May 11, 1942
<This is an original letter bearing a note: “A sample of one of Alastair’s war letters, when he had the use of a typewriter. William>
Dear Mom and Gang,
Many thanks for the lovely bunch of letters that were waiting for me when I got back from my seven-days leave. I enjoyed Shirley’s and Phyl’s particularly and I think your letter to the Edmonton Bulletin well written and to the point. I couldn’t help but notice from both ours and Dad’s letters that you mildly disapprove of my little outburst at the political set-up on this country. I hope I haven’t given you the idea that I have become a “rebel,” as this isn’t quite the case. However, I do lose patience with the way this war is being conducted. I won’t go into detail but I could cite numerous cases which have occurred in the last year where a little common sight or foresight could have turned a dismal defeat into la successful operation. Take the case of Taranto, the Fleet Air Arm carried out a very damaging attack on the Italian Fleet by the use of Torpedo Bombers. Now here is the rub, after proving to the world at large and the Axis in particular, that any Navy is vulnerable to this type of attack, we did nothing to protect our ships or improve the Torpedo Bomber. The result of this blunder was the subsequent heavy losses in both the East, and in the waters much closer to home, in ships and personnel. I just mention this to give point to some of the remarks I made in my last letter. In Libya, we had to suffer very heavy losses before we found that Gerry had us hopelessly out-gunned and our two-inch guns were much too light. The thing I find so exasperating is the fact that we always seem to be a jump behind the Enemy and put at a disadvantage before we get started.
I was very pleased to read of the attack on Madagascar by British Forces. Here again, the man in the street saw the necessity of taking this Island, lying astride one of our most vital life-lines at least three months ago. However, we seem to have been in time for a change and should, with a little luck, soon clean up the few remaining pockets of French resistance. Dad brings forward the statement that our troops have had to be stretched out too thinly to be effective in any one sector. Here again I must agree, but I am still wondering when our High Command will learn to judge when a position can be defended and when it cannot. When I say this, I have the case of Greece in mind. Don’t you think that it would have been much better in every way, to say to the Greeks: “We find that it is impractical to take troops from Libya to fight a lost cause when by so doing we run a grave risk of jeopardizing our own position in Africa.” To my way of thinking, we gained nothing whatever in trying to keep our promise of aid and only made it look hopeless for any other neutral who depended on British help. Furthermore, I think our leaders were misguided to make such a promise unless we were in a position to fulfill it. Well, in any case, things are certainly looking much better now and, with a little luck, I think this year should see Germany put in her place.
I listened to Mr. Churchill’s speech last night, which as usual was very good. I don’t think we will ever know just how close we came to calamity in that period which followed Dunkirk and I will never forget how our premier rallied the country when even the States thought we were done. My opinion is that Russia did much to save us from an immediate and overwhelming attack. I think that it was brother Joe’s huge army that made it a trifle too risky for Hitler to make an all-out attack on this country though he knew we were very weak. I firmly believe that had he done so, the Russians would certainly have moved in behind him and from Poland could have taken the attack right into the heart of Germany. In his speech last night, Mr. Churchill warned Hitler that if he used gas on the Russians we would promptly retaliate using our ever-growing air strength to carry this new and lethal weapon to the very heart of Germany. I, for one, hope that gas is never used as it would certainly, for the civilian population particularly, be horrible to say the least. Well, enough of this war talk or the first thing you know I’ll be writing a book on the subject.
As I told you earlier, I went on leave last week. I went up to London on Saturday morning and from there out to see Liulf who is stationed about twenty miles from the city. I found him in fine health and spirits, the latter due largely to his recent promotion for, as you probably know, he is now a full Corporal with trades pay to boot. Liulf had a weekend pass to London so I stayed over and enjoyed it with him. We went to see a new film called “One of Our Aircraft is Missing” which was showing at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square. I thought it very good and the photography was wonderful. We had quite a time trying to find a place to stay after the show but finally wound up at a bed and breakfast place that was quite comfortable. In the afternoon, we went back to Liulf’s camp where we parted as he had work to do. I visited with friends there that I had made in the summer of forty just before I had my smash. They were quite pleased to see me and made me stay the night there rather than go back to London as I had planned.
As it turned out, it was just as well as I missed a nice little “Blitz” in Exeter. You see I had planned to catch the 11:40 out of Paddington for Devon. Had I done this, I should have reached Exeter just when the Blitz was in full swing. I did, however, arrive on the following day and lost much valuable time due to the train service which was disrupted because of the attack. The station platform was littered with glass but the station itself had received no direct hits. There were D.A. bombs on the main line however, so we had to take a detour on the bus to pick up the train on the other side. I arrived in Brixham about six-thirty in the evening and stayed overnight with the Braziers. In the morning after breakfast, I set out for Exmouth. I arrived at Auntie Margaret’ and, after visiting with her for a couple of hours, took the bus to Budleigh to see Aunt May. I found her in good health but very busy as she is doing volunteer nursing, and on top of this, she had two old ladies who had been bombed out of Exeter billeted with her. Seeing this, I made excuses and got away soon after five, but not before she had made me stay for a lovely tea. I got back to Exeter at about seven but, as the trains to London were still running four hours late, decided to stay overnight. I found a nice Y.M.C.A. hostel and after arranging for a bed and breakfast, went out to survey the damage done by the weekend raids. I must say, I have never seen anything quite like it for wanton destruction. This was without doubt one of the most wanton and concentrated Blitz’s ever carried out on one of our cities. Among other buildings hit was the famous old Exeter Cathedral which appeared to be gutted by fire.
I left Exeter at eleven o’clock for London. I travelled back as far as Woking and, as my friends at Cobham, the Ravenscrofts, were only about ten miles away, decided to pay them a visit. Mrs. R. was very glad to see me and wanted me to stay the night there, but as I had to be back in camp by noon the following day, decided it was wiser to get up to London that night. I had tea with Mrs. R. and later, when the boss man returned from this work, went with him to his favourite pub to have a drink. Leaving Cobham at eight, I arrived in town before nine. I stayed at the Beaver Club which is situated near Trafalgar Square and, in the morning, started my journey back to camp. It was a little hard to settle back to camp life after a week’s holiday but don’t mind it now.
It rained very heavily last night to break one of the longest dry spells in years. It reminded me of home to lie awake last night listening to the rain patter on the canvas. I guess I have been a farmer too long not to appreciate rain even when I know what it will do to a camp of this kind. The regiment is away on one of their periodic shoots but are expected back today. Well, I think I have pretty well summed up my news and views so I will close now.
Lots of love to all the gang.
Your black sheep,