No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine: About this Charlotte… it was an interesting story, my love… so life-like, so typical of these soldier husbands… so typical! Anyhow… I now know the worst. I know that my own wife… my Jess… is capable of suspecting me of infidelity. You say it was a dream… but what is a dream other than an unpleasant conscious thought striving to escape from the labyrinth of the sub-conscious to where it has been relegated?
You can’t deceive me, young lady. I am hurt… and when I am hurt, my forgiveness is pretty costly… pretty costly! But wait… perhaps your dream wasn’t so fantastic after all. Let me tell you a little story:- very uninteresting and not worth relating, but for your reference to Charlotte. I think it happened on Dec 23rd. I was with the echelon at the time… and that means that Jock Wilson and I spent most of our time together:- Jock had been on the echelon for several weeks.
We harboured in a certain Belgian town, and accommodated ourselves in a local school… the men (lorry drivers etc.) sleeping in the main schoolroom, and the sergeants (Jock, Challinor, Hamnett, and self) sleeping in a smaller ante-room. The accommodation was luxurious… comparatively so, anyway… but there were no electric lamps, even though the place was all wired up. Well, the job of fixing the lighting was left to me. But I couldn’t make light without lamps… so what? There was an electric shop in the town… but we only had Dutch currency… not acceptable in Belgium. Of course, we could get lamps from the quartermaster… if only we could find the Q, and if he had any lamps… And if he hadn’t any, he could get some… And with a bit of luck, the lamps would have been installed by 1946… NO… we dismissed the Q idea.
I decided to investigate and see whether I couldn’t do a bit of bartering at the shop. I went to the said shop… opened the door… and walked in. Ahead of me lay the counter, behind which were rows of shelves well stocked with lamps:- To my right I beheld the back of a tall young lady: she was fiddling with the hair of another young lady sitting in a chair. The shop was a combined electric – cum lady’s hairdressing business. I didn’t feel embarrassed: these queer mixtures are common enough out here… I remember my first encounter with a lady hairdresser. We were in a Belgian village… in Flanders it was. I asked an urchin whether there was a barber in the place. He said there was… and commenced to show me the way. I followed him into a shop… and to my horrified amazement, there, in the centre of the floor, was a young lady sitting in the chair… her hair sticking up in fat coils: she was calmly reading a book and completely ignored my entry. For a few moments I felt scared to death… but then I noticed various implements lying about, obviously for shaving the male species, and realised that I was in a bi-sexual establishment. I got my hair cut, needless to say… and was actually talking to the young lady in the chair before I had finished-! But I am rambling… I have yet to make my astounding confession.
The young lady turned round after a few moments… and what do you think I saw? Firstly, a head of lovely wavy fair hair… and a pair of beautiful blue eyes. Now I am always thinking of fair hair and blue eyes: It is a combination which does something to me: I haven’t the faintest idea why-! But apart from the hair and eyes, this young lady was decidedly good looking… Yes Sir! And what is more, she looked ‘English’… but you won’t understand that phrase-! One has to be absent from England, and much travelled upon this European continent, to know how a girl can look ‘English’… It has something to do with bearing, poise… and a frank expression about the features. Anyhow, this girl struck me… metaphorically, of course.
I asked her whether she spoke English – but she didin’t. This put me in a fix: I hate pantomiming and generally behaving like an idiot… especially before a blue eyed fair haired young lady. Somehow, I told her what I wanted – half a dozen bulbs – and that I only had Dutch money… would she accept cigarettes in payment? She ultimately divined my meaning… and called for her mother. Ma appeared, and then followed much gibberish… Finally, the mother asked me how many cigarettes I would pay… but I wanted her to name the price, and said so. We ultimately agreed on 6 lamps for 140 ciggys… not a bad bargain from my point of view: ciggys are cheap enough at the army price. But I hadn’t so many with me, so I returned to the billet and collected the required quantity.
And it was at this point that I told Jock Wilson of my discovery… the beautiful blue-eyed blonde. I even admitted that I was glad of the opportunity to return to the shop… and I meant it! That girl reminded me of somebody-! Well, Jock surprised me. He just stood there gaping. He was speechless. I had “shook him”. He just couldn’t believe that it was I who had noticed this girl and spoken of her appearance. After stuttering and spluttering for a few moments, he rushed from the room into the mens’ quarters, yelling to all and sundry that I had “fallen”. He grabbed Sammy Stubbs by the arm and pointed to me… as he gabbled on about my confession. I think he created the impression that I had got a woman… at last! He was going to write Ted about it: it was the most astounding thing he’d heard in months: he couldn’t believe it… etc. etc…
We laughed, of course… I am not greedy, (!) so I invited Sammy Stubbs to accompany me on my second journey. May as well let Sammy have a glimpse of the fair maiden… he could confirm my good judgment, and perhaps enjoy an ‘English’ face for a change. We went… equipped with the required ciggys. This time we were rewarded with a smile from the fair one as she came along to serve us. It was a charming smile… perhaps for Sammy’s benefit… I could see him from the corner of my eye: he said nothing… just kept looking. I swopped ciggys for lamps… and we departed. Outside, Sammy said “by gum, you’re right, Trev… she’s a smasher”. I thanked Sammy for confirming my good taste.
