Baker, James

Letter
Date:
December 12, 1942
To:
Mom
From:
James
Dec. 12th, 1942

Dear Mom,

I have just learned that here is no hope of us getting posted from here for at least 5 wks. so I guess we will just have to set our minds to sticking it. It is going to be very hard though because never in my life have I ever been in a city that I detested so much in such a short time. As you know we are in Manchester, and Manchester is called the ‘Black City' and now that I have seen it, I can well see why. Everything is black, or if it isn't when you bring it here, it soon is. The soot lies like a black film over everything, it's in your food, in the air you breathe, on your pillow at night, on your chair when you sit down and on your clothes when you get up. I haven't seen one clean face since I've been here, not even my own because I haven't seen a mirror yet in which you could see anything. The dirt is simply abominable! You could go mad here I know, your tidy soul would simply beat itself to death against the iron bars of the dirt, you'd go chasing the dirt around from morning to night and eventually wear yourself out. And the poverty, and the slums and the poor ragged dirty children - gammons, playing in the streets with their thin bowed legs, staring eyes and white dirt-streaked faces, I am physically sick nearly every time I walk amongst them. And I have to do so because I am billeted among them. I am nearly three miles away from camp and have to go by bus every morning and evening... it costs me 4d a day. I never dreamt that people could live in such places or in such conditions. Mile after mile of red brick houses - each drearily like its neighbour, each staring straight across the road at an exact counterpart of itself, door to door and window to window and each and every one half hidden under a pall of black soot. There is not a single blade of green anywhere, not one square inch of honest to God grass - or lawn, not one tree to relieve the monotony of this never-ending red brick, black tile and grey cobblestone. It is an event for the green grocer to come around with his cabbages and carrots for at least, these are green and seem to bring a health of fresh country air to this horrid pest-hole. But even he is dirty of face and hand with narrow, hunched back and slow hobbling-gait and twin beady eyes that peep out slyly from a mat of knotted hair. Thank God I don't have to eat here, or touch the food he handles. It turns my stomach to even think of it.

This woman whom I am billeted with - Mrs. Rogers, seems to be rather above the average of her neighbours, both in intellect and income. Her husband is an electrical engineer and being thus, raised above the level of common worker into the class of skilled labor, they hold themselves somewhat aloof. They live in the only detached house in the whole street - called by some irony on the part of the town-builders Yew Street, (why God only knows for there is not a Yew Tree within miles) and the number is 13 which is not so good for those who are superstitious. But you know how much that worries me. They are extremely nice and are very kind to us. Their one daughter is about 16, but looks very unhealthy to me, with a narrow sallow complexioned face that is never clean. They have been very unfortunate lately in that the two houses next door were completely blitzed and their's was made untenable for some time. They have just recently moved in again and haven't yet got straightened out. Nearly everything that they had worked and strived for for 20 years was destroyed in five seconds and they have had to start all over again, nearly from scratch. But they don't complain very much, just carry on as though nothing had happened.

I am billeted here with one other boy, his name is Brown. He and I have been together ever since we were at Borden; before we actually got into the Air Force! We were both sworn-in together. I don't like him particularly because he is far too boastful but we seem to be able to get along OK. and as long as there is not undue friction, I am content to remain with him.

I don't know what I am going to do about mail. I think I'll leave it all up in London until I get an idea what is going to happen to me. I haven't got your parcel yet which is very peculiar, seeing that I got the Can. Legion's or WA.'s parcel nearly 10 days ago. I guess it must have got lost on the way over but it will probably turn up in due course...as usual.

It has rained every day (3) so far. The first day we got soaked to the skin, my suit case fell to pieces in the middle of the road, we lost out kit bags, no one could tell us where to go and no one seemed particularly interested whether we got anywhere or not, everything went wrong. But we have finally got everything straightened around and I guess things could be very much worse.

Now here is something I want to talk about while I remember it. Do you think I could now stop my assignment to you and start a ‘Deferred Pay Account'? Are you in a secure enough financial position to no longer need my pay? Here are my reasons why:
1. I quite expect that when I get through this course and have been given my brevet, I will also be given a commission at the same time or very shortly afterwards. Now when you get a commission from the ranks, it generally involves living on your own money for about 3 months because it takes that long to get your first cheque through the banks. Therefore, if I am trained anywhere else besides Canada, I will be able to draw this ‘Deferred Pay Money' and live on it instead of having to wire home for money as I would have to otherwise do. You see, every Canadian serving Overseas who does not send his money home as an Allotment is compelled to save $20.00 out of every month's pay and this is paid - by Ottawa, into his ‘deferred pay account'... times he can draw this are:
1. When he has dismissed the service either medically or because he gets a commission
2. When he gets married
3. When he goes on leave (token: he is allowed to draw $20.00 per week)
4. In case he can prove that he needs the money on very compassionate grounds.

The second reason I want this change is because I feel that if I ever do get in a serious jam - when I am on leave say and run out of money, I can get it very easily without worrying you about it. But the first is by far and away the strongest reason. There is another but it is so remote that I won't bother you by telling you about it. So if you think it is a good idea and if you can do it with no hardship to yourself, please tell me so I can get working on it. But also please tell me if you cannot get along without it and I will let things stand as they are.

I guess that is all for now. Please don't think I am unhappy. I am quite happy really: just feeling slightly "browned-off".

Love to all,

Jim



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