No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine, As you know, I am prohibited from saying anything about present movements: we are supposed to wait at least fourteen days before describing events, and even then, we are supposed to be highly discreet. I have my own interpretation for the latter word. Anyhow, the restrictions prevent me from describing my present surroundings… not that they are particularly interesting… but I feel that I would like to be topical for a change. However, I can tell you something about my present living conditions.
We have now been billetted in civilian houses for four days… in a front line position. The houses were obviously vacated very hurriedly because they are completely furnished, and there is much personal property about. Each troop has a separate house, so we are living like large families. ‘My’ house is a new cottage… detached. We have running water… by means of a pump worked from the kitchen… but no electric light, this having been disconnected. We sleep on the floor, about five men to a room, but this is no hardship. In fact, considering the wet and colder weather, our conditions are palatial. To be able to write at a table, as I am doing now, is a great boon. We are doing very well for food… our army ‘Compo packs’ being supplemented by local food, and by preserves left in the houses, including bottled gooseberries, pears and apples. We have also acquired a large amount of sugar, so I am having very nice tea-!
From these comparatively luxurious conditions, we sally forth occasionally for skirmishes with the nearby enemy… and then return to our homes in the afternoon. It is a strange sort of warfare: unlike anything we have experienced before. During the day… and night… we hear the whine of shells and mortars passing overhead:- they are mostly ours, but not entirely so. But we feel fairly safe indoors. During the day too, we have the comforting sight of groups of Typhoons overhead. We like Typhoons.
When we ‘took possession’ of this house, we found a live canary in the kitchen and a couple of rabbits in the garden. The latter have now disappeared, and the lads swear black and blue that the two rabbits we had for dinner yesterday were wild ones… I have not pursued the matter. The hen-shed at the side of the house was empty when we arrived, but there are now six healthy looking hens in the place-! One of the fellows found some very young puppies in the nearby garden. They appeared to have been neglected by their mother. One of the puppies was brought along to our house:- a fat little thing, not yet able to walk properly. It created a hell of a disturbance the first night… screeching just like a human baby. Perhaps our tinned milk hadn’t agreed with it. Next day it was pronounced “bunged up”… So the house was searched… for medicine. Some ‘bile beans’ were found: one of these was powdered and poured down the pup… and it worked in a very short time. But food was a problem. Dicky Hall swore that ‘mothers milk’ was necessary: he said something about vitamins.
A little later, two of the lads disappeared… and an hour later I saw them coming down the lane… being towed by a goat! “It’s a milker” Slade shouted triumphantly, and there and then his colleague, Pestell, grabbed the poor beasts two teats and squirted milk all over the place. The problem of food for the puppy was now solved… The goat was tied up in the garden, among the cabbages and turnips for food, and soon milked. Fortunately, the pup gobbled up the milk and seemed to love it. The goat is now quite content and obliges with a fair amount of milk each day. The canary too has started to sing. It must be getting used to us. The hens haven’t obliged with any eggs, but that doesn’t really matter. At least two of them will be in the oven tomorrow. Pestell and Slade disappeared again yesterday… and returned later in a strange jeep. They had cadged a lift… and needed it! They lugged two small barrels of beer from the back of that jeep: I don’t know where they found it… nor did I ask! This is the state of affairs just now… and the shells continue to whine… and the enemy to retaliate in spasms: he is hardly more than a mile away. You will gather that the lads are making the most of things…
A little incident yesterday may help you to understand one of the minor problems of civilians who have had to vacate their homes. We had been clearing up some debris in the house… there is a gaping hole in the scullery wall caused by a shell… and it was decided to bury the stuff in the garden. The lads started to dig a hole… and very soon unearthed a large tin. This was opened.. and found to contain about 12 skeins (is that the word?) of silk knitting wool… highly coloured stuff. A little more digging revealed a larger tin… a dustbin! This was eventually hauled out and opened. It was crammed full with stuff… including a fair amount of household linen, silk, money, jewellery, and one or two watches etc. Probably all the family wealth. The money was pre-war currency which should have been handed over to the Nazis. Everything was in perfect condition, thanks to careful packing and a double lid on the dustbin. I got the impression that it had not long been buried. Perhaps the owners had buried it just before leaving… being afraid of having it confiscated if found upon them.
Needless to say, we have re-buried everything… and I hope the family return soon to claim it… before we leave the house, if possible. I wonder how many family ‘fortunes’ have been similarly hidden over here. It must be a large number. There is little else people can do with their stuff.
There is one feature of the houses around here which amazes me. They are all crammed with images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and other similar lumber. I have been in quite a number of houses… poor and middle class – and they all have this in common. I know I am in an area which is strongly Roman Catholic, but I have been in several R.C. houses before and never seen anything like this. Every corner of every house has its pot image on a pedestal: they are on shelves, cupboards, mantelpieces, tables. Special wall brackets are made for them. Many are in glass cases. Some are big… about 2ft 6ins high: others are small… a matter of 4 or 5 inches, but they all have one thing in common… facial expression. Christ is represented as a long, lean, bearded creature with weak features. If he was a Jew, these images are an insult to the Jewish race.
His mother is always represented as a young woman with long thin features and a long skinny neck. The neck and head remind me of a straight walking-stick with a knob. In one house yesterday I counted, in one small room, 15 images, 7 wall pictures (“last supper” etc) and 21 bibles and prayer books. And other rooms in the same house were liberally filled with this junk. Can you credit it? If this is Catholicism in Europe, then it is worse than I imagined. Who makes all this stuff? It must be a huge industry… and how profitable for someone. But how pathetic: what a tragedy that these people, many of them so desperately poor, should be encouraged to spend their meagre earnings on such worthless rubbish.
It seems to me that a few lessons on how to spend money wisely are a social necessity over here. Thank goodness this war is unlikely to take me to Madrid: my blood boils here… it would probably evaporate in Spain.
Must go to bed now darling –
I love you, Jess… what wouldn’t I give for a goodnight kiss just now-? You will never guess…
Goodnight, my dear.
Hurry for post – Love Trevy.