No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
British Army Exhibition
British Army Staff
Jess Darling: I must finish telling you about Bastille Day before discussing anything else. Perhaps it will help you to find the places I mention if I use the “grid” system on the map… i.e. against the letters on the right and left of the map imagine a horizontal line, and against the numbers at top and bottom imagine a vertical line… the point where the ‘lines’ intersect being the place indicated: thus, the Etoile (Arc de Triomphe) is F.7. On the evening of Bastille Day, I left the hotel (F.11½) at about 9.30 and went by tube to the Place de la Republic (G.13¼). This is one of the main squares in the city and I knew that some celebrations were being held there. I found enormous crowds… flags on every building… a large fairground and plenty of noise coming from round-abouts etc. But there was nothing spectacular – apart from the fact that such scenes of gaiety etc. have been unknown for the last six years. In one corner of the square, a dance-band was playing and a large crowd was dancing on the roadway. But traffic was not entirely held up: vehicles managed to crawl past by hugging the gutters.
I went next to the Place de las Bastille (J.14). Here the scene was somewhat similar except that the square was surrounded by massive ‘stands’ which had been erected for the military parade of the morning: it was here that Gen. de Gaulle ‘took the salute’. The Bastille monument in the centre of the square (a huge cylindrical column) was flood-lit, and long streamers of flags were suspended from the top of the monument. Again, there were numerous side-shows and street dancing, and everyone seemed very happy and carefree.
I wondered next whether the fountains below the Palais de Chaillot (H.6½) would be working. I have wanted to see them in operation ever since I came to Paris, but they have had to remain out of action owing to the fuel shortage. Anyhow… from the Bastille I went west to the Chaillot, and was delighted to find that the fountains were working. I first looked down upon them from the terrace between the two halves of the Chaillot building: it was a lovely sight… perhaps one of the most impressive sights of its kind in the world. I don’t know whether you have seen these fountains, Jess – but I presume you haven’t. They cover an area – well, perhaps the size of a hockey field and consist of dozens of vertical sprays arranged in symmetrical patterns, with four ‘batteries’ of large jets lying about 40° from the horizontal and throwing a huge multiple archway of water right down the centre of the main basin.
The whole of the fountain is lit up by electric flood-lights concealed beneath the water… and the effect is really lovely – especially on a roasting summer’s night with a gentle warm breeze obligingly providing a cooling spray from the water. It is possible to walk amongst many of the vertical jets at the Chaillot end of the fountain, providing the wind is not too strong: in the latter event, a bathing costume would be a good idea. I took the risk, and emerged only slightly damp. I walked down the gardens beside the fountain – and found some little boys swimming in the main basin: The water is little more than a foot deep, but those kids were so tiny that they managed to swim alright. I think everyone in the huge crowd must have been envying those nippers. It was a very hot evening… and the cool fountains looked very inviting.
At the extreme lower end, I suddenly heard the unmistakable whine of electric motors… a power-house… and I had to investigate, of course. I found a large man-hole in the pavement, protected by heavy steel bars, and a stone stairway leading invitingly underground. I soon scrambled beneath the steel bars, and went down… And then I found myself really amongst ‘the works’… with a vengeance. I knew that the amount of water being circulated throughout the many jets would require a good deal of power – maybe some hundreds of horse-power, but I never anticipated the mass of stuff I beheld. There were several electric motors driving high-speed centrifugal pumps: yards of massive switchboards and controls: all kinds of coloured lights for various controls, and piles of steel pipes, four of them about 18 inches in diameter.
One of the engineers asked if I would like to have a look round – Would I? – He took me beneath the entire fountain – and right to the higher end, where I saw the 18″ pipes feeding the main jets for the water archway. I had, in fact, a fishes eye view of the fountain through the numerous glass panels of the underground ceiling… actually the bed of the fountain: It was a most interesting experience – and helped me to understand why the fuel shortage prevents the fountains being operated more regularly. The electric motors alone must develop about three thousand horse-power.
I must have spent well over an hour on this part of my tour… so I had to leave – rather reluctantly. Incidentally, I should mention that I saw some of the city’s firework display from the high terrace of the Chaillot – also the Eiffel Tower, with its numerous search-lights, flinging their beams horizontally across the city.
I next walked to the Arc de Triomphe (F.7) and saw it under floodlighting: it looked very impressive. It was here that I saw the biggest of the many big flags in Paris. It was flying from a steel wire suspended from the top of the central archway of the Arc: above the tomb of the ‘Unknown Warrior’. From the Arc, the Champs Elysses looked very attractive with its many lights and flags and with the floodlit Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde (G.9½) in the distance.
I next walked down the Champs Elysses to our exhibition… somewhere about G.8½. And then I got another surprise. It had previously been announced that the ‘Swing’ section of our band would be playing dance music on the ‘parade’ ground (a roadway) outside the exhibition building from 10.30pm onwards… and that our searchlights would provide the necessary lighting. I expected a crowd, but not the solid mass of humanity I found. It was amazing. Even our exhibition vehicles were being used as grandstands, to say nothing of the trees and telegraph and lamp poles.
