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Date: May 21st 1942
Jill Leir - (fiancée)
Denys Beames

[Editor’s note: The first part of this letter is dated as May of 1942 but was not mailed at that time; a second letter was added dated December 1, 1942.]


R.C.A.F. Overseas,

My darling Jill;

I am feeling happier at this moment than I have for some little time dearest, having had two letters from you this week – the second I received this morning and they are truly manna from heaven. The first one is dated April 5 and has the cute little slip in it from the censorship and the second one is dated April 16 in which you told me you had received the flowers I sent.

The fact that I have recently got back in harness and am flying again has also helped a great deal to alleviate the deppresion. I’m afraid I can’t say very much about my work, darling, but I’m doing it any how after a long stretch of mental lassitude in X.

I am sorry to here that Dick is gone Jill, and I wish to God that I could be there with you to do what little I could, but you do know that I feel very deeply for you in this sorrow, and that I am with you in spirit through every cruel moment. I think darling, that you might remember this, that Dick went as we all would be proud to go – his last thought was this – “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

I am afraid sweetheart that these first few paragraphs are rather sad, but since you ask me I must tell you what little I know of Jack Cossentine.

The accident happened at a training school and one of our mutual friends was kind enough to write to me and let me know of the accident. I immediately got in touch with our adjutant and he kept me posted from time to time on Jacks condition, until he was out of danger. He is recovering, although slowly, as he suffered a pretty bad shock and has lost both feet and had his hands scarred. He will, when sufficiently recovered be sent home, with monetary compensation for life of course, which is all the service can do for him.

Now darling, I know this will have you feeling pretty rotten and rather afraid, but stop and think. We have seen trouble before in smaller ways and have weathered it, so keep your strong faith in God and our future and remember that where you have faced things before without fear, they have become easy and they will in future, despite the seeming enormity of the valley of death. I have a great faith in life as you know and if God is willing I shall come home to you soon. Please beloved don’t worry over me, because I shall be with you.

My Jill, I miss you more now that we are each others, more than I deemed possible, but it gives me a feeling of strength and purpose to know that you are waiting for me and I can give of my best knowing it is for you and for our early reunion. There are so many little things we did together, so many pleasant hours, which make up a never ending book in my mind giving me a beautifull release from my present environment when I get bored and lonely. I can conjure up a thousand pictures, from my store, of sweet moments at home when we rode and swam and hiked together and the quiet evenings, before the fire at home, when we read Service’s stories of our northland written in his poetry we love so much. I can remember very vividly a night when the moon was full, and all our friends were dancing, we sat on a table out under the pines. The moonlight touching your hair with its magic, made it a silver halo bound by the little tiara of flowers, which you had worn at the wedding, you seemed very like an angel that night as you sat there in your long white gown. We didn’t say very much then – the evening air was too full of a story of its own which we both read and feeling it, had no need to desecrate it with words. Although this was years ago it seems like yesterday and it is these things that give me a real hold on life.

However darling, I don’t spend all my time dreaming and I know how much you like to know the places I have seen, so I will tell you about some of them. You will not be receiving my last two letters I’m afraid, as they didn’t make it so I’ll tell you about the first month or so of my stay in “X” again, or rather my excursions from the aforesaid spot.

While in “X” we did nothing at first except attend the morning and afternoon parades and go through the odd bit of red tape such as filling in forms. The rest of the time we just cruised around looking the town over and getting used to English money and customs.

After the first two weeks of this I got a bit tired of seeing the same sights all the time and decided to get up to Ditcheat. Through rather dubious channels I managed to wangle a week end off and set off with no doubts as to finding the village, it being no more than sixty miles from “home.”

Saturday morning I went down to the bus station and asked if there was a bus going in my direction. After a long search the clerk told me that there was one that came within about fifteen miles of Evercreech Junction which we found, on the map, to be about two miles from Ditcheat. This looked alright to me, so I bought a ticket and piled into the bus which was just on the point of leaving.

