K85260 Pte. James Baker
Medical Section RAP
Br. HQ PPCLI
c/o Can. Base PO
Jan. 2nd, 1941
1941 - Doesn't it look strange! Another whole year has passed away and what a difference there is today to what there was two years ago.... yesterday I was in London, a year ago I was on board the train coming down from Scotland, the year before that I was at home enjoying New Year's Dinner! This year my old company had a special dinner to celebrate the fact that we had spent exactly one year in England. Every member of the old original "D" Coy - the company that landed in England last January were there, except those who could not possibly come. And how we are scattered over England! And what adventures we have all had! We spent nearly 3 hours after the dinner (and what a dinner!) discussing this past year and what we have all done. Only 3 of our number are dead, 5 have gone back to Canada and out of the original company, only 33 are still in "D" Coy. The rest are scattered throughout the Regiment, down at Borden, up in London - even as far away as Scotland there are some of us. 18 of the boys have got married or engaged. And here am I, sitting here by the fire in the RAP thinking of all the adventures this past year has brought me, the vast number of new friends I have, the interesting people I have met - but more important, the vast store of rich experiences that I have put behind me: but have not forgotten. I would not have missed this experience for anything and do not regret that I joined up when I did. It has been wonderful and what a store of human knowledge I have stored up!
It has been terribly cold here for the past week. But there has been very little snow. There is none on the ground now. But it is very, very cold. There is also a shortage of coal and meat. Meat because of the heavy Xmas buying and coal because there are no Railway cars to carry it from the mines to the place where it is needed. And to add to the misery of cold and hunger in London, the bombers come over every night they can and add their little store. What a night there was Sunday night. The heaviest fire raid of the war. Even from here - 30 miles south of London, the sky was lit up just like a 4th of July celebration. All over the Northern sky a vast red angry glow. It lasted for hours and the planes passed overhead - one every two minutes as regularly as clockwork, until just a few minutes before midnight. Then they suddenly stopped. We don't know why. But about 9 o'clock the guns ceased firing and our planes went up and actually fought the enemy in the glow of the huge fires raging on the ground. And what an inferno! Nearly one square mile in the heart of the city - containing nearly all her historical buildings, her proudest churches, her famous Guildhall, her oldest house that survived the Great Fire of London, all wrapped in a huge billowing sea of flame. And through it all, that tiny band of gallant men - the AFS. struggled valiantly - though ineffectively, to cope with the rain of fire from the sky. Only towards dawn when the bombing ceased and the wind died were they able to make any progress at all. But when I was up there on New Year's Eve, some of the famous churches were still smouldering. What a horrible sight the Guildhall is now! That twisted heap of charred oaken timbers, that mass of fire-blackened wreckage once was London's proudest building: seat of her Municipal government, place where all her mayors took their oath of office, scene of many banquets honoring visiting dignitaries now ruined, a scar on the face of the earth.
But does that discourage the Londoners? Don't every think it! Already they are discussing the new city which will arise from the ashes of the old. Architects are busy on plans for new buildings before the ashes of the old have cooled. And this boundless optimism is reflected on all sides - big and small business men, big and small householders; all seem to be drawn together and united in that one thing common to all: Belief in the Future of their city! A greater, far-nobler city is to rise, a city of wider streets, of proud buildings, a cleaner - fairer place in which to live!
But what a sorry loss to the world the old city is. What memories, what tradition lost for all time. It won't seem the same will it? London has always been such a romantic spot - the heart of the Empire that continued to beat steadily and stately-unruffled by the storms which took place around it, the place whereon - unconsciously, the eyes of all Englishmen were fixed: watching it. It was to us what Mecca is to a devout Mohammedan. And now it is slowly crumpling into ruin before our eyes. And as each bomb falls and each fire burns, a tiny piece of our hearts burns with it. O! it is so pitiable and yet so magnificent! The sight of this once proud city - beaten and battered as she is, still hushing defiance at her wretched foe: still standing steadfast.
O! I could go on for hours. There is so much to be said and so much that it is impossible to express in words. The stories of heroism, bravery and devotion that one sees or hears on all sides, the little touching incidents that one accidentally runs across; the babies shoe dangling from a wrecked cot in a hospital that brings tears to your eyes and a slow welling hatred to your heart, the tiny little insignificant woman giving half her bottle of milk to a great, gaunt yellow tabby cat that looked at her beseechingly, all these and a million more make up the great ‘Untold Story of London'. What a story to write if only I could get down there and spend all my time there instead of bits snatched here and there, continually scurrying about from place to place for fear of missing something important. What memories I have...and what a host of friends!
I stayed with my friend the actor in his flat over the New Year's Holiday. I went to a party on New Year's Eve with Tubby and his fiancé Meg, Morrison (another "D" Coy original) and his girl friend and me with Nicky. (Nicky by the way, is a very nice girl I have met up in London. I have been to three dances with her and enjoyed myself immensely) We all ended up in Piccadilly Circus finally and saw the New Year in together with nearly 2000 other people. What an uproarious greeting lil' ol' 1941 had for us! Then we went home and talked and sang songs till nearly 4 o'clock. What a time we had!
Well I guess that's all. I am still getting Xmas mail. Had one from Jessie today. Have eleven to date.
Love to all,