No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess darling, I have just written a short note to Wilf… and now I want to talk to my sweetheart.
As usual, I have nothing special to say, but I know that my letters at least keep you informed of my existence, so they have some use. Since my last letter, our location has altered by a few miles, but we are still officially having a quiet time, although we are fairly close to the enemy… close enough to make vigilance still a prime necessity.
I think you will know that the censorship forbids us to discuss our activities until some time has elapsed… and that is why I have not mentioned that Jimmy Aldcroft and Ted Hinson have been wounded… both in the same action. It occurred about three weeks ago. Jimmy suffered from burns… and I have done my best to ascertain whether he was badly injured, but all I can learn is that his hand ‘seemed’ to be pretty bad, and his face ‘slightly burned’. I think he is almost certain to be in hospital in England, and I suppose it is even possible that Jess (Jimmy’s wife) has already seen him. News of our wounded colleagues is almost impossible to obtain once they leave us; so if you can learn anything about Jimmy, I should be glad to hear it.
Ted was injured in the arm:- It was his first action. From what I have heard, I think he was bad enough to have been removed to England. This is all I can tell you: it is all I have been able to find out. All my other friends are O.K. I saw Dave Lubick the other day. He is O.K… but just about as fond of this life as I am. Noel Wright is O.K… Yes, he became a Sgt. about three weeks ago: I meant to tell you, but forgot all about it. I was surprised he mentioned the Major Ballantyne business, because deaths should not be mentioned until at least a fortnight has elapsed. This is to ensure that dependents will receive notification from official sources first of all. You already know that Bill Geary is O.K. He is a member of my crew. He seems to be surviving his forced abstention… but he is damnably liverish some mornings. This has caused a few plain words between us on one or two occasions. But on the whole, we manage quite well.
Today will probably become known as the “black day of the 9th”. From breakfast this morning, we are being fed by our own cooks: and that means no more “compo packs”. This is very sad news for us, Jess. I admit that the breakfast meal today was quite decent… probably because we had tinned beans and tinned bacon. Tonight we are having a cooked dinner… and that is where the cooks will be able to show their ability. I am expecting something resembling a pig-swill.
For lunch today, we were issued with bulk rations for each troop viz, jam, butter, tea and sugar and milk, cheese and bread. This was quite good: we just mucked in and made our own lunch. One big advantage of the compo packs was the tea issue. We were able to have a cup of “hot sweet” several times a day. It was never sweet, and sometimes not so hot, but tea has somehow acquired the name of ‘hot sweet’ out here. As you know, I have a slight partiality for tea… better unsweetened than none at all.
We have had a pay day today… the first since leaving England. But we have not needed much money. All I have spent has been on ciggys from the quartermaster on two occasions.
Later. I have just read a delightful letter, my darling:… the one you wrote on Mon/Tues. Firstly there is the news about Poppet’s improvement. What a relief this must be to you… And how happy you must have been to see him laugh. It is good news to me… because I don’t like our wee laddie to be ill… and because I don’t want his dear mother to have to shoulder extra worries. I hope he is now really back to normal… bashing his bobbins, and generally keeping you entertained -!
I liked the news you sent me about Kath. (RTG’s sister.) I don’t think it is the moral aspect of the case which pleases me so much as her forthright attitude to the American. It is nice to know that at least one Yank has learned that all English girls are not amateur prostitutes… and nicer still to know that one’s own sister has set such a worthy example. (…)
What about this ‘ere business of sending me ciggys on a rota system? Someone is being very kind, my dear. Was it Toddy’s idea? (RTG’s brother.) Needless to say, I will welcome them, but I do hope he is not setting up a sort of charity fund on my account. I feel that people don’t like being bothered with things like this. Do I sound ungrateful, Jess? You will know this is not so… but I have a horror of being the cause of cadging. I will let you know as soon as the first parcel arrives. I like that little bit about you becoming Mrs. Aldred’s “lawyer”. It is grand to be married to a clever wife… and grander still to be intensely proud of that same wife. But you wouldn’t know anything about this – ?!?!
