No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess Darling: I don’t think it is going to be easy for me to write to you today… my mind is too full of whirring impressions… too erratic, to write sensibly. I imagine I must be intoxicated by the tremendous news and events of the last few hours. But it is true Jess: the war is really over (in Europe): I have heard Mr. Churchill’s broadcast… Can it be true that my dreadful fear of never seeing you again is now a thing of the past… nothing but an unpleasant nightmare? The answer must be “yes”, my darling: it is ‘yes’. Can you imagine what that means to me?
The end of the war must have a variety of meanings to most of us… but to me it has one meaning which renders all the others trivial… The ending of physical hardship matters little: the dissipation of fear… fear of injury, fear of physical extinction, fear of cowardly behaviour… is unimportant. The only thing that matters is that I am now assured of being re-united with my Jess, my love. And soon, we will be able to live our lives together again: to be happy: to share the responsibility of rearing our little son. And soon, you will be able to forget many of your worries: and you will have someone to help you: and always, you will have a husband who loves you dearly…
Oh Jess… Jess… I cannot conceal from you the utter misery of my life in recent months. I have been so afraid that you would be left alone with little Barry. And the measure of my relief now that I know we will all be together again is… oh I simply cannot find words suitable: I hope you understand and can make sense of my ravings.
Looking back on the past… as far back as that depressing day in November 1940 when we parted… I realise that I have only played a very mediocre part in the winning of the war… a minute drop in the ocean of humanity involved in the conflict. But I want you to know, dear, that anything I have achieved, however insignificant, is because of you. I love you, Jess… and I know that my love is reciprocated… and knowing this, I have always somehow acted and behaved in a manner which I have deemed least likely to meet with your disapproval. I know I haven’t always been successful, but the essential fact of the matter is that I have always had your presence and personality… and your splendid example… to guide me… and I have tried to maintain your respect because the respect of one’s wife is surely a priceless gift… next only in importance to that of her love. Please don’t accuse me of talking extravagantly, dear Jess. I know what I am saying, and I know full well the extent of my indebtedness to you. I only wish I could pay tribute in a manner more worthy of you…
Perhaps you would like to hear a few details of my life out here during the last day or so. Yesterday, Monday, we held another dance in Holland… Oldenzaal. And because I had to arrange the lighting again, my day, and evening, were pretty well occupied and so I was not able to write to you. It was not a very special dance… just the usual crowds of Dutch girls… and the drink… and the hordes of soldiers from other units trying unsuccessfully to gain entry. But perhaps there was a more carefree atmosphere this time: the peace had not been officially declared, but we knew it was on the way.
I went into the town of Oldenzaal during the dance… it was about 9.30 pm… and there in the town square were masses of civilians, mostly young people, simply delirious with joy. They were dancing and singing and letting off fireworks, and generally letting themselves go. No doubt the scene was identical with countless others in towns all over Europe and in Britain. I couldn’t help thinking that this was the first time in six weary years that ordinary people had been able to rejoice in freedom and happiness. It was a grand sight Jess… But, as always, there is sadness for me amidst the happiness of others, because such sights only serve to emphasize the loneliness and hardships which still dominate the life of my own dear wife. But it won’t be long now darling. We too will have our happiness. It has been a long wait… far too long… but it is now definitely coming… I live for nothing else.
Today, we have been out in the tanks for the first time for about three weeks. But this was a new kind of journey. There was no battle at the end of it… We were simply moving three or four miles to a suitable place for our “Victory Salute”. And at exactly 12 noon, we commenced firing our twenty one rounds per tank. Some high ground had been specially chosen for the job… so that as many Germans as possible would hear us. I presume they guessed what it was all about.
At the start of our little journey, the familiar voice of the major came over the radio “Hello all stations Charlie one: prepare to advance now”… And then he moved on, followed by his squadron in line ahead. The same order has come over the air so often in the past… an order pregnant with possibilities… and dread… But this time it was different. We have reached the end of our journey, and this was just a happy little epilogue. To me, it marked the beginning of the end of an awful ordeal… and I felt almost light-hearted. And when we fired the guns, there was no terror in the noise: they seemed to write ‘finis’ to the gloom and darkness of the last few years. For the first time, I experienced a thrill of pleasure as we shattered the peace of the countryside. It was the end, Jess… and the beginning… I never want to fire guns again.
