May 23, 1940
I am on fire picket today which means that I escape parades and must be on call day and night for the next twenty-four hours, so thought it a splendid opportunity to drop you – or should I say hand you – a line.
We are still under canvas and apart from the fact we are over-crowded are quite comfortable. As yet, we haven’t fired a gun but, as I write, you can distinctly hear the boom of the 11th regiment’s guns, which have been in action since Monday.
At present these guns are in position about half a mile from here, so we can both see and hear them quite easily. I talked with some of the 11th boys who were highly pleased with the guns performance, stating that besides being more easily operated, it is much more accurate than the old eighteen pounders. Our turn will come on the first of next week when our shoot starts but, for the time being, we must content ourselves with manoeuvres. I understand we go on a night scheme tomorrow which should be some fun as the country is very rough.
Well, I suppose you are busy worrying your head off about the new developments in Europe which of course are pretty serious. I really marvel at the attitude of the people here who go cheerfully about their business as if nothing were wrong in spite of the alarming reports. I really was surprised at the French lack of foresight in not preparing for the German tank and airplane assault. They should have known from the tactics employed by Hitler in Poland exactly what to expect.
It seems now that they placed too much faith in the Maginot Line which seemed unable to cope with the situation. However, the Nazi advance seems to have been stopped or slowed down so perhaps the tables will be turned shortly. I still have faith in our cause but regret that we always seem to make such costly mistakes at the beginning of every war. The air force seems to be working wonders which is very encouraging.
Well, so much for the war, which, however dark, will eventually right itself, so try not to worry too much. After much coaxing, I finally got the N.C.O. in charge of vehicles to let me ride one of the motorcycles the other day. I certainly had a lot of fun riding up and down the trails across the moor which are usually rough and steep. By exercising a little common sense and caution, I got back with no mishap whatever and found the machine very simple to operate.
The people in the town are, on the whole, very friendly and last night I received an invitation to play tennis with a nice young lady but the darn fire picket ruined everything. The other day while on manoeuvres, we halted in front of a very pretty little cottage which was set in the midst of several lovely flower beds. As we were to be there for at least half an hour, I dismounted and was busy admiring the flowers when the lady of the house appeared. She was very pleased when I told her how much I liked flowers and hers particularly. Before I left, I had an invitation to dinner, a handful of cigars and a pint of champagne cider (inside) so you will see I do pretty well.
I had quite a chat with her husband, who is a retired London businessman and, after showing them a few of my photos, left with their best wishes and a photograph of the cottage, which I will enclose. The better class Englishman thinks we Canadians did a very fine thing in offering our services and do their utmost to show their appreciation.
I play a fairly good game of darts now, which is the way to an Englishman’s heart, as it is their chief indoor game, particularly in the pubs, and it pleases them no end if an outsider likes the game well enough to play it well.
You certainly meet some comic strip characters in some of these pubs and sometimes it was quite an effort to keep from laughing out loud when they started to argue in the vernacular. Instead of telling his tormentor to shut or pipe down, one old chap told another that he’d “curtail him to hold his tongue.” Well, I could ramble along, but if I did, I wouldn’t have room for the postcards of the moor which want to enclose, so will close for the present.
P.S. When I wrote “over,” it called to mind an incident of which one of the signalers told me. This particular chap was in charge of a two-way radio set. On this set is a switch which enables the operator to change it from a transmitting to a receiving set. After delivering his message, the operator says “over” and then lifts the switch and listens. This time, the dizzy bum thought he would have a little fun so the said “anti-anti-I-over”. Just as luck would have it, one of the officers picked up the message and lost no time in telling the operator what the thought of the idea.
I mailed you two letters yesterday but due to the fact that I received two more from you last night, plus the fact that today is Sunday and raining cats and dogs, I decided to start another manuscript. At present, I am sitting on my pratt on my bed with the pad laid on the flat side of my respirator, which in turn rests on my knees, so don’t be surprised if you find it impossible to read more than half of what I write.
We received a large mail yesterday, so all the boys are sitting around reading and swapping gems written by old flames. If some of these girls knew how lightly their affections rest on some of these chaps, I’m afraid the mail would shrink directly. As I said above, it is raining cats and dogs and the patter of rain on canvas is very pleasant to the ear. However, I hope it doesn’t last too long as our tent lies at the bottom of a series of steps (terraces) which would subject us to the full force of all the water of the entire camp site. We always appreciate a good rain on Sunday morning as there is a clause in the orders which states that church parades are compulsory except in the case of rain, at which time it is voluntary. I notice a few devout R.O.s lining up and they look very forlorn and equally lonely.
I walked to town last night and had a good time leaning on the bar of a little pub with my nose in a pint of cider. This particular pub is owned and operated by an old lady of seventy-two, her daughter, and her daughter’s daughters. The old lady is quite a character, just as lively as a cricket and very kind. She told me that they nearly fainted when they learned that two regiments of Canadians were to arrive as the reports reaching them from Aldershot were anything but good. However, after two weeks of association with our boys, she said it was a sin the way the stories of our bad behaviour had been exaggerated and spread. I think they will really miss us when we go, especially our payroll of which the pubs get the lion’s share.
Since Hitler’s late successes, I think the people are very glad to have troops about, as it has a cheering effect. At present, we are under eight-hour marching orders, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we will move to France soon, but more of a precautionary step. I guess you are getting very sick of old Tom Gould, as I used to try and dodge the beggar when I was home. As you say, he may be better on the land and, for your sake, I certainly hope he is.
I read all your letters late last night by the light of my flash which is still bright in spite of the fact I have never replaced the original cells which I bought in Edmonton last January. Perhaps I should write a flowery testimonial to the Everready Co., and possibly, at any rate they certainly have lasted wonderfully. When I read your letters, particularly those relating to the gardens and birds, I can just shut my eyes and see it all again. Those photos I brought with me are nice to take out and look at from time to time. You must take care of that old ticker of yours and try not to overdo, although I know this will be quite an assignment for you, especially when you are looking after the chicks and gardening too.
As I said in a previous letter, I certainly wish you and Dad could move to a place where the climate wasn’t quite so severe and where an ardent gardener is given a chance to strut their stuff. They have such a wonderful variety of flowering trees and shrubs over here which enables them to achieve some beautiful effects. For instance, there is one tree known as the rusty or red beech, where the foliage is a dark rusty-red the whole year round.
In Phyllis’ letter she mentioned that some of the Tofield boys were starting to grumble already, which isn’t too surprising is it? For my part, I find so many pleasant things over here that I can easily overlook the other side. I must say that mutton day after day isn’t my idea of a fancy menu but for the most part it is clean and wholesome and I know that in these times one must expect to make sacrifices, so I try not to squawk. I also find that our most valuable asset in an army is a big sense of humour, which I still exercise to the limit.
There are a few N.C.O.s that I find a little hard to take, but I just avoid them as much as possible, knowing that parade hours are short and after hours, I’m free to do as I please. I get along fine with our B.S.M. largely due to the fact that I never squawk when he hands me a fatigue with the result that I get darn few fatigues now. I am glad you are getting my letters regularly and I’ll always try to keep up a steady flow, although this will be more difficult when we cross the channel, as one must be so darn careful what you say, that it leaves little to write about. No, I don’t like those photos I had taken over here either but I paid four shillings for them and hated to throw them away. Scotch blood, I’m afraid. Well, I’m glad that Dad is getting a real holiday as it is the first in thirty years, so he richly deserves it. As you see, I am getting near the end of the page and my pen is running out of ink, so will close for now.