No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine: I have been rather busy since my last letter (Monday): I told you then that I would be moving on the following day… and so I am now writing from our new location… a little town called Lengerich, about 9 miles south-west of Osnabrück. We arrived late yesterday… and immediately took over one of our duties… the guarding of a large hospital a mile or so from the town centre. I thought we would have been relieved by a fresh guard today, but now find that we have to remain on duty at the hospital until tomorrow… so I can’t yet tell you anything about our new billets because I haven’t even seen them yet.
Our journey yesterday was quite a pleasant run – about 40 miles… in beautiful weather and through very nice country. In case you have a map, I can tell you that we travelled from Bentheim via Schüttorf and Rheine… A route which seems to be popular with “displaced persons”, judging by the number and variety of vehicles we passed. Most of them were heading westwards…bicycles, prams, handcarts, children’s toy carts… any mortal thing with wheels capable of carrying suitcases and odd bundles of household junk. Goodness knows how many nationalities there were in the motley procession, but I presume they were Dutch, Belgians and French. They all seemed happy, anyway… beaming at us as only returning slave-workers can ‘beam’.
We were a day ahead of the main squadron party, and so our billets had not been officially occupied… not that this made any difference to us because we were immediately rushed to this hospital to take over from another unit. The hospital itself is a huge place… very similar to an English institution of the same type… actually, in peace time, a hospital for mental defectives. There are numerous ‘wings’ and ‘blocks’ scattered over a fairly large area, with the usual mixture of smaller buildings for the staff, laundry, mortuary etc… The staff are all Germans… and so are the patients… principally wounded soldiers, two or three hundred of them. There are also some mental cases here in a separate block… all women. Many of the women ‘work’ on the premises… in the cookhouse and in the gardens. They are mostly human wrecks… and middle-aged.
Yesterday, I had the misfortune to enter one of the wings for wounded soldiers… it was one of my ‘duties’… and the wing happened to be the one for facial and head wounds. I won’t go in that damned place again… not if I can help it-! I will be sleeping here again tonight… and hope to get away to our billet in the town tomorrow… The atmosphere in the place is depressing, in spite of the lovely surroundings. I think 48 hours at a time amongst loonies and war wrecks is enough for anyone. There is another detestable feature of this hospital… the wretched subservience of the staff and the convalescent soldiers. They are everlastingly saluting and heel-clicking: I can’t stand it.
Yesterday, I was walking past the ‘wing’ for soldiers with leg and body wounds. In the garden were a number of patients sitting in the sunshine on deck-chairs. As I drew opposite, most of them jumped up, some with foot wounds! – and stood rigidly to attention: one or two even saluted. It is a horribly embarrassing situation, Jess: I detest such evidence of servility. Maybe it is good for the Germans to be taught something of humility… but I am not a good teacher in this direction. I get no pleasure from witnessing the complete abolition of human dignity. And here again, I find my reason somehow at variance with my conscience. I do wish I could know what is right.
And the temptation to hand out an occasional cigarette! – Yes, I am mad, I know… but try and imagine the situation, darling. We frequently see wounded soldiers in the grounds… many on crutches… And always ambling around with their eyes glued to the ground:- they are looking for… NO, not ordinary valuables… but cigarette ends. And if there happens to be a group of us British soldiers standing about, there is always a German convalescent close by… ready to pounce on our dimps as we throw them away. I haven’t yet been asked for a cigarette… nor have I given one away… but I can’t help wondering how I would behave if the situation were reversed.
It seems a long time ago since I last received one of your letters… but I believe it is only three days… Perhaps there will be one or two awaiting me tomorrow when I re-join the squadron… Yes, I’m sure there will be. That is one good point about these postal delays: they don’t half make you look forward to ‘tomorrow’.
Jess… I must say au-revoir now: I am pretty certain to be writing again tomorrow…
I love you, Jess dear…
I want you… always