No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine, We are still enjoying comparative peace and quietness… but the weather has now turned against us. We had many showers yesterday, and heavy rain last night. I slept beneath the vehicle but my feet were in a pool this morning… and blanket soaking wet. Today has again been very showery… and blanket drying is out of the question… but I have slept in wet blankets before.
I heard good news last night about the capture of Ploesti… and the German withdrawal from Rouen. The Americans too seem to be still making remarkable progress: I shouldn’t be surprised to hear soon that they have reached the German border!… Events are certainly moving now with incredible speed… but the war is not yet over… I keep wondering “how much longer”… And when I pick up a newspaper I feel confident that the end is not far off. But I have learned to accept press optimism with caution. Not that they are giving us false news… on the contrary:- their reporting of conditions and fighting over here has been excellent. But a newspaper conveys a picture of the whole war… and the result is inevitably good and heartening…
Unfortunately… I am fighting on a localised front, where the immediate picture is rather different. The war, to us, is still a very bitter business (or was, until this rest commenced two or three days ago). Our immediate concern is not Ploesti or Paris or anything else: it is the strength of the enemy on our sector… And he has been very strong during the last week or two – in spite of his continued withdrawal. I have no doubt that the people at home were tremendously cheered to read Gen. Montgomery’s recent statement that “the battle of Normandy is won”. He was quite justified in saying this of course… But I’ll bet there are many people who imagined that hostilities had ceased in Normandy. We didn’t think so… nor did Jerry. There has been much stiff fighting in Normandy since those words were uttered… and many of our colleagues have lost their lives…
And so, I have learned to accept the general picture of the war, via the press with something akin to restrained enthusiasm. I shall be able to forget anxiety and danger only when I know that the whole German army has capitulated.
It was officially announced this morning that three awards have been made to members of this unit. Sgt. Ken Virgo of ‘B’ sqdn, has got the M.M… and Major Holden and Capt. Kidd (both of ‘C’ sqdn) have got the M.C. Major Holden’s award is a result of our first action… near Colleville. I am not sure about Virgo’s award… but he is a damned good bloke and has done one or two surprising things out here… There can be no doubt that he has earned it on individual merit. Incidentally, Ken was the manager of the M/c News Theatre, prior to the war.
It seems to be considered a fairly high distinction for ‘C’ to have provided the unit’s only M.C. winners to date. But it must not be assumed that the other squadrons have done less. We have all seen much action… and been battered from time to time. I cannot give details just now of many of our exploits, but I am not boasting when I say that we have done as much as was humanly possible towards winning this war… And the colonel has today confirmed that our efforts have been appreciated by high authority. One of these days, I hope to be able to give you more explicit details. Meanwhile… the war goes on… but not for long… I hope!
Later Fri. 1.9.44
September! Is this going to be the last month of the war? How many millions of people must be wondering the same thing… about the European war, anyhow. If our progress continues at the same rate as at present, I think it is quite conceivable that the fighting will cease before October. A certain person out here firmly believes that the next fourteen days will be decisive… and he has access to information denied to most of us. I hope he is right, needless to say.
This morning’s news reveals that the Americans are five miles from Belgium… and the Canadians seventeen miles from Dieppe. But this will be very stale news by the time you read this. Nevertheless, it is tremendously encouraging to know that our forces are meeting such little resistance. It seems to confirm recent official figures concerning the enemy’s losses in Normandy. I had a glimpse of some of the havoc on the roads when in the Falaise area… a short time ago. It was a grand picture, from our point of view. The same thing applies around Caen… and other areas.
Last night’s 9 O/c news gave some amazing figures about enemy casualties: no doubt you heard the announcement. Strange as it may seem, these figures surprise me more than, I believe, the average listener at home. I don’t think the average civilian can appreciate the extent to which we have been fighting an invisible enemy… And these remarks apply to the infantry, altho’ to a lesser extent than to the tank personnel.
The Normandy countryside is literally a mass of woods, orchards, hedgerows, ditches, cornfields, tiny villages etc. It has offered marvellous ‘cover’ to the enemy, and he has taken full advantage of it. In consequence, we have rarely been able to see the enemy, even when we have known that he has been present in strong force: To me the war has been largely a series of advances upon innocent looking hedgerows or woods. And even under fire, I have seen only gun flashes… very rarely human beings.
I remember an occasion when we were ordered, at great haste, to occupy an area outside a certain village. The enemy were known to be launching a strong counter-attack, and had it succeeded, our supply lines in a very important salient would have been jeopardised… and probably cut. And so we took up our positions in a fairly large field… surrounded by the inevitable orchards and hedgerows. it was a beautiful evening and the surroundings were quite charming. The war seemed miles away… there being neither sight nor sound of the enemy. I imagine we must have remained there for fully two hours… until it seemed that someone must have been pulling our legs. But there were some British infantry on the look out somewhere… and it was from them that certain imformation was received… and the major then gave us orders to fire. There wasn’t an enemy in sight, alive or dead… just the hedges, the trees, the orchards… and the beautiful evening peace. But we opened fire… upon the hedges… the trees… nearby buildings: our high explosive shells and machine guns played havoc with everything that could possibly afford cover to a body.
This went on for some time. And it was during the firing that I saw the only evidence of the enemy on this particular occasion. Something moved about 200 yards ahead… and I recognised the small domed cupola of a German tank: the rest of the vehicle remained hidden… And even this target disappeared before we had time to engage. That was the only evidence I saw of the enemy. I didn’t see a single soldier. And yet, next day, we learned that we had wiped out the majority of two German infantry battalions! The counter attack failed and our infantry were able to hold the poition without further trouble.
This little action was hailed as a decisive victory for us… it was referred to as such on the radio… because of the size of the enemy counter attack… And yet I never saw a single German! Similar conditions have prevailed elsewhere and that is why I have such a distorted idea of the enemy’s numerical strength. In actual fact, I don’t think I have actually seen more than a hundred or so live Germans in all our actions out here… apart from prisoners, of course. Fortunately, we have always known of their presence… and have taken all precautions.
Your letters are coming through alright now, Jessie Mine. I hated being cut off from you whilst I was away from the squadron for a few days. Somebody seems to have had an inspiration about the coal-shed. It is an excellent idea to store the gardening tools there. But the coal will have to be found a home somewhere… some day. I think we can leave this little problem until the war is over. (…)
I must leave you now my darling –
Oh! Something I have been forgetting for ages: I became a sergeant on July 14th last, and my total pay since then has been 7/- per day, viz 3/- voluntary allotment, 1/6 qualifying allotment, 2/6 self = 7/- per day. I really ought to have told you this before, but kept forgetting. I suppose you will have to inform Ediswan’s… (R.T.G’s pre-war employer). Tell them my promotion applies from the date of this letter… That will save messing about with deductions etc. I am a nuisance aren’t I? But not a nasty nuisance – No?
Au revoir, my love