When I arrived some French revue artists were entertaining the crowd with songs via our microphone-loud-speaker system, and everyone seemed to be thoroughly happy. A short time before my arrival (at midnight to be precise) our male P.T. team had given a demonstration of acrobatics… and this was well received. But I think most of the people – millions of the buggers! had come to dance, and so when the band started up, the road became a solid mass of heaving and wriggling humanity. It was amusing – especially in the quieter corners where Yanks and others seemed to be tearing each other apart “jitterbugging”. The lighting was very effective. Four searchlights were directed upwards on to the white facade of the exhibition building, and the reflected light was as soft and bright as daylight.
I left this lively area at 1.0am… and headed towards ‘home’. At the Concorde, I saw the two fountains working (floodlit) also the floodlit buildings of the Crillon, the Navy Ministry, the Madeleine church and the Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb (I.8½) away to the right. Later, I came to the Opera House (F.10¼) which was floodlit in two colours, white and red. It looked very well. Nearer home, I had an excellent view of the floodlit Sacre Coeur from the Boulevard Haussmann. This is the view from point F.11 looking north along the Rue Laffitte. In actual fact, the Sacre Coeur is dead in line with the Rue Laffitte, and easily visible from the Bould. Haussmann… perched high up on the hill of Montmartre (D.11½). The map doesn’t confirm this view: it’s a bit screwy.
Close to the hotel (actually down the street above the word ‘Bourse’ at F.11½) I found another large crowd dancing in the roadway beneath special lights spread across the roadway. It was a large crowd, and traffic was completely blocked… but I reached the hotel easily enough… It was after 2.0am and I felt pretty tired – and soon fell asleep. And that seems to be all I have to say about Bastille Day.
By way of postscript, I can tell you that our band ceased playing at 5.0am – and even then the crowds were dense. Many of the beds were not slept in during the night… giving our chamber maids a slight rest yesterday. The tube station forms were occupied by many sleeping and snoring Yanks at 8.30am next day. I presume they had simply wandered down when the tubes opened at 5.0am.
I have been to the Opera House this evening… One of the fellows here – the R.S.M. from the Australian Air Force managed to get two free tickets, and he and I have been together. There were three ballets on the programme, and altho’ I am not partial to ballet, I must say I enjoyed the last of them. The music was delightful… and the dancing was mainly in groups with little of the solo pirouetting which I don’t like. The costumes too were very colourful. And the orchestra! It was grand: there were at least seventy players – a real symphony orchestra. The Paris Opera House – or National Academie of Music as it is called – is a huge building. The official description claims “it is the biggest theatre in the world”… but I think this is only a half truth. It is possible that the total area of the building is greater than that of any other theatre… but only about one third of it is devoted to the Opera House proper: the remainder houses a music library and a musical museum, among other things. Inside the Opera House I was surprised to find no ‘grand circle’ such as our theatres have. Instead, there were four tiers of boxes running round the entire building, with a shallow ‘gallery’ above them. Thus, what we normally call the ‘pit’, is really just an extension of the orchestra stalls.
It is a very ornate place, Jess – with an enormous chandelier suspended from the central dome, and much gilt plaster work. The stage is a very large one – and, to my surprise, rather “creaky”. I could hear the boards creaking all the time, but perhaps the noise wouldn’t be audible to most of the audience. I was very close to the stage itself. By a strange coincidence, I had tried to book for the show this morning, but there were thousands of people at the booking office, so I gave it up… fortunately. Am enclosing my copy of the programme. The English version of the stories is almost as difficult to translate as the French… especially “Giselle”. I hope it doesn’t give you the “Wilis” trying to understand it!
I received two letters yesterday, darling. And this morning, the second of your letters addressed to the 9th has arrived. It is the one with which you enclosed the election cutting. So now I believe I have received all your letters.
You tell me that you are interested in my accounts of Paris – and this I was pleased to hear. I had an idea that I was beginning to sound like a guide-book or something. I have not yet seen the Mona Lisa, but ‘she’ became available to the public on Thursday last, so I intend to see her – perhaps tomorrow. In actual fact, there are not many pictures on show yet. The fuel shortage here prohibits the heating of the entire Louvre, so they have opened a small section of the gallery, and placed in it a choice selection of the more famous works. I believe there are 83 ‘masterpieces’ on show. The rest (there must be thousands of them) are still packed away in storage.
I was surprised to hear that Noel Wright says he may be discharged in September. This is by no means the official view. And I don’t see how he can have access to any ‘inside’ information because all details about discharge etc. are published in the press before ever we hear of them. Perhaps he is hoping to be assisted out of the army by his firm, and is feeling optimistic in spite of Bevin’s warning against ‘wire pulling’. Good luck to him if he can get out… but please don’t attach too much importance to what he has said, Jess. I don’t expect to be released until December… but am really hoping for a leave next month.
You have asked me whether I noticed Barry’s ‘squint’ and the answer is definitely NO. I didn’t see the slightest trace of it. But I take your word for its existence: it must be very slight though. Your stories of his progress are amusing Jess – altho I can quite believe that you aren’t always amused. It must, for instance, be damned annoying to be jumping over chair ‘hurdles’ all day… and fishing things out of the lavatory – but it is funny to read about, all the same. It is always nice reading about you and Barry, my darling – always.
No doubt you will be wondering when to start re-addressing letters to the 9th. Please don’t worry dear – I will tell you in due course. All I can say now is that the exhibition will almost certainly close on the evening of the 22nd July, but it may be a few days later when I actually leave Paris. I believe it is possible that we may be given some more definite information tomorrow: if so, I will tell you.
And now I must go to bed – to dream – about my love – I hope.