The War Letters of Trevor Greenwood

9th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment

27th November 1940 to 1st December 1945

To his wife, Jess

Preface by Julie Schroder

Richard Trevor Greenwood (known as Trevor, and hereafter as RTG), and his wife Jessie (known as Jess) kept up an almost daily correspondence from the 1st day of Trevor’s army training to the very last day of his army service. The letters document his progress at Gateshead, moving between Rose St. and Prior St. schools, then to Bovington in Dorset, Farnley Park Camp near Leeds with a short interlude in Luton, then to Eastbourne, Melksham and Eastbourne again. Unfortunately only 2 letters survive between March 1942 and November 1943. Although my mother painstakingly preserved all the correspondence in cardboard boxes, it seems likely that one box was lost during a house move. RTG’s story resumes in Charing, Kent followed by Shakers Wood near Thetford, Charing again, Brighton, and then ‘Army Post Office’ from 13th April 1944. From this date until the end of the war, the immediate whereabouts of the 9th RTR could not be revealed. In fact, they moved to the Aldershot area for final preparations, then to Lee-on-Solent near Gosport to await embarkation for Normandy. In RTG’s case, active service in Normandy began on D-Day +16.

The period from D-Day (6th June 1944) to 17th April 1945 was documented by RTG in his war diaries. Why he risked contravening army orders by keeping a diary is a mystery, but this document gives a rare insight into the day to day life of an ordinary soldier in active service, and an accurate record of RTG’s itinerary with the 9th RTR through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. The letters also cover this period, and it is interesting to note that long descriptions in the diary, particularly of battles, are sometimes reproduced verbatim in a letter two or three weeks later. This time lapse was to comply with the strict rules of censorship, e.g. Cheux (RTG’s first battle): diary entry 26.6.44, letter 1.8.44b; Crèvecoeur: diary entry 21/22.8.44, letter 1.9.44; The battle for Le Havre: diary entry 12.9.44, letter 9.10.44; Crossing the River Rhine: diary entry 7.4.45, letter 21.4.45. Presumably RTG had in mind that this system would fulfil two purposes: it provided interesting material for a long letter to Jess, and preserved accurate accounts of significant events in case his diary did not survive.

The letters carry on through RTG’s post-war service in Germany, at Schüttorf, Bentheim and Lengerich, then several weeks at the British Army War Exhibition in Paris, then back to Germany to join his unit in Gümmer (near Hannover), and Ringelheim (about 40 miles S.E. of Hannover), until his return home to civilian life.

Following the interest shown by so many people in RTG’s war diary, Barry and I feel that the wealth of material contained in the letters should also be made available to those who lived through these times with RTG, and to those with a wider interest in researching the war from the perspective of the ordinary soldier. In deference to our mother’s wishes, we held back from making the letters widely available because of their intensely personal nature, but since her death in October 1999 we both agree, that far from being disrespectful to our parents, the personal material adds poignancy and human interest to RTG’s story and will strike a chord with many other ex-soldiers who were sustained through the nightmare of war by the constant love and support of their families back home. RTG wrote copiously and relentlessly, and was apparently known as ‘the professor’ for his studiousness! This constant dialogue with Jess was his way of coping with the more immediate and horrific reality of the war, and the letters stand as a lasting testament to their lifelong devotion to each other.

RTG was one of the first batch of conscript soldiers to arrive in Gateshead on 27th November 1940, the day that the 9th Battalion RTR was officially reborn. The transcripts begin with his first few letters from Gateshead, transcribed by Peter Beale. We then move to Aldershot in May 1944, with my transcriptions starting 10 days before D-Day. These will be added gradually to the web site and cross-referenced with the relevant entries from RTG’s Diary from D-Day onwards. As the letters written during active service are likely to be of wider general interest, it is my intention to continue these transcriptions through to the end of the war and the disbandment of the 9th battalion RTR, before picking up the threads in Gateshead.

I have transcribed the text as faithfully as possible, including RTG’s punctuation, and have omitted only those sections relating to domestic issues and personnel of no interest to the general reader. Such omissions are indicated thus: (…). Any necessary editorial explanations will be bracketed and in italics. RTG frequently underlines for emphasis and these sections are in bold.

Julie K. Schroder.

Birmingham, March 2008.