MAY 31, 1944
I am writing this on your birthday, and in a different place from where I wrote your last one. Hope you got my birthday card. I sent you a V-mail. We are not supposed to write until we are really settled, but it seems that will not be for some time. We are at a staging area now, and have been for two weeks. We will no doubt be at another for some time. This letter I will write now, and add to it from time to time, then mail it when permissible.
Kind of hated to leave our nice comfortable quarters we had established from orange crates, boxes, etc. After all, we were there fifteen months. What stuff we had accumulated! They took our little trunks from us, so we had to pack things in our bedding roll and suitcase. The poor boys who had to lug those things down five flights-I pitied them. There were lamps, hot plates, folding camp stools, shovels, and the dear knows what. Our suitcases had to be light enough for us to carry. Another small hospital took over ours, or part of it. I fear we will never have such a good setup again. We tried to keep it secret we were leaving, but I guess the whole city knew it. All the bicycles had to be turned in the day before, and everything gathered up from hither and yon. My French teacher had tears in her eyes when I discontinued my lessons. 'Oh,' she said, 'I know.' Her husband had just left and landed in England.
At last we said goodbye to the city and to 'Bullet', our shoe shine Arab boy. Boarded the French train one evening and away we went. We were fairly comfortable, but nothing on the Yankee Clipper or the Flying Bluenose. The French trains are all compartments. Supposed to accommodate eight, and of course always sitting. Five was the most we had, but in mine there were only four. We took the leather seats off and filled in the aisle, then all lay down fitting in feet to head and head to foot. The water was very limited, so every time the train stopped we got off and got a helmet full to wash up. Boy, did it feel good to wash. Had to stop about every three hours to let the poor enlisted men off to [?] . They were riding in box cars. One place we stopped for an hour. They were expecting us there, and had a hot 'C-ration' meal ready. The Sixth General cream puffs had at last started to rough it. Never in my life have I seen such scenery. Travelled practically all the way through mountains, tunnel after tunnel. Such steeps. We could most of the time see the front and back of our train when we looked out the window. Such curves and mountain passes. The valleys were gorgeous, and vegetation rank-by that I mean under cultivation. The soil is so fertile in the valleys. One minute we would be surrounded by rocky, rocky cliffs, and around the bend would be a little village with beautiful gardens. Some stretches had acre after acre of grape vines. Too early for grapes yet. Fewer Arabs around, but enough. They beat it from their fields and huts whenever the train slowed down, as it did a lot, and called for 'chewing gum' and 'bonbons' as usual. The children were, for the most part, practically naked, and handsome. We took on another engine at one place, pushing from behind, and even then we watched and the trainmen walked beside the train wondering if we would make the grade in one particular place. We went ahead two yards, and back five, it seemed. We were sure glad when the mountain was scaled. In the night, I thought the train was running away when it was going downhill. With it all, I enjoyed the trip-two days and two nights. Had a few sick who had to go in hospital when we landed here-dysentery. All better now.
Now for this place, oh my! Our first experience in tents. It's rather fun as long as we don't have to work. We are still in the mountains, but with the sea on one side. We are ten miles outside the city, in a tent city of our own. Transportation is good, as they run trucks and buses from here every so often during the day. The city is older and more citified. The traffic is unbelievable-of course, the most part American and British. Someone told us we were coming out here to live in villas, but it's a far cry from that. We take up two long rows of tents. I am in the first one, thank fortune near the latrines-and what latrines. Yeah, twelve-holers, and eight or so to choose from. Six holes on each side. The hitched-on covers serve as a back rest when we sit back to back [?]. Privacy is something I've forgotten about. It's chow time, and I'll continue along these lines when I return.
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Here I am, a poor lunch, but I'll survive. What I need is bread and water for a while, in fact maybe just the H2O. The middle age fat, plus the results of my girlish folly, sure are making an impression on me. When I see others fatter than myself, I take a little heart.
We have a little walk to the mess hall, but it's nice when we get there. Tablecloths (sheets); plants; music; prisoner-of-war waiters; and a head waiter in black dress suit. The food, as a rule, is good. We pay a few cents extra so as to have extras. In this same area is an old château taken over by the Army as a rest home for nurses. It's fixed up quite nice inside. They are very comfortable. We all have very few restrictions, and are supposed to enjoy ourselves as best we can. This whole area for miles around is a recreation place for enlisted men too, and WACs. They come for a few days relaxation. We have a lovely little beach just over the hill, with lifeguards stationed there. There is a beach pavilion where one can buy coffee and sandwiches, and a movie is shown there at night. Across the street and also on the water is an officers' club. It's quite the nuts in some spots.
We are sleeping on cots-no mattress, no pillow, no table (box) or nothin', so we are roughing it a bit. One day we had a terrific wind and sand storm, which polluted everything and blew down some of the tents. Nothing but red mud around us. Last night had a hurricane, I guess, and rain-such a rain our tent poles fell over. We were all out trying to hammer in the pegs with sticks, etc. I thought the whole tent would cave in on us. Fortunately it didn't last so awful long. Our tent floor was swimming. What a time-just a taste of what we will get. We tried a bit of landscaping outside. Scraped the mud and put stones around. Found a gardener who was throwing away some huge geraniums, so we carted them and planted them beside the door. Made some designs with shells. Each tent tries to outdo the others. Sure is the talk of the town. They named and marked the street 'Massachusetts Avenue'. We all wash outside in the open. A big stand with holes for our helmets to fit in. A great gossiping place, and great helmets-never a more useful article was issued by the Army. Have one building for showers, and a dozen or more strip and shower at once. Bad for me, but I'm getting used to it too. The water is cold, but not icy. Have been in bathing a few times-the water is not as cold as the ocean, and it's so blue I say it's dyed my bathing suit blue again where it was faded. Dangerous at times-such an undertow. These days it's taboo to go in. The officers' Red Cross Club in town is lovely, where one can go off for a snack and relax. My back is broken at this point sitting on my cot, so will continue some other time.
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