Our tanks are now back in the harbour: I don’t doubt but what we will have to make further journeys in them, but no future journey can have quite the same significance as today’s.
There were lots of German civilians watching our procession today… and some children even waved to us. Mostly, the people were just expressionless: I would have liked to know what they were thinking.
Yesterday was ‘Victory Day’… and this is the first official day of Peace in Europe. It is almost impossible to believe that we have lived through such sensational history in so short a time. But it must be so… I suppose it would be easier for me to grasp the amazing turn of events if I were living in a different environment where ‘victory’ did not mean defeat. For our victory is Germany’s defeat… and I have the misfortune to be living amongst the defeated. Apart from our own unit celebrations, and the mad careering of decorated army lorries through the town, there is no evidence of victory here, Jess. There is no atmosphere… no happiness en masse… no singing, no flags, no delirious crowds… No… the people here seem to be unmoved by events. Perhaps they feel humiliated: perhaps they feel angry towards us… they may even hate us, as only Germans appear capable of hating: or they may be glad that the war is finally over. I don’t know: it is hard to tell, especially with language difficulties, and ‘no fraternising’ orders.
But in spite of everything, our lads here have celebrated alright… They were told by the colonel yesterday that there would be a two day holiday… and he added that he expected to see us all gloriously drunk… I don’t think he would have been disappointed had he visited the squadron last evening… Many of the lads obeyed his hint… with a vengeance.
Most of the drunkenness was caused by some captured wine. A dump of thousands of bottles of the stuff was found somewhere… and we got our share – hundreds of bottles. It tasted to me like a mixture of cider and champagne, but I am no connoisseur, and cannot be too sure. Anyhow, it turned out to be very potent indeed… and many of our hard and steady drinkers succumbed to it. There was almost a riot in one billet – with empty bottles whizzing through the windows, and furniture being smashed to splinters.
One troop of fourteen men was completely ‘blotto’ by about three p.m. They were all completely unconscious and lost all interest in life… And they aren’t much better this morning. In case you are wondering, I can assure you that the drink was not poisoned or drugged: the lads themselves were to blame for drinking the stuff as though it were beer… in half-pint glasses!
There was some celebrating in the sergeants’ mess, but no real drunkenness – much to my surprise. The S.S.M. brought five female ‘guests’ from Holland (illegally!) and we were supposed to help in entertaining them. But I soon gave up the attempt. They couldn’t speak a word of English… and couldn’t understand a word of my Dutch-!! so I shut up. The whole of the sergeants from H.Q. squadron turned up for a social visit during the evening, and the mess became a bit crowded, in spite of our huge dining room. They drunk a fair amount of the German “Hooch”, but were not unruly. They all departed about 11.0 pm… and the females went soon after:- the mess was therefore quite calm and peaceful by midnight… but it looked a hell of a mess with empty glasses and bottles in every conceivable place.
I listened to the news at midnight, and then heard an interesting broadcast to America from 12.15 to 1.00 am. It was a description of the scenes of rejoicing in England… told by various eye-witmnesses in London. The weather seems to have been specially ‘laid-on’ for these last two amazing days. All the wireless accounts have spoken of the glorious spring weather in England… and it has been the same here… with bright sunshine all day, and clear blue skies. It is quite hot too, with hardly a sign of a breeze. In fact, it is too hot indoors.
The lads in my troop are having a ‘dinner’ at 8.30 this evening. They shot a deer the other day, and this is part of the menu. It has been cooked on the range in their billet. I have got to attend the function, but I don’t fancy the venison: I think I will be a vegetarian… It will soon be time for me to put in an appearance, so I will leave you… until tomorrow…
Au revoir, Jessie Mine…
Am longing to hear your reports of VE day…
Always – in love