Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunday 18 March 1945, Marks Hall

My dear,
            Your letter and the registered envelope arrived together on Friday. I'll send my certificate book away as soon as I can, but I find I'll need to wait until the camp post office can get a large registered envelope for me. They keep only the smaller sizes in stock.

            Your letter was a much more natural one for a woman in your state. Don't be afraid of boring me with clinical details; you see I am reasonably interested in what is going on. I am pleased to see that you have got down to the theory of your subject as set out in the Encyclopedia. I thought the habit of reading about everything would ultimately prove too strong for you. I must have a subconscious desire for knowledge on the subject myself, for on Friday night I dreamt I was in a bookshop buying an enormous yellow-jacketed book with the ridiculous title "Motherhood for the Million".

           What is all this nonsense about washing curtains? Why in the name of Heaven don't you use the laundry? And why not leave the big curtains alone till I get home? Poor Irene will curse us thoroughly, I'm sure. And don't you dare to lug these heavy steps of ours about the house. As you say, you'll need to subsidise the window cleaner pretty heavily before turning him loose on our windows. If you paid him enough, he might even remove what netting remains.

           I am sorry to hear that the Encyclopedia condemns you to morning sickness for another month or two. I hope I can take as entirely truthful your statements about feeling very well all day. At any rate, descriptions of healthy meals are appearing frequently in your writing and this strikes me as being very good. I'm glad you are being sensibly selfish in consuming your own rations.

           Poor G____ will be in a ferment of excitement if, as you think, she has suspicions which she can't verify. She will be simply longing to give you advice and to recount all her own experiences for your benefit. You'd probably be better not to see too much of her later on. No doubt she is decent enough but she has a horribly Victorian attitude to the whole business, thanks no doubt to her ghoulish mother.

           So you're being "placid and optimistic". And what else would you be, please? You have no worries, we have (for once!) plenty of money, and you are as strong as a horse (remember the Matterhorn and the Pap of Glencoe!) I've always felt that in spite of symphonies, oboe parties and such trivia, there is a well-marked streak of the primeval in you, and no doubt you'll take to child-bearing like a duck to water.

          I've just finished The Professor by Rex Warner. I liked it very much though it would have been a miserable book to read just before the war. It gives a most convincing exposition of the Nazi creed of blatant egotism and brutality.  We can see that now in its proper perspective - collapsing under ten-ton bombs - but I think that book would have given me a dismal evening in 1938 or '39. I am now reading the travel book about Tunis. It has a very pleasing, consciously artistic style, and it's specially interesting because I've seen some of the places and things he describes.

                                                                                                                       7am Monday.

          I intend finishing this letter before I go off duty. I have been working most of the night and must get some bed-pressing hours in this morning, as I am on again this afternoon.

          It was nice to hear you again last night. We have been lucky recently in having a good line and I always get through without difficulty. I am disgusted to hear the time my letters are taking; but you'll see when they arrive that I am guiltless in the matter. Perhaps the service will be accelerated soon. Meanwhile I am selfishly glad that letters from your end are coming in as well as ever.

          Six weeks today since I arrived home on leave. Presumably that means I am halfway to my next leave which is indeed a lovely thought. I am going to make a fine old fuss of you this time. Meanwhile continue to look carefully after your interests and those of Caroline Mary ...

[Caroline Mary turned into Christine Margaret by the time I was christened. It's fascinating - to me at least - that the initials remained the same, and that they seem so sure of the infant's gender at this stage]


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Friday 16 March 1945, Marks Hall

Colchester (Wikimedia Commons)

                 I have had no letters since I wrote last but your most welcome parcel of books arrived on Wednesday. The wrapping looked as if someone had opened it a little to examine the contents but thanks to the general standard of illiteracy, books never provoke theft. I am delighted with the titles, especially the two Pelicans. I have the time here to do some instructive non-fictional reading and I think it is a good thing to have some books that one must read carefully and slowly, as and antidote for the vertigo which is produced by the too rapid reading of many novels in quick succession.

               I am confidently expecting a letter from you by today's midday post. However, by that time, this will be on its way so that it may arrive at Hyndland Rd. on Monday morning.

