Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: December 28th 1916
"Dearest All"
Coningsby Dawson

December 28th, 1916.

Dearest All:

I'm writing you this letter because I expect to-night is a busy-packing one with you. The picture is in my mind of you all. How splendid it is of you to come! I never thought you would really, not even in my wildest dream of optimism. There have been so many times when I scarcely thought that I would ever see you again—now the unexpected and hoped-for happens. It's ripping!

I've put in an application for special leave in case the ordinary leave should be cut off. I think I'm almost certain to arrive by the 11th. Won't we have a time? I wonder what we'll want to do most—sit quiet or go to theatres? The nine days of freedom—the wonderful nine days—will pass with most tragic quickness. But they'll be days to remember as long as life lasts.

Shall I see you standing on the station when I puff into London—or will it be Folkestone where we meet—or shall I arrive before you? I somehow think it will be you who will meet me at the barrier at Charing Cross, and we'll taxi through the darkened streets down the Strand, and back to our privacy. How impossible it sounds—like a vision of heart's desire in the night.

Far, far away I see the fine home-coming, like a lamp burning in a dark night. I expect we shall all go off our heads with joy and be madder than ever. Who in the old London days would have imagined such a nine days of happiness in the old places as we are to have together.

God bless you, till we meet,

[footnote by Carry On's editor William James Dawson:
The suggestion that we might all meet in London in January, 1917, was a hope rather than an expectation. We received a cable from France on Sunday, December 17th, 1916, and left New York on December 30th. We were met in London by the two sailor-sons, who were expecting appointments at any moment, and Coningsby arrived late in the evening of January 13th. He was unwell when he arrived, having had a near touch of pneumonia. The day before he left the front he had been in action, with a temperature of 104. There were difficulties about getting his leave at the exact time appointed, but these he overcame by exchanging leave with a brother-officer. He travelled from the Front all night in a windowless train, and at Calais was delayed by a draft of infantry which he had to take over to England. The consequence of this delay was that the meeting at the railway station, of which he had so long dreamed, did not come off. We spent a long day, going from station to station, misled by imperfect information as to the arrival of troop trains. At Victoria Station we saw two thousand troops arrive on leave, men caked with trench-mud, but he was not among them. We reluctantly returned to our hotel in the late afternoon and gave up expecting him. There was all the time a telegram at the hotel from him, giving the exact place and time of his arrival, but it was not delivered until it was too late to meet him. He arrived at ten o'clock, and at the same time his two brothers, who had been summoned in the morning to Southampton, entered the hotel, having been granted special leave to return to London. A night's rest did wonders for Coningsby, and the next day his spirits were as high as in the old days of joyous holiday. During the next eight days we lived at a tense pitch of excitement. We went to theatres, dined in restaurants, met friends, and heard from his lips a hundred details of his life which could not be communicated in letters. We were all thrilled by the darkened heroic London through which we moved, the London which bore its sorrows so proudly, and went about its daily life with such silent courage. We visited old friends to whom the war had brought irreparable bereavements, but never once heard the voice of self-pity, of murmur or complaint. To me it was an incredible England; an England purged of all weakness, stripped of flabbiness, regenerated by sacrifice. I had dreamed of no such transformation by anything I had read in American newspapers and magazines. I think no one can imagine the completeness of this rebirth of the soul of England who has not dwelt, if only for a few days, among its people.

Coningsby's brief leave expired all too soon. We saw him off from Folkestone, and while we were saying good-bye to him, his two brothers were on their way to their distant appointments with the Royal Naval Motor Patrol in the North of Scotland. We left Liverpool for New York on January 27th, and while at sea heard of the diplomatic break between America and Germany. The news was received on board the S.S. St. Paul with rejoicing. It was Sunday, and the religious service on board concluded with the Star-Spangled Banner.”]

Original Scans

Original Scans