Most of the fellows have now gone out and conditions here are much more peaceful. I would like to set down for you in detail every event in its order, but the letter would never get finished, so I think I will concentrate on details, and hope that by this means you will ultimately be able to form a reasonable mental picture of my army life.
Firstly, the personnel of my squad. I think I told you before that there are 22 of us and we are under a Corporal Davis (2 stripes). He gives us general instructions and generally looks after our welfare. There is also a Lance Corporal (1 Stripe) who sleeps in our room and seems to be a general assistant to Davis. The Lance corporal is an ‘old sweat’ – having been in the army for 23 years – I should say he is about 45 years of age. He is a decent little chap and very anxious to help us in every direction. Last night, for instance, he made my bed to show me how it is done. Most of today he has been helping us to rig up our uniforms – viz how to fit the gaiters, how and where to sew the badges, how to fix medallions etc. Tonight he carefully scrutinised all the fellows who have gone out because it is their first night out in uniform, and everything must be correct. There is a reason for this latter point – military police are on the look-out for incorrect or slovenly dress and there are penalties for it.
The members of the squad are, of course, all newcomers, like myself. Some of them probably have good jobs in civil life – others are working class of the warehouseman type. Generally speaking they seem a fairly decent crowd, but I cannot yet pass any individual opinions – I do not know sufficient about them. The bunk on my left is occupied by a heavily built chap who certainly likes his beer; at a guess, I should say he normally in the £5 a week class – he speaks with a Scotch accent, but lives in Liverpool I believe. On my right is a tall chappie – not super intelligent, but rather amusing to me. He is probably a shop assistant or warehouseman. He is rather droll and through him I have had several good laughs. His comments today whilst we were all sewing (correct – all of us sewing away like a women’s sewing class) kept me in stitches. I don’t think he had ever handled a needle before and he took just about twice as long as the rest of us. The job consisted of stitching a cloth “tank” on the right arm of our battle tunics. But you should have seen his face when he tried on his army socks. At a guess I should say they were 6 inches too long in the feet – he sat on his bunk dangling his feet in the air with a great mass of sock flapping about. Last night I went to the urinal after lights-out. When I was getting into bed on my return a Corporal popped his head through the door to make sure that I was not a late-comer stealing in. He simply asked whether I had a pass-out, but I explained where I had been and everything was OK. After he had gone, my droll colleague asked in a dozy voice “Christ, have we to get a pass-out to go and piss?” I chuckled in bed for some time over that question – it was funny to hear him say it.
I think most of us had at least one thought in common today – our room was littered with clothes of every description and practically all of us were sewing (and swearing!) diligently – “if only our wives could see us now” – Yes, my dear, it was a sight, but we are all in the same boat and nobody worries. But everybody seems glad to be so far from home at present – some of us look rather crazy in ill-fitting uniforms and it would be an ordeal to appear before people who know us. At the moment I am wearing my uniform, but the jacket is a rotten fit around the neck and will have to be altered. I can easily put my chin down my collar!
The Lance-corporal has this evening posted a list of fatigue duties for our squad. My job, along with about six others, is to brush the ‘dining’ room floor and clean out the wash-house. God knows what I am supposed to do and you can easily imagine how hateful the job is going to be. But as I said before, we are all in the same boat, and grumbling will not help matters. I will let you know what happens, when I have done my first fatigue. Naturally, I will not be proud to report such incidents, but I promised to tell you everything – didn’t I, darling?
Speaking of the dining room, by the way, reminds me to tell you not to imagine an ordinary dining room. It is simply a long room with two deal wood tables running parallel to each other down the entire length. The tables are actually boards on trestles placed close together and forming an apparently continuous table. About 120 men dine simultaneously, so you can imagine the length of the tables.
At meal times, we grab our knife and fork and spoon from our kitbags, and form a queue in the dining room. We file past a table at one end of the room and help ourselves to a tin plate. Food is then dumped on the plate by the cook-house fellows, and we scramble for a seat. For lunch today we had roast beef, carrots and roast potatoes – stewed apples and custard. Both plates are filled at the same time, and it is a bit of a problem balancing everything and scrambling for a seat. We have also our cutlery and a chunk of dry bread to juggle with. For tea we had a cup of tea (sorry – I mean tin mug!) and bread and margarine and cheese or jam. We didn’t get plates this time. The bread – one or two enormous slices – is held in one hand and a blob of margarine is dumped on it, likewise with the jam or cheese. The bare table top had to serve as a plate for this meal. I couldn’t help remarking that we are learning the procedure of jail life – it may be useful at some future date!
Supper, which I have just had (7 pm), consisted of tea again – yes, in tin mugs – and an illicit chunk of bread and cheese. The bread and cheese is not supposed to be served for supper, but there were only half a dozen of us present, so we were given a treat!
A sergeant paid us a visit today and made a crude speech about tradition and the glorious history of the Tank Regiments in 1914-18 and lots of similar baloney. The essence of his lecture was to impress upon us the need for clean boots, smart appearance, clean buttons etc. So I had to go out and buy some boot polish and some silvo for the brass buttons on my overcoat. I have no dusters and will therefore have to use a soiled hanky for a polisher until I can buy a couple of dusters.
It is a nightmare trying to keep my tackle in order. My “bed” is on the floor – my kitbag is beside me – civil overcoat hanging on my only nail above my bed – macintosh piled underneath my pillow – two pairs of boots and a pair of rubber pumps alongside the bed, and everything else in my kitbag. Somehow, whenever I want anything from the kitbag, it is half way down, and a whole pile of junk has to be emptied before I get what I want.
I will probably be returning my coat and bag during the next day or so – as soon as I can find some means of despatching them – but please don’t worry about them until I advise you of despatch.
And now, my dear, are you tired of this recital? I wish I could say something about you for a change – are you keeping a diary of everything that happens to your dear self? Please remember I shall be interested in the tiniest details – who visits you – who you have visited – the office – books – records – garden – house – You – and everything.
I have again seen the corporal, and as our numbers are not yet through, he has suggested the following form of address:
Trooper Greenwood, R.T. – 12 Squad.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Rose Street Schools.
So will you write to me now dear? Say as much as you like – just let me know everything about yourself – it will make me a lot happier.
I have not yet written to anyone else, and cannot do so yet for a while as I want to spend my writing time in touch with you. If therefore you see anyone, perhaps you will let have a little news.
Up to now, we have done no military duties or training. The effects of the inoculation last for 2 or 3 days, so we are having an easy time until Monday – when the fun starts.
Our Lance-corporal says we will be drilled for about a month, and then it will be finished with. After that we will be taught something about tanks and guns. Meanwhile, there is not a tank in the regiment – they have all been sent to Egypt. I understand that it will probably be April before we see a tank. Today we have all had an interview with an officer to submit details of our various qualifications. He asked numerous questions about my work and seemed interested when I mentioned technical knowledge of radio and electricity. He has proposed to allocate me to the electrical staff, or alternatively, as a Tank wireless operator. I should prefer the former job, but presume I shall have to take what I am given!
And now darling Jess, I shall have to finish. The troops are coming home in driblets, and the noise is increasing. I will close this letter tonight, because if I leave it open to add something tomorrow, I may miss the early post. I had to give my last letter to one of the lorry drivers and he promised faithfully to post it – I hope you have received it.
Good night darling –
I will dream of my love.