No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine, There were two letters for me again today… for which I am thankful, as usual. You mention the peace rumours and the premature celebrations in London. This is the first I have heard of it… altho’ I have seen a press notice condemning false peace reports in America. Maybe the same rumour flew the Atlantic! I am glad you did not hear the original news: you would have subsequently suffered terrible disappointment had this been so.
Later, Wed. evening 13.9.44
We have been a bit busy since the foregoing… rounding up Jerries!.. and I haven’t been able to do any writing. But I seem to have received much mail… Your letters, and one from Stan smith, one from Haydn (R.T.G’s cousin, a C of E vicar) including his parish magazine!.. and one from Jess Aldcroft. I liked Jess’s letter: she writes very naturally and I feel that she is one of those rare people who really know somethimg about the war over here. I will try and find some news of the fifth member of Jimmy’s crew… and will write her direct if I can manage the time. (…)
There is much I could tell you about my recent existence, Jess. But I am not allowed for one thing… and I have very little time this evening as it is already getting late. We came out of our latest action yesterday afternoon… and for the first time, I really felt as though I had definitely assisted with the “liberation” of part of the French nation. Like so many other days over here, it is one I will never forget. Only this time, I have memories of a populace delirious with joy, instead of the usual ghastly nightmares of death and destruction.
We were allotted the task of capturing a part of a very large town, and for the first time I found myself on a ‘battlefield’ consisting of roads, houses, warehouses… with civilians mixed up in the whole business. I hope soon to be able to attempt to describe the whole unforgettable scene… meanwhile I can say no more… except that we suffered no casualties after two days fighting. And now we are a long way from the nearest Jerry, and so I have no idea what the immediate future holds in store. I hope we are given a few days respite in some quiet harbour, where I can do some writing. But I can only wait and see.
This evening we are harboured in one of the usual orchards, and the war seems a very long way off: it is all so quiet and peaceful. If we are here tomorrow, I may have a chance to answer a few letters.
There are a few villages in our immediate locality, and I notice several of the lads cleaning themselves up for an evening out. Two of my crew have already gone… and I presume they will return with some items of food… as is usual nowadays. We have acquired the habit of bartering some of our stuff… after weeks of giving… and our diet is now a little more varied. Occasionally, for instance, we get eggs from the farms: we have had lots of tomatoes… and now we are also helping ourselves to carrots growing in the fields (unofficially, of course). And we have been digging up potatoes since the first week or two of our arrival. You will therefore see my dear, that I am not doing badly for food… bearing in mind that we are being issued with ‘compo’ packs, which in themselves contain more than ample food. And yesterday, as a little side line, we helped ourselves to half a dozen large tins of peas from a captured Jerry blockhouse. They are a French brand, and very good.
The weather has been much better during the last three days… and now we are all dry once again after the heavy rain last week. The ground too is drying up, and it is a treat to be able to sleep without great clumps of mud sticking to the blankets.
Yesterday morning, I was in conversation with a Frenchman who could speak English fairly well. He was about my age, but his face told its own tale of the horrors through which he had lived since 1940. I cannot hope to recount what I heard, but it seems to me that the physical hardships and scarcity of food were easier to endure than the terrible mental strain of living under the Nazis. One tiny example will help to illustrate what I mean.
As you know, telephone wires are a highly important part of any army organization, and the Germans, like ourselves, used to run these telephone wires all over the place: even along hedgerows and across fields etc. Quite often, these wires were run along the hedges in front of a row of houses… and it was the mere sight of those wires that caused the householders concerned months of unspeakable dread. Sometimes they were cut… deliberately by French anti-Nazis. And then the Gestapo got busy. A certain percentage of the males living in the particular locality were immediately rounded up and shot. The remainder were made responsible for the safety of the line in their area: this necessitated a 24 hour guard being kept on it. My informant told me that he never knew whether the sound of footsteps along his garden path meant his doom… the Gestapo in search of new hostages!
This is only one little instance of life under the “new order” – It all seems so incredible… and yet, I believe it without question. Like you, I believe Paul Winterton too (‘News Chronicle’ reporter). I read his description of the horrors of Lublin (in Poland) and I cannot imagine him inventing the story. It is all in keeping with the dreadful record of the Gestapo. After all, we know they were bad enough in peace time. But in war, life becomes immeasurably cheaper… and has given the Gestapo a chance to reveal itself in its true colours. I only hope we can destroy all of them… And this seems highly possible if Hitler fights on to the last. At any rate, it is certain that a few more hundred thousand Germans are going to die if they refuse to surrender.
I am afraid I will be a hopeless anti-German by the time this war is over, Jess. I know there are arguments against this outlook… the ever-popular argument, for instance that all Germans aren’t bad: that they aren’t all Nazis. But who are the Nazis? Surely the real Nazis couldn’t have fought this war: there were never enough of them. I like the logic of an American writer who criticises this ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ German mentality. As he points out, the Nazis are only a political party. And we are not fighting the Nazi party, any more than they are fighting the Democrats in America, or the Tories in England. The entire German nation is fighting the war, as is the British or American or Russian. And the German nation is the enemy. Ah well… enough of that. It is a hateful business.
You read Jess Aldcroft’s letter, didn’t you dear? She speaks about my Jess… and our little Barry. I must thank her for those words – It is so nice for me to have an independent report about the two of you.
And now dear, I must go…
I hope to say lots more tomorrow
Good night, Jess darling –
I love you… always and always.