Back at the billets, Jock conferred with Sammy… Meanwhile, I carried on with my job, installing the lamps. But I encountered a snag:- one of the lamps was the wrong voltage: it wouldn’t do! I would have to make a third visit to the shop to have it exchanged. Needless to say, Jock now became convinced that I was ‘engineering’ this third visit: the thing was too obvious… But I was still feeling magnanimous, and quite prepared to share my find with someone else, so this time I invited Jock to accompany me… But he refused… I returned to the shop… and found ‘Ma’ behind the counter:- she changed the lamp without any bother. As I departed, the fair blond turned from her hairdressing, and gave me a smile… and that was the last I saw of her.
So endeth the story of my secret passion. And now I am wondering whether her name was Charlotte, with the accent on the lotte. I’m sure it must be… but how awful to think, Jess, that I will never really know-!
I want to thank you, dear, for all you have told me about your ‘Xmas activities… As you can guess, I was dying to know what you had been doing, and how you managed the journey to Reddish with Barry. That tram driver! What a swine he must be. How pleasant it would be to give such a brute a sound kick in the teeth. I only wish you had given expression to your thoughts:- altho’ it is difficult to conceive of anything piercing the skull of such a creature.
I agree with all you say about Phyl: (Phyllis, Jess’s cousin) she is one of the kindest persons I have ever known. I only hope we can do something, someday, towards repaying her for her goodness to you… and to me. Perhaps she and Ernest will take up their abode with us after the war. I know that this arrangement will have its minor drawbacks for you and I… but it also has its advantages… But apart from this, it will be a privilege to do anything to help Phyl. I owe her a letter, and will mention this subject when I write.
Jess… you have been so unhappy, dear. You have told me of all the things that contrive to make your life more depressing… and I can understand – oh so well how you feel. And how easy it is for me to appreciate your comments about so many of our friends and acquaintances. Mrs. Roberts, for instance (a neighbour)… You say you hate her husband… Well, I don’t know him at all, but I don’t think I have much affection for his wife. She must be a self-centred little person not to appreciate her remarkable good fortune in having her husband in England. I’m sure he must be suffering great hardships… and his poor eyes! I wonder how he would like to be in the infantry, out here in the front line, under present circumstances. It has been snowing off and on for a week, and freezing in between… But the infantry still have to occupy slit trenches night and day. And they have to fight, risking their lives perpetually… And their chances of survival are reduced immeasurably in this white world: they are visible from miles away in the whiteness of the snow. But these men can still sing: they smile too, and laugh, sometimes… And they write letters… without electric lights and desks. But they are men…
Jessie Mine… we do seem to have so many friends doing so little for this war. It makes things so much harder for you. But deep down I don’t envy them… and I don’t think you envy their wives… You don’t envy Pauline, do you, darling?.. You wouldn’t be Mrs. Wm. Mottram, would you? No… in spite of everything, we have gained a lot from the war… But our gains cannot be discussed in words, nor can they be measured in material terms. They are beyond price. What are the riches of the world, compared with one’s self respect? I would rather die than be unable to look you in the face… than lose your confidence and respect. These are things that matter, Jess. Let others go their way… you and I may emerge from the war as paupers, but how wealthy we will really be. My heart surges with joy at the prospect… I am happy dear, as you are. A deep, intense, satisfying happiness. Nothing can deprive me of it, because it has its basis in your love. Come what may, I can face the future, darling… I am living, longing for it… because of you.
You may be wondering why I have said so little lately about my life out here. The fact of the matter is that I have so little to tell. We have now been stationed in this village for about 10 days… and we are not in action… altho’ the front is not very far away. We are living with the inhabitants, sleeping in their bedrooms, whilst they sleep downstairs, or in the cellars. The important thing is that we are in ‘civvy’ billets, with warmth and light and reasonable comfort… a fact of which I am constantly aware, especially when I think of the men who are actually fighting… and those infantry lads spending their lives largely in the open in the most appalling weather conditions. Ordinary mortals could never exist under such circumstances. But these men are not ordinary. I don’t know what inspires them: I wish I did. Some day their story will be written… and if it is written properly, the world may be made to realise that the incredible slaughter of the finest fruits of our civilisation is too high a price to pay for the settlement of our wretched differences. But I am pessimistic… I cannot envisage a peaceful world governed by the male species. I believe men will continue to butcher men… until women take a decisive stand and insist upon taking their place in shaping the world’s destiny. After all, it is their children who do the fighting. It is the mothers who provide the cannon fodder… a lamentable end to the children in whom they place such high hopes.
There is so much in your letters upon which I should like to comment, but I always seem to be in a hurry for the post… But I am fully aware of everything you have written… about the mouse, the fireplace, the insurance, Barry’s teething, your family, my family, Steeles, etc. etc… I know every word of your letters darling, but time prevents my talking as I would wish… If there is no domestic upheaval in this house later in the day, I will try and start another letter… But I don’t feel too hopeful at the moment. Already ‘grandma’ has got the boiler on the fire… and the ‘scrubbing’ board has appeared, so it looks like another wash-day. Anyhow, we’ll hope for the best.
Au revoir, Jessie Mine. Please try not to worry about me… only a teeny weeny bit.
I love you darling…