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Date: April 26th 1941
From
John Balfour Grey
Letter

1st  letter

Uxbridge
26/4/41

Dearest Mother & Dad

At last I can write you and tell you all about this new country we are now in. We landed last Sunday morning. It was really a thrilling sight when we went up on deck to see the green hills of Scotland about which I had heard so much. No fooling Dad. I really fell in love with Scotland right from the first. It was a beautiful spring day when we first saw land.

The voyage across was quite uneventful and smooth. We sighted no submarines and if we had I need not say we were well protected. There were just three of us together – [censored] and [censored] about two or three days from this side though were were met by a [censored] and also [censored] boats. They were taking no chances.

The vessel we were on is about 28000 tons and fairly new. We had second class quarters as the first class was for officers. The bunks are not bad although when the mighty Atlantic gets rough you toss about like a cork. It was amazing to watch the other troopship bouncing around in the heavy seas while the battleship hardly wavers. It just forges straight through and appears underwater half the time. There were all sorts of new things which I had never seen – such things as whales blowing and porpoises soaring and playing about. I slept nearly fifteen hours a day on board as I was lucky enough to miss guard duty. They had air force fellows spotting for subs. The food wasn’t bad although we were on rations as soon as we went aboard. I know now how Columbus must have felt when he saw land – only he was a lot longer than we. A fellow gets pretty tired of seeing nothing but water. It was a little more interesting when we were getting closer here. It was wonderful to see these fast destroyers suddenly [censored] somewhere at top speed – boy they are fast. They investigated every little fishing boat and all. When you see some of the British Navy you figure there is something to this “Britannia Rule the Waves” [censored] we landed on Sunday the 20th of April at a little place called Gourock

I managed to go ashore before the others at Gourock so spent a pleasant hour walking around there. I find many things there not as they were in Canada but very interesting to me. Soon after we all were ashore and immediately boarded a train. The next six hours were the most pleasant I ever spent on a train The trains as you know are not the same as ours but have little compartments seating about six – I like them. The first city we came to was Glasgow and the trip from Gourock there was a revelation to me. All the way people were out waving and cheering us on – and they meant it. The people here know there is a war on. I hate to say it but I have sure never seen anything like it all my time in Canada. I felt like cheering myself when I saw these women & men in Glasgow standing by ruined homes but still waving us on. We went from Glasgow straight across to Edinburgh but were unable to get out at any of these places. What I saw of Edinburgh I liked very much but the open country is what I liked most. It made me want to get out and just stroll around the hills. I hope we get moved to Scotland for our training for a couple of months.

Perhaps I had better interrupt my chronological review to tell you of my visit with Hampton. I wrote him a letter as soon as I got to London. Next I went to Canada House and learned his whereabouts. Of course on learning that he was only thirty miles from London at a place called Luton I got on a train and went there. I was sitting in the mess having a cup of tea when he came in. It was a wonderful meeting so far from home. I met some of these friends of his but Jack Diamond is at another station. Boy I’m sure proud of my brother now. He has about 45 hours in the air now but the real thing is to have a brother who is a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. Those fellows have to be really good. They are training at an R.A.F. station so they are getting good training you may be sure. He still has lots of work ahead before he gets his wings but I am sure he will. Hope to get up to see him again. One other thing I neglected to tell you was that I am at Uxbridge about 1.5 miles from London.

To get on with my story – we continued down through Scotland and into England. We ate at Newcastle – supper – and then went on again. The train was blacked out at night and when an alarm sounded they were not content with drawn blinds – every light went out. Of course the ship was blacked out all the way over. Our new station at Uxbridge is a Manning Pool just like the one at Toronto. I expect we will leave here any day. I have been to London twice already now. It is a wonderful experience to see all these places about which we have heard so much. It is impossible to imagine the size of London until you have been there. Uxbridge is fifteen miles from the heart of London yet you can see no spot that isn’t jammed with houses all the way. London at night is something too. There are a very few weak lights around to guide you but when an alarm sounds it becomes pitch black there. It is queer when you think of being in the heart of the largest city in the world yet there is not a light to be seen. This Piccadilly Circus used to be an absolute blaze of lights but not one is to be seen now. There is something to this song “Till the Lights of London Shine Again”. It is going to be a wonderful day when they do. You never saw anything like the spirit of the people here – they just laugh and say he will all get it all back and then some. It looks to me like the Germans care little for what they bomb as there are wrecked buildings all over London. Another thing that amazes me is the way they clean everything up after a raid. Buildings which have been ruined are cleaned up and fenced neatly off – it is really amazing. It would do a lot of people in Canada to see London and an air raid – they would know then that we are fighting a war. Enough of this.

The food we are getting is quite good although there is little butter or sugar and seldom milk. We eat considerably better than the civilians though as we are supposed to need it more. One thing which I am getting already so I hate to miss and that is the famous tradition of afternoon tea – it is really just another meal but a good one. The beds we are sleeping on here are not much good – hard straw mattresses on an iron bed – no springs. It is here that we are issued with tin hats, gas masks, etc. We also get a check over here. I was disappointed in my eye-test. They did not seem to be so good but I don’t know yet. We had a severe test for ability to see at night – I did alright in that. Hope you don’t mind the way this letter is written – I am just putting down everything I think of.

Hampton was looking very well now – not so fat. I never saw him so enthusiastic about anything in his life – he has really been bitten by this flying bug. Maybe someday we will fly in the same plane – I hope so. It is funny to see him in the sailors outfit yet flying – that is really something. According to what some of the other fellows say Hamp is one of the best pilots in the flight. He is nearly through his elementary flying how and will be moved very soon to another station.

I was surprised when we landed to meet Merlin Liversidge there. I also was talking to Jim Hughes – he is a brother of Kay Hughes who works in Collinson’s. It seems funny. Yesterday at Canada House in London I had a short chat with Mrs. Vincent Massey. She was very friendly and nice. Some of our fellows spent a couple of hours with the Royal Family yesterday – were they ever thrilled – King George is mighty popular but Churchill is the real thing here. The people nearly go nuts when the see him. Another thing I was pleased at seeing was the number of pictures of Roosevelt. It is quite common to see big pictures of Churchill and Roosevelt hanging together.

I am getting onto the money over here quite well and dont just hope for the right change any more. Hope the money is coming alright that I assigned

If you see Bill Kapak or Pete tell him that I’m awfully sorry I didn’t get to see him again but had absolutely no chance to phone him or anything – I had a nice evening with him once though so that helps. I wonder what all the rest of the fellow are doing. My watch is running beautifully these days and I’m very pleased with it. I should have brought one for Hamp but can’t go back for it right now – he was disappointed about it and more so when he saw mine. If Nelson is still around tell him his pen and pencil are great and thank him again for me. I’ll be writing to a lot of people like that soon.

How are all the Boomers getting along. I suppose Jean’s baby is growing plenty. I’d give a lot to be home right now. I guess there is a new watchmaker by now – Please give my regards to Anne. There is nothing else to write just now so I’ll close. You might write a few letters in care of “Canada House” Dont forget that I’m in the RCAF. [?] If anybody wants that address give it to them. Would you mind telling Audrey my address. I was pleased to have a letter delivered to me from her when two days to sea. It just came on board at the last minute. Did you know Bob was 21 now. I’ll write again soon Mother and Dad. Your loving son,

John

Original Scans

Original Scans

Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII Gray, John Balfour Canadian Air Force WWII