Yes… the war news is staggering, my dear. And I am becoming increasingly anxious for the whole damned thing to stagger to its conclusion. I have not been a soldier for many weeks (the fighting variety) but already I have had more than a bellyfull. I am utterly sick and tired and disgusted with the whole dirty business. Our views about war have always been pretty well defined: we have hated it… and deplored it. But our opinions were mainly the result of reading and commonsense. – Now, I have first hand experience of war… and I know more than ever that it is just a hateful, sordid, mass of organised chaos… with people like myself being used for the detestable slaughter which must inevitably occur. Over our dead bodies, others rise to fame… A recent headline, for instance, made my flesh creep with disgust. It announced proudly that “Montgomery Smashes Through” Did he, indeed? I can’t imagine any of the front line troops noticing him.
And talk about glory! I only wish some of the ghastly sights I have seen could be filmed and shewn to the world… by compulsion if necessary. No darling, there is no glory here: it is just propaganda.
But I must leave this topic… I shall be offending the censor if I carry on. Also it is getting late and I believe there is a cup of “hot sweet” waiting for me. Will continue tomorrow.
Good night, dear Jess… I love you, darling.
I am told that we were heavily ‘mortared’ by the enemy last night, but for once I slept through it all! I must have been in a state of coma because those mortars make a hell of a row on explosion.
I hope to be free from interruption this time. Nothing exciting has happened today, my dear. We have done a bit of work on the vehicles this morning… and I have performed an operation upon my pen: it is now wrapped in a metal splint and is much better. I think it will last indefinitely now.
The weather has been quite warm lately, but rather showery. the rain is not too welcome, but so long as it keeps warm I don’t mind. We only have two blankets and they are just sufficient for this weather.
You mention the P.M.’s visit to Normandy. I knew nothing about it until he had returned to England. I think we were too far forward at the time… alternately slamming at Jerry from one side of a hill… and being slammed at by him from the other side. There was too much stuff flying around for visitors to be permitted.
Later. More interruptions! I could bash somebody. It is now evening and I have just had dinner… A sort of ersatz meal prepared by the cooks. But it was all tinned food and therefore quite palatable.
A cinema show has been arranged for this evening: It is being held in a battered farmyard barn close by. The building is quite small… and I know it will only hold a small fraction of the blokes who are going… so I am staying here.
This afternoon, we were visited by the first Naafi mobile canteen I have seen over here. It was an entirely male affair… as is only to be expected in these forward areas. I managed to buy a few ciggys and some razor blades. Talking of blades reminds me that shaving has been a bit of a problem. We have had new blades issued to us from time to time, but they are terrible things… a variety I never heard of in England, and shaving with them is sheer torture. Therefore, as a means of lessening the amount of my daily torture, I have ceased shaving my upper lip for a few days… and now it is covered with a horrible tangle of bristly whiskers. I hate the feel of these whiskers. I am actually conscious of them as I drink my tea. I don’t think I can stand them for much longer, but I will have to get a decent blade to get rid of them.
Darling… I intend to send this letter in a ‘green’ envelope… but I haven’t yet got one. They are usually issued on Thursdays, but this weeks’ have still not arrived. Perhaps they will be here tomorrow… if not, I will have to write a short separate letter for censoring here. I am certainly not letting my troop officer read this: I think he would delete much of it. There is another interruption on the way… so I will again have to cease. Perhaps I will be able to add more tomorrow.
Good night, my love.
Jessie mine, Those green envelopes have not turned up yet… so here I am once again. It is a fine day… warm and still… and I have done very little, apart from some work on the vehicle this morning. After lunch I had a bath… a slightly different one from the usual canvas bucket. There is a stream close by… sparklingly clear and very cold… with a small waterfall. From the top of this waterfall, a trough has been erected (probably by the Germans) providing a delightful cascade of water at a convenient height, right in the middle of the stream. A large wooden board for a floor in the stream completes the bathroom. I had a delightful wash… but it was hellishly cold water. It is a warm day, however, and I was soon glowing with warmth sitting on the grassy bank.
