No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess Darling, A week today was a bad day for me and many others. It was a day of violent battle, of bloodshed, of death… But today is vastly different. Here I am in a large school, in comparative comfort… and able to write to my love without the constant fear of enemy mortars… or of the inconvenience of wind and rain and cold. And today has brought me a letter from Jess… so it is a happy day. I must deal with your letter.
Firstly, I have to try to defend myself… because you have chastised me for wandering about a Dutch town… alone. It happened this way. As I have told you, I spent three very pleasant days with the family of Mr. Cornelese… it was in Eindhoven… And then I left them and went into action on the front line. It seemed that I would have no further chance of seeing this kind family. But after a few days of skirmishes with the enemy, we were withdrawn, and sent back to Eindhoven for one night… en route for another front.
Unfortunately, we harboured in a different place… a matter of 6 or 7 Kms from the Cornelese home. But I was determined to look them up… if only to leave a few cigarettes and chocolate. I got lost on the outward journey first of all… and I like to think that it wasn’t my fault. I am convinced that the town of Eindhoven was designed by someone who specialised in “mazes”, because there never was a town with so many places leading to nowhere.
I commenced the outward journey at 5.30 pm, having about half an hour’s daylight in which I hoped to do most of the journey… But alas… it was 8.30 pm by the time I reached the house! Don’t laugh, darling: I was a very depressed and dispirited husband that evening. And to make matters worse, I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English… apart from British troops, all of whom seemed about as lost as I was.
Ultimately, I stopped a group of civilians… I must have been nearing Nijmegen by then!.. and showed them Mr. Cornelese’s visiting card which I had with me. They scrutinised it by torch light, and then I suffered a barrage of Dutch: I didn’t understand a bloody word… and for two pins I would have sat down and cried. I had so looked forward to another evening in a pleasant home… and here I was touring Holland like a blind and dumb nitwit.
Well, I gave my ‘friends’ some cigarettes, and they took me in tow along that long and dreary road I had been traversing for the previous hour. We walked back about 3 Km, and then two of the group departed… leaving me in the custody of a lad of about twelve years who guided me a little further and then stopped at the gate of a small house. What the hell? I was almost dragged inside that house and introduced to the father and mother. They looked a bit scared at first… presumably because I was a soldier carrying an obvious revolver. But the youngster cleared the ground for me, and the old man got up and brought forth a huge street map of Eindhoven and its environs. I found that I was still about four Kms from my destination… but I at least now knew my bearings.
I departed soon after, and ultimately reached Mr. C’s house without mishap. But I was damnably tired, and my pockets were feeling rather heavy, stuffed as they were with corned beef, sardines, stews, and other paraphernalia. the welcome I received from the family helped to soothe my ruffled spirits, but an easy chair and warm fire also helped a lot. My pride wouldn’t allow me to divulge my long walk… and we chatted about other things and drank ersatz coffee. At 9.30 I decided to go… so as to be back before eleven: I had to find my way to a loft above a stable and didn’t want to be too late. Mr. Cornelese said I could take a short cut back to the tanks… and he yanked out a copy of that same street map. Yes… it looked easy, and my tired limbs were all in favour of shortening the return journey.
Well… as I have told you, I departed before ten, but it was after midnight by the time I found the harbour. I think I must have gone wrong somewhere. It serves me right: I should have realised that Eindhoven is no place for strangers on a dark night. But that Dutchman who finally helped me home was certainly a great guy. I think I should have been wandering around the darned place yet but for his assistance.
You mustn’t think I make a habit of touring Europe on my own. It is very rare that I go anywhere… and I will certainly think twice before embarking on a similar journey again.
I am sure Mr. Cornelese would be delighted to receive a letter from you: he showed much interest in my wife and little son. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is yet possible to write to civilians in Holland. But if you do read of the re-opening of the civil mail service, it would please me, as well as Mr. C., if you wrote to him.
His address is:-
Mr. E Th. J. Cornelese
2c Lieven de Keylaan 22
I see that Noel Wright has written home telling his wife that he looks older. This is precisely what struck me when I saw him a week ago. I hadn’t seen him for several weeks, and his face has certainly changed in the interim… there are now several lines where formerly there were none. I suppose we all look a bit different, but you mustn’t get the impression that your husband is going to be an unrecognisable old crony when you next see him. I may have an extra long eyebrow or two, kept specially for you… but I will otherwise be about the same… I hope!