In about a quarter of an hour we were out in the country clipping along at a good pace, whereupon I felt entirely at home and thoroughly happy – it is a great feeling to be on the road and I really appreciated it that day. It was very warm and sunny, with a surprisingly clear sky and I drank in the beautifull view as we rolled through the vivid green valleys, past quaint old cottages with their blackened oak beams and thatched roofs. The English countryside is so quiet and tranquil that one can hardly believe there has ever been any thought of war here, until a rather queer looking hay stack is noticed or a trunkless tree, then one begins to look a bit closer and sees A.A. guns here and there and signs of troop manouvers going on. So we journeyed on through peacefull little villages and lovely countryside, through the city of Salisbury, where I caught a glimpse of the cathedral spire, on through Warminster to my first little problem – Frome, where my bus ride ended.

Finding that all the business section of the town was closed I went to a pub and started out to find someone who new my road and here I came upon an astonishing fact, that I have since found typical of the English. Of about eight elderly men in the pub there were only two who had ever heard of Ditcheat – a place about twelve miles away! They had all lived in Frome all their mature lives at least, I found, with the exception of one and he had a vague idea of my destination’s whereabouts. But can you imagine Jill, any Canadian, living for even a year in one place and knowing nothing of the country a dozen miles away – why the average kid of ten at home is more world wise than the average middle class Englishman. However, having told me that I was completely off my rockers for attempting anything so utterly wild, they finally worked out a pretty sketchy route for me to follow and like a sucker I took it.

After walking about four miles, I came to a little pub and thought I’d stop for a drink, also to find my whereabouts if possible. This time I had better luck and found a fellow who knew my road quite well, bringing out maps from his car and showing me that I had walked about four miles in the wrong direction, as I had been heading east instead of south. This fellow turned out to be a real sport and after we drank a pint together, he offered to drive me through to my road by way of some short cuts he knew. I immediately took him up on this and was in a very short time hiking down the Shepton Mallet road, having about four miles to go before I turned off for Evercreech Junction and Ditcheat. I had only walked about a mile when a truck pulled up and asked me if I cared for a ride, so I climbed aboard and the driver very kindly went a couple of miles out of his way to take me right in to Ditcheat. So there I was.

My first impression of Ditcheat when I got into the main intersection, was the fact that it was far smaller than I had imagined and that the Church and Priory were the predominant features of the little collection of rural houses.

Not knowing where Parkhouse was, I strolled down to the Priory gardens and was debating in my mind whether to go in or not, when an old fellow, dressed in the typical dairymans breeches and leggings came along, so I accosted him and asked where the Martins lived. In his slow thick dialect he pointed out the house and showed me a short cut through the priory fields, so of I set. This gave me a good view of the priory and a lovely sight it was.

The quiet grey stone building, with its distinctive fifteenth century architecture, gave that impression of peace and strength which one finds so much over here and in its setting of green lawns and gardens, looking out over the field it had a certain stateliness, as though it had been the governing influence of this little spot through all time.

After feasting my eyes on this lovely sight for some time I strolled across a couple of fields to the house where your Aunt and Uncle live. I knocked at the door feeling very dirty and a bit embarrased, but quite anticipating the meeting of some new members of the family.

The door was opened by a quite pretty young woman, with red hair and intrigueing grey eyes. She looked at me in a rather perplexed way and asked who I wished to see, so I asked if Mr. and Mrs. Rae Martin were in, whereupon she told me they were both resting, but would I come in? On entering I decided it was time I lifted the cloud, as she had said “father” and “mother” are resting, so I told her I was from Penticton and introduced myself. This opened the doors.

I was immediately ushered into the sitting room and the presence of two more young ladies and Joyce introduced me to her sister Pam and a friend of theirs ‘Tim.’ My first hopes were dashed when I found that Joyce was already married but here were two young ladies of my own age. O.K. darling don’t get hot I behaved.

