them I already had pen and paper? I would have to… their paper was hopeless, likewise the pen. I had to produce my entire stock of writing utensils to convince then that I needed nothing.
But I was not to be allowed to write. As I was about to start, Mr. Boh pushed a pamphlet beneath my nose: “Learn to speak English with our Liberators” it was called. And inside were pages of verbs and English-Dutch sentences. I hated the sight of it but had to appear interested… and had to keep up the appearance for the rest of the evening. They were so obviously keen to talk… about themselves, the Bosch, the Americans, ourselves, and my personal affairs. Very soon the family ‘Album’ was yanked out, and I beheld pictures of about four generations of Boh’s. And I learned that the Boh’s were not Dutch people at all… they were from Yugoslavia, but had been in Holland for several years. And ultimately we found a mutual understanding of a few words… taken from the languages of Holland, Yugoslavia, Germany, France, and England: it became a sort of international conference, with a map of the world spread before us just to add colour. He insisted on my showing him the precise location of Stockport… and I had to be shown the precise location of his birthplace, Smczlkzxvskw… it sounded like that, anyhow.
Somehow, the discussion turned to money… and my eyes boggled when he fished out a genuine £5 note from his wife’s handbag. I thought the darned things were extinct. He seemed almost surprised when I said it was ‘guide’ (good), and worth about forty-five guilders. He then poked his fist into the bag… and brought forth a handful of them… just like that! Je-sus! Was I seeing things? I counted thirty nine of them: all nice crisp fivers… and kept in a lousy looking handbag which his wife uses for shopping. She positively shrieked with laughter talking about them. I gathered that they had some guilders in the house when the German invasion was imminent. These were taken to the bank and exchanged for “Eenglisch money”. When the Germans came, the money was buried beneath a tile in the cellar. Mrs. Boh thought it was grand to have outwitted the Bosch.
Eventually it was bed-time… and my head was aching like hell. I hadn’t used my brains so consistently for a long time. But before going to bed, I was given a strong dose of cognac in boiling water: it was good.
The foregoing has been written in between spasms of trying to understand Mrs. B. She is fussing round me again this morning, and I can’t do anything about it. Because I have a cough, she thinks I am still a “seek man”, and is perpetually making drinks of hot coffee (ersatz). But worst of all… she is convinced that my cough is due to smoking… and is watching me like a lynx. But I have had several quiet whiffs “behind her back”, and was feeling pretty smart… until she came in a few minutes ago and counted the dimps in the ash-tray. I felt like a naughty school-boy!
Must go now, dear Jess… Will be with you again this afternoon… providing I am not Boh’d to death.
Au revoir, my love
P.S. Mrs. Boh has been fussing around again… and after ten minutes I have just realised that she wants me to send you her greetings. So there you are dear – she has watched me write this, and is now all smiles.