You ask whether I ever have a beard… Well… sometimes we are unable to wash and shave for long periods… maybe two or three days. And this is when we really resemble some species of sub-human monstrosity. But normally we are able to wash and shave each day. Quite often we do our ablutions under mortar and shell fire… keeping near our vehicles to enable us to dive for cover when we hear the ominous whine of the mortars. Only once did I let my moustache grow… due to the difficulty in getting new blades. But I couldn’t stand it. Whenever I drank a cup of tea, I could feel those darned whiskers gently sailing about in the tea. And even the slightest breeze caused a mild feeling of movement beneath my nose… No more moustaches for me.
You mention leave… a subject which every soldier dreams about day and night. I don’t want to be a pessimist, my dear, but please try not to think about it… not while the Jerries continue fighting, anyway. As a matter of fact, we are having leave, but not the kind you and I want. Gen. Montgomery has decreed that every soldier who has been out here 6 months has to have 48 hours leave from his unit. And for this purpose, special arrangements have been made to accommodate such leave personnel in Brussels. At the present moment, five members of my troop are in Brussels. I don’t know when I will go, but am not particularly enthusiastic about the whole scheme. I have had some experience of ‘organised’ recreation and entertainment for troops, and I don’t like it. But maybe I could write some letters… and have a decent bath: that is why I haven’t yet refused to consider the matter.
And now I must go and do a spot of ‘guard’. I have an early shift this evening… from 7.00 until 9.00 pm… so it will be no hardship.
Later. Nearly got drowned: it has rained in torrents for the last hour and have spent most of the guard beneath a shelter. Thank goodness we have a roof over our heads. But many of our lads are not so lucky… judging by the sound of the artillery to the north. There is a hell of a barrage in progress, in spite of the beastly weather. I have been speaking to a civilian whilst doing my ‘stag’… and as always with these Dutch people, I was impressed by the calm and dignified way he spoke of their suffering during the German occupation… and their gratitude towards we British troops. In France, it was customary to hear a long tale of woe, with little or no recognition of the part played by the Allied armies. But here, the people seem loath to speak of their individual troubles and hardships. They seem to be so full of relief to have got rid of the hated Germans, that the past now matters little. And for we fellows they make no effort to conceal their admiration and gratitude. I always feel less depressed when I have been in conversation with a Dutchman. They make me realise that the word liberation really has some meaning after all.
I am going to bed now, darling… It is not very late, but I do feel dopey. More tomorrow… Good night, Jessie Mine.
It is a fine morning, but rather cold. There seems to be no immediate programme for us and so our life of comparative ease is continuing. It is very nice to be able to relax and indulge in lazy habits.
I didn’t tell you that the major was wounded a week ago. He got a lump of shrapnel in his head, but it was not a serious wound, and he is now back with us again. I think the entire squadron would be very sorry to lose Major Holden now… after his behaviour of the last few months.
This morning, we had breakfast provided by our cooks. This is the first time that we have had an official cook’s meal for several weeks. We have all stated a preference for compo packs and have done our own cooking. But there was a fire in our billets last Saturday and the colonel has now decreed that there will be no more cooking indoors. The fire was not caused by any of our cookers, but the colonel’s action is quite logical because petrol cookers are inclined to be dangerous at times. The fire caused a hell of a flap, and may have had really serious consequences, but luckily the local fire brigade managed to rig up some hoses etc., and it was eventually put out after destroying about half the ground floor of the school.
‘C’ squadron personnel were billeted on the second (top) floor of the school, and some of them had to jump from the windows into blankets held by those below. Four of them were injured and are now in hospital. We managed to salvage practically all of the mens’ kit etc., but there was a most unholy mix up afterwards due to everything being pitched out of the windows. We are now in the midst of a kit check in order to replace damaged clothing and deficiencies. The fire caused much excitement… and even some local civvies joined in helping us to salvage our belongings. It is a pity that we now have to revert to cooks’ food, but it can’t be helped.
Must post this now, darling…
Will be writing again this evening.
I love you, Jessie Mine
Always – Your Trevy.