               On Wednesday I spent the whole day in Colchester, in the company of another cypher type called Griffiths. The weather was astonishing for this time of year and the town had quite a summer aspect. I saw it more fully this time and formed a different opinion of it. It is very much the county town with fine shops and plenty of elegant cafes and hotels all decorated in the traditional timbered style. Lunch, tea, dinner and several drinks gave me a fair idea of the expensive way in which the average officer passes his time at home. I couldn't afford to do it often, but as a treat it is very pleasant to have different food nicely cooked and served, and above all to get away from the deadly monotony of the Mess for a time.

              We spent the afternoon in a picture house - Carmen Miranda in Greenwich Village. It was appalling. They don't seem to make good films nowadays. Certainly the formula on which this one was made up lost its potency years ago. I envy you all those films you have been seeing at the Cosmo and hope they may come again sometime when we can go together.

           The day's wandering around Colchester and the walk into Coggeshall in the morning to catch the bus to that town together made up the most severe test I have given myself as yet and I am glad to say it did not worry me at all. I am very glad to be rid of that attack [of sciatica] and hope that the next time I see you I won't be a moaning cripple.

            Today our wonderful spell of weather has broken and we are having blustery showers of rain with faint spells of sunshine in between. However it is good March weather and the wind is not at all cold. All I hope is that you get good weather for Fintry. By the way, let me know later the dates of your stay there and I'll send my letters direct.

            I am hoping that your next letter will tell of a continued improvement in your health. I hope your mother is exercising to the full her well-known ability as a boss to make you take things very easy. Tell her she has my full approval and can add the mite of my authority to her own formidable store. I'd love to be fussing around you at present but since that is not possible, all I can do is to repeat my probably tiresome injunctions to take care of yourself. ...

           Regards to everyone. If your Pop wants more fags, you know where they are stored.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday 13 [March]* 1945, Marks Hall

My darling,
                 Your Sunday letter came this morning. It's an excellent idea for you to get fixed for the Easter holiday at Fintry. I should think it could be rather pleasant in Spring and hope you get lovely weather so that you can sit out-of-doors sometimes. You can travel at the quieter times of the day and I suppose Uncle will meet you as usual.

                I can well imagine my aunt's fat chuckle when you told her the news. As for Mrs Goodall and other 'High Time' merchants, I hope you don't omit to point out the difficulties involved in the matter when your husband is 2000 miles away fro three years. We are not all blessed with diabetes or the possession of a farm.

              Thanks for the information about the certificates. If you complete my book it is not going to leave much of the £200 for your use, so I'll send along another cheque shortly. When my 'book' is complete, we'll set about yours and when they are both filled, we'll put them away until such time as we can buy a house at a reasonable cost.

             Today's post also brought a parcel from the Church. It is magnificently packed but I shall not open it until I get back to the billet. Meanwhile, I have not given up hope of the first one reaching me; if it does, I'll have brought off quite a neat swindle.

              I'm looking forward to seeing these Penguins from you. I am tired of reading rubbish. Old Fowler is the most interesting thing I've managed to lay my hands on recently. I am dealing with his chapter on punctuation at present and am completely lost in the subtlety with which he treats the subject. However, I am much comforted when I perceive that his general bias is towards leaving out punctuation whenever this is possible without the sense suffering. I'll be less humiliated in the future when I look at one of your meticulously spotted letters.

            For the last two days the weather has been marvellous and the trees have quite suddenly come to life. The Mess is pleasantly decorated with branches of buds and catkins; reminding me of strenuous afternoons out at Courthill or more surreptitious foraging around Sydenham Road by night. If tomorrow is fair I am hoping to spend the whole day in Colchester so that I can really see what kind of place it is. I have been out of camp very little because of my leg but now that it is cured, I am going to get round a little. It all helps to pass the time.

                                                                                                                      After Tea

            Back in the billet and have just opened the Church parcel. It contains quite an enterprising collection of stuff - toothpaste, shaving soap, paper and envelopes, ovaltine tablets, meat paste, oxo cubes, cigarettes and blacking. The eatables will come in useful on night shift. Please sent me Mr Black's address and I'll send him a note of thanks.

             I suffer very much at present from a lack of argumentative friends. My colleagues are all extremely reticent about their opinions on all debatable subjects and I trail my coat in vain in an effort to start something. It is significant that their are no teachers among them. Two of them are lawyers, and like most of that profession, dead to everything outside the dreary tomes that guide them on their pettifogging career. For the first time in my life I am completely cut off from the society of teachers and only now am I realising what a delightfully blatant well-informed class they are. No-one finds it hard to start a discussion when there is a teacher present.

