C Sqdn, 9th Battn R.T.R.
My Darling: I have just been across to the dance hall where the squadron are holding a second dance: I think all the village must be there – there is certainly no shortage of females. All of the officers were there, apart from one who is on patrol duty… And the major was smiling – for a change-! I must confess that I have very mixed feelings about the dances, Jess. I can quite believe that our girls at home would be very resentful if they could see our lads so obviously infatuated with their ‘frat’. Under the circumstances, it is hard to believe that these people are the same Germans with whom we have been at war for so long. I would never have believed twelve months ago that such conditions could obtain within such a comparatively short period… But there it is. Perhaps the Germans here are genuinely fond of our lads – or maybe they just like us to be here… to afford them some protection from the Poles. As you can imagine, sexual immorality is pretty widespread… worse, possible, than it was in Holland and Belgium. No official attempt is made to discourage it… apart from rare lectures by the M.O. on the dangers of V.D. To hear some of the fellows talking about their ‘frat’ makes me wonder whether I’m living in a human stud farm… but I think I must be old-fashioned, and so, not a fair critic.
The Poles are still carrying on with their pillaging and robbery – and it is very difficult indeed for us to catch them… but I believe we are doing a little good. The Germans, at least, seem to have confidence in us already, and they ought to know. Last night, one of our patrols shot a civvy – and he turned out to be a German. He was skulking behind a hedge, in the dark, and hurried away on being challenged… and got a bullet through his foot for being daft. He may have been a thief, even though he wasn’t a Pole. Anyhow, he’s in hospital now… perhaps convinced that we mean business. No doubt there are other potential robbers who will profit by this incident.
Another minor incident occurred today at a nearby bakery. The Poles have been in the habit of visiting this place and demanding bread of the German proprietor… An illegal practice this, because the Poles are rationed like everybody else over here, and their food supplies are delivered to their own camps. The fact that the German baker only has sufficient material for supplying his own poorly rationed customers does not worry the Poles: they have had plenty of illegal bread. Today, two Poles visited this baker… one entering the bakery, the other remaining outside on the look-out. Neither of them knew that two of our lads were already inside the place… with weapons and plenty of ammunition… And so they were both arrested… and have been handed over to the Mil. Govt. I suppose we will have to give extra protection to that German baker now, especially at night, to prevent reprisals.
I think I told you our patrols work a three-day rota: it is pretty hard on the lads and I can’t see them sticking it for very long – This is the routine:-
First day “stand to” from 7.0am until 6.0pm. This means that the patrol is confined to billets all day, doing fatigues and ‘education’, and available for immediate ‘action’ should they be called out. From 6.0pm of the first day, until 7.0am of the second day, they are out on night patrol… touring the area all night in three vehicles, and reporting by ‘phone to our office at regular intervals from about a dozen ‘report posts’ on the circuit. From 7.0am on the second day until 7.0am of the third day they are completely free of all duty – and usually spend the day in bed – after being on duty all the preceding night. A ‘passion truck’ is at their disposal in the evening – to take them to Goslar. From 7.0am of the third day, until 6.0pm, they are out again in their three vehicles – this time on day patrol. And from 6.0pm of this third day, they are the night stand-to patrol – i.e. they are confined to billets, but can go to bed as normal – but must be ready to move off at a few minutes notice if the night patrol requires assistance any time before 7.0am.
That is the routine: it is worked by three ‘patrols’ consisting of about 20 men in each, incuding an officer, one or two sergeants, corporal or two, lance corporal or two, and troopers. I’m damned glad to be attached to H.Q. troop: transport is a mithering sort of job just now in view of the enormous amount of running about the vehicles are doing, but it’s a doddle by comparison with the patrols. Its worth a hell of a lot to get every night in bed-!
You will notice the word “education” as part of the “day stand-to” troop’s activities. This is a bit of a farce really… but apparently we have to do something about it to comply with “orders” from some elevated source. You may remember my telling you about our ‘classes’ whilst we were at Gümmer. There I had an ‘electrical’ class – consisting of the same eight or ten men each week. I think we had thee classes… and then we moved to this place. But regular classes are no longer possible because the students are never in the squadron all together: there are always some of them out on patrol.
So now we have a different system: Instead of classes running concurrently, we have individual lectures… attended by a complete patrol on their stand-to day: they have to attend, whether they like it or not – And giving some of these lectures is one of my side-lines. We started this business yesterday, and for the first lecture I explained how a radio valve works. I gave the same lecture today… and will give it again tomorrow… thus completing the three patrols. And then I have finished with education until Monday of next week… And having already been asked the object of the “grid system” (the ‘pylon’ business) I have a nice easy little subject for the second series-!!
I could howl sometimes – with laughter, I mean… when I think of the crazy, haphazard, chaotic, disorganised bloody hotch potch which we call our army – And yet it works. There must be such things as miracles, Jess. This latest ‘education’ stunt is a typical illustration. In the newspapers at home, you have probably read glowing accounts of the army educational schemes, and how every unit has its education officers and instructors – and of how the men are being educated and kept free from boredom etc etc etc… The idea is splendid, I admit. And I’ve no doubt that behind it there are some very fine blokes, only too anxious to help the average soldier. But these blokes can only give direction and ideas: they can’t possibly supervise the whole education scheme. And so, the further you get from their immediate “sphere of influence”, the more typically ‘army’ is the education.
I’m pretty certain that our unit is typical of many… probably most. First of all, a battalion education officer had to be appointed – and some poor devil of an officer – wanting nothing so much as peace and quietness whilst awaiting his ticket… has the job thrust upon him. Then he has to see that an education officer is appointed in each squadron. And so, the squadron majors find their particular stooges… And the squadron education officers have to find instructors – more stooges, of which I am one.
When our education officer tackled me about these latest lectures on Saturday last, he asked whether I would do them. I was a bit staggered – knowing how the blokes are working – and I asked him what the bloody hell-!! But he simply had to get the thing working, and told me he didn’t care a damn what I lectured about, so long as he could publish the name of the lecturer, and the subject… And so I agreed to do what I could – providing he attended to the business of finding the pupils. He solved that problem by detailing the entire patrols to attend, making the patrol sergeant responsible for his men being present. Thus, you see, the education officer had done his job. The army is beautifully designed for delegating authority – or passing the buck! And on Saturday evening’s orders, under the heading “Education”, appeared the announcement that Sgt. Greenwood would lecture on “Electricity in the Home”. It looked good in print! The fact that I spoke about radio valves is only incidental. I had no idea what I was going to speak about five minutes before the fist lecture.
On the first day, the ‘class’ was quite attentive, fortunately… because the colonel came round and was able to see for himself a class of 20 men all receiving ‘education’. If he’d seen my frantic searching for a blackboard ten minutes before the lecture, he may have had different ideas. And I’m sure he didn’t notice that my ‘blackboard’ consisted of a green painted ping-pong table standing on its end by the wall: it made quite a good blackboard-!
Jess… there are millions of “I”s in this letter: I’m sorry darling, but I can’t help it: I will have to try and find a more impersonal topic next time.
Good night, my love