Unfortunately, there is always something to mar one’s pleasures out here… and today was no exception. There were the usual dead cattle lying about… and the smell from them was… well… it was a strong smell. Close by too was a once prosperous farm… now partly derelict. I went inside the ruined farmhouse and found the usual chaos. floors littered with broken crockery, books, bedding, letters, pots and pans etc: cupboards broken: chairs in pieces: cracked mirrors: clothes lying anywhere: broken bedsteads: mattresses torn open: children’s toys…
There is a similarity about all these ruined homes Jess: the internal destruction is usually complete… and obviously the work of human hands… apart, of course, from the gaping holes in ceilings and walls. I don’t know who is responsible… but I do know that such destruction… such desecration of former happy homes… is a terribly depressing thing to see. Isolated cases wouldn’t matter so much… but here, an entire community has been deprived of its homes… and its happiness. I suppose it is necessary to multiply this a million-fold to get a true picture of what this war has done to humanity. It is a terrifying thought…
I believe there are people from A.M.G.O.T. (Allied Military Government of Occupied Territory) following us forward, taking inventories and generally trying to assess the value of damage done etc. God knows how they set about the job:… to me, it seems an impossible task, especially in the absence of former owners or tenants. But I suppose they are doing their best. After all, this place won’t be a battlefield for ever, and somebody will have to foot the bill… some day. Will it be Germany?
In spite of my political inclinations, I find myself increasingly in agreement with Vansittart. He would make the Germans pay alright. This is a serious problem dear, and one which may loom largely in our post-war domestic political issues. I want to know where I stand… and I don’t at the moment. I do know that the Socialists hate Vansittart’s plans and ideas… but I find them logical and inspired by an obvious knowledge of the German mind… its history and its record of evil.
Perhaps Russia will settle the problem for us all by insisting upon a realistic plan which they have prepared. One thing, I think, stands out clearly:… we must not be misled by any sentimental jargon… particularly from the church. Do you think I am becoming a fire eater? Or have become consumed by hatred of the Germans? I don’t think this is so, dear. I feel no hatred for any Germans, but I think they have committed a great wrong against humanity and I think they ought to be judged by an international tribunal, and made to pay some penalty for what they have done. It is obvious that they can never pay the full price for their crimes:… ruined happiness and broken lives cannot be valued on a cash basis, but it should be easily possible to convince them that war does not pay. What do you think, darling? I should be particularly interested to know what you think about Vansittart’s ideas.
Tea is on the way now, my dear… I will have to leave you for a while…
There have been a number of promotions lately (an inevitable accompaniment to active service) and today Bill Geary has joined the ranks of the N.C.O.s. This morning, it was announced that he had become a lance corporal… and this afternoon he has been further promoted to full corporal. the latter promotion is in recognition of some good work he did about three weeks ago. We had been heavily bombed and shelled around midnight and Bill somehow got himself mixed up with a rescue party attending the injured etc. during the raid. We were enduring hell on earth at the time, and Bill certainly demonstrated that he had guts. I am pleased about this promotion. I think he is, potentially, a good tank commander… now that he is permanently sober. As you know, he is an intelligent bloke… and has learned quite a lot about our equipment and vehicles… in spite of his assumed indifference and cynicism in England.
You will have heard the encouraging news about the Americans’ advance around St. Lo and Coutances. This is a jolly good effort and I was glad to hear it. I admit that such advances seem ridiculous by comparison with the Russians progress, but I suppose it is equally ridiculous to make such comparisons. Anyhow, it is an appreciable step forward in the right direction… i.e. towards a break through from this blasted peninsula.
There was much local noise whilst I was listening to the radio news yesterday, but I believe I heard the announcer say that the Germans have eight Armoured divisions in Normandy… and that six of them were operating on the British – Canadian sector. I couldn’t help thinking “you’re telling us” at the time. We have certainly discovered that he isn’t using pea-shooters wherever we have operated – !
Jess… have you ever wondered whether we front line troops ever enjoy any pleasures, or enjoy the luxury of having “something to look forward to” each day? It may surprise you to learn that I have one or two definite ‘pleasures’ in this direction. First of all, there is always your letter or letters to look forward to. They are obviously my principle source of pleasure and happiness. And even if no letter arrives, I have always been able to enjoy the expectancy. And if I miss one day, then there is sure to be one or more letters the following day, so I go to bed quite consoled.