Having explained myself, our engagement, and told them quite a bit about your family, I found myself at a loss for words and I saw a situation arising, so I thought I’d try and get down to a more friendly basis and put the ‘onus’ on them by saying, “And now I’m here I don’t know what to say,” and the conversation immediately bloomed.

At tea time I met Muff and Mr. Martin. Your aunt Muff is one of the nicest, most understanding women I have met, with a marvelous wit and a tongue like a knife at times.

We had an excellent tea, at which I made a pig of myself of course, much to Muffs pleasure, then came the real questionaire. It was quite a barrage, but I managed to answer a lot of the questions about the family and told them a good deal about our valley.

Tuesday 1/12/42.
My dearest Jill;

Here, my darling, is another one that “didn’t get through” – I hardly know what to say in apology for such a rotten trick. I’m so sorry I was so damnably careless Jill, but here it is – I think you’d prefer to have it now, rather than have me burn it, so I’ll send it along.

For the first time in seven months I cleaned out my suitcase and deciding to change the paper in the bottom, I pulled out the old piece and found a long lost writing pad and now I find this letter. I feel an absolute heel darling, but that will not help, so please forgive me in your next airgraph.

I have been waiting decidedly impatiently for a letter from you this week, knowing that there would be one, from your note in mothers airgraph, which I got last week. The law of averages says you can’t lose all the time and sho’ enough, there was a blue envelope in my box today.

You are a sweet woman darling, especially when you get on the letter theme. Every time I get a letter from you I feel like a man who has been lost in the desert and just hit an oasis, then later on in the day, when I read said epistle for the third time, I feel like a smallish urchin caught stealing jam, as I can’t ignore your hints that third time as it is mainly analytical. So I develop a concience and a letter writing complex for a while.

We are stuck here in the Cotswolds doing nothing at the moment and a letter certainly helps fill up the gaps darling. I can sit in bed and read this new one for the next week now, then look at your picture every evening after reading it and dream about you, conjure up pictures of you pushing the kids around and wrinkling your sweet brow over the household worries, and see you in my minds eye as you rush about the town – very much the modern young women – I’ll bet you look good these days too. Come and see me one of these evenings and I’ll tell you just how good you do look.

I fall a little more in love with your portrait every day Jill and now that I have the little pocket folder you gave me, I carry you every where I go and say hello ever time I buy a drink as it serves as billfold too.

My crew all know you quite well now and often say “hello” to you, as I do every time I come into the bunkhouse, but I’m the only one who gets the full depth of your sweet smile and the naughty twinkle in your eyes. The dimple is still there and on bright days it deepens, just as my feelings fluctuate with the weather.

“Moreton-in-Marsh,” God is it ever true. Every time one steps of a side walk here they have to get a tractor to salvage the remains. What with fog and drizzle, the everlasting dampness is increased till we “colonials”, wish for a nice warm day in Canada – anything up to forty below would be stifling. This is my biggest kick against England, but we are in good barracks and get a regular ration of coal so we are quite well off really.

You say your not happy to hear that I am back at work. Well don’t worry your sweet head about that because I haven’t done any operations since the Bremen raid when I crashed, this being due to my medical posting to the East which I told you of and having to convert on to a new type of aircraft. Personally I’d like to be doing some real work again, but we’ll be in it soon enough I guess and there is very little we can do to hurry things.

We were given a weeks leave ten days ago which I spent in Stamford (Lincolnshire) and London.

I went up to Stamford because it is so close to Cottesmore, where I spent quite a bit of time renewing old acquaintences. I also wanted to see Mike East of [Keromeos?] who is stationed there, but was very sorry to find he had had a crash while night flying and as I had promised to be in London I could not get over to see him at the hospital. While visiting the station I also went over to see Fred Williamson at the farm and have a look at the horses. I found Fred out on the tractor sowing wheat, so I rode around with him and had a good chat, then went over to see the the horses. Fred said they had got a bit wild being out on pasture, but the young gelding, my favourite, came up after I talked to him for a minute and was soon followed by the mare. They followed me around the field and gave quite a display, which I thoroughly enjoyed and I only wish you could have seen them darling.

