Baker, James

Letter
Date:
January 14, 1945
To:
Mom and Dad
From:
Jim
January 14th, 1945

Dear Mom and Dad,

It seems a long time since I last wrote to you and also, it seems a long time since I had a letter from you. However, I have to wait here in this tiny canteen at Grantham for my train which does not go out for another ‘four hours', so it has given me a chance to write you a long letter instead of one of those short airmails which seem to have been the only thing I have had time for lately. I am just back from seeing Stanley at his hospital near East Grinstead where Sadie is at present. My CO. granted me 3 days ‘compassionate leave' to see him. It was a long journey and I could only stay one day, but I'm glad I went because he told me many things about himself that were worrying me and I suppose they were worrying you too. First of all, let me tell you he seems physically OK. He had dysentery very badly in Belgium - as he has probably told you, and it finally became chronic, so they decided to ship him out. And he seems pretty bright and cheerful and can talk about his experiences over there, which is a good sign that his mental condition has not deteriorated very far. However, there is a ‘black spot' in his mind that seems to worry him a little and it was caused by the conditions under which they lived up in the front lines. He kept constantly referring to this during the whole day I talked to him and would suddenly switch to it from the most irrelevant subjects. He painted a pretty grim picture of their life up there, and I guess it has made a profound impression upon him. However, he is definitely not going back to Europe for at least 2 months and possibly longer, according to how he responds to leave and life over here. He will be in hospital about 2 wks. and will then get 14 days leave. He has promised to go up to London first to see Mr. Simpson for a couple of days; for he and I have fixed up a little surprise for him that he should enjoy. After that he will go up to Scotland for a week and then come down to the Squadron with me. I expect he will want to stay still for a little while. He told me many things about the Army over there that I am almost afraid to repeat they are so awful; they make you wonder sometimes how we have ever come so far in such a short time! I realize of course that conditions on the other side must be just as bad, otherwise we could never have succeeded the way we have. However, the bungling and stupid inefficiency makes my blood boil! You see, I am used to conditions which ‘govern war in the air' where everything is known precisely down to the most intricate detail and where - through our superb intelligence service, we know or are able to forecast, the enemies precise reaction to our raiding forces. And we seldom - if ever, are caught entirely by surprise by anything the enemy does. But Stan says they seldom - if ever, knew anything and life was a continual series of surprises. When they went back into the line, they never once moved up without getting lost and wandering around half the night until they found their correct sector: sometimes they stood for hours in wet clothes waiting for someone to find out what they were supposed to be doing! I realize of course, that all these things must be taken with the proverbial ‘grain of salt' because all difficulties are magnified a hundred-fold when a man is physically uncomfortable: as they must have been. However, all this vaunted ‘superiority of leadership' that has been our boast for years seems a complete myth, as far as he is concerned anyway. And his equipment was seemingly deficient also. However, I suppose there is not much sense in complaining about these things because there are doubtless "worthy" explanations for each and every one of them. However to me, they are inexcusable and should never have arisen.

There is another aspect of the talk among these boys coming back that is even more significant and is a danger-signal that cannot be disregarded. They have no faith at all in the workings of the ‘Rehabilitation Plans' and that must be corrected at once, because so far as I can see, this plan depends so very much for its success upon the faith of those who are to benefit by it. I have come to the conclusion that most of the misunderstanding and distrust arises from ignorance of the plan itself and also from misrepresentations by a few among them. It seems unfortunate that the few mistakes the committees made at the beginning should be remembered while the good work they are doing now, is being disregarded or is not known about. I don't know whether we in aircrew get preferential treatment or what but certainly, some of the gross miscarriages and deliberate-seeming injustices that they talk about never seem to happen to us. I don't know whether they have a system of education in the ‘details' of the plan with an officer and a staff on each camp specifically detailed for that work alone as we have - but if they haven't, I think it is high time they got one organized because I can say with deepest conviction, that I consider some of the things I have heard this weekend, highly dangerous not only to Canada as a whole, but to each man individually. This lack of faith is a ‘cancer' eating in to each man's very soul and killing everything that is good and noble in him. And I am equally as positive that the vast majority of causes can be summed up in one word: "Ignorance"! This position should never have arisen and coming as it does so near the end, it is very dangerous. I am telling you this in the hope that something can be done to find a remedy. Perhaps the Legion can help. But I urge you that this a first-class priority that must be tackled boldly and at once! It is no good waiting till the men get home to do it. It must be done here in England so that the men may be prepared for a ‘new Canada' when they get home. So many of them seem to have the idea that they are going to go back and be able to settle into the old ‘familiar-rut' that they found so comfortable before (those of them that were so fortunate as to have a rut): even if it was rather unimaginative. Well we - all of us know who think at all, that that is not going to be: not only because of the changes in Canada's economic structure, but also because of the changes within themselves. The great majority of them seem unaware of these changes that so vitally affect their future and it is this ‘unawareness' that must be tackled. I can never forget my own disappointment when I came home. Yes I know, I have never spoken of this to you before, but it is true. I had been looking forward to it for so long and when I got there, everything was so vastly different from what I had pictured for myself. It was a bitter humiliating experience to have to go through and affected me for weeks. I realize that 90% of the trouble was in myself - but even that knowledge could not prevent my disappointment from rising up at times and nearly choking me. Those same feelings that I had are going to be shared by a vast number of boys when they eventually come back and I do not think enough attention is being paid to this aspect of the ‘rehabilitation programme'. The boys are being led to expect so much and are not being told of the changes they will inevitably find. It is much better to be warned of these things in advance I think. How does it strike you?

I have also had a long talk with Mr. Simpson over the weekend that has served to enlighten me a good deal. What would you think if I did not come back to Canada after the war: but took my discharge over here instead? I have been turning it over in my mind for several months now and I am honestly wondering. Mr. Simpson and I - as you probably have been able to see for yourself, have formed a very fast friendship in the past six months. He is a very interesting man in himself - but above all else, he is the kind of a man whom I could ‘love as a brother'. He is a leader among men and I cannot imagine a nicer way to live than working for and with him. And with his help, I would be assured of a really worthwhile job - though my advancement would depend entirely upon my own efforts, for Mr. Simpson never coddles his protégés, which is a good thing. What he does do is encourage those who need encouragement and create opportunities where - seemingly, none exist. He leads men out of the ‘cul-de-sacs' they have wandered into through no fault of their own, and set them on their feet on a broad straight road again. Right now, he has been offered a position of grave-responsibility and of the highest political significance. He is turning over in his own mind all the advantages and disadvantages of accepting it and if he does accept, I am nearly certain he will offer me a position of trust with him. It would mean I would probably not get home for about 10 years after the war. I would be living in Central Europe where the probability of political unrest would be very great indeed. It is probable that decisions affecting the lives of at least 100,000,000 people will pass through his hands and many of the problems now affecting the lives of so many of us, will be his responsibility. That is what forms so great an appeal for me, that and his personal acceptance of me as his friend. That - in itself, would be a strong consideration without the appeal of the opportunity he offers. But right now, I have other work of more pressing importance to attend to. There will be time enough to solve this other problem later. I am nearly certain what my answer will be if I am asked though, and I guess you - too, know what I will say.

Well folks, I guess I have run dry for once. Write again soon. The parcel of soap mailed in October arrived safely the other day.

Love to all,

Jim





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