No. 7925934. L/Sgt. Greenwood.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess Darling, Firstly… please note my new address: perhaps you will already have received the official card I sent you. (Click here to see the official card.) The initials stand for British Western Expeditionary Force.
Later Sunday A.M.
There was a sudden interruption last night… and I expect there will be a few more before I finish this letter. Since I started writing last evening, we have had official permisssion to reveal that we are now in France… in Normandy, of course. So now you have an approximate idea of my whereabouts… although I suspect you will have guessed that.
Let me tell you a little about the crossing. We embarked on an American ship… with all American crew: just ordinary fellows from all parts of the U.S.A. They were an easy-going crowd, including the officers, and we all got on quite well with them… apart from a slight difficulty in understanding the peculiar accent of some of them. Their hospitality was fortunate because we spent a good deal more time on the ship than anticipated.
I don’t think you need any explanation of my thoughts as we ultimately sail away from England. My last view of the English coast was accompanied by a beautiful red glow in the Heavens: it was late evening, and the sun too was bidding adieu to our little island. I gazed at the scene for a long time… and although that intangible bond between you and I was being stretched to an awful limit, it made no difference whatever. I felt so close to you, darling. I don’t think the warm glow of your love can ever be dimmed… by distance or anything else. It was whilst I was thus dreaming of you that I was interrupted by a Yankee sailor. “That’s right, Buddy” he said “take a good look because it’ll be a long time before you see England again”. And that was the only time I felt really annoyed with anyone on the ship. I realised afterwards that he was very young… and probably unaware of the despair suffered by anyone being so ruthlessly torn away from everything that matters in life.
Before actually sailing, we had had much time to get used to the heavy rolling of these specially built ships, and that was probably a good job because I’m sure there would have been much sea-sickness had we gone on board and straight across. As a precaution, we had all been issued with “vomit-bags” before leaving our last camp… but I don’t think many of them were used. These were simply strong paper bags lined with a sort of grease proof paper. The official issue was one per man, but I found I had been given three! I must have the look of a professional vomiter, or something! I didn’t need them… and never felt the slightest sign of sickness.
We had several meals on board, and I can honestly say that the food was excellent. I have never before had such varied and well-cooked food from a ‘service’ organisation. Most of it was from tins I don’t doubt, but it was very good nevertheless. We even had unusual vegetables with our dinners… such as asparagus, sauerkraut and broccoli. And… much to my delight… there seemed to be no restriction on sugar. At every meal there were bowls of brown and white sugar on the tables.
I spent a lot of time on board reading. I read anything I could lay my hands on and a lot of it was tripe of course… but it helped to curb my imagination. We were completely out of touch with the world… having neither newspapers, radio, or letters… and I had nothing to write about… or rather, nothing I could reveal… so you can imagine that I had plenty of spare time.
Most of the journey across took place in darkness, and by breakfast next day, we had our first glimpse of France. A few hours later, we were disgorging from the ship to the beach. I would like to describe the appearance of those beaches, but that would be a breach of the censorship, so I can only say that the pictures you have seen in the newspapers give a fair idea… but not a complete one. There is a lot I would love to tell you too about my impressions of Normandy… but again I will have to wait. I cannot say a lot about the inhabitants because I have not seen more than a few dozen. These appeared to me to be almost a peasant type, particularly the men and women working in the fields. Often enough, we have been greeted with a friendly hand-wave, but this has seemed to me more a gesture of politeness than welcome. Perhaps it is possible that our intrusion is resented. These people have not known war on their own soil for generations… and now it has descended furiously upon them, because of Allied action… And their beautiful countryside is now a huge battlefield… After all, the Germans only occupied Normandy: they did not fight for it: and their occupation appears to have been well conducted and well behaved. Ah well… the whole beastly mix up will sort itself out some day I suppose…
Later. I received two more of your letters yesterday, darling! They are dated Thurs 15th and Sat 17th. I find it hard to tell you how much your letters now mean to me. Can you imagine how a drowning man will clutch at a straw?… I think my inner self behaves similarly: always searching desperately for news of Jess… and when your letter arrives, my heart leaps with joy as I run away to drink in your words. My main regret now is that I will have little opportunity for replying in detail to any points you may raise:- especially if your letters arrive in twos and threes, as they are almost bound to. I get so badly behind-hand, and cannot possibly have your letters by me for reference when I am writing under present conditions.
Your latest letters describe the arrival of your mum and dad and the boys… and the subsequent turmoil. I can so easily imagine it all. You must have had a hell of a time… but I suppose you are now more organised. Has Johnny managed to pass the test for the Secondary School? I do hope so, Jess… What a bitter blow it will be to your dad if he fails… particularly after his brother’s record.
I have not much time left now, but before I finish, I must tell you that you were quite right in suggesting that I am becoming more acquainted with fear. As a matter of fact dear, I am simply scared stiff… not yet paralytic, but you never know! But I think everyone is scared here just now… and I suppose Jerry is just the same. So we’re all in the same boat…
Jess! I have just received two more letters… dated the 18th and 19th. Oh…how grateful I am: you are such a darling to me… so, so… oh so good, so kind…
Forgive me dear: I must go now.
I love you Jess
Always and forever.