               I am glad to hear of the improvement in your health and hope it continues. It would be very pleasant for you to get away for May and June so I hope your house hunting is successful. Don't spare expense.


*For some reason, this letter was dated Tues. 13 November 1945, but it obviously belongs to March. Perhaps DF was wishing the time away.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday 10 March 1945, Marks Hall

My dear
             It was very thoughtful of you to write me a letter on Thursday which would help to carry me over the weekend. It arrived this morning. It is a beautiful picture you draw of your placid self ruminating over a cup of hot milk before going to bed with Hardy. I am very pleased to hear that you are taking this wise passivity so seriously.

             I envy you having all the old favourite books at hand. I have read just about all I want to read of the library here: the remainder consists of books that no-one could ever read even on a desert island. The charm about re-reading the classics is that you know you won't be disappointed and your relish for the good bits seems to grow with familiarity.

             At present I am picking my way through Memoirs of a Mountaineer by F. Spencer Chapman. In addition to doing a lot of Himalayan climbing he went as a member of a British diplomatic mission to Lhasa. But in spite of all the interesting things he saw and did in Tibet, his book makes dull reading except when he deals with the rigours of his climbing. The only really gripping passages describe hours spent on icy windswept ridges or long nights in freezing bivouacs at 23000 feet. Modern writers about mountains are inclined to jeer at the pompous style assumed by some of their Victorian predecessors like Tyndall and Wills. But the latter, with all their obvious faults, had an instinct for drama which the modern writers, more restrained in their feelings or possibly more truthful, lack completely. I like to read the pompous and grandiose thoughts which the Victorians ascribed to themselves on completing a difficult climb, even though at the time they probably thought on nothing but bursting lungs and hearts.


             I am continuing this at the astonishing hour of 6am. I have been on night duty; have done some work, had a little sleep and I am now looking forward to breakfast and then more sleep in my billet. It's amazing how hungry one gets during the night in spite of sandwiches which the Mess provides. ...
Meanwhile you will be doing your azure-lidded act for another three hours at least. But instead of the candied quince and other delicacies which Keats imagined near his sleeping beauty, you'll have an odd pint or two of certified on your table, or a box of vitamin tablets.

                                                                                                                                    5 hours later

            I have had breakfast and a short snooze and now I want to finish this note for the mid-day post. Last night I started reading O Absalom by Howard Spring. One of the men in the billet brought it in and with vague recollections of some sexy passages in Shabby Tiger, I grabbed the book. However it is very disappointing, full of slushy sentiment by Irish characters who all talk like Deirdre of the Sorrows. The Irish are tolerable when they are light-hearted but when they start wailing in their Celtic Twilight, I've had it.

           Note incidentally how that beautiful RAF phrase lends itself to the periodic construction of sentences. And while on this subject, I've discovered another failing of mine: Fowler speaks slightingly of the persons who in handwriting, "are well content if they get a dot in somewhere within measurable distance of its 'i'".

          I am looking forward to hearing you again tonight: it's lovely how the weeks are slipping past. Please continue to lead the life of a beautiful vegetable. I'm sure it must be doing you a lot of good after your too busy life in recent years. And you can ask yourself how many children we should need to have to make it worth your while standing in queue at the post office each week to collect the State's benison on your fertility.

          Sweetheart, this letter is more nonsensical than usual. .... I hope you will keep well from now on. Just be as selfish and indulgent as you like.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thursday 8 March 1945, Marks Hall

My sweetheart
                       I am generally expecting your letters, but I was pleasantly surprised this morning by yours of the 6th, full of interesting details about Redlands. It seems surprisingly cheap having a baby there (by the way, do they double the charges if it should prove to be twins?) and I hope it is in no way inferior to a nursing home. Have any of your friends been there?

                       By all means keep as much of that money as you like, in the current account. And any bills that you don't feel like tackling in the next few weeks, just send on to me. There is no need for you to deny yourself anything. Thanks to the incredible dullness of life on this station I am spending very little, so there is no reason why our offspring should not be born with a silver spoon in her or his mouth, even though we may have to pawn it in later years. Some time next month I'll make arrangements for increasing the monthly transfer.

