October 5, 1940
Received your letter, the snaps, and the poem I asked for. The snap of Dad was particularly nice and your poem a gem. I was very proud to own such a clever mother and can say without the slightest fear of contradiction, that you are the smartest one I ever had. All fooling aside, the poem is splendid and I intend to send it to one of the leading papers over here and will send you their opinion. I showed it to the Sgt. Major and he thought it a real literary accomplishment.
I was very sorry to hear of the disastrous hail storm, but feel, as you did, that you were very lucky that both places weren’t hit. I must say I admire the way you can make light of a serious blow, which after all, is the real test of character, so I’m not too surprised.
Fall is really starting to set in here and the leaves are rapidly changing colour and some are beginning to fall. The mornings are quite chilly and the wind damp and raw. I am dreading the coming winter, for what it will mean for the people in the bombed areas. I don’t expect the troops will suffer much, as they are protected and equipped, but at the rate glass is being broken, there will be a serious shortage before long, which won’t be too nice in winter. We are situated about sixteen miles from London and, as a result, get all their warnings, though few bombs are actually dropped here. I was on guard the other night and had my first experience with the celebrated “Molotoff Bread Basket” and must say I don’t like it. We heard the loud swish as the bomb fell, followed by a volume of small explosives as it neared the tree tops. Hundreds of tiny incendiary bombs were scattered over a distance of about a mile. Two of these fell in our troop lines and were quickly put out. The whole thing was over in less than twenty minutes so the light didn’t afford a target. We have become quite callous due to the many alarms, so that they don’t bother us anymore. Our chances of getting a package are very slim, so we don’t ever think about it.
I saw a lovely dog fight the other day which was very exciting while it lasted. I had just parked my car under a large spreading chestnut tree, when the sirens let loose. A few moments later we heard the drone of planes and could tell by the irregular sound of the motors that they were Gerries. The German motors have a peculiar beat which is quite distinctive as it rises and falls and makes a throbbing sound. The sky was very clear and we soon saw a formation of about twenty bombers flying at a height of about six thousand feet. The anti-aircraft guns opened fire and you could distinctly see the shells bursting in mid-air and quite close to the enemy. Finally, a Hurricane appeared and then things began to happen. One bomber was hit and the starboard motor burst into flame, leaving a long trail of smoke in its wake. The crew bailed out and were immediately rounded up.
Another German was struck and crashed in the distance, but the closest plane to fall was a Hurricane which came down with throttle wide open and crashed with a loud report about half a mile from camp. The pilot was a Pole and managed to bail out in time and was picked up unhurt. This was the first time I had actually seen an air battle as they usually fly so high, so that only the roar of the racing motors and the rattle of machine guns betray their presence. It really is wonderful the way the R.A.F. are handling the situation. I don’t think Hitler will attempt an invasion until he has mastered the air and, as this will never happen, I’m afraid he will just have to alter his plans.
The other day while on a routine manoeuver, we discovered our radio frequency was the same as that of an R.A.F. ground station. The radio operator had a spare set of ear phones, so I had an interesting morning listening to the messages flashing back and forth from the various high commanders. One squadron was engaged in a battle and it was pretty fine to hear the commander giving his report in the usual unhurried business-like manner.
Well, I’m afraid I have wandered on aimlessly about conditions over here but hope you are interested. I have a very nice billet with a middle-aged couple by the name of Ravenscroft. The host owns a factory in London and seems to have plenty of money. They are both very kind and are doing all in their power to make me feel at home. It is certainly nice to have clean sheets to park my carcass between every night. This afternoon we had a demonstration of a gas spray attack from the air. A low-flying plane sprayed us liberally with a liquid which smelled highly of aniseed. The general opinion is that gas is much too expensive and impractical to use on a large scale, but the authorities are determined to be prepared for any eventuality.
I had to turn in my Humber on a new Chevrolet truck the other day and at present am breaking in the new vehicle. I enjoy driving the Major and get out of a lot of foot drill which suits me fine. I got a nice letter from Auntie Margaret the other day and must answer it tonight. You said you enjoy my letters, well, I certainly enjoy yours too, so the pleasure is mutual.
Reg McCarthy reports an abundance of ducks this Fall and I hope Alan can knock off enough time to bag you at least a big duck dinner. I am going to appreciate the home cooked meals again, and how. Well, that partly winds up the new so will close now.
P.S. I’m afraid I won’t be able to eat Christmas dinner with you this year owing to urgent business on hand, but feel sure I will be there for Christmas 1941 without fail. I hope, I hope!
P.P.S. How about a copy of the poem “In Memoriam” by Catherine Constance Swinton?