Baker, James

Letter
Date:
April 4, 1941
To:
Mom and Dad
From:
Jim
April 4th, 1941

Dearest Mom and Dad,

I had rather expected to get a letter from you last mail and that was one reason why I had put off writing to you. Then two days ago, we went off to Dover on a wiring party (putting up barbed wire entanglements around the new gun implacements). While I was down there I had my first contact with violent death. One of the RCE.s who was working with us stepped on a land mine and was blown to smithereens. I was standing about fifty yards away and saw his poor twisted body as it blew up. It flew nearly sixty feet into the air and disintergrated before my eyes. We picked up as much of the poor fellow as we could find (which wasn't much) and dumped him - there is no other way to describe it, into a box and carried him away and then went back to work. I was surprised at the way it had affected me. I don't know whether you will think me callous or not, but I was absolutely unaffected. I just shrugged my shoulders and turned back to the job. There was no feeling of depression such as I had imagined always followed death. It was just as though I said "Well, the poor fellow's dead, there is nothing I can do about it: so back to work." I often wonder though at the suddeness of death. There he was one moment - happy, laughing, vividly alive: and the next Pouf!! - pieces of inanimate flesh were raininng down all around me. I have often thought that is how I want to go out if I must go at all, as I realize I must someday: for man is immortal. But I want to live life vividly right up to the last and then go out suddenly without any lingering pain or long drawn out act of dying. But I am becoming morbid. Enough!

We had rather an exciting morning this morning. We were wiring along the heights overlooking Dover when we suddenly saw a huge splash in the water about three miles away followed by a terrific shriek and a loud explosion. We at first thought it was bombs as we had heard several planes passing overhead for quite some time. But then another - much nearer, showed us that they were shells from the German guns on the French coast. Altogether about twenty shells fell all around us and we had our first experience under shell-fire. But we just continued working and about noon we finished the job and came home. It took us nearly four hours as Dover is nearly 90 miles from here.

There is little evidence of the terrific battering that the town has withstood during the past few months... less wreckage than I have seen in many part of London. But there are very few shops left open along the fronts. Yet there seem to be plenty of people there still: women and children. Little kids playing the streets and yelling and cheering us as we passed - the same as in every other town and village throughout England. It is wonderful how these people have adapted themselves to the conditions that war has inflicted upon them. They are just as happy and cheerful as ever. The kids still play in the streets. The only difference is in the nature of the games they play. Nearly every one of the boys has to be a Hurricane or Spitfire pilot while all the girls are nurses. Next in popularity are the Auxilary Firemen. Every one of these children - from six upwards, knows how to tackle an incendiary bomb. Every one of them realizes the danger that they are as a signal to the Gerries coming behind and realizes that they must be put out as soon as possible. And they do it too. I saw two little lads - they could not have been more than ten, with a string of eighteen fire bombs that they themselves had put out. They were selling them for souvenirs at a penny a piece. Imagine that if you can. Is it any wonder I say that Hitler will never succeed in subjugating this country as he has succeeded in Europe?

And now I really must close. By the way, Mrs. Barnard is getting short of sugar and tea so do you think my next parcel could have some of each? Also razor blades, cake or cookies, chocolate and sox. That sounds like a pretty good parcel so I won't ask for any more. Cheerio!

Love as always,

Jim
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