                      I'm glad the 'Companion' [to English Lit.] has arrived. It was decent of Mr Meikle to reduce the price though that did not enter my mind when we went to him. I'm sure it is a tome that will be very useful to me in teaching.

                    Your report on your health makes better reading now. I think you are wise to cut down your evening engagements and get some chair pressing hours in. The milk ration for 155 [Hyndland Road] sounds colossal: one would think some ancient Roman lady was using it for toilet purposes. Maybe I'll manage to get a few drinks when I'm on leave.

                   Another bundle of old letters arrived yesterday including one from you, one from your Pop and the famous epistle from my uncle.[Dan Gerrard, Minister of Fintry Cof S] So next time you phone Fintry you can tell him that his honour is vindicated. Your letter was written on 13th Nov. when you were in the middle of your bad cold and expecting me daily. I can see now that the long time I took to come home, coupled with the fact that my last letter before embarking never reached you, caused a long period of anxiety and suspense for you. However, all turned out for the best.

                                                                                                           After tea:

                   During tea time, the wireless was giving details of the debate in the Commons on this 5/- family allowance scheme. Some critics are complaining that it is too little to stop the decline in the birth rate. This talk about the falling birthrate always depresses me because of its implications. A country needs a large population only because firstly of recurrent wars and secondly cut-throat rivalry in trade. And if we are moving forward to an age of peace and economic cooperation it does not seem to matter if the population falls a bit. As for the other point in the debate, I suppose you as an ardent feminist are all out for the mother getting the five bob for her second child and not the brutal and selfish father.

                The news continues to be exciting and all the less serious newspapers are filled with speculations about the date of the final collapse of Germany. They are also putting forward all kinds of "authoritative" statements and beliefs held in "responsible circles" about the the government's demobilisation scheme. But the Govt. has not as yet indicated just to what extent demobilisation is going to be carried out on Germany's defeat. I can't help feeling that the period of waiting is going to be very boring. I have completely given up hope of teachers being taken out before their demob. group. Only the building trades seem to be getting preferential treatment.

              I am keeping very well ... Life continues to be very dull but because of that, time passes quickly enough in retrospect. I hope you are soon completely free from your morning disability: please continue to be as lazy as you can.


Note: This is the first of a number of letters that had been opened by the Censor and resealed with the label shown in the photo. It must have been an inhibiting process.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wednesday 7 March, 1945, Marks Hall

My dear
             I intended to write yesterday but was kept busy all day. Your letter of Saturday arrived last night to cheer me up when my labours were over for the day. It's a find long letter too. I'll be keen to hear your opinion of the "Companion to Eng. Lit." As you know, we ordered it with a very vague notion of its contents. Thanks also for your promise to inquire about the etymological dictionary: I hope you don't object too much to these commissions.

             Your account of the children's party makes my blood run cold. Perhaps love of the young has still to unfold in my hard heart; let us hope it is latent there. But at present a little incident like the one you describe (in saying the grace) leaves me feeling very bleak.

            A letter from Lloyds today tells me that the £200 has now been transferred to your account. I don't know how they contrive to do it so quickly. I like to think of a special messenger hurrying north with my £200 in his bag, but I don't suppose the process is so dramatic. Anyway, use it as you please.

            On Monday night I went with two other (Griffiths and Taylor) to Colchester. We saw a long picture programme comprising Dark Waters and History is made at night. The first was dreadful, with Merle Oberon, looking very haggard, wandering incessantly in swampy forests. The second, with Jean Arthur and your old pal Chas. Boyer, was amusing in spite of a wildly improbable plot. I did not see much of Colchester, but was not greatly impressed. The best thing of the evening was the hot supper dish which was awaiting us on our return to camp.

            I am continuing my study of Fowler. I confess to some surprise when I learned that "Should you like a bath?" is correct and the use of 'would' in such a sentence is a horrible solecism. Evidently in questions in the second person, shall, will, should or would are used according to the answer expected. Fowler confesses that only the Southern English use there words naturally in the correct way, and that the rules governing their use are so involved that other speakers find them impossible to understand. So it seems that we must continue to give forth barbarisms.

