No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
British Army Exhibition
British Army Staff
Jessie Mine: I have not had a very exciting day today because I have spent most of the time on duty at the exhibition. Even so, it has been quite interesting: there always seems to be something happening at the show and it is impossible to be bored. Perhaps I had better tell you a little about the exhibition itself… to put you ‘in the picture’ as it were.
The interior exhibits are in what is called the annexe to the Grand Palais. They consist of small weapons, a tableau of desert warfare, one of winter warfare (a snow scene), and one of the Burmese jungle:- they are all pretty realistic. There is also a special exhibit of equipment carried by our airborne troops, and by the paratroopers… And numerous other things, including a small cinema for shewing war films.
The exhibition is approached via a short avenue leading directly off the Champs Elysses. And it is on this avenue that the ‘heavy stuff’ is located… and that includes our vehicle – the heaviest of the lot, a 52 ton Churchill and very up-to-date. Other heavy things include Sherman, Cromwell and Comet tanks, a Sherman ‘flail’ tank, a Valentine ‘tank destroyer’, an amphibious ‘Buffalo’ tank, an amphibious ‘Duck’… and some big guns, including one of the huge 7.2″s, a 5.5″, a 3.7″, A.A. gun and a Bofors: there are also a few other breakdown vehicles etc.
My vehicle is only a few yards from the Champs Elysses, and conveniently harboured beneath some trees:- a big advantage this, during these hot sunny days. Immediately to the rear of the Churchill, and amongst the trees is a bandstand… and this is used by the A.T.S. (Auxiliary Territorial Service) military band during the morning, afternoon, and evening… so we have music conveniently ‘laid on’. It is a surprisingly good band… entirely female, except for the conductor. There are about thirty players, and the instruments include clarinets, oboes, flutes, piccolos, saxophones, cornets, trombones, euphoniums, timpani, drums, and a bass violin. The band is quite an attraction, deservedly so, in my opinion.
Another side-line to the exhibition is the elaborate guard mounting ceremony carried out twice daily… in the morning and afternoon: the latter performance includes a ceremonial “changing of the guard”, and is always watched by a large crowd. Immediately after this guard changing, a female bagpipe band enters the parade ground and plays a few Scotch pipe tunes on the march. This too is an attractive side line: some of the pipers play in the A.T.S. military band.
And so, Jess, you can see… what with these items, and long discussions with Yankee soldiers, and pidgin-French-English discussions with civilians, the time passes quickly enough.
It was my first tour of duty this morning. The whole crew reports every morning from 9.0 until 10.0 am for ‘maintenance’ i.e. dusting down the vehicle etc… but only one man stays on duty when the show opens at 10.0 am. This morning I donned my vivid red “exposition” arm-band… and awaited my first customer. I knew my vehicle, and am literally bursting with knowledge of the Churchill, both technically and tactically: I had visions of blinding the “Froggies” with science… providing they were sensible and spoke English… And soon my first customer arrived… a Frenchman. I was in an expansive mood – yes, I knew my subject alright: I could tell him anything. “Excuse, please”, he said “where is the lavatory”!! Well! for cryin’ out loud! The bloody cheek! Did I look like a “shit-house-wallah”? I couldn’t answer his question… and my conceit suffered a serious set-back. I’m not so clever after all!
During the day, I have had some interesting talks with Yankee soldiers. It is nice to get their point of view… and to hear first hand accounts of battle front sectors about which we only had vague ideas during the war. In Paris, too, there are many English people, and they seem to love talking to us… old ladies in particular. One old dear today made me listen for almost an hour – relating her experiences in Paris at the time of the liberation by the Yanks. Unfortunately, she repeated herself dozens of times and I felt pretty bored after ten minutes of it… but it would have been too unkind not to listen. She was so obviously happy talking about it.
Today, the Champs Elysses has been closed to traffic for a few hours, due to a formal parade for the Sultan of Morocco. The procession was headed by several columns of French cavalry… dressed in ceremonial uniforms of the Napoleonic period, I imagine. Their horses were gaily decorated with all kinds of colours and gadgets, and their riders themselves wore highly polished brass helmets with long plumes down the back… and carried their swords across their shoulders unsheathed. One section of the cavalry had brass trumpets and drums on which they played a fanfare as they trotted by: quite a colourful scene.
The Sultan and his henchmen rode in cars, and they were followed by more cavalry – the Sultan’s cavalry – wild looking moors, wearing a blanket-like cape over their shoulders and carrying rifles. Their horses were small Arab ponies… rather puny-looking animals, but I know they are famed throughout the world for their stamina and speed. The procession ended with more French cavalry – there must have been hundreds of them, all told.
I don’t know the precise purpose of this ceremony, but it struck me as rather odd in view of recent French behaviour in Syria. Tomorrow I have a free day… and am going to the races at Longchamp with Jim Bevan and ‘Jake’ (Sgt. Jakeman): he is one of my ‘staff’. I have never been to a horse race, but have often wanted to see what it looks like. And as the race-course is in the Bois de Boulogne, which I also want to see, I’m sorta killing two birds with one stone: it should be an interesting experience, and particularly if this glorious weather holds out. The races include the equivalent of the English “Oaks” – a fashionable affair, so I should see a few funny things. Soldiers are admitted free – to the grandstand too.
If I can, I will tell you about it tomorrow evening, but I cannot guarantee to write because I am in charge of the exhibition guard from 9.0 pm onwards. This guard has no connection with the ceremonial affair I have already mentioned: it is just a night picket, involving no special dress or drill.
Am going to bed now, sweetheart… And I hope I am going to dream about the loveliest little lady in the world.
Au revoir, my love