No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess Darling, I am a bit muddled at the moment… especially with my correspondence, but hope to get things sorted out when I have settled down again. Meanwhile, I am thankful to say that three of your letters arrived today: they are dated January 9th, 18th, and 19th: the former seems to have been ‘lost’, but the others have come reasonably well.
Before I deal with your letters, I will tell you what little news I have concerning myself… Firstly, I saw Mr. Cornelese at lunch time, and am visiting them again this evening. They all seemed genuinely pleased to see me, and Mrs. C. is making some apple dumplings (Dutch variety!) for supper tonight to mark the occasion. Unfortunately, I am not able to sleep at C’s… but am billeted in a civvy house close by. The people I am with are ordinary decent working class folk, but their house is damnably small, and we are literally ‘pushed’ for elbow room in their tiny kitchen. There are four members of the household… husband and wife, and grown up son and daughter… and a dog. With myself, there is Eddie Wilde staying here, so we are a large family for such a small home. We have to live in the kitchen, because the almost entire absence of coal for civilian use makes it impossible to light a fire in the larger sitting room. The latter would require too much of the meagre supply of logs to heat it.
As the weather is still bitterly cold… freezing hard all day… the cramped conditions are a negligible worry by comparison with the great boon of warmth. I have spent most of this afternoon sitting in this kitchen… hopping about from one place to another to enable the womenfolk to get on with their work. It was almost pitiful having to watch the pair of them laboriously darning old bits of rag, which, to them, are clothing. I even saw the daughter darning a tattered piece of cloth… a duster! And I couldn’t help noticing that her stockings are practically all darns… little of the original fabric being visible. These little things must mean lots of misery to people who formerly had a high standard of living… and their share of pride.
Just now… they are having their evening meal, whilst I am sitting in a corner writing upon my knee. I am comparatively comfortable because there is no one moving about, and so my legs are temporarily free from being kicked-! This evening meal is typical of nearly all meals in the working class houses of France, Holland, and Belgium. Firstly, a bowl of soup… mostly water, but with a few bits of vegetable floating in it… And then… potatoes… enormous helpings of the things… with a minute spot of ‘gravy’ or soup… and sometimes dry bread as well… hard, dark-brown bread. Apples, too are eaten quite a lot: very often a ‘dinner’ consists of boiled potatoes, and stewed apples. And I have seen apples eaten for breakfast, quite often. They are sliced up, and fried in fat… very little fat.
Can you wonder that we usually feel very self-conscious eating our meals in the homes of these people… as we usually do nowadays. It is too cold to eat out of doors, so we collect our grub from the “cookhouse”… usually an empty garage or barn… and dine in our homes. Fortunately, we are usually able to give them a little of our food. Today, for instance, we had cheese… and having had so much cheese lately, both Eddie and I left our ration for the family. We also left them some white bread and margarine. This is not heroic self-sacrifice, my dear. We invariably have more than we need, and it is preferable to collect one’s full ration from the cook house and give it to these people… rather than have it given to pigs. This afternoon, our hostess made us some ‘tea’… and we had to drink it, just to oblige. It was a brown liquid, similar to tea, but made by dissolving a small brown tablet in water. We had no milk, but sufficient sugar… Hardly a pleasant drink.
And now, I must clear up what appears to be a misapprehension about Charlotte… the live version I told you about. You say I gazed upon her fondly-! Who the hell says I did? Can’t a fellow look at a girl, and appreciate her natural good looks, without being fond of her? I won’t have you jumping to these conclusions, Jess. Already you have made me feel like a worthless wretch. And did I say she was slim? She was positively skinny… and very likely knock-kneed, so what the hell!!
I will try again…
You say some kind things about my letters, Jess… but I don’t think I deserve any praise. After all, it is not difficult to write about events out here: there is so much variety and it would be a poor bloke who couldn’t say at least something. Interruption! I was writing upon my knee as usual, but the family insisted upon my writing at the table, so here I am… until the next domestic upheaval-!
Talking about letters, it is your efforts which deserve the praise, not mine. Your life is not very eventful, my dear, and yet you manage to write me every day… and your letters are always interesting to me, even though you may not think so.
