No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess darling, Another letter for me this evening… and one from Bill Geary. He tells me he is progressing quite well and intends to visit you when he gets some leave. He also seems anxious to get back to the unit and has asked me to try and have him ‘claimed’ by the major. Apparently, he is sick and tired of the civilian attitude towards the Normandy fighting etc. He says “The people at home make me sick: they think the invasion was just one big scheme. The casualties and horrors that men endured seem not to interest them in the least. Frankly, Trevor, I am most anxious to return to France. I hate the army, but I prefer to soldier with the lads, than “stooge” around here”.
So much for Bill: I will try and see the major, but have no idea whether he will be able to rejoin the “9th”. He has omitted his address, so I cannot reply to him. No doubt you will be hearing from him soon… and I hope you will tell him the story about his personal papers.
Thank you for your letter, dear one. I am glad that one of my letters has served some little use. It seems to have given a few people some idea of our conditions. But I fear there is one aspect of life in the front line which can never be fully appreciated by those at home. It is the dreadful anxiety about the future: I suppose it is fear really. It is particularly violent between actions… awaiting news of the next action. I think there are people who imagine us coming out of battle in high spirits: glad to have survived: glad and thrilled to have inflicted another defeat upon the enemy. They imagine an atmosphere of hilarity and grand bohhomie amongst the men. This is a false impression. We are certainly glad to survive each action, but the reaction from the strain is terrible. And there is no celebrating. Instead we usually mourn the loss of a few colleagues… and shudder when we hear stories of terrible mutilations inside the tanks. And if we have time to get over these things, we are left with the pleasure of looking forward to another battle… in which it may be our turn… No Jess: there is not much fun out here… not among fighting troops, anyhow. We are not always weighed down with gloom, of course… But our object in being here does not foster gaiety. It is the sort of life which makes young men grow old… very quickly. And now let me change the subject.
We have had another move today… only a short one. On the whole, I think the billets are better here… and the men, living in farm buildings etc, all seem to have electric light laid on. But the sergeants have no lights: just my luck! There is no lighting at all in my place. We are trying to rig up some lighting from batteries, but it will only be a makeshift arrangement. At the moment, I am using a portable handlamp for light, but it is rather poor. Candles would be useful, but we can’t get them. In spite of the absence of lighting, I hope we are allowed some time to relax here. I want to do a little writing, but can’t during the upheaval of these perpetual moves. It has taken us practically all day today just to transfer everything about 2 miles. It is a big job, of course…
I have spent some time too rigging up a bed for myself… from timber left behind by Jerry. The alternative was a bed on the floor of a loft… with all kinds of crawly things running about one’s person during the night. We expect these things when we are ‘bivvying’ out of doors, on the ground… but it is a different matter indoors. We may as well get some comfort if possible. Tonight I will be sleeping on a straw filled palliasse… for the first time since leaving England! and I will be on a ‘bed’ raised some two feet from the floor. I am not used to such altitudes for sleeping and am a bit nervous about falling off the darned contraption. But if the worst happens, I will only fall on a wooden floor, and that shouldn’t hurt…
I was fed up with the last place. It was a rambling old ‘chateau’, and we were housed on the third floor… not the second as I stated earlier. This meant three long stairways to climb… not a terrible thing really… but… well, here is a secret. In the whole of that large house there wasn’t a lavatory… or a bathroom. But it was the absence of the lav. that worried me. I often wake up in the middle of the night with an aching bladder… and it is an easy matter to obtain relief when sleeping in a bivvy, or beneath a tank: simply a matter of crawling out into the open. But at the top of an eerie looking ‘mansion’ it is not very pleasant having to grope down three stairways in the small hours of the morning. I stuck it out the first night… until just before reveille, when I simply had to get up. But the next night (last night) I used my’loaf’. I got up when the need became pressing… went into an adjoining empty room… used an empty food tin… and pitched the contents through the window into a gutter. It was a most scientific achievement… But now we have left the place after the expenditure of so much ingenuity-!!
Later – Jess – I have just been handed another letter… the one dated Sunday 17th… Damn’ good-! A grand letter… At last you have really bought something for yourself… a new coat. Hang the cost, my love. So long as it suits you and gives you pleasure. Now I will have to come home soon to see you wearing it. God! Am I looking forward to that day. I hope you will buy all those other things you need. Get a complete rig out, Jess. You may as well do the job properly… And surely you can be extravagant for once: you never have been yet, you know… not since you became my dear wife. (…)
In the near future, I will try and tell you a little more about some of my journeys out here. I may be able to send a description of some of the Le Havre battle… on the day of its capture. It was a big battle, by the way. The radio report of its ‘surrender’ gave a totally wrong impression.
Must go now dear… for a wee while.
Thurs evening 21.9.44.
There was a bit of a hullabaloo this morning about some of the men’s sleeping quarters. Two groups of men, sleeping in adjoining stables or cow sheds in the same farm, found their quarters alive with insects late last evening. Most of them packed up and went outside for the night. The principle offenders appear to be wood-lice… millions of them… but there were also one or two rats. The colonel has today inspected the place… and I believe some attempt is being made to disinfect the ‘rooms’. We made a discovery in the sergeant quarters too. Our ‘bedroom’ is a loft above a tiny village hall: a dusty cob-webby place, reached via a narrow ‘cat-ladder’. We found last evening that our nocturnal companions are bats. The darned things flutter in and out through the open eaves. But I prefer them to rats and mice.
We only came to the village yesterday, but already the S.S.M. has arranged a sergeants mess dance for Saturday evening. The ‘mess’ floor is about twice the size of our dining room… and of concrete… hardly a ball-room! To complicate matters, none of the sergeants can speak French… but invitations are being sent out to the villagers-!! It should be a funny dance. In fairness, I must say that some of the men are trying to learn this language. This evening, for instance, I overheard a cook giving some advice to one of his assistants. “Just knock at the door” he said “and say ‘avie voo some oeufs’… them’s eggs… And if you can remember say ‘seel voo plais’… that’s ‘please’… and don’ argue with ’em”-!!!
I have little to report today. We have been working on the vehicles… and have had a visit from the mobile showers. So I am fairly clean once again. Tonight, I am on guard and must leave you now as I have a few little jobs to do in advance. More tomorrow.
Good night, my love
Always – Your Trevy.