Baker, James

Letter
Date:
December 8, 1941
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
Dec.8th, 1941

Dear Mom,

Well since I last wrote, I have done so many things that I don't know how on earth I am going to remember them all to tell you. The last letter I wrote was Saturday morning over a week ago. Saturday afternoon, what did I do? O yes! I went and had tea with Sheila. I don't think I have told you about her before, have I? Well she is the first girl I ever had a date with in England. I met her in February 1940 which is nearly 18 months ago and since then we have become very good pals indeed. She was evacuated down to Liphook when I was first at Borden and as Liphook is only about 3 miles away, we naturally saw a lot of each other. When I first came to the Maple Leaf - from where I am writing this letter, there was a whole gang of boys and girls that used to make up parties and go around together. Some of the partners have since got married but we are all still very close friends. Well, when Sheila came back to town just a few months ago after the raids had subsided, she and two other girls took a flat together. I wish you could see it. It is the loveliest flat I have ever been in. It is just like a complete house in itself. There are five rooms - 2 bedrooms, a living room, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom. It is the first time any of the girls have ever done cooking or housekeeping and naturally enough, they are making quite a few mistakes. But they are having the greatest amount of fun! I have rarely seen three girls who are so happy together. They are each suited so well to the other that it is like a trio singing: all in harmony. I enjoy myself ever so much and as I know them all so well, I am just like a younger brother to them all. They are all over 28 so I feel very young with them.

Sunday afternoon I went swimming with Mary Beverly as I told you I was going to in my last letter. It was the first time I had been swimming since my accident and it took a lot out of me, but I enjoyed it ever so much. Poor Mary, I tried to teach her how to do a back dive and she landed flat on her back. It must have hurt her very much but she never said a word. She is a real sport! After our swim we went back to her mother's flat for luncheon. We had a lovely meal too. I can't remember exactly what, but it was delicious. Then in the afternoon, Mary and I went to the cinema where we saw Ginger Rogers in "Tom, Dick and Harry". It was splendid; in fact, I enjoyed it so much that I am seriously considering going again. Mary had to go to work at the Admiralty at 6 o'clock so we couldn't have supper together.

Sunday night I caught the 10.05 train from King's Cross for Edinburgh arriving at 8.10 the next morning. Had a very interesting trip as the corporal of the RAF I sat beside was a writer and an intensely interesting fellow. He was born in the slums of the East End of London and never had a day's real schooling in his life. He ran the streets when he was old enough to walk until nearly 11 years old. Then he began to educate himself by reading everything he could get hold of. He used to go and sit in the pubic libraries all day long and read books because he was so poor he couldn't even pay to take a book out. He wrote whenever he could find a scrap of paper and ultimately he got a break on a small newspaper as a free-lance writer. He stuck to his guns through virtual starvation because he knew - felt certain in his own soul, that he would someday be successful. He used to carry six pennies around in his waistcoat pocket and no matter how hungry he became he never spent them so that if he ever did make a scoop he would always have money to phone his story in to one of the big papers from wherever he happened to be at the time. He was the first one to report the air raids on London the day war was declared and he scooped every other reporter by nearly ten minutes....and he used two of his six pennies. He showed me the other four which he still carries about with him. Roland Green is his name and he is now editor of the monthly rag at his aerodrome in Northern Scotland. He has promised to write to me and send me copies of his paper. I was intensely interested and hope I see more of him. Monday morning in Edinburgh I called on Mr. and Mrs. Nairne - the friends I went to see and had tea with them. Their son Norman was home on leave and he and his fiancé and I went dancing that night. Then I met a girl who is engaged to one of my best friends at the regiment and we got along fine. Poor girl, she hasn't heard from him for over two months and is naturally very worried. I couldn't tell her anything about him as I haven't seen him for over seven months. Tues. morning I started back for London and when I was at York and wondering what I would do when I got to London, I suddenly got the idea to go down to Godstone to see Mr. and Mrs. Hart and Hilary. No sooner said than done and I found myself knocking at the Hart's door at 9.30 PM. Boy - were they surprised to see me, for they had no idea I was coming. I stayed there overnight and all the next day and night, leaving at 9.30 the next morning. While I was there Hilary and I went into Croyden and saw "49th Parallel". It was a magnificent show and we both enjoyed it immensely. Then on Thurs. morning I started off for Witney - near Oxford to see all my friends up there whom I hadn't seen since my last leave last June. Jean-Louis (Mrs. Sayers son) and Rosemary and Penelope were all the same and besides I met two very intensely interesting new people... Mr. and Mrs. Milton whose house I stayed at while I was in Witney. They are the people Jean-Louis boards with and were overwhelmingly kind to me. I couldn't pay for a thing while I was there and besides that, they have invited me back to stay with them whenever I want to. Lovely people! On Friday, Jean-Louis and I came back to London together for he comes home for either Saturday or Sunday once every two weeks. We had a terrible journey, took us nearly five hours from Oxford because there was so much war transport. But when we arrived home (Mrs. Sayer's flat is just like home to me now) we had a delightful surprise. "Big" John - her husband, was there too, so we were all together again: the first time in over a year. One Swiss, one American, one Englishman and one Canadian sat down to supper. But what a lot of travelling I did in four days! Over 1800 miles...and what a lot of people I met, and how different conditions are in every part! In Scotland, there is plenty of everything except milk, even eggs, butter and sugar are abundant. In Oxford, there is lots of good wholesome food - nothing fancy of course, but good, yet no sweets, cigarettes or matches. South of England everything except milk is very scarce and hard to get. I mean you have to hunt around to find it and then you are only allowed a minimum of everything.

