Baker, James

Letter
Date:
October 1, 1940
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
Somewhere in England,
Oct. 1st, 1940

Dear Mom;

It is a long time since I last wrote to you but believe me it was honestly not my fault. We moved into billets about two weeks ago and on the first night we were bombed out of the house. Since then we have been sleeping in a pigsty...cement floors and walls, so you can imagine how cold we are. To add to all our miseries, there is no light so we cannot write at night. We just have to snatch odd minutes. Then last night Gerry - not content with bombing us once, dropped two HEs in the front yard; one on a delayed action. The first one broke all the glass in the place - blew off the roof, and the second one completed the job. No one was hurt but this morning, I picked a 2 in. piece of shrapnel out of my blankets, so I had a pretty narrow escape. Then on top of that I fell out of a truck this morning and hurt my leg, so I'm laid up for about a week. But that is nothing compared to what is taking place every night in London! I have been up on weekends twice within the last month and the damage is really terrible. Everywhere you go you see great scars and gaping wounds where houses and buildings have been blown down. All the great shopping centres - noted for the luxuriousness of their window displays, are now desolate and war-torn empty wastes. No longer do the elite of England walk past their windows or throng their counters. Instead a few inquisitive sightseers poke among the smoking ruins while the ever watchful ‘Bobby' keeps guard to prevent looting. Whole streets have been demolished: churches, stores, air raid shelters - everything is now a heap of torn and useless rubble. In some streets there is not one single pane of glass, in others there is hardly a sign of damage. But worse even than the damage to the buildings is the damage to human lives. Every night sees its toll of dead and wounded. And worser things are in store for those who remain alive for the conditions under which the poorer people - bombed out of house and home, have to live is terrible. I have seen with my own eyes shelters built to accommodate 200 people holding as many as 600 all huddled - or rather packed together trying to keep warm. There is little or no ventilation and the stench is terrible. I was so sick that I had to go outside - bombs or no bombs. It is the same everywhere you go. I have seen thousands of peoples settling down for the night in London's tube stations at 11 AM. That means that these poor people practically live underground. They come out when the "All Clear" blows at 6 - 7 AM., go home, have breakfast and come back again at 11 AM. so they will be sure of getting a place. They have been doing this for the past 3 wks. And there are no facilities for sanitation or ventilation. Can you imagine living under these appalling conditions? And it is very little better even among the higher classes. One night I went to the Paramount Dance Hall which allows its patrons to sleep in the Hall after the dance is over. The Hall is about 30 ft. underground so it is perfectly safe. You pay 2/6 to get in, dance till one and then sleep anywhere you can till the "All Clear" blows. On the night I was there, there must have been at least 1000 people in the place and it was built to hold 600. You can imagine how we were packed! Personally, I slept in the balcony jammed between two girls and had two more couples stretched out at my feet.

And for awhile before the Communal Food Centers were organized the people were starving. I went down into a place called Silverton in the East End. The damage has been terrible and the place has been practically wiped out. I went down into a shelter and I found there a woman nursing her six month old baby girl. Around her feet her three other children - 2, 3 and 5 yrs. old were huddled. That family had been there for 36 hrs. without food or sleep. I nursed that woman's baby for five hours so she could sleep and went out and bought some food for the kiddies. The sight of how ravenously hungry they were just about broke my heart.

But through all this misery and destruction, the wonderful shining spirit of the British people still stands courageously upright: unbroken and unbent. Everywhere you go you see cheerfulness and faith that we will pull through alright. That woman that I just mentioned - who of any had a right to be bitter and reproachful was the cheeriest, most optimistic person I have ever seen. During the whole time I talked with her she never once reproached the government or allowed even a hint of anger or doubt creep into her voice. She had implicit faith that we would win. And every Londoner is exactly the same. Instead of weakening their moral, this incessant bombing has only stiffened their courage. Of course they are afraid and that only makes their determination to "Carry On" in the face of the bombs all the more splendid and praiseworthy. If a hero is an ordinary man who feared - but "Carried On", ALL Londoners are heroes - men, women and children. Never before have I seen such courage! It is truly magnificent... it is indescribable! And now I must close. Good bye for now.

Love,

Jim
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