My other pleasure… something I am able “to look forward to”… is going to bed. Now you shouldn’t laugh:- I mean this seriously. The pleasure of going to bed has no similarity with its counterpart at home (what a stupidly obvious thing to say!). What I mean is that ‘bed’ out here does not mean a warm bed, delicious comfort, a goodnight kiss… and the presence of a beautiful wife. Physically, it means two blankets… both of which smell musty and carry the stains of crushed insects: in addition it means a lumpy field with a particularly vicious little flint or stone trying to pierce your shoulder blades: as an alternative, the field gives way to a hole some two feet deep… lined with pebbles… alive with various things that crawl and scratch:- it means, too, a pillow consisting of a pair of (often) muddy boots with a pair of overalls piled on top. And for a roof, there is the dirty and muddy underbelly of a tank. To add local colour, there is always the all night activity of our artillery, making noises which seem to be solid in their intensity, and turning night into day… plus an occasional air raid… and frequent batches of shells and mortar from the enemy… There are other things too, but I think I have said sufficient to illustrate the point that bed is hardly a comfortable place out here. And yet, going to bed is a pleasure… and one which I look forward to eagerly. Do you know why? No, of course you don’t… but I will tell you.
For a start, you must know that I usually have difficulty in falling asleep:- among other things, the artillery is not conducive to sleep. And so, I invariably lay awake for an hour or two… often longer… and I am alone with my thoughts. This is a very pleasant interval for me: I really look forward to it. It is the only time of the day when I can be more or less certain of mental relaxation. This is not possible during normal hours when we are not in action, because there is always something happening: always some distraction… from enemy action to bathing parades. And when there is an appearance of tranquillity in the camp, I find it impossible to relax completely because there is always the imminence of battle. At any moment the troop officer may appear… face tense, maps beneath his arm… to announce “we are going into action”. These are dreadful words to me. Whenever I hear them, I seem to experience a momentary mental paralysis, and my whole inside contracts in a peculiar way. I imagine a criminal must suffer similar physical reaction when he hears his death sentence. I think it must be caused by fear: not just ordinary fear, but a more violent brand which has its kinship in death. I can find no antidote to this experience: it seems to be an inevitable part of my role as a front line soldier.
Strangely enough, the initial spasm of fear soon wears off, and I usually find myself taking a grim interest in the plans for action. But I am wandering away from my subject… It is during those brief hours before sleep that I am able to detach my mind from the immediate present: I can wander, mentally, back to England – to home – to Jess. And there I can dwell upon the exquisite delights of your presence and companionship… and the happiness that is ours. I see you tenderly nursing our little son, and your dear face is always aglow with a deep beauty which I cannot define. And then there is the past… with so many happy memories… all of them revolving around your dear self. I can even think about the future… and there my imagination does many delightful things for me. – Always I see my Jess… because without her there is no future… and there is our little Poppet… a grand little fellow. Sometimes, I even think of another little Poppette… so like her mother… so beautiful.
Can you wonder, dear one, that my bedtime is such a pleasure for me?
I have a further pleasure… that of writing letters to you:… my only regret here being the limited amount of time I can devote to it. The frequent interruptions are also very provoking, but they cannot be avoided. I am all too thankful for what little writing I am able to do.
Later. Have had a minor spat of activity this afternoon… but nothing to worry about. Must leave you now dear.
At last the green envelopes have arrived: I presume this letter will leave by first post tomorrow: too late now for today’s mail. We have had another ‘quiet’ day: the weather too has been fine and warm. I saw another mass of our four engined bombers this morning… a grand sight.
Once again I am listening to the radio:- this time a ‘ballad concert’. It is a very pleasant programme… and quite enjoyable out here in the sunshine. I seem to have little to write about just now Jessie Mine… and I want to get this letter away somehow to make sure of catching tomorrow’s mail. So I will leave you… More tomorrow.
Au revoir, my darling…
Please give Popett (sic) a large hug for his daddy.
I love you…
P.S. Have had no letter since Thursday. Am looking forward to at least one tomorrow.