Baker, James

Letter
Date:
October 12, 1940
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
The Salvation Army
‘Keep in touch with folks at home'
Oct. 12, 1940

Dearest Mom:

I am writing this from the largest Canadian Military Hospital in England here at Taplow. It is situated in the beautiful grounds of Lady Astor's estate and is more like a private home than hospital. The wards are long, the rooms painted green to protect the eyes and to brighten the room up. And the boys are the most cheerful lot it has been my luck to fall in with. The grounds are very beautiful too, flowers everywhere you look, smooth rolling lawns and gravelled walks. From the edge of the hill we can look out over fields to the woods beyond. And through a break in the trees, the mansion peeps forth, a huge ivy-covered brick house seeming to smile benevolently upon the surrounding countryside.

We have just received a visit of inspection (no, not inspection - just a friendly chat) from Lord Halifax, Lt. General McNaughton and Lady Astor. Lord Halifax, his thin spare form draped in a shiny suit of severest black, gripping his grey Hombury in gloved left hand - typical Englishman that he is, striving to hide his emotions beneath a cloak of pretended aloofness. Just the same his sympathy peeped forth from neath his shaggy eyebrows and lurked in the wrinkles round his mouth. A tall stoop-shouldered man this, seeming almost too thin and sickly for the position he holds until you catch and meet his eyes. What a fierce fire of determination burns in their glowing depth, a fierce pride coupled with an unyielding firmness which alike belies his gentle reverent face and sickly appearance.

Lt. General McNaughton - a soldier and a man in precise military uniform, his tiny mustache clipped short, his stiff iron grey hair in wild disarray upon his broad intelligent forehead, the forehead of a thinker. And his hands, short blunt fingers - broad flat palms, a hand of strength fit to weld and hold together the armies under his command.

And Lady Astor: a tiny harsh-voiced person full of vigour with an air of bustle about her that somehow reminds me of a worried, harassed hen clucking over her brood of wayward ducklings (not that she is an old hen - quite the opposite. She is very charming). No false modesty here or air of inferiority for - like all Americans, she just loves to make herself heard. When Lt. Gen. McNaughton stopped to talk to one of the lads who had lost a leg, Lady Astor - from the other side of the Ward, called out in her raucous voice "Come on, General. We can't spend all day here!" It was just the same when the King and Queen and the Princesses came through. When the Queen showed any tendency to dally, Lady Astor was always there to urge her on "Come along, Ann! We can't stay here all day!"

Yet for all her bluff and ready manner, she is the tenderest-hearted person imaginable and behind that fierce gleam of her eyes, there lurks a tiny wicked little twinkle of deviltry and merriment that peeps out in spite of all her efforts to suppress it. Of all the people who visit us regularly here - and there are quite a few notables come through quite regularly, we welcome her the most for she allows us no chance to feel sorry for ourselves with an air of sympathy that can be felt from the other end of the room. No, instead she cheers us mightily with her bluff unconventiabilities. As soon as her voice is heard in the hallways, an air of expectancy settles on the room: every face turns toward the door whilst a ripple of whisper runs around the room "Here's Lady Astor again!"

We have a soft life here: wonderful beds, white sheets, pillow cases and spreads, wonderful food - well cooked and appealing, but best of all wonderful nurses who mother us as only women can. Plenty of books, writing paper, visitors every day, gifts galore and even offers of car rides around the district. Who wouldn't be a willing patient here?

Well, I go to the operating room tomorrow. I had a x-ray day before yesterday but it showed no fracture. But there is an infection on my leg that has to be attended to, so no breakfast for me tomorrow I'm afraid. Say, have you received two poems? One entitled "Nineteen" and the other "England". If so please make copies of then send them back for I have no copies for myself.

Well, I guess it's "au revoir"....

Love,
Jim

Original Scans