No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
British Army Exhibition
British Army Staff
Jessie Mine: I am a day in arrears with my writing, so I will start with yesterday’s news. I did little in the morning: spent an hour from 9 until 10 at the exhibition, and then adjourned to a canteen for the usual cup of tea. The canteen in question is a remarkably comfortable place – even though it is run by the Naafi. I think it must have been taken over as a going concern and then reserved for British troops. It is known as the “Skittle Alley” canteen (there is a skittle alley in the basement) and is situated in the ‘gardens’ along the Champs Elysses, and quite close to the exhibition: very handy for us. Tea and cakes are served in the restaurant, and upstairs there is a fine writing room, a lounge, and a music room. The whole place is thickly carpeted and spotlessly clean – and there are dozens of large easy chairs. Newspapers are provided every morning… the English ones a day late – but the Paris ‘Daily Mail’ is right up-to-date. As you can imagine, I gorge myself with news every day… under very comfortable circumstances.
We went to the Longchamp races after lunch – Jim Bevan, “Jake”, a sergeant major (Yorkshire Dragoons bloke) and myself. The weather was beautiful – an ideal ‘race’ day. We went by Metro (tube) to Auteuil and then walked about a mile through the Bois de Boulogne: a pleasant walk through the woods… perhaps a little spoiled by the number of racing touts and tipsters en route. These fellows are supposed to make a good living out of their various ‘trades’: some were selling racing papers giving ‘form’: others were selling cigarettes from American packets – price 4 fr. for one ciggy… rather strange to see men buying a single cigarette: others were selling “tips”… you pay them some money (varying from a few francs to many shillings) and they tell you what they think will win certain races: these tipsters are supposed to be ‘in the know’, and many people patronise them. They flourish in the same way on English racecourses. There were several hawkers, too, selling bread rolls and biscuits… rather horrible looking stuff, but it is a good sign to see extra food being sold fairly liberally.
We bought none of these things:- we had a better use for our little quota of spare cash. The sergeant major had already been given two certain winners by a French ex-jockey, and we knew we were going to make thousands of francs without any trouble. We barged through the turnstile – free – and ultimately landed up in the grandstand where we had a fine view and seats. It hadn’t cost us a cent so far. Our first ‘tip’ ran in the second race. As the horses came out for their preliminary canter, the S.M. and Bevan (they claim to know good horse flesh!) both agreed that our tip looked ‘good’… much better than the favourite. To me, it was just a splendid looking horse – and identical with the dozen or so others in the race. They do like (look?) well as they enter the course, Jess:- all beautifully groomed and handled by the jockeys in their brightly coloured silk blouses and caps.
Well – just prior to the race, Jim went down to the ‘tote’ to place our bets. I must say I felt a bit diffident about parting with a precious 100 fr. note, but they were all parting with much more and I felt reassured. After all, it would be rather nice to make a few hundred francs in a few minutes. I almost imagined myself being bitten by the bug and becoming a ‘gambling man’. Eventually the race started:- away in the distance we could see the starting ‘taper’ fly upwards, and the long line of horses bounded forward. Jim had a pair of binoculars, and he announced that our horse was next to the last – but that was a good sign: the jockey was holding him back until the final half mile or so. Gradually, the noise around us became deafening… and I almost forgot about my 100 francs as I watched the surrounding mass of excited Frenchmen dancing and yelling their heads off. There were plenty of Yankee soldiers too: and their antics are always amusing. It was all very nice and very funny: a rather happy and carefree way of making one’s fortune. When the horses came into the ‘straight’ for their final sprint to the winning post, pandemonium broke loose: gosh! it was funny: and Jim Bevan with binoculars glued to his eyes was just babbling incoherently: I couldn’t get any sense out of him at all.
But when the horses got near enough for us to recognise their colours, I could see that our colours (yellow cap and blouse) were not being worn by the leading jockey: but it was alright, of course: in that last quarter mile, our horse would demonstrate his powers. By the time the ‘field’ was more or less opposite to us, quite near to the winning post, the crowds seemed to have become frantic: I was particularly lucky in being able to look around and observe them: my mind was quite free from worry about money because I knew the result was a foregone conclusion. I saw a mass of horses rush by, and then got my maximum fun from a nearby party of Yanks: I don’t think they knew how funny they were. And then I saw a poor lonely little horse come staggering by: I felt so sorry for it because it was obviously tired out – almost on its knees: and how well I know that feeling! But the strangest thing about it was the jockey: He was wearing a yellow blouse and a yellow cap: and I hadn’t noticed any jockeys swopping their clothes during the race. Perhaps there was a mistake somewhere. There was, of course: but it was our mistake: we had backed the last horse instead of the first! God! How I laughed! Jim Bevan and the S.M. looked as though they had been in battle:- haggard faces and utter misery in every line of their bodies. It was funny Jess: it was worth losing the bob for the laughter. I think it was their pride which suffered more than their pockets – but they soon recovered.
Our second ‘tip’ ran in the fourth race – the event:- the French “Oaks”. The S.M. plunged and doubled his bet – to recoup his losses. I halved mine: I seem to be incurably mean where gambling is concerned. And what do you think happened, Jess? Yes! How did you guess? All the same, our horse wasn’t last this time: only about tenth!
There were seven races in all – but I lost interest in the fortune-making business. I got plenty of fun out of the crowds and my colleagues. They didn’t win a cent all day, and we left the course in a very dejected state. I think it is even possible that I was frowned upon quietly – but I couldn’t help seeing the funny side to the whole business.
I spent last night on guard… a rather unusual sort of experience. I never imagined that my army career would include such things as night guards on the Champs Elysses. At about three in the morning, I went for a stroll up to the Arc de Triomphe and later I went to the Place de la Concorde – just to see a bit of Paris whilst the streets were reasonably free from traffic. There were people about all night, of course, and dozens of the cycle taxis with couples spooning in the rear trailers – usually Yankee soldiers and French lassies. And there was plenty of love making amongst the trees and gardens of the Champs Elysses. I found one of these couples occupying a form in the area of our tank park – beneath the trees. It was a Yank soldier, and a rather pretty French girl. They arrived at midnight, and the soldier promptly fell asleep lying along the form, with his head upon the girl’s lap. She just sat up – smoking. At four a.m. I went round to a nearby police station to have our tea warmed up: there were a dozen or so police in the place, all playing cards. I was more or less given the freedom of the police station – and almost elected chief of police when I handed my cigarettes around!
I returned to our guard room later with the tea… and noticed the young lady still sitting up nursing that dammed Yank. She must have been half frozen because it was a very cool evening. I took her a cup of our warmed up tea and a spam sandwich. She thanked me in excellent English… and then asked for a match. No – she said – the soldier wasn’t drunk: just very tired: but she was used to being up all night: they often had all-night dances in Paris. The Yank woke up:- it was nearing five a.m: He just mumbled something about being goddamned tired – and cold – and hungry: he was going to find a bed some place. Not a word to the girl. I could have kicked the ungrateful bounder and was glad to see him go. He got none of our tea.
Have been very tired today, darling:- had a sleep for an hour in the canteen lounge this morning… and two hours in bed this afternoon. Did a little sight-seeing this evening – around the ‘Ecole Militaire’ where there was a little fighting before Jerry departed.
Must leave you now – ’tis very late.
Good night my sweetheart.