No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
British Army Exhibition
British Army Staff
Jessie Mine: If we have much more of this weather, I shall have to apply for a transfer to Iceland or somewhere. The heat has been deadly for the last few days – particularly today and yesterday. In actual fact, it is really splendid summer weather we are having, but for some unknown reason, the British Army big-wigs in this area have decreed that we must wear full battle-dress, both on and off duty… and so the more sensible and suitable “shirt-sleeve order”, (shirts, collars and ties, but no battle-dress blouse) is strictly taboo. I imagine we must be the laughing stock of the other troops here – particularly American and French. They are parading about in light shirts and trousers.
But that’s enough of that. I have other things to say. Firstly, there were two of your letters for me today dated the 11th and 12th. They were re-directed by the unit, so the delay is practically negligible. There will probably be one or two more for me tomorrow… maybe even one direct from you.
You have again raised the question of leave – but I believe my last letter on the subject will explain the position. I have no further official news since, altho’ the general opinion amongst the troops here in Paris is that our second leave will follow automatically. Even so, there does not appear to have been any official pronouncement on the subject… that is what bothers me. It is possible that the position has been clarified back in the unit – but I cannot say because I am completely out of touch with them.
You refer to a recent letter of mine apropos our ‘occupation duties’. There is nothing at all to worry about, my dear. The situation in Germany now is well in hand, and I doubt whether there will be any trouble – apart from the possibility of a local fanatic or two chalking up slogans at night. But it only requires one or two of them to be caught – and maybe shot for their trouble – to quell even this minor opposition. I think there is far more likelihood of trouble in France, Belgium and Holland than in Germany.
I can appreciate how you feel about the awful delay in demobilising we soldiers. We feel the same, Jess – altho’ perhaps we tend to be a little more phlegmatic about the whole business. You will know dear, that nothing on earth really matters to me apart from getting home to you and Barry:- there lies my life and happiness. But… and it is a big ‘but’ I now know that I am going to return to you: it is a certainty… whereas it was a remote possibility not so many weeks ago. And there, I think, lies the cause of our apparently docile acceptance of what may appear to be a stupid delay. The elimination of this fear of death has made a big difference – and perhaps endowed us with a little more patience than would otherwise be the case.
I find myself very much in agreement with your almost pessimistic view of the future. Things are in a mess darling – and I believe they will be for years to come. This entire damn continent seems to be a seething mass of factions – all of them dissatisfied. And then there is the problem of physical reconstruction – apart from all the conflicting ‘ideologies’. Goodness knows how the mess will be sorted out: I hate to think about it. And what about our ‘home front’? My immediate worry is the election and my vote… or rather the soldiers’ vote. Are we going to get it? We have already filled in two documents to ensure our inclusion as voters – one of them several months ago, and the other 6 or 8 weeks ago. Since then, we haven’t heard a damned thing, altho’ the lads here tell me that there are rumours about the first series of documents having been lost or mislaid. Whatever the position, I’m pretty certain that Britain is destined for a large dose of serious trouble if we troops are denied our vote. I wouldn’t put this past the Tories, of course. They must know that the army in general has developed a severe left wing complex since the outbreak of war. I’m certain they are worried about the outcome of the election – otherwise it wouldn’t have been necessary to utilise Churchill to give utterance to their absurd propaganda about savings and labour party ‘Gestapos’ and what not. Such utter nonsense would receive the ridicule it deserves coming from a lesser light – but from Churchill – well, I suppose plenty of damned fools will believe it. If you hear or read anything about the service vote, you might let me know Jess:- meanwhile, I don’t feel too happy about it.
Thanks for the news about Barry. You have already taught him how to welcome his daddy home! That’s lovely. Now you will simply have to bring him to the station to meet me, even if I am only returning for leave. It looks as though you will have to employ a taxi, unless Mr. Steele obliges again. I think he will, if you let him know, particularly now that the petrol restrictions have been slightly lifted.
