No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine: As I told you in yesterday’s letter, I have been on guard duties at the hospital here all day, and I’m wondering what on earth to talk to you about. There is certainly no excitement in this place, even though there is plenty of routine work to do. It is not interesting – but for want of something better I will tell you a little about it.
I think I have already told you that the patients and staff are all German. All the male patients are wounded soldiers, and the staff, I imagine, is a permanent fixture here. Anyhow, the hospital is a going concern: we don’t interfere at all on the medical side. We guard the place as a precautionary measure, and keep a check on the movement of all personnel, whether staff or patients. And it is this part of the business which causes some work for the guard commander. Only a few numbers of the medical staff have been granted permanent passes to enable them to visit Lengerich town more or less at will. Everyone else – either entering or leaving the premises – has to be issued with a permit stipulating their business and approximate duration. And this is when I feel like a darned inquisitor more often than not. We have an interpreter, of course, so it is an easy matter to converse, but it is not easy to overlook the embarrassment caused by one’s questioning – especially amongst the female members of the staff. And some of the medical orderlies – males – look positively terrified as they are being questioned – And their obsequiousness! God! I have never dreamed of such heel-clicking, and bowing, and saluting, especially when their passes are handed to them.
We have an amazing variety of excuses put forward for permission to go into the town. No doubt some of them are ingenious fabrications, but it would be impossible to check up on all of them. Today, for instance, one bloke had to go into the town to tidy up the cemetery – or so he said! Another had to go to a photographer to have his photo taken for an identity card. Another had to visit a dentist: to see about coal supplies: about medical supplies: some want to go to their homes to dig their gardens for food, etc. So far, there has been no trouble: everyone is very obedient, and we have had no absentees or late arrivals. I am glad most of the doctors have permanent passes. Many of them have private patients in the town, and it would be rather rotten having to question their every move. There is some clause in the Geneva Convention too under which, I believe, they are entitled to some freedom of movement.
Visitors are allowed at certain times, and each one has to produce an identity card and obtain one of our permits before entering the hospital. And their parcels and presents for patients are inspected by us: a lousy business this, especially when we have to rummage through ladies handbags. And here I can tell you, my love, that you are by no means the only one to carry loads of junk around with you. Barry would be enraptured by some of the bags I have scrutinised.
The distances covered by some of these visitors leaves me gasping: bear in mind there is no official transport for civvies over here yet. In spite of this, two women turned up this morning from Essen – over a hundred miles away. Out of curiosity, I asked how they had travelled and learned that most of the journey had been done ‘hitch-hiking’ on milk lorries. They had a bundle of ‘eatables’ etc. for a wounded relative. They must have been pretty confident that permission to see him would be granted, but it may have been refused! Another fellow rolled up on a bicycle. He had done 120 miles from some place in the Ruhr. He had three parcels – sent by the wife of one of the staff orderlies. I sent for the latter: he appeared, shook hands with his cycling friend, clicked his heels at me, saluted, bowed, and then stood stiffly to attention. He was a little, sickly-looking chap: and his eyes… they are all the same, Jess… they are terrified… haunted… sunken: I have certainly realised in this place that there is nothing like the human eyes for revealing utter dejection and misery: and never before have I seen such evidence of minds which have lost all hope in the future.
This little chap looked at me appealingly – anxiety and fear in every line of his face. He stammered an ‘explanation’ of the parcels before I uttered a word: I knew they were from his wife: I had merely sent for him to witness my opening of his ‘presents’ – but he didn’t know this. Perhaps he thought his wife had committed an offence by sending them. I opened the largest, a cigar box: it contained about ten eggs wrapped in newspaper and a short letter: the next contained a small cake, and the last and smallest a few cigarettes and cigarette paper and a box of mnatches. I said everything was O.K. and handed them to him: he handled them as though there was nothing more precious on earth… and a slight glimmer of gratitude appeared in his face: he seemed overwhelmed with relief… but he didn’t forget to repeat his gymnastics before departing… click of the heels, rigid salute and a bow.
Christ! it makes me sweat! I don’t know what to think, Jess. I seem to be a mass of conflicting emotions… disharmonious contrasts… damnable uncertainties: in short, I don’t know where I stand. And it doesn’t improve matters when I see, as I did this morning, a group of human wrecks leaving the hospital. The doctors had done their best for them… but what pitiful specimens these fellows had become, and for good, too. The damned fools!.. the poor bastards! Which is it?
Today too, I have had a rather grim view of the other side of the battle, as it were. I have often wondered what it must be like at the ‘receiving end’ as we have poured H.E. and machine gun fire into the enemy positions. I have known only too well what Jerries fire is like… but have never been able to imagine ours as being similar. It has always seemed so impersonal somehow: we so rarely actually saw the enemy. But I saw one of them today: he was in the grounds, convalescing… minus an arm, part of his face, and with a crippled leg… and as obsequious as usual. His story? It was in the Reichswald Forest… a Churchill tank had fired!!! Was it my tank? I wondered, but said nothing.
Jess… I’m so tired of war… How nice it will be to get home and wash a few pots… and paint a few walls… and mend the taps… and the vacuum… and the wireless… and dig the garden… and play with Barry (…). Ah Jess: there is so much happiness in little things… in just living with one’s love… and working for her.
Good night, my darling