Saturday morning, Jean-Louis, Mrs. Sayers and I went shopping then had lunch at the Chinese Restaurant with a Mrs. Walker who has just lost her son. He was killed just two days before he was to have got his wings as a bomber pilot. He and Jean-Louis grew up together and naturally the whole family feels like a table with one leg missing. It is very sad but such are the Fates of war. Incidentally for lunch we had chop suey, the first I have ever had, very good it is too. Then that afternoon we went to the ‘Russian Ballet'. It was the first I have seen and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it. After the performance, we all had tea together at a tiny little restaurant next door called the ‘Pop Inn'. It is frequented by all the artists in between performances as it is right in the midst of London's Theatre Land. They all come there from the highest to the lowest. They don't even bother to remove their make-up because they haven't time...we had tea with Jean-Louis' special girl-friend - Ernestine Fenzi, who is one of the ballerinas in the Russian Ballet we had just seen. I am enclosing my program with her autograph. Did you notice that the letter ‘E' in her name is a ballerina standing on her tip-toes in one of the ballet's figures? She was an intensely interesting girl - well-educated, vivacious and very beautiful, even with her ghastly stage make-up on! And I have a standing invitation to go to the ballet any time that her company is in town. All I have to do is ring her up and she will do the rest. Saturday night: I went out to Sheila's flat that I told you about earlier in this letter. Sunday: I was chief cook and bottle washer. I made dinner and even if I do say so myself, it was a very credible performance. The girls simply loved it and I have a standing invitation to go back and repeat the performance any time I can get leave. Sunday we spent very quietly together: going for a long walk in the afternoon along the Thames tour path as far as Kew Gardens. This morning we all got up at seven o'clock and they all left for work (they are all three secretaries) while I came down town to the Eagle Club. When I got there I was astounded to hear that USA had been attacked by Japan and Canada had declared war.... what a hulabaloo there is there! And when I rang Mrs. Sayers at the Outpost she was so excited she could hardly talk! And most astounding of all, Ian in HB. Wilson - a lance corporal, who went home 8 months ago as medically unfit following an accident on one of our night schemes. He was discharged with 85% Canadian pension, went back to Los Angeles where he lives, went to Annapolis Naval College for six months where he got his commission in the Naval Reserve, joined the Mercantile Marine as a midshipman and came over here in the first USA boat to dock in the United Kingdom since war was declared, landed in London two days ago and is flying back to USA via Portugal tomorrow because he is a Reserve Office in the US Navy. And while he was with us all he could become was a lance-corporal... what a breath-taking series of events he has enjoyed since he left us 8 months ago! He and I had a long talk all about USA and the war. I learned a lot from him.

There, that seems to be my diary for the week, haven't I done a lot! This afternoon I go to the theatre and supper somewhere with Mrs. Sayers and possibly to a dance at Hammersmith Pavilion. Tomorrow I don't know yet. Well cheerio everyone, write soon and often....

Love to all,

Jim



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