Baker, James

Letter
Date:
April 5, 1940
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
Somewhere in England
April 5th, 1940

Dear Mom:

I have been to Brighton and had a wonderful time. Down there they have an ice rink which is in operation continuously throughout the year. They have a league of six teams, two of which played on the Sunday I was there. Of course I went to see them and enjoyed watching the game although it seemed very slow and tame in comparison to the game which we play because they are not allowed to body check. When the Army teams play (there are six of them and the Pats have one of the best) the crowds get some real excitement. There have been more minutes of fights on the ice than there have been minutes of hockey played. At one fight in London which lasted thirty-five minutes, nineteen players were all on the ice at one time. Even the officers in charge of each team and finally the crowd joined in and had a grand melee. A special squad of policemen had to be called in to stop the fight which threatened to develop into a riot. So you see we have transplanted our national sport over here with a vengeance. The game at Brighton between the Pats and Medicos was a very good one and also a very funny one. About two hundred officers and doctors from the RAMC and the RCAMC were there as well as a few of our officers. About the middle of the second period, one of our men got cut rather badly over the eye by a flying stick.. He was down on the ice bleeding pretty freely and all the players grouped around him offering help and or sympathy or whatever they do when someone is hurt. The crowd was hushed, tensely waiting and cramming forward in their seats to see what had happened when suddenly - in that deathly stillness, one of our officers yelled at the top of his voice: "Is there a doctor in the house?"

And you should have heard the roar which nearly raised the roof off as the crowd burst out laughing, for as I said before there were only about two hundred doctors present. If Hitler could have heard that laugh, he would know just how "downhearted and glum" the British people are.

Brighton is a beautiful place. I will always remember my first view of it in daylight. I had arrived in the blackout and of course had no idea what the town was like. When I awoke the next morning what a sight met my eager gaze! The beautiful golden sunlight was streaming down through a hole in the clouds lighting up the snow-white cliffs to the east and glimmering on the silver sea which lay in idolization at their feet, the grassy black smoke plume from an old British freighter obscured the horizon while near at hand, the smoke from a thousand chimney pots danced lazily upward into the quiet air. Everything was so still and peaceful! War seemed a million miles away instead of only a couple of hundred there across the Channel.

Down below me in the streets the hustle and stir of another day was just beginning. Two women were standing in the doorway of their shops gossiping busily, their voices drifted up to me amidst the clatter of bottles in the milkman's cart bumping along over the cobblestones and the banging a man was making, taking down his store shutters farther along the street.

Later that morning I went for a stroll along the justly "Promenade", a paved walk built in three terraces lined with shops, amusement halls, bathing pools, boating pools, flower gardens, aquariums, bathing machines, (O yes, there are still bathing machines at Brighton) and a thousand and one other amusing, exciting or interesting things. Photographers snapped my picture every few yards and then tried to sell the prints back to me for sixpence a dozen; old women hawked their wares, raising their raucous voices in blood-curdling shrieks far worse than any war whoop a blood-curdling Indian ever raised; sideshow barkers continuously invited the crowds to "stop inside and see Emma - the world's fattest woman" and "Beau Brugnel - the world's ugliest man" or some other equally fascinating creature; tiny cars raced around a wooden platform bumping into each other while shrill screams of laughter came from their happy carefree occupants at each head-on collision; tiny motor boats raced madly over the surface of the boating pool; the crowd in front of the aquarium roared with laughter at the sight of the fishes being fed; the shooting galleries added their measure to this bedlam of noise.

And superimposed over it all was the drone of the Coast Patrol continuously passing and re-passing overhead: for Great Britain is at war and the increasing watch must go on night and day no matter how civilians choose to amuse themselves.

How great was the contrast between this bustle and bedlam and the tranquillity and peacefulness which surrounded me the next day when I visited the Tudor Close - an old Inn which is advertised as "The Most Beautiful Inn in Sussex": and indeed it is worthy of the superlative. It is situated a fifteen minute bus ride from Brighton in the quaint old-fashioned village of Rottindean - right in the midst of the beautiful rolling "Downs" of Southern England. To look at it from the outside one would never dream that it is a fully modernized and comfortable hotel. It was at one time an old cowshed until someone with ideas and the money to carry them out, remodeled it. A long, low, rambling, ivy-covered building in the form of a hollow square with steely sloping gables, tiled roofs and round, square, twisted, oval (indeed every imaginably) shaped chimneys - all smoking merrily. Tiny, leaded windows with diamond-shaped panes and green glass confronted me when I stepped off the bus.

I walked up the magnificent carriage drive which swept up to the huge oaken door with gleaming brass handle and hinges. The door opened before me at the touch of an unseen hand and I walked through the portal into a completely new (or rather old) world, for - although there are carpets inches thick on the floors, central heating and running hot and cold water in every bedroom, the atmosphere of Tudorism has been so effectively maintained in the decorations and furnishings that I almost expected to meet Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth 1 around the next corner of the passage, or see the pages and waiters dressed in vari-colored ruffs and jerkins. But I regret to say they were dressed in conventional white coats and black ties and neither Sir Walter nor Queen Elizabeth were in evidence the day I was there.

The whole atmosphere of the place is a delightful blend of the ancient medieval and the ultra-modern. In every room was some old, strange or beautiful object to get excited about. It was like a treasure hunt. In one room I found an oil painting of a very beautiful lady so life-like it seemed about to walk out of the canvas and mingle with us, in the next an intricately carved fire screen caught my eye and held my attention, in the next, a Royal Charter framed in oak and written in Olde Englishe was the treasure. Following that, a huge four postered bed with heavy silk hangings - drawn to reveal snowy white pillow cases, sheets and a beautiful hand-embroidered silken coverlet. And so on through the whole place. Treasure after treasure until my eyes could not grasp the wonder of all the beautiful things seen.

At last I came to the crowning feature of this wonderful place. A superb old fashioned English rose garden with tame pigeons (so tame that they ate right out of my hand) strutting up and down the shady walks, a huge elm tree casting its benevolent shade in one corner, a magnificent weeping willow in the centre and beds of flowers scattered all about. The daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses were all in bloom at the time of my visit and formed a riotous counterpane of color spread over the green turf. Hideous gargoyles - wonderful examples of hand carving, leered down from the gables, birds sang in the elm tree, the pigeons cooed - their soft voices blending harmoniously with the drowsy hum of the bees busily visiting each lovely flower in turn. It was so beautiful and peaceful, so restful to sit in the shade and contemplate that old building which has stood there for centuries: defying both the power of storm and decay. Again how very far away the hideous turmoil of war seemed that glorious afternoon. Yet I had only to glance down at my khaki uniform to realize that if it hadn't been for it - war, I would never have been here to discover for myself this absolute "treasure".

Well I guess that is all for now. I haven't been to London to stay yet, but I have to go up sometime soon so will try to describe what I see there in my next few letters.

Love to all,

Jim

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