C Sqdn, 9th Battn R.T.R.
Jessie Mine: There was a letter for me today: I knew there would be-! You refer to the next ten weeks – and suggest that they are going to be very long ones. I agree with you… and yet, I don’t think they are going to seem as long to me as to you. In so many ways, my life is far less wearying than yours… and, even when I am really ‘busy’, I don’t put in half the working hours that you do… NO… it is you who are suffering the hardships now, my love – and I get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that I will be able to help you in a few weeks time… I say a few weeks because it sounds less than ten weeks. As for the past “five blank years”… well, I know you didn’t mean that absolutely, even though they have been ‘blank’ years in many respects. In spite of everything, I have some very precious memories of you during this period, dear Jess. And I have learned a lot… a hell of a lot… And in particular, I have learned of my great good fortune in having you as my wife and friend. I only hope now that I can always be worthy of your love and respect, because there are no riches on earth so priceless to me.
And, of course, we mustn’t forget that our little “ray of sunshine” – or would he prefer to be called “ray of moonshine” or “moonbeam”? – was born during our ‘blank’ years… Ah Jess… reminiscing is inclined to be a heart-breaking business sometimes… but I will always be proud to speak of your help and unfailing goodness to me during these war years: I don’t know how on earth I would have carried on last year but for the knowledge of you – and all that that implies. Your name was a sort of magic life-line… always in my mind: I was never conscious of complete and utter despair – How could I have been?
But we are concerned with the present just now: let’s see what we have to talk about.
Today hasn’t been so bad on the whole – mainly because the major has been away since lunch time, and we have been able to carry on with our work without interference. God! Jess: he is a tiresome creature… and terribly selfish and inconsiderate. But certain things are afoot – and there will have to be a change before long. At the moment, we sergeants (including the S.S.M. and the S.Q.M.S.) have a little grouse which he will have to consider before long. It is trivial really, but I will tell you about it.
When we arrived here eight days ago, we were not able to move into our official billets because they were still occupied by a unit of the Pioneer Corps. But we knew that the Pioneers were moving in a few days, so we didn’t object to the house provided as a temporary sergeants mess – in spite of its depressing and dirty interior. It is a small hotel or apartment house kept by two miserable looking old ladies: they are always snooping around and scrounging – and our waiters have christened them “arsenic and old lace”… an appropriate tile really – but that’s by the way.
The point is that the Pioneers had a very nice ‘gasthaus’ for their mess, and we knew it would be ours in a few days time… Well the Pioneers moved out last Tuesday – so we packed up our mess “lock stock and barrel” – loaded everything on to a 3 ton lorry and moved down to our new quarters and commenced to unload. Everyone was in high spirits. We were going into a spotlessly clean place, complete with servants, and civilised beds and bedding, including sheets changed weekly:- a pukka establishment and well organised by the proprietor.
We had just about unloaded half the lorry when the S.S.M. came – with a face as long as a fiddle – and we soon knew why… The major had forbidden us to occupy the new place, and we had to move back – to that deadly moth-eaten hole with its ‘arsenic’ and ‘old lace’. Gosh! What we said about that major is just nobody’s business. George (the S.S.M.) told us the story. It seems that the major had only just discovered that there were German civilians living in the same building… and as Monty’s orders were quite definite in forbidding us to be billeted with German civilians, the major would not risk even a technical breach of the order.
From our point of view, his argument was quite correct, but we all knew that he was interpreting the order too literally. We were not being billeted with German civvys at all in the real sense: we were simply taking over a small hotel, and permitting the staff to remain for our convenience: they were going to do all the work for us. George had apparently explained all this to the major, but he would not relent… and so we had the humiliating job of re-packing and returning to our former billet. What annoyed us most of all was the major’s declaration that he “wasn’t going to risk his crown for any sergeants” (‘crown’ being the shoulder symbol of his rank). Fancy a major uttering such a remark! To us, of course, it was merely another demonstration of his concern for himself and his precious crown:- never a thought for the well-being of his squadron.
In actual fact, his crown wouldn’t have been in jeopardy at all, in spite of a “possible visit by the brigadier”. Every unit is doing the same thing… if you go high enough up the scale, you find complete hotels with their entire staffs requisitioned for military use. But our major had to see somebody at Mil. Govt. before he could do anything. In other words, he had to pass on the responsibility to someone else… because he himself is so damned yellow.
And so – here we are – with the moths and the misery and the gloom and the smell of decay… But it won’t be for long… Our H.Q. are thirty miles away… but Ronnie (Major Holden) is coming to see us tomorrow – Is this a coincidence? I wouldn’t know-!
Goodnight, my sweetheart