No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine… I will enclose Francois’ letter with this… and that means I won’t forget because I have already taken the precaution of placing it inside the green envelope. I have replied to him, but found it a bit of an effort to write in simple language. I had to make three attempts before I was satisfied… the two first attempts having to be scrapped because they were full of “&s”… an abbreviation which will not be found in any dictionary. I see by your latest letter that you too have been writing to a foreigner… Mr. C. (Cornelese) I wonder whether your letter contains any of the abbreviated ‘ands’… I notice you use the symbol as much as I. I’ll bet you forgot all about it… Did you?? I am ever so glad you have written to Mr. C. darling: and it was a good idea to include the ‘snap’ of Barry. I know there will be some excitement when your letter arrives… The job of translating it will provide them with plenty of interest.
Jessie Mine… you have committed a terrible faux-pas: I had to recount it in the mess… and now I am semi-outcast… until I can assure everyone, particularly Dicky Hall, that I have made amends by acquainting you with the nature of your offence. And now you will be wondering what I am talking about… and no wonder… how were you to know that “swanning” is absolutely taboo with us? How could you know that at least two of us have been almost ‘swanned’ to death in recent weeks? Darling: let me tell you. First of all, do you know that Dicky Hall and I are in the same troop? We are, anyway. Our normal troop officer has been away for about a month, and in his place we have had a Mr. Featherstonehaugh… Yes, a hell of a name, I agree. But he is really quite a nice fellow… doing his best, and trying to be friendly with the troop etc. The fact that he is terribly young… and more terribly incompetent, is not really his fault: he is only doing his best… and no man can do more. Unfortunately, he has one very bad habit (among others!)… and that is his all too frequent use of the word “swanning”. Presumably, it comes from the verb ‘to swan’: by association, I gather that it may mean to move forward with grace and dignity, leaving but little evidence of one’s progress upon the smooth placidity of whatever media one may choose for ‘swanning’. But our Mr. Feathers will persist in swanning along in… of all things!.. a Churchill Tank! We swan here: we swan there: we swan all over the bloody place: If we have much more of it, we’ll all be growing feathers (the real kind!) and then where will we be?
We have had so much of this swanning, that the lads have now composed a song about ‘swanning along, with Feathers’. And today, as we were contemplating crossing a nasty looking little stream, in the tanks, one of the lads asked “is this where we do a real bit of bloody swanning, Sir?” Dicky and I have been very patient and tolerant, but we have reached desperation…almost. And so we don’t allow the word to be used other than by Feathers… he being privileged because swans and feathers are sort of synonymous… er… if you know what I mean.
There was an interruption last evening and I wasn’t able to finish… I will not dwell any more on the swanning topic, Jess… I think I have said sufficient to explain why we don’t like the word. I have not much to report today: the weather has become more settled, and today has been warm and sunny – a beautiful spring day. I hope it is the same with you. I have not done much genuine work today, although it is a long time since I have been so busy. Let me explain…
As you know, dances are very popular with the troops… especially in a town like this where there are plenty of good-looking and cultured girls only too anxious to associate with the “Tommies”. We have a dance hall… a large cafe with an excellent floor… but unfortunately the electric supply is kaput… There is “nix licht”. So the S.S.M. asked me ‘what about it’… and that’s where I landed for a job. I decided to utilise batteries and twelve volt car bulbs, of which we have plenty… and immediately set about wiring-up the ballroom, and charging up the batteries etc. During the afternoon, when I had completed much of the work, the S.S.M. rolled up with a three ton lorry, and said he had got something on board which may help with the job. I went out to the lorry… and beheld one of the most beautiful ‘toys’ I have ever seen…
Jess… it was a beauty – a real gem!! What was it? How can I tell you? How can I describe the beautiful inticacies of my new toy to a mere female? Well… on that lorry was a complete electric lighting set:- petrol engine, generator or dynamo, control panel, masses of instruments – voltmeters, ammeters, rev. counters, pressure guages… every darned thing, built up as a complete unit: it was a German machine, absolutely new… and made specially for a field searchlight unit: its output was 85/150V 8 Kilowatts… enough ‘juice’ to light half a dozen dance halls!!
Gosh! Was I glad to see it! We got it off the lorry (it weighs about 10 cwts.) and then a few of us got busy sorting it out. Unfortunately, all the controls and instructions were written in German, and that meant completely ‘analysing’ the thing to get it working… but it didn’t take long. We filled the engine (a beauty, six cylinder, water cooled, about 15 H.P.) with petrol, oil, water, and very soon she was ticking over… faultlessly. It didn’t take me long to scrap my original battery-lighting scheme: the Jerry machine made a fool of it. And now, we have electric light in the dance hall, in the cook-house, in the dance-hall proprietor’s house, and in the sergeants’ mess. To light up the latter involved an “overhead” job… i.e. running the cables over a main road… but it is surprising what liberties we can take in these liberated towns.
Our mess is a well equipped house… fully furnished and the home of a former collaborator… and we now have an all electric home, complete with vacuum cleaner, electric kettle, irons, etc. etc. And now I am writing in decent light, with a table lamp by my elbow, whilst several other sergeants are entertaining a few civvy guests in the next room: The house is a mass of lights, including a flood-lit dartboard! The dance has not yet been organised, but it will come off in a day or two… and will not be lacking in light. And that is the story of my busy day! Needless to say, I have enjoyed mucking about with my own trade… a very pleasant change from those darned tanks.
Did I tell you that I am now sleeping in genuine civilised fashion… on a decent bed, complete with sheets? Our bedroom (Dicky and I are together) is beautifully equipped, including a wash-bowl with running water. We can certainly stand plenty of this luxury. Unfortunately, our host and hostess cannot speak English… and that is a snag: but we manage to converse somehow – making good use of the inevitable Dutch – English “Worderbook”.
They will persist in preparing a supper for us each evening, always with boiled eggs. And I am sick of eggs: if I eat many, I always get horrible tummy-aches… and I have had several such tummy-aches during the last few weeks. But it is hard to refuse these suppers: they are provided as a demonstration of gratitude to we ‘Tommies’, and I prefer tummy-aches to being offensive to these kind people.
I must leave you now, my dear… It is past bed-time.
Good-night, Jessie Mine
Always – I love you.