No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess Darling, Last evening, I mentioned that I was writing from a new billet… and now I will tell you a little more about it. For a start, the transfer was arranged because of the cold and rain: our former billets were really uncomfortable because the building had been rather damaged, and the recent heavy weather made life rather difficult. In spite of this, I think we were all glad to be under a roof and we hadn’t complained: we had lived in mud for the previous 2 or 3 weeks, and the contrast was almost too good to be true. However, someone decided that a change wouldn’t do any harm and so we shifted yesterday.
At the moment, I am sitting in the sergeants “lounge”… a fairly comfortably furnished room, with several chairs, a fire, electric light… etc. Immediately in front of me is a sliding door… and beyond that is the cafe. We have only to move this sliding door aside and enter the cafe if we want “coffee” or beer. It is difficult for me to explain the meaning of all this comfort… because so many of the little things which are taken for granted in England, are the essence of luxury to we fellows:- The fire, for instance… how positively delightful it is to feel warm and dry: to be able to write letters without having to get into bed to thaw out one’s hands. The luxury of being able to sit at a table, complete with tablecloth, beneath a decent electric light. The absence of mud and dirt… Oh… I could fill pages with the list, but it would only bore you.
Unfortunately, present conditions have a drawback where letter writing is concerned. It is so pleasant to be able to sit back before a cosy fire, that most of the sergeants have become ‘home-birds’, and the place is consequently rather too well patronised. This evening, for instance, five of us have been lounging and swopping yarns… in spite of there being a ‘Sergeants and Officers’ dance in the town. Had this dance been held a few evenings ago, at least four of the five would have been there…
I am sleeping in a tiny bedroom… on a palliasse on the floor. And this is quite comfortable: I have some bedroom privacy too as there are only two of us in the room. I don’t know how long these conditions will last, but I can stand plenty of it – plenty.
In a recent letter, I told you of some of the things I have seen at Fort de Breendonck: I didn’t then know that this Gestapo prison had already received some publicity, but I find today that the Illustrated London News of Oct 14th includes some pictures of the place. I am enclosing these pictures… together with a few of Lublin and Majdanek. Perhaps you have seen them already. You will notice the wreaths and flowers on the ten stakes I mentioned. I saw the faded remnants of these flowers and I now know that they were part of an official ceremony. This photograph, incidentally, must have been taken from the top of the rear wall of the fort. I can vouch for the solidity of the steel door shown… I saw the thing.
Your letter of Friday last tells me of Barry’s bad day with his teeth. It must be very trying for you, my dear… apart from what he is suffering, and I can only hope that the worst is now over. Perhaps his first tooth has already appeared: I am eagerly awaiting the news.
You tell me that Barry’s high chair has arrived from Toddy’s, and that he has taken to it immediately. How he must be growing up, Jess. I can’t imagine the little fellow sitting up in a chair. And how lovely for you to be able to ‘imprison’ him in this manner… you will now have two free hands to deal with him. I do so wish I could see him – and his mummy…
I seem to have little news for you, darling. I have been with my ‘pupils’ all day… and I have actually done a full day’s work for the first time since we arrived in this town. It has been a beastly day: this morning there was heavy frost on the ground, but it started raining about lunch time and has poured down ever since. Listening to the news at 9 O/C, I heard the announcer refer to the “driving rain” which our fellows are having to endure in the latest offensive. I know what they are having to endure, and am deeply thankful to be temporarily away from it all.
From what I have heard and read of the reports about conditions out here, I can assure you that they are not exaggerated. There is enough water and canals and ditches out here even in fine weather… But now, the whole countryside is just a soggy mess. Perhaps it is worse for the infantry than anyone else. they have to ‘dig in’ every time they make the slightest move, and a trench or hole is no sooner dug here than it fills up with water. But a water-filled trench affords protection from mortars and snipers and H.E., and so it is a necessity…
You recently commented upon life in the front line out here. You correctly assumed that we had periods of fighting… and periods of rest. In my experience, we have had more ‘restings’, or ‘standing to’, than actual battle. But this is necessary: the human mind and system could not stand continuous action. The strain of actual battle, particularly in tanks, is indescribable. I know that after two successive days of violent fighting, I always feel slightly demented: one’s entire nervous system feels taut… rigid… It would require very little more to completely disorganise our mental balance. It is under these conditions that mens’ faces look ghastly… yellowy grey in colour, and heavily lined… with eyes peering unnaturally from deep sockets. And then we go out of the front line… still perhaps under fire from mortars and H.E., but not actually facing the enemy. We are now able to recover our wits… and have a little sleep.
Next Monday is ‘Cambrai Day’… and we are celebrating it in the usual manner. We are indeed fortunate in being in a position to have such a celebration, in view of what is happening a little way to the east… There will be a big dinner, with plenty of drink etc: the day will be a holiday too, and dances are being organised. ‘B’ are having their dance on Sat. evening, ‘A’ on Monday, and ‘C’ on Tuesday.
I must go now, Jessie Mine…