           One of our cypher officers got himself into a fine state of agitation last week. All mail from his wife suddenly stopped and frantic letters from him produced no reply. He considered every morbid explanation from illness to sudden death or an American. Yesterday, while scanning the Mess table in despair, he noticed a great pile of letters in a docket which had been allocated to him ten days ago without his noticing it. Now he is wondering what his wife will make of the letters he has been pouring out these last few days.

            My next leave will definitely not be before the beginning of May so you won't have to make any special arrangements with the Corp. on my behalf. You'll be a "lady" by then and no longer a school teacher. I'm sure you must be looking forward to the rest. I am glad to hear that the holidays you took on my behalf have proved less expensive than was expected, though like you I can't understand the Corporation accounting in this case.

            You are extremely reticent about people's reactions to your intersting condition. Was Miss McLean overcome with shyness? How many of your dear friends have you told yet? Have you warned the school that they'll be losing you soon? I'm sure you are a most unnatural creature to fill your letters with Beethoven concerts at a time like this!

              I'm charmed to learn that you are now getting stuck into the mild and eggs. I warn ou that I expect to find you in overwhelmingly radiant health when I see you next - something like a Sanatogen advertisement figure, though not quite so amorphously dressed.

             You sounded quite chirpy last Sunday in spite of the fact that I surprised you in undress. I find these pleasant Sunday conversations come round very quickly: the weeks are slipping past in an admirable fashion. I keep my eyes fixed on my next leave and, at some unknown distance beyond that, my exit from the RAF. And after that, an endless paradise with you. ...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Saturday 3 March 1945, Marks Hall

My darling,
                The letter that I expected this morning came, rather unusually, by the evening post. I'm glad you have received all the extra coupons and though I understand your diffidence about letting shopkeepers into the secret at such an early date, I hope you won't let anything prevent you from demanding and devouring every extra that you are entitled to. It is really a very good thing that the state should supervise women's nourishment at that time and I hope the plan remains after the war.

                 I didn't really mean to wander from your interesting condition into politics. Excuse the diversion. You have not given me any details of the reservation of a bed and I am thirsty for knowledge. Did you visit the place and pick a particular bed or did they send a prospectus offering different qualities of bed and emphasising the social status of your neighbours on their more select sites? I must know all about it and will not be put off by any wifely secrecy.

                This morning's post brought the bank statement which you forwarded. It makes plaeant reading, for a long-expected adjustment of my F/Lt pay has at last caught me up and the result is a lump sum of £60. Also the balance of my Mediterranean pay book (£140) has at last got into my bank account so that my credit is now £446. This is too hight for a current account so I propose to send a letter to Lloyds instructing them to pay in £200 to your account at the Union Bank. Out of that I want you to take anything you require for your immediate or future needs and put the rest into the bottom compartment of the steel safe. I don't know how many certificates I hold, but in making your calculations don't forget the small number in my old book. These I will definitely cash the next time I'm home on leave.

                I'll write to Lloyds tomorrow and the actual transfer should take about a week. So you can ask at the Union Bank in about 10 days time. When you have completed the business, pleas send me the following data (a) the number of my Savings Cert. Book (b) how many certificates I hold in all (c) how many you hold. I am sorry to worry you with financial business but one's money keeps piling up in the most tiresome way. And once again, don't hesitate to take whatever you want out of the sum I'm transferring. You are such a strangely proud little so-and-so that I have to emphasise this in a most unseemly way.

              The war is going beautifully just now and Germany is obviously "ripe for shaking". Monty seems to have brought off another of his classic right hooks with the American 9th Army. The final showdown is going to be terrific and I don't think it will last very long since the Russians will obviously be going again by that time. Germany must crumple up if she has to face two major offensives conducted simultaneously on her own soil while the Allied air forces are wrecking her interior lines of communication.

(Sunday morning)
                  Once again work interfered with my letter-writing last night. This morning it is very cold but beautifully clear. We have had a succession of cold bright days here. Yesterday I went for another walk and went quite a reasonable distance. .....

                I hope you are telling me the absolute truth when you say that you feel fine during the day. I'm glad you say that you are going to throw up your job just as soon as you feel like it, without considering anyone else. I am already looking forward to fussing over you during my next leave - and it's only about eight weeks away now, if all goes well.

                I must write also to the bank before the post goes. Give my regards to everyone at 155 [Hyndland Road] ...