I haven’t done a lot today, Jess… But what I have done has put me ‘on my knees’. It has been devilishly hot and sunny… and I spent the morning wandering leisurely thru’ the Tuileries Gardens and sitting beside a huge fountain which is working there (by no means all the fountains of Paris are working yet). After lunch, I must have been seized by some perverse imp, because I found that I simply had to go and have a look at the ‘basilica’ of Sacre-Coeur. Now I don’t know whether you know anything about this place… or whether, like me, the word “basilica” signifies a mixture of rock and prison (I think my mind subconsciously recalls bastille, and basalt and silica. What does it mean, Jess?) Anyhow, I knew that the Sacre Coeur was a rather unusual architectural feature of Paris, that it was a R.C. church or cathedral or something, and that it stood on high ground and was approached, finally, by many steps.
High ground and steps: a bloody heat wave: full battle dress: a weary body… and yet I chose the awful ordeal in preference to having a nap in a very comfortable bed. Of such stuff are the heroes made, my love!!!! Well – from the nearest tube, I started to climb – and incidentally to sweat: but don’t think of that: it spoils the atmosphere. After I had climbed about half a mile, I found myself at the bottom of the steps – millions of the buggers – and away at the top, fronted by a large ornamental garden amongst the steps stood the bastar… sorry, I mean basilica. It looked rather remarkable and certainly impressive. It is a large church, built of granite which has remained white, and with three onion shaped domes… a huge one in the centre, and smaller ones at each side. Their shape has an eastern or mosque-ish appearance. Another peculiar feature of these domes is the unusual pattern of their exterior. They are built of the same granite as the main building, but instead of being smooth, they have a definite pattern, very similar to huge ‘fish scales’ (pardon the comparison, dear one, but I can think of nothing else).
I gazed upwards for long enough, wishing to have a closer look at the place – but those steps! – there they were, right under my nose. Finally, I took the plunge – an upward plunge, so to speak – and started to climb. I have told you that there were ornamental gardens beside the steps – and these proved a blessing in disguise because they were being watered by dozens of automatic ‘sprays’, and the water from the latter was conveniently spraying the steps at odd intervals all the way up. I walked thru’ every one of these deliciously cool showers: and how I longed to remain under them!
Ultimately, I reached the top of the steps – and there was the church – but I had to sit down: I was buggered – even though there were only 273 steps (I counted them!). I found a seat and enjoyed the view of Paris below: I could see at least half of the city – and the country for miles beyond. Some time later, I noseyed round and noticed lots of people entering a side door – many of them soldiers with young French lassies: they obviously weren’t going in to pray. I followed – and found a notice advertising a trip to the dome for 10 francs. I had come a long way – and thought I may as well do the job properly, in spite of my objection to paying out cash to the R.C. faith. I didn’t for the moment realise that domes are usually approached by steps – but I found out: I found another 236 of the bloody things, every single one with guaranteed pain right across my back. When I got to the top I was fluid and only semi conscious. Luckily, the architect had foreseen my plight, and placed bags of seating accommodation around the dome.
Jess:- have you ever sat down? I mean really sat down and allowed your back-side to give your body the greatest treat it’s ever known? If you haven’t, visit this particular basilica during a heat wave: it’s worth it. I sat – and after some time became conscious that there was a hell of a view before me. I recognised Notre Dame, and the Invalides, and the Arc de Triomphe, and the Chamber of Deputies, and the Place de la Concorde and, of course, the Eiffel Tower: I seemed to be about level with the top of the latter. By walking around the dome, the whole of Paris became visible, with the green of the countryside in the far distance. Certainly a remarkable panorama. And the breeze was simply delicious. I stayed some time… thrilled on the one hand by the view and the clean air… and horrified on the other hand, by the thought of those steps: my legs had already been sadly abused. I got down evenually – again taking advantage of the ‘showers’ in the gardens, and reached the hotel at 5.30 – very hot and very thirsty. But after a bath and six cups of sweet coffee, I felt quite O.K.
And that constitutes my day. I guess you will be thinking that it is about time I got home and did some real work, for a change. I think this too, Jess, but, we will just have to put up with it for a little longer. Meanwhile, it is nice for me to have this opportunity of seeing Paris. I only wish you were here, darling – instead of slaving away at the house and being driven half crazy with visitors. Thank goodness you have our little ‘pie’. He may be a handful of work, but I think it is a welcome handful…
Good night, dear Jess.
I love you