I spent last evening with Mr. C… and had a very pleasant time. He seems to harbour a vivid recollection of our former visit, and spent much time talking about it. He has even framed a sketch of a “Churchill” made by one of my colleagues on our former visit: this sketch was autographed by each member of the crew at the time. It now hangs in his dining room. He insisted too on finding a ‘souvenir’ for Barry, but unfortunately, his own little boy’s toys are all broken – “kaput” – so he has given me a framed picture for a child’s bedroom. I don’t know how I will get it home, but I had to accept it: it would have been unkind to refuse.
Whilst with Mr. C., another Dutchman appeared wearing army battle dress. After saying a few words to Mr. C, he turned to me… and said something in perfect English. I just boggled… and couldn’t help asking whether he was Dutch or English. He laughed, and said he was a Dutchman, but had spent four and a half years in England. He went to England with the remnants of our army from Dunkirk. He is now working with the civil affairs dept. of the army. He was a fine chap, Jess: highly intelligent and with a fine understanding of international affairs. It was a treat to be able to talk, with a foreigner, about British politics, and especially about Poland and Greece, and war in general. He was hesitant about passing any opinion about the Greek business, but I gathered that he fully appreciated our dilemma out there, and was in favour of a ‘strong hand’ as a temporary measure. But he agreed that little good could be expected from a combined government of church and army.
Speaking of Poland, he said he thought that their London government represented the reactionary Poles… many of them dispossessed landowners… whereas the Lublin govt. represented the people as a whole, and that the latter would probably ultimately govern the country. I was surprised when he agreed with me about the prospects of another war. He too has noticed that responsible people are already talking in terms of a next war. But he seemed sceptical when I suggested that women ought to have more say in our affairs… as a possible antidote to war. Like most of we males, he has a prejudice against female intervention in government. We talked for an hour or so… I fear that Mr. C hardly followed our conversation, but I don’t think he minded. I may go round again this evening.
And now I want to say a few words about leave, so we’ll have a fresh page for that-! Please don’t get too excited darling: the only information I have concerns train timings, in case I land at Harwich. There is a special train for leave personnel from that port, and this is how it runs:-
Depart Harwich 9.50 am. " Peterboro 1.05 pm. " Rugby 3.37 pm. " Stafford 4.42 pm. " Crewe 5.25 pm. Arrive Stockport 6.16 pm.
It is a through train, and, very conveniently for me, it joins up with the L.M.S. line at Rugby, and so travels via Stockport. This is jolly good. If I arrive at Harwich, I should be able to wire you in plenty of time, in case you would like to meet the train at Edgeley.
The Dover route is not quite so ‘organised’. There is a ‘special’ from Dover to London, but from London, we travel by the ordinary trains. So in either case, I will arrive in Edgeley, but cannot, at the moment, give you any ‘times’ for the Dover-Euston journey. But, here again I may be able to wire you. Unfortunately, I cannot say whether I will return home via Dover or Harwich: I will not know until a few hours before I depart, so we cannot even think of making any advance arrangements. But just in case you are able to meet me at the station, I want to make a suggestion about Barry. Rather than have someone in our house to mind him during your absence, I would prefer you to leave him with, say, Steeles. This would enable us to arrive home without the inconvenience of strangers in the house. I hope you understand, darling. I do so want to be at home… with you dear, you alone… and little Barry. We can meet all our friends later.
I saw Noel Wright this morning… I call him ‘George’… everyone does: I think all ‘Wrights’ automatically become ‘Georges’ in the army, just as Smiths become “Smudgers”, and fat men, “Bustys”. He is leaving for his wireless course in a day or so, and will get his leave immediately after the course. His ballot number for leave was fifty something, so this course will just about see him home on schedule… perhaps a little before. But he will certainly be home after me, barring unforeseen circumstances, of course. I cannot yet say to a few days when I will be home, but believe my original estimate of mid-February is pretty near the mark. Anyhow, the office have today requested my leave address and nearest railway station etc, so things are obviously moving:- and my usual pre-leave jitters have started-! (…)
Must go now, Jessie Mine…
Always… and forever