After three days in the lovely old village of Stamford with its many churches and more pubs, I went to London.

On arriving in town I went straight to the Beaver Club from Paddington, got a shine, press, shave, shower and shampoo, went up to the café, after glancing over the message list, and sat down to a cup of decent coffee and a slice of apple pie – oh joy! As soon as one is settled in the B. Club people start turning up and I hadn’t been there five minutes before I had seen one or two boys I knew and in next to no time there were about half a dozen of us chattering like a bunch of women at a tea party.

Later on I phoned Mrs. Rowe (Mrs. Appletown), and warned her that I was going to invade her happy home and having made various drinking appointments for the following day, I caught the tube at Trafalgar square and was whipped accros the city to Baker street in no time, proceeding from there, to the residential section out in St. John’s Wood, by bus.

Arriving at the flat I received a really warm welcome from Mrs. Rowe, Joan and the dogs and was immediately overwhelmed with questions about home, my work, the whereabouts of other Penticton boys, what I thought about my engagement and God knows what else – they were certainly up to scratch anyway and gave me a real home from home.

Accepting Mrs. Rowe’s hospitality I made the flat my H.Q. and went up to the West end by bus and tube every day.

The second day in town, I went up to the Beaver club before lunch and had no more than got in the door, when I saw Brick McKay coming down from the café. We had a short talk while I got a press, then whipped out for a quick one, as he had to get away for a date, so that left me with another drinking date the following day.

While washing for lunch, in the club, who should walk in but Jack Hooper, looking a bit droopy, but seemingly quite pleased with life and in the course of the convesation it came up that he was looking for Bill McFarland. After much palavar we parted and I found myself with a date for lunch with Jack and Bill the following day.

I spent that afternoon getting things fixed at R.C.A.F. – H.Q. at 20 Lincoln’s Inn Field and over at the comforts centre where I collected clothes and cig’s, then down to B.C. House, just off Regent St., to get some more cig’s which Bud had sent.

That evening I picked up two strays at the B. club and went to a show at the Victoria Palace, using three tickets which Mrs. Rowe had given me. We all enjoyed it immensely despite the slapstick, which is ninety percent of English comedy. After supper in Leicester square, at a fairly classy dine and dance establishment, I made my way back to the flat and had a chat before turning in.

The following day I met Brick and Jackie Sammet at the Regent Palace, where we proceeded to drink a scotch lunch and discuss all the boys from home. Jack Cossentine is getting along very well according to Sammet who has seen him and Frank Acres is doing very well as a flight mechanic – which should mean a good promotion for him. After much talk and just enough too drink we broke it up and I trotted of to the flat for tea and a powwow with Mrs. Rowe.

On arriving at the flat I found that the doctor had just arrived back from Canada and Mrs. Rowe was in a great state of excitement at her husbands return, so after tea I went up town and left them together, proceeding to a theatre to see “Bambi”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

For the last day of my leave I breezed around the West end having drinks with all the boys for the duration of an all day pub crawl, then went back to have a quiet chat with Rowe’s.

Then came the inevitable return to camp, square bashing and mud, so here I am at midnight writing to the most precious thing in the world and wishing to heaven I could be with you to describe it all in words which I cant seem to put on paper. However dearest, that day will come and we will have something to talk about.

You will be getting an airgraph before you get this, by way of warning, so the shock shouldn’t be too great, and speaking of airgraphs send bags of them darling, because they all come and quickly.

Now my dearest I must close and find a sack to send this in, so don’t forget to say a prayer for me now and then.

Tell me about horses and sunshine and fruit and things next time you write and make it soon sweetheart.

All my love darling,
Your Den.

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Original Scans